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Topical Questions

Volume 641: debated on Wednesday 16 May 2018

Since our last Cabinet Office questions, the Government have reached an agreement with the Welsh Government on changes to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and an inter-governmental agreement on the establishment of common frameworks. I welcome yesterday’s decision by the National Assembly for Wales to grant consent to the Bill, and I place on record the Government’s commitment to act along the lines of the inter-governmental agreement respecting devolution, and to seek consent in our dealings with all three devolved nations.

Groucho Marx once said, “These are my principles, and if you don’t like them—well, I have others.” In homage to Groucho, the Scottish Conservatives used to have principles on clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, but they have abandoned them to become isolated, as theirs was the only party to vote for legislative consent in the Scottish Parliament yesterday. Is the right hon. Gentleman ashamed—not just a tad embarrassed—on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives?

The hon. Gentleman has a question to answer. He and his party support continued membership of the European Union. The powers in the Bill allow for the temporary carrying forward, for a time-limited period, of the frameworks that already exist, and to do so when that is in the interests of Scottish jobs and Scottish consumers. What is the hon. Gentleman’s objection to that?

T3. Many of my constituents have written to me about rolling out voter ID across the country. What assessment has the Minister made of the recent trials? (905332)

We believe that the recent trials have been successful. As I said earlier, we will be evaluating the pilots fully and then taking careful decisions about next steps. We remain of the view that voter fraud is a crime that should be stamped out, and it would be very good if other parties in this place joined us in that belief.

T2. One of the most shocking elements of the whole Carillion fiasco was the fact that the Cabinet Office saw a letter from Carillion’s accountants in mid-December with a proposal that would have allowed £360 million extra to be put back into the public purse. Will the Minister explain what he did when he saw that recommendation, and why the money was not put back into public purse? (905331)

As a matter of fact, I took up this office on 8 January 2018. I do not think the picture the hon. Gentleman paints is an accurate one. It was only in January that we were presented with details—full details—of what Carillion proposed. It would have been wrong for the Government to bail it out for private sector failures of judgment.

T4. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the civil service in the devolved Administrations receives as much support as the central civil service, and how is he maintaining standards and objectivity across the United Kingdom? (905333)

My Department supports consistent standards of devolution awareness across the civil service. The Cabinet Office runs a cross-Government learning campaign, in partnership with the devolved Administrations, to ensure that there is good practice throughout the United Kingdom.

T7. Why did the Government continue to award contracts to Carillion after it had announced a profit warning and its shares had fallen by 75%, making it an obvious risk to the public purse? (905336)

As I set out in detail in my evidence to the Liaison Committee, three of the contracts were actually awarded before the profit warning. The two from HS2 Ltd were part of a joint venture. The other joint venture partners stepped forward, in line with their contracts, to ensure that the project continues with no additional cost to the public purse.

T5. We know that having a job massively reduces reoffending, so will the Government commit to lead through their own example by giving ex-offenders a fair chance of a job? (905334)

I strongly support Ban the Box and other such initiatives. The Cabinet Office will work hard with other Government Departments to ensure that we maximise opportunities for ex-offenders to be given that second chance.

T8. Estimates show that 4,000 people in the five pilot areas were turned away because they did not have the required ID, so will the Government now abandon their plans for voter ID? (905337)

The data so far from the successful five pilots does not seem to provide evidence to support the Opposition’s scaremongering. Most people’s experience of the pilots was very positive. We will evaluate the next steps before returning to the House with the way forward.

T6. What progress is the Department making to encourage technological solutions in the delivery of our public services? (905335)

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. We are determined that the public sector uses technology to improve services. Indeed, just last week I announced the first GovTech challenges to help tech firms to create innovative, cutting-edge solutions to public service challenges. The first seeks to use artificial intelligence solutions to identify recruitment images that are created by Daesh and spread online.

We are now in an unsustainable and inconsistent position whereby 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland and Wales can be trusted to vote in local government elections, yet their counterparts in England and Northern Ireland are denied that right. Does the Minister agree that if we are to maintain the integrity of our electoral process, we must have equal voting rights across the UK?

First, the Government stood on a manifesto in which we agreed to keep the voting age at 18. Secondly, we believe in devolution. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office has told the House very strongly, our work on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and elsewhere supports devolution. That, I am afraid, is the real answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question.

Colleagues, today the two extremely brave police officers who apprehended the killer of our late friend and colleague Jo Cox are in the Gallery for Prime Minister’s questions. I am referring to PC Jonathan Wright and PC Craig Nicholls, both of the West Yorkshire police. Gentlemen, we honour your public service. We thank you for it and we offer you the warmest of welcomes here to the House of Commons today. [Applause.]

We are also joined by the former Presiding Officer of the Welsh Assembly, Dame Rosemary Butler, and her husband Derek. Rosemary and Derek, you too are very welcome. Thank you for coming.