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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
09 December 2015
Volume 603

Cabinet Office

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Individual Electoral Registration

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1. If he will make an assessment of the effectiveness of the transition to individual electoral registration. [902468]

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7. If he will make an assessment of the effectiveness of the transition to individual electoral registration. [902474]

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The Electoral Commission will publish its assessment of the first full registers under individual electoral registration next spring. In the meantime, I am delighted to inform the House that the transition to IER is now complete. Ghost entries of people who have died or moved house have been removed. We now have a register that is clean, more accurate and less vulnerable to fraud than ever before. This is a vital foundation stone as we move on to the next big challenge: finding people who are legally entitled to vote, but have never been on the register, such as expats, students and people in private rented accommodation, and persuading them to sign up.

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I thank the Minister for his response. University towns and cities are some of the areas worst affected by the Government’s rushed changes to IER. Will the Government allow universities to block-register their students this year?

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I think the hon. Lady and I may mean slightly different things by block registration, but there is common ground, in that some very useful and effective new work is being done in places such as Sheffield, which is dramatically improving student registration rates. With any luck, we can take its example and persuade others to do the same.

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The Electoral Commission states that 51% of 16 to 17-year-olds are registered, compared with 95% of those over 65. The Government have opposed votes for 16 and 17-year-olds in the upcoming EU referendum, and they will not even ensure that young people have a voice. Why are they so indifferent to a whole generation?

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We addressed that issue at some length yesterday when discussing the European Union Referendum Bill. This is the third or fourth time that the House has addressed that idea, and each time it has returned pretty solid majorities against it. The vote yesterday was because we did not think it sensible to change such a fundamental piece of the franchise for just one vote. That would leave us open to the charge of trying to sway the franchise for the EU referendum to favour one side or the other—something that I am sure no one would support.

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May I encourage my hon. Friend to consider postal voting? Leaving aside what may or may not have happened at the recent by-election, is it the case that registering for a postal vote is far too easy these days, which renders the whole system open to serious abuse?

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My hon. Friend is entirely right, and large numbers of people are concerned about that issue. I am happy to tell him that my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles) is at this moment considering a report, and if my hon. Friend has any suggestions about what should be in it, he is welcome to make them.

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I am glad the Minister noticed that there was a parliamentary by-election in Oldham last week. When he carefully studies the figures he will see that there are 1,814 fewer voters in Oldham West and Royton than there were at the general election. If those figures are extrapolated across the country, they show that more than 1 million fewer people are registered than were a year ago. That was predicted; it has happened intentionally. By design, this Minister is responsible for silencing the voices of more than 1 million voters in Britain. How does he feel about being the only Minister in British history to disfranchise 1 million people?

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I see that the conspiracy theorists are out in force this morning. The entries that will have been crossed off the register as a result of the introduction of individual elector registration—a measure that was supported in principle by the Labour party—will be those for people who have died or moved house. Anybody who is a legitimate elector and who has a pulse will have been confirmed on the electoral register. If anybody is worried that they may not be registered, they can register online before May—it takes under three minutes, which is less than the time needed to boil an egg—and they will get their vote.

Government Digital Service (Welsh Language)

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2. What steps the Government Digital Service is taking to ensure that Government Departments treat the Welsh and English languages equally on their websites when providing services in Wales. [902469]

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Mae’r fonheddiges anrhydeddys yn gofyn cwestiwn pwysig.

The Government Digital Service is committed to ensuring that the needs of Welsh language speakers are recognised and met. For example, the introduction of gov.uk now gives every Government organisation the ability to publish web content in Welsh. GDS has helped to produce exemplar Welsh language versions of the new digital services, such as the “register to vote” service, and it has put forward its digital design recommendations for Welsh language Government services.

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Diolch yn fawr iawn am y rhagymadrodd—roedd o’n arbennig o dda ac yn gynsail pwysig i’r Ty yma.

I thank the Minister very much for his introduction in Welsh. However, considering that not a single gov.uk departmental website states on its homepage that services are available in Welsh, people do not know that they can use Welsh. When will the digital service stop preventing Government Departments from fulfilling their legal duty to Welsh speakers?

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I acknowledge that the hon. Lady’s Welsh is more fluent than mine, and I look forward to her giving me a lesson or two at a future date. The Government are doing a huge amount to ensure support for Welsh digital services in Departments, and importantly, that is about quality, not quantity. She will know that every page of direct.gov.uk—the predecessor to gov.uk—was translated into Welsh. That ran to nearly 4,000 pages, but 95% of them were seen by fewer than 10 people per month, and half received no visits whatsoever. For gov.uk we are starting with user need, and working with Departments to ensure the best service for the user.

