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Deputy Prime Minister

Volume 568: debated on Tuesday 15 October 2013

The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Third Party Campaign Expenditure

Before turning to the question, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith) for her excellent work in the past year on political and constitutional reform. I welcome the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who will bring unique zeal to decentralisation in particular, which he has championed within Government. I also welcome the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) to his new position on the Opposition Front Bench.

It is of course good that people are motivated to campaign for what they believe in, whether inside or outside a traditional political party. However, it is also important that the integrity of democratic political campaigning is maintained. Campaigning by third parties at general elections should therefore be made more transparent and accountable.

I am sure that the Deputy Prime Minister has, like many hon. Members, been contacted by hundreds of people from the voluntary, charity and community sectors who are vehemently opposed to the gagging provisions in the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has assiduously cultivated those groups in the past, and frankly, they feel betrayed. Will he explain to them why he has led the Liberal Democrats in support of this assault on grass-roots politics? Better still, will he recognise, even at this late stage, that he has got this badly wrong and join us in opposing the Bill?

My view is that if we did nothing about the increasing trend of big money in British politics, which seeks to influence the outcome of political contests through groups that are not political parties, those very same groups would campaign after the next general election, saying that we should do something about that trend. At the general election, non-party political funds doubled to £3 million. We have seen what happens when that gets out of control. Just look across the Atlantic at the United States: super-PACs—political action committees; the increasing polarisation of politics; and people outside the democratic political process, non-political parties, trying to influence the outcome of elections. We will maintain the rules, as they have existed since 2000, on whether groups are regulated as third party campaign groups. All we are saying is that non-party political parties that want to act like a political party should be asked to fill in the same paperwork as a political party.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is nothing in the Bill that stops campaigns on particular policies? Furthermore, we will not end up with third party groups spending more than political candidates are able to spend on their own election.

My hon. Friend is exactly right. Under the current rules, a well-funded third party campaign group seeking to influence the democratic outcome in a constituency or constituencies could spend more money than a political party. That, surely, cannot be right. The Labour party, which is run by a third party campaign group, the trade unions, does not think it is a problem if political parties are influenced by third party campaign groups that might have political designs. Nothing in the Bill would stop Make Poverty History spending millions on its campaign. Nothing would stop the Green Alliance grading us all on our green promises—nothing would change that.

Returning to planet earth, the Deputy Prime Minister regularly bleats on about the value of consultation. Why did that not apply to the lobbying Bill? There was no form of consultation whatever on this wretched Bill.

There was extensive consultation and scrutiny on the lobbying provisions in the Bill. The parts on third party campaigning were discussed extensively by the three parties in the cross-party funding talks. It was agreed by all parties, and backed by Sir Christopher Kelly in his recommendations on party funding reform, that any change to party funding arrangements should also include some limits on third party campaign groups when they want to influence the political outcome in a constituency or constituencies.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that there is huge public demand for complete transparency in the influence of trade unions, especially during election periods and especially given the allegations concerning the actions of Unite in the affairs of the Labour party earlier this year?

I have this old-fashioned view that in all our constituencies candidates from our democratic political parties should be slugging it out on a level playing field and that we should not have people pulling the strings in the background in an untransparent way. That is all the Bill is trying to do. Anyone who believes in the integrity and transparency of democratic, open contest in our constituencies should support the Bill.

Electoral Register

2. What steps his Office is taking to improve the completeness and accuracy of the Electoral Register. (900469)

The Government will shortly publish the results of our confirmation dry run exercise, which matched almost 47 million electors against Department for Work and Pensions data. The results were much better than we anticipated and, using a combination of national and local data, could lead to an overall average match rate of 85%. In addition, we are making registration simpler by enabling online registration, and in June we announced £4.2 million-worth of measures to maximise voter registration ahead of the transition to individual electoral registration.

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his answer, but will he explain what he is doing to promote voter registration among our armed services personnel, whose percentage registration has been highlighted as a cause for concern?

I know that the Cabinet Office has been working with the Ministry of Defence to ensure that efforts are undertaken. Considerable efforts have been made in the past, but where we can do more, we should do more, in order to encourage anyone who is eligible to vote to do so and to enter into the new individual voter registration system, as I explained earlier.

As well as the problem of not enough voters being registered, there is a problem of voters registered under the wrong category. Given the growing number of EU nationals in this country who can vote in local and European elections but not in Westminster parliamentary elections, may we have clearer guidance from his Office to that effect?

