Northern England: Opportunity and Productivity - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:06 pm on 12th January 2017.

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Photo of Lord Shutt of Greetland Lord Shutt of Greetland Liberal Democrat 1:06 pm, 12th January 2017

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on securing this timely debate. Of course, the anchor for our debate is the IPPR The State of the North report, which was published on 9 December. It is quite instructive, however, to go back 16 days to 23 November, because that was when Her Majesty’s Government produced a document, the Northern Powerhouse Strategy. It is a 30-page document—well, there are 10 pages blank—with a splendid foreword by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It helpfully sets out in a table that the north of England has a GDP greater than 22 European Union states. But the document does not tell us about the democratic deficit. It does not tell us that the north of England is on a totally separate footing to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or London. There are 20 pages of commentary about the northern powerhouse with barely a reference to the European Union, save for a couple of paragraphs on page 18 indicating a UK government guarantee on certain EU-funded investments signed up to prior to the Autumn Statement last year. There is neither a note of doubt about the issue of Brexit, nor any exuberance about any opportunity—silence.

The IPPR document published 16 days later attempts to plug the gap. It is a wide-ranging report on the north of England economy and its pages set out the Brexit concerns. Its number 1 recommendation is that there should be a northern voice at the Brexit negotiating table. It calls for,

“the formation of a Northern Brexit Negotiating Committee to determine the type of Brexit that would best suit the North, to speak with one voice”.

For me, a further striking point of the IPPR paper was its cover. In showing a map of the north of England, it showed it as what many of us have often thought of as three regions—to come back the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott. If those three regions existed, it would pretty simple for them to co-operate, to talk for the north and to become a power base for the north. The diversity of cash-strapped and debilitated local government, ill-fitting combined authorities, mixed devolution and several LEPs does not easily convert into northern clout.

I want to talk about two further things. Can the Minister provide any further insight into the prospect of devolution in Yorkshire? Yorkshire is an understandable brand; I have lived there all my life—nowhere else. The efforts of the Yorkshire tourist board, the Yorkshire County Cricket Club and the Yorkshire Post make it clear what Yorkshire means. The cricketers say that if you get a strong Yorkshire, you get a strong England. I say that if we get a strong Yorkshire, we will get a stronger north. Does the Minister have something to say on whether he can see daylight with regard to devolution for Yorkshire?

My final point is that the ever-helpful House of Lords Library paper includes copies of the Hansard report from 17 June 2015—19 months ago—when the House discussed transport in the north. We heard a day or two before that of the indefinite delay in the electrification of the trans-Pennine railway, while there was nothing at all about the Calder Valley line, which the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, referred to and which greatly concerns me. That is the line from Manchester to Leeds and York via Huddersfield. Is there any news of a start date for that?