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Diolch yn fawr iawn, Mr Llywydd. May I congratulate the Minister on the positive sentiments he is echoing, both literally and figuratively, with regard to the Welsh language? May I remind him that as we are the party that set up Sianel Pedwar Cymru and passed the Welsh Language Act 1993, there is absolutely no doubt about our commitment to the language of heaven?

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I could not have put it better myself, especially in Welsh.

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rose—

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On the subject of Welsh, rather than Gaelic, I call Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil.

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Tapadh leibh, Mgr Speaker, airson an cothrom seo a thoirt dhomh. May I ask that the respect being shown to Welsh also be shown to Scottish Gaelic?

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It is always a pleasure to answer the hon. Gentleman. He will be pleased to know that the Cabinet Office does the same for the whole UK.

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Were the Minister to go to the Llyn peninsula and do a six-week Ùlpan course, he would learn fluent Welsh, I can tell him. Having served in 1993 on the Welsh Language Bill, of which our party can be very proud, I know how important it is that it be clearly laid out whether things are in English or Welsh. Sometimes they are in Welsh and then in English, and sometimes in English and then in Welsh. May we have a systematic approach across Government?

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My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we are doing a lot from the centre to encourage Departments to support better the needs of Welsh language speakers. Earlier this year, together with the Wales Office, we conducted user research into their needs, and as a result we are helping Departments to identify a set of Welsh language end-to-end user journeys, such as online self-assessment, that could be better supported by gov.uk.

Digital Technology

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3. What plans he has to improve co-operation between Government Departments on the use of digital technology. [902470]

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9. What plans he has to improve co-operation between Government Departments on the use of digital technology. [902476]

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The UK has made great strides in digital government, but there is much more to do if we are to remain world beating. We set aside a total of almost £2 billion in the spending review for work to be led by the Government Digital Service to make this happen.

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I agree that Departments must work together to enable people to use digital technology safely and efficiently, but will the Minister also give an example of how Government are working together to meet increased demand for cyber-security, including by engaging with citizens and businesses?

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Alongside digital transformation, it is vital that we have secure online activity, and our almost doubling of the budget for cyber-security over the Parliament will be a vital part of protecting not only Government services but the whole of the UK to ensure that people are safe online.

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The social value portal is an innovative way to provide advice and insight for communities, public bodies and business about the best way to achieve social value. Will the Minister outline how his Department is encouraging other Departments to take advantage of digital initiatives, such as the social value portal, to ensure greater implementation of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012?

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Digital transformation can not only improve government and the economy but strengthen civil society, and the social value portal is a good example of working across Government to deliver some of the changes in the Public Services (Social Value) Act. There are eight funded projects, and I look forward to working with my hon. Friend and others to make them happen.

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Many of us on the Opposition Benches applauded the Cabinet Office’s innovative work in the last Government, but will the Minister comment on reports that the lack of resources and leadership in the Cabinet Office now means we are going backwards, rather than forwards, on digital innovation?

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The hon. Gentleman obviously missed the autumn statement, in which we doubled the funding for the Cabinet Office’s world-beating Government Digital Service. We are providing £450 million over the Parliament to ensure not only digital transformation within Departments but strong leadership from the centre.

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Given the recent media reports of cyber-security breaches in the private sector right across the United Kingdom, what steps are being taken ensure there will be no repeat of such breaches, particularly on data protection issues, in relation to Government Departments?

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Our country, both in government and the private sector, is under constant cyber-attack. We need to make sure we step up our game to respond to that. We are bringing in a national cyber centre, a single place of expertise under the GCHQ umbrella, which will clearly be able to co-ordinate and talk to wider society and business. This will ensure that the expertise is all in one place and properly funded to take this fight on.

Electoral Register

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4. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of methods used to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the electoral register. [902471]

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The Electoral Commission will publish its assessment of the 2015 annual canvass in spring next year. In the meantime, there is a growing acceptance that while the annual canvass is an essential tool in maintaining complete and accurate registers, the processes and techniques we use to undertake it look increasingly out of date. They were developed from an analogue, not digital, world. As I said in my speech to the Policy Exchange in October, we will look to give electoral registration officers more discretion to adapt their canvass activities in order to make the canvass more efficient and effective in future.

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Only 6.4% of homeowners are not on the electoral register, yet for those living in rented accommodation this figure is a massive 36.7%. The Government have made, and are making, it harder for generation rent to get on the property ladder, or obtain a secure tenancy. Is that why the Government do not want to hear the voices of private renters in our democracy?

