The business for next week is as follows:
I thank the Leader of the House for that update. She has put this job on the world stage, and I look forward to working with her. May I also welcome my deputy, my hon. Friend Nick Smith, fresh from the Public Accounts Committee? I also welcome the new Members to their places, particularly my hon. Friend Keir Mather.
I am delighted to take up this important role, and I put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire, who was a great shadow Leader of the House. I also thank some of her predecessors, too, for their advice. All of them said that this job is vital for upholding truth and democracy and for ensuring that the Government are held to account by His Majesty’s loyal Opposition. I fear that this is now needed more than ever.
After 13 years of this Government, our politics has increasingly been dragged into disrepute by cronyism, scandals and, as I am afraid always happens with a Tory Government, sleaze. I am sorry to say that this House, our sacred seat of democracy, has become an afterthought to a press release, a place for Ministers to avoid at all costs if they can—disrespected and disregarded by disinterested Ministers.
In this place, where Ministers used to regard it as their duty to be candid, we have seen rule breaking, evasiveness and spin, despite Mr Speaker’s valiant and often successful efforts to the contrary. Ministers do not seem to know what their power is for anymore, with
“a zombie Parliament where nothing meaningful has happened...the Government is adrift.”
That is not my verdict, but that of the former Member for Mid Bedfordshire.
The writs were moved this week for two more by-elections. Adding to the slew of others, they speak volumes about this rotten Government. Today we hear that the people of Tamworth can finally get an MP they can be proud of.
Sometimes these sessions are an occasion for levity—let’s be honest, there is plenty of material. Just this week, we had the Education Secretary’s hot mic interviews. But quite frankly, it is just not funny anymore; it is tragic. It is tragic to see this country’s reputation and potential trashed by a Tory Government that have lingered too long.
The debates and statements this week have brought no real answers about fixing crumbling schools after a decade of under-investment. Parliament and parents need answers, so can the Leader of the House provide them? Will she lay before Parliament the advice given to the Prime Minister before the spending reviews that cut funding to school rebuilding? Can she tell us exactly when the “new evidence” of the imminent danger was given to Ministers? Will she guarantee that the list of schools published yesterday is correct, and pledge that Ministers will come to Parliament to update it? Will she confirm that 19 of the schools affected had building projects cancelled in 2010? Will she lay before Parliament a full list of all public buildings affected by reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete?
May I advise the Leader of the House not to repeat the nonsense we heard during Prime Minister’s questions yesterday? Indeed, will she first correct the record of the Prime Minister’s claims? The Leader of the Opposition has raised school building safety many times, including through Opposition day motions, which the Leader of the House voted against. Labour’s programme, which was aimed at secondary schools, was the biggest capital investment in schools for a generation, and her Government scrapped it immediately on taking office. Before criticising it again today, she might want to be reminded of the fact that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has since said that scrapping it was his “biggest mistake”.
Finally, we have had no mention of this week’s anniversary, which Conservative Members might want to forget: it is one year since Elizabeth Truss became Prime Minister. In the interests of parliamentary accountability, it is an important event to debate, as her six-week tenure left a crippling legacy for mortgage holders, with millions now paying hundreds of pounds a month more, thanks to her reckless decisions, all of which the Leader of the House defended and supported. At the time, the Leader of the House said that the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk had a “bold economic plan”. Will she now apologise for putting her in office and for the price the rest of us are paying for her kamikaze Budget? Will she bring forward legislation to stop the House being brought further into disrepute by the former Prime Minister’s elevating her cronies to the House of Lords? We have had no contrition.
It is the Leader of the House’s job to uphold the integrity of this place and its Members, including former Prime Ministers, in the eyes of the public. How will she ensure that Parliament can do this?
First, I add my voice to the many who have paid tribute to the Lionesses for their incredible achievements. We are all so proud of them, not just for the brilliant football they played, but for their conduct and the solidarity they have shown with the Spanish team.
I do wish to commemorate an important anniversary, but a different one from the one that Lucy Powell mentioned. Many right hon. and hon. Members will be thinking of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the anniversary of her death, which is this week, and I anticipate many tributes to her service, strength and devotion to duty in the coming days.
I also pay tribute to Thangam Debbonaire for her service to this House. I very much enjoyed working with her. I welcome the hon. Member for Manchester Central and her team to this place. I hope I can say congratulations to her, but I understand if commiserations are in order. The clock has struck midnight and she has had to leave the glittering ball that is the culture, media and sport brief. Gone are the growling engines of Silverstone, the champagne flutes of the Royal Opera House and the peeled grapes of BBC hospitality. Ascot’s horses have turned into House of Commons mice, and she is in the scullery with me for company. I thank her for the meeting we have already had. For my part, I will do my best to make sure that it is productive and enjoyable, and I look forward to working with her and her team.
