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Topical Questions

Volume 636: debated on Wednesday 21 February 2018

I was pleased to be able to announce that Mr Justice Langstaff will serve as chair for the independent inquiry into the infected blood scandal. He is a highly experienced judge who I am confident will conduct a thorough inquiry. Over the coming weeks, he will be talking to those affected to set comprehensive terms of reference, and the Government will provide him with all the support he needs. [Interruption.]

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. The Minister’s answer could hardly be heard. Let us hear the voice of Amber Valley. I call Mr Nigel Mills.

I thank the Minister for his answer. What plans does he have to use the events marking the centenary of women’s suffrage to encourage greater democratic participation?

During this centenary year, we will host the first national democracy week. We have established a council to help to deliver a unified programme of events up and down the country that will focus on those who are underrepresented on the electoral roll, and a package of education-themed events to inspire young people and women through the story of suffrage and our democracy.

T2. All of us in the House will have been saddened last week by the tragic death of a homeless man just yards from here. Will the Minister tell us how the Cabinet Office is working with all Departments to ensure that this crisis is resolved quickly? (903986)

Any such death is a tragedy. The Government have established an inter-ministerial group to drive forward our objective of halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it altogether by 2027. I am playing an active part in that work.

T3. What plans does my right hon. Friend have to move more civil service jobs outside London, and has Scotland been considered as an excellent destination for Government Departments or agencies? (903987)

The Government are committed to moving activities away from London and the south-east. There is a presumption that all new non-departmental public bodies should be outside London, so we have created Government hubs across the UK, including in Edinburgh and Glasgow. My hon. Friend makes a marvellous case for having more such opportunities in Scotland.

T5. Dounreay in my constituency is being decommissioned, and it is crucial that both levels of government should work in harmony to ensure future employment for the people of my constituency. Canada and Australia typify joint working between levels of government. Will the Minister work very hard indeed to ensure that the Scottish Government and the UK Government work together to allay the fears of my constituents and to provide future employment? (903989)

I completely understand the importance of Dounreay to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. The Government’s industrial strategy is all about trying to ensure that every part of the United Kingdom benefits from the new industrial opportunities now open to us, and my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will be working with the Scottish Government to ensure that it delivers for Caithness and Sutherland.

T4. Too few of our small businesses apply to sell their goods to Government because they are worried about the bureaucracy involved. What reassurance can the Minister give them and, specifically, what feedback is available to them when they do so? (903988)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Small businesses are the engine of our economy, and we are committed to supporting them in public procurement. That is why we have already streamlined our procurement processes to assist small businesses by, for example, abolishing complex questionnaires. Specifically in relation to too much bureaucracy, businesses can report such practices to the mystery shopper service.

T6. On what date were Government officials first instructed to work on draft amendments to clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill? (903990)

Work on clause 11 has been going on for a long time, to deliver on our commitment to table amendments during proceedings in the House of Lords—with the agreement of the Scottish and Welsh Governments if humanly possible.

T7. Will my hon. Friend mark the centenary of women’s suffrage by giving Government support to the Overseas Electors Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) to enfranchise British citizens who have lost the right to vote? (903991)

Yes, I intend to speak on the Government’s behalf during the Bill’s Second Reading on Friday. The proposal is an important Conservative manifesto commitment, but I hope that it will also command cross-party support.

My colleagues in Edinburgh will be voting today to scrap the public sector pay cap and give a 3% pay rise to those earning under £36,000. When will public sector workers in England see a similar rise?

Public sector workers are among the most talented and hard-working people in our society, and they should be fairly rewarded. In respect of the Cabinet Office, the Chancellor’s Budget statement confirmed that we are moving away from the 1% average public sector pay award, and proposals will be issued later this year.

I wish my right hon. Friend every success in his forthcoming meeting with the Scottish and Welsh Governments this week. Will he bear in mind that he is being compromising and open, and will he invite them to be the same?

My hon. Friend is right to point to the importance of all parts of the United Kingdom working together to deliver an orderly, smooth Brexit. We want to work in partnership with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to deliver a big increase in the powers devolved to their Parliaments and Governments.

I welcome the Minister’s announcement about the appointment of Sir Brian Langstaff as the judge for the public inquiry into contaminated blood, but will he reassure the House that the inquiry will have a families-first approach, that an outward-facing secretariat will support all those affected, and that meetings will be held around the regions and nations of this country?

The hon. Lady will understand that Sir Brian, as the independent chair, will ultimately determine such matters, but I was struck when I met him by his determination both to listen to the views of the families who have been worst affected by the tragedy and to ensure that those views are fully taken into account.