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Commons Chamber

Volume 737: debated on Thursday 7 September 2023

House of Commons

Thursday 7 September 2023

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


The Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker (Order, 5 September, and Standing Order No. 3).

Deputy Speaker’s Statement

I wish to inform the House that Mr Speaker has received a letter from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant), giving notice of his resignation as Chair of the Committee on Standards. The Chair is now vacant. The election for a new Chair will take place to the same timetable as that for the Chairs of the Business and Trade Committee and the Petitions Committee, which Mr Speaker announced yesterday.

Nominations will close at noon on Tuesday 17 October. Nomination forms will be available from the Vote Office, the Table Office and the Public Bill Office. Only Members from the Labour party may be candidates in this election. If there is more than one candidate, the ballot will take place on Wednesday 18 October, between 11 am and 2.30 pm, in the Aye Division Lobby. A briefing note with more information will be made available in the Vote Office.

Oral Answers to Questions

Cabinet Office

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Resignation Honours Lists

1. Whether he has held recent discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the potential impact of the publication of the resignation honours lists of the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk and the former right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip on public trust in (a) politicians and (b) political institutions. (906243)

It is a long-standing convention, under successive Governments, that outgoing Prime Ministers can draw up a resignation honours list. Any names proposed are subject to the usual propriety checks.

Trust in politics has never been lower, and this has been worsened by the grubby reality that the former right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip handed out peerages to his pals and covid partygoers. The other former Prime Minister was the shortest-serving Prime Minister in history but still managed to crash the economy, and she will also enjoy the privilege of ennobling pals and cronies. Do the Cabinet Office, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet feel this is inappropriate in any way? Does the Minister think such a spectacle will help to restore trust in politics?

We discussed this at length on 22 June, when it was said that if the hon. Lady were to look at the resignation honours list of the former right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, she will see many people who conducted a great deal of public service and deserved to have that service recognised. We have not yet seen the list of the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), but it is worth remembering that people who are honoured in our system have often contributed greatly to our country.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. What nicer way to spend one’s 28th birthday? Alas, I am not 28.

Artificial Intelligence

2. Whether he has held recent discussions with Cabinet colleagues on co-operation with international partners on responding to the potential challenges of the use of artificial intelligence. (906244)

The Government know the importance of collaborating internationally on the challenge and opportunities of AI. That is why, in the autumn, the Prime Minister will convene the first major AI summit, which will bring together major international partners and leaders in the technology to discuss the issues that confront society.

It is great to hear that the international community will be coming to Bletchley Park in November to discuss the principles and core values when dealing with AI. Given that AI is moving so quickly, with the likes of ChatGPT already impacting things like the work of school kids, what more can the Government do to make sure each Department is taking full account of the impact of AI?

My hon. Friend asks a pertinent question. The Cabinet Office, which is home to the Government Digital Service and the Central Digital and Data Office, takes a lead role, along with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, in co-ordinating work within Government so that we can take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities AI presents and guard ourselves against potential disadvantages.

It is nice to see you in the Chair first thing in the morning, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the Minister for his response. Constituents all around this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland rely on employment to make ends meet and survive. Has he had discussions with international partners as to how AI will impact on people’s livelihoods and jobs? That is so important.

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, as one potential risk of AI is that it displaces employment. However, across Government we are looking at the risks and opportunities. We see a future in which humans working with AI create all sorts of great new opportunities for our economy and for individuals.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. Let me also say happy birthday to the Minister. He has just told the House that the Cabinet Office is responsible for the Government Digital Service—quite rightly. The Government could be making better use of AI to improve government services. For example, we are losing £8 billion a year to benefit fraud and error. Under this Government, we have lost £60 billion to that since 2010—that is £150 a second. Are they going to use AI to deal with benefit fraud and error, or should we assume that this is another example of how nothing works after 13 years?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place and look forward to debating these and other issues with him in future. He will be delighted to hear that over the past three years the Government have saved billions of pounds using the latest technology—

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that they have. I can see he is new to the brief and he has some reading to do. [Interruption.] He has been moved from his previous brief to this one. He may be interested to discover that we regularly convene meetings with groups such as Evidence House and 10DS, which contain some of the finest technical experience in Government, to ensure we are taking advantage of the latest technology to make savings for taxpayers. He talks about money lost, but the money that the Government and the Treasury have saved through implementing the latest techniques is far in excess of the number he gave.

Propriety in Public Life

As the Prime Minister set out when he first entered Downing Street, this Government will uphold the highest standards of integrity and propriety. In July we announced a wide- ranging programme of reform, acting on recommendations from Nigel Boardman, the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the Public Administration Committee.

We have all heard that the former Member for Mid Bedfordshire failed to speak in this House for more than a year and that her farcical resignation, which was to have “immediate effect”, took nearly three months, but what about the years when there was no constituency office listed for people to make representations to? With no regard to standards in public life, it is clear that the Tories have sold my neighbouring constituency down the river. Does the Secretary of State agree that the good people of Mid Bedfordshire deserve a hard-working, full-time Labour MP such as Alistair Strathern instead?

The people of Mid Bedfordshire deserve a hard-working Member of Parliament who lives and works in the constituency, and in Festus they will find exactly that. I have every confidence that they will return him to this House in the by-election next month.