I must reject the hon. Lady’s characterisation of both this Parliament and this Government. In this Session, 34 Government Bills have achieved Royal Assent, amounting to 1,578 pages of legislation. We have been very busy indeed, and I thank all Members of this House for their attention to that. I also reject her characterisation of this Government. She focuses on correcting the record, and I take what she says seriously and genuinely. All credit to her, she admits when she has got things wrong. She admitted that she was wrong to support Jeremy Corbyn. [Interruption.] No.
I think the hon. Lady is wrong about the Prime Minister’s comments, but I understand that she will not take my word for it, so I suggest she looks at The Times’ analysis of yesterday’s exchange, which backs the Prime Minister both on the building programme and that he did not cut the budget. I would be interested in how many times she raised RAAC as an issue in this House when she was shadow Education Secretary. Given her commitment to the facts, will she admit that Labour has got it wrong on the economy? Labour has been, wrongly, talking this nation down, but it has now been demonstrated that we have had the fastest recovery from the pandemic in the G7. That is vindication of the Prime Minister’s furlough and bounce back loan schemes.
The hon. Lady understandably focuses on the situation of school infrastructure. I remind her that Labour’s building schools programme excluded 80% of schools, and was poor value for money and highly ineffective. On a personal note, when I got my seat in 2010, my schools were so bad that a secondary school was shut because it was too dangerous to teach in and had Legionnaires’ bacteria in it. It and another in my patch have now been rebuilt, and we have a new university technical college.
The hon. Lady criticises Secretaries of State for Education, but what they have delivered means that, across England, we have 10% more good or outstanding schools, nearly 30,000 additional teachers and the best literacy outcomes in the western world. The current Education Secretary put the safety of children first, in contrast to Labour in Wales, which has not acted so swiftly, despite similar warnings. The health and safety priorities of the Labour Government in Wales appear to be focused on people buying meal deals, as opposed to a lump of concrete falling on a child’s head. That goes to show that Labour’s priorities are wrong. In bankrupt Birmingham, politically correct street names trumped paying women a fair wage. Good stewardship of public funds was trumped by utter incompetence on an epic scale. As a leaked memo from Labour headquarters said:
“Budget cuts and the size of the City are used as reasons to explain the situation however, this does not hold up under scrutiny”.
Our Prime Minister recognises that for us to be worthy of public support, we must focus on the public’s priorities: the safety and education of their kids; in particular, a strong, growing economy, lower debt and inflation; great, accessible healthcare; and border control. Where Labour is in power, and in its support of strikes and votes against our legislation, it shows that it cannot and will not deliver on those priorities of the British people.
I will close by giving the hon. Lady, on her first outing, some advice. From this Pompey supporter to that Man City supporter opposite: in politics, as in football, the blue team is always best.
This House, as the Leader of the House is aware, takes a dim view of bullying—unless it is by me. She will be shocked to learn that Britain’s worst water company has now resorted to thuggery and strong-arm tactics to silence parliamentarians and the press. I refer, of course, to the Pennon Group, which includes the nation’s filthiest and leakiest supplier, South West Water. Its chairman, Gill Rider—who worked for the Cabinet Office and so is used to leaks, I suppose—has hired City lawyers to threaten the press and parliamentarians if we speak out against the company. She is running a mob that has convictions for polluting rivers, pays its top gun criminal bonuses and, despite the wettest July on record, still has a hosepipe ban. It is operating like a mafia. This is absolutely appalling. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on these ruddy water companies, who are blackmailing their customers and parliamentarians to stop the truth coming out?
My hon. Friend has raised issues related to that particular company many times in business questions, and the whole House can sense his frustration and anger with what is happening. I suggest that he may wish to raise the matter with the relevant Secretary of State on
It is a bit of a surprise to us all that the Leader of the House herself is still in post, hanging on against all the odds, especially given the way her Government are unravelling day by catastrophic day. During summer recess we all saw her on her latest leadership tour in Scotland. Madam Deputy Speaker, she cannot stay away from the place. Two visits in one year—it must be a record for a Tory Minister! Speaking at a fringe event, she characterised Scotland as a “fierce and powerful nation” being held back by the “bile and hatred” of the SNP. In her reflections on her visit, the Leader of the House mounted a defence of the Union based on our “poems”, “our rivalry”, and our “blood and our brotherhood”. Madam Deputy Speaker, we have no interest in being “fierce”, whatever that means; we just want the power to govern ourselves like any modern democratic country and build a fairer, greener and more prosperous nation.
