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Cabinet Office

Volume 711: debated on Thursday 31 March 2022

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

Cyber Resilience

12. What steps the Government is taking to strengthen domestic cyber resilience against potential impacts from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (906428)

Our new national Government cyber security strategy sets out our approach to making the UK more resilient to cyber attacks and countering cyber threats. We have undertaken significant outreach within the Government and critical national infrastructure, including with the UK devolved Administrations, to provide mitigating advice to bolster UK preparedness.

I am grateful for that answer. We know that Russian-sourced cyber attacks rose by 800% in the 48 hours immediately after Putin’s renewed attack on Ukraine. As his ground war falters, we can expect cyber warfare to be ramped up even more. I understand that EU countries are establishing a cyber security fund to protect civil society and the private sector against Russian attacks, so what steps are the Government taking to help civil society and the private sector to protect themselves?

We have set out a range of measures as part of our whole of Government, whole of society approach. That was the essence of the cyber strategy that we launched before Christmas. It includes working with local authorities, which have been particular victims, and takes on board the lessons from, for example, the attack on the Irish health system. It includes looking at regulation and helping with procurement so that products fit for cyber risk are bought. It has a particular focus on skills, with areas such as the north-west having a cyber corridor where we have, as part of our levelling-up work, a real focus on getting the cyber skills we need across all parts of the UK.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a wake-up call for everyone in this country. We are under threat of cyber attack every single day. What lessons have the Government learned from the invasion to prevent cyber attacks on our schools, education, transport system and all the things that we rely on every day?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Before the Russian invasion, the rationale for the national cyber strategy that we launched in December was to make the UK more resilient. As we have just discussed, that requires a whole of society approach, but it also requires specific action within Government, which is why I launched the further Government cyber strategy, working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre, which is a world leader in its field.

The Prime Minister says that he is serious about eradicating Russian influence from our country, yet his Government have sat on their hands for two years, with the majority of recommendations of the Russia report still yet to be implemented. On cyber security, the Russia report exposed the complete lack of accountability within and across Government Departments when it comes to cyber matters. New legislation has only made lines of responsibility more confusing. We are vulnerable. The National Cyber Security Centre has managed an unprecedented 777 cyber incidents over the last 12 months, up from 723 the previous year, with 40% aimed at the public sector. Either the Government are not taking the Russian cyber threat seriously, or the Minister does not have control of his own Department. Which is it?

There is consensus across the House on the need for a whole of society approach on cyber. On the charge that the Government have sat on their hands, the fact that we launched the cyber strategy before the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out shows that that is not correct. Looking at the spending review, there is a significant uplift in funding for the National Cyber Force, which I visited in the north-west. Councils such as Preston, which you will be familiar with, Mr Speaker, are heavily engaged in terms of the skills agenda for the NCF. A huge amount of work has been done on that.

In terms of the wider Opposition charge that the Government are sitting on their hands, one need only look at what President Zelensky has said about the Prime Minister’s response, the military support, the sanctions support, the bilateral aid––where the UK has been a leader––and the work to ramp up our response on refugees. If the Opposition are unhappy with what President Zelensky has said, then look at what the Russian Government have said about the way in which the Prime Minister has been at the front of the pack in ensuring a united western response.

Covid-19 Contracts

2. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the need to ensure value for money in the award of covid-19 contracts. (906411)

Her Majesty’s Government’s priority throughout the pandemic has been to protect the lives and livelihoods of citizens across the United Kingdom. We have been clear from the outset that all contracts, including those designed to tackle coronavirus issues, must continue to achieve value for money for taxpayers and use good commercial judgment, and that the details of any awards made should be published in line with Government transparency guidelines.

According to the National Audit Office investigation into the management of PPE contracts, billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is still at risk. Between March 2020 and October 2021, it cost £737 million to store excess PPE, and costs are currently £7 million per month. Over half the VIP suppliers provided PPE that the Department of Health and Social Care considers unsuitable for frontline services; in addition, some 1.5 billion items of PPE are currently in storage and expected to expire before they can be distributed. What is being done to understand the governance issues around this and the cost of that waste? How will that be reported to the House?

The Government were facing an emergency. PPE was needed immediately. It was obviously right to order more than was necessary—that was fundamental. At the beginning of the pandemic, nobody knew precisely how much would be needed, but we knew we needed supplies. The Government succeeded in getting domestic production, excluding gloves, up from 1% to 70%.[Official Report, 26 April 2022, Vol. 712, c. 7MC.]

The hon. Gentleman refers to 50% of suppliers having something faulty: all that means is that in a shipment that may have been of tonnes of PPE, one item was faulty. It does not mean that 50% of the items received were faulty. That is a fundamental error that people have been making in deliberately misunderstanding what the National Audit Office has said. Our duty was to get PPE in quickly. That was done properly, professionally and to the benefit of the nation.