I am not sure precisely what my hon. Friend is referring to, but the rules are very clear: EU nationals may vote in local and European elections but not national elections, and electoral registration officers are fully aware of that and, in my experience, are scrupulous in ensuring that the system reflects it. If he has any particular reservations, however, he can of course bring them to my attention.

Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware that in Northern Ireland there is a new drive for individual registration, and would he find it helpful to monitor the success of that exercise and to learn from the experience?

Absolutely; in designing the system of individual voter registration that we are introducing, we looked very carefully at the strengths and weaknesses of the experience in Northern Ireland. The most important innovation on which we have embarked is the one I explained earlier, which is matching the very large databases that we already have with information on the electoral register and, in effect, automatically enrolling millions of people on the individual voter registration system.

9. What will be the Electoral Commission’s budget for raising awareness of the introduction of individual electoral registration? (900479)

I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman on the specific figure, but of course we work very closely with the Electoral Commission to ensure that we pull in the same direction to raise awareness of the changes to the new system, and we have allocated just over £4 million to various groups locally working with us and the Electoral Commission to raise awareness among those groups where under-registration has historically been a problem.

First, I join the Deputy Prime Minister in congratulating the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), on his appointment.

The Deputy Prime Minister spoke about the data-matching dry run this summer, which I understand produced an outcome nationally of 78% accuracy. Within that, however, was a range of 47% to 87%. Is there not a risk that even more electors will fall off the electoral register because of the speed at which the Government are introducing the new system? Will he consider delaying the introduction of individual voter registration in order to maximise the completeness and accuracy of the register?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the data-matching tests are a dry run and have exceeded expectations. We think that the use of those central databases, particularly the DWP database, combined with what we do with other databases, should raise the overall figure of automatic enrolment when that finally happens. As he also knows, we have done a considerable amount to ensure that there is a two-year roll-over period, so that people who do not automatically register before the next general election will still have an opportunity to do so, while door-to-door information will be provided to people so that they will know how the new system works. We have put as many belt-and-braces provisions in place as possible, therefore, to ensure that the maximum number of people are on the new IER system.

Returning Officers Fees

Returning officers are entitled under the Representation of the People Act 1983 to receive payments for administering election polls, as those responsibilities fall outside their local authority duties.

These are some of the highest paid public servants in the land, sometimes on salaries of about £200,000. How can we continue to justify paying these people extra sums of £30,000 or so just to do another task, for which their salary should be more than enough to compensate them?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I look forward to meeting him next week to discuss these matters further. Before the previous Government left office they increased the fees to returning officers, allowing fees to be paid uncapped for multiple constituencies. We in this Government froze those fees from that time. I look forward to our discussions and to hearing my hon. Friend’s views, which I know he has thoroughly researched.

May I also welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new post and ask him to give consideration to the situation where returning officers have often made numerous mistakes during elections? We had this happen several years ago in Warrington when the wrong people were declared elected for some parish poll, yet there is no provision to reduce or take away the returning officer’s fee when that happens. Should that not happen? Will the Minister consider that?

I am happy to take on board the hon. Lady’s suggestion. Of course, returning officers do not need to accept the fee. There are some honourable examples where returning officers have not taken the full fee to which they are entitled. That option is available to them.

Political Party Funding

5. What progress the Government has made in reviewing the law on the funding of political parties; and if he will make a statement. (900474)

I have always been clear that any reform is best achieved by consensus. Despite seven meetings, I am disappointed that, as on previous occasions, there has been no agreement between the three parties on beginning party funding reform.

The Deputy Prime Minister and colleagues have managed to get agreement across government to deal with third party big funding and agreement with the official Opposition to deal with the Leveson issues on regulating the press—it was difficult, but we got there. Will my right hon. Friend make a renewed effort to try to get a deal with the Labour and Conservative parties in time for the election to take some very big money out of party politics so that voters, not big funders, decide the outcome?

I would love to think that there might be a realistic prospect of that, but, frankly, I do not think that there is. We tested it to destruction in seven meetings that brought the three parties together over a prolonged period on the back of very strong recommendations from Sir Christopher Kelly and his Committee. Not to put it too delicately, the same old vested interests relating to donation caps on the one hand and the financial relationship between the Labour party and the trade unions on the other were, once again, not reconcilable. Until we get those two things aligned, a cross-party agreement on party funding is unlikely—but it will have to happen eventually; otherwise we will be afflicted by scandal after scandal and controversy after controversy.

What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that company shareholders, co-op members and union members have a reasonable say on political donations made in their name?