I think I know why the Leader of the House is so keen to head north of the border. It is because when she is there she sees a very different country. I could not put it better than the respected Oxford professor Danny Dorling, who said last month:
“Scotland is showing us the route to a fairer society and is helping to prevent Britain from becoming a failed state.”
Professor Dorling added:
“Scotland already has a lower proportion of children living in poverty than the most affluent region of England, which is the south east. Further progress”— on inequality—
“has been achieved through the Scottish Child Payment…raised to £25 a week”.
“Scotland shows us a better way forward.”
In contrast, he has described the reaction of politicians in England to addressing inequality as being to promise
“only minor remedial actions with short-term impact”.
The Leader of the House called me delusional when I pointed out to her previously Scotland’s faster economic growth, our lower unemployment and our lower rates of child poverty than the rest of the UK, and when I told her that not a single day in the Scottish NHS has been lost to industrial dispute and that we have the best paid teachers in the UK. The next time she comes back from a day trip to Scotland, can we have a debate on what she has learned from us?
Well, I have genuinely missed these exchanges, where the hon. Lady blames everyone except the Scottish Government, who are one of the most powerful devolved Administrations in the world. She invites me to tell the House what I learned on my very pleasant trips to Scotland over the summer. I learned that Scotland has slower economic growth than England. I was shocked to learn that Victorian diseases, such as rickets, have returned to certain cities in Scotland, and that Glasgow’s rat problem is now so bad it is precluding binmen accessing certain streets because it is too dangerous for them. I discovered that the bill to Scottish taxpayers for the smelting business debacle stands at £32 million. I discovered that £33 million, which was ringfenced for Scottish farmers, has gone AWOL. I also learned that the Scottish auditors have only been able to give a qualified sign-off to the SNP’s accounts.
I toured other parts of the UK as well. In Manchester—this may interest Lucy Powell—I discovered that Greater Manchester police had been forced to issue a crime reference number following a complaint about the SNP giving constituency seats in return for cash. I also learned that there is a £1 billion black hole in the Scottish programme for government, which was announced this week. I thank Deidre Brock for inviting me to put that on the record.
The hon. Lady seeks to blame everyone else for this situation: me, the UK Government, and anyone else who is around except the Scottish Government. This summer, a former colleague of hers even tried to blame agents of a foreign power for infiltrating the SNP and making all these terrible decisions. The SNP is never short of a grievance, but it is now running out of excuses. I look forward to hearing next week what other excuses there may be. The execution of Mary Queen of Scots? The highland clearances? The hundred years war?
The grotesque chaos and appalling public services from which the hon. Lady’s constituents and the rest of the Scottish people are suffering are entirely down to the SNP. They are now a sad, spent force, and are no longer the UK’s separatist party: that dubious honour now goes to the Labour party in Wales.
The building known as the Crooked House pub was built in 1765. It was symbolic of the region’s industrial heritage, and was home to tens of thousands of individual personal memories. Soon after its sale, the Crooked House was subject to an arson attack, followed by unlawful demolition, notwithstanding the local council’s instruction that that should not be done. This is an ongoing trend across the country. May we please have a debate in Government time to see what this place can do to better protect such heritage pubs?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue, and I hope the approval for his question that I have just heard across both sides of the House was audible to others. I believe that this appalling incident is still subject to a police investigation, but it appears that roads leading to the pub were blocked to prevent emergency vehicles from reaching the fire. I hope I speak for all of us when I say that this is an appalling and disgraceful situation. I was encouraged by the statement from Andy Street that it would be dealt with, and that if it turned out that there had been foul play, people would be held to account. I am sure that if my hon. Friend applied for a debate it would be extremely well attended, and that he has the support of everyone in this place.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. I note that she did not announce the business for Monday 18 and
I now need to declare an interest, in that I am the chair of the governors of a maintained primary school and a member of the board of trustees of an academy trust. One aspect of the Government’s management of the crisis over reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in schools is, on the face of it, bizarre if not perverse and wasteful: namely the fact that moving furniture from an affected school to an empty building would apparently fall under revenue costs and would not be allowable under the Government’s current proposals. If the school decided not to move furniture but to buy brand-new furniture for an empty building, that would be allowed to fall under capital costs.
