European Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 3:05 pm on 3rd June 2010.

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Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North 3:05 pm, 3rd June 2010

I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in the debate on Europe. Our membership of the European Union has brought significant benefits to my constituency, particularly through investment in businesses and jobs.

I congratulate those who have also made their maiden speeches today: my hon. Friend Alison McGovern and Julian Sturdy. Both speeches were excellent.

I pay tribute to Doug Henderson, my predecessor as Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North from 1987. As a former Minister of State for Defence, and for Foreign Affairs, particularly Europe, he would approve, I am sure, of my making my maiden speech during today's debate. He was renowned for his athletics- he was a marathon runner, who ran about 50 miles a week. However, one of his proudest achievements in the House was Royal Assent for the Access to Health Records Act 1990. As someone who has personally benefited from the protection that that Act affords, I thank him today for that and for his unfailing support. I pledge that I, too, will make a positive difference to people's lives through the work that I undertake in the House.

I am incredibly proud to have been elected to represent Newcastle upon Tyne North, the constituency in which I was born and continue to live with my own young family and my extremely large extended family. I thank the people of Newcastle upon Tyne North for electing me. It is a part of the country that I truly love and will do my best to serve.

Newcastle upon Tyne North is home to a vibrant and diverse community. We house the award-winning Newcastle airport, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and, since 1881, Newcastle race course. The constituency is home to Sanofi Aventis pharmaceuticals, the factory that created Andrews Liver Salts and, next door, Nestlé, home of the famous Rolo.

The constituency has a proud industrial history, from extracting coal from the banks of the Tyne to manufactured engineering and glass and steel products exported all over the world. However, by the time my predecessor took on the honour and responsibility of representing the people of Newcastle upon Tyne North in 1987, the majority of industry was gone. I read Doug Henderson's maiden speech with a sinking feeling. I will take the liberty of sharing a quote from it. He said:

"The people of the north know... that unless the manufacturing base of our city is rebuilt and we begin to attract and create new high-tech jobs, no amount of special assistance will tackle the real problems that our cities face... They know that it is sheer hypocrisy for the"- then Conservative-

"Government to claim that they can stimulate an enterprise culture when they... reject the establishment of a northern development agency."-[ Hansard, 2 July 1987; Vol. 118, c.674.]

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 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.

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