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Business of the House

Volume 718: debated on Thursday 21 July 2022

It would be a pleasure. The business for the week commencing 5 September will include:

Monday 5 September—Second Reading of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

Tuesday 6 September—Second Reading of the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill.

Wednesday 7 September—Second Reading of the Financial Services and Markets Bill.

Thursday 8 September—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Social Security (Special Rules for End Of Life) Bill [Lords], followed by a general debate on parliamentary services for Members. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 9 September—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 12 September includes:

Monday 12 September—Second Reading of the Bill of Rights Bill.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. Colleagues on the Opposition Benches will be particularly pleased to see that we will have all stages of the Social Security (Special Rules for End Of Life) Bill. Thanks to those colleagues who have worked so hard on that.

I wish all Members and staff an enjoyable summer recess. As it is culture’s come-back summer, I invite everyone to visit Bristol West and our fantastic cultural life, as well as to visit festivals, the Proms and Edinburgh. Speaking as someone who was at a prom last night, it is fantastic that we are back in real life. I congratulate the Lionesses, who I understand are a football team, on their thrilling victory against Spain last night—that is what it says here. Sorry, anyone who knows me knows that I do not understand football; I do however understand a team at their peak, strong leadership and an electrifying atmosphere, and I have to say it sounds like a far cry from the Tory leadership debate.

I have a bit of an end of school report here. First, on behaviour, there is no sign of the updated Members code of conduct in the forthcoming business. The Standards Committee’s welcome work and recommendations have been with us for a while now. Will the Leader of the House tell us when he will allow them to be debated and voted on?

“Bills going up”, “taxes rising to the highest level in 70 years”, and, “the economy is heading for a recession”—those are not just my words, but those of the leadership contenders, talking about the Prime Minister’s legacy and the cumulation of 12 Tory years. These were senior Ministers in his Administration, yet yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions, there was applause, cheers and a standing ovation. I hear rumours that there were even tears of despair that it was all over. Can Government Members not remember why the Prime Minister was forced out of office, including by some I can see in this Chamber, I think? This was the man who partied through the pandemic, ground our economy to a halt, stood by as Britain burned, and they all tolerated his bad behaviour.

Moving on with the end of term report, on paying attention, we have a Prime Minister who has already checked out by checking in at Chequers, failing to attend crucial Cobra meetings. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, not the Prime Minister, came to this House to answer questions on extreme heat, but only when forced to do so, and he might as well not have bothered. He said to “wear a hat”, “stay in the shade” and to drink water. This is not an online local residents’ group; they are the Government. When will they start acting like one?

As the chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance told MPs just last week, this consequence of the climate emergency was predictable and predicted, yet whether healthcare, transport or safety at work, this Government left us all underprepared for the national emergency. Their consultation on a national resilience strategy closed nearly 10 months ago, and still there is no plan for resilience. Where is it?

This morning, the High Court ruled that the Government’s net zero strategy breaches obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008—passed, by the way, by a Labour Government—so will the Leader of the House ask the Tory leadership contenders to say how they plan to meet targets?

Moving on to attendance, it is yet another week where the Home Secretary did not bother to turn up to the Home Affairs Committee. There was a note—a bit like having a note from your mum saying, “Please let her be excused”—but yesterday, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy sent another note saying why he was not going to the Environmental Audit Committee. That scrutiny is part of their jobs, and they know it. Mired by infighting, this party cannot even manage the basics, so could the Leader of the House remind Cabinet colleagues about simply turning up?

Moving on with the school report to the subject of science, the Government have not bothered to fill the vacancy of Science Minister. It has been two weeks, and we are supposed to have the UK as a science superpower. Can the Leader of the House tell us when the remaining vacancies will be filled?

Moving on to the organising of work, backlog Britain is still piling misery on to millions of people, crippling our economy and costing billions. For example, with the Home Office, Members and staff tell me that despite civil servants’ tireless work, everything is still bad: offices spending hours on hold to departmental hotlines, costing the taxpayer; MPs waiting months for responses on asylum claims and passport applications for constituents; people left stranded; and families forced to pay more for worse. I have asked week after week for the Home Secretary to make sure that there are enough people just to pick up the phones. Has the Leader of the House been passing on my messages? What is he going to do to reduce the long, hot, slow queues at the Home Office hub in Portcullis House? Will he tell the Home Secretary to sort this out?