At the conclusion of Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) made a point of order, picking up on a statement made by the Prime Minister that she described as “categorically untrue”. This is about the sixth or seventh time this year that we have had to make such points of order about the Prime Minister. How can we have any confidence that we are going to get high standards in public life if this keeps happening?

That is simply not the case. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the exchange, he would have heard that the Prime Minister answered comprehensively every question raised by the Leader of the Opposition and demonstrated a far greater understanding of the detail of this than that demonstrated by his opposite number.

Last year, the Prime Minister said that his Government would do “everything we can” to recover covid fraud losses, yet the crony PPE VIP lane helped Tory-linked business owners over small and medium-sized businesses, meaning that £15 billion of taxpayer money was wasted on useless PPE. The Public Accounts Committee found it “unacceptable” that the Government are not prioritising recouping misused money, with only £21 million—only 2%—recovered from fraudsters. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to fulfil his Government’s pledge to reclaim misused taxpayer money? Or is that, like the Prime Minister’s promise of integrity and accountability, another failed vow?

What we saw during the crisis was the Prime Minister, who was then Chancellor, acting decisively and rapidly to save the economy and millions of jobs. Since we have passed out of the covid period, we are taking action to recover fraud and error losses. As set out by my hon. Friends, in the past two years alone, we have recovered more than £3 billion. I would gently say to the hon. Lady that people in glasshouses should perhaps not throw stones, given the experience of her party’s leaders being frogmarched by the police to investigate the misuse of funds by her own party.

Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests: Remit

4. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the remit of the independent adviser on ministerial interests. (906246)

The Prime Minister’s independent adviser on Ministers’ interests, Sir Laurie Magnus, works within established and robust terms of reference, to provide impartial advice on matters relating to the ministerial code. The powers and status of the role were strengthened in 2022 and Sir Laurie has said he is very comfortable working within his terms of reference.

It is an understatement to observe that the ministerial code has been more honoured in the breach than in the observance during the last few years, and trust in our politics has suffered as a direct result. It has taken the Government two years to respond to the 23rd report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and they have failed to accept the most important recommendations in it, including increasing the power and transparency of the work of the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests. Why?

We have already reformed the role of the independent adviser. It is now the case that the independent adviser can initiate investigations with the presumption that the Prime Minister will approve them. That is the appropriate balance, but we have to respect that the Prime Minister must be the ultimate upholder of the ministerial code, because it is an important principle of our parliamentary democracy that the Prime Minister is able to appoint whomever he chooses to ministerial posts.

Veterans Services

5. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help ensure that services provided by the Government meet the needs of veterans and their families. (906247)

This Government are delivering on their commitments within the veterans’ strategy action plan to support veterans and their families. Our plan, which is backed by an additional £33 million announced by the Chancellor in this year’s Budget, contains commitments across Government, including support for health provision, housing and employment, the majority of which have been delivered or are on track.

That is great and we all support those measures, but he will also know that the independent review of the UK Government welfare services for veterans found that the current system is “overly complex” and suffers from

“a lack of cohesion, of strategic direction and single oversight”.

It also found that veterans regularly receive “poor communication” from Government and were left “overwhelmed” by the system. Does the Minister accept responsibility for those failings and what is he doing to fix them?

I initiated that review when I first came back into office under this Prime Minister. That review has now completed. It was due to report before Christmas, but I have pulled that forward and I want to see a response from Government to the review by the end of September or the beginning of October. The review highlights changes that have been overdue for some time and I look forward to having more to say to the hon. Gentleman on that matter when the response comes back.


The Government’s cyber-security strategy sets out our plans to strengthen the resilience of the Government’s critical functions against cyber- attacks. A key milestone in our plan came earlier this year when I launched GovAssure. This is a new approach to cyber-resilience in which Departments review their cyber-security and take the necessary steps to meet the risks that we face.

These cyber-attacks, which are often totally devastating, have been increasing in both severity and frequency not only against Government Departments, but against many of our major businesses with potentially devastating consequences for livelihoods and jobs. What are we doing in Government to take the expertise that we have acquired within Government to protect Government Departments and to spread it across the economy to protect the private sector as well?

My hon. Friend is totally correct that the external risk landscape is increasing all the time, not least because of the conflict in Russia and Ukraine, which has meant that the United Kingdom, after Ukraine and Russia, is the most cyber-attacked nation. We are taking a whole-of-Government approach, which is why we created the National Cyber Security Centre, working with GCHQ and the Cabinet Office to ensure that we have robust standards in Government and that we also work with businesses to improve their standards and, indeed, with private individuals.

Infected Blood Inquiry: Interim Recommendations

11. What recent steps he has taken to implement the interim recommendations of the infected blood inquiry. (906255)

It was a privilege to appear before the infected blood inquiry on 25 July. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, referred to birthdays earlier and I believe that that was the birthday of the right hon. Lady, but she shared it with us in the inquiry—she was there in person for the hearings. At the inquiry, I shared the work the Government are undertaking to consider the interim recommendations and I look forward to receiving the final report in the autumn.

It was good to see the Paymaster General, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House and the Chancellor at those reconvened hearings. Sir Brian Langstaff made it very clear that his interim report on compensation was the last word that he was going to make on compensation. The Government have also accepted the moral case for compensation. What progress has now been made on Sir Brian’s recommendation on extending the interim payments to those who were not included in the first tranche of interim payments last year?

As the right hon. Lady knows, we are working through this. There is more work to be done. It is a mammoth undertaking, as she knows, and we are looking forward to the final report and putting our response into that context.

