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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 748: debated on Thursday 25 April 2024

Cabinet Office

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Ministerial Code

1. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of compliance with the ministerial code. (902477)

9. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of compliance with the ministerial code. (902495)

The Prime Minister is responsible for the ministerial code, and is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of Ministers, which are set out in that code. All Ministers are expected to uphold the principles of the code, as the Prime Minister has made clear.

On 19 April, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister to report a breach of the rules by the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in relation to a visit to Venezuela to meet President Maduro on behalf of the hedge fund Merlyn Advisors. Was the Cabinet Office aware of the visit in advance, and did the Deputy Prime Minister—the Secretary of State—or officials have a conversation with the Foreign Office about any tax-funded briefings that he may have received?

The Government expect all former Ministers, including Prime Ministers, to abide by their obligations with regard to the business appointment rules set out in the ministerial code. The Cabinet Office is currently considering a letter on this matter from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, and will respond in due course.

In addition to Boris Johnson’s hedge fund lobbying in Venezuela there is his Daily Mail column, as well as his lettuce PM successor’s contravention of the Radcliffe rules in betraying royal confidences in her book. The Minister has said that the Prime Minister is judge and jury in respect of the code. Is it not time for a more independent system, such as Labour’s proposed ethics and integrity commission? If the Government will not do that, can they not just call a general election now?

The seven principles on public life are very clear, and I have set out the Prime Minister’s expectations, but let me draw the hon. Lady’s attention to what was said by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 2021, namely, that a single commission would “come with considerable disadvantages” and that

“the concentration of such power to a body…does not sit well in our democratic system”.

It is fascinating to see four times as many Ministers as Conservative Back Benchers in the Chamber today.

Paragraph 1(3)(d) of the ministerial code says:

“Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public”,

and paragraph 1(3)(f) says:

“Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise”.

Why, then, are the Government still refusing to publish the details of the financial interests that the Foreign Secretary had before he was appointed to the House of Lords, why are they still refusing—despite numerous requests from newspapers and others—to publish the facts of whether or not the Foreign Secretary has had to recuse himself from certain elements of his job because of his previous involvement with the Chinese state, and why are they point-blank refusing to say which parts of his job he is recused from?

According to the advice of the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, last published on 14 December 2023, following a previous publication on 17 July which updated advice issued on 19 April, the process of ministerial engagement with the register is ongoing, and is updated on an ongoing basis. When Ministers are appointed, they fill in an extensive form which their permanent secretaries then review, and there is a continuous process of updating that as interests evolve.

In a letter to me, the Deputy Prime Minister said of Mr Johnson’s recent trip to Venezuela that he was

“not acting on behalf of the Government, and the trip was not funded by the Government.”

In a written parliamentary answer to me, we were told that Mr Johnson had only made a “courtesy call” to the British residence. Last week, however, the chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments made it clear that Mr Johnson was “in breach” of the Government’s British appointment rules. We also know from Mr Johnson himself that he had been “extensively briefed” by the embassy. When will the Government come clean about what has actually gone on with Boris Johnson’s Venezuela visit?

I explained in an earlier answer where we are in terms of the Cabinet Office considering the letter from ACOBA. We do expect all Ministers, civil servants and special advisers to abide by those business appointment rules. They are contractual requirements for civil servants and are drawn to the attention of Ministers by the ministerial code. As was announced in the Government’s response last July to the report from the Committee on Standards on Public Life, Mr Boardman’s review and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, we are continuing to consider methods of strengthening the system and encouraging compliance with those rules. As for the specific case that the right hon. Gentleman has raised, I have said that the Cabinet Office is due to respond to that letter.

Cyber Threats to Public Institutions and Services

3. What steps his Department is taking to protect public institutions and services from cyber threats. (902480)

8. What steps his Department is taking to protect public institutions and services from cyber threats. (902493)

The cyber threat facing the United Kingdom is intensifying. State and non-state actors have targeted our critical national infrastructure, our businesses and even our democratic institutions. The Government have introduced a new national cyber strategy, which takes a whole-of-society approach. We have set out high standards of cyber-protection for our critical industries and, with the help of our world-leading agencies, we are offering advice to institutions, businesses and individuals on protecting themselves online.