The Minister talks about value for money, yet we know that the Government handed hundreds of millions of pounds of our money to an offshore company involving a Tory peer, created just days before and without any transparency, that sold Government PPE at three times the price it had bought it for. It is now in mediation because the PPE was not even fit for use. Millions of items are now stuck in storage, costing us even more.

The Government refuse even now to reveal what they know about the company in question, and our letters to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster go unanswered. Perhaps the Minister will answer this: when will we finally get the promised procurement Bill? What safeguards will be in it to stop yet more public money from being wasted and to end the so-called emergency bypassing of procurement regulations?

This is a classic socialist point of view—that we should not have done anything to get PPE in urgently and, to go to the hon. Lady’s earlier question, that we should have just sat comfortably upon our hands and allowed PPE not to be provided around the country. The Government got on with doing the job that was necessary, and of course they ensure value for money. Let anyone who has overcharged us be in no doubt: we are after them.

DWP Office Closures

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the planned closure of her Department’s offices. (906413)

The Department for Work and Pensions locations plan is in line with the wider Government Places for Growth programme. That programme aims to deliver a more geographically diverse civil and public service that will better serve the public. The recent announcements will support the DWP’s delivery of a strategy that will, over the next 10 years, reshape how, where and when it delivers services. These closures are not part of a plan to reduce headcount.

The moving of 411 jobs from Chorlton in my constituency will have a serious impact on the district centre and the shops and services that they help sustain; undoubtedly, the same will apply to the other 40 offices in towns and suburbs across the country. How do those office closures contribute to the Government’s stated aim of spreading civil service jobs around the country and, indeed, to levelling up?

People are being asked to move either three miles or eight miles away. They are having one-to-one bespoke meetings asking them how they would like to carry on working. As I say, all 411 jobs will be staying in the civil service because such important back-office jobs are needed. People are being asked to find where the best place is for them to work. If they want to carry on working in other civil service jobs in the area, they can transfer.

I am on a roll, Mr Speaker. The last time I asked whether the Government are planning to sack hard-working civil servants, as the Minister for Government Efficiency has proposed, he sidestepped the question. Now we know why. The Government have since announced the closure of 41 DWP offices across the country, in the middle of an economic crisis and when their services are needed more than ever. All of the offices being closed entirely are outside London, and the vast majority are in the very areas that have been promised more investment. So much for levelling up.

Will the Minister now tell us just how many jobs are at risk? Will she guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies, and will she explain how this fits into the Government’s plan to reform the civil service?

The hon. Lady asks a number of questions. Regarding the question asked by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), the landlord wants the property back and wants to redevelop the area, which will bring other jobs to the area. However, the most important thing is, on these very important back-office jobs for these 411 people, that they are not looking at any reduction in headcount.

Contaminated Blood Products: Sir Robert Francis Report on Compensation for Those Affected

4. When the Government plan to publish the report by Sir Robert Francis on compensation for those affected by contaminated blood products. (906414)

Sir Robert Francis delivered his report to me on 14 March, and I will carefully consider his findings and recommendations. It is my intention to publish the compensation framework study alongside the Government’s response as soon as possible, and in sufficient time for the infected blood inquiry and its core participants to consider them before Sir Robert gives evidence to the inquiry.

In the five years since the UK Government finally agreed to hold a public inquiry, 90 victims of the contaminated blood disaster have died in Scotland alone, 27 of them just in the last year since Sir Robert Francis was asked to consider compensation mechanisms. The inquiry team and victim groups need sufficient time to look at his report, so does the Minister not recognise how disrespectful it is to the victims of this disaster to delay publishing the report and then announce the Government’s response and decision without hearing their views?

It is extremely important that all those who have suffered so terribly can get the answers that they have spent decades waiting for. The hon. Lady knows that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) who initiated this inquiry after 30 years of successive Governments not doing so, and it is Her Majesty’s Government who commissioned, proactively, the study that we are talking about this morning. What I have said is that I will consider the matter very carefully, and all due and appropriate considerations are being given to all of the factors that the hon. Lady has mentioned and to other factors, too. We will do that in sufficient time for the inquiry and its core participants to consider them before Sir Robert gives evidence.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that there is another NHS treatment disaster in the making, in that there may be 10,000 or more people who have suffered serious injury or even death as a result of adverse reactions to the covid-19 vaccinations? Will he give an assurance that those people will get justice immediately rather than have to wait for decades?

Order. That is a very weak link. Sir Christopher is usually better than that. I think that is a poor effort from him. Let us move on to Kate Osamor.

