The business for the week commencing 21 November will include the following:
Monday 21 November—Debate on the autumn statement and consideration of resolutions (day 1).
Tuesday 22 November—Conclusion of the debate on the autumn statement and consideration of resolutions.
Wednesday 23 November—Remaining stages of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (day 1).
Thursday 24 November—A general debate on the UN international day of persons with disabilities, followed by a general debate on the independent review of children’s social care. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 25 November—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 28 November includes:
Monday 28 November—Remaining stages of the Levelling- up and Regeneration Bill (day 2).
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. As I am supporting the Ask Her To Stand campaign this week, I thought I would dress in the appropriate colours.
It appears that the Government have simply given up listening to Parliament. On Tuesday, Labour gave them the opportunity to start putting right their crashing of the economy, which hiked mortgages and rents, but they did not show up and we won. One would not think that they still had a working of majority of 69. Is the Prime Minister’s leadership really so weak that he that he cannot carry his own MPs on a vote?
Labour called for, and Parliament voted for, the former Prime Minister and Chancellor to waive from their severance pay the average monthly £500 mortgage increase that families now face as a result of the Tory economic crash; yet Tory MPs backed their mates getting £35,000 over working people who have been left to pay for the mistakes that they made—a reward for just days in post in which they caused economic meltdown. Can the Leader of the House say with a straight face that they deserve this reward from taxpayers?
Even under their minority Government in 2018, the Government showed up to defeat censure motions. May I remind the Leader of the House that, by convention, censure motions results in MPs’ losing salaries or ministerial jobs? Governments have even fallen. The Government cannot just pick and choose which votes they will respect and which they will ignore, so will they uphold the will of this House? Will the right hon. Members for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) and for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) give back from their ministerial severance the £500 average mortgage increase that they caused? The new Prime Minister said he would lead a Government of “integrity, professionalism and accountability”, so why is he willing to break long-standing parliamentary precedent in his first few weeks? Does the Leader of the House agree that the Prime Minister really needs to hurry up with appointing an ethics adviser? Will she give us a timeframe?
We agree that it is important that Members can hold Ministers to account in this place first, yet the Government briefed out almost every single part of today’s statement to the press. That is discourteous to Members and to our constituents, on whose behalf we want to put important questions to the Chancellor. It is not the first time, and it seems to be part of a wider culture of disrespect to Parliament. Has the Leader of the House spoken to Ministers about this issue, as she said she would? If she has, clearly she was not heard or was ignored, so will she remind her colleagues that major policy statements should be made by Ministers in this House first, not briefed to the media?
Labour’s green prosperity plan would build industry, create jobs, grow the economy and tackle climate change. Our national wealth fund would give the British public a stake in energy and climate investments. We would insulate millions of cold homes, and invest in onshore and offshore wind, tidal and solar. We would make fairer choices on tax, including by scrapping the non-dom tax status, taxing private schools, and making oil and gas companies pay their fair share, and we have a proper procurement plan to ensure we are buying, selling and making more in Britain. Those are just some of Labour’s serious plans for fairer, sustainable, green economic growth.
Where is the Tory plan? Today, non-doms have just kept their tax break. For working people, bills are up, wages are down, and they have just had a massive tax hike. The Chancellor told us that his autumn statement will help Britain face into the storm. Does he not get it? This Government are the storm. They have been the dreadful soaking rain, the howling wind blowing the roofs of, and the puddles drenching us with muddy, cold water with every passing bus—if one ever arrives—for 12 long years. This is a Tory crisis made in Downing Street. They crashed the economy; they hiked mortgages and rents; and they have presided over rising prices, falling wages and rising taxes. This is on them. The British people must be given the opportunity to elect a Labour Government, who would make fair choices and have an actual plan to get our economy firing on all cylinders—and it cannot come soon enough.
May I congratulate the men’s cricket team on their win at the T20, and wish—as I am sure the shadow Leader of the House would want to—England and Wales good luck in their first matches in the World cup?
I compliment the hon. Lady on her suffragette ensemble today, although given what has happened this week, I would caution her against wearing it in the Scottish Parliament.