“Working through this” is not good enough. Several families in my constituency have lost partners or parents as a result of the infected blood scandal and they are frustrated by the delay and obfuscation. One of my constituents told me:

“The lack of transparency is causing great stress and anxiety to those of us at the heart of this NHS treatment disaster who have already waited decades for our loss and suffering to be recognised.”

One person is dying every four days. This is becoming urgent. Will the Government commit to a full compensation scheme as quickly as possible?

We commit to responding as soon as we can to the final report. The hon. Gentleman is right that we have accepted the moral case for compensation. After the final report comes through, we will be bringing out our response as swiftly as we can.

Afghan Resettlement

9. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the progress made on moving Afghan people from hotels to settled accommodation. (906251)

20. What recent discussions he has held with Cabinet colleagues on supporting Afghan people who have been resettled in the UK to access independent accommodation. (906266)

Hotels are not and never were designed to be long-term accommodation for Afghans resettled in the UK. I am therefore pleased to say that, as of 1 September, in line with our promises, no legally resettled Afghans remain in bridging accommodation. As I told the House on 18 July, there is a small number for whom time-limited contingency accommodation will be provided, including where there is a need to bridge the short gap between the end of notice periods and settled accommodation being ready for them to move into, and in cases of medical need, where a family member requires continued attendance at a specific hospital.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the new Afghan families to North Devon and thank everyone locally who is working to ensure that their resettlement is as smooth as possible and to give them a true Devonian welcome?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and pay tribute to all those working locally in her constituency to prepare to welcome Afghan families to the area. North Devon is steeped in military history. I am pleased to see her long-standing support for veterans extend to those who assisted the UK in Afghanistan as well.

I record my admiration for, and thank, the many public and voluntary agencies and individuals in Fife for the dedication and compassion that they have shown to the Afghans they have hosted over the last two years. Sadly, those Afghans are becoming victims of the biggest mass eviction that Scotland has seen since the highland clearances. When we remember that those people are here because they risked their lives for us—they risked their lives in Afghanistan for democracy—why have the Government not even considered a Homes for Afghans scheme, similar to the Homes for Ukraine scheme that made such a difference to desperate Ukrainian refugees?

Largely because these are two different cohorts. Ukrainians are looking to return to Ukraine in the future; the Afghan cohort are staying here and will be in this country for an indeterminate period. We are looking at all ways that we can continue to assist those who have come over from Afghanistan. I, too, pay tribute to all the Home Office liaison officers and all the staff in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and in the Ministry of Defence who have worked hard to get this over the line. I said that we would honour our commitments to the people of Afghanistan and we will continue to do so.

The Minister will be acutely aware, as I am, that around 2,000 Afghans who are entitled to the Afghan relocations and assistance policy are stuck in hotels in Islamabad. I know that he has seen the letter that went to the Prime Minister, which I signed along with other colleagues. What is the plan to get those 2,000 ARAP-entitled Afghans into settled accommodation?

The hon. Member knows that this has been a long-standing concern of mine, both before Government and in Government. My area of specific responsibility in terms of getting people here and into hotels and accommodation has been completed. That is a Home Office area, and I have not had discussions on it so far, but everybody is aware of our commitment to the people who served in Afghanistan, and the Government will follow through on their commitment to those people.

Nuclear Test Veterans: Recognition

12. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to (a) recognise the contribution of nuclear test veterans and (b) support the roll-out of the Nuclear Test Medal. (906256)

While Hollywood remembers the work of Oppenheimer, the Government are committed to recognising the contribution of veterans and civilian staff across the UK and the Commonwealth to Britain’s nuclear test programme. The Office for Veterans’ Affairs is investing £450,000 in projects to commemorate and build further understanding of their experiences. I recently visited the Worcestershire Medal Service in Birmingham’s jewellery quarter to see the first nuclear test medals start rolling off the production line.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress of applications for the nuclear test medal, and whether the medals will be ready to be awarded by Remembrance Sunday?

Of course. Last time we were here, I made a commitment that we would do everything possible to get these medals on chests by Remembrance Sunday. We are in line with that commitment. We will meet that commitment. This has been a 70-year project and campaign by these individuals. I totally respect that for some it is not fast enough, and for some it is not enough to be done. We are straining every sinew to bring recognition to this cohort and we will continue to do so. We will have those medals ready for Remembrance Sunday this year.

I am pleased to hear that continued commitment to ensuring that medals are with nuclear test veterans in time for Remembrance Sunday. Our nuclear test veterans served our country with pride and distinction, but given the uncertainty caused by the Government’s previous comments that the medals would be awarded by late summer, and then that they would be ready in the autumn, can we have some clarity, and will the Minister tell the House what recent discussions he has had with nuclear test veterans and their representatives about a formal medal ceremony? Can he guarantee that nuclear test veterans will be awarded their medals in a manner befitting their brave service?

The hon. Member will be aware that Remembrance Sunday is coming up, which is a timeline that campaigners wanted to meet. That gives us a narrow window to do the sort of ceremony that I would think befits these individuals. It is a balance between getting the medals on people’s chests for Remembrance Sunday and at the same time ensuring that they are awarded in a manner that is in keeping with their service. That is simply the art of the possible and what can be done. I am proud of what the Government have done on nuclear test veterans. Her party, when it was in power, did not award nuclear test veterans; in fact, she signed early-day motions to campaign against nuclear weapons, so I will not take any lessons on this. I am proud of what we have done, and I look forward to seeing medals on chests for Remembrance Sunday.

