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Topical Questions

Volume 631: debated on Wednesday 22 November 2017

Following the Prime Minister’s July announcement that a public inquiry will be held into the contaminated blood scandal, the Government sought views from the affected community on how that should operate. I announced on 3 November that the inquiry will be statutory and sponsored by the Cabinet Office. My Department has now taken receipt of more than 800 consultation responses, which it is analysing thoroughly. I have agreed to meet the co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood and will make a further statement before the House rises for Christmas.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm what the Government are doing to open up public sector contracts to small and medium-sized enterprises?

I am delighted to. We are developing a system called Contracts Finder—a free, online source for current and future public sector contracts above £10,000 in central Government and above £25,000 in the wider public sector. We are improving the visibility of supply chain opportunities available to SMEs via that site.

The Prime Minister has committed to reviewing the ministerial code to ensure that it remains fit for purpose, and she will update the House in due course.

T2. As we leave the European Union, public appointments will become more important than ever. What are the Government doing to make sure that we get a greater diversity of people appointed to public posts, especially from outside the south-east? (901981)

The Government are committed to having greater diversity on the boards of public bodies so that they better represent the public they serve, and that includes moving public bodies out of London when appropriate. We will shortly publish a diversity action plan that will focus on encouraging candidates from the widest range of backgrounds, including from outside London.

T6. The Minister is in charge of cyber-security. He knows that the Prime Minister is worried about Russian interference in our political system, so could he assure the House that the Russians have not already seen the Budget secrets? (901985)

I am as confident as I can be that that is the case. If the hon. Gentleman can contain himself, we will all share in the secrets of the Chancellor’s Budget in about 35 minutes’ time. [Interruption.]

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) had to strain to make himself heard. Let us hear the voice of North East Derbyshire— Mr Lee Rowley.

T5. Will the Minister confirm how employers in North East Derbyshire—small and medium-sized businesses—can be helped to win Government contracts? (901984)

Our small business panel, which I met on 1 November to celebrate its first birthday, is working on a number of key issues to further break down barriers to entry for SMEs. It was pleasing to hear that Contracts Finder, and the mystery shopper service in particular, are, in the panel’s words, “stonkingly good”.

T7. Cambridge Assessment, which manages the University of Cambridge’s three exam boards, is not-for-profit and world leading, yet it faces unfair competition from private exam boards that are not subject to freedom of information rules. Why will the Government not extend transparency to all providers of public services? (901986)

I recognise the individual case. The hon. Gentleman has written a letter to me on this matter and I hope he has received my response. The Government obviously update freedom of information arrangements regularly, so we will keep this matter in mind. There is a consultation on various points in the freedom of information code, which the hon. Gentleman is welcome to be involved in.

Ministers, like me, are absolutely passionate about making sure that people get to the ballot, whether at parish, town or district level. Do Ministers agree that it is really important that we continue to have polling cards at every election so that everyone can play their part in the electoral process?

As I have said, the Government are committed to ensuring that as many people are engaged in the democratic process as possible, and this includes ensuring electors are equipped with the information they need to vote. As a result, we have no plans to change the current arrangements for poll cards.

T8. The gender pay gap is growing in a quarter of Government bodies. How is this setting the rest of the country an example? (901987)

Departments will publish new gender pay gap figures before the end of the year to meet the requirements of the Government’s new gender pay gap regulations for all large employers. The new requirements will provide unprecedented transparency, generate wider debate, and encourage employers to take the action required to close that gap.

The Union needs Scotland’s two Governments to work together to get things done. One proposal in the Stirling city region deal is to co-locate all customer-facing public services in Stirling to a public sector innovation hub. Will my right hon. Friend commit to working with the Scottish Government and Stirling Council to bring that about?

I was delighted to be lobbied hard by my hon. Friend on this and other matters when I visited Stirling recently. He will be pleased to hear that the Department for Work and Pensions is committed to maintaining its current estate in Stirling for at least the next five years, and we can obviously discuss future options. I also hope to agree heads of terms for the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city deal early next year.

In his written statement on the contaminated blood inquiry, the Minister for the Cabinet Office simply said that:

“a further announcement will follow before the end of the year on the setting up of the inquiry.”—[Official Report, 3 November 2017; Vol. 630, c. 35WS.]

Those affected by this tragedy have not been given any information about what that means. Will he clarify whether he intends to appoint an inquiry chair by the end of the year?

The hon. Lady raises a very serious point. The contaminated blood scandal of the ’70s and ’80s was an appalling tragedy that should not have happened. She will, I am sure, appreciate that not only did we receive 800 responses to the consultation but, at the request of the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, the end of that consultation was delayed until the end of October. All the decisions on the chair and the other things that need to be determined will, as I have already committed, be set out to the House before the Christmas recess.