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Wansbeck has been heavily dependent on the coal mining industry, with more than 70,000 miners being employed at one time. It was once the epicentre of the great northern coalfield, which proudly contributed to the industrial revolution from the 18th century onwards. Many people paid the ultimate sacrifice as a result. Many women were widowed and too many children were orphaned. However, as safety and health regulation was strengthened, with the implementation of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 and the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, employee safety in the industry became the envy of the entire world.
At this juncture I must stress that if recent reports are correct and the Government are looking to repeal and dilute hard-fought-for workplace safety and health legislation, which will accurately be portrayed by the general public as an attack on hard-working, decent people, I and my colleagues will campaign vigorously and oppose any such draconian measures. My experience shows clearly that the weakening of any such legislation results in the amplification of the strength of the employer at the expense of protection for the employee, increasing the current imbalance in fairness at work that many people experience. Health and Safety Executive statistics do not lie. In 2008-09, 180 people were killed at work and 132,000 had injuries reported under RIDDOR--the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995-and there were a further 246,000 reportable injuries.
There are many challenges ahead for the people in my constituency. The heady days of the coal industry have passed, but the benefits and experience that shaped our area are still evident-the dignity, the honesty, the sincerity, the good grit and determination of both young and old shine through, even in what might be described as the dark and difficult times of the not-too-distant past.
We shall make the best of our opportunities. Like other areas, we demand high standards in public services. We want schools that we are proud of and hospitals that we can rely on. We want safe streets, free from crime, and employment for all ages, with acceptable wages, terms and conditions. Above all, we want a community built on a spirit of social justice that is both equitable and fair.
Only this week, a report published by the National Cancer Intelligence Network stated that lives could be saved if people from poorer backgrounds were as healthy as the rich. People in my area are not only more likely to
suffer from late diagnosis of cancer but also from inequalities in the treatment offered. That is not acceptable. This is 2010, not the early 1800s. We will not tolerate such behaviour from those in power, and nor should we be expected to do so.
There are many wonderful areas in Wansbeck, ranging from Bedlington to Ashington, Cambois and Morpeth, but there are also many problems. Sadly, Morpeth and its residents were victims of horrendous flooding in September 2008, when there was a month's rainfall in 12 hours and more than 1,000 properties were affected. I am working with the Environment Agency to ensure that the proposed flood alleviation scheme is delivered in full and at the earliest possible date.
There are many fine projects in Wansbeck. The centre of the constituency is Ashington, followed by Bedlington and Newbiggin. For our area to progress and to emerge successfully from the days of heavy dependence on the coal industry we must attract new business and maintain our existing major employers, such as Rio Tinto Alcan. Our area is also heavily dependent on public sector jobs, and the Government must recognise that any attack on the public sector will have a catastrophic affect on constituencies such as mine. Opportunities for young people in employment and education must remain a top priority, while we allay the fears of the elderly and infirm and reassure them that their future is to be cherished, free from fear.
Finally, I thank Members again for their forbearance over the last few minutes. I look forward to many lively but constructive debates in this historic Chamber and hope to emulate the many great speakers from both sides in the mother of all Parliaments.
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) may have been here for 40 years, but he should surely not be in the Clerk's chair, unless perhaps he is looking for another job.
Madam Deputy Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his enthusiasm, but it is up to me to decide whether it is appropriate for a Member to sit next to the Clerk. I hope the hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind for future reference.
Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): I congratulate Members who have made their maiden speech today-my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) and the hon. Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery). I am glad I made my maiden speech last week, because they have raised the bar even higher. I wish them all the very best in their future careers in the House.
I am glad to be speaking in this debate on the best way for the Government to support industry. There is one thing on which I think all Members will agree, and it is the most important factor-that the recovery of our industrial sector is linked to the recovery of every other part of our economy. That will repair the broken economy bequeathed to us by the former Administration.
To help industry, before considering anything else, we have to fix the fundamentals of the economy. Britain's prosperity has traditionally been built on the foundations of sound public finances, low and simple taxation and
light, flexible regulation. Over the past 13 years, Labour progressively shredded each of those principles. The previous Government saddled our country with a budget deficit of more than 12% of gross domestic product-the largest in Europe-and a national debt approaching £900 billion, a staggering increase of more than 160% in 13 years.
As a result, we have no choice but to make cuts in both public borrowing and public spending. If we do not, we shall no longer be able to sell enough Government bonds to fund the deficit, resulting in a catastrophic economic crisis. It really is that simple. At this point, we cannot even plan to reduce our total debt stock; at best, we can only hope to add to it less fast.
Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman makes the point that the cuts are Labour's. Earlier this year, the OECD said that only the action of the previous Government prevented a recession from becoming a depression. Does he disagree?