That seems to me to be a very strange decision on the part of the Department for Education. Could the Leader of the House perhaps check to see whether that is indeed the case, and if it is, could she persuade the Department to change its mind about supporting revenue costs, given that that would be wasteful and unwise?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his always helpful adverts for forthcoming Backbench Business opportunities. He knows that I wish to give him as much notice as possible, and I will continue to do so when we have locked in the time.
I am all in favour of gumption being applied, and I will make sure the Secretary of State for Education, who is also in favour of gumption being applied, has heard what he has said today and makes sure all Members know the facts.
We have manifesto commitments to ban the live export of animals for slaughter and to crack down on the illegal smuggling of dogs. The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill would have delivered those promises, but it was withdrawn. When will the Government produce new legislation to keep those important promises?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this important point. We have a great track record on improving animal welfare, and our animal welfare legislation is now world leading. We are still committed to those manifesto commitments, and my committee is busy looking at these issues. She will know that further business will be announced in the usual way, but she should be reassured.
Today is 270 days since Azerbaijan began its blockade of the Lachin corridor, causing huge hardship to the population of Nagorno-Karabakh, who are under siege without basic supplies and whose suffering is getting worse. Can we have an urgent statement from a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Minister to make sure the Government are using all the levers they have to press Azerbaijan to comply with international obligations and lift the blockade?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this matter. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office questions are not until
I want to praise the Rush skatepark team and stars such as Edith Bowman, Tom Smith, Andy Burrows and Katy Pearson for organising an incredible fundraising event at the Sub Rooms on Friday night. Young people are, sadly, still devastated by the council’s decision to close Rush skatepark a few years ago, but we are working to rebuild a brand-new, even better skatepark for them. I urge everyone in the district to support it. Will my right hon. Friend agree to look into how often sports such as skating, scooting and BMX get attention in this place and see whether she can find time for a debate on this life-changing set of sports and their popularity among young people?
I thank my hon. Friend for the work she is doing to ensure that these much-needed facilities can continue in her constituency. She is absolutely right, and I know that many Members of this House very much value sports clubs and societies, and particularly the sports she mentions. She will know that, if she were to apply for a debate, it would be well attended. We have had a number of debates on these issues quite recently.
Osteoporosis affects about 15% of the UK population, especially women. Early diagnosis is vital and could lead to many thousands of preventable deaths. The Royal Osteoporosis Society is based in Bath, and I am sure the Leader of the House and everybody here will join me in congratulating it on its excellent work. The Royal United Hospital in Bath has a specialist fracture clinic, but only half of NHS England trusts provide such clinics. Can we have a debate in the House on support for fracture liaison services and on people living with osteoporosis?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue and for the work going on in her constituency on this important matter. The next questions to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will be on
Residents across Keighley and our wider area are getting fed up with fireworks constantly being let off throughout the night and well into the early hours of the morning. That is not limited to bonfire night; it is happening throughout the year. Many are part of celebratory events, particularly weddings, and are let off by families who have no consideration for their neighbours, which is having an impact on young people, pets and hard-working people who just want to get a decent night’s sleep so that they can get up in the morning. May we have a debate in Government time on better enforcement, holding West Yorkshire police to account, and tougher licensing provisions on the sale of fireworks? We could also look at restricting the use of fireworks to public events only.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on being the first person to raise this issue. I anticipate he will be the first of several, as this is a common theme at this time of the year. He has raised his concerns with regard to his constituents and I shall make sure the relevant Secretary of State has heard those by writing on his behalf today. I suggest that the Backbench Business Committee might be the best place to secure a debate. Having been in this job for a year, I know that such a debate is likely to be well supported and well attended.
Is the Leader of the House aware that Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals, where many of us have benefited from treatment, are among the very few of our hospitals at the top of the world rankings? Why do so few of our constituents live near a world-class hospital? What has gone wrong in the past 13 years with our health service, where we have so few of the world’s leading hospitals?
We have many fabulous hospitals. When I came into this House in 2010, my local hospital was the worst in the country for MRSA and clostridium difficile infections, but it is now a fantastic hospital. Health outcomes have improved there, despite all the stresses of the pandemic, and we have a new accident and emergency department being built, which will open next year. That is the story of many places around the UK. We should be celebrating and talking up the fantastic hospitals in this country, just as we should be talking up our strong economy and all the opportunities we have here since we left the European Union. I hope that one day the Labour party will do that.