On a serious note, we had an urgent question earlier this week on the situation in Iran, but may I place on record my concern? My thoughts are with the people of Iran, particularly in the wake of the decision taken by the Iranian Parliament this week. Thank you for allowing me to say that, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Let me turn to the hon. Lady’s questions. I am keen that all news is heard by this House first, and will continue to make those representations. She will know that it is really important that embargoes are not broken on events such as the financial statement. I will emphasise that to my colleagues.
The hon. Lady will know that the decision on the appointment of an ethics adviser is with the Prime Minister, and I know he is focusing on it. She will also know that the Prime Minister very much wants me to concentrate on such matters, particularly in this House. We have had some good discussions about how we might join up actions that this House, our respective political parties and the Government are taking to give ourselves the best chance of creating the best possible culture in this place.
We have just heard from the Chancellor. The shadow Leader of the House, like me, was here for much of the statement, but she clearly missed the news that the Office for Budget Responsibility has confirmed that the chief reason we are facing these issues is the global situation, and in particular Russia’s illegal, economic war that is levelled at every household, every business, and every school and hospital in this country. We have set out the fact that we are strengthening the public finances, bringing down inflation, protecting jobs, investing in nuclear power, and putting in place the biggest programme of capital investment in 40 years. There is £1.5 billion more for Scotland, £1.2 billion more for Wales and £600 million more for Northern Ireland. We are protecting standards in schools, cutting NHS waiting times and funding social care. We have committed to the energy bill cap, and to supporting the most vulnerable in our community with regard to pensions, benefits and the national living wage.
In stark contrast, although the hon. Lady talked about 12 years of failure, it is Labour that has failed: it is failing in opposition; it is failing in Scotland; it is failing the people of Wales; it is failing to form a plan, as we heard from the shadow Chancellor today; and it is failing to free itself from its union paymasters, because it refuses to back our legislation on minimum standards. Every single time Labour is in government, it leaves the country in a worse state than when it inherited it. The reverse is true of my party. On this side of the House, we have a clear plan. On the other side of the House, there is no plan.
I am extremely concerned to be advised that Serco—the agency responsible for seeking asylum accommodation around the country —is not complying with reasonable requests from Northamptonshire police to provide biometric data and known offending history from asylum seekers’ country of origin. Such individuals have no footprints on the police national computer, so Northamptonshire police are reliant solely on information provided by Serco. Despite several requests, Northamptonshire police have been informed that Serco is “too busy” to provide such information. The Leader of the House will be aware that the failings of such information and data transfer could have catastrophic consequences. May I urge her in the strongest possible terms to ensure that we have an urgent statement from the Home Office clarifying that Northamptonshire police will receive full biometric profiles, together with a comprehensive breakdown of any known offending behaviour in their country of origin, before any asylum seekers set foot in Northamptonshire?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this incredibly serious matter. It is not my area of expertise, but I cannot imagine that the situation he describes is compatible with Serco’s duty of care, nor its contractual obligations. He has clearly raised the issue with the Department and had no satisfaction, so I will write on his behalf and ask that there is a meeting between him and the relevant official in the Department. I will also suggest that Ministers hold a surgery for colleagues who may face similar situations.
I associate myself with the Leader of the House’s comments about the appalling decisions of the Iranian Parliament.
I could raise the financial statement, but so much of it was trailed beforehand that it feels like old news, so I will leave it until next week’s debates—except to wonder why extra resources need to go towards cracking down on vanishingly small amounts of benefit fraud but not on rampant tax evasion.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked the Prime Minister about the influence on our politics of opaquely funded think-tanks. That was timely, because an audit published today by openDemocracy and Who Funds You? shows that some of those think-tanks have raised more than £14 million between them in just two years, from donors whose identity is a complete mystery to us. That is important, because these think-tanks appear willy-nilly across media outlets such as the BBC and have had lots of ministerial meetings since 2012. Their policies have helped to inspire disastrous Government experiments such as the former Prime Minister’s mini-Budget. I am confident that the Leader of the House joins me in believing that it is only right for the public to know exactly who funds organisations that seem to wield such power in our democratic systems, so she will applaud the fact that I have written to the Prime Minister today to ask him again for an urgent meeting to discuss his position.
