Announcement to stand down

Statement by the Right Honourable Peter Hain MP:

Having been reselected last December as Labour candidate for Neath, I was planning to stand again next year.   However, after considerable thought and in discussion with Ed Miliband, Leader of the Party and for many years my close colleague, I have decided to draw stumps on my House of Commons career.   I have been in politics for some 50 years, 23 of those in the House; whilst it is my firm intention to remain active in politics, I have decided that it is time to find new ways to represent the new progressive politics to which I and Ed Miliband are committed.  It’s time for a change.

By next May I will have been privileged to serve the marvellous constituency of Neath and its people for nearly a quarter of a century.  They warmly welcomed me as an outsider, and members of my family subsequently moved to the Neath Valley where I will remain living after I have stepped down and continue to support Labour in our mission to build a better Neath.  Meanwhile I will campaign hard once my successor has been chosen for a Labour victory – in Neath, throughout Wales and across Britain.

Statement from the Neath Constituency Labour Party:

“For the last 23 years Peter Hain has served the people of Neath tirelessly, fighting for constituents and our Labour Party values. Holding government positions like Secretary of State for Wales he delivered further devolution for the people of Wales and at the Department of Trade and Industry he brought many hundreds of millions of pounds of compensation to thousands of chronically ill miners. His unstinting work to negotiate a peace settlement in Northern Ireland has brought a stability to the area that just years before no-one would have thought possible.

“In the Neath constituency he has helped many thousands of people through his surgeries and advice office. For over two decades he has been a popular campaigning MP fighting for residents and taking up the causes with great passion and commitment, and putting Neath on the map. We thank Peter unreservedly for what he has done for us and are sure he will continue to play an active role in the constituency and the Party.

“As a constituency party we now look to begin the process of finding our Parliamentary candidate for the 2015 General Election and winning a Labour majority.”

Closure of court is “kick in the teeth for Neath”

Evening Post, 14th march 2014

NEATH MP Peter Hain has labelled the closure of the town’s magistrates’ court as a “kick in the teeth” after he made a final attempt to save it.

Mr Hain spoke out at Westminster Hall to ask the Government to reverse their decision to close Neath Magistrates’ Court.

Last month HM Courts and Tribunals (HMCTS) announced that the building on Fairfield will close and all cases will be held in Swansea.

But despite a major campaign and a further plea by Mr Hain, The Ministry of Justice is going to press ahead with their decision to close the court.

Mr Hain said he was given a “dismissive response in a pre-scripted answer which took absolutely no account of the detailed costs and argument we put forward”.

He added: “This is a kick in the teeth for Neath.”

In his speech he said: “Having examined the Secretary of State’s arguments, the proposal document and the consultation response put forward by HM Courts and Tribunal Services, I am convinced the transfer of the Magistrates’ Court Service from Neath to Swansea will severely and detrimentally affect the town, its citizens and erode the provision of local justice for local people.”

Watch Peter’s speech here

Hefina Headon – Heart of our Valleys

A Seven Sisters woman who organised community support during the year long Miners Strike of 1984-5 has been hailed by Neath MP for being a ‘heart of our Valleys’.

Hefina Headon died a week ago after a long illness and her funeral will be held at Llwydcoed Crematorium this Thursday.

In a tribute Peter Hain said: ‘Like me, many local people were very sad to learn of Hefina’s death after a serious illness.

‘Her service to the community and the Labour Party was fantastic and many were in debt to her for her hard work and care for others. As a Labour stalwart, Hefina served as Treasurer of the Seven Sisters Branch and was an active ward member. She also showed me tremendous personal support for which I will forever be grateful. I will always remember with great fondness Hefina holding the Neath, Dulais and Swansea Valley Women’s Support Group banner from the 1986-5 Miners Strike outside Parliament when I was first introduced as Neath’s MP.

‘I know of the tireless activity she undertook during the strike to support the miners and their families who were then suffering so badly. The courage and determination she showed with many other local women was an inspiration at a terrible time. For this vital contribution and all her other selfless community work, her name will stand proud forever. She was a heart of our Welsh Valley communities, such a colourful, outgoing character that she brought so much bubbly happiness to everyone with whom she came into contact.’