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We absolutely do want to hear everybody’s voice in our democracy. One of the things we are aiming to do with the new approach, as I said in the speech I mentioned in my initial response, is look at other ways to make better contact with groups that are under-represented, and to make sure more of them use their voice and their democratic right.

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On the topic of using other ways to contact people to register to vote, has the Minister considered using credit reference agencies as a way to boost electoral registration?

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That is an intriguing and, to me, new idea. I would be very interested to hear anything more the hon. Gentleman has to suggest on that.

Autumn Statement (Community and Voluntary Sector)

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5. What assessment he has made of the effect of changes announced in the spending review and autumn statement 2015 on local services provided by the community and voluntary sector. [902472]

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I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Lady that the autumn statement significantly increased the funding for the voluntary and social sector in the Cabinet Office. That has enabled us to expand the National Citizen Service and our efforts on social impact bonds. I am delighted to see that in the hon. Lady’s constituency, Kirklees Council has issued a very good compact with the voluntary and community sector, showing how the council can collaborate with them. I very much hope that the sector can take advantage of the extra funds now available.

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As the Minister will be aware, our country is in the grip of a growing social care crisis, with significant funding shortfalls projected by 2020. There are huge pressures on families, carers and the NHS in my constituency and nationwide. Will he say what specific plans he has to support those charities that are currently plugging the gap in terms of care, but are under enormous strain?

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The charity sector as a whole has an income of about £40 billion a year, which is broadly stable. I have been looking at the council accounts for the hon. Lady’s area. It turns out that Kirklees Council has £200 million in useable and unused reserves. The problems to which she refers are not real ones.

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Tackling complex needs effectively has been something of a holy grail out of the reach of previous Governments, so I welcome the commitment in the autumn statement to £105 million in social impact bonds to tackle complex needs and perhaps get us closer to that holy grail.

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I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who has been a passionate advocate, as I and others have been, of social impact bonds. This is a huge change in the way our country is organised. We can get to the point where we are actually paying for outcomes, not inputs. We lever up the amount the Government put in on behalf of the taxpayer, with huge contributions from the private sector and from those double bottom line investors. We can see a huge transformation in public services.

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Last week, the Minister said that the Government were committed to a flourishing civil society, but in the recent spending review it was exposed that the Office for Civil Society is to be hollowed out to just a handful of civil servants, and is now described by the sector as just a “name on a door.” Does the Minister agree that this is a clear admission that the big society agenda is now dead, was never anything but a cover for cuts to public services, has served its purpose, and is now to be wound down?

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I am sorry that the hon. Lady did not take in what I said in my earlier answer. The funding for the voluntary and community sector increased significantly in the autumn statement. I pay tribute to officials in the Office for Civil Society, which answers to my hon. Friend the Minister for Civil Society. In my experience, those officials are among the finest in Whitehall. They will continue their work, and with that increased budget, they will be able to do more, not less.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [902498]

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The Cabinet Office is responsible for increasing the efficiency of government and for delivering the Government’s agenda. I am happy to say that, with the help of the fine civil servants to whom I just referred, we are doing just that.

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Will the Minister outline the steps that the Government are taking to promote social enterprise, which is one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government are totally committed to the social enterprise sector. That is partly about leading by example, which is why, in common with many of my hon. Friends, I serve in my village community shop—we all undertake these things. More than that, however, it is about creating the framework within which social enterprise can flourish. That comes back to the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) that social impact bonds offer a whole new future for the social enterprise sector.

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Many volunteers in the emergency services, particularly the fire and rescue services, were again heroically leading the rescue efforts in the flooded north-west region this week. The service has been at the receiving end of some savage cuts on the frontline, resulting in untold pressures. In Cumbria alone, 87 jobs have been lost. Is it not time that as part of a modern civil contingency and emergency national strategic plan, the Government agreed that flood rescue should be made a fully resourced statutory duty of the fire and rescue service? Can he say whether this issue of national importance was discussed at the Cobra meetings last week?

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I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place, and look forward to many exchanges with him on this and other matters. The fact of the matter is that we not only protected the budget for the police in the recent statement, but the fire service has done a fantastic job of reducing the amount of damaging fires over the last Parliament, improving its efficiency while all the time delivering its vital work to keep people safe.

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T2. In the last year, there were 922 million visits to gov.uk websites. Is this in line with the Minister’s expectations, and how can the service be further improved? [902499]

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Gov.uk is one of the first parts of the work that we have done to ensure that government is digitally enabled, making citizens’ lives easier by making it easier for them to interact with government. The number of hits is far higher than anybody expected, which is a tribute to the work of the people who put it together. [Interruption.]