If I understand it correctly, moves are afoot, although they are rather opaque to an outsider so far as the trade union funding link with the Labour party is concerned. More generally, transparency has to be a good thing when money is sloshing around the system and it could influence democratic electoral contests. To return to my earlier theme, this is what the transparency provisions on third party campaigning are all about—not to stop charities from doing their work or from campaigning, but simply to make them transparent in how the money is used, particularly where they choose to use money for explicitly political ends to engineer or influence a particular outcome in a constituency.

The problem with the Deputy Prime Minister’s position is that he was willing to rush out a Bill to capture what amounts to a small problem, which may well damage democracy, but he was not prepared to put the weight of his position behind actually achieving a solution on party funding.

Talk about pots and kettles! It is no secret that, in a sense, the Liberal Democrats are not rich enough to have quite the vested interests that are involved in all this. It has always been resistance from the two established, larger parties that has prevented a deal, and that is exactly what happened on this occasion. I do not think that we should beat about the bush.

As for the hon. Lady’s first point, I urge her not to be complacent about the trend towards the funnelling of increasingly large amounts of money into the political process by non-political parties. Look at what has happened in the United States. Do we really want to go in the direction of super-PACS or very well-funded groups trying to influence the political process? I do not think that that would be healthy for our democracy.

I, too, welcome the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) to his new position.

As the Deputy Prime Minister will know, Sir Christopher Kelly’s most recent report recommended a reduction in the cap on political parties’ general election expenditure from £19 million to £16 million, and before the last general election the Prime Minister said that it should be £15 million. Sir Christopher’s report also referred to the lobbying Bill, which will reduce what campaigning groups can spend by more than 70% although they spend a fraction of what is spent by political parties. What does the Deputy Prime Minister think the cap should be for political parties’ general election expenditure, and what does he think should be the maximum donation that an individual can make?

First, I do not think that it is possible to view one of those figures in isolation. It is not possible to consider the £19 million or the £15 million figure without trying to incorporate it in a cross-party consensus on political party funding, which has eluded us so far. As for individual donations to individual candidates, our Bill increases the limit from £500 to £700.

Secondly, charities and campaign organisations that are not seeking to influence the outcome of an electoral contest in a constituency can spend as much money as they like. They can spend millions and millions of pounds, unregulated, if they are not seeking to enter into the democratic process. If they do seek to enter into the democratic process, why are they not asked to fill in the same paperwork as political parties?

Topical Questions

As Deputy Prime Minister, I support the Prime Minister on a full range of Government policies and initiatives. Within Government, I take special responsibility for the Government’s programme of political and constitutional reform.

When my right hon. Friend visited north-east Lincolnshire recently, he must have observed the tremendous investment that has been made in the offshore renewables sector which is helping to boost the local economy. However, much of north-east Lincolnshire in still in recession. Can my right hon. Friend assure my constituents that the Government will do all that they can to support the area during the present difficult times?

Having visited the area on numerous occasions, I am acutely aware of the importance of the new green offshore wind industry to the long-term economic prospects of my hon. Friend’s constituents and the region. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is doing a huge amount in trying to secure, for instance, the long-awaited and much discussed investment from Siemens in the Hull area, which will transform the local economy, and I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that those endeavours will continue.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledge that his Government’s justification for the bedroom tax—that it will mean tenants moving to smaller homes—cannot work unless there are smaller homes for them to move to? What is his estimate of the percentage of tenants for whom there is no smaller home to go to?

I totally accept the premise, which is that a change from one system to another involves hard cases that need to be—[Interruption.] That is why we are providing hard cash for hard cases. We have trebled the discretionary housing payments that are available to local councils. I am not in any way seeking to ignore the fact that some individual cases really do need the flexibility and the money from local authorities to enable their circumstances to be dealt with.

Let me say this to the right hon. and learned Lady. If there is a principled objection to this change, I do not understand why, in all the years during which Labour was in government, exactly the same provisions existed for millions of people in the private rented sector.

This is the central issue in the Government’s justification for a policy that the Deputy Prime Minister has brought forward and voted for. He obviously does not want to admit that for 96% of tenants, there is no smaller home to go to. No wonder councils are saying that the discretionary housing fund is completely inadequate to help all the families who cannot move and are falling into arrears. Does he recognise that this is a cruel and unfair policy that he should not have voted for? He should repeal it now.