Mental Health: Civil Servants

Civil service sickness absence data are published annually. The latest data indicate that an average of 2.3 working days were lost per staff year due to mental ill health for the year ending 31 March 2022.

I understand that nearly three quarters of a million civil service working days were lost due to alleged stress and mental health reasons, and that that figure is 40% up on the year before. Of course those with genuine mental health needs need appropriate support but, given that many civil servants enjoy pay and pension packages way in excess of what many people can get in the private sector, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that only those with genuine mental health conditions are granted a leave of absence?

I know my hon. Friend will be aware that there has been, in both the private and public sectors, a large spike in all sickness absence this year, because of course the comparative data were with the pandemic period. The good news for him is that the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that sickness absence for all forms is lower in the most recent period in central Government Departments than it is in the private sector. We work with people who are unwell, using occupational health and employee assistance provision to ensure that they get the support that they need. We continue to wish to drive down the numbers of people who are off for ill health and to ensure that those who are unwell get the support that they require, but we work with them.

Border Target Operating Model: Food Prices

14. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of the border target operating model on the price of (a) meat, (b) fresh produce and (c) other foodstuffs. (906258)

In April, the Government published a draft British border target operating model and on 29 August we published our final border target operating model, confirming its introduction on 31 January next year. It outlines our new controls regime, using better technology and co-ordination to reduce friction and costs, and will provide a simpler, yet secure, experience for traders moving goods across the border.

Small businesses up and down the country have spent countless hours and millions of pounds preparing for these changes, only to find that the Government are delaying implementation for the fifth time. How does the Minister expect businesses to have any confidence in making long-term investment and supply chain decisions when this Government have such a long list of U-turns and policy blunders?

The hon. Lady is right that we have pushed the date back several times, first because of covid, secondly because of Ukraine and thirdly to ease the pressure of the cost of living crisis. We are now working in line with business readiness, having had regular engagement with people across the sector. We have now set out, as she will have seen from the statement I made to this House in writing on 4 September and the written document published on 29 August, that we have a final time schedule.

The Office for National Statistics has found that more than 50% of people are paying more for their food shop. What is the Government’s plan to bring down inflation quickly to ensure that people can feed their families?

I was trying to glimpse the British border target operating model within that question. The Government have taken a range of measures in order to help bring down the cost of living for people, notably the very considerable help we have given people with the cost of fuel.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; it is great to see you in the Chair so early in the day. Members will be aware that the Government attempted to sneak out in the summer that announcement about the utter chaos they have created over the border target operating model. I say to the Minister that inflation is of central relevance to this matter, because the cat is out of the bag. The Government’s own document concedes that these measures, when introduced, will have an impact on inflation and will make the cost of food even higher. Can the Minister set out what assessment has been made of the wasted money and the cost to taxpayers and businesses as a result of the Government’s chaos on this issue?

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his spot and I look forward to debating with him on this and other issues. I do not quite accept his categorisation of us as sneaking out a document by publishing it and sharing it widely on social media. As I explained to the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), we have delayed implementation in response to the challenges the country has faced. We are now ready to move forward with a brand-new border target operating model, which has the support of businesses, of vets and of those dealing with sanitary and phytosanitary checks. It will be a very good thing for the country and will help us to secure our borders in new ways.

Well, that was announced when the House was not sitting, and to describe something that the Government concede will increase prices as a “good thing” is quite extraordinary and shows how out of touch they are.

Let me turn to another area of the Government’s incompetence. The January 2024 deadline for the rules-of-origin provisions is now rapidly approaching. Unless this matter is dealt with, it will devastate our car industry. It should have been anticipated by the Government. Can the Minister tell us when an agreement for an extension to that deadline can be secured, and what contingency plans are in place if the Government fail to do that?

On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, the document was published when it was ready; it was not hastily snuck out during recess. On his point about readiness for the trade window in the car industry, that matter is being taken seriously by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business and Trade, who I am sure will be ready to say something shortly.

Public Services: Industrial Action

Cabinet Office Ministers have, through Cobra, been assisting Departments in their responses to industrial action. When there is a spate of industrial action across the public sector, which causes huge disruption to our constituents, it is particularly important that we act together, and the Cabinet Office assists Departments in their planning.

Like many of my constituents, I commute to London daily via rail and have had to deal with another summer of disruption caused by ASLEF and the RMT, while students are applying for jobs with unconfirmed grades from unmarked exam papers and junior doctors continue to strike. What is the Minister’s Department doing to end the strikes and get those people back to work so that we can continue to clear the backlogs and reduce the inflation that they claim to be striking against?

My hon. Friend is right: it is outrageous that his constituents can have their lives totally upended by strikes and by militant unions. We will, of course, respect the right to strike, but we have a duty to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British people. That is what our minimum service levels legislation aims to do. It is a pity that the Labour party will not support it.

The Labour party governs in Wales and the Tories are in charge here in England, while Scotland is the only place in the UK to avoid any strikes in our NHS. That is because Scotland has had and will continue to have the fairest and best pay deals in the UK thanks to the Scottish Government. The Scottish Health Minister recently offered to mediate in the fresh talks between the UK Government and junior doctors. Has the Minister considered that approach given the incompetence of his colleagues?