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Order. Questions and answers must be heard.

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T6. According to a survey this month by Tungsten Network, 12% of the UK’s 5.2 million small and medium-sized enterprises still have to wait more than 90 days to get paid by suppliers. Will the Minister update us on his Government’s progress on meeting targets on prompt payments to suppliers? [902503]

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We changed the rules last year to ensure that when the Government buy from the private sector, payments must be made within 30 days—and that cascades all the way down the supply chain. I can also report that we have hit our target for a quarter of all Government procurement to go to small businesses, and we now want to increase that target from a quarter to a third.

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T3. What plans does the Minister have to ensure that groups who are under-represented on the electoral roll register to vote? [902500]

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We are fully committed to bringing more under-represented groups into electoral participation. That is why we are working with Operation Black Vote and other such groups to bring people in from the black and minority ethnic communities. I also draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the very interesting experiment being tried at Sheffield University to nudge the student population to sign up for an automatic registration system. We are looking very carefully at that.

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T7. If it does indeed transpire that there are fewer people on the new electoral register after the introduction of independent electoral registration, will the Government consider that to be a success or a failure? [902504]

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I think what the hon. Gentleman is missing is the fact that, as a result of the measures that have been taken, people who were not at the addresses at which they had previously been registered will be eliminated. The creation of an accurate register is an aim of democracy, not a defect of democracy.

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Last but not least, the voice of Filton and Bradley Stoke must be heard.

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T4. May I ask what the Government are doing to increase social mobility in the civil service? [902501]

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My hon. Friend has asked a very important question. If the civil service is to work to support the whole country, it needs to reflect the whole country, so we are taking steps across the board to increase social mobility as well as other kinds of diversity. One of the most exciting aspects of that is the huge apprenticeship scheme that now allows and encourages people from all backgrounds to pursue successful careers in the civil service.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

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Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 9 December. [902483]

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The Prime Minister is visiting Poland and Romania, and I have been asked to reply.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

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The Chancellor will know that, as Christmas draws closer, people who are having difficulty in making ends meet will not experience much good will in the season of good will if they fall into the clutches of loan sharks as they try to buy presents for their families, so why is he choosing now to cut the budget of the Birmingham-based England illegal money-lending team by a third, although it has helped 24,000 loan shark victims to get £63 million of illegal debts written off? Will he have a word with his friend the Business Secretary, who seems to be refusing to answer questions from the Daily Mirror on the subject?

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Of course we take very seriously the issue of illegal loan sharks and, indeed, that of excessive interest charges on payday lending, which is why it was Conservatives who introduced the first ever cap on payday lending. As for the hon. Gentleman’s specific question about funding for illegal money laundering and loan shark teams, we are considering the imposition of a levy on the industry to meet the requirements that he has identified.

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Q2. Following last week’s vote, can my right hon. Friend give us an update on action against the genocidal jihadists who not only attack Christians, Yazidis and Muslims, but pillage their churches, shrines and mosques? I welcome the announcement of £30 million to protect cultural heritage, but can we also ratify the Hague convention sooner rather than later? [902484]

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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. Let me briefly update the House on the military action that has taken place since we met last week. We have 16 aircraft conducting strikes, as well as our Reaper drones. The Royal Air Force has flown 11 missions and conducted four strikes, principally against the oilfields, and we are also supporting Iraqi security forces. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be in New York next week for talks on trying to bring an end to the horrendous conflict in Syria. As for the damage that is being done to the cultural artefacts in the area, we are providing £30 million as part of the cultural fund—I have discussed that with the director of the British Museum—and as for the Hague convention, that process is now moving apace.

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I call Angela Eagle.

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Hurray!

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is nice to be given such a warm welcome.

Our hearts go out to all those who are suffering the consequences of the severe flooding in the north-west this week. Given that thousands of families are affected, the priority must be for the Government to give immediate help to all of them. Yet one year on from the 2013-14 floods, it emerged that only 15% of those affected had received payments from the Government’s repair and renew scheme. Does the Chancellor agree that that cannot possibly be allowed to happen again? These people need urgent help now, so will he today give the House a guarantee that people will receive the help they need, and quickly?

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First, let me welcome the hon. Lady to her place and the warm support she has on the other side. I join her in expressing the sympathy of the whole House to those who have been affected by these terrible floods. A record rainfall has hit Cumbria and Lancashire. The update is that we have just one severe flood warning still in place, power has been restored to 168,000 homes and the west coast main line is open, but we have to be there for the long term for these families.