I will finish my end of term report. Whether it is writing off billions to fraudsters or turning Britain into a laughing stock on the world stage, there seems to be no hope that either of the two remaining Tory leadership contenders will offer the change we need. Like every single Tory MP, they propped up this Prime Minister; they were complicit. There is no plan. Labour is ready to take over, and that is the only way we will get a fresh start. Thank you for your indulgence, Mr Speaker.

Let me start by joining the hon. Lady in congratulating the Lionesses on their performance last night. To come back from one-nil down and win in extra time is a huge achievement, but I will say no more because I do not want to jinx them in the semi-final.

We have had a very hot week. All week I have been hoping for a little cloud to shade me, and then along comes the hon. Lady, our own little cloud of doom. She is becoming the Eeyore of the Chamber, casting shadow wherever she goes. She needs to be a bit more upbeat and enthusiastic. I think she has fundamentally misunderstood the British people, with her rampant pessimism. There are undoubtedly challenges, I acknowledge, with the global energy and food price increases and with post-pandemic backlogs, but what our constituents want is this Government and our plan.

Labour Members want to sit there and snipe, but they offer absolutely no solutions. We are putting £39 billion of support into our NHS, which they voted against. We are putting in £35 billion of rail investment, as well as £96 billion through the integrated rail plan, and all they want to do is stand on the picket lines with their union paymasters. I want to thank the hon. Lady and her colleagues for binding the Conservative party together by offering us the chance to have a vote of confidence in the Government and getting us all in the same Lobby. Only the leader of the Labour party could inspire the Conservatives as much as he does.

We are getting on with the job. We are supporting families with the cost of living, with £37 billion of investment this year alone. Over 2 million public sector workers will be given the highest uplift in their wages for nearly 20 years. Unemployment rates are close to a 50-year low. We are delivering historic funding to our NHS. We are recruiting 20,000 police officers, with 13,500 already in place.

Finally, as we get to the Sir David Amess debate this afternoon, which the brilliant Deputy Leader of the House will respond to, I know that all Members will want to add their thanks and best wishes, along with the shadow Leader of the House, to all the staff who have helped us: the civil servants, Clerks, cleaners, catering staff, Hansard, the broadcasting team, and everyone else I have missed. If I may, I will flag up the team in the Tea Room, who brighten my day every day.

Most importantly, I thank my brilliant civil servants in the Office of the Leader of the House, who have been very helpful and supportive.

I wish everyone a restful summer recess, as we go back to our constituencies. It is important to put on the record that MPs do not go home and rest; MPs from across the House will be working hard in their constituencies, despite what the Daily Mail might imply. I hope that all MPs get a bit of rest this summer and come back refreshed in September.

Can I also wish everyone all the best—all Members of the House and all the staff who work here?

Somebody said that the Leader of the House should have declared an interest in the Tea Room, and on that basis I think I ought to call him: Alec Shelbrooke.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Before I ask my question, I make the House aware that I am a member and vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary groups on Argentina, on Latin America, on Formula One, on Gibraltar and on surgical mesh, and I am a member of the APPGs on cricket and on the BBC.

The Committee on Standards recently published its report on APPGs, suggesting a range of measures to regulate them. Do the Government support those measures, and if so, do they have a preferred recommendation?

The Government welcome the thoughtful report and recommendations on APPGs by the Committee on Standards. While the regulation of APPGs is a matter for Parliament, the Government welcome measures that provide proportionate regulation of their functioning and appropriate transparency about their financial support. I acknowledge that this does need some work. If I may be so bold, Mr Speaker, I will write to you and to the Lord Speaker—I think responsibility lies at both ends of the building—on my right hon. Friend’s behalf to ask what you could do to help us move this forward. I put you on notice, Mr Speaker, that that letter is on its way.

Can we have a debate about rats in a sack? There is a confrontation going on just now that makes those much maligned rodents seem like sedated gerbils on tranquilisers. This is ferocious, unrestrained stuff, with no mercy shown—they are going for the kill. Accusations, poisoned barbs, simmering resentment—and that is just what they are saying about each other in their own camps.

Mr Speaker, I offer myself as a peacemaker. I think I could bring some calm to the proceedings. Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there are Tories kicking seven shades out of each other, let us bring offerings of tax cuts. The leadership circus is coming to Perth. Already, we have put the city on an amber warning, with the threat of flying debris. This could be even worse than what we had in the heatwave.