I must mention the Leader of the Opposition’s successful recent mini-break in Scotland—successful for the SNP’s polling figures, that is. Not only did he continue to deny democracy by telling the people of Scotland that on his watch they would never get a chance to decide their future for themselves, but he continued to deny reality by suggesting that he and his party can confound the predictions of almost every economist and trade expert and somehow make the deeply unpopular catastrophe of Brexit work. He is welcome back any time.
Lastly, the all-party parliamentary group on the environment enjoyed a helpful discussion yesterday with Canada’s high commissioner about the next COP15 on biodiversity, which is to be hosted in Montreal in December under China’s presidency. There is a bit of a fear that COP15 is being a little overshadowed by its better-known cousin COP27. That is a real problem, because it is vital that COP15 goes ahead and that major commitments are made. Will the Leader provide a debate on it in Government time to highlight its crucial messages?
I look forward—although I am sorry we have to wait until next week for it—to the hon. Lady’s welcome for the additional £1.5 billion in funding that was announced today. I am sorry that she did not take the opportunity to welcome the next batch of Type 26 frigates, which will secure jobs at Rosyth. I cannot imagine why the SNP does not want to talk about shipbuilding.
This week, we heard from Professor Keith Hartley, a defence expert, who said that warship construction would grind to a halt and thousands of jobs would be lost if Scotland were to leave the UK. He also warned that it was unlikely that an independent Scotland would have a particularly large navy. Based on the SNP’s performance at procuring ferries, I think he is probably right. I have often spoken about the SNP’s reality gap: the chasm between what SNP Members continually talk about and the concerns of the Scottish people. The Auditor General for Scotland has now pointed to an “implementation gap”: the abyss between the SNP’s rhetoric and the reality of its delivery on the ground.
I have been suggesting a bit of homework for the hon. Lady every week. The homework I am setting her today for the debate on Monday is a question to think about: if the SNP is so concerned about balancing the books and the budget of the Scottish Government, why does it not drop the constitution budget, drop the plans for a second referendum and focus on the NHS instead?
Order. Before we move on, I must say to the SNP spokesman that I did not interrupt her because I do not like to interrupt the flow of this important item of business, but it really ought to be about asking a question concerning next week’s business. It is fascinating to know the hon. Lady’s views on the Leader of the Opposition, but they do not really have a lot to do with next week’s business here in the House of Commons. I am sure that in future she will find a way of asking questions.
Historic gas lamp street lights are very precious to many people in Westminster. I have been working closely with the London Gasketeers—a brilliant campaign to save the gas lights—and with Conservative councillors. The Conservative administration before May stopped the plan to replace the gas lights; sadly, the new Labour administration has reintroduced the plan and is now consulting on it. The consultation ends on Sunday. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that we do all we can to protect the historic fabric of central London and encourage people to take part in the consultation and send a clear message: “Keep our gas lamps”?
I would like to ask the Leader of the House whether we can send a clear message by having a debate in this House about the importance of protecting the historic fabric of central London and the rest of the United Kingdom, and of protecting our precious gas lamp street lights.
I am pleased to compliment you on maintaining the proper procedures of the Chamber, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is quite right that we maintain our important heritage, which is not only cherished by residents but a draw for visitors to central London. It is also nice to talk about gaslighting in its original context, as opposed to the more modern meaning that has become the fashion in this Chamber. I commend my hon. Friend and her councillors on the campaign and wish them luck with it.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business, and for announcing the Backbench Business for Thursday 24 November. I also thank her for our very pleasant meeting yesterday afternoon, and I thank her member of staff, who I understand hails from Consett, for the treat of a Black Bullet, which are not readily available in this part of the country. It is an import from home that he brought down.
