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Topical Questions

Volume 618: debated on Wednesday 14 December 2016

The purpose of the Cabinet Office is to deliver a democracy that works for everyone, to support the design and delivery of Government policy, and to deliver efficiencies and reforms to make Government work better.

Since 2008, many Select Committees have held pre-appointment hearings for aspiring quangocrats. Will the Minister consider making it routine for Select Committees to hold formal confirmation hearings, especially when the position requires substantial control over taxpayer money?

I am not quite sure why the hon. Gentleman needs to phrase every question he asks with an insult. I know that he should look closely at our work on ensuring that Select Committees have even more influence in scrutinising Government policy. I will take his careful and wise comments on board.

T5. Will my hon. Friend please update the House on what progress he has made in creating a single point of complaint for users of public services? (907875)

I am delighted to say that last week I published the draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill, which will modernise the complaints system for public services. As my hon. Friend says, it sets out how we will create a single point of contact, make the system simpler and more efficient and give the new ombudsman a wider role in championing improvements in complaints handling.

The Minister will no doubt be aware of the 2014 Electoral Commission survey that found that 7.4 million people were missing from the electoral register—young people were identified as being particularly under-represented—so will he commit to introducing a schools registration scheme along the lines of the initiative in Northern Ireland, which has resulted in an increase in the number of young people registered to vote?

As part of our commitment to a democracy that works for everyone, I have been touring the country and investigating how we can get more young people actively engaged in politics, and I held a roundtable with youth organisations last week to discuss our strategy, but the Northern Ireland example is not something we wish to take forward, as the idea of compulsion on schools does not work. I have learned that there must be local ownership of schemes to ensure that civil society groups can encourage young people to join the register when they turn 18.

T7. I welcome the Government’s racial disparities audit, which is seeking to address the geographical inequalities in services, including among the white working-class communities of our coastal towns, which are some of the most deprived in the country. Will the Minister please update the House on progress with the audit? (907877)

We are making very good progress with the audit, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising it. As the Prime Minister said on the steps of Downing Street,

“If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.”

That is why we are looking at these disparities so carefully in our racial disparities audit.

T3. A victim of a cyber-attack in my constituency went to North Wales police for help and was referred to me to speak to a human being and get information about the case. Can the City of London police have control of these matters and have human beings at the end of the line to assist people, who after all are victims of crime? (907873)

I regret the experience that the hon. Gentleman’s constituent had. We have set up a group to look after victims of cybercrime called Action Fraud, to which his constituent should attend first, and we have ensured that the National Cyber Security Centre provides a personal service to businesses, but I am happy to take up his particular issue personally to make sure it is corrected.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that sometimes a cyber-attack is inadvertent and that The Register and other magazines report that a Microsoft download and update has caused a mass disconnection of computers from the internet, particularly among those running Windows 8 and 10? Do the Government have a role in advising people on how that sort of thing can be corrected?

My hon. Friend is a far more astute reader of IT journals than I am. We are aware of our responsibilities, which is why we have set up the Cyber Essentials website, but I will relay his comments to those who know more about it than I do so that they can reflect on them.

T4. For what specific reason are the Government blocking Lord Grocott’s Bill to end the ludicrous elections to hereditary peerages? (907874)

As I have stated, the Government are absolutely committed to ensuring we go forward with consensus in the House of Lords on the reform and size of that House. The debate, which I have outlined already, demonstrated that there was a consensus, and the Leader of the House of Lords is working to established that Committee, as I have said. That is the Government’s approach.

Both Ministers have talked about creating a democracy that works for everyone, so will they look further at making sure that first past the post is rolled out for mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections?

I sat in on my hon. Friend’s ten-minute rule Bill, which I listened to with intent, but while the Government are absolutely committed to first past the post as an electoral system, as set out in our manifesto, we need to ensure that the conduct of elections set out in legislation is carefully managed.

T9. I appreciate that this is a devolved matter, but surely there has to be a process for the Cabinet Office to hold the Northern Ireland Executive to account when £400 million of all our money is being wasted on the renewable heat initiative? (907879)

The hon. Gentleman says it is a devolved matter. It is rightly a devolved matter, and it would not be right for me to comment on it here.

Tomorrow this House will debate the Government’s broadband universal service obligation. Does the Minister agree that we must complement the excellent work of the Government Digital Service with a real commitment to superfast broadband wherever we can take it?

It is right, which is why our manifesto was the most ambitious of all the main parties for the roll-out of superfast and ultrafast broadband, and my hon. Friend will hear a lot more about it in the weeks to come.