Cyber-security is crucial not only to our defence sector but to others, including finance, energy and retail. Sector leaders have raised fears about the future supply of cyber professionals. There is some brilliant work taking place at Ebbw Vale College in my constituency—pioneering stuff is going on around cyber-security—but can the Deputy Prime Minister say what is being done to onshore these critical roles to protect our economy from attacks by hostile actors?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this issue. We have tremendous strengths in national cyber-security, and there are many relevant institutions around the country. I have visited universities in Wales that are churning out brilliant graduates. We need to do more at secondary school level to encourage more children to get involved in cyber-security, because the demand is only going to increase in the months and years ahead, and I have been engaging with the Education Secretary on precisely this point.

We have all seen in recent weeks how weak cyber-security can compromise elected representatives and lead to the extraction of often compromising information. Could the Minister update the House on what he is doing to provide support and technology specifically to elected representatives to make sure that this does not happen in the future?

This is an important issue, which is why we established the National Cyber Security Centre. It brings together Government Communications Headquarters expertise with that of the Cabinet Office, the Foreign Office and others. Through the National Cyber Security Centre, we work with the House authorities and others to make sure that they have sufficient and appropriate advice, but also to advise on equipment and the general security of Members of Parliament. If they have concerns about their cyber-security, I would urge them either to get in contact directly with the National Security Cyber Centre or to do so through the relevant House authorities.

The Secretary of State is right to say that the threat is intensifying. Late last year, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy urged the Government to offer more active support on cyber-security to local authorities. He may be aware that last month my own local authority, Leicester City Council, suffered a hugely sophisticated attack, which disrupted many local authority services and has hugely inconvenienced many of my constituents, who rely on those services. Given that we are seeing more of these ransomware group attacks on public institutions across the world and that he says, rightly, that the threat is intensifying, what urgent support and guidance is he offering local councils, such as mine in Leicester?

Specifically in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s local authority, I have been briefed by the National Cyber Security Centre on that incident. He is totally right to say it is a significant and serious incident, and we are working on remediation through the National Cyber Security Centre. To prevent this type of attack from happening in the first place, we invested £2.6 billion in the national cyber strategy, which is about improving cyber-resilience and reducing legacy technology. I have been quite open with the House in saying that the threat is intensifying because we see hostile states creating environments in which cyber-criminals can flourish, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of those hostile states. We are working through our intelligence agencies and the National Cyber Security Centre to continuously improve our performance.

National Security

Protecting national security is the Government’s first duty. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister announced a fully funded plan to increase our defence spending by £75 billion over the next six years. As part of this uplift, we will bring forward a national defence and resilience plan, building on the resilience framework and integrated review to respond to the evolving threats we face. We are bringing our defence and civilian preparations together to reflect the interconnectedness of those threats. The Cabinet Office plays a central role in this endeavour, co-ordinating strategy through Cobra, resilience directorates and the National Security Council.

In the past week, three people in Germany have been arrested on suspicion of spying for China and two have been charged in the UK. This comes on the back of the Intelligence and Security Committee report which concluded that the Government have no strategy or whole-system—whole-Government —approach to deal with this serious threat. When is the Minister going to get a grip on this serious threat to our democracy from China?

I totally disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation. We dealt explicitly with this in both the integrated review and the integrated review refresh, which set out a co-ordinated approach and are clear about the threats we face from hostile states—Russia, North Korea, Iran and indeed China. We are very clear about the threats China poses to our economic security and our democratic institutions, and that is why we have taken a range of actions, including for the first time directly attributing attacks to China and imposing sanctions in respect of them.

With local and national elections on the horizon, it is vital that voters can have full confidence in the integrity of our electoral system. With that in mind, what assessment has the Department made of the risks posed by deepfakes and misinformation in the upcoming elections?

I have considerable concerns about deepfakes being used in the upcoming elections. We have seen hack and leak being used as a tactic by hostile states in previous elections, and we have to take into account deepfake capabilities, particularly enhanced by artificial intelligence. That is why we are developing our strategy through the Defending Democracy Taskforce and undertaking exercises right now to enhance our capabilities. It is, however, a challenge to all citizens not necessarily to take images to be true on first sight, because of adversaries’ enhanced capability.

Female Veterans

The Office for Veterans’ Affairs has provided £445,000 for research into the lived experiences of women veterans and for development of further support. With my hon. Friend making valuable contributions, we are developing the Government’s first women’s strategy, which will celebrate the success of women veterans but also look at the specific challenges they face, so as to better address their needs.

