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Topical Questions

Volume 663: debated on Wednesday 10 July 2019

Last week the Government responded to Lord Holmes’s independent review of access to public appointments for disabled people. We have accepted in principle all of Lord Holmes’s recommendations and will use them to update our diversity action plan, which is aimed at increasing the number of people from under-represented groups on the boards of public bodies right across the United Kingdom.

Cornish minority status was granted in 2014. The Minister will be aware that the Office for National Statistics is resisting giving Cornish people the ability to recognise as Cornish on the census. The six Cornish MPs will be submitting an amendment to the census Bill. Will the Minister apply pressure on the ONS to ensure that Cornish people can recognise as Cornish?

I recognise the passion with which Cornwall’s champions in this House put the county’s case, but the Government will be guided by the ONS’s recommendations to Government and Parliament regarding the demand for particular questions in the next census.

This morning’s Committee on Climate Change report should make stark reading for the Cabinet Office, which has a responsibility to co-ordinate the cross-governmental response to climate change. What steps is the Department taking to meet the climate change demands on the country?

As the hon. Lady knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy leads within Government on climate change matters, but the Government have a good record of delivery, having overseen a cut in emissions of more than 42% since 1990 and with the United Kingdom being the first member of the G7 to sign up to a legally binding net zero target.

T5. We shall be leaving the European Union on 31 October. May I therefore ask the Constitution Minister if he will update the guidance on the flying of flags so that the European Union emblem no longer takes precedence over the national flags of Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand? (911866)

My hon. Friend asks a fair question, and I will update the House: the Government encourage Departments and other institutions to fly the Union flag on designated days, but no others. The flying of flags is deregulated outside planning controls, and as we will be leaving the European Union on 31 October I share what I suspect is my hon. Friend’s view: that it is unlikely that we will be seeing it flying anywhere, particularly with enthusiasm, after then.

T2. The Committee on Climate Change today sent a stark warning to Government over their abject failure to take urgent action and cut emissions fast enough. As Greenpeace said, the fire alarm has been sounded, but the Government have gone back to sleep. So when will the Government get on, show that they are serious about this, and take urgent action across every single Department on this matter? (911863)

I just wish that the Labour party had been less grudging in its response to the net zero target, which was a historic step by the Government, endorsing explicitly a recommendation from the independent Committee on Climate Change. I was in south Wales just over a week ago, and I talked there to businesses and scientists who are working at the sharp end to deliver emissions reduction technologies that will make a real difference. We should all, regardless of our politics, get behind that work, welcome the achievements we have made so far and commit ourselves to future change too.

T7. Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster explain what plans the Government have to increase support for small and medium-sized enterprises through Government procurement? (911869)

As my hon. Friend knows, small businesses are the backbone of our economy and we are determined to level the playing field so that they can win Government contracts. That is why, for example, we have introduced tough new prompt payment requirements and simplified the procurement process, and through our digital marketplace we have spent £2.5 billion, with £1.28 in every £3 going to SMEs.

T3. According to the recent Sutton Trust and Social Mobility Commission report on elitist Britain, there has been a 4% increase in privately educated permanent secretaries. With the civil service already massively unrepresentative of society, does the Minister agree that that figure should be going down rather than up? (911864)

I think the most important thing is that we encourage as many people as possible from the most diverse backgrounds as possible to enter the civil service and that we mentor them through, but at the end of the day it should be ability to do the job that wins out. Frankly, that matters more to the public interest than which school somebody’s parents sent them to.

The 5G testbed in the west midlands is working with the car industry in Coventry and with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. Will my right hon. Friend commend the work of the Mayor of the West Midlands, who brought the 5G testbed there, and visit the system?

I am delighted to congratulate Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, on that initiative. It is a telling example of the importance of business and academic professionals working closely together, and I would be delighted to accept my hon. Friend’s invitation.

T4. 2002 The Department’s response to the cross-party Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport report on electoral reform does not display the level of urgency required. Will the Minister convene an urgent cross-party meeting to discuss the reform of electoral law? (911865)

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be delighted to hear that I was in the other place only last week, meeting Members there on a cross-party basis to discuss electoral funding issues. We have already announced a consultation paper on this, and we will look to achieve what broad cross-party consensus we can.

On the subject of strengthening the Union, does my hon. Friend share my determination to deliver Brexit and provide a new era of sovereignty and a sea of opportunity for fishermen across Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

We look forward to the powers that will be coming back from Brussels and going to Scotland’s Parliament. Of course, there is one party that opposes that and wants those powers to stay away from the devolved level of government, and that is the Scottish National party.

T6. Can the Minister assure the House that the proportion of businesses certified for the Government’s cyber essentials standard is higher than the dismal 4% reported in 2018? (911868)

I am happy to write to the hon. Lady with the latest figures as we have them, but I can assure her that the work that has been put in place on achieving higher Government cyber-security standards and on outreach to the private and public sectors is having a demonstrable impact on improving our resilience.