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Topical Questions

Volume 542: debated on Wednesday 21 March 2012

My responsibilities as Minister for the Cabinet Office are public sector efficiency and reform, civil service issues, the industrial relations strategy in the public sector, Government transparency, civil contingencies, civil society and cyber-security.

National citizen service is going to become a rite of passage for many of our constituents. Will my right hon. Friend tell me how young people in Rossendale and Darwen can find out about getting involved this summer?

Three providers are delivering more than 600 places across Lancashire this year. Those providers are Catch22, The Challenge Network and Fylde Coast YMCA. I strongly encourage young people and their parents in Rossendale and Darwen to find out more about the NCS through its Facebook page or the Cabinet Office’s NCS website.

T2. What progress has been made by the commission into the West Lothian question? Many Opposition Members, and I am sure many Government Members, do not want to see a two-tier system of hon. Members in Westminster. What progress has the Minister made on this matter? Will he assure Members that we will be allowed to make a contribution to the commission? (100953)

I am completely confident that the members of the West Lothian commission will read the hon. Gentleman’s remarks with great interest.

T4. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House when the plans to refurbish No. 70 Whitehall were approved? (100955)

Those plans were approved in 2008, when the current Leader of the Opposition was Minister for the Cabinet Office. It is therefore surprising that the shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office chose recently to mount an unprovoked attack on the decision made by his party leader.

T3. Part of my constituency had a bad experience with the Big Lottery Fund, which awarded it £1 million, but then sat on the money for the best part of two years. Will the Minister give better policy direction to that body so that it does not award funding and then sit on it for two years? (100954)

I hear what the hon. Lady says and I will look into it. I am surprised to hear that that was the case.

T5. Yesterday, Britain showed itself at its best. The Olympics offer us a chance to repeat such a show to the world. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is disgraceful that strike action has been threatened during such a wonderful opportunity? (100956)

It was distressing that the leader of the Unite trade union made that intemperate threat. I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will take an early opportunity to condemn these bully-boy paymasters, who are threatening, when the eyes of the world are on Britain, to bring the country to a standstill.

T6. Concerns have been raised about the role of Circle health care in the Government’s pathfinder programme. Will the Minister clarify its role in the programme? (100957)

I will look at what the hon. Gentleman says and provide him with what will no doubt be a comprehensive answer.[Interruption.]

Order. I am not altogether sure that the Minister heard the question. If he did not, he was not the only one. There is too much noise and Members are yelling even when Members from their own party are asking questions. A bit of order would help.

T7. Had we reached Question 10, I would have asked what recent assessment has been made of Government policy on open source software and open standards. (100958)

We are strongly in favour of using open source software wherever possible. We have established that that can cut the cost of providing digital services massively, while producing better results. On a recent visit to silicon valley, I and a number of colleagues found businesses that were capable of cutting those costs on a massive scale.

A study by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations has found that applications by charities for emergency help were highest in the north-east, because the 20 poorest areas suffered 40 times as much reduction in their funding as the 20 richest. A year ago the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), said that the voluntary sector would

“find that there is access to a large amount of revenue”.—[Official Report, 20 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 936.]

Has he disappeared because he no longer believes that?

I deeply regret that it has been necessary for the Government to cut spending in the way that they have. The reason is very simple—the Government of which the hon. Lady was a member left this country with the biggest budget deficit in the developed world.

T8. In the past decade, small business has increased employment by 1 million and big business cut it by 1 million. Does that not show that procurement for small businesses is about not just fairness but more jobs and money? (100959)

My hon. Friend is completely right. That is why we have an aspiration to increase the direct spend to 25% of what the Government spend. We have already more than doubled that, and we intend to go further.