I am one of the estimated 250,000 female veterans, and I have spent the last four years raising awareness of this hidden community. I am pleased to have worked with the Minister on establishing the first female veterans strategy. I have been chair of the advisory board; the evidence gathering has ended and the recommendations have been made. Will the Minister let me know whether the term, “female military sexual trauma” will be acknowledged and included, and the date on which the strategy will be published?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has been a passionate advocate of this cause. She is the first woman from the ranks to be elected to this place, and she should be incredibly proud of all she has done over her many years of work on this issue. As I have said before from this Dispatch Box, I recognise the unique challenges around sexual trauma in the military—of course I do. The strategy will be published before the summer recess. I know my hon. Friend is waiting for it, and I am determined to get it out before the recess. I am hopeful that it will meet all the demands and all the hurt in that community that has been unmet for too long.

I have had the pleasure of meeting many female veterans in my constituency and of working with fantastic organisations such as Woody’s Lodge, the Royal British Legion, and of course Welsh Veterans Partnership. What is the Minister doing to work with the Welsh Government and local authorities across the whole of the UK to ensure that women veterans get the support that is rightly being asked for?

We meet the devolved authorities regularly to make sure that all our strategies are in sync. Obviously, a lot of these policy areas, whether health, housing or education, are devolved, but we are clear that, both nationally and internationally, we want the Office for Veterans’ Affairs to set the standard. We have great relationships internationally now in terms of setting the pace on that, and I want to make sure it is concomitant with what we are doing with the devolved authorities: we have regular meetings with the Welsh Government and the Scottish, and indeed we are going over to Northern Ireland again in two weeks.

Nominations for Honours: Scrutiny

6. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of his Department’s processes for scrutinising nominations for honours. (902491)

10. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of his Department's processes for scrutinising nominations for honours. (902497)

It looks like the Member who tabled No. 10 is not out of bed.

A validation process is carried out to assess the strength and credibility of each nomination. We protect the integrity of the honours system by carrying out probity checks with a number of Government Departments before the Prime Minister submits names to His Majesty the King for approval.

The Prime Minister previously backed calls for Horizon victim and campaigner Alan Bates to receive an honour, yet his name was absent from the Prime Minister’s surprise honours list last month. However, Russia-linked Mohamed Mansour’s name was on that list. What was it about the multi-millionaire, generous Conservative party donor that attracted the Prime Minister to the idea of giving him a knighthood?

The gentleman whose name has just been mentioned is a very successful businessman and philanthropist, and I am sure those qualities were very much in the Prime Minister’s mind when he was put forward for an honour. Extremely distinguished names from the world of artificial intelligence and the creative industries were also recognised for their contribution to our country.

I advise the hon. Gentleman to go back and check the list because, not for the first time in this House, he is wrong.

The Prime Minister recently announced an extraordinary round of honours, which many described as lacking integrity and bringing the system into disrepute. It included a donor who had donated £5 million to the Conservative party, and four Conservative MPs loyal to the Prime Minister. In the run-up to a general election that he is widely tipped to lose, what could possibly be the justification for the Prime Minister announcing and recommending a round of honours outside of the traditional King’s birthday list?

Order. It would have been easier if you had been here for the beginning of the question. Stretching the question is testing my patience and the patience of the Government Front Bench.

I thank the hon. Member for Slough for turning up. I refer him to the answer I gave a few moments ago.

Veterans: Cost of Living

The Government have successfully reduced inflation by more than half, making the cost of living more affordable for veterans, along with every other resident of the UK. Veterans in employment within six months of leaving service is at an all-time high—89%—and our recently launched Operation Prosper employment pathway will help veterans and their families to secure well-paying jobs in key sectors.

Here are some facts. Veteran homelessness has risen by 14% over the last year. Seventeen per cent of veterans, and their families, are living in food insecure households. Over 80,000 veterans are having to claim universal credit just to get by. Despite the Minister’s claims of making the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran, it isn’t, is it?

The hon. Lady says, “Here are some facts,” before reading out a load of things that are not correct. It does not change the facts of those situations. Last Christmas, under a programme designed by this Government, not a single veteran slept rough because of a lack of provision. The shadow Veterans Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), has not even turned up to ask questions this morning, so I will take no lessons from Labour on veterans.

Going into this election, veterans are deeply nervous about what Labour’s offer might be. Again, these banal quotes about statistics are not correct. This is not a game. These are serious people who deserve the nation’s respect, and I encourage the Labour party to align with that.