For the third time in as many years, a Prime Minister is going to be chosen by a small group of right-wing Conservative party members—a tiny constituency with almost the exact opposite of the mainstream values of my nation. While democracy will count for that tiny demographic, the democracy of my nation is to be denied. Scotland will have another Prime Minister we did not vote for, while the referendum that we most clearly and decisively voted for is to be rejected. That is not lost on the people of Scotland; this democratic absurdity will be challenged.

I fear for the Leader of the House. I hope this is not his last business question. He is my sixth Leader of the House in as many years. In his short tenure, we have rubbed along quite well together, so I really hope that he will come back. He is perhaps just a little too close to Big Dog and just a little too forgiving of some of the more suspect and dodgy practices, but we hope to see him here when we return in September. I wish him well, and I wish all Members—and, of course, all the staff, as you said, Mr Speaker—well for the recess. I will not go over all the staff again, but we on the Scottish National party Benches hope they have a happy, relaxing and peaceful recess, and we will see you all back here in September.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments—I, too, pray for my survival. Of course he wants to talk about independence again; he does it every week. He did not mention the new plan for independence—the glorious vision for Scotland that the Scottish Government produced, which happened to have an English wind farm on the front cover. I do not know if that is a sign that, even though they do not want to say it out loud, they actually do acknowledge that Scotland is stronger in the Union.

Perhaps it is time the Scottish Government stopped their ideological fixation on independence, but we know why they are doing it. We know what they want to cover up. The CBI and KPMG have produced reports showing that Scotland lags behind the rest of the UK on nine out of 13 productivity indicators. On education, the First Minister said that she would be judged on her Government’s ability to narrow the attainment gap between schools in poorer and wealthier areas—she even said that she would be willing to put her “neck on the line” for that pledge—but then she dropped her promise to help poorer students in Scotland.

The Scottish Government are receiving more funding than they ever have since devolution. The question is, what are they doing with it? I think the answer goes some way to explaining why the hon. Gentleman is so agitated when he comes to the Chamber; it is because he is so frustrated with his colleagues. Today, The Times published research showing that the SNP is hiding behind endless commissions, inquiries and working groups to avoid making the hard decisions required to help its Scottish voters. Since it came into power, we are talking about almost 400 advisory groups under a whole range of different names that it has used to put off taking any action. Five of the nine public inquiries commissioned by the SNP since 2007 are still ongoing, including the Edinburgh tram inquiry and the child sexual abuse inquiry, which have been sitting for more than six years. Maybe they could ask their input-output expert user group for some advice on how to get something done.

Now then. The BBC has covered up for Jimmy Savile, Gary Glitter, Rolf Harris and a whole list of predatory perverts. Now, sadly, it is attacking our brave SAS in an outrageous “Panorama” documentary, accusing it of having its own death squads. The SAS is the finest fighting unit in the world, saving thousands of innocent civilians from being killed, whereas the BBC has turned a blind eye to hundreds of victims being abused by staff on its own payroll. Does my right hon. Friend think we should have a debate in this House to celebrate all the great work done by the SAS over the years?

Now then. I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We have the best armed forces in the world. It is hugely important that Parliament and the public should have confidence in how our armed forces conduct themselves overseas, so we need to reflect on how operations have taken place. Any allegations must be investigated and criminal behaviour held to account. He will understand that it has been the long-standing position of successive Governments not to comment on operations and activity of UK special forces overseas. To do so would put individuals and operations at risk.

I am very grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing in the business statement that we will have some time for Back-Bench business on 8 September. It is good to see the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), in his place. Since his appointment, I have been reflecting that this has to be one of the most classic cases of poacher turned gamekeeper the House has ever seen. I am sure it has not escaped his notice that, with all the things he has asked the Leader of the House to do over the years, he is now almost in a position to do them. I am really looking forward to that relationship developing.

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. This is an important point: at the Transport Committee, Mr Steve Montgomery, representing train operating companies, told the Committee:

“We have not agreed to close any ticket office at this moment”.

However, in negotiations with the rail unions, employers have been explicit regarding their intention to close over 900 station ticket offices. Has Mr Montgomery potentially made a contempt of Parliament by making a misleading statement to the Select Committee, and may we have a statement regarding the Department for Transport’s intentions for station ticket offices in franchises that it directly owns?

I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the brilliant Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone).

On ticket offices, I would hope that even the hon. Gentleman, with his strong union links, recognises that the world is changing. When I buy a train ticket now, I buy it on my phone on an app. We need to get more people from behind glass screens on to the platforms supporting people as they go about their business commuting to and from work. The railways need modernisation. We need to bring modern working practices to the railways to support our constituents. I hope that he would assist us in doing that by convincing the unions to come back to the table and negotiate rather than strike.

