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Topical Questions

Volume 661: debated on Wednesday 5 June 2019

We are now moving towards the 20th anniversary of devolution in Scotland and Wales and we are making every effort possible to restore devolved Government in Northern Ireland. Under this Government, the devolved Parliaments have been given more powers than ever before, with new powers over income tax, transport and the benefit system, and we have been clear that, when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, a significant number of powers will flow back to those Parliaments. We are committed to upholding the devolution settlements and to strengthening the Union between all parts of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.]

I am not sure that the Minister is being accorded the respectful attention that his celebrity status within Her Majesty’s Government warrants, and I hope that there can be an improvement on that in the minutes ahead.

Yesterday, during the urgent question, the Government were asked how many names of EU citizens were transmitted from this country to other countries after the 7 May deadline. What is the Government’s response to the fact that, under the directive, article 9.4 says that EU citizens shall remain eligible to vote in perpetuity and not have to fill in additional forms?

The process was exactly the same as for previous European parliamentary elections and I urge the hon. Gentleman to look at the independent review that the Electoral Commission will do following the poll.

T2. What are the Government doing to encourage maximum participation in elections and, in particular, to encourage young people to register to vote? (911171)

The Government are committed to ensuring that all citizens feel empowered to participate in democracy. In the Cabinet Office, we have delivered projects to promote and encourage participation among young people, including a scheme to recruit and train some 1,000 youth democracy ambassadors. I know that my hon. Friend has personally worked very hard on this issue and I give great credit to him for that, because political parties have a role to play in getting young people involved in politics as well. I am very proud that, in the Conservative party, with his good work, we have seen over 100 new young Conservative branches in just a year.

T6. We know that the Government have been spending a lot of our money on private polling to find out what the people of Scotland think about their so-called precious Union. Are there any plans for similar polling to find out what the people of Scotland think of the demand that our health service be sacrificed to curry favour with Donald Trump? (911175)

The Prime Minister could not have been clearer yesterday that the future of the NHS will not be on the table in trade negotiations. The hon. Gentleman would be better advised to focus on the need to improve the declining standards in the Scottish NHS, for which his party is responsible.

T3. A number of former Rugby residents who live abroad, including Claire Nurcombe, who lives in France and who I still represent here, have told me about their wish to retain their voting rights in the UK. The Minister has already referred to the commitment to allow British nationals to retain their voting rights. Can he clarify when that will be delivered? (911172)

My hon. Friend’s examples show why an arbitrary 15-year limit is not correct. The Government are considering their options to bring this forward at the earliest opportunity.

T7.   Will the Government commit that come the next general election not a single primary school will have to close to be a polling station? (911176)

Legislation allows returning officers to use schools as polling places to ensure sufficient provision of polling places. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there needs to be a balance, particularly because we need to find accessible buildings and in some cases schools will be the only ones, but there should be a discussion between returning officers and schools to ensure that the burden of this requirement is not too great.

The vast majority of liberal democracies worldwide, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, consider 18 the right age at which to enfranchise young people. Parliament has debated the question of lowering the voting age in a number of contexts and has repeatedly voted against doing so.

T5. Last week, Nicola Sturgeon brought forward legislation in the Scottish Parliament for another independence referendum in Holyrood—[Interruption.] Clearly much to the delight of SNP Members. But that is despite recent polling showing that fewer than one in five Scots want another independence referendum in the next couple of years. What discussions has the Minister had with representatives of the Scottish Government about these developments? Can he reassure me and the House that the UK Government will continue to uphold the result of the 2014 referendum and say no to this unwanted independence referendum? (911174)

It was the First Minister herself who said that the 2014 referendum was a once-in-a-generation decision. I believe that we should take her at her word during that referendum campaign and uphold the clear will of the Scottish people as expressed in the 2014 referendum.

To strengthen the Union, what actions are the Government taking to deliver investment and growth to all four nations of our United Kingdom, especially in places such as Stoke-on-Trent?

My hon. Friend is right. That is why such measures as the modern industrial strategy and the city deals programme bring benefits to every part of the United Kingdom. As he knows, Stoke-on-Trent has benefited from the transforming cities programme to the tune of more than £5.5 million and from the ultrafast broadband programme by more than £9 million.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) has said, Nicola Sturgeon laid the draft legislation for a second independence referendum last week, but with only one in five Scots supporting what she is doing. Can the Minister assure me that his Department is doing all it can to protect and preserve our United Kingdom, which we are so proud to be part of?

The Government believe, and I believe the majority of people in Scotland continue to believe, that all of us are stronger by being proud of being not only Scottish, English, Welsh or Northern Irish, but part of a union of four nations in the United Kingdom.