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Topical Questions

Volume 651: debated on Wednesday 19 December 2018

Today, I am publishing the Government’s “State of the Estate” report, which shows that we have successfully cut the size of the Government estate by more than a third since 2010, saving £760 million in running costs. As well as saving money, we are improving the environmental performance of Government buildings, with emissions having been cut by almost 40% since 2009-10.

What engagement has the Minister had with the Northern Ireland Office over the money required to deal with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, and what requirement has there been in respect of the allocation of moneys to the Northern Ireland Government?

Consequential sums will flow to the Northern Ireland civil service as a result of the Treasury’s announcement yesterday. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is closely involved in all Government discussions about contingency planning, and I have invited representatives of the Northern Ireland civil service to a meeting with UK Ministers later today where they will have the opportunity to put Northern Ireland’s case directly.

T4. On no-deal planning, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about the contingency of our ending up on the WTO’s default tariff schedule, particularly in terms of the potential impact on farming and industry? (908313)

I discuss these matters regularly with both the Secretaries of State my hon. Friend alluded to. I am afraid that there is no getting away from the fact that going to WTO tariffs would impose very considerable additional costs upon our dairy, meat and livestock exports, and upon our vehicle manufacturers. That is another reason why the House should back the deal on the table and not let us be sucked into the damage that a no-deal exit would bring.

Season’s greetings to you, Mr Speaker, everybody in the House and all our staff.

Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting appears to have decided to abandon all non-essential Government business and reveals an Administration in an advanced state of decay. Will the Minister now tell the House which Government functions he regards as non-essential and is now putting into deep freeze?

We have taken no decisions to put anything into deep freeze. We are engaged in prudent contingency planning so that we are prepared for all eventualities. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman yet again has ducked the opportunity to say what the Opposition’s preferred outcome is, if they object to the deal on the table.

T6. The 29 March will be nearly three years since the British people decided to leave the EU in the referendum, and there are fears that the article 50 process will be drawn out or cancelled. In that context, does my right hon. Friend agree that democracy delayed is democracy denied? (908315)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister could not have been clearer about both our exit from the EU and the date we will leave. It is important that we leave but do so in a way that protects jobs, investment and living standards in this country. That is why this House has the responsibility to agree to a deal and not go into a no-deal exit.

T2. The National Audit Office report on the British Army recruiting partnership is heavily critical of Capita’s role. It takes up to 321 days to complete the Army recruitment process, and Capita is being paid an extra £182 million, despite missing the British Army’s targets every year since 2013. Considering Capita’s failures with contracts such as the NHS cervical cancer screening programme and NHS England’s primary care support services, will the Minister stop rewarding failure and cease awarding contracts to Capita? (908311)

The hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of Capita’s Army recruitment contract. I can tell him that we have a plan to address those challenges. We are working on a manning campaign, and we are in close contact with the chief executive of Capita to deal with precisely that issue.

T7. It is right that we try to ensure that the voting system is as fair as possible. What work is the Minister doing to improve the current system, and does she agree that a close link between constituents and their representatives is important? (908316)

Yes, I agree that the link with constituencies is extremely important, and, as my hon. Friend will know, we are committed to keeping the first-past-the-post system for that reason.

T3. Thirty-five years ago, in a unanimous five-nil judgment, the Law Lords ruled that Sikhs were an ethnic group and protected from discrimination. However, the results of the Prime Minister’s race disparity audit contained no data whatsoever relating to Sikhs. The Office for National Statistics only requires public bodies to collect and monitor data relating to ethnic groups specified in the census, and the Government’s White Paper fails to include a Sikh ethnic tick-box. Will the Minister commit herself to meeting officers of the all-party parliamentary group on UK Sikhs and to the inclusion of a Sikh ethnic tick-box in the Census Order, in order to bring an end to decades of discrimination against the Sikh community? (908312)

I shall be happy to meet the hon. Lady and her colleagues. I know that the independent Office for National Statistics, whose decisions these are, has written to the APPG in some detail, and I know that the ONS will also listen carefully to the hon. Lady’s question and endeavour to answer it.

Are the Government still committed to abolishing the insidious 15-year rule that applies to British expats voting in UK elections?