In the aftermath of the autumn statement, can we have a debate in Government time on the impact of Government policy on local government finance? My borough of Gateshead, which prides itself on the development of sport over decades, now faces a situation where, having had almost £200 million cut from its budget in real terms over 10 years, it is now looking for a further £55 million-worth of cuts in the next three years. There is a real possibility of mothballing Gateshead International stadium and closing two of our swimming pools and possibly even our major leisure centre. This is important to people not just in Gateshead but across the whole north-east of England. Can we have a debate in Government time about the impact of Government policy on local government finance?
I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman’s gratitude to Kieran, but he will have caused envy among other visitors to my office who did not get confectionery.
I completely understand the importance of the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman. I am sure he will make use of the debates on the autumn statement, and there is also Levelling Up, Housing and Communities questions on 21 November. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill comes back next week, too, so there will be plenty of Chamber time for him to raise these important issues.
For too long, residents of villages such as Newton and Blackwell in my constituency have had to live under the cloud of HS2 safeguarding, which is blocking investment and blighting communities. It is about time we moved on. With the planned upgrade to the midland main line, there is no good reason to allow HS2 Ltd to block levelling-up projects along what was the Chesterfield spur. Can we please have a debate in Government time on how we can crack on and let these communities get on with their lives, now they are rid of this stupid project?
I thank my hon. Friend for campaigning on this, and what he has said will have been heard by Ministers. There is Transport questions next Thursday, as well as the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill coming back to the Floor of the House next week. I will pass on his concerns to the Minister.
This week I met the families and loved ones of prisoners held under the imprisonment for public protection sentence, The Government abolished these sentences in 2012, but not retrospectively. As of September 2022, 2,890 people are still serving an IPP. Seventy-four prisoners have committed suicide, including Donna Mooney’s brother Tommy Nicol, who committed suicide in September 2015. He described his sentence as psychological torture. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time to discuss this most important issue?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important point, and I express my sympathies to Donna and her family for what has happened. I am happy to write on the hon. Lady’s behalf to both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office to raise her concern. I encourage her to facilitate a meeting with the relevant Minister.
Over many years, there have been discussions between the excellent doctor’s surgery in Hanmer in my Clwyd South constituency and the Betsi Cadwaladr University health board about building appropriate new surgery premises. Will my right hon. Friend facilitate an opportunity to discuss this in the House, and will she join me in urging the health board and the Welsh Government to expedite these discussions so that the Hanmer surgery can meet the ever-increasing local patient demand?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. Clearly, the NHS and healthcare is under tremendous pressure in all parts of the UK, but while one in 20 people in England are waiting over a year for treatment, it is one in four in Wales. I know that primary care and the excellent services he has described are critical for diagnostics and prevention to tackle that issue. He has raised the issue today on the Floor of the House, and I know he is campaigning hard about it. He can gather the support of Ministers by raising it at parliamentary questions on 6 December and, in the meantime, I will ask the Department what more it can do to encourage the Welsh Government and local stake- holders to bring forward the new services his constituents need.
Tomorrow, I will be meeting the Scottish Showmen’s Guild in Glasgow. The guild has raised with me its concerns about the rising costs of electricity and gas for both site tenants and landlords, for which they receive no financial assistance or grants. Will the Leader of the House ask the Business Secretary to give a statement to the House and ask him to meet me to discuss energy support for showpeople?
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate in Government time about making sure the NHS is winter ready? Long ambulance queues and handover times have plagued my local hospital, even in summer months, which is why I and colleagues have campaigned so hard for a new ambulance handover unit. That unit arrived last week and is already easing pressure on our busy A&E and on our ambulances. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the East of England Ambulance Service and Southend University Hospital on these new lifesaving initiatives?
I am happy to congratulate the East of England Ambulance Service and Southend University Hospital on this achievement, and my hon. Friend, who I know encouraged it. She has campaigned for the hospital and she has also abseiled down it to raise money for the cancer ward, and I congratulate her on all she has achieved. I hope that this new initiative will be welcomed by her local constituents.
Gabriel Stoyanov was stabbed to death in Lewisham two weeks ago. He was just 21 years old. I knew Gabriel and I knew his mum’s hopes and dreams for his future—a future that has now been senselessly taken away from him. Will the Home Secretary make a statement about tackling the scourge of knife crime and youth violence?