Covid-19 Pandemic: Public Inquiry

5. For what reason the public inquiry into the covid-19 pandemic will not hold public evidence hearings until 2023. (906415)

The timing of the statutory inquiry’s various stages is, under the Inquiries Act 2005, a matter for its independent chair to determine.

Many bereaved families and campaigners are anxious to hear the truth about the Government’s handling of the pandemic in a public inquiry. Meanwhile, the Government have admitted that none of the Prime Minister’s mobile phone messages up until April 2021 will be accessible to the inquiry, because he got a new phone. In the light of that, will the Minister confirm a date when the public hearings will be formally established?

What the Government are doing is following the statutory provisions of the Inquiries Act 2005, which, as the hon. Lady will recall, was passed by a Labour Government. The Act says that it is up to the inquiry chair, in this case Baroness Heather Hallett. She is a leading figure and is dealing with the matter, and it will be for her to determine dates.

I spoke to some of the bereaved families at the memorial march this week, and they are furious and devastated that the public hearings of the covid inquiry will not be starting in the spring, as promised; instead, it looks as though it will be spring next year. This inquiry cannot be compromised any further, so have the Government learned the lessons from the deletion of the WhatsApp messages, which would no doubt have been crucial evidence in this inquiry, and will they ensure that any pandemic-related messages from Ministers and former Ministers in WhatsApp or private email accounts are passed over and safely stored to prevent further unfortunate losses of evidence?

I do not accept the contention that there has been any loss of evidence. Baroness Hallett has confirmed that her investigation will begin once the terms of reference are finalised. It is logical that evidence has to be gathered before it can be heard, and she has said that she intends to gather evidence throughout this year, with public hearings beginning in 2023. She has made it clear that she will do everything in her power to deliver recommendations as soon as possible. We all want that.

British Industries

The GREAT campaign, for which the Cabinet Office has responsibility, showcases to the world all four corners of our nation and our thriving industries. Working with other Departments and arm’s length bodies, the GREAT campaign partners with the private sector to promote our industries internationally and encourage trade and investment with the UK. As of last year, GREAT had an average return-on-investment ratio, since its launch in 2011, of more than 15:1 to the UK economy.

Bracknell lies at the heart of the silicon valley of the Thames valley, and we are very proud of our overseas businesses and British firms. Can the Minister confirm what we are doing to make sure that the sanctions against Russia do not negatively impact British businesses?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for businesses in Bracknell, and he makes a very good point. I reassure him and businesses all over the UK that the overall impact on the UK economy of sanctions will be limited. Some firms will be more exposed than others to Russian trade and financial market measures, but we have put in place mitigations to manage the impact on UK businesses and workers. We are also putting in place the appropriate licences to allow certain businesses to keep running and pay staff.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He will know that many UK companies believe it is difficult to access that help from UK non-governmental organisations. Can he reassure me that he is doing what he can to ensure that embassies, consulates and those bodies are getting the proper resources and are prioritised to help UK businesses win in global markets?

That is absolutely the case, and I know from my previous role at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office that our missions around the world are home to some of our best salespeople. They are absolutely on message when it comes to promoting UK businesses and making sure that we are doing our best to stand up for businesses all around the world. They do a fantastic job, and we have plenty of programmes under way to ensure that that continues to be the case.

Small Business Bids for Government Contracts

7. What steps the Government is taking to increase opportunities for small businesses to bid for Government contracts. (906417)

10. What steps the Government is taking to increase opportunities for small businesses to bid for Government contracts. (906420)

15. What steps the Government is taking to increase opportunities for small businesses to bid for Government contracts. (906431)

We are increasing opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises by transparently publishing contract pipelines and simplifying bidding processes. These measures are working, and the latest central Government procurement figures for 2019-20 show that £15.5 billion was paid to small and medium-sized businesses to help to deliver essential services for UK taxpayers.

Under policy procurement note 06/21, the new carbon reduction plan requirements are obligatory for any Government procurement of more than £5 million. That is especially onerous for SMEs, including those in my constituency of Northampton South. How will Ministers try to make this more proportionate for SMEs, which have much less ability to afford such costly bureaucracy?

I am sure that the ears of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency will have pricked up at the suggestion of any regulation that is onerous and will want to look at that in detail. It is worth reminding the House that the £5 million figure applies per annum and that advice is available—only one plan is required and there are private sector organisations that provide advice and support, some of which is free. However, my hon. Friend raises an important point and I am sure my right hon. Friend will want to look at that to reassure himself and the House that it is proportionate to need.

