Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 670: debated on Wednesday 22 January 2020

The year 2020 will be one of growth and opportunity for our entire United Kingdom. The year has started positively with the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland, and I pay particular tribute to all the parties involved. I am delighted to say that the Prime Minister has ruled out a divisive rerun of the Scottish independence referendum and has encouraged our colleagues in the Scottish Government to concentrate on the day job and ensure that they improve health and education for the citizens of Scotland. I am glad that the political division and uncertainty that a referendum would cause have been ruled out, and I look forward to meeting Ministers from the devolved Administrations in Cardiff next week to see how we can work together in the interests of all.

Can the Minister take the necessary steps to confirm Heather Anderson as the new MEP for Scotland following the election of my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) to this House, and can he confirm that the UK Government will not allow the voters of Scotland to be under-represented in their European Parliament when it votes on the withdrawal agreement that they have overwhelmingly rejected?

The hon. Lady has made a fair point, and it gives me an opportunity to congratulate the new hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith), who served with distinction in the European Parliament. We will, of course, do everything we can to ensure that there is appropriate representation for every part of the United Kingdom for the remaining 10 days of our membership.

T3. Will my right hon. Friend set out for the benefit of the House the work being done across Government and co-ordinated by his Department to ensure that farming communities like mine in North Devon climb, soar and succeed as a result of Brexit? (900340)

It was one of the joys of my previous job as Environment Secretary to visit farmers in North Devon. Theirs is some of the finest produce in the United Kingdom, and as we leave the European Union there will be an opportunity for us, on a global stage, to ensure that that Devonian produce reaches all the customers that it deserves to reach.

What plans have the Government to bring the House of Lords into the 21st century? If, as I suspect, the answer is none, may I remind the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that it was the House of Lancaster that won the Wars of the Roses, and may I suggest, if the Government are looking to relocate their lordships, that we have a fine mediaeval castle in the city of Lancaster which has recently been vacated by the Ministry of Justice?

I yield to no one in my admiration for the Duchy of Lancaster. I recognise that as the Government decide where agencies of both Government and Parliament should go we should think fondly of the north-west as well as Yorkshire and the north-east, but I cannot help saying to the hon. Lady that when she talks about fratricidal conflict in mediaeval times, when people were putting each other to the sword, she reminds me of nothing so much as the deputy leadership contest of the Labour party.

T4. Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker, and may I say how lovely it is to see you in your place?The Government’s aim of creating a level economic playing field between the north and the south is laudable and much needed, but can the Minister assure me that, in the rush to create this much-needed equality, we will not overlook deprived coastal areas in the south, such as some in the Clacton constituency which have been overlooked so often in the past? (900341)

The reason that, in just 10 days’ time, we on this side of the House are getting Brexit done is so that we can drive growth across our United Kingdom. From Clacton to Caithness, from Holyhead to Hull, we will be investing millions of pounds in communities, not least £2.5 million in the coastal community of Clackers.

T2. I wonder whether the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster shares my concern about the lack of transparency in campaigns, and about rumours of wrongdoing in previous campaigns. Will he be responding to the recommendations of our all-party parliamentary group on electoral campaigning transparency, which include regulating the ability of campaigns to target voters on the basis of personal data, and streamlining national versus local spending with a per-seat cap on total spending? (900339)

T5. As office costs are substantially cheaper in Stoke-on-Trent than in London, and it is only an hour and a half away on the train, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be the perfect place for the relocation of civil servants? (900342)

First, let me thank my hon. Friend for being such a passionate and effective advocate for the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Let me also welcome my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon), who have joined him on these Benches.

The Government have made it clear that the civil service needs to be less London-centric if it is to attract the best talent and do the best possible job. The Cabinet Office has established the Places for Growth programme to drive the necessary planning and preparation in Departments for the relocation of roles, including senior grades, out of London and into the regions in all parts of the United Kingdom.

Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker, and congratulations again.

More than 1,000 voters have lost the chance to have their say in local elections because of the identification requirements that have been highlighted over the past two years. That figure is 30 times higher than the total number of allegations made about polling station fraud in the whole of England in 2018 and 2019. Does the Minister agree with Professor Toby James from the University of East Anglia that there is no evidence to justify the introduction of voter ID requirements? I say that because the hon. Lady said earlier that we must trust voters when they make their decisions.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her seat. On this question, the evidence is on our side, the experience is on our side from pilots and Northern Ireland and, what is more, the British people are on our side as this was a core part of our manifesto. The Labour party needs to ask why it is not on the right side of this question.