I am very sorry to hear about this tragic incident. I am sure that all Members of the House will want to send their condolences, thoughts and prayers to Gabriel’s family. The hon. Lady will know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary takes the issue very seriously. She is encouraging the Mayor of London to do further things. We have introduced new conditions on knife crime, brought back stop and search measures and increased sentences, but there is clearly more to do. Every community needs to have peace of mind that their young people can go out without fear, and I will certainly pass on the sentiments that she has expressed today to the Home Secretary.
The Leader of the House rightly celebrated the men’s T20 cricket world cup win on Remembrance Sunday. Will she also join me in celebrating the great performances of our women’s rugby team, the Red Roses, who narrowly lost to New Zealand on Saturday. Will my right hon. Friend give time for a debate on women’s world cup rugby in the UK in 2025 and the strong case for Gloucester Rugby’s Kingsholm Stadium to be a major host venue? She may also be interested to know that there were no less than four players from Gloucester-Hartpury in the Red Roses team, including international women’s rugby player of the year, Zoe Aldcroft.
That is a textbook question. I will certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating the England women’s rugby team, who did an incredible job, and only narrowly missed out. I thank him for the work that he is doing to promote this sport and to ensure that his constituents get the credit they deserve for the successes. He will know that Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions will be on 1 December, and I encourage him to take part.
At next week’s debate on the autumn statement, can the Leader of the House ensure that a statement is made by the Government, supporting, committing to and reaffirming their commitment to the hydrogen strategy? I notice that the strategy was glaringly absent from the autumn statement, but I am sure that that was an omission and not intentional. I just hope that the commitment is reaffirmed.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. I can make a statement now that the Government are committed to the hydrogen strategy, which was published last year. Since its publication, we have doubled our ambitions for 2030. We have also announced the £240 million net zero hydrogen fund. I hope that that gives him reassurance, but I encourage him to raise the matter at the next questions.
The Rotary club of Ilkeston is celebrating its centenary this coming weekend. Whether it is the fairs at Ilkeston Community Hospital or the classic car rally on the marketplace, these events and many others would not be the same without the burgers cooked by our rotarians locally. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking Ilkeston Rotary club for all its charitable work, and for raising a huge amount of money for good causes, both locally and internationally, and will he wish it a happy 100th birthday? Can we have a debate in Government time on the contributions that Rotary clubs across the UK make to our communities?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. Whether it is cooking burgers or eradicating polio, we have a huge amount to thank rotarians across the UK for. I certainly join her in congratulating her local Rotary club on meeting its centenary event. I hope that its members will celebrate appropriately, and I thank them for all they have done to support her local community.
Barnsley has the fourth highest level of tooth decay in the country, and 98% of dentistry practices across Yorkshire are not able to accept new patients. Can we have a statement on the Government’s strategy to improve dental health?
At the start of this year, we released some new funding to assist those areas that were not able to provide all of the hon. Lady’s constituents with access to dental care. Since that money was released, there has been some more flexibility in commissioning, which will help local commissioners to commission those services. I know as well that we have a catch-up job from the covid pandemic to get through. I encourage her to raise this matter at Health and Social Care questions, but I shall also raise it on her behalf with the Department.
Rugby’s Hospital of St Cross is highly valued by residents, who are keen to see it provide more services, especially in A&E. We are looking forward to welcoming the Secretary of State soon on a visit that was promised by his predecessor. One of the hospital success stories is the role played by the Friends of St Cross charity. Long-service badges have just been awarded to 90 volunteers for completing 10 years’ service, 35 of whom are still volunteering. With a collective 500 years’ service between them, can we have a debate on the very valuable contribution of volunteers within the NHS?
I put on record my thanks to all of my hon. Friend’s constituents who are volunteering for the friends organisation. This is a service that not only is very welcome but can help improve patient outcomes, hospital visiting and so forth. Ten years of service is a tremendous achievement. I congratulate them all and my hon. Friend on ensuring that the Secretary of State will visit his constituency. I encourage him to apply for an Adjournment debate.