Of course I accept that for some households the change from one system to another creates real dilemmas that need to be addressed through the money that we are making available to local authorities. The right hon. and learned Lady cites a figure. To be honest, lots of wildly different figures have been cited about the policy’s impact. That is why we are commissioning independent research to understand its impact. I suspect that it varies enormously between one part of the country and another, and one local authority and another. That is why we are trebling the resources that we making available to local authorities.

T2. The Deputy Prime Minister has specific responsibility for implementing the programme for government and likes to take special ownership of the chapter on tax, a key aim of which is to help lower and middle-income earners. I have a Lib Dem briefing that states:“£50,000” is “a very large salary: these are not middle income earners.”It also says:“We are looking at how” they “could make a further contribution.”Why does he want to clobber the middle classes? (900484)

I do not, and as we made clear at the time the £50,000 figure does not represent any policy of my party. However, I will not be shy about parading the fact that it is because of Liberal Democrats in government that we are giving a huge tax cut to over 20 million basic rate taxpayers, a policy that I was warned by the hon. Gentleman’s party leader at the time of the last general election was not deliverable. It has been delivered because of Liberal Democrats in government.

T3. According to the Papworth Trust, nine out of 10 disabled people are having to cut back on food or heating because of the bedroom tax. The discretionary housing payments are derisory: they give £2.09 to disabled people, compared with the £14 that they are losing through the bedroom tax. How do the Government and the Deputy Prime Minister justify that? Is that the mark of a civilised society? Since it is not in the coalition agreement, will he call for it to be scrapped? (900485)

I read in the Sunday papers that the Labour party was going to get even tougher on welfare than the coalition, yet it has opposed £83 billion-worth of welfare savings. We have to bring the housing benefits bill down somehow. I assume that our rationale for the change is exactly the reason why, in government for 13 years, Labour maintained the same rules for households receiving housing benefit in the private rented sector.

Could the Deputy Prime Minister let us have the Government’s view on having televised party leader debates before the next general election? Will he ensure that the fourth party is allowed to take part in the debate so that he would be able to speak? [Interruption.]

It is the sting in the tail that I always love. The hon. Gentleman must rehearse his questions endlessly—but they are good; it was a good one today. As he knows, that is not a subject, thankfully perhaps, of Government policy. It is a subject for discussion between the broadcasters, who will have their own views, and the political parties. He should speak to his own party leader about his party’s view on these things. I think that the innovation of televised leader debates was a good one. Millions of people found it a good opportunity to see how the party leaders measured up against each other and I think that we should repeat them.

T5. I listened carefully to the Deputy Prime Minister’s answers about the bedroom tax. He kept referring to “some households”. However, does he agree with his own party that the bedroom tax discriminates against the most vulnerable in our society? Will he join his party in calling for the tax to be scrapped? (900487)

For exactly the same reason that the hon. Lady and her party maintained precisely the same policy in the private rented sector for 13 years. That spectacular act of inconsistency may seem normal to a party that is used to crashing the economy and then claiming that nothing was wrong, but I hope that she will agree that the benefits bill generally and the housing benefits bill in particular need to be brought under some semblance of control. We need to take difficult decisions. We need to provide hard cash, as we are, for hard cases. That is why we have trebled the discretionary housing payment.

T6. Given the success of the city deals and the emergence of city regions, what plans does the Deputy Prime Minister have for further decentralisation to include more rural areas? (900488)

That is one of the reasons why I so warmly welcome the appointment of the Minister of State, because he has demonstrated extraordinary personal commitment to this wider agenda of devolution and decentralisation. As my hon. Friend will know, we are examining the case for 20 more city deals, and we will then be seeking to roll out a much more extensive programme of decentralisation on the back of the Heseltine recommendations, which I hope will leave all of our country far more decentralised now than we found it back in 2010.

T10. In the borough of Wigan over 100 tenants have moved into the private rented sector since April, where rents are between £700 and £1,200 higher than council rents. Can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm therefore that, rather than falling, the housing benefit bill is likely to rise as a result of the bedroom tax? (900492)

I hope the hon. Lady will accept that there is an underlying problem. We have lots of people on the social rented sector waiting list. There are 1.8 million households on the waiting list and about 1.5 million bedrooms in the social rented sector are not being used. We need somehow to make sure that those people who do not have homes are better matched with available homes. At the same time we have many families living in very overcrowded conditions. Those are the problems: those are the imbalances of the system that we are trying to straighten out. I accept that that leads to some hard cases. They need to be treated fairly and compassionately.

