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Easington consists of a series of small villages and the larger towns of Peterlee and Seaham. It has natural beauty in abundance. Our east Durham heritage coast is an undiscovered masterpiece which enticed Lord Byron and Lewis Carroll to the area two centuries ago. The communities of Easington are former coal mining
communities. The House should understand the importance of this proud history but also the lasting legacy of coal mining. Easington's pits produced the nation's wealth, its communities were created and built around a life in coal mining. Areas like Easington were a microcosm of the welfare state before any national Government had the foresight to implement it. Part of Easington's proud tradition was its self-reliance and its widespread socialised community provision, which included socialised medicine, health care, pensioner housing and even funeral arrangements.
The lasting legacy of coal mining in Easington, however, is tarnished by the joblessness and economic activity that followed the reckless actions of previous Tory Administrations. Easington has prospered and seen significant improvements over the past decade, but more recently it has been at the forefront of job losses and economic decline, due to the global financial crisis and recession, which is why the successes of Caterpillar in Peterlee and the automotive industry-directly related to the success of Nissan in Sunderland-are so important.
The achievements of the last Labour Government are exemplified by the physical regeneration of large parts of Easington and the laying of the foundations for economic revival. Our new restaurants, cafes and retail outlets, such as Dalton Park-the biggest outlet shopping centre in the north-east-have brought jobs and a new dynamism to east Durham, its surrounding areas and the whole of the north-east. We have new Sure Start centres, new primary schools, such as Trinity primary school in Seaham, and new secondary school buildings, such as Shotton Hall community school. They have given hope, optimism and a sense of purpose to the people of Easington, especially young people.
Most of all, the last Labour Government protected the elderly people of Easington. The winter fuel allowance and cold weather payments stopped pensioners having to choose between heating and eating; a rising state pension, the pensioner guarantee and help with paying council tax gave them financial security; and the free bus pass gave them their independence. Easington, in its transition from its coal mining legacy, was always going to need the support of the Government to assist in building a new economic infrastructure. It is a shame that the people of Easington had to wait until 1997 for that support to come, when a generation had already been lost to unemployment and ill health. However, significant progress has been made and the face of Easington is changing.
I have been elected to serve the people of Easington at a time when the coalition Government have committed to cut spending, to cut the support to business through the regional development agencies, to cut support for jobs through the future jobs fund and to cut support for education by jeopardising the flagship Building Schools for the Future programme and through unidentified cuts to the education budget. The work of the RDA, One NorthEast, which was highlighted by my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne North and for Sunderland Central, has been pivotal in encouraging new businesses and jobs, not only in Sunderland and Newcastle but in areas such as Easington.
The House has only to look at GT Group in Peterlee, in my constituency-a cutting-edge manufacturing company specialising in environmental engineering-which, with the support of One NorthEast, has safeguarded
200 jobs and guaranteed 200 new jobs. That is not just my perception. In the words of GT Group managing director, Geoff Turnbull,
"The major investment programme"
"would have been very difficult without the assistance of One North East and Durham County Council, both of which have shown a real commitment to ensuring our business has the support it requires to be a pioneer in this important technology."
I hope this coalition Government will consider seriously the policies of the previous Labour Government, which harnessed the resources of the state to encourage the creation of new businesses and the expansion of businesses such as GT Group.
The European consensus on renewables, green technology and combating climate change, which was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband), the shadow Foreign Secretary, is a prime example of the need for co-ordinated Government policies that cultivate a positive response from private business in these sectors. One NorthEast was created by the previous Government and was funded to deliver its ambitious plans for regeneration. We now understand that it faces cuts of up to 40%, which will effectively cut the legs from beneath it. We have also lost our north-east Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown), who provided leadership and a coherent strategy across a range of issues in our region, not least in his support for the Centre for Creative Excellence south of Seaham.
I am most grateful to you for permitting me to make my maiden speech, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am most thankful to the House for its courtesy and attention. I look forward to more robust exchanges in future and to many more opportunities to represent the views and interests of my constituents in this Chamber.
Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech to the House. I commend the speech that the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) gave in such an eloquent and powerful manner.
On the subject of the debate, I agree not only that Britain can benefit from its membership of the European Union, but that Europe benefits from Britain's membership of the union. We should resist unnecessary interference from the European Union, which should not seek to interfere with every facet of our lives. We need individuals to have greater freedoms over their lives and for this House to have the freedom to operate without further subservience to the European Union.
This House benefits from the expertise that different Members bring to it. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Dr Howard Stoate, who brought to the House an in-depth knowledge of medical issues, which I am sure the House appreciated. He served the residents of Dartford for well over a decade and worked hard for them.
Dartford has a tradition of not changing its Member of Parliament very often; indeed, I am only the sixth Member for Dartford since the second world war. That is a tradition that I would like Dartford to continue. Dartford is also the longest serving bellwether seat in the entire country, with the Member of Parliament reflecting the Government party for nearly 50 years. Again, that is a tradition that I would like to keep.