Both the report from the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in April last year and the national food strategy, which came out last July, made recommendations to the Government on transforming public sector food procurement. While we still await the Government’s response to the food strategy, we will need shorter, more local supply chains, so that we can get great-quality, sustainable British food into the public sector. The south-west stands ready to be used as a pilot to test out a dynamic procurement system, but plans are stalling after funding from the Crown Commercial Service for the South West Food Hub was withdrawn. What can my right hon. Friend do to speed up the roll-out of the dynamic procurement model? Will he look again at supporting the South West Food Hub as a pilot, because it is doing great work?

I am extremely keen to work with my hon. Friend on this issue. He raises an important point and I am happy to meet him as a matter of urgency to take this forward. It is worth reminding the House that there was not specific funding for this; the memorandum of understanding with the South West Food Hub did not include specific funding. The CCS had been using its existing headcount and funding to establish a commercial solution for food, but the wider point he raises is a very valid one and I am extremely keen to explore it with him.

Small businesses experience frustration in getting on to the list of both local government and national Government contracts, so I welcome the light-touch approach that my right hon. Friend is taking. Will he assure me that taxpayers will also benefit from the transparency, so that everyone can see what contracts are being made, how much they are for and what the benefit is in the long term?

My hon. Friend raises an extremely valid and important point: simpler and more transparent processes, ones that are more accessible to the innovation of our small and medium-sized enterprises community, in turn drive far better value for money. As constituency MPs, we all see that, across the House, with our SMEs. This is very much at the heart of what the Minister for the Cabinet Office and colleagues are driving through with the procurement legislation that is planned, and it is exactly the point that we want to take forward.

Many moons ago, after the global financial crash, Tameside Council developed an initiative called “Tameside Works First”, which was a way of circumnavigating the then Official Journal of the European Union rules on public procurement and meant that the council could award far more contracts to local companies, massively benefiting those local companies. We do not have OJEU rules any more, so I would like to offer Tameside Works First to the Minister. Let us have a Britain Works First initiative and encourage local government and central Government to do more to award contracts to British companies.

The hon. Gentleman raises a legitimate point. We have all seen in our communities that local businesses often have a pride in the service they give because it is within their locale and they know the local school, business or hospital involved. Their own workforce have an interaction with it, so it is not just about the quality of the service, but the pride in what they are delivering. That is not always reflected in simple tender prices that are bid. It is very much at the heart of the procurement legislation that we look at social value, for example, how many disabled employees a bidding company has. We need to consider that wider social value, looking at issues such as food miles and quality, not simply at the money that is bid. This is also part of having a more transparent, accessible and simple process that enables SMEs such as the ones to which he alludes to take part in those contracts.

In my Strangford constituency and across Northern Ireland, we have large numbers of small and medium-sized businesses, with excellent people and entrepreneurs with talent and ability. What can be done to enable such businesses in Northern Ireland to obtain Government contracts and reinforce the fact that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is always better together?

I absolutely concur that we are better together as the United Kingdom. The ability shown in the pandemic to act across the United Kingdom, including through the firepower of Her Majesty’s Treasury in respect of schemes such as furlough, has amply demonstrated that.

On the hon. Gentleman’s more specific point, one material thing that can be done is on the visibility of the pipeline of available contracts. There is around £250 billion-worth of public procurement and around £50 billion-worth of central Government public procurement, and I am extremely keen that SMEs in Northern Ireland are able to get visibility of that pipeline, so that we can tap into the talent and entrepreneurial spirit of which the hon. Gentleman speaks.

Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform

14. What progress he has made on implementing the recommendations of the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform report published on 16 June 2021. (906430)

16. What steps his Department is taking to promote growth and innovation following the UK’s departure from the EU. (906432)

We will bring forward a Brexit freedoms Bill to end the special status of retained EU law. It will accompany a major drive to reform, repeal and replace retained EU law, thereby cutting at least £1 billion-worth of red tape for UK businesses. The Government’s “The Benefits of Brexit” paper reinforced Departments’ commitments in response to TIGRR, and Departments are pushing ahead in delivering the recommendations in its report.

Will the Government make progress on the TIGRR recommendation to replace the EU clinical trials directive with a new modern framework to ensure that people can access life-saving treatments quickly and that our world-leading medical research sector can thrive?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her terrific work on the TIGRR report to provide so many ideas for the Government. I assure her that I am working closely with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), who was also involved in the TIGRR report and now has ministerial responsibility in many of the medical-related areas. The consultation on the proposals to reform UK legislation on clinical trials to protect the interests of participants while providing a more streamlined and flexible regime to make it easier and faster to run trials closed on 14 March 2022. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is analysing the more than 2,000 responses that were received and preparing the Government response. There is great urgency behind this work.

Coastal areas have their own unique set of challenges and opportunities. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend outlined the Government’s cross-departmental strategy to promote growth and innovation in areas such as Waveney. In particular, will he set out the Government’s proposed replacement for assisted area status, from which Lowestoft benefited?

