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Cabinet Office

Volume 651: debated on Wednesday 19 December 2018

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Leaving the EU: Contingency Planning

1. What discussions his Department is having with stakeholders on contingency planning for the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (908294)

The Government’s policy is for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union with a negotiated deal. Individual Departments are responsible for briefing businesses and other interested parties about contingency planning for all eventualities, and the Cabinet Office is co-ordinating contingency planning across Whitehall.

Will my right hon. Friend give details of which Departments have been allocated moneys for no-deal preparation, how much, and the spending timescales?

My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced yesterday details of a £2 billion planned spend for 2019-20. These moneys would be available for either a no-deal or a deal scenario. The largest recipient Departments are the Home Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for International Trade.

In the event of no deal, we read in the press that the Government are going to inform the public about what they should do to prepare for it. Will the Minister outline for us what exactly the Government will say to the public of this country about how they should prepare for no deal?

As I said in my earlier response, it will be for the Secretary of State in each Department to determine what forms of communication are necessary to businesses or the wider public. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the message that we get back again and again from the general public is that they want Members of Parliament from both sides of the House to get on and agree the deal that is on the table.

With reports of DEFRA making contingency plans to slaughter a large amount of livestock, what reassurance can be given to livestock breeders in my constituency looking at a no-deal Brexit?

I think it unavoidable that, given the World Trade Organisation’s standard tariffs for livestock trade and the position of third countries in relation to the EU’s legal requirement for phytosanitary checks and inspections, there will be difficulties for our livestock exporters in the event of no deal. That is another reason for the House to agree the deal that is available.

After last week’s shambles, we are now 100 days away from our scheduled departure from the EU without having voted on any deal in the House. We are now staring at a cliff-edge no-deal exit, which would be damaging not only for our economy, but potentially for our national security. In the event of no deal, with what assurances can the Minister provide the House that the Government have discussed with stakeholders our continued security partnership with the EU, including on cyber-related matters?

The Home Office and other Departments with the responsibilities for security interests are in constant touch with the police and other relevant agencies about those matters. I say to the hon. Lady, as I have said to others in the House, that what is needed is for every Member in the House to take seriously his or her responsibility and not to keep ducking the question—[Interruption.] The challenge that she has to answer is that if she does not like the deal that has been negotiated with the 27 Governments of the EU, what is her alternative and that which the Opposition are proposing?

Civil Service Relocation

2. What steps his Department is taking to move civil service jobs out of London as part of the Government’s industrial strategy. (908295)

We are committed to supporting economic growth across the United Kingdom. We have established the Places for Growth programme to relocate civil service roles to the regions and nations. That creates a presumption that newly created public bodies will be located outside London.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Can I invite him or the Secretary of State to come to Plymouth with me early in 2019 to see for themselves how digital connectivity has transformed our city? It is not just a great place to live, as it has always been, but now a great place to work and run a business. Would it not be very good for the Government to have a Government hub there?

I know, thanks to my hon. Friend and other hon. Members, that Plymouth is a great place to work and do business. A number of potential hub locations are under active consideration. I would of course be delighted to meet a delegation from Plymouth, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster intends to visit Plymouth shortly.

When the Minister is looking to relocate civil service jobs outside London, will he look at post-industrial areas, which traditionally have high levels of unemployment, as a way to stimulate the jobs market?

That is precisely the idea behind the Places for Growth strategy, which is to ensure Government activity benefits all parts of the United Kingdom. That is why we have created hubs across the United Kingdom—for example, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Leeds, Birmingham and Cardiff, to name just a few.

The Minister will be aware—at least, I hope he is aware—of the success of the Oil and Gas Authority being based in Aberdeen, as was presented in evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee yesterday by both our right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth and the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands from the Scottish Government. Does the Minister agree that moving civil service jobs out of London using that model has the potential to boost local economic growth across the UK?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That forms a core part of the Government’s industrial strategy. As I have said, we have already created hubs in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, but I am open to all representations for further relocations of Government activity.

Mr Speaker, you would be surprised if I did not mention the great benefits in this of the far north of Scotland: a lovely environment, splendid education and cheap housing and accommodation. Positioning civil service jobs in the north of Scotland, alongside Scottish civil service jobs, would be good for the relationship between Scotland and London, and it would help strengthen the Union.

The hon. Gentleman makes the case exceptionally well. That is precisely why we are ensuring that Government jobs are located in all parts—all nations—of our United Kingdom. I know that there is already considerable space activity in his constituency.