Dartford is also the seat that Lady Thatcher contested twice and the place where she met her husband Denis. To this day, she is referred to as Margaret Roberts by some of my more senior local party members.
It is traditional for new Members of Parliament to say something complimentary about their constituency. For me, that is easy. Dartford is my home, my background and my life. I grew up locally. I helped my father to deliver milk to the local area on his milk round, and I attended Dartford grammar school. Although I probably spent more time in the headmaster's study than he did, I still gained a great deal from my education, and I doubt whether I would be here today if it were not for that experience.
Dartford is a diverse constituency, with rural villages and an urban town centre. It is a commuter town, with a heavy reliance on the rail network. As part of the Thames Gateway, we have seen a large number of new houses built in the area. Thousands more houses are planned that could threaten the stability of the local area if we do not properly prepare for them. However, they could also create a wonderful opportunity, if we can ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place to cope with the influx of new residents. The more established areas, such as Joyden's Wood, Longfield and Hawley, are popular villages for local families to live in. Areas such as Greenhithe are once again flourishing, after declining with the loss of manufacturing in the area.
Dartford also has a rich vein of history. The Roman road of Watling street was built through Dartford, going under the site of the town's church, via a ford over the river Darent, thus giving the town its name. Wat Tyler's revolt began in Dartford, which was where he lived and where the peasants congregated before marching towards this House. I am pleased to say that the residents of Dartford still like to lobby their representatives in a forthright manner, but thankfully for me in a less blood-thirsty way these days.
In the 16th century, Henry VIII's fourth wife, Anne of Cleeves, lived in Dartford, and shortly afterwards the school that I attended was founded in the town centre. Thus began a tradition of good quality education in Dartford that still exists today. Although we have four excellent grammar schools in Dartford, we also have flourishing academies, such as the Leigh technology academy, which attracts pupils from a wide area-so much so that Dartford now needs more school capacity to provide sufficient places for local school children.
Dartford has other challenges ahead. Our town centre is desperately in need of regeneration. The recent recession has prevented a development project from taking place, and local traders are suffering the consequence of that.
Another thing that affects traders and local residents is the continuation of the tolls on the Dartford crossing. The tolls remain in force despite previous assurances, and they create congestion and misery across the entire area. They act as a literal road block to the opening up of the Thames Gateway. Any Member who has found themselves stuck in traffic at the Dartford crossing will confirm that, instead of opening up the area, the crossing actually stifles it. It also creates pollution, which has a detrimental effect on the health of my constituents. For all those reasons, and many more, I will never stop campaigning for the tolls on the Dartford crossing to be scrapped.
Dartford also has much to be optimistic about. Too often, we hear reports in the media about religious tensions, but our Baptist church sits right next door to our Sikh temple without a murmur of difficulty, something of which both congregations are rightly proud. Bluewater shopping centre provides fantastic employment opportunities and a model apprenticeship scheme-not to mention the shopping opportunities that are keenly experienced by my wife. A lot of work has gone into improving Dartford. It has a first-class new judo centre at Stone, as well as a brand new football stadium and a forward-thinking local authority. My constituency is also the home of Ebbsfleet International train station, which lies on the new high-speed rail line between London and Paris. These increased transportation links-rather than increased political links-with the European Union represent the direction in which I believe we should be moving.
I am the first ever Member of Parliament to live in the beautiful rural village of Hartley in my constituency. Villages such as New Barn, Wilmington and Southfleet add to the pleasant country feel of much of the area. Although it is just 16 miles from this Chamber, Dartford has a very Kentish character and culture. It is proud to be distinct from London, and I am very proud to be able to represent it.
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on his excellent maiden speech, and all the other hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. I particularly welcome the fact that we have had four superb speeches from new women Members on the Labour Benches. That demonstrates the fact that, although it is still happening too slowly, the more representative the parliamentary Labour party becomes, the more effective we will be. As an Opposition, we will be far more effective as a result of their contributions and those of others that we shall hear. That was ably demonstrated during the debate.
I also note that, during the past three hours since the Front-Bench speeches, the notional quorum of 40 has not been reached in the House. There are no specific business votes today, but this situation will need to be challenged-perhaps not today, but in the next few weeks. It is neither fair nor reasonable that we should have a coalition Government with only half the coalition present. I apologise if there are Members whom I do not recognise because they are new, but I do not spot any Liberals here. I have spotted some documents that have arrived, however: the Liberal party, in government for the first time in 80 years, is represented here today by a pile of papers. For the past two hours, there have been no Liberals present in the Chamber. They have a responsibility, when in government, to be here to listen and to argue their case.
I commend the Minister for Europe, and welcome him to his job. I believe that he has been present throughout the debate. That is appropriate Front-Bench activity for any party, but where is his Liberal deputy, or any Liberal? Not so long ago, the Liberals would have crawled across broken glass to attend a debate on Europe to show their enthusiasm for the European
Union. Perhaps that explains their reluctance in this new coalition, when Members such as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) can congratulate them on their speeches on Europe and tell them how far they have moved in three weeks.
