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Today, we have our much valued regional development agency, One NorthEast, which is based in Newburn in my constituency. It is itself a shining example of major investment as it sits on disused industrial wasteland, which has been redeveloped to create a vibrant home for businesses. Across the political spectrum, One NorthEast is heralded as a success for the region. It has been a vehicle for major investment and has played a key role in developing a low carbon economy in the region. It has also changed the face of our regional economy and through its Passionate People, Passionate Places campaign, helped position the north-east and my constituency as a prime destination for tourists and businesses.

That brings me back to the subject of the debate. The regional development agencies are responsible for administering the European regional development fund, significant amounts of which have been invested in my constituency and across the north-east. There are examples of ERDF investment throughout the region, from the Printable Electronics Technology Centre in Sedgefield and the New and Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth, to the Newcastle enterprise scheme, which benefits Newbiggin Hall in my constituency, which has received £1.56 million ERDF to increase enterprise in the most deprived communities.

Across the north-east, we have benefited from a strong regional voice that is able to attract national, European and international funding to our economy and to job creation. However, the EU does not give handouts. ERDF expenditure is dependent on the local economy finding match funding. Such funding can come from a variety of sources, including private and Government investment, and the complex arrangements that are in place are currently co-ordinated by One NorthEast. That is all under threat following the 40% cuts outlined by the coalition Government and the threatened senseless dismantling of a highly successful, much needed RDA.

All ERDF is time-limited, and expenditure delayed because of uncertainty around administrative arrangements or the inability to raise match funding will almost certainly be lost. The north-east missed out time and
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time again before One NorthEast was created, and we will not stand by and watch our region go backwards because of an ideological opposition to an interventionist economic approach.

I must also pay tribute to our excellent regional press, in particular to the Journal, which has championed its case for the north-east and one strong regional voice. The threat to ERDF is just one of many concerns for the people of the north-east, who are staunch defenders of our RDA. As a region, we stand stronger together, and we will not accept the Government dismantling our strength by withdrawing regional support and leaving us an underfunded toothless tiger to represent us on the national, European and international stages. I pledge today to fight my hardest to ensure that that is not our fate.

3.11 pm

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), who made a very feisty and savvy contribution. She was clear on the importance of Newcastle and the support that the north-east and its great capital city need.

I made a mistake in the last year. I thought that my colleagues were talking about amending regional development agencies, but I had had clear instructions for months that One NorthEast should continue. I heard from my right hon. Friend the Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary today that One NorthEast will continue, and I hope the hon. Lady will be reassured by that- [ Interruption. ] RDAs may be different in structure, but the message is clear. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) has also been very clear on that. Through the pages of the Newcastle Journal or otherwise, I hope there can be collaboration on ensuring that Newcastle continues to do well. I know that my colleagues who run the council are equally determined to ensure that every possible opportunity is given to the hon. Lady's great city, and I will give it my support. I have been there often and love it much, even though those of us who ended up in the south have to put more clothes on all year round than people in Newcastle.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern). We have two things in common. As she knows, we were both born in Cheshire-

Alison McGovern indicated dissent.

Simon Hughes: Well, the Wirral is in Cheshire.

Alison McGovern indicated dissent.

Simon Hughes: Well, it was in Cheshire, and some of us think it always has been and always will be. We may disagree on that, but we both come from that part of the world, and we both ended up being politicians in Southwark. I pay tribute to her for the four years she served on Southwark council for the Brunswick Park ward and for being deputy leader of her group in that period. We are glad to see her here, whatever our party differences.

I welcome the new Minister for Europe, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr. Browne), and the Foreign Secretary to their briefs. We hope that they do well in their representation of us in the European Union
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and more widely in Europe, but we also hope that Baroness Ashton continues to have the support and good wishes of Ministers and the Government. We wish her well in her responsibilities.

I started my intervention on the Foreign Secretary by making it clear that one of the great reasons why the European Union and wider international organisations are needed is that many issues do not stop at boundaries-and the threat to our climate is one of those. I hope that the Minister for Europe and his colleagues will be forward-looking and robust on the challenges of the international climate crisis to which Europe can positively respond. If we are really clear about the science, we should seek to limit the temperature rise to 1.7° Celsius, not 2°. We should also ensure that the European Union-as per the agenda for the European Council this month-moves to a 30% reduction in emissions as our target. I regret that that was not achieved in Copenhagen. If we are to be really robust in our leadership, we will also ensure that we have strategies not just for European economic recovery and dealing with the world economic crisis as it affects our continent, but for the environmental crisis.

We should do better at promoting the fact the European Union has as its agenda the things that matter most to this continent. The main item on the agenda later this month will be the strategy for jobs and growth, and how we come out of the recession stronger and better, in spite of the huge difficulties. Other agenda items include preparing for the G20 summit, ensuring that we focus much more on achieving our millennium development goals, and dealing with the climate threat. We have heard some excellent contributions on the interrelated economic issues. It is clear that, as a continent, we need strategies for addressing the financial and banking sectors. Although any levy raised may be spent nationally, we must have a more effective Europe-wide strategy to ensure that bankers do not play with people's money and take the profits.