Sticking with the rails, my constituents in East Grinstead are fed up with the lack of regular services. It is frustrating many of my Mid Sussex commuters who simply cannot get to their desks for 8 o’clock in the morning, particularly in the City. That is having an impact on people who want to come back to the office, which supports local businesses and hospitality. Often, services are dropped to prioritise central London services, where people have tubes, trains and other options. Sussex commuters have less choice. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on post-covid rail services, so we can properly support local communities and those who want to get back to business as usual?

My hon. Friend is a true champion for the needs of her constituents, and she is right to mention the importance of local transport links for people living outside our cities. That is why the Government have committed to more than £35 billion of investment between 2022 and 2025. Our transport Bill will modernise rail services and improve their reliability for passengers. High levels of short-notice cancellations are unacceptable and the Department for Transport is working with operators to ensure a reliable service is provided to all passengers.

I am indebted to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Thank you so much. You are most kind. The Leader of the House has had his request answered, as indeed have I. Flabbergasted as I am, I have a question.

Yesterday marked the 23rd anniversary of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners by the Chinese Communist party. Over the last 23 years, this group has been subject to arbitrary arrest, torture and organ harvesting on a commercial scale. In this time, we have also seen China’s systematic persecution of Uyghur Muslims and increased pressure on Christians and other minorities.

The Leader of the House is always receptive, which I appreciate. Will he join me in making a statement of solidarity with China’s persecuted religious or belief minorities? Does he agree that the new Prime Minister, whoever it might be, should keep freedom of religion or belief as a key foreign policy priority?

The hon. Gentleman has arrived so early that we may need an incubator. Foreign Office questions are on 6 September, and I know he will be in his place. He is a true champion for human rights around the world. He is right to draw the House’s attention to the appalling record of the Chinese Government. I know my colleagues in the Foreign Office will do all they can to press the Chinese Government to improve their human rights. The hon. Gentleman plays a huge part in the campaign to put pressure on that Government.

The London fire brigade has been busier this week than at any time since the second world war. Indeed, across the country, the emergency services have been under incredible pressure. Unfortunately, there was a massive fire on Tuesday in a building owned by the Swaminarayan Hindu mission that will end up being a temple. Several houses were destroyed, too. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending the work of the emergency services and, indeed, Harrow council in ensuring that all who were evacuated have been found emergency accommodation and, in the long run, will be provided with new housing?

I think I speak for the whole House when I say that we all want to pay tribute to our emergency services and those in local authorities who step up in such moments of horror. I know colleagues on both sides of the House will have watched on TV screens as those fires burned and people’s homes were destroyed. We all have enormous sympathy for those individuals, as well as pride and gratitude that our emergency services stepped in during the most horrendous circumstances.

In my role as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ending the need for food banks, I was pleased to speak at the launch of Centrepoint’s “Young, homeless and hungry” report on food insecurity among homeless young people. Centrepoint’s survey and research found that one in four young people with experience of homelessness has £20 or less monthly income left after rent and priority bills, leaving them with less than £5 a week. Given the current food inflation, that is frankly impossible to live on. Can we have a debate on this issue in Government time, particularly given that benefits are widely paid at a lower rate to people under the age of 25?

The hon. Lady is of course right to highlight the need to get people into housing. That need is why the Government have committed £10 billion of investment into housing supply since the start of this Parliament. It is vital not only to try to get the next generation on to the housing ladder but to offer support mechanisms to people in the most difficult circumstances to get them into housing and make sure they can conduct their lives.

In business questions last week, I spoke about the potential closure of Doncaster Sheffield airport. After recent meetings with Peel Group, I am afraid I am deeply disappointed. Doncaster Sheffield airport is the crown jewel of my local combined authority. Unfortunately, the meeting was held virtually, without Peel’s chairman even attending. I found that particularly poor. In the absence of the chairman, I asked Peel’s board members for an extended consultation period and to be open to talks with future investors. To me, that only seems fair when thousands of jobs are at risk. I have still had no real answer to my request, so will the Leader of the House grant Government time in this place to discuss the corporate responsibility of large landowners and the future of Doncaster Sheffield airport?