The record 1,455 police officers in Bedfordshire achieved under the leadership of Chief Constable Trevor Rodenhurst and the police and crime commissioner Festus Akinbusoye are very welcome. However, we face a serious problem with shoplifting, with a low proportion of police turning out when shops notify them and an even lower number of convictions. I have some shops locally where store managers are telling the shoplifters to take what they can so long as they do not hurt the staff. This is simply unacceptable in a cost of living crisis, when poorer people and all of us have to end up paying more. May we have a debate in which we can raise these issues and make clear to the Home Office this House’s views on shoplifting and the action that the police need to take?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point, and he is absolutely right in what he says. Small shops are lifelines for communities; it is a sorry state of affairs if they are not able to thrive and are disincentivised from continuing their business. He will know that, leaving aside fraud and computer crime, we have halved crime since 2010, on roughly the same—slightly more—resource. That is a tremendous record, but there is more to be done, with a particular focus on antisocial behaviour and these kinds of crimes. He will know that the Home Office recently said that every crime of this nature needs to be followed up and investigated. I will make sure that the Home Office has heard what my hon. Friend has said. I think such issues will be the focus of many colleagues in the coming weeks.
I have written to petrol providers in Barnsley asking them to lower prices, because they are regularly 3p a litre higher, if not more, than in neighbouring areas in Yorkshire. Indeed, this week it is cheaper to get petrol in central London than in Barnsley. I simply do not believe that motorists in Barnsley should be paying a petrol premium, so will the Government make a statement on what they are doing to tackle local and regional price disparity?
That is a very important issue which will affect many households in the hon. Lady’s constituency, as well as businesses. She will know that the Government have acted and are setting up what Fair Fuel UK has called a PumpWatch scheme. The Competition and Markets Authority is now establishing a number of measures to ensure that there is fair pricing at the pump and that competition is improved. She will know that the Government have done other things to help her constituents and to lower the cost of fuel. In the same time that Labour put up fuel duty by 46%, we have lowered it by 7.5%.
On the eve of the rugby world cup, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Aramis Rugby, a North Devon-based manufacturing company, on providing all the scrum machines used in this year’s tournament? Following the success of the Lionesses and with England hosting next year’s women’s rugby world cup, can we have a debate in Government time on the links between hosting sports events and participation in sports?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that and giving us the opportunity again to celebrate the successes of women in sport, as well as the fantastic news of our hosting the next women’s rugby world cup. That is wonderful news and we have a great record of hosting such events. Since 2012, we have hosted over 130 sporting events, which is a great record to be proud of. I will make sure that her enthusiasm has been heard by the relevant Minister.
The Leader of the House will be alarmed to learn that the police have confirmed that last year there were 15 attacks on war memorials in Northern Ireland—atrocious, despicable attacks, where poppies were ripped off, plaques removed and there was criminal damage. Last year there were five arrests for those terrible events and some of those cases are ongoing. Does the Leader of the House think it would be appropriate to have a debate on this issue, or is there a better way of raising awareness so that the public can express their concern and outrage at those attacks?
I am extremely sorry to hear that. I know that for many local communities who tend those memorials that will be a hugely upsetting thing to have happened. It is incredibly important that those memorials are protected. If the hon. Gentleman were to apply for a debate, I think it would be extremely well attended. I will make sure that the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for Defence have heard his concerns.
Last weekend, I was thrilled to attend Southend City Jam, an international festival of street art. It is the largest in Europe and displayed 240 artists from around the world, including Brian Lewis, known as JEKS, from North Carolina, who is in the Public Gallery, along with his girlfriend, Melissa. Given the festival brought in over 200,000 visitors to the new city of Southend, can we have a debate on the role of street art as part of our rich cultural heritage?
It sounds like an absolutely wonderful event. I thank my hon. Friend for bringing it, as well as our visitors, to the House’s attention. She will know that almost £5 million in Arts Council England funding has been awarded to 162 organisations involved in street art or graffiti art, which is an important part of our culture. She may also wish to give the subject another airing at the next Culture, Media and Sport questions, the date of which is to be confirmed.
Section 71 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 requires that by April 2023 the Government lay before Parliament a report on spiking. That deadline has long passed and the Government are now facing threats of legal action for failing to meet their statutory duty. The longer the Government dither and delay, the more vulnerable people are put at risk. Can the Leader of the House confirm the precise date that she expects the report to be laid before Parliament?
Many of my constituents have contacted me to express concern about the delay in passing regulations on the use of electronic collars. Electronic collars work by delivering an electronic pulse to suppress unwanted behaviour, which can be painful and frightening and even decrease the animal’s ability to learn, so I was pleased that in April the Government announced a very welcome ban on their use. However, no date has been set for the final stages of legislation. More than 90% of the population are in favour of implementing a ban as soon as possible on this cruel practice. Does my right hon. Friend agree, and can she confirm a timetable for bringing forward this important piece of legislation?