We continue to support the immediate rescue efforts, and the military have deployed. On recovery and the question the hon. Lady asks, I can today announce a £50 million fund for families and businesses affected in the area. That will be administered by the local authorities to avoid some of the administrative problems to which she alluded in her question. When it comes to rebuilding the infrastructure of Cumbria, Lancashire and other areas affected, we are assessing now the damage to the flood defences and to the roads. Funds will be made available. One of the benefits of having a strong and resilient economy is that we can help people in need.

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I thank the Chancellor for that answer but, from listening to him, you would not think that he has cut flood defence spending by £115 million this year. After visiting the floods in the Somerset levels in 2014, the Prime Minister told this House that

“money is no object in this relief effort”——[Official Report, 12 February 2014; Vol. 575, c. 840.]

and that whatever money was needed would be spent. I welcome the announcement that the Chancellor has just made, but will he confirm that the same will apply this time?

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Absolutely. The money will be made available to those affected and to the communities who have seen their infrastructure damaged. Up to £5,000 will be made available to individual families to repair their homes and protect them against future flooding, and we will provide money to businesses that have seen their businesses ruined. There have been heartbreaking stories—we have all seen them on television—about businesses that have been affected. That money is available.

Because we have a strong and resilient economy, we are increasing the money we spend on our flood defences. It is just not the case that that has been reduced. The last Labour Government spent £1.5 billion on flood defences, and we will be spending £2 billion on flood defences and increasing maintenance spending. It is something we can do and we can help these communities precisely because we took the difficult decisions to fix our economy and public finances.

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I thank the Chancellor for that, and we will hold him to account on the promises he has made today. However, I note that the Government’s own figures show that their planned capital investment in flood defence will only protect one in eight of those households at risk.

I see that the Prime Minister cannot be with us to answer questions today because he is visiting Poland and Romania on the latest leg of his seemingly endless European “renegotiation tour.” He has been jetting all over the place. No wonder we had to buy him his own aeroplane. So can the Chancellor tell us: how is it all going?

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The good news is we have a party leader who is respected abroad. The Prime Minister is in central and eastern Europe because we are fighting for a better deal for Britain, something that never would have happened if there had been a Labour Government.

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I have to tell the Chancellor that many of his own Back Benchers are pretty unimpressed with how it is going so far. The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) has described the Prime Minister’s renegotiation efforts as “pretty thin gruel”, the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) has called them “lame” and “trivial”, and yesterday the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) told the Press Gallery they were “not all that impressive”. The Chancellor is well known for cultivating his Back Benchers, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, so may I ask him the question his own side want answering: given that the Prime Minister has pre-resigned, does he really aspire to be Britain’s first post-EU Prime Minister?

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I am not sure I would be quoting the views of Back Benchers if I was speaking for the Labour party at the moment. Most opposition parties are trying to get momentum; they are trying to get rid of it. We are fighting for a good deal for Britain in Europe, we are fighting to make the European economy more competitive for everyone and we are fighting to make sure that Britain, as a country that is not in the euro, gets a fair deal from the eurozone. That is what we are fighting for, but in the end this is something that we will put to the people of Britain in a referendum. The only reason that referendum is happening at all is that the Conservative party won the general election.

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Instead of obsessing about issues in the Labour party, the Chancellor should be condemning the appalling activities in Conservative Future and attacking the Tory bullying scandal. I notice he did not answer the question about his own prime ministerial activities; I am not sure, but he might be worried about somebody a few places down from him on the Treasury Bench. [Interruption.] She knows who she is. If the Chancellor will not listen to the doubts of his own Back Benchers, perhaps he will listen to someone who has written in. I have got here a letter. It is from Donald of Brussels. He writes:

“Uncertainty about the future of the UK in the European Union is a destabilising factor.”

He’s right, isn’t he?

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Since the Conservative party announced its policy on a referendum, we in this country have received the lion’s share of investment into Europe. That is because we have built a strong economy, we stand up for Britain’s interests abroad and we have made this a competitive place to grow and build a business. While we are quoting missives, let me tell the House that someone called Tony has been writing today. He happens to be the most successful Labour leader in history, and he describes the current Labour party as a complete tragedy. May I suggest that the hon. Lady asks some serious questions, about the health service, the economy, social care? She can ask any of these questions. She has got one more question; let’s hear it.

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I prefer this quote from Tony:

“Just mouth the words ‘five more Tory years’ and you feel your senses and reason repulsed by what they have done to our country.”