Infected Blood Inquiry: Second Interim Report

11. What progress he has made on considering the recommendations of the second interim report of the infected blood inquiry. (902498)

In January, I appointed an expert group to provide technical advice on the inquiry’s recommendations on compensation. The Government will provide an update on next steps regarding those recommendations as soon as possible following the publication of the final report on 20 May.

Justice is long, long overdue on this issue. A constituent affected by this issue told me what they had been through, which included a liver transplant, many antiviral regimes, ongoing health impacts and dealing with the fact that many of their peers—the children they spent time with when they were growing up—are no longer with us. There is simply no financial or political price high enough to cover the stress and impact on their mental wellbeing. This House has shown its will on this issue, so why are we still waiting and, importantly, when will people start to receive the compensation, given that on average one person dies every four days as a result of this scandal?

The hon. Gentleman makes absolutely the right points and I agree with his call for urgency. As I set out in my response to the urgent question a few days ago, my absolute priority is delivering this as quickly as possible. The legislation to set up the infected blood compensation authority is in the other place and will be debated next Tuesday. We announced on 17 April what we are doing on interim payments to the estates of the deceased infected. Further work is going on and I am engaging with the community over the first 10 days of May—so before 20 May, when the report will be published. His representation on urgency is heard by me and I am working on it as quickly as I can.

The amendment that was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and passed by this House at the end of last year was to set up a compensation scheme within a strict time limit of three months. That time limit must remain in the Bill and victims need concrete action. Will the Paymaster General tell us when the Treasury will set out its detailed costings for the scheme? Secondly, and most importantly, when can victims expect their final compensation payments?

The costings will be a responsibility of the Treasury, but a joint team between the Cabinet Office and the Treasury is working to give advice to the Prime Minister so that we can make decisions in a timely way as soon as possible from 20 May. I am conscious of the fact that across all the different communities of infected and affected as much clarity is needed as possible. They have had to wait too long, so I am making sure that, as far as we can, when those final decisions are made there will be not only a headline decision, but clarity on process thereafter. It is those details I am working on now and I hope that a decision can be made as soon as possible from 20 May.

Having a child with a rare condition who continues to get sicker despite treatment is every parent’s worst nightmare. Recent revelations that children as young as three were immorally used as guinea pigs and given infected blood are truly horrific. Without payouts of compensation, how can any parent have faith that the UK Government will ensure accountability and that they will take real responsibility for this scandal?

The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. She refers to what has come out in the press in the past few weeks. I am anticipating that on 20 May Sir Brian Langstaff’s final report will reveal in harrowing detail not only the allegations and what happened a long time ago, but the consequences, which have been profound and life-changing for so many people in this country. I listened to her and the advice she gave me after the last oral questions, and I will be visiting Scotland and working with the devolved Administrations to ensure that we have a United Kingdom approach.

Armed Forces Veterans

The Government continue to take unprecedented action to support those who served us: through Operation Fortitude, we are ending veterans’ rough sleeping; through Operation Restore and Operation Courage, we are supporting their health and wellbeing; and Operation Prosper is an employment pathway to help veterans secure high-value jobs. We are also planning to publish the UK’s first draft veterans Bill, representing another step forward in our journey to make this the best country in the world in which to be a veteran.

The Wincanton armed forces breakfast club, held at the Balsam centre in my constituency, offers veterans a place to catch up, where they can have peer support and enjoy a social, hearty breakfast. What efforts is the Minister making to support community-focused initiatives such as that for veterans across the UK?

I pay tribute to the Wincanton armed forces and veterans breakfast club. Like many breakfast clubs, including those in my own constituency, it does an amazing job bringing together veterans and tackling isolation and loneliness, particularly among the older generation. I encourage all Members of the House to visit. The clubs do not just happen, so I pay tribute to the volunteers and those who turn up every week to administrate them. Those people do not just talk a good game on veterans; they get in there, volunteer, spend their time and really care, so I pay tribute to all of them.

Today is Anzac Day, when we remember Australians and New Zealanders who gave so much. In an increasingly dangerous world, will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to veterans in Australia, New Zealand, here in the UK and right across the Commonwealth, to whom we owe so much?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the question. Anzac Day is an incredibly important day. I was in Australia only a few months ago. We are only as strong as our relationships with our allies. They have made an extraordinary contribution to world peace, particularly during the world wars. I pay tribute to veterans across the globe. It is not easy fighting wars, particularly wars of choice that are not global conflicts, and then coming back and reintegrating into society. Veterans can be incredibly proud of their service. People like me and my counterparts in Australia and elsewhere will continue to strive night and day to improve their lot in civil society when they return.