T7. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure the UK maximises the opportunity for green growth and green jobs across the UK? (900489)

My view is that an island such as ours has a huge commercial opportunity, particularly with the capacity for offshore wind that we have as a country. It might sound odd to say that there is a commercial opportunity in the face of such a grave threat as climate change, but there is a commercial opportunity if we can show that we have the technologies, the science, the companies and the strategies to adapt to these new environmental realities. I think that that would be a great opportunity to create jobs for many thousands of people throughout the country.

T11. My right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party has stated strong support for lowering the voting age and giving a voice to our 16 and 17-year-olds. Their futures are decided by many of the decisions that are taken in this House. The Deputy Prime Minister said he supports this position, but three years after taking up his post no action has been taken. When can Britain’s young people expect him to live up to his commitments? (900493)

Government Members have always been very open about the fact that there is disagreement between the two coalition parties. I strongly believe that the voting age should be brought down to 16. I do not see why 17-years-olds are not able to vote when they have so many other roles and responsibilities in British society. It is not something we have included in the coalition agreement, but my views on the matter have not changed.

T8. “Drekly” is a Cornish expression that means doing something maybe some time in the future, possibly never. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that in terms of devolving greater powers to the people of Cornwall, drekly is not an answer he will ever give from the Dispatch Box? (900490)

Since I only just heard that term I doubt very much I would use it at the Dispatch Box, and it is absolutely not our intention to delay further progress on devolving powers and decentralising control over how money is raised and spent across all parts of the United Kingdom, including Cornwall. We are doing that in the steps I described earlier: a first wave of city deals, a second wave of city deals, and then implementing the recommendations of the Heseltine review.

T12. A number of countries have abolished the second Chambers of their Parliaments, and Ireland has just decided to follow suit. About half of all Labour Back Benchers in a recent previous Parliament voted for a unicameral Parliament. Will the Deputy Prime Minister now accept that that is one reasonable option for reform of the House of Lords? (900494)

Notwithstanding my frustration that we did not manage to introduce even a smidgeon of democracy into the other place, I am not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater and say that therefore we should scrap the place altogether. I remain of the view that there are virtues in having a tension—a balance—between two Chambers. That is the virtue of bicameral systems all over the democratic world. I just have this old-fashioned view that it is best done when both Chambers are elected by the people they purport to represent.

T9. In his keynote speech to the National House-Building Council on 22 November last year, the Deputy Prime Minister highlighted the 5,500 unit housing development to the east of Kettering as a major project that needed infrastructure support, but since then its £30 million bid to the regional growth fund for a related junction improvement has been turned down. Will he agree to meet a delegation from Kettering to discuss how, across government, heads could be knocked together to ensure that local people get the infrastructure they need to cope with all these extra houses? (900491)

I can certainly ensure that officials who run the bidding process in the regional growth fund are able to meet those who put together the application in Kettering. As my hon. Friend knows, this is, thankfully, not something that politicians decide; it is decided on an objective basis and a panel, chaired by Lord Heseltine, filters and assesses the bids before they come before Ministers. More generally, I know that colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government would be more than happy to meet him and his colleagues from Kettering to look at making sure that the infrastructure is indeed available to the local community.

T14. Is the desperate scarcity of one-bedroom and two-bedroom properties for rent in Ogmore, coupled with the growth in the number of abandoned three-bedroom houses and added to the rise in debt arrears of every housing authority, which prevents them from making the necessary refurbishments, an intended consequence of his policies on benefits and the bedroom tax? (900496)

The whole system is not working as it should—[Interruption.] The whole system we inherited from the hon. Gentleman’s Government was one where we had 1.8 million people on the housing waiting list, hundreds of thousands of families living in overcrowded accommodation and other people receiving housing benefit for more bedrooms than they actually needed. That is the system we are trying to sort out. There are many features to this, which is why we decided that, in exactly the same way as his Government supported the rules in the private rented sector, we would apply the same rules in the social rented sector.

T13. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the excellent Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme run by the Social Mobility Foundation and supported by many across this House. I will shortly be welcoming a new member of staff through that programme. Will he join me in welcoming its success in getting more people from a diverse range of backgrounds into politics and advancing the cause of social mobility? (900495)

I strongly endorse what my hon. Friend said. The scheme is excellent and it is part of a creeping culture change, whereby everyone is realising, in the private sector, the public sector, Parliament and Whitehall, that work experience places and internships should, wherever possible, be based on what people know rather than who they know. That is reflected in this truly excellent scheme.

