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Topical Questions

Volume 634: debated on Wednesday 10 January 2018

I intend to continue the work of the Cabinet Office to deliver its purpose: to maintain the integrity of the Union of the United Kingdom, to co-ordinate the security of the realm, to sustain a flourishing democracy, to ensure the delivery of the finest public services, and to help to implement the Government’s policies and the Prime Minister’s priorities.

The Government have withheld a dozen documents relating to the Government’s European policy in the early 1990s. What are they trying to hide? What embarrassment is the Tory party trying to cover up? Will the Minister release those documents?

I am happy to look at the particular case, if the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me, but I can assure him that documents are not withheld lightly. Sometimes individuals are named, or documents contain information that is still diplomatically sensitive. [Interruption.]

T2. One of the Minister’s new responsibilities is the important negotiations with the devolved Assemblies and Parliament. When will my right hon. Friend undertake meetings for those important discussions on the future of our country? (903202)

It is true that the Prime Minister has asked me to continue with my predecessor’s responsibilities of overall supervision of intergovernmental relations within the United Kingdom. I spoke yesterday evening to the Deputy First Minister of Scotland and the First Minister of Wales and assured them that I hope to visit both Scotland and Wales in the near future. I hope also to visit Northern Ireland.

T3. Earlier, the Minister remarked that the 2017 snap election had been well run, but following that election the Association of Electoral Administrators felt the need to provide its members with a free counselling service. What action will the Government take to address the significant staffing pressures and unsustainable workloads experienced by our election staff? (903203)

One of the challenges facing electoral staff this year was an unprecedented number of people taking advantage of the opportunity to register online, and administrators had to sort out duplicate registrations. We are looking at the lessons to be learned from that, but we should not fail to acknowledge the fact that online registration has made it easier for people to register and has been a great boon to many of our citizens.

T5. With over 25% of overseas development money being spent outside the Department for International Development, is there a role for the Cabinet Office in encouraging more cross-departmental spend and better reporting across all Departments? (903205)

My hon. Friend, with his expert knowledge of Africa, makes an important point. The national security adviser based in the Cabinet Office is responsible for roughly £3.2 billion of cross-departmental overseas development aid spending. I look forward to discussing with him how that money can best be spent and will certainly take account of my hon. Friend’s views.

T4. Lewisham has over 2,000 residents in temporary accommodation, and three quarters of those who have contacted me are not on the electoral register. I am not happy with this. Are the Government? If not, what will they do about it? (903204)

Despite the success of online registration, we accept that there is more to do. It is important that we encourage all our citizens to take advantage of their democratic right to cast a vote, both locally and nationally.

A number of my constituents have suffered terribly as a result of the contaminated blood scandal. Will my right hon. Friend please update the House on the progress towards the appointment of a chair and the timescales for the inquiry?

The contaminated blood scandal was an appalling tragedy from which individuals and their families are still suffering. I regard this as a very high priority for me. We have asked the Lord Chief Justice to nominate a judge to chair the inquiry, and I hope to announce the name of that judge soon.

T6. After the Prime Minister’s painful and protracted reshuffle clearly failed to ensure that the Cabinet reflected diverse and modern Britain, what steps is the Minister taking to increase diversity in the civil service? (903207)

We are implementing in full the recommendations in the report to which I alluded earlier and are encouraging all Departments to step up their work in making sure they recruit people and seek to recruit people from groups in society that have been harder to reach than others in the past. It is important that that work continues. The Prime Minister’s commitment to the racial disparity audit, which in 13 years of Labour Government we never saw from the party opposite, is an indication of the Government’s seriousness of purpose on this point.

The Minister will be aware that personal assurances were given to me and colleagues that the Government would bring forward amendments to clause 11 of the repeal Bill, but they have failed to do so. Will he assure me that the Government remain committed to working with the devolved Administrations to find a form of words that will be agreed and will allow a legislative consent motion to be passed?

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that commitment. When I spoke to the Deputy First Minister of Scotland last night, I said that we were disappointed that we had not been able to reach agreement with the devolved Administrations on an acceptable form of words for such an amendment but that I was committed to intensifying our discussions with the devolved Administrations to seek to reach an agreed form of words in time for proceedings in the House of Lords.

T7. On new year’s eve, another four young people lost their lives to knife crime. We have failed to tackle this epidemic because we have failed to recognise that the solution—[Interruption.] (903208)

Order. There is a lot of noise in the Chamber. The question is about knife crime. This is a matter of the utmost gravity. Please, it is the last question—let us hear it and the answer.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

On new year’s eve, another four young people lost their lives to knife crime in London. We have failed to tackle this epidemic because we have failed to recognise that the solutions span health, education, poverty and aspiration. What can the Minister do in his role to get Departments working together to find a long-term solution?

On behalf of myself and, I am sure, the whole House, may I send our unreserved sympathy and condolences to the families of those four young people, who must be going through hell at this time? The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government’s stance on knife crime is tougher than ever—we have increased the punishments for repeat offenders and banned cautions for the most serious offences—and the latest figures show that more people are being sent to prison for knife crime than in the past. I accept that this has to be cross-departmental work. It has to involve local government and the Mayor of London in a big way. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is very committed to seeing further action taken to drive down the rates of these appalling crimes. I promise the hon. Lady that I will give what support I can from the Cabinet Office to the Home Secretary’s work.