We will take absolutely no lessons from the SNP on how to govern countries—I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman looks at the news about what is going on in Scotland or hears about it when he visits his constituency. We have in this country a Government of whom we can be proud. I am not certain that that is the view of the Scottish people.

Public Procurement: Value for Money

16. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help ensure value for money in public procurement. (906260)

The UK Government already award contracts on the basis of most economically advantageous tender. Furthermore, we are currently taking the Procurement Bill through Parliament, which is an opportunity to streamline procurement processes and ensure that value for money remains central to the UK’s procurement regime.

It is important that taxpayers get value for money when public services are outsourced. Over recent years, the Home Office has given vast sums of taxpayers’ money to Clearsprings Ready Homes, yet the accommodation that it has contracted out for housing asylum seekers has been unfit for human habitation, partly because so much taxpayers’ money is being skimmed off by unaccountable intermediaries before it reaches the hotels or food providers. What is the Cabinet Office doing to stop that sort of thing happening in outsourced services?

I am unable to comment on the specifics of that case, but on the broader point, the Procurement Bill covers a range of issues, including how we can improve quality within our supply chains. Perhaps the hon. Lady will join us for ping-pong next week.

I welcome the recent announcement that a growing number of small and medium-sized enterprises have secured Government contracts, but businesses with a social purpose and female-owned businesses are still under-represented in public procurement opportunities. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss what can be done to remedy that?

I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend about this and other issues. She will know that the Procurement Bill means we are now looking at the most advantageous tender, which means that value for money remains central but that those seeking to strike up procurement can also look for other factors when deciding which contract to sign. We are very much on the same page.

National Resilience

Strengthening our national resilience is a key priority for me and for the whole Government. Last month, we updated the national risk register. This is the most transparent approach ever taken by any Government, designed to help the whole of society make the most resilient plans possible. We have also published guidance clarifying lead Government Department responsibilities for risk assessment, preparedness, response and recovery.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his response. Can he tell the House what discussions he has had with the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero on ensuring that we have strong security of energy supply as we progress through the energy transition?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that security of energy supply is critical to our national resilience, and we have made significant progress on this. We are moving from often imported fossil fuels to clean home-grown energy sources, and I look forward to working with the new Energy Secretary on this very important issue.

Environmentally Sustainable Transport

The greening Government commitments prescribe all Departments to address the matter of environmentally sustainable transport management by reducing and refining their need to travel through hybrid working and the current location strategy. Departmental locations, where possible, are all within 10 minutes’ walk of a major public transport hub.

Will this team wake up? They have huge potential in the Cabinet Office to influence every Department of State. From my perspective, as a passionate supporter of sustainable transport and particularly the revolution that is coming in hydrogen power, I see an inert Department not pushing other Departments to do better. Could they wake up and do something about this?

I can think of nothing nicer than being woken up by the hon. Gentleman. I can reassure him that we do encourage our colleagues in other Departments to go further on this. We have a range of carbon offsetting programmes in place and, as I say, our location strategy means that we try to locate people near public transport hubs. This is the very essence of a green transport strategy.[Official Report, 7 November 2023, Vol. 740, c. 3MC.]

Public Sector Fraud

I am delighted that, in its first year of operation, the Public Sector Fraud Authority is expected to surpass its initial targets, as part of the overall £3 billion recovery of fraud over the last two years referred to by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. More widely, the Government have invested £1 billion in fraud and error reduction since 2022, and we continue to be recognised as a world leader in combating public sector fraud.

We know that whistleblowers are responsible for uncovering almost half of all fraud—fraud that costs the public sector an estimated £40 billion a year—yet our laws to protect and support them are not working. If we want to tackle public sector fraud, we need to encourage more people to come forward. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me to discuss how we can better support whistleblowers and tackle this vast expense to the public purse?

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend, or one of my ministerial colleagues will. I can reassure her that we do wish to support whistleblowers. It is important that they are supported in doing what they do. We certainly respect and are grateful for information shared by whistleblowers. It is just part of the system, though, and it is important that we continue to use AI to ensure that we can track down fraud across the public sector.

Topical Questions

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, and it is of course right that as a country we honour Her late Majesty’s legacy. As a first step towards that, the Government, jointly with the royal household, have established a new Queen Elizabeth Memorial Committee. That committee will develop proposals for a permanent memorial to the late Queen and a broader legacy programme that will enable everyone in the nation to commemorate her life of service to us.

The Cabinet Office plays a critical role in strengthening our national resilience, and over the summer we published the most comprehensive edition of the national risk register to date. That important piece of work will help the Government and the whole country prepare for the challenges we face.

The Cabinet Office is currently carrying out a review into Homes England, and my concern is about the Help to Buy scheme, which helps people to get on to the housing ladder. The Government outsourced that service to Lenvi earlier this year, and since then my constituents have faced huge delays in getting their applications processed. Is the Minister proud of creating a Help to Buy scheme that is doing the exact opposite of what it says on the tin?

Of course, it is incumbent on Ministers to drive efficiencies in arm’s length bodies such as Homes England. I am very happy to pick that up with my relevant ministerial colleagues.

T2. Can my right hon. Friend tell us anything more about the Government’s plans for the late Queen Elizabeth II’s memorialisation? (906270)

I have already met with Lord Janvrin, who will be leading the committee. He of course has two decades of experience in service to the royal household, including as private secretary to Her late Majesty. The aim we are working towards is that the committee will report by 2026, which would have been Her late Majesty’s 100th birthday.