My hon. Friend is a particular champion for coastal communities—especially for Waveney—and has been since we entered Parliament together in 2010. East Suffolk Council is working with local businesses and the community on its £24.9 million town deal for Lowestoft. We are no longer bound by burdensome EU state aid rules, so assisted area status will be replaced by new a subsidy control regime. The Subsidy Control Bill, which was introduced to Parliament in June 2021, provides the framework for the new UK-wide regime. It is back under our control and, under the Subsidy Control Bill, we will have a new system. Through the new regime, public authorities throughout the United Kingdom will be able to award bespoke subsidies that are tailored to local needs.

The Minister just claimed that the Government are cutting £1 billion-worth of red tape as a result of Brexit, but the Commons Public Accounts Committee, which has a majority of Conservative MPs, says that Brexit red tape is costing businesses £5 billion per year. Does the Minister accept that finding?

I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman is joining thousands of readers of the Sun and of the Sunday Express in pointing out ways in which we can cut red tape further. There is more joy in heaven over the one sinner who repenteth than over the 99 who remain pure.

The Financial Times has reported that the checks on food imports that were due to be introduced in July will be delayed yet again. In the middle of a Tory cost of living crisis and a period of food insecurity that may have short-term benefits, but, as the British Veterinary Association has highlighted, it is not sustainable, and it serves only to highlight the absurd claim that Brexit would reduce red tape. What possible Brexit opportunity can the Minister identify from delaying these checks yet again, because of the extreme harm they would have caused, and what long-term solutions are the Government exploring?

The SNP once again wants to be ruled by the European Union. This is the most extraordinary claim from a party that wants to be independent. It wants to be independent for one minute, and then it says to our friends in Brussels, “You take over because we are not able to do it for ourselves; we are too weak, feeble and frail to be able to stand on our own two feet, so we’ve got to get somebody else to do it.” The great advantage of being out is that it is up to us. We have the single trade window coming forward, which will be world-beating, and potentially one of the best systems anywhere, cutting out bureaucracy not just for people with whom we are trading in the European Union, but globally, because we in the Conservative party have a global horizon, rather than this narrow Brussels-based horizon of the Scottish nationalists.

I will attempt to pick the bones out of that one when I read Hansard. Hearing of Brexit opportunities reminds me of that classic comedy, “Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion” when Bud and Lou get lost in the desert and come across an ice cream parlour that everybody knows to be a mirage except them, and that is exactly what this is—a mirage. Many of our performers are now having to rely on the charity, Help Musicians, for a £5,000 grant so that they can afford to take their performances to Europe. Why do our performers now require charitable help, and what happened to that promised post-Brexit bonfire of red tape?

In 1661—[Interruption.] I am not with Abbott and Costello; there is a much better Carry On where they are in the desert and Kenneth Williams is leading them in the Foreign Legion. Let us go back to 1661. In 1661, outside in Old Palace Yard, the public executioner took all the Acts that were passed by the illegitimate Cromwellian Parliament and burned them. I have to say that I would like to do something similar to what was done between 1972 and our departing from the European Union. We are building up the kindling wood thanks to the readers of The Sun who are sending in their brilliant suggestions.

Memorial for Victims of Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery

11. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of erecting a memorial for victims of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery. (906422)

There is no disputing the horrors of what occurred during the slave trade, which is why we commemorate the annual International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on 23 August.

A number of my constituents are part of the Memorial 2007 project, which is a campaign to set up a memorial for the millions of Africans enslaved in the transatlantic trade. The right hon. Gentleman’s predecessor promised that he would meet me and the campaigners, but then the schedule did not allow that to happen. Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster now commit to meet me and the campaigners of the project?

One reason why the UK Government were engaged with the UN memorial in New York was to ensure that the suffering and trauma inflicted as a result of the slave do not happen again, so we contributed to the memorial there. Even as a constituency MP, I think of Thomas Clarkson. There are already memorials of the leading figures in the campaign against slavery, including of Thomas Clarkson who should be remembered alongside Wilberforce. I will ensure that somebody from the Cabinet Office meets the hon. Lady to discuss anything further that we can do.

Cyber Security Strategy

13. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to reduce cyber crime through the Government Cyber Security Strategy. (906429)

The Government’s cyber security strategy will strengthen the public sector’s cyber resilience, making it harder for malicious actors, including cyber criminals, to disrupt Government functions. Building organisational cyber resilience and introducing measures to enable Government to defend as one will ensure that the Government present an increasingly hard target.

Will my right hon. Friend please consider a report by the Royal United Services Institute entitled, “The Silent Threat”, which calls for fraud to be made a national security priority, so that the full machinery of the state can be brought to bear on criminals often based overseas?