For the avoidance of doubt, although my party has said that there may be a time when it is right to join the euro, I have never campaigned for us to join. Nor has my party, and we are clear that the time is not right. I am therefore happy to sign up to the agreement, as part of the coalition, that the pound should remain for the whole of the coalition agreement for this Parliament, and that no attempt will be made to change that position. I am also clear, however, that we need to revisit some decisions, such as the working time directive, where the European Union made mistakes. My great enthusiasm for the European Union and better collaboration across Europe does not make me blind to those things that have not gone well or where we need to do better. Overly prescriptive regulation, such as the working time directive, is one such example.

Mr Cash: I am greatly encouraged by the line that the hon. Gentleman is taking on this issue. In the spirit of good fellowship, does he agree that in negotiations to change the working time directive-or any of the other massive burdens on business that Lord Mandelson suggested were costing 4% of GDP-we would need to be able to repatriate those powers? Otherwise we would end up with a European Union that did not work because we would not be able to trade effectively.

Simon Hughes: That opens some big questions. I do not oppose considering the repatriation of some powers-it
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depends on the power. I do not take the view that we should only ever have one-way traffic of power from member states to the European Union, but we have to be careful that we make the right judgment. Some things clearly need European responsibility-aviation, for example, which cannot be dealt with on a purely national basis as the boundaries do not permit that. Environmental issues are another example. There are many issues on which the European Union is a better sized organisation to compete in the world. It is better that we have a common market when it comes to taking on China, India and the US. So there are advantages to the European Union, but I am not against the repatriation of individual issues and subject areas. I hope that we can consider that sensibly and with as little partisanship as possible.

The one big point of difference between us and the Tories during the election campaign, Europe, has been resolved in the coalition agreement, which is testimony to intelligent draftsmanship and savvy political work. In passing, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), who was one of the authors of the agreement, and whose service to our party and-already-Government I hope will be continued before too long, following his recent difficulties. The Liberal Democrats made it clear that we need Europe to ensure that we deal with criminals better, and the European arrest warrant and other mechanisms are important parts of a wider European collaboration.

There are organisational matters to deal with too. We must keep on the agenda the fact that it is a nonsense for the European Parliament to meet sometimes in Brussels and sometimes in Strasbourg. That has to be sorted. I understand why we are where we are, but it is right that it should be on the agenda, and it is also right that we continue to look at the EU budget. It is unacceptable that it has never been adequately audited, and we need to ensure that the rules are complied with. There is also a continuing issue about agricultural subsidies, but that does not stop us being proactive and helpful to rural communities that need us to support people moving on to the land and being able to inherit tenancies.

I am clear, too, that we now have a clear, popular and reasonable position on future referendums: we will not have one if, for example, Croatia wants to join, but we will have one if there is a major political change. I welcome the fact that both coalition parties have said that they believe in the expansion of the EU, but expansion should come with a transition period for every country, as in the agreement, in relation to the right to move freely around the EU-the Bulgaria and Romania example. I have always been suspicious, privately and publicly, about whether we should have opened the doors immediately to all the previous accession states, at the time that Poland was given free access. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), the then Home Secretary, argued for immediate access, and on the basis of the figures projected, we went along with that, but I was clear that it was a risk. A phased admission of people from new countries would be a much better process and reduce the fears about immigration and migration that the public naturally express.

I would like to raise a few issues about individual countries. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us the latest news on the conversations with Iceland,
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which is now an applicant country, and with Turkey. I welcome very much the fact that Turkey should be seen to be an important part of the EU. I ask him to give our condolences, concern and support to the Government and people of Poland after their terrible national tragedy of the air crash only a few weeks ago. I also encourage him to do what his predecessor as Minister for Europe did: understand that sorting out the Cyprus problem is a big priority. It is a nonsense that the EU has not yet been able to resolve that issue.

I ask the Minister publicly, as I have done in private, to pay attention to Russia and the Russian issues that have been raised on the Floor of the House. The relationship with Russia is important, but so too is that with Ukraine, which is an important European country that has not fulfilled its potential. There are economic issues, as well as human rights issues, in relation to both. Finally, the wider European concerns must be that the EU is proactive in the world in leading on conflict prevention; in dealing with the situation in the middle east, which is a crisis and a tragedy; in continuing to sort out the legacy of the civil war in Sri Lanka; and in promoting human rights in Africa, Iran and China. I welcome this debate and wish Ministers well.

3.24 pm

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the time to make my maiden speech. I, too, congratulate the hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby), my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), and the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) on their excellent contributions. However, I beg to differ with the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes): I was not aware that the north-east had a capital city, and coming from Sunderland, the largest city in the north-east, I disagree with his comments.