Ultimately, it is a commercial decision for the airport’s owners. I know that this topic is close to your heart, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to your constituency. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work to highlight the challenges in respect of Doncaster Sheffield airport. I will of course mention the issue to the Secretary of State for Transport, but I encourage my hon. Friend to apply for an Adjournment debate so that he can get all his concerns on the record and hear directly from the Secretary of State.

I am very cross with the Leader of the House. Not only did he refuse to have a meeting with me this week—the first time, I think, that a Leader of the House has ever refused to have a meeting with the Chair of the Standards Committee—but he says he is going to reply to our Committee’s report on all-party parliamentary groups by writing to the Speakers, when it has nothing to do with the Speakers: our Committee has produced the report and the Government have so far failed to produce a response.

The Government have also failed to produce a response to our new code of conduct, which significantly strengthens the code. I would have thought that this House, at this particular moment, would be keen to consider that as a matter of urgency.

As I understand it, the Commission has finally got around to interviewing the wonderful candidate we proposed from the panel to be the new Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, but there is still no motion on the Order Paper. Will the Leader of the House please get on with all these things? Or has he just been off to all the parties with the Prime Minister? It feels as if the Government are not working—get on with it, man!

The hon. Gentleman did request a meeting, but last Thursday he stood up in the Chamber and said that I was about to get the sack; there did not really seem much point in meeting him if he was convinced that I was not going to be the Leader of the House in September. I suggest that he requests a meeting with his new Leader of the House—whoever has that privilege.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are going to move the motion on the new Standards Commissioner very early in September. I have no desire to upset the hon. Gentleman; it is my desire and intention to make him happy, if at all possible. I know that is an aspiration that I will never achieve, but I am committed to trying to assist him in his work, not frustrate him.

May we have a debate about women’s football? While the women’s Euros has been a great success, in Moray we have been celebrating Buckie Ladies, who lifted their first piece of silverware when they won the Highlands and Islands league cup final. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Mel Smith and the entire team on their victory? The club has been formed for only five years and is already winning silverware. Will he also congratulate the club on everything they do to promote women’s football in the area and to coach those of all ages, from youngsters through to the first team? They are a great success story for Buckie and for Moray.

I of course join my hon. Friend in congratulating Buckie Ladies. Let us spare a thought for Sutherland Women’s FC, who lost in the final—I think it was 3-1 on penalties—but it was fantastic for Buckie Ladies.

It is great to see the growing popularity of women’s football up and down the country. The Euro 2022 competition is really drawing the nation’s attention to the great role that women’s and girls’ football plays. I hope the tournament goes on to be a huge success for England. My understanding is that the Government have already announced that they will launch a review of domestic women’s football this summer that will look at how to deliver growth at all levels, from the grassroots to the elite game.

It is absolutely right for us to thank the House staff as we go into recess, but will the Leader of the House think of constituency staff? As of yesterday, six of my outstanding written questions remain unanswered. A further two apparently

“cannot be answered right now”.

This has been going on for months. My constituency team cannot get through to the so-called MP hotlines, let alone get answers for desperate constituents. Letters and emails are being ignored or unanswered across Government. This is about issues directly affecting constituents’ lives, pensions, social security, passports and much more. When we return, can we have a debate in Government time about how this is so unacceptable and so dysfunctional?

I think there have been improvements in the speed at which Government Departments are responding. [Interruption.] I am not suggesting for one moment that the situation is perfect and does not require further improvement. I and the Deputy Leader of the House are very keen to see further improvements in this area, but progress has been made. We will both continue to keep pressure on Departments to make sure that they respond within a short timescale, and I share the hon. Gentleman’s aspirations.

Recent reports show that the number of children using vaping devices has doubled in the past two years. These devices, with their bright colours and popular flavours, are appealing to children. They are illegal for children to use, but more than half of those who do so say that they are buying them in shops. They contain nicotine, volatile organic compounds and chemical flavourings that may be very harmful to children. When can we have a debate in Government time about how to prevent children from using these devices so that we can protect the health of our nation?

I do not know whether my hon. Friend was able to be at Health questions this week, but I pay tribute to the work that she does to draw attention to this matter. I will make sure that I write to the Secretary of State for Health on her behalf to draw his attention to her concerns.

The Prime Minister and various Ministers have made hollow promises to me and my constituents regarding many serious and time-sensitive matters, including the case of Mr Singh, who was subject to identity theft, causing him to be falsely held by Border Force, his family to be in danger, and his health records to be in chaos. In addition, the families of Chloe Rutherford and Liam Curry, after losing their precious children in the Manchester terror attack, are campaigning to change death registration laws. Will the Leader of the House please use his good offices to ask those Ministers to start doing their jobs?

