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Topical Questions

Volume 629: debated on Wednesday 11 October 2017

This month we celebrate the first year of our world-leading national cyber security strategy. A major milestone has been successfully establishing the National Cyber Security Centre. [Interruption.] It has shown that it plays a vital role in providing cyber security to keep our country safe. The NCSC responded to 590 significant incidents, more than 30 of which were sufficiently serious to require a cross-government response. Our five-year national cyber strategy is working to defend our people, businesses and assets, deter our adversaries, and develop the skills and capabilities we need. [Interruption.]

Order. There is a very large number of intense private conversations taking place in the Chamber, but the voice of Braintree must be heard. I call Mr James Cleverly.

The vast majority of private sector employment in my constituency of Braintree is in small to medium-sized enterprises. What steps are the Government taking to make it easier for SMEs to bid for and successfully win Government contracts?

My hon. Friend is completely right about the importance of SMEs, which is why we have taken a number of steps to enable them to access Government contracts more easily, including by putting in place the Contracts Finder website and a requirement for all public sector buyers to have 30-day payment terms in their contracts.

T2. Yesterday’s race audit made clear the barriers that exist to black people and other ethnic minority groups in our society today. We all want to see those barriers broken down. Can the Minister explain why, in the civil service fast stream recruitment process for which his office is responsible, black men and women represent one in 20 of the total applicants but only one in 100 of those offered a job? When is he going to put his own house in order? (900938)

That is a perfectly reasonable challenge, and the hon. Gentleman asked about that when I made my statement yesterday. One area where we absolutely need to do better is inside the civil service, and specifically in fast stream recruitment, and we will certainly do that.

T3. What assessments have the Government made of the east midlands, and specifically Leicestershire, as a place to relocate Government services outside of London? (900939)

We will ensure that Government functions are increasingly spread throughout the UK and not just in the capital. The Government are reviewing the location of all arm’s length bodies to help to drive growth across the nation, and we will ensure that the east midlands is fully considered as a possible location.

T4. Next week, the Government’s consultation on the contaminated blood scandal will close. As the Department of Health is an implicated party, many people are refusing to take part in the consultation. Will the Cabinet Office now take immediate control of the consultation, because otherwise the rules of natural justice will be offended? (900940)

Order. I remind the House that we are discussing the contaminated blood scandal, upon which, despite very heavy noise, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) has made her thoughts very clear. We must now hear the Minister. I ask the House to think of the people affected by this scandal, who would expect the House to treat respectfully of it.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I am aware that the hon. Lady has played a significant role in the investigation of this terrible scandal. As she said, the consultation on how we proceed ends on 18 October. I know that she and the all-party parliamentary group that she co-chairs have written to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the matter. When we have all the responses to the consultation, we will obviously take a decision as soon as possible.

I call Jeremy Quin. [Hon. Members: “ Hear, hear!”] Order. I am so glad that the hon. Gentleman, who until recently was my constituent, is quite so popular.

T5. I, too, am delighted to hear it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the race disparity audit provides invaluable data to not only the Government, but charities, in focusing their resources for maximum impact? (900941)

I agree that it is an extremely important development. It is a world first to provide this amount of information in that form. It is true that it holds a mirror up to the whole of society, and not just central or indeed local government and public bodies, but all other bodies, including charities, will need to respond positively to some of the disturbing findings exposed in the race disparity audit.

T6. The recent Public Accounts Committee report on cyber-security emphasised the considerable skills gap that the Government and wider society face in tackling the issue. Is it still the case that there is no minimum standard of competence for civil servants entrusted with a cyber-security role? What steps are the Government taking to increase the number of suitably qualified experts? (900942)

We are working hard with the National Cyber Security Centre to improve competency not only within the civil service and across Government, but among our young people. Our CyberFirst programme, which I visited in Portsmouth this summer, shows that there is a massive range of really enthusiastic young people who are determined to learn the skills that they will need to help us.

T7. The young people with whom I engage in schools are increasingly aware of the world around them. They are economically and socially liberal, and they do not expect the state to pay for everything because they will have the longest repayment terms if it does. Given the Conservative party’s proud record on extending the franchise, I again ask the Minister to consider votes for 16 and 17-year-olds. (900943)

I am afraid that my hon. Friend and I will have to agree to disagree on that point. The Government’s position remains as it was in our manifesto: the franchise will be retained at 18. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to participate in future debates on this issue through private Members’ Bills on Fridays.