We all know that the Chancellor is so preoccupied with his own leadership ambitions that he forgot about the day job, and that is why he ended up trying to slash working families tax credits in the Budget. Is it not about time that he focused on the national interest rather than his own interest? Three million UK jobs are linked to trade with the EU. Half our exports go there. That is what they are putting at risk by flirting with Brexit, and that is why we on this side of the House know that Britain is better off in.

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I thought that the Labour party voted for the referendum when it came before the House of Commons. We are fighting for a better deal for Britain in Europe. The truth is that this week we have shown that we have an economic plan that is delivering for Britain. Whether it is well-funded flood defences, putting money into our national health service, backing teachers in our schools or introducing a national living wage, we are delivering security for the working people of Britain. Their economic and national security would be put at risk if the Labour party ever got back into office.

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Q4. I recently visited the apprentice workshop of David Wilson Homes and saw at first hand the work the construction industry is doing to support apprenticeships in Hampshire. What more can schools do to promote apprenticeships as a valuable alternative to post-16 academic study? [902486]

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My hon. Friend raises an important point. Schools have a legal duty to provide pupils with information on the full range of training and education available. Schools in her constituency can tell their pupils about the increase in the number of apprenticeship places—3 million in this Parliament—we are funding. That is a huge commitment to young people in this country and a big commitment to the construction industry. We want homes to be built. One of the challenges is getting skilled people into that industry, and no doubt that was raised by the business she spoke to, but the 3 million apprentices will help.

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Occasionally, highly toxic and dangerous materials are transported around the country. Are not the public right to expect the highest safety standards and full co-operation between the responsible public agencies?

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Absolutely—that co-operation is expected. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is talking about the transportation of nuclear materials from the Faslane base on the Clyde. I have met the local teams and seen how they transport the nuclear materials. If he has something else he wants to ask me about, go ahead.

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There are growing reports in the north of Scotland about plans to transport on public roads dangerous nuclear material, potentially including nuclear weapons-grade uranium, from the Dounreay nuclear facility to Wick airport. It is believed that from there it will be flown to the United States. What will that nuclear material be used for, and has the Chancellor or any of his colleagues spoken with a single Minister in the Scottish Government about this?

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The transportation of nuclear materials across this country has happened over many decades. There are established procedures for that, and the Royal Marines and the police service in Scotland provide the security. If the right hon. Gentleman has specific concerns about the plans for that transportation, he can raise them with us. As I say, arrangements are in place to ensure that we protect the public.

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Q5. The Chancellor will know that the Prime Minister said in his recent conference speech that we have to get away from the “lock ’em up or let ’em out” mentality in respect of prison reform. That has to be right because the prison system is costing our constituents a fortune. Does the Chancellor agree that the time for rehabilitation that works is now, and that we should not be afraid to look at other jurisdictions to find examples and new ideas to tackle this ongoing state failure? [902487]

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My hon. Friend is right to raise prison reform. People who commit crimes should go to prison, but prisons should be suitable places to rehabilitate prisoners. Some of our Victorian prisons are not suitable, which is why we will close them, knock them down, build desperately needed housing in our cities, and build modern prisons on the outskirts of our cities. I am incredibly proud that a Conservative Government are taking on this progressive social reform.

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Q3. They are a great British institution and earn billions for our economy, so I am sure the Chancellor will share my concern that two curry houses a week are closing due to Government policies and the fact that the proposed specialist colleges have failed. As a fan himself, will he review the situation? He once likened the elements of a strong economy to those of a good curry, so will he take action to head off the coming curry crisis? [902485]

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We all enjoy a great British curry, but we want the curry chefs to be trained in Britain so that we can provide jobs for people here in this country. That is what our immigration controls provide.

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Q12. My right hon. Friend is well aware, from my repeated representations to him and his colleagues, of the need for a southern relief road and eastern bypass for Lincoln, which have been delayed by bureaucracy for nearly 100 years. He and his Government colleagues are well acquainted with the need to drive growth and local economic wellbeing by utilising appropriate infrastructure improvements to fuel the midlands engine. What would he say to my constituents, should he visit the beautiful city of Lincoln, other than to tell them that any new road is eventually better than no road? [902494]

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing £50 million of extra funding for Lincoln and ensuring that a bypass will go ahead. I have spoken to him. I know he has concerns that the bypass will not be big enough and that it should be a dual-lane bypass. Let us continue to have those conversations. We both need to ensure that local authorities agree with his assessment, and I am happy to help him with that task.