If the hon. Lady wants to supply me with the details of those two cases, I will write directly to the relevant Ministers on her behalf.

Last week our brave frontline services attended a fire at the Abbey View tower block on the Meriden estate in Watford. Thankfully, the speed of their action meant that no one was seriously harmed. This past week, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who is not in his place at the moment, those services have been tackling fires across the country, saving lives and keeping us safe this week. These are the people who bravely run into danger while others seek safety. Will my right hon. Friend provide guidance on how we can hold a debate to shine a light on the heroism of our frontline emergency service workers and pay tribute to their bravery?

Of course I join my hon. Friend in commending our fire and rescue services for the work that they deliver to protect communities up and down this country. He will have an opportunity, if he chooses, to raise that matter this very afternoon in the Sir David Amess debate, but if he does not get called, I encourage him to apply for a Back-Bench business debate or even one in Westminster Hall, because I am sure that such a debate would be very popular with colleagues.

A recent Eurostat project showed that Scotland has the most highly educated population in Europe, with more than 50% of 25 to 61-year-olds educated to degree level, and Scotland has recently had its second-highest level of university applications in history, second only to last year’s record. However, last year the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that cuts to state education spending in England had hit the most deprived schools hardest. In 2019 the then Children’s Commissioner wrote to the Government urging them to take action to stem a “shameful” increase in pupils leaving education without basic qualifications.

In April 2020, the Daily Mail said that the number of A-levels awarded in England had been the lowest since 2004, and concerns have been raised about the lack of transparency in the Government’s flagship academy schools. May we have a debate in Government time on why the Government—the right hon. Gentleman’s Government—are failing to keep up with the improvements that Scotland is making in education?

I think that SNP Members are living in a parallel universe. It does not surprise me that middle-aged people in Scotland are well educated; that is because they went through the education system before the SNP arrived. I think what matters is the fact that young people today are being let down by the SNP Government. Their attainment levels are poorer than those in England, and that is a source of shame for the Scottish Government.

On Tuesday, Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service had the busiest day that its chief can remember in a career spanning some 30 years. There were significant blazes in Milton Keynes, Wooburn Green, Denham and my own constituency of Aylesbury, each of which required multiple fire appliances. As we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Watford (Dean Russell) and for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), the same was happening across the south-east. Fire crews were putting in extra hours in incredibly difficult conditions on the hottest day that the country has seen since records began. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking everyone at Bucks Fire and Rescue, and can he suggest an appropriate way for Parliament to pay tribute to the superb work of our fire and rescue teams?

I join my hon. Friend in, again, paying tribute to our firefighters. I know that many of them came in on rest days to give their support in terrible circumstances. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell), I think that an Adjournment or Westminster Hall debate would be highly subscribed, as Members will want to pay tribute to their own local firefighters.

The children of our service personnel in Cyprus are being taught by supply teachers who were brought out under employment contracts with the Ministry of Defence. The MOD is now threatening to sack them unless they sign new contracts that abolish their pension rights and lower their terms and conditions. Given that the Government profess to be against the practice of fire and rehire, may we have an urgent statement on why the MOD is joining companies such as P&O in using such unfair employment practices, and an assessment of the impact that the dispute with the teachers is likely to have on armed forces children’s education?

P&O actually broke the law. I should be very surprised if the Ministry of Defence is breaking the law. Unfortunately, we have missed Defence questions, which took place earlier this week, but I will write to the Secretary of State on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf.

In November, the wife of a constituent of mine died, and the inquest ruled that it had been accidental death by drowning. The hearing was conducted sensitively, but the coroner issued a record of inquest that published my constituent’s name and address, which led to his being named in several newspapers with pictures of his house. May we have a debate on how our data protection laws operate? There clearly cannot be a public interest case for causing additional distress of that kind at a time of grief.

Let me first convey my sympathies to my hon. Friend’s constituent. Individuals should be given privacy to grieve at such times, and it is concerning to hear of his constituent’s experience in such tragic circumstances. The UK’s General Data Protection Regulation requires data controllers to ensure that the way in which they process personal data is fair and lawful, but I will certainly raise the case with the relevant Ministers on my hon. Friend’s behalf.

