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Topical Questions

Volume 605: debated on Wednesday 27 January 2016

The Cabinet Office is responsible for efficiency in reforming Government and helping the Prime Minister to deliver the Government’s agenda. This Government have made huge strides in transforming online services for the citizen. I am glad to tell the House that we are now embarking on an ambitious programme to change the culture of public services by using online complaints to deal with problems and sort them out quicker.

Will my right hon. Friend provide more information on the Government’s plans for digital government?

I am very happy to do that. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has recently had the opportunity to use the services, but the universal impression is that for the first time in our country’s history one can now quickly get hold of what one needs to online. The service is also hugely responsive and takes account of feedback—something from which previous Governments were not able to benefit.

T3. The Minister for transparency does talk some utter guff sometimes. How can he be the advocate-in-chief for transparency when his Department has the worst record in answering freedom of information requests? (903261)

We answer freedom of information requests all the time. What is more, we are not only publishing more information but making sure that it is published in a usable way so that people can benefit from it right across this country.

T2. Does the Minister agree that taking a public appointment is an excellent way for people across the country to play their part in shaping our society, and that it is important that people from different backgrounds have the opportunity to do so? (903260)

Right across the public sector, thousands of public appointments are made each year. It is vital that people from all backgrounds, from all ethnicities, and both men and women, from all parts of our country, put their names forward so that they can help in our great mission of improving the lives of the citizens of the UK.

T4. In the past year, one in seven peers did not speak at all in the other place, despite many of them claiming allowances. If the Government are so keen to reduce the cost of politics, why are they not doing anything about this? (903262)

The hon. Gentleman needs to recognise the invaluable role that the House of Lords still plays in vetting what we do in this House, reflecting on it, and sometimes forcing us to reconsider it. We want to maintain that valuable relationship.

T6. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Robert Holdcroft, who owns the McDonald’s in Redditch, for hosting “snack and chat” events in his restaurant that allow sixth formers to question their Member of Parliament and increase their interest in politics? Perhaps he might like to join me at one of these events. (903264)

I always love going to Redditch, and even more so if I can go with my hon. Friend. I pass on my congratulations to Mr Holdcroft and all the restaurants that hold “snack and chat” events. As for the idea of a McSurgery in a McDonald’s, I’m lovin’ it.

T5. Many people in my constituency have filled out one form for the whole household to register to vote, as happened under the old system. Their registrations are being processed, but will they be counted in the figures? (903263)

The hon. Lady will know that anybody who is not on the register as a result of the individual electoral registration exercise will have been approached on nine separate occasions to try to get them to register individually. Everybody now has the chance to register individually under IER on the rolling register in time for the elections.

T8. Will the Minister tell the House what plans the Government have to further reduce their property portfolio? (903266)

We have been making significant savings in Government property, and the estate is already 20% smaller than it was in 2010. We have saved over £750 million in running costs, but there is much more to do. We have far more work to do to make sure that we are as efficient as possible in the use of property, and I look forward to leading that work.

T10. Does the Minister agree that the Cabinet Office could be far more effective in running the Government if it did not have in another Department a Chancellor who goes out and agrees pig-in-a-poke deals with Google, which everybody knows does not pay its fair share of tax, at a time when millions are filling in their tax returns?


The tax to which the hon. Gentleman refers was of course due from activities under a Labour Government. It was never paid under a Labour Government, but it has been delivered under this Conservative Government.

T9. Again this year, many tens of thousands of young people will benefit from the National Citizen Service programme. However, there are still too many young people who have never been introduced to the programme or had the opportunity to “Say yes” to NCS. Will my right hon. Friend work with colleagues from across the House to make sure that every young person has the opportunity to understand this project and can sign up for this summer’s programmes? (903267)

As my hon. Friend puts it, NCS is a fantastic opportunity for young people. It massively expanded during the last Parliament, and we have ambitious plans to make sure that every young person who wants to do so can benefit from NCS, which does so much to inspire and enrich people’s lives.

T7. New research has uncovered that there has been a greater fall in UK civil service employment in Scotland than in any other UK nation. Between 2011 and 2015, 5,000 civil servants working for UK Departments in Scotland lost their jobs. Will the Minister tell me and my constituents whether that is his definition of “better together”? (903265)

Of course we have had to make savings in the number of civil servants as we have reduced the deficit, but there are far more UK civil servants working in Scotland than civil servants working for the Scottish Government. It just shows that, for Scotland as well as for the rest of this United Kingdom, we are that much better together.

In supporting citizenship and volunteering, what lessons can be learned from the excellent Team Rubicon UK, led by my constituent General Sir Nick Parker? It involves recruiting veterans and ex-servicemen to do great work, notably during the recent flooding.

I want to pay tribute to Team Rubicon and all those who work with it. The role that veterans can play in shaping the future of young people and showing what it is to serve their nation is invaluable, and it is a lesson from which all of us can learn.

The Cabinet Office is responsible for the guidelines on Government proposals. As the Joint Committee on Human Rights discovered when we went to Scotland earlier this month, there is a strong feeling about the consultation on the Human Rights Act 1998. Will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that the voice of people in Scotland is heard, and that they will not be gagged by the fact that the consultation will be issued during purdah following the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament? Will he give such a guarantee?

As the right hon. and learned Lady will know, the consultation principles, which we have recently promulgated—I spoke to the Joint Committee about them recently—have the effect that every Department should make sure that all consultations are proportionate, and that we make due allowance for any time during which it would be difficult for people to respond so that we get a full and adequate consultation on every occasion.