The funeral will be at Llwydcoed Crematorium on Thursday October 17 at 12 noon.

No hope of £25bn Severn Barrage being built

Western Mail

Peter Hain has issued a withering attack on the Government for ignoring the benefits of a Severn Barrage – admitting the project is effectively dead in the water.

Mr Hain, who resigned from Labour’s Shadow Cabinet last year to campaign for the Barrage, blamed the UK Government for scuppering a project that would have provided 5% of the UK’s electricity needs.

Speaking to WalesOnline the Neath MP released letters between himself and Chancellor George Osborne which he said left him with no hope that the Barrage could make progress while the current Government is in power.

The Barrage would be built from between Brean, near Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, to Lavernock Point, seven miles south of Cardiff.

In a letter to Mr Osborne last month, Mr Hain expressed his frustration at what he saw as the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) negative approach to the Barrage.

He wrote: “I am very concerned that, following the meeting I had with you several months ago, there has been no progress on the Severn Barrage – indeed, such comments as there have been from Government seem negative.

“I am now asking that you personally and your officials look afresh a what I am convinced is a fantastic, entirely privately funded £25bn investment in what will be by far the cheapest energy over the next 100 years or more for Britain.”

Mr Hain told the Chancellor the Barrage would have the projected capability of producing electricity output equivalent to three or four nuclear power stations, adding: “As such it is axiomatic that it will benefit from the economies of scale and, from a cost point of view, be infinitely more cost effective than a series of small, high cost renewable schemes that would generate at two to three times the cost.

“The Barrage will keep prices down. In truth it will be perhaps the only genuinely cost-competitive renewable technology.”

Mr Hain said the “strike price” for electricity generated by the Barrage –  the amount paid to companies for power generated from renewables, to help overcome high initial costs – would come in well below the £155 per megawatt hour currently being offered by the Government to those generating power from offshore wind.

The cost would, he said, also be lower than the £135 strike price for offshore wind  due to be paid in 2018-19.

The former Welsh Secretary’s letter said: “The ability of hydroelectric and tidal-range schemes to produce virtually free electricity, once built, can be seen at the La Rance barrage in Brittany, and at countless hydro schemes around the world.

“Norway, which invested in hydroelectricity a few decades ago, produces 98% of its domestic electricity from hydro. Their consumer bills are consequently now 65% lower than in the UK, after the initial period of subside.”

Mr Hain said that crucially, the Severn Barrage would last far longer than either wind farms or nuclear plants, while requiring little more consumer support than nuclear and less than wind.

He rejected criticism made by the Commons’ Energy and Climate Change Committee about the supposed thinness of the business case for the Barrage, stating: “The [committee] did not ask a single question about [the] cost breakdown, nor have DECC officials. The select committee report’s conclusions were, astonishingly, based on the 2010 DECC study for a barrage very different to that proposed by Hafren Power and not on the several hundred pages of evidence provided by Hafren Power, much of which the select committee chose not to publish.”

Mr Hain said smaller tidal schemes would most likely require the maximum draft strike price of £305 per Megawatt hour, while generating nowhere near as much electricity: “For example, the Swansea Bay lagoon, which is deceptively large and actually the size of 1,500 football pitches, would generate one fiftieth of the power of the Barrage.

“Where in the Severn could we possibly find space for another  50 lagoons? If we did, the impact on navigation and environment would anyway be completely unacceptable.”

Mr Hain appealed further to Mr Osborne, stating: “To keep the lights on, the future for the UK energy sector may well need to include nuclear power, though delivery of this is not certain. The potential of shale gas has still to be verified.

“Surely the Government must also capture the longevity and awesome, nature-gifted, power of the Severn Barrage, boosting our domestic energy security.

“Simply to ignore a vast national resource, like the second highest tidal range in the world, does not appear rational and many of the arguments which have been marshalled against it bear all the hallmarks of a heavily subsidised campaign designed to create doubt, uncertainty and fear on spurious grounds.

“On energy, your Government has asked for value for money for the economy, consumers and business. The nation simply cannot beat this Severn Barrage.