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Issues raised at a meeting earlier this week between representatives of the Public and Commercial Services Union and Members of Parliament—which was very well attended—included constituency office staff staying on the phone for hours and then being cut off, and emails received by the Passport Office not being answered. May I ask the Leader of the House to encourage Home Office Ministers and appropriate officials to hold, over the summer—which will be a critical period for the Passport Office—regular conference calls and virtual meetings so that Members can raise, on behalf of their constituents, the systemic problems in the Passport Office?

We have had, I believe, two urgent questions and an Opposition day debate on this matter. That is why we are recruiting; 850 additional staff have been brought in since April and a further 350 are arriving before the summer. The Passport Office now is processing approximately 1 million passport applications each month. Nearly 98% of all passport applications are completed within 10 weeks, but I acknowledge that the 2% of individual cases that are causing frustration will land in the inboxes of MPs up and down the country, because people have a strong desire to get away. But the Passport Office has made huge strides in processing these passports, with huge numbers of people applying.

The Leader of the House might like to know that, at our Home Affairs Committee meeting yesterday, which, very sadly the Home Secretary could not attend—she could not attend the one last week, which had been in the diary for a very long time as well—we heard that actually 55,000 passport applications were over 10 weeks. I say that just so that he knows. What I wanted to ask him about, however, was the fact that my cost of living survey in my constituency has been inundated by people who are genuinely frightened about the energy price hike that is coming down the road. Research from the all-party group on left behind neighbourhoods shows that people in the 225 left behind neighbourhoods in this country will be most vulnerable to the cost of living increases. Orchard Park, in my constituency, has the highest percentage of households in fuel poverty in the whole UK—29.2% compared with 13.5% nationally. So I want to know: can we please have a debate about what the Government are going to do for left behind neighbourhoods—people who live there who are in work? What are the Government going to do to help them with the cost of living crisis?

Of course the Government recognise that there is a huge inflationary spike in food and energy bills around the world. We have recognised that challenge, which is why we are spending £37 billion this year alone to help with the cost of living. That means that the most vulnerable 8 million households will receive support of at least £1,200. Last week, the £326 of support started landing in people’s bank accounts. We have raised the national insurance threshold, saving the average worker £330 a year. We are doubling the value of the universal October energy bill discount to £400 and we have got rid of the requirement to repay that money. Our household support fund is now worth £1.5 billion. That is a huge package of investment to help people with the challenges of the cost of living.

In my constituency, a large brownfield site, Shawfield, is contaminated with the dangerous chemical hexavalent chromium. Clyde Gateway has been doing an excellent job remediating it, but a project of this size needs a lot of funding, which is why it will form one of the levelling-up fund bids from my local authority. I am keen to see this bid succeed for my constituency, as it will open up economic gains. Can we have a statement updating the House on the fund when we return in September?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and wish her well with her levelling-up fund bid. I know that colleagues across the House are working with their local authorities to get these bids in, because the Government have committed a huge amount of cash to assist communities in making sure that they get the right development in the right places, and that their constituencies are economically sound and are generating jobs and opportunities for their constituents.

May I add my congratulations to the England women’s team and, in particular, to Georgia Stanway for that fantastic winning goal? The Leader of the House is a big Nottingham Forest fan, so I have no doubt that he will be looking forward to the new football season. I am an Everton fan. We lost 4-0 yesterday to Minnesota United, so I am not looking forward to the new season. Instead, can I look forward to a debate on the importance of football to the nation and, in particular, how we can drive forward the Crouch review to improve services for fans?

I think I can claim to be one of the biggest Nottingham Forest fans that there is. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the great work that football does, and not only at the elite level—up and down the country, on Saturday and Sunday mornings, parents and coaches go out in all weathers and get kids running around a pitch and kicking a ball, keeping them fit and mentally stimulated. That is a huge tribute to the volunteers who undertake that work. Such a debate would be very popular.

I place on the record my appreciation of colleagues from the Scottish National party and in the Public Accounts Committee, who took on a number of my duties during my recent absence due to covid; they seem to have done that so effectively that nobody noticed I was missing.

Of the 64 written statements that the Government have tabled this week, one from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and one from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy between them give notice of the intention to incur contingent liabilities up to a maximum of £16,000 million over the next four years. Normally, having laid those statements, Ministers would not do anything for 14 sitting days, but clearly that cannot apply here: 14 sitting days takes us right through the recess and almost all the way through the next term, to within a couple of days of the next recess.