Public Sector Procurement: Digital Goods and Services

13. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of public sector procurement of digital goods and services. (902501)

The Government recognise how vital digital products and services are for delivering public services. The digital, data and technology playbook provides best practice guidance for the procurement of digital products and services. The playbook is updated annually, most recently in June 2023. Departments are responsible for ensuring that public services delivered by the private sector represent value for money.

Digital services procurement should be a win, win, win: the British public get better services, businesses get a good and reliable customer, and public services are reduced in cost. However, that is not the case under this Government. Departments are locked into single-source providers and dependent on legacy systems. The National Audit Office itself said that procurement was not competitive enough. As an example of that, can the Minister say how competitive cloud service provision is across his Government? Will he set out how he is using open source to boost competitiveness in digital services procurement?

We have a highly successful commercial function in Government, which is driving up value for money across all our commercial arrangements. It monitors contracts, before, during and after they have been in place, to ensure that we reduce the chances of issues such as lock-in. I strongly advise the hon. Lady to go and read the commercial function documentation—

I am sure she has not. She should read the commercial function documentation that comes out of the Cabinet Office, because she will see, as has been shown successively, that it saves billions of pounds for the British taxpayer.

Topical Questions

The Cabinet Office continues to play a central co-ordinating role in protecting our national and economic security. Last week, we published the response to the call for evidence on the National Security and Investment Act 2021, and I set out the steps we will take to fine-tune that system, including honing our approach to export controls, outward investment and providing more support to business.

Later, I will be convening a round table of university vice-chancellors to brief them on the security risks in research and academia, and to discuss how we address those. All of that complements our plans for a generational £75 billion uplift in defence spending, including a new national defence and resilience plan, setting out a cross-Government approach to security, preparedness and resilience as a nation.

It is often claimed by critics that the continual stream of ineffective and incompetent legislation we see from Holyrood is evidence of the need for a second, democratically elected Chamber to scrutinise properly. We have such an effective Chamber here and this week we have seen how important it can be in legislation. Would that Chamber’s position not have been strengthened by being a democratically elected second revising Chamber? Does the Secretary of State agree that the time has come when we need to look again at how we reform the House of Lords to make it more relevant to the 21st century and more democratic?

I am afraid that I completely disagree with the hon. Lady about having an elected second Chamber. This is the democratic Chamber for our nation. It is the principal voice of the nation. We do not need a second Chamber in conflict with this one, further burdening and complexing legislative processes.

The very welcome Windsor framework demonstrated a strong commitment to human and animal health by extending Northern Ireland’s access to veterinary medicines until 2025. I welcome the establishment of the veterinary medicines working group by the Cabinet Office and the Northern Ireland Minister of State. I am pleased to be part of that group, which is working hard to find a permanent solution to this matter. Can my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office, reassure the House that the Government will continue to strain every sinew in discussions with the EU to protect both animal health and public health in Northern Ireland and right across the UK with a permanent solution for access to veterinary medicines in Northern Ireland?

Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker, I can so assure my hon. Friend. I am very grateful to him for bringing his professional expertise to bear within the working group. We have met twice and we intend to report at the end of June. We will then have a consistent and coherent position with which we can go forward to blend a combination of adaptation and, I hope, productive negotiations with the EU to deliver a long-lasting, permanent solution to safeguard both animal and human health on the island of Ireland. I am determined that we should do that in a coherent and professional manner, and I look forward to working with him to do so.

May I begin with a moment of unity? The Deputy Prime Minister and I are both pushing for an early general election as soon as possible. I very much welcome his recognition that there is absolutely no point in this Conservative Government carrying on in office a moment longer.

Further to the question a little earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), this week two people were charged in this country, under the Official Secrets Act, with spying for China, one of whom worked for politicians in this House.

Order. I must stop the right hon. Gentleman. It seems to me that he is about to go down a road on a matter that is sub judice, which cannot be discussed here in this Chamber. The Speaker made a statement at the beginning of business earlier this week, asking Members not to refer to this matter, because it is sub judice. Can the right hon. Gentleman ask his general question in a different way, and not refer to that specific issue?

Thank you for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall ask a policy question.

