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Topical Questions

Volume 577: debated on Wednesday 12 March 2014

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

The Wilson doctrine is a convention whereby Government agencies do not intercept communications with Members of Parliament without explicit approval from the Prime Minister. In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) in 2012, the Minister told him that the Wilson doctrine did not apply to metadata, thereby exposing whistleblowers to risks from which parliamentary privilege should protect them. Will he review this policy, discuss it with the Prime Minister and report to the House?

I absolutely understand the point that my right hon. Friend makes and I will undertake to look at this with my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister.

T4. The Minister has a bit of a reputation as a pyromaniac, trying to have bonfires of regulations, quangos and much else. If that is the case, why is he allowing the Financial Conduct Authority to introduce a new code that will inhibit crowdfunding and local people in their communities in raising money through social media? Why do we have this new regulation? (902996)

I accept the compliment that the hon. Gentleman pays me—gracefully, I hope—but the issue he raises is not one with which I am familiar. I am sure that my right hon. Friends in the Treasury will want to look at it. It is a great pleasure to have representation from the Opposition about excessive regulation. [Interruption.]

Order. Far too many excessively noisy private conversations are taking place. Let us have a bit of order for Mr Mel Stride.

T2. My right hon. Friend will know that the Public and Commercial Services Union, which stood up with such militancy against his pension reforms, has discovered that it has a £65 million black hole in its own pension scheme. Does he agree that the union should spend more time looking after its members and less time politicising Government reforms? (902994)

All organisations that run a pension scheme have to live in the real world. I am sure that the leadership of the PCS will take pleasure in the fact that its members in the civil service continue to enjoy a pension scheme that is significantly better than the one that the PCS offers to its own staff.

T6. There is huge concern about the Government’s proposals to sell or part-privatise the Land Registry, putting 400 civil service jobs in Durham at risk. It works and even turns a profit for the Treasury. Why fix what is not broken? Has the Minister discussed this with his Department for Business, Innovation and Skills colleagues, and if not, why not? (902999)

I have indeed discussed this with my colleagues in BIS. I do not take the gloomy view that the hon. Lady takes, that any involvement of the private sector means that the Land Registry will be less effective or have less opportunity to grow. A lot of what the Land Registry does is excellent, and there is a real opportunity for it to grow. If that involves bringing in a private sector partner, or private sector capital of one form or another, I hope that she would support that.

T3. May I welcome the Minister’s plans to improve accountability for senior civil service appointments? To ensure transparency and the scrutiny of appointments, may I also urge him to consider making the shortlists for appointments for the heads of quangos, Whitehall Departments and international courts the subject of prior scrutiny by Select Committees? (902995)

My hon. Friend’s latter point is constantly reviewed, and it will come as no surprise to him that his urging is supported by many Select Committees. On his first point, for the first time all permanent secretary appointments are for a fixed tenure of five years. We publish the objectives of permanent secretaries, and all this is beginning to be more accountable than it has ever been before.

T7. This week concerns were expressed in the media about the move to a shared network for emergency services. Why are the Government refusing to share the risk assessment, saying that it will prejudice the procurement process? (903000)

I am not familiar with the particular issue that the hon. Lady raises, but I will happily look at it and get back to her.

T5. What would be the administrative consequences for government if patients languishing on long waiting lists in Wales were given access to the far higher quality services delivered by the coalition NHS in England? (902997)

As my hon. Friend knows, I was in Wales last week, and the deficiencies of the health service under Labour guidance in Wales were a subject of constant discussion.

T8. Last weekend I was searching for a V14 form to return a tax disc, I did a search on Google, and a copycat website came up offering services that cost money. What efforts are being made by the Government to work with the advertising agencies to try to deal with copycat websites that are ripping people off? (903001)

My colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and I had a meeting with Google and others last week to address exactly this issue. We are taking urgent steps, with Google and with the Advertising Standards Authority, to address it. It is a real concern, the hon. Gentleman is right to raise it and we are on the case.