My hon. Friend is right that we are committed to this matter. We are not intending to ban things such as perimeter fencing, which protect animals, but shock collars cause unnecessary suffering. I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard her keenness for an update. She will know that the next Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions are not until
I congratulate my hon. Friend Lucy Powell—my good friend and Greater Manchester neighbour—on her appointment to her new position as shadow Leader of the House. I know that she will do an excellent job. I also wish to congratulate my hon. Friend Nick Smith on being appointed her deputy.
As Britain and India negotiate a trade agreement, it is important that benefits of such a deal are shared across the regions and nations. Despite a large community of people of Indian heritage and many Indian businesses in the north of England, and the fact that Manchester airport, a stone’s throw from my constituency, is the third busiest airport in the UK, there are no direct flights between Manchester and India. Will the Leader of the House therefore grant a debate in Government time on connectivity from Manchester airport to international destinations and the potential benefit that that would bring to the north-west and, indeed, to the rest of the country for trade, culture, family ties and our educational institutions?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and, as a former trade policy Minister, I can tell him that one of the benefits of more regular economic dialogue with our partner nations is to address precisely those things. In fact, part of my visits to various countries around the world, including the United States, was about securing extra flight routes into his local area. It is tremendously important, not least because we want to attract investment and businesses to those areas. He will know that we will not be having live discussions about trade deals, but I know that such accessibility will be very much part of the discussions and script from which our Ministers will be working.
Car insurance firms often increase premiums after a crash even if the accident is caused entirely by the negligence of another driver. For one of my constituents, Ageas increased her premium by 40% after filing a no-fault claim, despite the fact that the car was parked legally and my constituent was not even in the vehicle when the crash happened. This is because, statistically, those who file any claim are deemed by the insurance companies more likely to make a future claim. That assumption completely ignores individual circumstances and is extremely unfair to those who make no-fault claims. Can we have a debate in Government time on this system and on what steps can be taken to prevent insurance companies from making these unfair assumptions and fleecing our constituents, particularly at a difficult time regarding the cost of living?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising what he has identified as a very important issue. He is an experienced parliamentarian and will know how to apply for debates. I am sure that if he did apply for one, it would be extremely well attended. In raising this matter today, he has given insurance companies the opportunity to respond to this concern. If there are any public affairs officers from the major insurance firms listening to this debate, I would encourage them to take to social media this afternoon to clarify their policies on this area. I am sure that we would all applaud them if they stepped up and gave their policyholders an excellent service.
The covid pandemic affected all of us, but the most devastatingly affected were the families who lost loved ones, and they are still being affected. Next Wednesday I will launch my new film, “The Unequal Pandemic”, which focuses on three families’ experience. It reveals that, instead of being the great leveller that the Government said that it would be, the pandemic exposed deep structural inequalities, affecting who and where was most impacted. I would love to see the Speaker of the House and all Members at the launch, but will the Leader of the House allow for a debate specifically on what we can do to ensure that the inequalities that affected the experience of the pandemic are addressed adequately?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this matter and advertising this event. She is absolutely right, particularly as the covid inquiry looks at these matters, that the experiences and concerns of those who lost loved ones should be at the forefront. It was a terribly traumatic few years for everyone, with the isolation and the additional pressures that people faced. To lose, in some cases, multiple family members during such a time is incredibly hard to metabolise and bear. She will know how to apply for a debate, but if she sends the details to my office I shall look at ways I can support this.
My constituents generally support reaching net zero, but not when we put in front of them the estimated increase in costs to their family to pay for it, not least the additional costs of green tariffs on energy bills, moving away from gas boilers, banning new petrol cars, and so on. The transition to net zero is estimated to cost around £1 trillion and will invariably be borne by hard-working families who can least afford it. Having debated the Energy Bill this week, would now be an opportune time to consider holding a debate on the estimated costs of net zero and how it will affect ordinary families in this country?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. I have great sympathy with what he outlines. I would not just say, “What is the fair and right thing to do?” If we want to be successful in making this transition, and helping other countries to do so, we can do that only with technology, solutions and innovation that people will love and want to adopt, and that will make their bills cheaper and their lives easier. That is the only way we will be successful in meeting our environmental ambitions. I encourage him to apply for a debate, and to focus on not just the costs, but the value of innovation and how we can encourage British businesses to be at the forefront of it, and take their ideas and sell them to the world.