“The wider benefits to the economy would be enormous, with 50,000 direct and indirect jobs created and 80% of the £25bn spend being in the UK, unlike wind power for example.”

Rejecting Mr Hain’s call for a further meeting, the Chancellor responded: “As you know, DECC is encouraging Hafren Power to undertake more work on the details of the project, particularly the environmental aspects.

“We appreciate that they have already done some work in this area, as presented in the business case you attacked, and that doing further work would be costly.

“However, as this would be such a large, novel and complex infrastructure project, more evidence surrounding the cost, benefits and impacts is needed before we can look at it in greater detail.

“You are right to note that affordability is one key constraint on this project. The Government would need to be convinced that the costs of the Barrage would be less than the generation technology that it would displace and that the financing of the project could be structured to limit the upfront cost to bill payers.”

Mr Hain said: “Frankly I have been quite shocked by the sheer contempt towards the Barrage shown by DECC officials and ministers.

“I have spent more than a year campaigning behind the scenes in a non-partisan way for a project which would provide 50,000 jobs in Wales and the South West of England.

“There is nothing on the horizon which would provide such a vast number of employment opportunities, and it is a tragedy that it is not being welcomed with enthusiasm by the UK Government.

“George Osborne’s response shows that the Government is willfully refusing to back the project. There is a 120-page business case that sets out the rationale for the project in detail.”

Mr Hain said he was convinced that opposition to the Barrage led by Bristol Port had turned the Government against the project.

“Bristol Port’s opposition to the barrage, which in my view is wholly irrational, undoubtedly led to a change in attitude by the Government. It has to be borne in mind that the joint owner of Bristol Port [David Ord] is a leading Tory donor who has attended fundraising events with David Cameron.

“With opposition from the Government, whose support is crucial in getting an enabling Bill through Parliament, the investment from sovereign wealth funds that would underpin the project simply won’t be forthcoming.”

Mr Hain said that while he was convinced the project has no future at present, he hoped it could be resurrected under a future Labour Government.

The coalition’s Dickensian welfare cuts are terrorising the poor

New Statesman

If Britain’s working poor can be cast as so many Oliver Twists condemned to the workhouse, then this government is surely Mr Bumble, looking aghast at a starving child and exclaiming “more? You want more?”

It’s a sad fact of life in 2013 that ministers either don’t know about the devastating impact of their welfare cuts or just don’t care. Many of my Neath constituents are, in the stark words of one, feeling “terrorised”. The impact can indeed be terrifying in communities in south Wales, which for historical reasons have lower wages than average, higher unemployment, more industrial injuries, more disability and therefore more benefit claimants.

Far from conquering poverty and making it pay to work, as ministers cosseted away in the Westminster bubble constantly profess, their policies are having the reverse effect. Since Parliament returned after the new year, every week has seen yet more bad news for those who live with a Sword of Damocles hanging over them.  Ironically, these reforms are hitting those in work and on low pay the hardest, including 6,200 people in Neath who rely on benefits to top up their meagre incomes, but are now having their tax credits removed.

Government suggestions that they shore up their income by taking on more hours simply ignore local reality. Many part-time workers will be competing with the thousands more that are unemployed in the Neath labour market, where as many as six people have been chasing every vacancy.

Under-employment is also a growing trend.  In 2005-2008 (pre-recession) there were, on average, 86,000 underemployed workers in Wales, a fairly average underemployment rate of 6.5 per cent of the working age population. But in the last three years, 2009-2012, there were an average of 134,000 underemployed workers in Wales, an underemployment rate of 10.3 per cent  – nearly half as much again as the standard rate – an increase of 48,000. That’s one in ten Welsh workers being thwarted from working as much as they wish – often thwarted from bringing themselves above the benefits threshold. There simply are no extra hours in the south Wales economy for people to work the fuller week they want to.

Furthermore, how are they supposed to compete in an already saturated labour market against hundreds of youngsters between the ages of 16 and 24 who every week are demoralised by being rejected as both “over qualified and under experienced”?

As for the carers, who must balance work with other duties, when will these extra hours fit into already unmanageable timetables? Being in work should always be preferable to relying on welfare, but this will only be the case if the government helps to create jobs and guarantees a living wage across the public and private sectors. As long as full-time work is so badly paid that it falls beneath certain welfare thresholds the case for removing those benefits cannot be made in good faith.