Many people are being left with no choice but to suffer against their wishes towards the end of their lives. Office of Health Economics figures show that every year 6,400 terminally ill patients in hospices suffer horrendous deaths. Many of my constituents have told me they want to see a fair and free debate on assisted dying. In nearly three years, the issue has only been debated once. Will the Leader of the House make time in Government time for a debate on assisted dying?
These matters have always been a free vote. I know over the last few years the House has had several large debates on this issue, including in Westminster Hall. I know that many all-party parliamentary groups in the House are looking at the question from all sides. I encourage the hon. Lady to apply to the Backbench Business Committee if she has support from across the House to revisit this issue.
Today is Social Enterprise Day. Social enterprises play a vital role in creating local jobs and solving local social and economic problems. For example, Parracombe Community Trust in my constituency has raised nearly £145,000 in community shares to transform an old public toilet into a bustling community shop and café, helping to foster renewed civic pride. It is also developing affordable housing via a community land trust for local people. Might my right hon. Friend update the House, and maybe even find time for a debate, on how we plan to support social enterprises as they work to bring community assets back into the hands of local people?
I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to congratulate Parracombe Community Trust on its terrific job creating that community facility. She will know that we recognise the importance of social enterprise. We have made finance available to support it through dormant asset funding, and there is also assistance from the £150 million community ownership fund. I encourage her to apply for a debate on the matter.
Can we have an urgent debate on houses in multiple occupation and their regulation? Unscrupulous companies are targeting communities, buying up home after home on the same street and converting those homes to tiny units not fit for vulnerable adults to live in. Local authorities then have very limited powers or influence over them, and too often we see a consequent rise in antisocial behaviour and other crimes. The legislation is truly a mess. Overnight, people who have felt safe on their streets and lived there in peace for many years suddenly feel unsafe in their own homes. This is a problem we can solve, and Parliament needs to debate it and act on it.
There are some opportunities next week for the hon. Lady to raise these matters; some elements of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill would enable her to do so. She could also raise them in questions on 21 November. Councils around the country have dealt with the matter in very different ways, and there is a lot that local authorities can do. I will raise this with the Department on her behalf to see whether it can offer her any advice on how the situation can be resolved in her local area.
Can we have a debate on the roll-out of electric vehicle charging points? Nationally, around one third of households do not have access to off-street parking, but in my mainly rural constituency the number is even greater. We need innovative solutions to allow people to charge their electric vehicles. There is a big focus on rapid chargers, but we need to increase awareness of slower chargers and charging hubs. If we had a debate, we would be able to identify exactly who is responsible in communities for the roll-out of those EV charging points and what role councils can play in delivering accessible, reliable and affordable charging.
My hon. Friend will know this is an extremely important part of the move towards more electric vehicles. We have pledged at least £500 million to support local charge point provision, and we will continue to support that roll-out. It might be a topic for an Adjournment debate, and I encourage him to apply for one.
We heard a lot in today’s autumn statement about the international headwinds of inflation and fuel prices, but we did not hear very much about the 12 years of Conservative mismanagement of the economy in the United Kingdom and the penury that it has heaped on people in Scotland. So many people across these islands are in work, but two thirds of our households living in poverty are working households. Food banks, which were unheard of before this Government came to power, are now a feature in every town, village and city. We did not hear anything about defence—we will hear about that soon—but this Government spent £6.6 billion on the nuclear enterprise alone, so can we have a debate on the role that will have in the future of these islands? Scotland does not want those nuclear weapons, the UK cannot afford them, and Scotland cannot afford the UK.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to raise another issue that was not spoken about in the Chancellor’s statement: the fact that the SNP has been forced to cut funding to public services by 8% in real terms after its financial mismanagement, which led to it facing a £3.5 billion overspend. With regard to the nuclear enterprise, I will not even attempt to persuade him of its merits. If he cannot see the merits of such an enterprise in the light of what we face at the moment with an aggressive Russia, I think he is a lost cause.