The Government recently awarded a contract for a supercomputer to Lenovo, a China-headquartered firm that has been the subject of enforcement action by the United States on security grounds. This supercomputer will be used by critical Government bodies such as the UK Atomic Energy Authority. How will Ministers safeguard the public against any possible misuse of sensitive Government data as a result of the awarding of the contract?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I know that he has also written to me regarding that topic. I can assure him that we will be working with the National Cyber Security Centre and the National Security Secretariat to ensure that full checks and measures are put in place to prevent such abuse from occurring.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to his role as general election co-ordinator for the Labour party. I understand that he sits on the quad, which determines Labour policy, so perhaps he could clear up, for the benefit of us all, this question on an issue of national security. Does the Labour party support our £75 billion increase in defence spending? If he cares about these things, the answer should be plainly, “Yes, we do”.

When we announce a policy, we ensure that it is properly costed and funded, which I recommend to the Deputy Prime Minister. One other cyber-threat that modern states are facing is prepositioning: the planting of destructive software in critical infrastructure that can then be activated at a later date. The director of the FBI said that prepositioning of the Volt Typhoon type discovered in American infrastructure was

“the defining threat of our generation”.

America’s cyber-defence agency said that Five Eyes allies were also likely to have been targeted. Have the Government looked for or found Volt-Typhoon-type infiltration of any parts of our critical national IT infrastructure, and if so what action is being taken to remove it?

The right hon. Gentleman has been around this place long enough to know that he is delivering a non-answer on Labour’s support for defence spending. The whole House will have noted that, although he raises an important issue in respect of prepositioning. He will appreciate that there are limits to what I can say from the Dispatch Box given that some of this relates to high-side intelligence, but I assure him that we are working with our Five Eyes allies, in particular the United States, since the US and the UK have exceptional capability in these areas, to ensure that we both have adequate knowledge and understanding of such prepositioning, and take effective steps in respect of it.

Eight weeks ago, on 29 February, at first order questions, I asked the Minister without Portfolio what the Government would do to assist people who are adversely affected by the statute of limitations as a result of having been injured by covid-19 vaccines. My right hon. Friend said in response that she had taken the issue to the permanent secretary. Will she update us on what has happened with the permanent secretary over the past eight weeks?

I thank my hon. Friend for asking that question. He is a tireless campaigner on this matter, on which he has met with me and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. As I said to my hon. Friend, I am dealing with this matter with the permanent secretary; he will know that we have a new permanent secretary in the Department, and we are working at pace to resolve it.

Last year, the UK Government promised to relocate hundreds of civil service posts to the north-east of Scotland. It has now been confirmed that the total number will be 35. Given the billions generated in energy revenues and the unparalleled potential of our area in powering our green future, can the Minister please explain to the people of the north-east of Scotland how hundreds and 35 are now the same thing?

I think the hon. Lady is referring to the second headquarters of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero in Aberdeen, which I visited just before Christmas. I think that there was a misunderstanding about the numbers that were quoted in the paper. Some 18,283 jobs have moved out of London as a consequence of the places for growth programme. I will examine the number that have moved to Scotland, and write to her to clarify the Government’s position.

T2. I recently met with Emma Howard Boyd to discuss the interim findings of the Mayor of London’s climate resilience review, which she has been leading on. It involves the work of many different Government Departments at a national level. Will the Minister update us on whether we are conducting a similar exercise? The review is looking at what the impact would be of a similar heat- wave to the one we had a couple of years ago, flash flooding and all sorts of things. It is not just the responsibility of DESNZ or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; it covers many Departments, so it is a Cabinet Office responsibility. (902504)

It is an important question. We are doing exactly that. Extreme heat is something that we have to increasingly plan against. That is why last year, for the first time, we introduced an alert system for extreme heat that matches the alert system for extreme cold. I disagree, though, with the Mayor of London that the way to deal with this is to start imposing 20 mph speed limits everywhere and an ultra low emission zone. I hope that the people of London will take the opportunity to vote against that next week.

Earlier we heard a number of statements from the Opposition questioning ministerial integrity, but perhaps they should look closer to home—to be precise, at the first Minister of Wales and his links with donations to his leadership campaign and the Development Bank of Wales. Can the Minister tell us when the Welsh Labour party will apply to itself the standards that Labour has called for in the Chamber this morning—[Interruption.]

Order. If you all shout, I cannot hear what the hon. Lady is saying, but I think there is some doubt: the hon. Lady cannot ask the Minister a question about what the Labour party will do. Would she like to rephrase what she is saying?

With reference to the links between the First Minister of Wales, the donations to his campaign and the Development Bank of Wales, would the Minister like to describe why this is such an issue for the people of Wales while the Opposition keep shouting that we are doing the wrong thing?

