AN MP has demanded an investigation into why automated helplines fail to understand people speaking with North-East accents.

Fraser Kemp wants to know why many computerised voice recognition systems are apparently designed to recognise only those speaking "with a plum in their mouth".

The Labour MP for Houghton and Washington East said he was met with silence on the other end of the phone line when he rang the TV licensing authority. Since then, other Wearsiders have complained to him of running into similar difficulties when ringing both government and private helplines. Now Mr Kemp has tabled parliamentary questions to demand all publicly-funded voice recognition phonelines are adapted to identify North-East accents.

He said: "Everything was going fine until the computer asked for my address and failed to understand me about five times. I'm proud of my accent, as the majority of British people are with theirs, and I don't see why these computers cannot understand a good old Wearside accent.

"We don't all speak received English with a plum in our mouth. It must be possible for the designers of these systems to take into account regional accents."