I set up and chair the Anglesey Freeport Bidding Consortium, which includes Stena Line, Anglesey County Council and other stakeholders. Ynys Môn is desperately in need of levelling up, with a gross value added among the lowest of any constituency. Does the Leader of the House agree that a freeport on Anglesey will bring good-quality jobs and investment? Will she visit the newly launched website angleseyfreeport.co.uk to see for herself how important our freeport bid is for Anglesey? Will she agree to a debate in Government time on Welsh freeport proposals?
Not only has my hon. Friend asked a textbook question, Madam Deputy Speaker, but you will be pleased to know that she is observing protocol by not bringing props into the Chamber. She has got changed, because earlier today she was wearing a sweatshirt with “angleseyfreeport.co.uk” written across it and could be found walking around the Palace of Westminster campaigning at every opportunity to bring those opportunities to her local community and to help companies such as Rolls-Royce, Bechtel and many others. I congratulate her on her tenacity.
I have been working with a bereaved family in Croydon whose father, Andreas Kassianou, died tragically of legionnaires’ disease in hospital in 2020. The NHS triggered an inquest that confirmed that he had died as a result of legionella contracted entirely because of the inadequate flushing of the water in his room by staff. Mr Kassianou’s daughters, who are obviously mourning the loss of their father, now face unaffordable legal fees because they did not meet the requirements for legal aid. That seems deeply unfair considering that the trust accepted liability and the family never asked for an inquest in the first place. Will the Government give parliamentary time to discussing the urgent need for reform for bereaved families who face such extortionate legal fees for inquests that they did not initiate into events for which they were not at fault in any way?
That situation cannot be right, and I am very sorry to hear about the added pain that Mr Kassianou’s family are going through. I think the best course of action would be for me to write, on the hon. Lady’s behalf, to seek advice from the Department of Health. She will know how to apply for a debate in the usual way.
I know that my right hon. Friend understands the real importance of the steel industry not just to my Scunthorpe constituency but to our whole nation. Is she aware of the ongoing talks between British Steel and the Government? If it is needed, would she support a debate in Government time to discuss how we can best protect that vital strategic industry?
My hon. Friend very much understands the importance of this industry, and not just to jobs and the levelling-up agenda; it is a sovereign capability that we have to protect. The Conservative party has, famously, an Iron Lady; it has a Steel Lady too. I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that she has done to help to provide support for that sector; £780 million has been given in support to the industry over the last few years, obviously including the £300 million rescue package. That was put in place prior to her coming to the House, but I know that she campaigned on it. Thanks to her tenacity, we have twice extended steel safeguards to protect the industry. We recognise that this is a strategically important sector. In contrast, under Labour the number of workers employed by the industry halved and production levels fell. I urge her to continue her campaigns.
In my Blaydon constituency, we have great swimming clubs such as Gateshead synchronised swimming club and Gateshead and Whickham swimming club, which rely on our local leisure facilities to produce great talent. Our local Dunston leisure centre is at threat of closure due to the lack of funding, as are many others across the UK, so can we have a debate in Government time on the importance of keeping public leisure centres and swimming pools available across the UK?
I am very passionate about this agenda, and have gone to great lengths myself to keep swimming pools open, so I thank the hon. Lady for raising it. I am sure that such a debate would be welcomed by Members on both sides of the House. I encourage her to apply for either a Backbench Business debate or an Adjournment debate in the usual way.
On Monday, I visited Lauren and the team at Renfrewshire toy bank, which distributes gift packages, including toys, books and clothes, to families who cannot afford to buy their children a present for Christmas morning. They had 2,000 referrals last year but expect around 3,000 this year. Many of those referrals are for families with a parent in work. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking Lauren and her team—they are all volunteers—for the work that they do, and make time for a debate on child poverty and why the Government are failing so many families?
I congratulate the toy bank that the hon. Gentleman visited. There are many such schemes around the whole of the UK, and they do a tremendous job in plugging those gaps. He will have just heard in the Chancellor’s statement about the additional support that is being provided, the fact that we have protected benefits, the household support fund, and of course our commitment to the energy cap, which will help as well. If the hon. Gentleman gets colleagues’ support, he can apply for a debate, and I encourage him to do so.