I begin by associating myself with the Secretary of State’s comments on marking the anniversary of the death of the late Queen.

The responsibilities of the Cabinet Office include the National Security Council and co-ordinating the Government’s response to crises. Last night, we learned of a major breach of security with the escape from Wandsworth prison of Daniel Abed Khalife, a terror suspect who was accused of gathering information that could be useful to a hostile state. Can the Secretary of State update the House on the search for Mr Khalife, and whether—in the light of his Department’s responsibilities for national security and resilience—he has asked why such a terror suspect was being held at a lower security category prison such as Wandsworth in the first place?

May I begin by welcoming the right hon. Gentleman to his new position? It is wonderful that the great tradition of gingers across the Dispatch Boxes continues—although, if he does not mind, one should perhaps describe him as a legacy ginger. He brings a wealth of experience to the role, and I look forward to our exchanges.

The right hon. Gentleman is of course right to raise this case. As he will know, the Lord Chancellor has asked for an urgent investigation, working with the Prison Service to find out the exact circumstances of what happened in respect of this escape. Clearly, the initial law enforcement response will be led by the Home Office, but I will be working with the Lord Chancellor, the Home Secretary and others to ensure that we rapidly apprehend this individual and learn the lessons of what led to this escape in the first place.

I thank the Secretary of State. I can only say to him that the hair may go but the skin remains the same, so in solidarity I wish him well in the current heat.

It is reported that Mr Khalife managed to escape by clinging to the underside of a food delivery van. This is obviously an extraordinary situation, given the strict procedures that are supposed to govern the entry and exit of vehicles on the prison estate, so can the Secretary of State outline how those procedures will now be reviewed; what other aspects of prison security will also be reviewed, and over what timescale; and when the public and Parliament will be informed of any changes made as a result of this very serious breach of security?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct to raise all of these questions, and that is precisely what my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is overseeing with an examination into that right now. If the individual escaped in those circumstances, that clearly should not have happened. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend takes it very seriously indeed, and will of course update the House on the outcome of the investigation. Of course, the Home Secretary will update the House, alongside the Lord Chancellor, on steps to apprehend the individual.

T4. Over the summer I once again visited Rolls-Royce and met some of its brilliant apprentices, and last year, with the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I was shadowing our Royal Navy. It is clear that some of the challenges on nuclear skills are mirrored in the military and the private sector. What is the Cabinet Office doing to bring together extra work and extra career paths, so that those who have nuclear skills can transition between the two? (906272)

I thank my hon. Friend for his very important question. Alongside a lot of the support mechanisms we have introduced—Operation Fortitude, Operation Courage, Operation Restore and Operation Nova—we have a series of missions or sector initiatives for accelerating veterans who have come out of the military with specialist skills into a job and making sure those skills are not going to waste. Having a job remains the No. 1 factor in improving the life chances of veterans. Veteran employment is at 87%—it has never been higher—but there is more to do, and I look forward to working with my hon. Friend in the months ahead.

It is clear from their actions that the Tories want to privatise our health service, selling data from England’s NHS to a Trump-backed business, Palantir, under a £27 million data deal. This was done without a competitive tender. Not only that, but they also accepted a £5 million donation from a rich health tycoon this week. Does the Deputy Prime Minister not agree with me that the only way to guarantee protection and integrity for Scotland’s NHS is to keep it out of Westminster Tory hands and keep it in the hands of the people of Scotland?

The hon. Lady will know, because she sat on the Procurement Bill Committee, that we have a new procurement regime coming in, but in the case she refers to it is my understanding that everything was above board and in line with due process.

T8. Madam Deputy Speaker, may I join you in wishing my hon. Friend the Minister a happy birthday?Given that the constitution is reserved to this UK Parliament, and given that there did not appear to be much in the way of anything new in the programme for government set out this week, does my hon. Friend agree that the First Minister of Scotland would do well to focus on the real issues that matter to the people and businesses of Scotland, rather than obsessing with breaking up the United Kingdom? (906276)

As ever, my hon. Friend has his finger on the pulse. I was lucky enough to be on a work trip to Edinburgh and Glasgow just before the summer break, and all the people I met there were interested in employment, skills, the state of the health service, and law and order. Not one person raised a second referendum with me, which is because it is not among people’s priorities in Scotland. People’s priorities are the same as those of the Westminster Government.

T3.   Ipsos recently published its annual poll on trust in politics, which revealed that only 12% of respondents actually believed what a politician was saying—the lowest level in 29 years. Will the Minister look again at my Elected Representatives (Codes of Conduct) Bill, which is aimed specifically at restoring trust and confidence in politics and politicians? (906271)

I am very happy to look again at the hon. Lady’s work. Our general belief is that it is our actions in this place and outside it as elected representatives that will restore trust in politics rather than legislation, and that is a job for all of us.

The cost to Government of ill health runs into hundreds of billions. The economic impact of obesity alone is estimated to be over £58 billion, accounting for the cost to the NHS and social care, lost productivity, workforce inactivity and welfare payments. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that it is time for a taskforce to look holistically at health and societal challenges and to develop early intervention strategies on a multi-departmental basis?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight those challenges. The health service—I have seen this in my own constituency—is coming up with innovative models to look at wider public health, and to address exactly that issue. We want to get more people back into the workforce, and we need to deal with some of those long-term challenges.

