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Topical Questions

Volume 611: debated on Wednesday 15 June 2016

The Cabinet Office is responsible for efficiency and reform in government, transparency, civil society, the digital economy and cybersecurity to deliver the Government’s agenda.

Will the Minister confirm that, whether appropriate in the Government’s view or not, it is still lawful for public bodies to refuse to award contracts to companies for reasons other than nationality, such as human right records, compliance with international law or a connection with trades such as the arms trade or fossil fuels?

As I said earlier, the boycott of, and discrimination against, countries is potentially illegal. The guidance that we set out was designed to make it absolutely clear that these decisions on boycotts against countries need to be taken at a national level, and it is inappropriate for local authorities to try to set their own foreign policies.

T3. The National Citizen Service has been a wonderful success in Huddersfield and Colne Valley. What more can be done to make sure that even more young people in Yorkshire can find out how to access this transformative experience? (905441)

My hon. Friend is right that the National Citizen Service around the country and in his own constituency has made a huge difference. There were 467 people who went through it in 2015 in Kirklees, the local authority in which his constituency lies. We are determined to increase that number. There is a new marketing campaign, and I am glad to say that 8 million hours of volunteering have so far been contributed by National Citizen Service participants. I hope my hon. Friend will see in his constituency a proportion of that effect coming through in the next year.

T2. What provisions are the Government putting in place to ensure that non-UK citizens of the EU living here will continue to enjoy the same rights after a possible Brexit vote as they do now? (905439)

The hon. Lady is asking a question about something that is a matter of hot debate as we go through the next week or so, and it highlights one of the issues that would need to be resolved and that is of very great complexity.

T4. This Government have a responsibility to ensure that their citizens are safe online. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what progress he is making in developing the 2016 national cyber-security strategy? (905442)

Cyber-security is incredibly important, especially as we increasingly deliver digital government. The national cyber-security strategy ran up to 2016. The new strategy is underpinned by investment of £1.9 billion—almost double the funding—and we will publish the strategy later this year.

T5. The backward steps in gender inequality at the top of the civil service are unacceptable. Will the Minister release the gender breakdown of those who were shortlisted for the role of permanent secretary so that we can have further transparency on this important issue? (905443)

As I said to the House a few moments ago, we will take that serious suggestion away and come back with a view about whether it is possible to release those data without compromising individual sensibilities. I am absolutely with the hon. Lady that we need to see more women joining the ranks of the permanent secretaries, and as I mentioned to her, it is of great importance that the directors general are now much better distributed in a gender balance.

T6. The National Citizen Service provides a real opportunity for young people in Cornwall, a part of the world that is quite deprived. What more can we do to ensure that young people have access to the service this summer? (905444)

My hon. Friend is right. There were 312 people in Cornwall who participated in the National Citizen Service last year. We want to see that number rise significantly. Already 486 people have signed up and we hope to see more come through during the coming year. We are spending £1 billion over the four years to increase the proportion of young people who can do National Citizen Service, which I think will have an enormous effect on, among other things, social cohesion—80% of those who went through National Citizen Service said at the end that they had a better view of people from other backgrounds than they had before they joined it. [Interruption.]

The Minister is offering serious thoughts in a cerebral manner on a very important topic, the National Citizen Service. I think he deserves a more attentive audience.

Given the surge in voter registration, how can the Minister possibly justify using such woefully inaccurate figures to redraw the electoral map of the United Kingdom?

We just had this question a few minutes ago, and the answer is very clear: the alternative of using figures from 2001 or 2000 is completely unacceptable. We have, in fact, made the process more frequent, not less, and we now update the register for the purposes of writing the boundaries every five years, not every 10.

T8. What steps will the Secretary of State take after a resounding victory in the vote to stay in Europe next week to get all Departments working harmoniously and well again after the disruptions we have had over the last month? (905446)

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken in his implication: actually, the fact is—I see this day by day—that the Departments of State have functioned smoothly and effectively throughout this period, as have members of the Cabinet. I am glad to say that we intend to continue doing so to fulfil the manifesto commitments on which we were elected.