An impact study undertaken by Sheffield University shows Neath to be one of the worst affected constituencies. An old industrial area dominated in the past by coal and steel, we have a legacy of incapacity – one of the highest counts in the country with around 6,000 people in receipt of incapacity benefits. When she shut coal mines and heavy industries in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher dumped many on to what was then termed ‘invalidity benefit’ to conceal the true level of unemployment: most never worked again.

Official estimates suggest that over a third of them will now be assessed ‘fit for work’, stripped of their incapacity benefit and arbitrarily forced to seek jobs which either don’t exist or, if they do, are likely low-paid, part time, temporary – or a combination of all three. They face a future of stigmatisation by local Job Centre workers forced to administer oppressive regulations and procedures designed solely to cut the welfare bill, not to increase job opportunities.

People with serious health problems, including cerebral palsy, hemiplegia and a speech impediment have previously worked in sheltered employment in the local Remploy factory.  But it is now being closed. One constituent taking over twenty tablets a day, and in and out of hospital, was found fit for work: hard working people are being made to feel tawdry and ashamed by the government.

Now being added to this chaotic and upsetting process is the payment of housing benefit to tenants rather than landlords, ostensibly to teach ‘responsibility’, but loudly denounced by addiction and mental health charities as fundamentally misunderstanding the predicament of vulnerable citizens.

Cynically parading their ‘scroungers’ versus ‘strivers’ bile – lapped up by government supporting newspapers – ministers demonstrate wilful ignorance about the realities of poverty, unemployment, lack of jobs and welfare reliance, and the highly complex causes.  Far from promoting a sense of pride and opportunity, government ‘reforms’ humiliate through dehumanising assessment tests performed by quota-ticking, private sector drones like ATOS.

Ministers must know that their zealous drive to cut the deficit, no matter what, will result in 500,000 disabled people being worse off under the new Universal Credit on top of big cuts to child disability payments.

Where is government compassion for the countless people who will face difficulty heating their homes or putting food on the table as well as having to go without specialist equipment and care? Far from removing obstacles on the route to employment, the government is creating huge road blocks for those with disabilities.

Do ministers also comprehend that few will be affected solely by one of these cuts? Disabled single parents stand to lose twice over. Take the new ‘bedroom tax’. Disabled people will no longer have a spare room for relatives to come and stay to take care of them. One of my constituents is a carer for his severely disabled, bed-ridden wife, who hardly sleeps at night and has the TV on constantly, yet the government is to deprive him of his second bedroom, and there are no local one-bedroom homes available. Meanwhile young families won’t be able to have a relative to stay to ease soaring childcare costs, forcing people out of work and onto benefits in order to look after their young children.

In Neath we have bedroom tax cases of parents who have separated – the parent who does not have full care of the children but may have them on the weekend is not considered eligible to have a ‘spare room’, so either has to pay the extra rent or leave the child without a roof to sleep under.

Neath is one of 69 areas in Wales where more than half of all children are living in poverty with a household income totalling less than 60 per cent of the average. These official figures are shocking enough without taking into consideration the rising cost of living with utility bills and food prices spiralling. The benefit cap will push a further 200,000 children across Britain into poverty. Material deprivation, which is a key indicator of poverty includes the inability to afford clothing or bedding, a situation that will become a reality for another 400,000 children by the end of this parliament.

Neath Foodbank has seen over 1,600 different people in 12 months – half of them working and desperate. I had to refer one young man who had suffered a breakdown because all his benefits had been stopped – and he was starving.  Meanwhile, voluntary groups’ budgets have been savaged and the once busy Citizens Advice Bureau office has been forced to shut because of the cuts. Some ‘big society’ this is.

Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council’s excellent Welfare Rights Unit is deluged with distraught people needing help with an appeal against one arbitrary decision after another. So is my constituency advice office.

Viewed from Neath, the prospect of returning the country to a Victorian state of dependency on a handful of charitable do-gooders is all too real; the image of the government as a cabal of Dickensian villains rings only too true.