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Topical Questions

Volume 608: debated on Wednesday 27 April 2016

The Cabinet Office is responsible for efficiency in reforming Government, transparency, civil society, digital technology, cyber-security and delivering the Government’s agenda.

I commend my right hon. Friend for releasing vast amounts of Government data, which will improve transparency across Government. What further action can he take to ensure that performance improves, transparency is available to the general public and data are in a manageable form so that people can analyse them?

My hon. Friend is right that this is not only about releasing more information, but about releasing it in a way that is usable. I can announce to the House that since 2010 the Government have released 27,000 open datasets—a new high—which goes to show that we are the most transparent Government ever.

T3. British troops served fewer years in Iraq than during the first and second world wars, and the first and second world wars did not take as long as it has taken to publish the Chilcot report. Will the Minister make an apology to my constituent Pat Long, whose son was killed in the Iraq war, for these unforgivable delays, and also give a commitment to her and other families that they will see the embargoed report, rather than getting the news—inevitably there will be bad news—second hand? (904704)

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern and the concern of his constituents. He will know that the timing of the publication is a matter for the independent inquiry, which has set out a timetable. Checking for national security issues is very important, and will take place appropriately. Thankfully, we will get to the conclusion of this process soon.

T2. The Government need to keep up with the digital revolution, and I applaud the Minister’s efforts to ensure that that is being done. Does he agree that as more interaction between citizens and Government takes place online, cyber-security must keep pace with that increase? (904703)

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right that cyber-security is increasingly important not just for communications between citizen and Government, but in a wide range of businesses. That is why we have laid aside £1.9 billion to improve our cyber-security during this Parliament, and why we are creating a new national cyber-security centre.

T5. We heard earlier about the anti-lobbying clause that the Minister for the Cabinet Office is determined to introduce in a drive to clean up politics. The Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016 covers the lobbying of MSPs. Does he have any plans to expand the scope of the register of consultant lobbyists to cover the lobbying of MPs? (904706)

We brought in the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 and made progress on this issue during the last Parliament. The crucial point about tackling lobbying through grants is that taxpayers’ money should be spent on the things it is intended for, not on Government lobbying Government.

T4. The FIFA corruption scandal and other corruption scandals around the world have shown the need for a more integrated and international approach to tackling corruption. Will the Minister push for such an approach at the Government’s anti-corruption summit next month? (904705)

In short, yes. That is of course part of the global development goals, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister led the world in establishing. One of the targets within those goals is precisely to reduce that kind of corruption, and we will emphasise that in our work to fulfil our part of those targets.

T7. What steps has the Minister taken to make Government colleagues aware of the disastrous impact that the Trade Union Bill will have on industrial relations with civil servants? (904708)

The Trade Union Bill, which is currently before Parliament, takes important steps to modernise the relationship between trade unions and their members. Although trade unions play a very important part in our national life and represent the interests of many, they do not represent the interests of all, and we must make sure that that relationship is modern and appropriate. [Interruption.]

Order. There is a lot of noise in the Chamber. The Minister must be very disappointed to have such an inattentive audience. Let us hear the words.

T6. To return to individual electoral registration and the question from the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), will the Minister give further assurances that all steps are being taken to reach harder-to-reach groups, such as private renters, of which there are very many in my constituency of Eastbourne? (904707)

Yes, indeed. We are determined to reach out to a new set of potential electors who have failed to register, as the Minister for constitutional reform, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), made clear earlier in our proceedings. I should tell my hon. Friend that every single person whose name appeared in the old register but who has been discounted under individual electoral registration would have been approached at least nine times before their name was removed.

I appeal to Ministers to face the House because much of the right hon. Gentleman’s answer was lost on the rest of us, which is to our grave disadvantage.

T9. When I used to work for a charity, I was often called by the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government to give expert advice, on one occasion to a very anxious Minister just before a sitting of the Home Affairs Committee. Under the new anti-advocacy clause, will charity specialists continue to be able to help the Government, or will the new rule apply only when it suits the Government, rather than when it suits the public? (904710)

Of course charities will be able to contribute to debate. They will be able to advise and researchers will be able to bring forward their world-beating ideas, but as for the idea, supported by the Labour party, that taxpayers’ money should be used for paid lobbyists, we are going to put a stop to that.

T8. I welcome the Government’s commitment to improving social mobility in the civil service. Will the Minister join me in encouraging more private sector employers to do the same—for example, through schemes such as Inspiring the Future? (904709)

I strongly endorse that approach, Mr Speaker. If you or any other Member have not already got involved in an Inspiring the Future event, I would encourage you to do so. Not only is it good for the country but it is an incredibly enjoyable way to spend some time.

From Cabinet Office figures, 67% of people in the senior civil service were based in London last year, the highest proportion in the past five years. Given that, and the decision to close the office of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in Sheffield, does the Minister not accept that his policy of moving civil servants out of London and into the regions is failing?

We are introducing regional hubs for the civil service. Of course, many UK civil servants work in Scotland, supporting the people in Scotland. Inevitably there are a large number of civil servants in London because this is the capital of the United Kingdom, but we have to make sure that they represent the country that they serve.

We know that special advisers are required to submit their emails and telephone texts to public view under freedom of information legislation. What is the Government’s policy on the use of WhatsApp, which special advisers are using to conceal Government business from public view?

I hesitate to admit to my hon. Friend that I have never personally used WhatsApp in my life. I am happy to reassure him that all aspects of Government business are properly recorded and minuted, and are subject to FOI requests as normal, despite the rumours that he has heard.