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Topical Questions

Volume 616: debated on Wednesday 2 November 2016

The Cabinet Office is responsible for delivering a democracy that works for everyone, supporting the design and delivery of Government policy, and driving efficiencies and reforms to make the Government work better.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the work of the Minister for the constitution, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), with my constituent Mehala Osborne and the domestic violence charity Survive, to reform anonymous registration to ensure that women silenced by the current registration process will no longer be denied the chance to express their democratic will?

I will indeed join with my hon. Friend. His commitment to the cause is well known, as is the commitment of my hon. Friend the Minister for the constitution, who has really taken this on as something that he wants to achieve in his post. For survivors of domestic abuse, voting is more than just a cross on a ballot paper; it is a renewed statement of the freedom that is rightfully theirs.

Let us take the Minister back to the boundary review, because interestingly the Government payroll is not being cut in this process. Ministers should therefore listen to the Members sitting behind them, such as the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who has said:

“We are talking about reducing the number of people we elect at the ballot box, whilst stuffing the House of Lords with yet more people”.

If this is really not a partisan process, and in view of Brexit and the fact that we are removing 73 MEPs, is it not now time to have a fresh review, based on having 650 seats in this place?

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will start as he means to go on. I see that he has five Members on the Opposition Front-Bench, compared with our very modest two, which shows how we can cut the cost of politics just by being in power.

T3. After the referendum, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee wrote to the Government suggesting that they should conduct a review of civil service capacity in view of the extra workload being piled on Whitehall. Can the Minister give any indication of whether such a review is being conducted? Would he consider conducting such a review? (906994)

The review is going on at the moment, and I am leading it. We have started by looking at senior civil service capacity, but it will go through the entire civil service. It is a very thorough process, and I am making sure that I am talking to all the Ministers leading Brexit-affected Departments to make sure that they are happy with the capacity of their offices.

T2. I do not disagree with the Minister on equalising constituencies, but if we want equal constituencies based on proper data, surely the 2 million newly registered voters should be taken into account in that equalisation. (906993)

The hon. Gentleman talks about data, so let us go back to the fact that if we delay boundary reform even further, we will be drawing up the seats on the basis of data, in England and Wales, from 2000—20 years ago. That is clearly unacceptable, which is why we must ensure that boundary reform takes place. [Interruption.]

Far too many noisy private conversations are taking place, which is very unfair to Members who want to ask questions and Ministers who want to answer them. Let us hear the voice of the Vale of Clwyd, Dr James Davies.

T4. One benefit of devolution was meant to be that it would allow the comparison of different policy approaches to the same problems. With that in mind, will the Minister consider legislating to ensure the provision of comparable data across the UK? (906995)

My hon. Friend makes a sensible point. We are learning a lot from the devolved Administrations, just as they are learning from us. His point is well made, which is why we signed a concordat on statistical evidence a few months ago, ensuring that we are sharing the same methods of evidence gathering across all the Administrations.

Instead of using the single example of an expat war veteran to justify extending the franchise to UK citizens abroad, should the Minister not concentrate on those who live here and pay their taxes—EU citizens—and those who will have to live with the consequences, the 16 and 17-year-olds?

Giving votes for life to those Britons who have lived abroad for more than 15 years was a manifesto commitment that will be delivered by this Government. We are determined to ensure that British people who live abroad are given the right to participate in our democracy, which is absolutely the right thing to do.

T5. I welcome the speech by the Minister for the Cabinet Office to the Reform think tank, in which he made the powerful case for public service reform, to make it more tailored to individual needs. May I urge him to be careful to ensure that, in delivering it, Whitehall does not end up exposing or misplacing personal data, as has happened in the past? (906996)

I will, and I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. It is of course important that we take people with us on this, but at its core we must remember that the state is there to serve people, not the other way round. That is why this Administration are putting themselves at the service of the British people, and I intend to ensure that public services reflect that fact.

T8. This Department has estimated that cutting the number of MPs to 600 will save £15 million a year. Library figures collated for me have shown that House of Lords allowances alone cost £20 million a year, so does the Minister not accept that the cuts and savings to be made should be applied to the unelected House, not the elected Chamber? (906999)

This Government are proud of the fact that the cost of the House of Lords has been reduced by 14% since 2010.

T6. It is good to see the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in his place. Will he perhaps set out what his priorities will be? (906997)

As Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I oversee the administration of the estates and the rents of the Duchy of Lancaster. I contribute to the Government’s policy and decision-making process by attending Cabinet and attending and chairing Cabinet Committees. This role is not without precedence under both Labour and Conservative Governments.

I am pleased that the Government plan to audit racial disparities in public service outcomes, but may I ask Ministers that, in doing so, they ensure that every Department and agency uses the 2011 census classifications, which differentiate Gypsies and Travellers?

It is absolutely right that we make the system as efficient as possible and less expensive. To address both those aims, we are undertaking three pilots this year to test new approaches to conducting a canvass. I am also pleased to announce today that there will be 18 more pilots in England and Wales in 2017.

Latest assessments suggest that only 51% of 16 to 17-year-olds are registered to vote, compared with 85% of adults. In Neath, we have had successful voter registration awareness events to encourage under-18s to register. Will the Minister please explain the Government’s plans to promote young people’s registration?

As part of a democracy that works for everyone, we are determined that young people’s voices will be heard, which means going around the country, as I am doing in the coming weeks, to places such as Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool to talk to young people about their priorities and how we can ensure that they are fully involved in the democratic process.