This Sunday is World Suicide Prevention Day, and so many organisations and groups will be working hard to highlight the need for all of us to work towards preventing suicides—groups such as If U Care Share in the north-east, which will be running its “Inside Out” campaign, as well as national charities. I hope that Members from across the House will help to spread the message that it is good to talk, to reduce suicides. As we await the publication of the national suicide prevention strategy—imminently, I believe —can we have a debate in Government time on the strategy and how we can prevent suicide?
On behalf of everyone here I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important awareness moment and giving us all the opportunity in this place to thank the many local groups that will be dealing not only with this issue specifically, but with improving mental health and wellbeing and mental resilience in our communities. I will certainly make sure that the Secretary of State hears that there is a keenness to have a debate on the strategy when it is produced, and the hon. Lady will know the actions she can take to secure one.
With her legendary attention to detail, no doubt the Leader of the House has seen this morning’s report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies—an authoritative report showing that so deep now are the class and regional differences in our society that social mobility has been reversed by more than 50 years. Can we have a debate in Government time so that we can address the issue, particularly for poorer families in the north of England whose children find it difficult to share in the success that this society allegedly promises them?
Historically the UK has had slower social mobility over many decades; that is improving, but there is more that needs to be done in this area. That will only be helped by people being able to get into work and make progress through work. That is why I supported our reforms on universal credit and why I think we should be celebrating getting 4 million people into work, there being 1 million fewer workless households, and 1 million of that 4 million being disabled people who would not have had the dignity of a pay packet had we not brought in those reforms. Focusing on opportunities for young people, we should celebrate our emphasis on alternative routes other than pure, traditional university degrees: apprenticeships and ensuring that young people are in education, employment and training.
It has been a very stressful week for parents worried about their children returning to schools and whether they are safe. Now I understand that the list produced by the Department is inaccurate and that some schools have been told that they should close yet they are not on the list. I remember the confusion, chaos and further distress that was also caused when the Building Schools for the Future list went out. This affects all our constituents, so it is not a party issue. It would be helpful if the Leader of the House ensured that the information the Department for Education sends to all our constituents is clear on what is happening with the reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete issue across the country.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. If we want to reduce the stress levels that people are undergoing, we must ensure that information is timely and accurate. I know that that is what the Secretary of State for Education is looking to achieve. I will raise this with the Department and ensure that the list, if there are errors on it, is dealt with. I will also ask for a point of contact for Members, if they have not already been issued one. In situations such as this, it is important to be able to get hold of someone to confirm whether something is accurate, or when local issues crop up that need to be resolved quickly. I shall certainly recommend that the Secretary of State does that. I know that she wants to ensure that Members have answers to questions they want to raise and that her Department is delivering a good service to this House.
It is incredibly important that we learn the lessons from the pandemic and the Government are very keen to do that. What I would say to such criticism is that all fraud is bad and we want to ensure that it is eliminated and money is recovered, but at the time the Government were right to act swiftly to ensure we were able to keep households and businesses going. The fact that we have now been able to show that our economy has recovered the swiftest out of comparable nations has demonstrated that that approach was right, whether through the furlough scheme, the bounce back loans or the other support that was provided to businesses. Where we can recover funds we will and we must; it is appalling that organisations, particularly bogus businesses, committed fraud at that particular moment of national crisis and need, and we should throw the book at those people.
I also welcome my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) to their new Front-Bench roles. The shadow Leader of the House alluded to the fact that this time last year, the Leader of the House backed her “hope candidate” and said:
“Who can lead? Who can build that team and deliver for our country? Who does have that bold economic plan that our nation needs?... I’ve seen enough to know…the person I’m going to put my faith in”.
The hon. Gentleman tempts me. I will give him some achievements of the right hon. Member to whom he refers—I hope that he has given her notice of his question, but I suspect that he has not, because I am sure that she would have been here to tell him herself. I think that we ought to recognise that she delivered a lot for this country, including some of the first from-scratch trade deals. She served in many Departments, including the Treasury. I would be very happy to have a cup of tea with him and talk about the things that she did in the service of this country.
My constituents who work in the Defence Equipment and Support depot in Beith will engage in strike action on Monday over the unequal application of bonus payments, which has created a two-tier workforce. Strike action is unprecedented in DE&S, which currently supplies important equipment to Ukraine. I have raised this matter with the Secretary of State for Defence. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out her support for those workers, and will she urge management at the depot to provide parity and fairness for their workforce?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important point and for highlighting the impact that such action may have. Our commitment to Ukraine and the other partners we work with is unwavering. It is obviously critical that we have a good supply chain to ensure that they are able to continue their heroic efforts. I do not know the details of the dispute. She says that she has already raised it—quite rightly—with the Secretary of State for Defence, but if she thinks that there is anything else I can do to assist her in resolving the situation, my door is always open.
