North-East people know better than old Etonians

Commons Hansard
25 May 2016

Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): I always think of the first Queen's Speech that you and I attended, Madam Deputy Speaker. That was the last occasion on which I spent any real time with my good friend Robin Cook. I think that most Members in all parts of the House would agree that he was a fine parliamentarian, and I wonder what he would make of this shambles of a Government today. A former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has described the Business Secretary as disappointing, his own Prime Minister as disingenuous, and his own Chancellor as nothing short of a liar, even calling him Pinocchio. Meanwhile, the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the former Mayor of London and the former Defence Secretary are all saying,

"Look out, look out, the Turks are coming!" ,
although 10 years ago they were saying,
"We want Turkey in Europe."

It is against that background that the most wasteful use of parliamentary time in history went ahead last week. It showed what we are used to in this place: contempt from the leader of this country towards the House of Commons. Worse, however, it showed contempt for our Queen to bring that woman here, in her record-breaking 90th year, to deliver such a piece of rubbish. And even worse than that, it showed contempt for the people who do not just send us here, but pay for the privilege of doing so.

It is that contempt that I want to reflect on now, in relation to something that will have a huge impact on the people in my part of the world. I refer to the ludicrous programme of English devolution. It is a farce, it is a joke, but sadly, it is deadly serious.

The Labour party is and always has been the party of devolution, in Scotland, in Wales, in Northern Ireland and in London, all of which have been given real powers, real democracy and real accountability. Crucially, all those arrangements were agreed through genuine engagement and democratic decision-making involving the people affected. What have we got now? Devolution drawn up on the back of a fag packet; decisions taken behind closed doors by Treasury officials, local government senior officers and layers of councils; the imposition of elected mayors without asking the local people if they want one, often ignoring the voices of those who have already rejected mayors in their towns and cities; cobbling together geographical areas that bear little resemblance to each other; giving meagre resources to areas that have been coerced into signing up - areas where huge sums of money have been taken away from local government as austerity goes on and on; an insistence on getting full agreement on structures even before the legislation has been agreed by this House and the other place; agreeing a funding stream that has no basis in fairness or transparency; and cajoling locally elected representatives into agreeing these poor deals as the only game in town, telling them,

"You take this or you get nothing."
All this is being cobbled together under the crass PR tags of the "northern powerhouse", the "midlands engine" - and God knows who is in the back of the car in the boot.

The people of England deserve better than this, and more and more people are recognising that, as are more and more politicians of all colours. Indeed, I have sat in amazement over the past few weeks as I have heard people I disagree with almost every day on almost every ?issue saying how concerned they are in their part of the world - in East Anglia, the south-west and the west midlands - about how this is going through the House. People are asking,

"Why, oh why, is this happening in this way? Why must we in the North-East be told we can't have this kind of authority without having a mayor, yet people in Cornwall can?"
Why can we not have a proper consultation and a referendum, as has quite rightly happened everywhere else in the UK?

Why have we not got a fair funding system? I will give the House a great example of the need for one in my part of the world. Tees Valley, in the south of the North-East, has agreed to proceed with a mayoral combined authority, as is its right. The north-eastern part of the North-East has not as yet fully agreed to do the same. One of the sticking points is resources. We are asking why the Tees Valley, an area that is much smaller than ours geographically and with about a quarter of the population, is getting £15 million a year dedicated to its so-called powerhouse while we in the northern part are getting only £30 million. It might just be a coincidence that the Tees Valley contains the constituency home of the Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse. Surely that could not have anything to do with this decision. That would be almost as absurd as to suggest that the arrangements in the greater Manchester area have anything to do with the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer lives on the fringes of that area. Surely even Pinocchio would not want us to agree to that.

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): I represent one of the constituencies in the Tees Valley, and I want to make it clear that we deserve that £15 million and will spend it wisely. However, we are also deeply opposed to the imposition of an elected mayor.

Mr Anderson: I have no doubt that the people of the Tees Valley should have that money; they deserve a lot more, given what they have gone through over the past 30 years. They have been through deindustrialisation in the 1980s and they have taken other hits lately, and £15 million is meagre corn for the people of the Tees Valley. I am in no way having a go at them. I am asking how it can be fair for a population of that size to get that amount when another area with a population four times the size does not get proportionally more.

I am a huge fan of devolution. I really believe that we in the North-East know what will work for us better than the old Etonians do. I also believe that we should be allowed the freedom to decide what is best for our part of the world, but to do that we need sufficient resources to match the responsibilities that are given to us. We need the funds to meet our needs. We need structures that are transparent and fully accountable, and this should not be negotiated by people with vested interests. The leaders of the council are decent honourable people, but they should not be the ones sitting around the table saying,

"Yes, this is what we want and we will agree to it without any recourse to the people in the local area."

In Gateshead, the council carried out a consultation of 200,000 people, but only 38 people replied. A poll was carried out in the North-East a couple of weeks ago and, out of a population of almost 2 million, only 511 replied. The majority of those who replied said that they did not really know enough about what was going on to make a valid choice. What on earth does that tell ?us about the way the Government are pushing through this programme, which has nothing to do with real transparency and real democracy? We need genuine buy-in and commitment from the people. Without that, this is going nowhere. We need a range of powers that recognise the vast differences between the needs of people living in, for example, rural Northumberland or the Durham dales and the people living in Tyneside tower blocks. They are different and they will have different demands.

None of these questions has been fully addressed to our satisfaction and, as I said earlier, people in other parts of England are similarly dissatisfied, including those in a number of places that have already signed up to these dodgy deals. I want to make it very clear in relation to my borough of Gateshead, which has refused to sign up to a deal that other people in our part of the world have agreed to, that we are not walking away from this. We want this to work, but we want it to work properly. There is nothing in this Queen's Speech to make me believe that it will do anything to improve the situation we have been landed with.

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