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Topical Questions

Volume 658: debated on Wednesday 24 April 2019

May I start by welcoming my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) to his new ministerial role, and by wishing my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) the best of luck as she starts her maternity leave and thanking her for the work she has championed to stop intimidation in public life?

The CyberUK 2019 cyber-security conference begins today in Glasgow. I am pleased that I will address that conference tomorrow, where I will outline our work to ensure that the UK remains a global leader in cyber-security.

Ministers will know that I never miss an opportunity to talk about jobs and opportunities for my Southampton, Itchen constituents. More people are in work than ever before, but not all jobs are well paid with good opportunities. A Government relocation to Southampton would help to give my constituents more opportunities. Has the Minister considered relocation to Southampton as part of the Places for Growth programme? If not, why not?

I know what a strong champion my hon. Friend is for the city of Southampton. I have heard his representations and am very happy to extend him an invitation: officials from my Department can meet him and representatives from Southampton to see what we can do in that area.

There are currently 2 million European citizens registered to vote in the UK, many of whom will be using their votes in the local elections next Thursday. However, in order to be eligible to vote in the European elections on 23 May, they will need to complete some paperwork. So far, fewer than 300 of those citizens have completed the paperwork, which would usually have been distributed by electoral registration officers from January onwards. Due to the short timescale for the administration of the European elections, I have heard that many European citizens are considering taking legal action against the Government. What consideration has the Minister given to that, and what measures could the Government take to help European citizens use their vote in the European elections here in the UK?

I appreciate that the shadow Minister’s point is about the time to make a declaration rather than the registration deadline. She will appreciate that the Government’s approach needs to be determined by the law and what affects it, but I am happy to look at the issue, respond to her in writing and lay a copy of that response in the House Library.

T3. What steps are Ministers taking to encourage the use of innovative technology for the delivery of public services? (910489)

This is a major priority for the Cabinet Office, which is why earlier this month I announced £1.5 million in funding for 10 projects that will use location-based data to improve public services, and why I will shortly publish a strategy outlining how we will harness the power of innovative technology across the whole of Government.

T2. Millions of people are not registered on the electoral roll, and they are much more likely to be from an ethnic minority, young or from a lower demographic class. Does not it say everything about this Government that at a time when we should be trying to get more people on to the register, they are doing everything they can to keep people off the register? (910488)

This is the Government who introduced online registration, which has made it much easier for people to get on the register and has resulted in among the highest numbers of registrations, so the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question is completely wrong.

T5. Does the Minister agree that, as the Institute for Government has recently pointed out, the Government have outsourced many public services precisely because the public sector was delivering them poorly, and that any plans to end outsourcing are motivated by political ideology, not by what is best for the taxpayer? (910491)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight those recent comments, which were clear that Labour’s outsourcing policy risks creating major implementation problems and losing the benefits that outsourcing has brought for taxpayers, without any guarantee that services would improve. This Government will continue to make decisions on outsourcing based on the evidence, not on ideology.

In congratulating the hon. Member for Huddersfield on the birth of his 12th grandchild—another Sheermanite in the world—I call Mr Barry Sheerman.

T4. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will pass that message on to the new baby. Yesterday another little girl—a little Swedish girl—came to this place and reminded us how we must act dramatically to face up to climate change and the challenges of climate change. What is the Minister doing to totally re-energise every Department of State on climate change? (910490)

I think the young woman to whom the hon. Gentleman refers spoke for her generation. All of us who go into schools and colleges in our constituencies know how the issue of climate change inspires and drives political priorities among many of our young constituents. Every Department in this Government is committed to delivering the ambitious plan to reduce carbon emissions and secure our environmental objectives by the 2050 deadline. There is no difference between any Ministers about the need to get on with that.

T6. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that disabled candidates in the forthcoming local elections will, thanks to this Government, be able to access dedicated disability-related funding to support the specific needs they face, without it counting towards elections expenses? (910492)

It is vital that those who stand for office are representative of our society. As a Government, we are taking action to achieve that through a £250,000 fund for disabled candidates in the forthcoming English local election in May. That will help to create a level playing field for disabled and non-disabled candidates.

T7. Will the Minister further outline what discussions have taken place with social media outlets, such as Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and others, to strike the delicate balance between freedom of thought and opinion, and security and freedom from cyber-bullying? (910493)

The hon. Gentleman alludes to the fact that there is a delicate balance to strike between ensuring that people can freely express opinions and ensuring that the Government do not get involved in regulating opinions. It is about making sure that facts are accurate. That is why we are working with colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the online harms White Paper to ensure that we can tackle those challenges and strike the right balance on freedom of speech.

I have met several innovative small businesses in Fareham recently, for example the IT business Silver Lining. Many such small and medium-size enterprises would like more opportunities to work closely with the Government. What steps are the Government taking to enable greater contracting with SMEs?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this important challenge. We have set a demanding target of 33% of all Government business going to SMEs, and our forthcoming innovation strategy will look at exactly that point—how we can make it easier for SMEs to win innovative Government work.

Does the Minister agree that we need to eradicate fake news at source, and that that includes a more ethical approach to Government advertising spend to ensure it does not go on online fake news sites?

The Government take disinformation very seriously. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is leading cross-Government work to tackle it, including through the online harms White Paper. The role of Government is to make sure that electors have the facts in public debate, not to regulate opinions people may form on them.