My hon. Friend makes a very strong point. If a devolved Administration receives a donation as part of a political campaign—if the leader of that Administration receives a £200,000 donation at the same time that the Development Bank of Wales makes a £400,000 loan to a subsidiary of that company—that is surely a matter of public interest. It will be for the First Minister of Wales to determine what is appropriate, but I would have thought some explanation would be the very least that the people of Wales would expect.

T3. Last year the Government pledged to introduce a ministerial deed to legally commit Ministers to keeping to the after-Government business appointment rules. If I were cynical, I could think of a reason why the Government have not brought that commitment forward, but might the Minister give an idea of when he intends to do so? (902505)

The hon. Lady is right: in July, in response to those three reports from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Boardman review and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Government did say they would work up strengthening the rules on business appointments and developing that ministerial deed. I cannot give an update at this point, because it is work the Deputy Prime Minister and his team are leading on, but it is important work and we do need to get it right.

T4. I thank the Paymaster General for all his hard work on the contaminated blood scandal. However, as you would expect, Madam Deputy Speaker, I still urge him to go further and faster to get this situation resolved. If the infected blood compensation authority is to be established upon Royal Assent, can the Minister outline the timescale and process for the appointment of the chair and the other directors, and how those with lived experience will be involved and included among those directors? (902506)

I thank the right hon. Lady for her kind words and her constructive approach. It is absolutely right that she continues to press me, as she does at every opportunity. Reflecting on our conversations and what she has said to me, the key thing is to ensure that we maintain and reclaim the trust of the infected blood community in all its dimensions. She will know that I am engaging with them in depth over several meetings on 1 and 10 May. Sir Brian Langstaff made clear that the infected blood community and all those accessing the scheme should have a role to play in its delivery, so, consequential to listening to what they say to me, I will be thinking about how we build that in. As she knows, the Government have made provisions for committees and sub-committees to ensure representation of the communities, while also maintaining an independent, arm’s length body. I will need to reconcile those. I am sorry that I cannot give her a timetable, but I am working on it in some detail.

T5. If I may press the Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Office officials have refused to say whether Lord Cameron has recused himself from parts of his role as Foreign Secretary, given his previous well-paid work in promoting the China-backed Port City Colombo. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Foreign Secretary has recused himself from any part of his ministerial duties? (902508)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, shortly before taking office the Foreign Secretary not only had all his interests properly reviewed by the propriety and ethics team in my Department, but went through them with the independent adviser on ministers’ interests. The independent adviser set out all relevant interests, and those have been published, so the information is transparently out there for people to be able to judge for themselves.

T6. Ever since the monster Cyril Smith, formally of this House, but initially mayor of Rochdale, the town has been blighted by scandals of grooming and cover-up. We currently have 64 men on bail on grooming charges in Rochdale. The previous Labour mayor of Rochdale and the next mayor of Rochdale—the King’s representatives—were both investigated on charges of sexual malpractice towards young girls in their employ, with all the power imbalances that that implies. Self-regulation, with no investigation by any outside party—how can this be right? What will the Minister do to help me to clean up Rochdale? (902511)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, any criminal allegations are properly a matter for the courts, and he would not expect a Minister to comment on them from this Dispatch Box. If he wishes to write to me in respect of the further allegations he makes, I will be happy to take them up myself or with ministerial colleagues.

What consideration has been given to the merits of making it illegal for public sector bodies to pay ransoms if they are the victim of a ransomware attack?

That is a good question; it is something the Government continue to keep open and under review. The argument against doing so is that it could discourage companies that are subject to ransomware attacks from reporting them, for example to the National Cyber Security Centre. Those reports help us to gather intelligence on the nature of those threats and to work with victims to resolve them. It is not something I rule out totally, but that is the reason that we have not imposed it so far.

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), will know that many councils in Northern Ireland have appointed veterans’ champions. Will he join me in acknowledging the work that many veterans’ champions do? Will he also call on the wide range of political parties on councils in Northern Ireland to offer their unstinting support to those champions to help to deliver services to veterans?

Yes, of course. We have made extraordinary progress on veterans affairs in Northern Ireland. I recognise and have always recognised the unique difficulties of that. Veterans’ services, and ensuring that these people are looked after because of their service, should not be at the whim of different political parties. I am working at pace to establish an outpost of the Office for Veterans’ Affairs in Northern Ireland to create an environment where everyone can work together and pull together all the different services to get veterans’ care in Northern Ireland up to the same level as in England. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman and other elected representatives out there from all parties to make sure that we do the right thing.