In 1958, 65 years ago, thalidomide was first marketed in the UK. It was withdrawn three years later in 1961. One hundred thousand babies were affected worldwide; 90% were miscarried or stillborn. Sadly, of the 10,000 victims who survived to birth, fewer than 3,000 are alive today, and about 400 of them are in the UK. Can we have a debate on why it took this House until 1972, 11 years after the withdrawal of the dangerous drug thalidomide, to hold a debate on that issue and get compensation for the victims? I am sure that this House would want to ensure that mistakes made over dangerous pharmaceuticals are never repeated.
The hon. Gentleman has placed on record those historical events and the fact that, through this House, compensation was after many years quite rightly paid to those individuals. He will know that there are currently live inquiries, not least—I look at Dame Diana Johnson on the Labour Back Bench—on the infected blood scandal, which has taken at least three decades to get an inquiry and to be resolved. I am very proud that this Government set up that inquiry under a former Prime Minister, and to have been the Minister who kickstarted and established, with Sir Robert Francis, the compensation study. I recently gave evidence to the inquiry; the hon. Gentleman might like to read it to reassure himself of the commitment of this Government, and of the whole House—I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North for her diligent campaigning on the issue—to protecting patients where things go wrong. We want to do right by them.
That is a great segue into my question. The Leader of the House appeared before the reconvened infected blood inquiry in July, along with the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Paymaster General, so she knows very well the views of Sir Brian Langstaff, the chair of the inquiry, and the feelings of those infected and affected. Could she give an undertaking to this House that, as soon as the final report is published by Sir Brian, there will be an oral statement on the Floor of the House and the Government will come forward with an action plan to implement all the recommendations in the interim report, which they have had since April this year, so that finally people can receive the compensation they have been long due?
I thank the right hon. Lady for raising this, and I will certainly make sure that the Minister for the Cabinet Office has heard her request. I would think it very unusual for such a huge piece of work that is of such great interest to so many in this House not to be accompanied by a statement on the matter.
Even if we include those who have been affected, as well as infected, it is a comparably small number of people, but we often forget that what happened to these individuals could happen to all of us. It was not risky behaviour or something they were doing; they simply were accessing healthcare, or they were the partners of someone who had accessed healthcare, been infected and did not know they were infected, and people have been impacted in many other ways. This affects all of us—it affects everyone in this country—and that is why it is particularly important.
It is a pleasure to see the Leader of the House back in her place. As Members will know, each week I bring a focus upon persecution across the world, and this week we focus upon Pakistan because of what is happening. On Monday past, an Ahmadi mosque in Karachi was destroyed. In August, eight Christian churches in the Punjab were burned in just one day. In July, two Hindu temples and a shrine were destroyed in Karachi over a weekend. Pakistan is experiencing a surge of violence towards religious minorities, fuelled by a rise in blasphemy allegations. Will the Leader of the House join me in requesting a statement on those cases and recommend ways in which the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office can increase monitoring at this time?
On behalf of the whole House, I thank the hon. Gentleman for again using business questions to shine a spotlight on the issues of persecution and intolerance of freedom of religion and belief around the world. I thank him for shining a spotlight on what is going on in Pakistan. He will know that, historically, in terms of finance and people on the ground, our strongest bilateral mission from the FCDO is with Pakistan, and we will have great influence there. I shall certainly make sure that the Foreign Secretary has heard what he has said and ask him to follow up with the hon. Gentleman’s office.
Could I please raise the issue of the high street chain Wilko? It strikes me that the current outcome, which includes the loss of half the stores and all the jobs for a paltry sum, 13 million quid, is suboptimal when we consider the fact that the chain turned over more than £1 billion last year, and there are businesses across the UK, including one in Berkshire, that would have been happy to bid more than £100 million for the whole business and all the jobs. I accept that this is a commercial consideration, but could the Leader of the House please represent my concerns with the Department for Business and Trade? We should be prioritising jobs over creditors.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this very sad situation, which I know will be of concern to many individuals. It is obviously a commercial decision, but this is a very worrying time for employees; the swiftness of the timeframe is also worrying. On behalf of my hon. Friend, I will write to not only the Department for Business and Trade but the Department for Work and Pensions, which in similar circumstances has also provided support to the workforce. I will ask both Departments to contact my hon. Friend’s office, and I thank him on behalf of many Members of this House for raising this matter, as it will affect a number of parts of the country.