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point, and it is one that Cabinet colleagues are looking at, not only in the context of covid fraud and issues such as bounce back loans, but, as he rightly says, in light of the RUSI report and its recommendations. We are discussing with the Home Office and industry stakeholders how we can best commit to ensuring that all possible action is taken to address the risks from fraud that he identifies.

We now come to topicals, where I suggest there are a lot of free hits, as we have quite a little bit of time.

Topical Questions

This month we appointed Baroness Gisela Stuart, who is well known to the House, as the new civil service commissioner to oversee the body guaranteeing that civil servants are selected on merit, on the basis of fair and open competition. Baroness Stuart brings a wealth of experience, having been a Member of this House for 20 years and a Government Minister for the Labour party, and brings a non-partisan spirit to roles including her time at the University of Birmingham, the Royal Mint and as a non-executive director of the Cabinet Office. We have also been working on taking forward the Prime Minister’s work on Brexit opportunities; my right hon. Friend the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency has identified almost 2,000 EU regulations remaining in British laws, which he is reviewing in order to reduce the burdens on business and the public. I have also written to Departments across Whitehall to ensure that we make the necessary regulatory changes to ease the burden of the cost of living, and will have further meetings with colleagues to take that work forward.

Events in Ukraine prove that the international rules-based order continues to be threatened by aggression and competition. What is being done to increase and improve the UK’s strategic independence and self-sufficiency for its needs?

That is an extremely important point in terms of both our energy security and our wider commitments building on COP26 and net zero. That is why the Prime Minister, the Trade Secretary and I hosted a number of Australian investors, who collectively have committed £25 billion of inward investment in green technology to the UK, at No. 10 Downing Street last night. That is both an indication of our commitment to energy security and to ensuring that we learn the lessons of Russia and Ukraine, and a signal of the attractiveness of the UK for foreign investment, which reflects this Government’s commitment to supporting business and levelling up across the UK.

Contrary to the Prime Minister’s own promises last year, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has quietly shelved any attempt to limit MPs’ second jobs. He claims it is impractical. Since I was elected two years ago, I have received more than 1,500 emails a month, sent nearly 40,000 emails back to my constituents, spoken in this Chamber more than 380 times and tabled more than 500 questions. For me, what would be impractical is having a second job in the first place. However, more than a quarter of Conservative Members have second jobs, and I do not think many are NHS workers. That brings them an extra £4.4 million a year in extra earnings—so, colleagues, the post-Adjournment party drinks are on the Conservatives. I will ask a question being asked across the country: is it impractical finally to stop the second jobs bonanza, or is it simply inconvenient?

It is slightly odd simply to say it is the Government side of the House. There are hon. Members on both sides of the House who have had second jobs, including with the NHS and in a range of public services; but equally, working with business is important as is ensuring that the House is aware of how we generate the prosperity to level up across the community and building on that £25 billion investment that we were discussing a moment ago. Perhaps she can enlighten the House on whether writing a book is a valid use of someone’s time, or indeed chairing a panel on “Have I Got News For You”, as one of her colleagues did recently, and on the distinction between that and working in areas that contribute tax and contribute to the country at large?

The Chancellor has asked businesses to think very carefully about any investments that would in any sense support Putin and his regime. However, this is pretty hypocritical given that he and his family are still making millions from Infosys, a company still trading out of Moscow. We need to be united in our opposition to Putin. It cannot be one rule for us and another for the Tory elite.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; I withdraw it.

But I would like to ask if there will be an investigation, or there has been an investigation, into whether the ministerial code has been broken in this instance and what action will be taken given the Chancellor’s failure to declare his family’s huge shareholdings in this company.

I am not going to engage with sweeping comments that do not address the record of this Government, which is very clear in respect of Russia and Ukraine. This Government have led in their actions on sanctions, in their investment in bilateral aid, and in their response to military support in-country. That is reflected in the response both of the Ukrainian Government and of the Russian Government. In respect of the ministerial code, Lord Geidt addresses those issues in the usual way.

T2. Local government procurement is an important part of ensuring that we get vital services to the most vulnerable in our communities. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the disgraceful procurement practices at Labour-led Sandwell Council, which has seen contracts handed to mates, dodgy land deals, and finally commissioners bashing down the doors to deal with these problems. Can he assure the House that as part of his reforms to local government procurement, he will prioritise value for money, and, more importantly for my constituents in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton, prove to them that the actions of Sandwell Council are not the norm? (906400)

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. It would be great to hear voices from the Labour Benches showing their commitment to tackling these issues. I can reassure him as to the Government’s support on the issue that he raises, and he is right to bring it to the attention of the House.