Can the Leader of the House assure us that, if there is any indication that these contingent liabilities may become material and involve a call on public funds, the House will be updated with not just a written statement but through an appearance by the relevant Cabinet Minister at the Dispatch Box, so that their stewardship of billions of pounds of public money can be properly held to account?

It is good to see the hon. Gentleman back in his place; we have missed his short questions. Of course I acknowledge his concerns, and I will make sure that the relevant Minister is aware of them.

York made the railways and the railways made York, and it is now leading the industry in digital and advanced rail, both in operations and engineering. Bringing the headquarters of Great British Railways to York will level up not only York and the region but the country and the opportunities for people across the nation.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Transport Secretary to make a statement to the House on the purpose of the popular vote in awarding the operational headquarters of Great British Railways? May I encourage everyone to vote yes to York?

I am not sure that the hon. Lady carried the House. The shortlist was announced on 5 July. In fairness, I should name Birmingham, Crewe, Derby, Doncaster, Newcastle-upon-Tyne as well as York. Ministers will take the final decision on the location of the headquarters later in the year.

I pay tribute to York. I have been to the National Railway Museum there and it is the home of the Mallard; I think that Thomas the Tank Engine is also there. York does have a huge history in railways, as do the other contenders for the bid.

This month, the imprisoned human rights activist Dr al-Singace marked one year of his hunger strike from solid foods to demand the return of his confiscated research in Bahrain. In 2012, the Government expressed deep dismay at Dr al-Singace’s torture-tainted and internationally condemned conviction. Could we have a statement from the Government calling on Bahrain to return Dr al-Singace’s research and release him and other political opposition leaders immediately and unconditionally?

I join the hon. Gentleman in that call and I hope that the Government of Bahrain are listening. There are Foreign Office questions the first week back and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be in his place to draw the House’s attention again to the plight of Dr al-Singace.

My constituent was trafficked into prostitution and raped in 2018. Very bravely, she is willing to give evidence against the alleged perpetrator. The trial has been repeatedly delayed and is currently listed for later this year—four years from the offence. She is desperate to travel to see her family, but the failure of the Home Office to extend her leave to remain means that she cannot do that without the risk that she will not be readmitted to the UK and therefore that she will not be available at trial.

I have contacted both the MPs’ urgent query service and the Home Secretary’s office directly without having received the courtesy of a reply from either in over a month. If I provide him with the relevant personal details, will the Leader of the House persuade his colleague to expedite this case?

I am truly sorry to hear about the plight of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. Of course I will write on his behalf directly to the Home Secretary. There will be Home Office questions in the first week back, but I think this case requires more urgent action, so I will write on his behalf.

Driving licence renewals, driving tests, passports and visas are just some of the essential services in which my constituents in North Ayrshire and Arran face severe delays. Civil service workers in those sectors are doing their best, but the reality is that this Government have failed to plan for a post-lockdown spike in demand. As a result, staff shortages are causing misery for those using and working in those sectors. Will the Leader of the House do two things? First of all, will he apologise for his Government’s incompetence? Secondly, will he make a statement setting out how the misery of backlog Britain will be urgently addressed?

Of course there are challenges coming out of a global pandemic. There is a huge amount of pressure on Government services. That is why we are addressing those challenges by recruiting more staff and putting more efficient measures in place to drive those departments forward, and huge progress is being made.

Just last week I stood in this place and spoke about the tragic murder of Zara Aleena as she walked home through Ilford. I also spoke about a young woman stabbed in the back on 8 July on St Johns Road in my constituency. Today I have to come before this House yet again to speak about another act of senseless violence against a woman in my constituency. Hina Bashir was reported missing from Ilford on 14 July and her body was found in the neighbouring constituency of Upminster just three days later. This is a national epidemic; a woman is killed by a man every three days in the UK. In the light of these crimes, will the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate about the epidemic of violence against women and girls, particularly relating to violence against women from ethnic minority backgrounds, who too often face structural barriers to receiving the help that they need?

I am sorry to hear the case that the hon. Gentleman describes. As he will be aware, Home Office questions are on the first day back. The Government are committed to tackling violence against women and girls. That is why we introduced our strategy and we have already invested £100 million of funding. The Home Secretary has made it clear that violence against women and girls is a national policing priority. We are investing £30 million in the safer streets fund and the safety of women at night fund. We have established a new national police lead for violence against women and girls, and, of course, we passed landmark legislation through the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. I am sure that there is always more we can do, but in this Home Secretary we have someone committed to tackling this huge challenge.