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Topical Questions

Volume 537: debated on Wednesday 14 December 2011

My responsibilities are for the public sector Efficiency and Reform Group, civil service issues, industrial relations strategy across the public sector, Government transparency, civil contingencies, civil society and cyber-security.

Lists for 2010 failed to mention that the Prime Minister met Rupert Murdoch in June 2010. This was amended to ensure transparency only recently. Why?

No doubt we can provide an answer to that question, but I do not have one at my fingertips.

T2. Mindful of the fact that we have not had flooding for a number of months and mindful of the forecasted storm weather, can the Minister for the Cabinet Office assure us that flood rehearsals are taking place between all the relevant emergency services on a regular basis? (86434)

I can certainly confirm that. Meetings are taking place between the relevant Departments—one took place earlier this morning—to ensure that capabilities are in place in advance of any possible flooding, with urgent consideration given to ensuring that the public receive the right advice. I am glad to say that the forecast is looking a little better than it was.

Order. There are far too many noisy private conversations taking place in the Chamber. The House must come to order.

According to figures published by the Cabinet Office last week, the Deputy Prime Minister has appointed four more special advisers at a cost to the taxpayer of at least £190,000. At a time when the average family is set to lose £320 a year as a result of tax credit changes and at a time when almost everyone is asking what exactly is the point of the Deputy Prime Minister, does the Minister think that this is a good use of public money?

I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would realise that it is extremely important in a coalition that the Deputy Prime Minister as well as the Prime Minister should have adequate research support. It is extraordinarily difficult for Government Members to take comments of that kind seriously, given the previous Government’s record on employing special advisers.

I sense that the House is waiting on the edge of its seat for my answer. On 30 November, 146,256 civil servants went on strike, which represents about 30% of the civil service work force. I would like to express my appreciation to the 70% of civil servants who came to work that day as normal.

T4. The Minister is refusing to negotiate with the unions over pension contribution increases, the retirement age, cost ceiling, indexation and other issues. Is that not typical of this Government, proving that they enter into negotiations with no intention whatever of coming to an amicable agreement? Are not the Government spoiling for a scrap with the trade unions? (86437)

Far from spoiling for a scrap with the trade unions, we are engaged in very intensive discussions with them. Even in the week during which the strike took place—a completely unnecessary strike, which the Labour party refused to condemn, massively inconveniencing many people and damaging the economy—a number of meetings took place with the trade unions to try to secure agreement on the much needed reforms. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that Lord Hutton, the former Labour Pensions Secretary, has said that this is a generous offer and that the unions should stop “holding a gun” to the taxpayer’s head.

T6. Malvern has a cluster of firms—small, medium and large—with expertise in cyber-security. I invite the Minister down to Malvern to meet them. (86439)

T8. Does the Minister have any regrets about the way in which he has conducted negotiations with the public sector trade unions by using megaphone diplomacy through the media and not providing information in a timely way? (86441)

No, I have no regrets at all. We have engaged in very intensive discussions over a long period with the unions and the leadership of the TUC over the individual schemes. If the hon. Lady thinks we are not negotiating, she should talk to the TUC about the intensiveness of the negotiations. Perhaps she would like to remind her friends in the unions of what Lord Hutton, the former Labour Pensions Secretary, said only yesterday about the Government’s offer. [Interruption.]

T7. What contribution are Departments making to greater energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions following the successful Durban summit? (86440)

In the first year following the forming of the coalition Government, we cut carbon emissions by more than the 10% target that we had set ourselves. We have also committed ourselves to ensuring that carbon emissions from Government buildings—Government property—fall by no less than 25% during the current Parliament, and I am confident that we will fulfil that commitment.

The Electoral Commission announced today that there are not 3 million but 6 million missing, unregistered voters. Does the Minister agree that the equalisation of seats should be postponed, or suspended, until a full investigation has been conducted to establish where those 6 million people are?

I very much regret the fact that in the 13 years for which the hon. Gentleman’s party was in office, it did absolutely nothing to address that problem.

T9. The national citizens service is an excellent initiative to help young people to develop the skills and attitudes that they need in order to become responsible citizens. Can the Minister tell me what local branches of the service will be available to them in my constituency? (86442)

I will write to all Members shortly to tell them which providers of the service are operating in their local authority areas, but I can confirm that providers will be working in Cheshire East and in Cheshire West and Chester next year. I strongly encourage all Members to become involved with this programme, which provides a fantastic opportunity for young people.