What discussions has the Deputy Prime Minister had with the Justice Secretary about his recent announcement that he is going to repeal the Human Rights Act as early as next year?

There will be no repeal of the Human Rights Act during the course of this Parliament under this coalition Government.

T15. The Deputy Prime Minister recently warned the United Nations that it was in danger of becoming a “relic of a different time” and that the Security Council should be reformed. Does he believe that the reform should also include limiting the veto? (900497)

The primary focus of reform of the UN Security Council, which is an anachronism—it is based on an international pecking order that has changed out of all recognition since it was formed—needs to be on the composition of its permanent members, rather than on their respective voting rights. That remains the focus of this Government; we seek to champion the case of other nations—Germany, a member from Africa and one from other hemispheres—to be represented at the top table of the United Nations.

Is the Deputy Prime Minister in any way uneasy about the manner in which large cash donors to some political parties still find their way into the House of Lords—a situation that would disgrace any banana republic?

I do not think that it is wrong by definition to say that someone who is committed to or has supported a political party should somehow be barred for life from showing their support by serving that party in the House of Lords. In general terms, not only should we reform the House of Lords and make it not a plaything for party leaders but something for the British people, but we should take big money out of British politics more generally.

What role does the Deputy Prime Minister envisage that successful city deals, such as that proposed for Norwich, will play in the development of local growth funds from 2015, particularly in relation to the skills agenda?

I know that the Minister of State is deep in discussions on the Norwich city deal this very week. I hope that will lead to a successful conclusion soon enough. The first wave of city deals—I have seen this for myself in Sheffield—shows that the devolution in powers over skills from Whitehall to the town hall and the local enterprise partnerships is providing a fantastic boost to the provision of skills, particularly for young people who are seeking to get into work.

The introduction of the dreaded bedroom tax has hammered thousands of people, mainly disabled, up and down the UK. Recent research shows that the Government wildly exaggerated the potential savings—why is that?

I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to the study from the university of York that was published recently. The details of that study show that it is based on partial information. We simply do not know yet whether the impact or the purported savings are as big or small as the university of York study has implied, but we need to ensure that they are considered independently and objectively so that we can all agree on the basic facts, whatever our disagreements about the policy.

Given the Deputy Prime Minister’s welcome recent criticisms of The Guardian newspaper and its potential breaches of the Official Secrets Act and the Terrorism Acts, will he encourage the Cabinet Office to take a tougher line than hitherto as matters proceed over the month ahead?

My view is that as a matter of course any publication of technical details that are, frankly, not of a great deal of interest to the non-technical reader of our newspapers but might be of huge interest to people who want to do this country harm are not a good thing. Having said that, however, I think that there is an entirely legitimate debate about whether the laws we have in place were properly framed for the power of the technologies available to our agencies and to those who wish to harm us and about whether our oversight arrangements for the work of the agencies are as strong, transparent and credible as they need to be.

Every right hon. and hon. Member has been elected on a constituency basis; nobody has been elected on a national basis. Would it not revitalise democracy if we changed the balance of allowed funding in general elections from a national level to a constituency level and got away from these pseudo-presidential elections?

The recommendations of Sir Christopher Kelly’s committee on party funding reform, particularly with their strict limits on donation caps, would have an analogous effect as they would significantly decrease the ability of large individual donations to be siphoned directly to national parties. As I said before, however, the cross-party consensus necessary to underpin any party funding reform has eluded us once again.

In the spirit of what my right hon. Friend said earlier about devolution, when will we finally hear the Government’s response to the recommendations of the Silk commission, which are of critical importance to the people of Wales?

I understand the impatience for progress on the adoption of the Silk recommendations. As my hon. Friend knows, we have done some work latterly on the implications of devolution of aspects of the system of stamp duty. I am a huge supporter of the thinking behind the Silk commission, I am acutely aware that it is supported by all parties in Wales and I hope that we will be able to make progress on it without further delay.

Has the Deputy Prime Minister seen the recent research that shows that the High Speed 2 rail line, rather than bringing strength and resurrecting the cities of the midlands and the north, will mean that more power will be sucked back to London and the south-east?

I find such research utterly specious. I wish the Labour party would decide whether it is for or against HS2. It is betraying the north of England and the great cities of the north by being so equivocal about HS2. In my view that is the most important infrastructure projects for this country’s future and it will play a crucial role in healing the long, long divide that has existed between the north and the south of our country.

I am sorry to disappoint colleagues, who can try to be accommodated elsewhere on other question sessions. We must now move on.