T8. This week I joined grieving families like mine to mark the anniversary of the covid memorial wall. On the same day, we watched in shock as the Met police issued 20 fines for the Downing Street parties. Right now, the chair of the UK inquiry is meeting the bereaved families on the terms of reference of the inquiry, and soon the chair will pass draft terms to the Prime Minister. Given the importance of this inquiry, will the Minister confirm that the draft terms will be published in full to guarantee that the chair’s recommendations are implemented? (906407)

The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point. It is a deeply emotive point for the families affected. That is why we are committed to getting the terms of reference right. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office set out, this is shaped by the judge Lord Hallett and comes under the terms of the legislation passed by a previous Labour Administration. I know that Lord Hallett is committed to working with stakeholder bodies as regards reflecting the terms of reference in a way that meets the wider need.

T3. Does my right hon. Friend agree that as the House moves after the Easter recess to legislate through the online safety Bill, there must be effective co-ordination on disinformation between the counter-disinformation unit and the RESIST programme at the Cabinet Office, as well as Ofcom, as the online safety regulator, to make sure that social media companies take proactive action against known threats to this country, including the online frauds and scams mentioned earlier? (906401)

That is an extremely important point. Both the Minister for the Cabinet Office and I have chaired a number of Cabinet Sub-Committees looking at our wider domestic resilience and our response in the context of the conflict in Ukraine. It builds on the national cyber strategy launched before Christmas and the Government cyber strategy launched after Christmas. It is about working with relevant stakeholders to have a whole-of-society approach, whether that is in relation to the excellent communication from the Ministry of Defence in recent weeks in de-classifying key documentation around some of the Russian misinformation campaigns, or looking at the wider piece: getting in the right skills, the right training and the right product regulation so that we have that whole-of-society resilient approach, building on work through the situations centre and the Civil Contingencies Secretariat.

The Radisson RED, a hotel in my constituency, was promised full compensation by the UK Government for business disruption during COP26, but it has not received the full compensation it believes it was entitled to. It has been passed from pillar to post by the COP26 President, the right hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), who committed in this House to meet me, but never did, and the Cabinet Office, which has been ignoring its emails. Can the Minister tell me how many other businesses in Glasgow have been similarly treated by the Cabinet Office? Will he meet me on this, because it has taken the shine off events that Glasgow was very proud to host?

I know that the COP26 President will have a strong commitment to addressing any issues. Rightly, Members across the House have recognised that the event in Glasgow was a great demonstration of the UK working together. It was an illustration of how we are better together. If there are some specific issues that Members of the House are rightly highlighting from a constituency perspective, I will ensure those are brought to the attention of the COP26 President and ask whether he will meet her as a matter of priority.

T4. The news that there will be legislation to ensure that we maximise the benefits of Brexit is incredibly welcome. Will my right hon. Friend comment on how that legislation, will enable and set free those companies in the thriving tech sector across my constituency of Buckingham to innovate in a more free manner than when we were in the EU? (906402)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important question. The Brexit freedoms Bill will modernise the UK’s approach to making regulations by enabling Her Majesty’s Government effectively to amend, repeal or replace any retained EU law. These reforms will help cut business costs by removing EU red tape and creating a UK-centric regulatory framework that encourages competition, innovation and growth. The Bill will also help accelerate the excellent work of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) to deliver the recommendations from the taskforce for innovation, growth and regulatory reform in the fields of technology and life sciences.

Earlier, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities decried an Act of Parliament from 1972. There was a further Act of Parliament that year that also changed the face of England and Wales: the Local Government Act 1972. Much of that made sense for the delivery of public services, but the lords lieutenant have no role in local government. They are Her Majesty’s representatives in a county, and as a patron of the Friends of Real Lancashire, I can say that much damage was done to historic Lancashire. Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster look at restoring the lords lieutenant to cover the historic counties for ceremonial purposes, so that the Duke of Lancaster’s representative can cover all the Duke of Lancaster’s county palatine, from the Mersey to the Furness fells, and from the Irish sea to the Pennines?

I fear it is not just me who has to declare an interest in this—Mr Speaker himself may have to declare an interest. Any question that starts with reinforcing the county of Lancashire is extremely welcome. Before the hon. Gentleman’s siren call draws me on to the rocks of constitutional propriety, I would want to take advice as to what the interaction is with the Palace and other quarters that may have a view on this. I take this moment—I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree—to pay tribute to the incredible work that the lords lieutenant do up and down the country. They are at the heart of so much civic activity within our constituencies and make a hugely valuable contribution through their work.