With two former Conservative Prime Ministers having recently contravened the ministerial code—twice, in the case of Boris Johnson—and the Radcliffe rules, in the case of his successor, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), is it now Tory party policy to routinely ignore the rules? If not, what sanctions will they face?

The hon. Lady is correct to say that the book by the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), was reviewed under the Radcliffe rules. The Cabinet Office did not clear it. The overwhelming majority of books that are submitted do comply. We will have to keep these matters under review.

This is a very simple question to the Deputy Prime Minister: does the Foreign Secretary stand recused in any aspect of his job by virtue of his financial interests, either now or before he was appointed to his post—yes or no?

The Labour party keep on pushing on this point, but I refer the hon. Gentleman to the latest list of ministerial interests, which was published in December and provides details of Minister’s interests, including those of the Foreign Secretary, that are judged by the independent adviser to be relevant, or could be perceived to be relevant, to their ministerial roles. All of it is there in the public domain.

With reference to the written questions that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office has answered, can he outline what the Government consider to be the difference between a foreign court and an international court?

The Paymaster General told my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) that he could not give a timeline with regard to the infected blood scandal compensation. This subject is raised on an almost daily basis in this House by Members on both sides, because our constituents just cannot understand why it is taking so long. Can he at least give an indication of when he thinks compensation might begin to be paid? It is especially important given that, as I understand it, one victim of the scandal dies every four days.

The answer to this is to be found when we issue the comprehensive response to the inquiry, as soon as possible after 20 May. Legislation is going through the other place to make good on the amendment that was passed in this House by virtue of the advocacy and leadership of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson). We have announced that we will make some interim payments to the estates of those deceased infected who have not yet received any money, but the substantive response to translate 18 recommendations into meaningful and actionable responses for a wide community over 40 or 50 years obviously demands a lot of work to quantify and get the process right. We will update the House as quickly as possible after 20 May.

Just now, the Deputy Prime Minister raised the issue of the £75 billion public spending announcement. Would he care to tell the House why, after 14 years in power, it takes an upcoming general election for him and his party to make defence spending policies?

It may have escaped the hon. Gentleman’s attention, but Russia has invaded Ukraine and Iran’s proxies are attacking our allies in the middle east. That demands a response from the Government, and it has been provided by the Prime Minister. It is very notable that the Labour party is failing to match that commitment.

Papers at an employment tribunal last week reported that Rowaa Ahmar, a former civil servant, stated that

“the racism within the Cabinet Office appeared to be unrelenting and systemic”,

and that, despite having a role as head of policy in the Government’s illegal migration taskforce, she was made unwelcome at meetings about the Rwanda plan because of her views on the racist ultra-hostility of the policies. Is Ms Ahmar right that speaking up against racism in the Cabinet Office is a career death sentence?

I do not accept that at all. Of course, Ms Ahmar withdrew her allegations completely on the eve of having them scrutinised at the higher tribunal, so I do not accept that, and it is absolutely right that senior civil servants take action when there are performance issues with the staff under them, without fear of allegations being made against them.

Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) about the infected blood scandal, the Cumberlege report highlighted over three years ago the need for redress for victims of the sodium valproate, vaginal mesh and Primodos scandals. What progress has been made on redress for those victims?

I am sorry; I am not able to give an answer on those other scandals. There was a Backbench Business debate on redress schemes last Thursday, to which the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) replied. I believe that work is ongoing, but I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman to give him a thorough answer on the matter.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I appreciate that standards may have changed since I was last in this place, but in answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart), rose to the Dispatch Box and said, “We have answered this question on a number of occasions.” Can that possibly be a legitimate ministerial answer? After all, that could be the answer to virtually every question that is ever asked in this House.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I cannot help agreeing with his final point, having sat in the Chair for thousands of hours and heard the same question answered again and again. He makes a very good point: Ministers are responsible, and have a duty to answer the question again and again. However, if the Minister thought—today or at any other time—that the appropriate answer in the circumstances was the one that the hon. Gentleman just quoted, that is not something that I can criticise, or a matter on which I can take action. As Mr Speaker has said many times, and as I am very pleased to repeat, what Ministers say at the Dispatch Box is not a matter for the Chair.

The hon. Gentleman’s point of order has brought us perfectly to just after 10.30 am. We can therefore proceed to the business question.