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Topical Questions

Volume 597: debated on Wednesday 1 July 2015

The Cabinet Office is responsible for efficiency and reform, transparency, civil society, digital technology, cyber-security, constitutional matters and the delivery of the Government’s agenda.

I and many others are concerned about the Union. A convention or congress has been ruled out quite emphatically. With Scotland wanting more and more and Wales and Northern Ireland excluded from the process and, indeed, England threatened by it, too, what mechanism is the Minister’s office putting in place to properly preserve and plan the future of the Union?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s passionate support for the Union, which we on this side of the House wholeheartedly share. Like him, we seek a lasting settlement that strengthens the United Kingdom, and I look forward to further eloquent contributions from him to that debate and to working with him to make it happen.

T5. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on his plans to deliver efficiency savings across Whitehall? (900689)

As we try to bring the books back into balance and reach surplus, making the Government more efficient is crucial in ensuring that as much money as possible gets to front-line services where it is needed. We have a widespread efficiency and reform plan, which we are driving through as part of the spending review to ensure that every taxpayer pound is spent as wisely as possible.

May I welcome the new ministerial team to their places? The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is being a little sheepish and, if he does not mind me saying so, a bit disingenuous about the numbers on the electoral register. We all know that the last election was the high-water mark with people automatically put on the register, but with the Electoral Commission saying that nearly 2 million people will fall off that register, will he say today whether he will accept its recommendations on the early bringing forward of the IER scheme? Does he really want this Government to go down in history as the first to reduce the franchise in this country?

As I have already told the House, we will look at the Electoral Commission’s recommendations seriously and come back to the House when we have made our decision on them, but there is a clear distinction between those people who are on the electoral register who should not be on it because they are not resident in the place that they are registered for—that is what the cleaning is about—and what I take it is our joint endeavour to get all those people, estimated by the Electoral Commission at 7 million, who should be on the register but are not, on to the register. That is why we are spending money and helping local authorities to attract those people on to the register.

T6. A new cyber-security institute in Nelson in my constituency, sponsored by Training 2000, is due to be launched in the autumn. What support is the Cabinet Office offering to education providers to ensure that Britain is equipped with the cyber-security skills we need for the future? (900690)

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. To defend Britain from cyber-attack, we need to ensure that we have the cyber-skills in the future. That involves not only university-level skills, which we are putting money into expanding, but cyber-apprenticeships and entry-level schemes to ensure that, at all levels and from all parts of our country, we can recruit people to work in that important defence of our nation.

It would assist us if the Minister looked towards and spoke into the microphone. That tends to assist amplification in these circumstances.

T2. The importance of students’ electoral registration was recognised by the Cabinet Office in allocating welcome if belated funds to the National Union of Students to get people on the register in the run-up to the general election. Will the Minister commit to providing similar funds to boost student electoral registration at the start of the new academic year to ensure that they are represented properly on the register on which the parliamentary boundary review will be based? (900686)

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious question about student registration. As he will know, we now have a system of individual registration, which people can do in about three minutes on an iPhone. We are going to make that even easier, and we will work with the NUS and others to try to encourage students to do exactly as he suggests.

T7. With the help of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), on St George’s day this year I launched a petition calling for English votes for English laws. I am therefore delighted to see a firm commitment by the Government to right this historic inequality once and for all. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on when we can expect the Government to introduce that important constitutional change? (900691)

I welcome my hon. Friend to her place. As she says, we are absolutely going to right this wrong, and there will be further details shortly.

T3. A report published today by Children’s Rights Alliance for England points to a dismal failure by the Government when considering the best interests of children and young people in their decision making. Bearing that in mind, does the Minister agree that giving 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in the EU referendum would be a first, positive step towards greater inclusion of young people in the democratic process? (900687)

We have improved the life chances of millions of children by introducing 2 million apprenticeships in the previous Parliament, by having 2 million more jobs and by turning our country around. The consideration of whether voting should start at 16 or 18 is a balanced one. We think 18 is the right age, but, frankly, the best thing we can do for the future of the children of this country is improve and strengthen our economy.

Will the Minister for the Cabinet Office undertake to visit the Major Projects Leadership Academy in Oxford and see the excellent work being done to develop senior civil servants?

Not only will I undertake to visit the academy—I have heard very good stories about it—but I understand that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has visited it, and he has just told me that I had better go too, so I will get there pretty shortly.