Real Living Wage

3. If he will make it his policy to introduce the real living wage across all Government Departments and to seek accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation. (908297)

We are addressing this issue through the application of the statutory national minimum wage and the national living wage. This is based on the advice of the Low Pay Commission. From April, the national living wage will rise again—from £7.83 to £8.21 per hour—handing a full-time worker a further £690 annual pay rise.

This Government like to talk about employment levels, but they stay silent on the fact that many people are now struggling with in-work poverty, which is rising among working parents in particular. Does this Minister believe that his kid-on living wage is more effective at tackling in-work poverty than the real living wage promoted by the Living Wage Foundation?

The hon. Lady is absolutely correct: we do continue to talk about employment, because 2 million jobs have been created under this Government. On the point about the national living wage, we were of course the first Government actually to introduce a national living wage. The aim is that that will rise to 60% of median income by 2020, and it is actually rising faster than the real living wage.

Everyone in the country knows that the Government’s pretendy living wage is not the same as the real living wage. It pays an awful lot less, and it excludes millions of younger workers. At this season of good will, will the Government not commit to making it their policy next year to seek accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation and show leadership in the country in taking on low pay?

I think the hon. Gentleman is a little dismissive of the national living wage, which, since it was introduced, has led to a pay rise for people on the lowest incomes of almost £3,000 a year. It is rising faster than his proposal, and it will reach 60% of median income by 2020. Post that, we will look again at further increases.

Leaving the EU: Civil Service Capacity

4. What recent assessment he has made of the capacity of the civil service to manage additional responsibilities arising from the UK leaving the EU. (908298)

14. What recent assessment he has made of the capacity of the civil service to manage additional responsibilities arising from the UK leaving the EU. (908308)

The Government are equipping themselves with the right people and the right skills for the UK to exit the European Union successfully. Almost 11,000 people are now working on EU exit-related policy and programmes across the Government, and the workforce plans will continue to be reviewed to ensure that our civil service can respond to emerging capacity and capability requirements.

The National Audit Office reports that the additional staff needed to work at UK borders after Brexit may not be in place by March 2019. Will the Minister explain why, almost 29 months since the EU referendum, the Government have not got their act together?

All reports of the National Audit Office are obviously interesting, but I have absolute confidence in the words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is very confident that the Border Force will be ready—as am I, from my previous experience in that Department—for any eventuality of Brexit.

We are hearing on the news today that the Government are preparing for every extreme eventuality and possible consequence of Brexit. Which promised or commissioned services are already not being delivered because of the thousands of civil servants transferred to EU work and preparation for the various Brexit outcomes?

Departments are continually looking at and reviewing workforce plans, reprioritising and assessing changing needs. We have the beauty of having a fantastic civil service, with the extra funding that the Treasury has put in to make sure that we are able to get the civil service in place at this point, to continue to deliver on the important Government domestic agenda, while ensuring that we leave the EU in an orderly and sensible fashion.

In the field of justice, we have been lucky to enjoy very good civil, mutual judicial co-operation across Europe. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, are there plans in place, and are there the civil servants, for example, to rejoin The Hague conventions in place of the regulations in Europe and so on, to ensure that we have a smooth legal transition?

There is something wrong with the microphone. The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot be fully heard, and that is unsatisfactory, but I am sure it will be put right.

My right hon. and learned Friend asks an important question. We are now focusing on making sure that we get the deal we want negotiated with the EU—that is our top priority—but it is right that we prepare for every eventuality. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is working with partners around Europe to ensure that, but the best thing we can do in this Parliament to ensure that we have a smooth and orderly Brexit, including for the justice system and security, is to support the Prime Minister’s deal when we vote on it in January.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Prime Minister said that no deal need not be the end of the world and that Britain would be fully prepared in that eventuality? With this ramping up and extra investment, will our civil service have the resources it needs to be ready and deliver on time?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is right that, with just over three months to go before we exit the EU, we need to accelerate and intensify these preparations. I am confident that the civil service is well equipped to deal with that, but of course our focus and our key priority is to get the right deal with the EU and one that we can pass that through this House in January.

Will the Minister liaise with his colleagues in the Cabinet Office to ensure that civil servants, both there and in the Department for Transport, speedily come to a conclusion on air passenger duty and corporation tax, thereby giving a considerable boost to the Northern Ireland economy?

My colleagues in the Cabinet Office and in the Department for Transport are working together to ensure that everything is as smooth as it can be. However, I would reiterate that the best way to have a smooth solution to all this is to support the withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister is putting before this House.