T5. Will the Veterans Minister join me in thanking the Department for Work and Pensions and other Government services that help veterans find work when they leave the armed forces? Will he consider visiting some of those services and the many veterans support charities in a visit to my constituency? Finally, will he also join me in thanking those veterans in Banff and Buchan and across the country who have been donating clothing and other supplies to those fighting for their lives in Ukraine? (906403)

Veterans make brilliant employees, which is why employment is at the heart of our veterans strategy. It is also why we have introduced national insurance contribution holidays for those who employ veterans and a guaranteed job interview for veterans who want to join the civil service. Of course, I join my hon. Friend in thanking the veterans in his constituency who have so generously contributed to our collective effort on behalf of Ukraine. I also thank him for the work he does in concert with his veteran community in Banff and Buchan. If time allows, I would be delighted to visit his very beautiful constituency.

The House of Commons has signed the covenant, and the House of Commons Service is open to veterans.

Every one of the 65 million or so people in these four nations who has a mobile phone, tablet, iPad or Alexa-enabled device is a potential target for hostile nations seeking to damage our cyber-security, but the National Cyber Force budget amounts to 10p a month for each of those citizens. What representations has the Minister made to the Chancellor to raise that budget to a more reasonable level?

I have some exposure to this, having been Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Of all the budgets, the agencies’ budgets have increased more than most, if not the most. Significant funding has been put into the National Cyber Force as part of the cyber corridor in the north-west. There are sometimes limits to how much detail one gives on some of those budgets, but I am happy to interact with the Intelligence and Security Committee to provide any reassurance the House needs that significant funding is being provided on our resilience and our national cyber-response. That builds on a number of points raised this morning, including our work on the skills needed as part of that resilience and the situation centre in which we have invested.

T6. We have exited the EU and regained control, but I fear we have lost a lot in trade and unity in these isles. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should explore new avenues of trade, and perhaps reinvigorate lost avenues of trade, such as through the Commonwealth? (906404)

I concur with my hon. Friend that the Commonwealth is of huge importance. He is right to highlight that, but it fits within the wider strategy of the integrated review as part of global Britain, including building on defence ties such as with the Australian and US Governments through AUKUS. This brings significant defence opportunities, as well as opportunities for Treasury policy such as freeports and for our wider work through the Department for International Trade on free trade agreements. This is all part of global Britain, of which the Commonwealth is a key stakeholder.

My mother calls me James or Jim, so you can choose, Mr Speaker.

I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for all his answers. On the recent fears of Russian cyber-attack, what contact and security support is there for our banking sector? What financial help or assistance can be offered to keep our institutions free from Russian cyber attack?

The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have rightly highlighted the importance of our cyber resilience in general and at this time. There is a host of excellent advice in the whole-of-Government approach set out in our national cyber strategy launched before Christmas. I specifically draw the House’s attention to the advice from the National Cyber Security Centre, which hon. Members can reinforce through their weekly columns and interaction with businesses in their constituency. The NCSC is a great repository of advice on how to take action on cyber resilience.

T7. In the light of the benefits of their pension schemes to public sector workers of all ages, can my right hon. Friend offer support for the idea of expanding pension auto-enrolment to workers of all ages in the private sector so that they can begin building a pension in the same way as their counterparts in the public sector? (906406)

Our ambition remains to enable people to save more and to start saving earlier by taking forward the core recommendations of the Department for Work and Pensions 2017 review of automatic enrolment, which the Government committed to implement in the mid-2020s subject to engagement with stakeholders and finding ways to make the changes affordable.

Notwithstanding the earlier exchange, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will want to acknowledge my gratitude and satisfaction at the excellent job that he is making of his second job as a Minister of the Crown, will he not?

I simply pay tribute to my right hon. Friend. For a question of that sort, I think brevity is the best response in acknowledging the point that he raises.

I thought I would take advantage of an extra question. With our trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, which are to be welcomed, we will need to make a great drive to send food and drink across the world. Can we have more enthusiasm from the Government to drive our exports, especially food and drink?

It is crucial that we do exactly what the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee says. The Cabinet Office works closely with DEFRA on our great campaign to promote food around the world and we do that through our trade commissioners and the great teams that we have in post. One example is that we worked closely with DEFRA to promote Scottish seafood in China, which contributed an immediate £1.5 million in export wins.

May I ask the Minister for Brexit Opportunities whether he believes that we can maximise our opportunities as long as article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol remains in place?

I thank my hon. Friend for his brilliant and inspired question. There are obviously difficulties with the Northern Ireland protocol, which was set out in the agreement to be amendable, changeable and alterable, and that must be done. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is working on that and it is important to get it right, because nothing must undermine the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a single entity. That is the Government’s policy, that is the Government’s aim and that is what will happen.

That is the end of Cabinet Office questions. We now come to the urgent questions, as no statements were forthcoming.