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Q6. Since the Chancellor’s Budget in July, I have asked time and again how he intends to make women prove, in order to qualify for tax credits, that they had their third child as a result of rape. Will he now admit that his abhorrent, vile policy is completely unworkable, and will he drop the rape clause? [902488]

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It is perfectly reasonable to have a welfare system that is fair not just for those who need it but for those who pay for it. We have identified the specific cases that the hon. Lady refers to in her question, in which women have been victims of domestic abuse—or, indeed, rape—and that is why we are consulting and discussing changes to protect vulnerable women.

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Q14. More than 4,000 apprenticeships have been created in my constituency since 2010, and I recently met representatives of In-Comm Training and a group of small local businesses to discuss skills and apprenticeships. What are the Government doing to help small businesses to help people into training and employment, thereby securing the economy of the midlands engine for future generations? [902496]

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The great news is that jobs are being created in the midlands engine, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and we are investing in infrastructure there as well. We are also investing in the skills of the next generation through the apprenticeships she mentions, and we are backing small businesses by cutting the corporation tax they pay and by increasing employment allowance so that they can take on more people without paying the jobs tax.

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Q7. Médecins sans Frontières reports that despite giving GPS co-ordinates several of its hospitals have been bombed by coalition and, in particular, Assad forces in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, killing medics as well as patients. With so many forces involved in airstrikes, will the Chancellor explain how the Government propose to avoid this happening in future? [902489]

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The hon. Lady mentions the tragic bombing of the hospital. A review is going on to ensure that the coalition has accurate information for its strikes. When it comes to Yemen, we are working with the Saudi Government to make sure that they can review this information and that it is accurate. I am afraid we have no control over the Syrian Government and Assad, which is one of the reasons we would like to see Assad go.

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Q15. The regeneration of Dunsbury Hill Farm in my constituency will create up to 3,500 new jobs, which is good news for an area where unemployment has halved since 2010. Will the Chancellor commit to continuing investment in the Solent regional economy, an area that much prefers his big Red Book to any other type? [902497]

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I am delighted to hear about the regeneration of Dunsbury Hill Farm. It is part of the good news in my hon. Friend’s area, where, thanks to local businesses and to his work as a new MP in attracting infrastructure and investment into his constituency, the claimant count is down by 25% in the past year alone. I am glad he likes the Red Book of the Government and does not have so much time for the little red book brandished by Opposition Members.

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Q8. During the autumn statement, the Chancellor casually removed vital bursary support from student nurses. I have since spoken to a number of nurses and some of the 4,000 nursing students at my local university, all of whom say that they would not have been able to study nursing without vital bursary support from the Scottish Government. What will he say to the aspiring nurses across the rest of the UK who may be prevented from pursuing their dreams of becoming a nurse? [902490]

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Currently, two thirds of people in England who apply for nurse training courses are turned down. That cannot be right, as it means hospitals increasingly rely on agency staff or overseas nurses. We are reforming the education of nurses so that those who apply for nursing places are much more likely to get them.

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Carlisle and Cumbria have experienced a traumatic few days, with the devastating floods. It was good that the Prime Minister saw at first hand the tremendous work of the emergency services, the issues relating to the flood defences and of course the direct impact of those floods on local families. As part of the recovery, Cumbria Community Foundation, a highly respected, county-wide charitable organisation, has launched a flood appeal. I wrote to the Prime Minister asking for the Government’s support for the appeal, as it would help many affected people right across the county. Would the Chancellor be able to offer such support from the Government towards this much-needed fund?

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First, everyone here would pay tribute to the people of Carlisle, the extraordinary resilience they have shown and the acts of friendship that neighbours have shown to those affected by the terrible floods. Before the Prime Minister left for central Europe this morning, he asked me to make sure we would be able to help on the specific point my hon. Friend raises, and did raise with the Prime Minister, and I can say that we will support the work the Cumbria Community Foundation does and we will match, by up to £1 million, the money it is raising for its local flood appeal.

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Q9. When the Chancellor tripled student tuition fees, he set the repayment threshold at £21,000. He has now frozen the threshold, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies tells us that many students will bear many extra thousands of pounds in repayments. Given that he has broken his promise, will he send students an apology or just the bill? [902491]

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There seems to be collective amnesia among Labour Members: they introduced tuition fees and the payment threshold was £15,000. We have increased it to £21,000, which enables us to fund the lifting of the cap and more people who are qualified to go to university. I would have thought, and I would have hoped, that on this day the hon. Gentleman welcomed the big investment we are making in Cambridge, not least with the renovation of the famous Cavendish laboratory.

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The Bexhill-Hastings link road will finally open this month, delivering a business park, new homes for a new labour market and a countryside park. The road has been talked about for decades but it has been commissioned and built in the past five. Will the Chancellor join me in welcoming new business to relocate to Bexhill and Hastings, and to expand?