We cannot rely on a benign global economic outlook as we approach the cuts. I believe that the international financial markets are at their most fragile since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008; the euro's troubles are only just beginning; the largest emerging economies in the world are about to raise interest rates, so demand will fall, which will affect global demand; and investor appetite for sovereign debt, including our own, is rapidly diminishing.
To help industry, we need to get the banks lending again. I have met many people in Bromsgrove who tell me that it has never been so difficult to get a loan. Drawing on my 19 years' experience of working in the City, I believe that bank lending will not recover until the banks are forced to admit the true state of their balance sheets. Right now, the markets just do not believe that our banks are being truthful about the problems that they face. In turn, the banks are not getting the capital that they need, so they are instead squeezing existing customers, as well as not lending.
As well as a thorough review of financial regulation and regulators, we need an independent audit or a stress test of each British bank, eventually leading to a private sector recapitalisation of weaker institutions that are identified. In that regard, the report that was recently issued by the Future of Banking Commission-of which, I believe, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills was a member-has made some worthy suggestions.
Also to help industry, we need a dramatically different approach to business regulation, as many of my hon. Friends have said today-an approach that is radically
different from that of the previous Government. Many business men and women say that the sheer cumulative volume of regulation makes their lives so difficult. People who need to be dealing with customers and products are instead too busy complying with regulators, and many regulations are simply not necessary to keep businesses honest and safe.
Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): The word "regulation" is often bandied around. Although many people hear it, they do not appreciate its full impact. Does my hon. Friend agree that, in the small business sector alone, nearly one full-time employee a year is needed to deal with the growth in regulation, particularly over the past decade-equivalent to a cost of about £11 billion a year-and that there is no greater signal for turning back the clock? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) that it is perhaps time for a one-in, two-out policy on regulation.
Sajid Javid: Absolutely, and I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills said earlier that 21,000 new business regulations have been introduced over the past 13 years-six every working day of the last Government-but such talk of regulation also applies as much to EU regulations as to domestic regulations. Much of what comes from Brussels is often unnecessary, badly thought through or just ignored by other member states when it suits them. So we need a new approach to EU regulations that helps British industry and business and not one that undermines them.
My constituency of Bromsgrove was once a very proud manufacturing hub, supplying much of the west midlands industrial complex. Much of that industry has now, sadly, disappeared. Some hon. Members may remember one of my predecessors, Sir Hal Miller, who was a passionate advocate of industry in the west midlands, especially the motor car industry.
In recent years, a large "closed for business" sign has been hanging over our country. Whether down to punitive taxation, excessive regulation or inadequate incentives, the effect was always the same: to repel new businesses and discourage existing ones. Having run a private equity business, I cannot stress highly enough how destructive those misguided policies have been. Consequently, I support the amendment, and it is hugely reassuring once again to have a Government who recognise the urgent need to re-open Britain for business.
Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): First, I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your election and the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) and my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) on their witty and wise maiden speeches.
In 1981, I was one of the organisers of the people's march for jobs-500 unemployed men and women from the ages of 16 to 60 who marched with dignity to London, such as the mother and her son from Whaley Bridge and the 150 people who joined the march from Birmingham and the midlands. They were the victims of a Conservative Government who stood back and said that unemployment was a price worth paying. That was an error of historic proportions, which severely
weakened our manufacturing base, with catastrophic consequences still being felt to this day, including in the poorest parts of my constituency-Birmingham, Erdington.
All that stands in stark contrast to the wise decisions that were taken by a Labour Government in the depths of an unprecedented global economic crisis to embrace industrial activism. Short-term measures were taken such as the scrappage scheme on the one hand and strategic investments in Sheffield Forgemasters, Nissan, Airbus, General Motors and others on the other hand. As a consequence, the scrappage scheme alone created 400,000 jobs, with tremendous benefits for the supply chain in the automotive industry. Those strategic investments have built firm foundations in areas of growth: the nuclear industry and renewables, aviation and the car industry. Nissan is a classic example, with £20 million of public investment levering in £420 million of investment by the company, 50,000 new cars and 60,000 batteries-a good deal for Britain.
We now have the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne). He is the Private Frazer of Downing street. "We're doomed. Doomed," is his daily refrain. "Labour mismanaged the economy," is the moan that we constantly hear from Ministers. It could not be further from the truth. By 2007 we had reduced borrowing and debt to beneath the levels that we inherited from a Conservative Government. Then, in a global economic crisis, we borrowed to invest, to boost the economy and the order books of the companies in my constituency, such as those in the machine tool industry-companies such as Dana, Guhring and Micro. All those benefited from the wise and brave leadership given by our Government.
Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman explain why, when Labour came to office, Northampton was 440th in the long list of areas of low unemployment. We rose to 132nd in that list under Labour. What do the people of Northampton have to thank a Labour Government for, in that respect?
Jack Dromey: A Labour Government in the most difficult times did not do what a Conservative Government did in the 1980s-abandon people to their fate. The Labour Government stood on the side of ordinary people and took the necessary strategic long-term decisions to rebuild our manufacturing economy.
Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. We are both Members of Parliament in the west midlands, and he waxes eloquent about public investment being the only panacea for the problems that we have in the west midlands. There is an organisation that he will know about called Advantage West Midlands. I am sure the shadow Secretary of State also knows about it, because he appointed the board when he was a Minister. I have business men in Tamworth queuing up to tell me how inefficient and how ineffective that organisation is. One of them is a former Labour councillor who went to AWM, asked for investment, did not get it and lost his business-
What we are hearing is the politics of the alibi, camouflaging an ideological objection on the part of the Con-Dem alliance to what its members call big government. It fails to understand the critical role of Government in boosting manufacturing in Britain. Of course it is true that good companies are those that help themselves. I have been involved in negotiating ground-breaking deals in the nuclear industry, the food industry, dockyards and the defence sector-ground-breaking deals that have transformed what were failing companies, working with the employers by way of a change and investment agenda.
I know from my experience in the real world of work, not the world of the trading floors, that time and again, with good employers, we have had to go to central Government, local government and the regional development agencies. Only last year I was involved in an exercise together with Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government with a leading food manufacturer. Had it not been for partnership, we would not have got the investment, which in turn levered in further investment from the company, securing the future of 500 jobs in an area of high unemployment.
Gordon Birtwistle: Can the hon. Gentleman explain to me where the 400,000 jobs came from, as a result of the car scrappage scheme? He gave a list of machine tool manufacturers. How many are based in the UK and manufacture in the UK?
Jack Dromey: First, the reference was to 400,000 cars. Secondly, the companies are British-based world class manufacturers of machine tools who, when I was at their exhibition last Friday and met many of them, said with one voice, "For us to succeed, we look to support from and partnership with Government." Those are precisely the companies that were rescued from the brink by the car scrappage scheme.
The lesson from experience in the real world of work is that industry best flourishes in partnership with Government, with a framework provided by good government, and sustained and strategic investment underpinned by a determined national will. One need only look at Germany's enduring strengths in manufacturing, which exist precisely because there is that national will. I am proud of the fact that a Labour Government embraced industrial activism. Now is absolutely not the time to pull back from that, because it would be an error of historic proportions. The decisions we make now will decide whether we grow or decline in the future-whether we condemn another generation to no hope. It is therefore essential that we invest to grow and act to rebalance our economy, which had become too heavily dependent on the finance sector.
That is why, for manufacturing, capital allowances matter because they incentivise investment in machinery and plant. That is why, for manufacturing, the patent box matters, with its 10% reduction in corporation tax to encourage innovatory companies to locate intellectual property and manufacturing here in Britain. That is why, for manufacturing, it matters that there is support for research and development. I hope that in refocusing current support, it is not so severely circumscribed as to avoid support for world-beating companies such as Jaguar Land Rover. The Jaguar plant in my constituency is at the heart of a hub of 150,000 people in the
midlands who depend on the motor industry for their livelihoods. I will look to the Government to work with me, as the Member for Erdington, in respect of the Jaguar plant, and the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), in respect of the Land Rover plant, to secure the future of those two beacons of manufacturing excellence.
That is also why regional development agencies matter. What we have heard today is ill-informed prejudice that flies in the face of the history of, in particular, the successful RDA that is Advantage West Midlands. I have seen that at first hand. After the crisis at Rover in 2000, the supply chain became less dependent on Rover, thanks to the work of Advantage West Midlands. As a consequence, when Rover collapsed in 2005, the supply chain did not collapse, as might otherwise have been the case. The manufacturing technology centre and the manufacturing advisory service are prized by manufacturing employers in the midlands, and that is because of what Advantage West Midlands has done.
Let me issue a challenge to the Secretary of State: necessary as it is to move beyond myths, will the Government now publish the independent evaluation of regional development agencies ordered by the Labour Government before the election? Will he confirm that that demonstrates that Advantage West Midlands is one of the best two RDAs; that for every pound of public money invested, £8.14 of wealth is created in the regional economy; and that it has scored the maximum possible score and has been deemed to be performing strongly? In this new era of openness, will that report now be published?
Birmingham is historically the laboratory of manufacturing and of the genius and enterprise of the British people; too often, now, it is British genius but made in China. Our single biggest task is the renaissance of manufacturing in our country. That will not happen if Government once again abandon British manufacturing.
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