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The Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:18 pm on 24th October 2019.

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Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Keighley 3:18 pm, 24th October 2019

I have always thought that the operation of democracy in a marginal seat is rather like the operation of capitalism: red in tooth and claw. Defending a majority of, say, 249 is rather like trying to run a company in a market that is very competitive; I have done both and what it teaches me is that we must concentrate on what is important in life. Therefore, following the passionate speech about Scotland made by Luke Graham, I intend to speak about a region that has just a slightly larger population: Yorkshire and the Humber.

I welcome in the Queen’s Speech the reference to a White Paper on English devolution; this is unfinished business for us all. Some 18 councils from all parties in Yorkshire have come up with a scheme for One Yorkshire devolution. Economic analysis of that suggests it could add £30 billion to the Yorkshire economy, using the Yorkshire identity and the Yorkshire brand to promote and get inward investment to improve transport and skills.

It is a welcome sign that the Prime Minister has said that he is “mad keen” on the principle of a One Yorkshire deal, but is that going to go the same way as his belief that there should not be a border in the Irish sea? There is a degree of worry in Yorkshire: how much does this promise mean? The Yorkshire councils have all said that they would move to a situation where they would agree to limited deals—not involving the whole county—until 2022, when the term of my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis, the Mayor of South Yorkshire, ends, if the principle of One Yorkshire devolution is accepted.

But there is the problem of the Yorkshire backstop. The Government are saying that they will not agree to these interim deals unless there is agreement to balkanise Yorkshire in 2022 if no further agreement is reached. There would be four Mayors across the whole of Yorkshire, all competing with one another. We must stop that waste of public money and this balkanisation. The good news is that the Archbishop of York came down to this House and the Labour party, the Liberals and the Greens all agreed to support One Yorkshire in their next manifestos. It is to be hoped that the Government will too.

Moving on rapidly to transport. I was in Transport questions this morning, and there does now seem to be doubt about whether HS2 will come to Yorkshire. If it does come to Yorkshire, it looks like it will go via Manchester, for some reason. It is always good to go to Manchester, but it is not the most obvious route for a train from London to Leeds. I call upon Transport for the North. John Cridland, who is the current chair has got a big job. He is also on the HS2 review committee. Which side is he going to be on—Transport for the North or that review committee? He must make that decision because we need Transport for the North to bat for the north.

My hon. Friend Vernon Coaker made a passionate speech. He spoke about the inequalities in our society, as did Kevin Hollinrake. I suggest just two texts that we should look at in that regard. The other day, the Employee Ownership Association published a report calling for a national strategy on employee ownership. Seven per cent. of firms, including John Lewis, are employee-owned. The report suggested giving tax advantages, and making funds available when there are succession problems and so on, to create employee-owned funds. That could transform our economy, because such firms tend to be firms where there is higher productivity.

Finally, let us not forget the ASDA workers. Next week, many of them will have to sign on the dotted line to sign away their rights in favour of so-called flexible working. The sooner we get a right at least to request a more stable employment contract, the better our society will be.