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I would certainly encourage businesses to relocate to my hon. Friend’s area. He is right about the link road: for decades people called for it, and although for all those years there was a Conservative MP for Bexhill, there was a Labour MP for Hastings for many of those years and nothing happened. Now that we have Conservative MPs in both Bexhill and Hastings, we are getting the investment the local area needs.

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Q10. On 7 September, the Prime Minister told me that he could not remove refugees from the migration target because of the requirements of the Office for National Statistics, but I wrote to the ONS and it told me that in fact this would be possible. Can the Chancellor therefore demonstrate that Britain will do its bit and remove refugees from the migration target? [902492]

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rose—[Interruption.]

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Order. Let us hear the Chancellor.

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Let me say something surprising: we talk to each other in this Government! The Cabinet actually gets round the table and has meetings. We discuss things, we agree, and then we move forward—the Labour party should try it.

The Office for National Statistics is independent, but Britain is doing its bit by taking 20,000 refugees from the Syrian refugee camps. We have always provided a home for genuine asylum seekers.

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Under current toy regulations, small children can be engulfed in flames by 3 cm in one second. Will the Chancellor encourage my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to intervene to see whether the Business Secretary can introduce a statutory instrument to improve the flammability of children’s play and dress-up costumes?

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My hon. Friend is right to raise that case. We all saw the tragedy that befell the family of the “Strictly Come Dancing” presenter and the campaign that her family have undertaken to change the regulations. It is true that we do not have the same flame-retardant regulations for children’s fancy dress costumes. That seems wrong. I know that my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary is looking at the matter and will ensure that that changes.

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Q11. Will the Chancellor take this opportunity to correct the bizarre claim made yesterday by Donald Trump about parts of London being no-go areas for the Metropolitan police? Will he point out to Mr Trump that relationships between the Muslim communities of London and the police are in fact excellent? [902493]

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The right hon. Gentleman speaks for everyone in this House. The Metropolitan police do a brilliant job, and they have fantastic relations with British Muslims. British Muslims have made a massive contribution to our country. Donald Trump’s comments fly in the face of the founding principles of the United States, which have proved such an inspiration to so many people over the past 200 years. The best way to defeat such nonsense is to engage in robust, democratic debate and make it very clear that his views are not welcome.

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Cornwall Hospice Care, which has one hospice on the border of my constituency, is well appreciated and respected by my constituents, but it cannot run to capacity because it receives only 11% of its funding from the NHS. Will the Chancellor work with me and my other colleagues in Cornwall to see what more money can be put into our hospices, and Cornwall Hospice Care?

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I know that my hon. Friend is a strong champion of his community and of the hospice he mentions. We have taken steps to help the hospice movement, not least by removing the VAT it paid in the previous Parliament. We want to get the right balance. It is good that our hospices are funded in part by local charities and supported so strongly by the local community, but they also need the backing of the NHS. Of course, as we have a strong economy, we are now putting that money into the NHS so that it can help the hospice movement.

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Q13. If business rates are localised without equalisation, my own authority of Gateshead will lose £9.4 million a year on top of the proposed severe cuts to the revenue support grant. The seven north-east local enterprise partnership authorities will lose £186 million a year and the combined 12 authorities in the north-east £223 million a year. Meanwhile, the City of London will gain £222 million and Westminster £440 million. How does that help the Chancellor’s vision of the northern powerhouse? [902495]

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The top-up and tariff system will apply as we devolve business rates to reflect the discrepancies the hon. Gentleman identifies. I would have thought that the Labour party supported the devolution of business rates. It is a massive opportunity for local areas to grow and to see the benefits of that growth. When it comes to the northern powerhouse, we have the fantastic announcement today of the new train franchises, which mean more than £1 billion going into new trains, faster journeys, and better journey experiences for people in the north of England. He should get behind it.

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An important report was published today showing that the TV debates at the general election were a great success, engaging people who are not normally interested in politics, particularly young people. Will the acting Prime Minister—I know he might have a personal interest in this matter—encourage TV debates at the next general election?

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The TV debates are decided in discussions between the political parties and the broadcasters. I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did exceptionally well in them last time.

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I understand that the Home Secretary has banned 84 hate preachers from entering the UK. Will the Government lead by example and consider making Mr Donald Trump the 85th?

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I think that the best way to confront the views of someone like Donald Trump is to engage in a robust, democratic argument about why he is profoundly wrong about the contribution of American Muslims, and indeed British Muslims. That is the best way to deal with Donald Trump and his views, rather than trying to ban presidential candidates.