It is a great honour to be here today, having been elected a few weeks ago by the people of the community that I have lived in and around all my life-Sunderland. Sunderland Central, the constituency that I represent, is a new constituency, taking in parts of three previous constituencies. The first was Sunderland North, which was represented from 1992 by Billy Etherington, who served at the Council of Europe for many years. I wish him a long and happy retirement. The second constituency was Houghton and Washington East, which was represented from 1997 by Fraser Kemp. Fraser is someone with whom I worked before he entered the House and for whom I have the greatest respect. A more shrewd political brain I have not come across. He was a tenacious advocate for his constituency and the north-east region, and will, I am sure, be missed in this place.

The third constituency was Sunderland South, which was represented from 1987 by Chris Mullin. Before announcing his intention to retire, Chris was selected as the candidate for the constituency that I now represent. Although not from Sunderland, Chris has made it his home. He had a long and distinguished career in Parliament, as a Back Bencher, a Minister and the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, a role that I know he found particularly rewarding. I am sure that he will
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continue to contribute to debate outside this place through his writing. He has also given me enormous support and advice since I was selected, something invaluable, and for which I thank him.

Sunderland is a city on the north-east coast of England. Its industrial history is one to be proud of. At one point in the previous century, Sunderland was home to the most productive shipyards not just in Europe, but in the world. Ships were built on the River Wear that sailed the world, thanks to the work of men dedicated to their craft-skilled men who took huge pride in the ships that they produced. Sadly, in the late 1980s the major shipyards on the Wear closed, with the loss of many thousands of jobs.

Coal mining was the other major industry to dominate Sunderland in the previous century. Part of the Durham coalfield, the area produced good quality coal for many years. The last deep coal mine in Sunderland, Wearmouth colliery, closed in 1993 with the loss of many jobs, bringing to an end an industry that still had life left in it.

For me, those two events were tragedies for my city, the result of what I firmly believe were political decisions by Governments of the day, not economic decisions. Although I was already involved in local politics, living through the demise of those two industries-industries that I feel passionately should have continued-and witnessing the impact that that had on Sunderland and the communities in which I lived was an experience that galvanised my increasing involvement in politics. I felt that I had to try to fight injustice where I saw it and do whatever I could to ensure that my city was never hit like that again.

We have come a long way in Sunderland since those dark days of the late '80s and early '90s. There has been regeneration in Sunderland, but there is still much more to do. New jobs have been created, but more are needed. We still have relatively high unemployment and too many areas of deprivation-things that I am totally committed to trying to improve.

Sunderland is a city of contrasts. It has one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country. Whatever the weather, the beaches of Roker and Seaburn are always beautiful. We also have the National Glass Centre on the banks of the Wear, a fitting place for it to be, for Sunderland has a long history of glass production. Next door to the National Glass Centre is the St Peter's campus of Sunderland university. The university is a real good-news story, employing many people and attracting students not just from Sunderland and the north-east, but from all over the country and around the world.

We also have-how could I not mention it?-the magnificent Stadium of Light, the home of Sunderland football club and one of the most important places, probably in the world, to fans of the team and to my city. Built on the site of the former Wearmouth colliery, a miner's lamp at its entrance, the stadium is a celebration of our past and our future. Hon. Members should never underestimate the impact that the football club doing well will have on the people of Sunderland.

Looking forward, Sunderland has a huge opportunity to take advantage of the jobs being created through the green jobs programme. We have the Nissan plant in Sunderland, although it is not in my constituency. It employs thousands of people directly, and many more indirectly. It is excellent news that the battery plant and
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the recently announced production of the Leaf electric car will be coming to Sunderland. These are forward-looking developments that will benefit Sunderland, the north-east and the country. I am concerned, however, by the Prime Minister's refusal yesterday to confirm that the £21.7 million grant already promised to Nissan by the last Government to enable these developments to happen will still be available. That is very worrying, and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills also refused to confirm it this morning. That money is essential to secure Sunderland as the plant of choice for Nissan in Europe. The consequences of its not coming are unthinkable.

In Sunderland, we also have a huge opportunity to play our part in the development of offshore wind farm production. The skills needed to develop this area of work are the same as those required in our historic industries. Turbines and offshore windmills are going to be built somewhere. There is a huge market for them, not only in the UK but throughout Europe. In areas such as Sunderland, where jobs are needed, it is important that we attract new industries such as these. They will sustain economic growth in my city in the years ahead. We have the natural resources of a port, a river and direct access to the North sea, and I genuinely believe that if we are to start to tackle climate change through the supply of our energy, offshore wind farms have a part to play.

The opportunity for the north-east to become the centre of excellence for this industry-not just in this country but in Europe-is real and there to be taken advantage of, with Sunderland playing its part. We already have a testing facility at Blyth, which has benefited from European funding. For Sunderland and the north-east to become the centre of excellence, we need the Government to support the development of this industry.

I should like to say what an honour it is for me to be given the opportunity to serve in this House. It is something that very few people have the opportunity to do. I want to thank the voters of Sunderland Central for giving me this opportunity. As I said throughout my campaign, I will stand up for Sunderland with determination and vigour. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak today.

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