T5.   Although the police data leak in Northern Ireland was caused by human error, it raises wider concerns about cyber-security and data for our public service workers. I have been approached by constituents who work particularly within policing. They would like some reassurance that the Cabinet Office is working with forces across England and Wales to ensure that those types of data breaches do not happen again, and that the Cabinet Office will do more work on securing people’s personal data, particularly when they are working in services such as the police force. (906273)

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this issue is local to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, but he is also right—I fully acknowledge this—that there may be questions to learn across Government about how we make certain that people’s data is secure. It is critical that individuals working and providing a service to the country know that their data is secure. I agree with him on that, and I have had discussions with officials about what we can to do ensure we can give that reassurance.

Will the Cabinet Office convene an inter-ministerial committee —between the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and the Treasury—to consider what to do where we have built tens of thousands of houses but section 106 money has not been allocated for adequate health facilities? This is a problem across our country and on both sides of the House. I hope we will solve it for the future with what we are doing with the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and the infrastructure levy, but there is a legacy problem that needs the attention of the Cabinet Office. Given its co-ordinating role in Government, that would be a very useful thing for the Department to do, and an extremely necessary one.

That is an interesting proposal. If we are to get public consent for the number of houses we need to build, we must be able to reassure people that the infrastructure is in place. That is precisely what the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill seeks to do. I will look at my hon. Friend’s proposal for an inter-ministerial group. I am always a little cautious about setting up more inter-ministerial groups, unless I can be sure that they will actually deliver some further outcomes, but I take his proposal seriously.

T6.   Cleaning and security staff in three Whitehall Departments are now striking over a poverty pay offer by the outsourced contractor ISS. What are Ministers doing to help resolve that dispute with the Public and Commercial Services Union, and to end the race to the bottom for the pay and terms and conditions of vital workers due to outsourcing? (906274)

I am sorry that strike action is ongoing. Ultimately, this is a matter between the employees and their employer.

Yesterday the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill passed this House. Legacy is an incredibly difficult issue. Victims have been let down for many years. Veterans have been let down. This Government made a commitment that we would see through our promises to both those groups, and that is what we did yesterday. I am disappointed that the Opposition voted against it again, but politics is about choices, and I am proud of what this Government have delivered.

T7.   Further to the question on the infected blood inquiry from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), why will the Government not get on with extending the interim payments now, as they could do and as was recommended by Sir Brian Langstaff? It is absolutely shameful to delay that any longer, and there is no excuse. (906275)

I have heard many times from the hon. Lady about this subject and about her constituents. She speaks about it passionately in this House and has done so for a number of years. I come back to my earlier answer: we paid interim compensation last year, as the House is aware, and the second interim report has come through. I am expecting the final report in the autumn, putting us in a place to respond as swiftly as possible once it is received.

Yesterday marked a year since the Prime Minister’s predecessor took office, and as you may remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, a lettuce ended up outlasting her. Due to Tory economic mismanagement, that same lettuce would now cost around 20% more. The cost of food might not be an issue for the Prime Minister, who is the richest MP in the House of Commons, but it is a concern for my constituents. What discussions have Ministers had with Cabinet colleagues on tackling food insecurity?

I know that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Chancellor of the Exchequer engage regularly with supermarkets, food providers and others to make sure that we continue to keep prices low. It is the case that since the Prime Minister came to office, we are now seeing inflation falling, and we have seen a record upward revision in growth numbers, which now show that we recovered faster from covid than any other European country, contrary to the repeated assertions of the parties on the Opposition Benches.

I am going to have another go: why is it that the Minister has not been able even to implement recommendation 17 of the second interim report, which is to set up a bespoke psychological service for those infected and affected, when other nations of the United Kingdom have been able to do that? Why has England been left out? Why have the Government not been able to do that?

That issue is being taken forward, as the right hon. Lady knows, by the Department of Health and Social Care. I know it has made substantial progress on exactly such a scheme, and I look forward to it making an announcement in due course.

The forthcoming by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West will be the first in Scotland under the new requirement for voter identification. We know that thousands of voters in England were disenfranchised at council elections because they did not have a passport or driving licence. What specific steps is the Cabinet Office taking to make sure that the voters of Rutherglen and Hamilton West, who want to turn out in their thousands to elect Katy Loudon as their MP, are not prevented from doing so because they are too poor to own a passport or driving licence?

I hope the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that people can only vote if they have a passport or driver’s licence. If he does not know that that is untrue, he now does. We have had a widespread publicity campaign to ensure that people understand the identity requirements at elections. At the local elections, despite considerable scaremongering from Opposition parties, the disruption was minimal.

That concludes questions. I pause for a moment to allow the change of dramatis personae on the Front Bench—there is quite a lot of movement this morning.

Business of the House

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 11 September—General debate on Ukraine, followed by a motion relating to appointments to the Electoral Commission.

Tuesday 12 September—Tributes to the Clerk of the House, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Online Safety Bill, followed by a debate on a motion to approve the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2023.

Wednesday 13 September—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Procurement Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of a Lords message on the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, followed by a debate on a motion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2023.

Thursday 14 September—Debate on a motion on football and dementia, followed by a debate on a motion on support for bereaved children. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 15 September—The House will not be sitting.