Voter ID Pilots

12. Whether the Government plans to conduct further voter ID pilots; and if he will make a statement. (908306)

The British public deserve to have confidence in our democracy. A diverse range of local authorities have confirmed that they will be taking part in voter ID and postal vote pilots for the 2019 local elections. The pilots will provide further insights into ensuring the security of the voting process.

I am grateful for that answer. Bishop Auckland has the lowest rate of passport ownership in the entire country. Does not the Minister understand that expensive forms of voter ID will exclude thousands of people from exercising their democratic right to vote?

Yes, I do; the design of the pilots acknowledges that and makes sure that a free-of-charge alternative will be available.

My previous experience as a Tower Hamlets councillor highlighted to me the significant vulnerability of poorer, more diverse communities to electoral fraud. How can my hon. Friend improve democratic education across all communities so that we can make the electoral system more robust?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing her experience and her voice to this debate; it is very important that we hear that. I also thank the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who also represents Tower Hamlets, for his cross-party support for this policy. It shows how important that is. It is essential that electors are aware that their voice is theirs alone. That message was promoted through various channels in May this year, including work with the Electoral Commission, Crimestoppers and the police, and we will do more to spread that message.

Will the Minister assure the House that those who do not have the documentation she requires will not be disenfranchised by the new policy?

Yes, I am very happy to repeat that reassurance. When somebody does not have the correct form of ID, local authorities will provide an alternative method free of charge. On top of that, we are working closely with a range of charities and civil society organisations so that everyone who is registered to vote has the opportunity to do so.

Is the Minister not aware that ID is linked to knowing where the children of our country are: are they in school; are they vulnerable? Those in her party stopped us having that identification. Many children are at risk because of their actions on ID.

The hon. Gentleman has advanced that argument over many years in many different formats. I regret to say I am not entirely clear if I follow him this morning, but I would be very happy to have a further conversation with him if there is an important point there.

13. Why does the Minister not, instead of wasting money on voter ID pilots, spend money on giving votes to 16-year-olds? (908307)

I say to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), if he is listening, that I think what the Minister was saying, in a very polite and roundabout way, is that she has not got the foggiest idea what he is on about. No doubt, with some clarifications, she will be perfectly clear on what he is talking about. I thought I knew what he was talking about.

Yes, Mr Speaker. To answer the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), she will know very well that the election manifesto on which this party and Government were elected excluded votes at 16. It is also a little sad if she does not see the merits, in their own right, of ensuring integrity in our voting processes. That means tackling fraud.

This year’s voter ID pilots cost the taxpayer £1.7 million and the only discernible effect was that several hundred people were prevented from voting. The Minister is refusing to publish details of the budget for next year’s voter ID pilots. Why is she keeping that information secret, and what has she got to hide?

There is nothing to hide. I have been extremely clear about what the costs may be. As soon as I have information about the design of the pilots, I will be happy to share it with the House. Indeed, I have undertaken to do so through the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The hon. Gentleman needs to be concerned about how his party says one thing and does another. The Labour party uses voter ID in its own meetings. If it is good enough for them, why is it not good enough for the country?

I call Giles Watling. Not here. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] Well, I hope the fella is not indisposed. We look forward to seeing him again. I call Michael Fabricant.

Nobody doubted it for a moment. We always expect the hon. Gentleman to be here, and we can spot him a mile off.


7. What steps his Department is taking to help improve the cyber-security of public and private sector organisations; and if he will make a statement. (908301)

Our world-leading national cyber-security strategy, which is supported by nearly £2 billion of investment, sets out measures to defend our people, businesses and infrastructure, to deter our adversaries and to develop the skills and capabilities this country needs.

With major data breaches at the Marriott hotel group and British Airways, with which I hope to be flying tomorrow—[Interruption] Well, I hope so, anyway—what can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that private corporations maintain security for their customers?

My hon. Friend is spot on in his comments. That is why the National Cyber Security Centre has designed new materials aimed at members of company boards. The Cabinet Office will be launching them, along with the NCSC, in the new year.

The Minister will be aware that before the summer recess The Daily Telegraph reported that data breaches on gaining passes to Government buildings, including the Cabinet Office, were made available to the public because of the use of open shared drives that had been condemned six months previously. Can the Minister give a reassurance that that simply will not happen again?

Clearly, any breach of data security is to be regretted, and we have a system whereby we learn from those experiences. We also need to be aware that both criminal gangs and hostile state actors are always seeking innovative new ways to penetrate our defences, and the NCSC is our key source of expertise in combating that threat.

Topical Questions

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?