This fragile coalition will, I predict, be still more fragile on the issue of Europe in times to come. One thing I can assure the Liberals of is that they are going to have to provide, as a coalition Government, sufficient Members at any one time-or they will be challenged, whatever day and whatever time of day it is. That is particularly so when the new Government want to reduce the number of Members-by 65, I believe. Well, that is a legitimate debating point and we will no doubt vote on it at some stage in the future, but if we are going to reduce the number of Members, we have to have those who are Members here in the Chamber in the first place. That is the first duty of Government. We, of course, have less onerous duties in terms of- [Interruption.] Oh, I see that a Liberal is belatedly emerging, which gives me the opportunity to reinforce my point, and the Liberals will be particularly keen to understand and contemplate it, given their role in the coalition.
It seems to me that politicians across the world and within Europe, however it is defined, are not addressing the two biggest issues in the world. The first is population. It is not sustainable for the world population to continue to increase in the way it has. Politicians across the world, including in Europe and in this House, have virtually nothing to say on that key issue. The second issue that goes alongside the growth of population and exacerbates it is the problem of migration.
Peoples have always migrated, but when the number of people migrating and the volumes and speed of migration are increasing as fast as they are today, conflict will emerge in all parts of the world. Some of those conflicts will be based on resources, some on climate, some on wars-in fact, some will create wars-and some on economic migration, but conflict is fundamental. Given the size of the world population, it seems to me that the levels and speed of migration are not sustainable. A quarter of the world's countries have had food riots in the past 18 months. Many of the mass migrations outside the European Union in recent years have led to major conflict, leading to multiple deaths because of war.
One of the dilemmas and problems that this coalition will have to face over the EU is that although the Prime Minister makes great play of how tough he is on immigration, on all occasions when he refers to immigration, he means immigration from outside the EU. Thus doctors from India cannot get into this country, even when our hospitals want them, because the Government-it was the same under the Labour Government-are "toughening their stance" on immigration. As I say, that means immigration from outside the EU.
Earlier today, however, we heard a leading Liberal, the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), when he had bothered to attend, say that the new coalition was potentially in favour of Turkey acceding to the European Union. We have also heard the new Foreign Secretary outlining how there will be no referendums on accession. He was prepared to name Croatia, but how many more countries are there? With accession, of course, comes free movement of labour. The Maastricht treaty, as voted through by
the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues in 1992, created the format, using the treaty of Rome as its basis, but going much further on the free movement of labour.
We have heard speech after speech, including those from the Eurosceptics on the Conservative Benches, saying unequivocally that what they want is more flexibility-in other words, a cheap labour pool for business. That is what flexibility is about for them. For a power worker at Staythorpe power station or for a worker at the East Lindsey oil refinery, or at many other places, as new migrants have come in, the agencies have squeezed wage levels and reduced the opportunities for jobs. In my area, the agencies recruit in Polish from Poland and then employ those people in factories on a casual basis, day by day. The fact that workers in my constituency and surrounding constituencies cannot compete with those wage levels is causing fundamental problems which this dishonest coalition is refusing to address.
John Mann: The hon. Gentleman has not had the privilege and joy of listening to my speeches about the issue in the past, but I will give him an opportunity to do so now. I have made the same criticism of the Labour Government, who made a fundamental error in failing to address the problem of agency workers and the programme of migration.
This issue will not go away. We cannot go on expanding the European Union and allowing more cheaper-wage economies to move in, because that is not sustainable. There is a deeper unsustainability when we see people migrating to where social conditions are better. The Germans have a solution with their Gastarbeiter-there are 20 million Turks living in Germany who are not official citizens-but it cannot be applied within the European Union.
People migrate here quite legitimately, realising that they can work here and then retire here, benefiting from health and education services that are significantly better than those in the potential new accession countries. In their position, I would think it rational to move. I would think it rational to get my children into good British schools. I would think it rational to use the British health service, because investment has made it far better than others. The people who lose out, however, are not the middle classes, who are happy to enjoy a plethora of new restaurants in London and happy to benefit from the au pairs, gardeners and other advantages of cheap labour, but working-class communities. That is where the new migrant labour lives. The pressure on health and schools has a disproportionate impact on the very people who do not gain the benefits of that migrant labour, and who are competing with it for jobs. That is not a sustainable social model.
A major change will be necessary at the heart of the treaty of Rome. Currently, under that treaty, the Maastricht treaty and the various accession Acts that have been passed by successive Governments, workers and family members must not become a burden on the social assistance system. Well, they are not, but that is to do with the benefits system. The real cost is the cost to the
working-class communities in schools, in health and in infrastructure. It is those communities who are losing out, and the middle classes who are benefiting.
I hope that the spokesmen on my party's Front Bench are listening, because this issue is fundamental to the people whom we represent. The social model within Europe that allows this mass migration-the free movement of labour to whatever destination-is not sustainable, and the European Union is not sustainable with it. There must be a restriction to protect the position of those working-class communities, not least mine.
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