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Topical Questions

Volume 588: debated on Wednesday 19 November 2014

My responsibilities are for efficiency and reform, civil service issues, public sector industrial relation strategy, Government transparency, civil contingencies, civil society and cyber-security.

The right hon. Gentleman is also responsible for the list of Ministers’ interests, and it is some time since that was done—I wonder when it will be. I am interested to know whether his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is still a honorary member of the Irvine Burns club, and whether the Minister still lists the Blind Trust as part of his financial interests, and whether we can see where we are going on this subject.

I have no idea what that was all about, but I am sure it can be pursued through different channels.

T3. My constituents Callum Brogan and Parvathi Thara have been selected as National Citizen Service leaders for 2014-15, and have told me how much the NCS means to them. Will my hon. Friend tell me his future plans for the NCS? (906115)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work with his local NCS, and all Members across the House who also take an interest in the programme. I wish his two constituents the best of luck next year as NCS leaders. The programme has consistently demonstrated, through independent evaluations, that it delivers more capable, confident and engaged young people, and up to £6.10 in benefits for every £1 spent. It continues to grow and it saw its 100,000th participant this summer.

It is good to see the Deputy Prime Minister this morning talking up family-friendly working, but what is the right hon. Gentleman doing to ensure best practice on family friendly across the civil service, in particular on access to high-quality and high-level part-time and flexible opportunities? Is it not about time that the Government showed leadership, instead of lecturing others on what they are not doing?

I warmly welcome the hon. Lady to her post. I have slightly lost count, but on my reckoning she is the fifth incumbent of the shadow post and I am sure the best. I look forward to a warm relationship with her over the coming period.

On the hon. Lady’s valid point about the need for the Government to exercise leadership in providing family-friendly opportunities for flexible working, I very much agree that we should do that, and we are already doing that. We are providing more opportunities and we think there are significant productivity improvements in enabling people to work more flexibly. However, it is always to be stressed that it is not an entitlement; it has to be according to the needs of the business.

T5. What assessment has the Minister made of Labour’s proposals for a mansion tax on legacy giving, which is so appreciated by our charities? (906117)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I did notice that the Leader of the Opposition had a very compelling economics lesson on TV the other evening, when Myleene Klass said:

“You can’t just point at things and tax them.”

That is hardly a thought-through strategy. We have heard voices within the Labour party itself—

Order. The Minister should resume his seat. His answer suffers from one principal disadvantage: it has absolutely nothing to do with his important responsibilities as a newly appointed junior Minister, with which of course we wish him well.

T2. Several Ministers, including, it has to be said, the Prime Minister, fail to handle data with a certain amount of precision. Indeed, two weeks ago the Prime Minister told the House that there were 1,000 extra GPs when in actual fact there are 36 fewer. Will the Minister, who is responsible for consistency and co-ordination across government, clamp down on these bad practices and perhaps help the Prime Minister to correct the record today? (906114)

We are really not going to take any lectures on this kind of thing from the party that brought the whole idea of fiction writing into dispute during its time in office.

T8. Like the Minister I, too, have seen at first hand the benefits of the National Citizen Service and believe that every young person would benefit from taking part in the programme. Will he tell the House how he intends to increase both participation and the availability of the programme across the whole UK? (906120)

I thank my hon. Friend for the efforts he is making in his constituency to support the NCS. He spoke this year at the regional awards and promotes the programme in local schools. I am delighted that the NCS has taken part in every local authority across the country this year. There are projects now in Wales and Northern Ireland, and my officials are in discussions with the Scottish Government to explore the possibility of a pilot in Scotland.

T4. During this Parliament, the National Statistics Authority has repeatedly had to write to Ministers to ask them to correct misleading or false statements on the growth of the national debt, the amount the Government spend on flood protection and much else, and to ask the Government in future to publish the figures as quality assured official statistics. Do the Government agree it is now time to change the law? (906116)

I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows that all correspondence to the UK Statistics Authority is publicly available on its website, but he will also know that it has responded to both the Government and the Opposition on the issue of statistics, such as when it wrote on 24 July concerning incorrect employment figures used by the Leader of the Opposition and a shadow Business Minister—

Order. We are going to get one more question in because we want answers about Government policy. The Minister will learn gradually.

I have previously praised the important role parish councillors play during national emergencies, as they did in my constituency during the flooding last year, but the picture nationally remains patchy in terms of parish councils with emergency plans in place. May I urge the Minister, ahead of this winter, to push again to ensure that parish councils take up their responsibility for emergency planning?

My hon. Friend, who works hard in this area, makes a valid point, and I will ensure it is taken onboard and acted on.