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 the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), fresh from the Public Accounts Committee? I also welcome the new Members to their places, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Keir Mather).

I am delighted to take up this important role, and I put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (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 the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (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 the hon. Member for Manchester Central (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 the hon. Member for Bristol West (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 the right hon. Member for Islington North (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 19 October. He is an experienced parliamentarian and will know how he can achieve a debate.

I, too, welcome the shadow Leader of the House to her post and I pay real tribute to her predecessor.

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”.

And finally:

“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 the hon. Member for Manchester Central (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 the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (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 Leader of the House may be aware of a tragedy that struck a chord of sadness and anger among my constituents, in the wider Black Country, nationally and, indeed, internationally.

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 Tuesday 19 September, but I understand that the Government intend to award the Tuesday to the Backbench Business Committee. If that is the case, we would propose a pre-recess general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The one that took place before the summer recess was very well subscribed and time limits were imposed, and I am sure that this would also be a popular debate.

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 24 October, so I will write on her behalf to make sure that Ministers have heard her concerns.

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 17 October, and I will therefore draw to his attention the good best practice in her constituency. Osteoporosis and brittle bones are a key cause of fractures. If we could reduce pressure on the NHS by making sure we alleviate those conditions, that would be good too.

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?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important point. I will make sure that the Home Secretary has heard her concerns and contacts her office with an update. The next questions to the Home Office will be on 18 September.

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 19 October, so I will write to the Department today on her behalf.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (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 the Member for Blaenau Gwent (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.

On Wednesday 6 September the Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, published its report into local authority-administered covid support schemes in England. It found that, of an estimated £1.1 billion of fraud so far, less than 2% has been recovered. While schools, local councils, hospitals and prisons are crumbling due to a lack of funding, does the Leader of the House agree that this Government failure urgently needs to be addressed, and will she commit to providing Government time to discuss it?

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”.

Of course, that person was not the current Prime Minister but the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss). Can we have a debate in Government time on the achievements of her “hope candidate”?

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 the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (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.

HMPPS Update

Before we come to the statement, I remind the House that the individual in question has been charged with criminal offences, and that the House’s sub judice resolution applies to those charges. Members should therefore take care to avoid referring to the details of those charges or saying anything that assumes the guilt or innocence of the individual concerned.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. With your permission, I would like to make a statement on the escape from HMP Wandsworth yesterday morning, Wednesday 6 September, of a prisoner by the name of Daniel Abed Khalife.

Daniel Khalife was remanded in custody at HMP Wandsworth on 28 January this year, having been charged with offences alleged to have taken place in 2021 while he was serving in the armed forces. As you have already indicated, Madam Deputy Speaker, the House will understand that, while a live criminal investigation is in progress, there are limits on what I can properly say. Daniel Khalife will be caught in due course and will face a trial. Nothing should be said in this House or elsewhere that might prejudice those proceedings, so let me assist the House with what I can say.

At approximately 7.30 am yesterday, a vehicle that had made a delivery to the prison’s kitchen left HMP Wandsworth. Shortly afterwards, local contingency plans for an unaccounted prisoner were activated and, in line with standard procedure, the police were informed. The prison was put into a state of lockdown while staff attempted to determine Daniel Khalife’s whereabouts. The vehicle was stopped and searched by police after the alert was raised. Strapping was found underneath the vehicle, which appeared to indicate that Daniel Khalife may have held on to the underside of it in order to escape. The search is under way. His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service is giving every assistance to the Metropolitan police’s operation to recapture Daniel Khalife and return him to custody. As has been made clear by the Metropolitan police, there is no reason to believe he poses a threat to the wider public.

Yesterday, when I was first briefed on this grave security breach, I spoke to the governor of HMP Wandsworth and senior HMPPS leaders to establish what was known about the escape and seek assurances about the immediate measures being taken to ensure the security of the prison. I made clear then, and I reiterate now, that no stone must be left unturned in getting to the bottom of what happened. Who was on duty that morning, and in what roles, ranging from the kitchen to the prison gate? What protocols were in place, and were they followed? Secondly, I have ordered an investigation into the categorisation decision by HMPPS: were all relevant matters taken into consideration in determining where in the custodial estate Daniel Khalife should be held? In both cases, I have asked for the preliminary findings to be with me by the end of this week. An assessment will then be made of what can properly be put into the public domain. I have also decided that there will need to be an additional independent investigation into this incident, which will take place in due course.

I now turn to the wider prisoner cohort held by HMPPS. In the light of these events, I have ordered two urgent reviews: first, into the placement and categorisation of everyone held in HMP Wandsworth and, secondly, into the location of all those in the custodial estate charged with terrorism offences.

Let me turn now to the issue of prison security. As the House will no doubt be aware, escapes from prison are extremely rare and the numbers have declined substantially in the last 10 to 15 years. This has been due in considerable part to sustained investment in improved physical and intelligence security. That includes investment of £100 million in the period since 2019 on measures, such as enhanced gate security with X-ray body scanners, which has driven up the finds of drugs, weapons and other contraband, including tools that could be used to aid an escape from prison. HMPPS has also enhanced intelligence and anti-corruption operations in prisons, working more closely than ever with partners, including the intelligence agencies. This has involved productive initiatives, such as setting up the joint counter-terrorism prisons and probation hub.

Daniel Khalife will be found, and he will be made to face justice. I commend this statement to the House.