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Topical Questions

Volume 623: debated on Wednesday 22 March 2017

The Cabinet Office is the centre of government. The Department is responsible for the constitution, for supporting the design and delivery of Government policy and for helping government to deliver the finest public services through more efficient working and attracting and developing the finest public servants.

The House of Lords has amended the Higher Education and Research Bill to ensure that HE institutions give their students the option to go on the electoral register. What will the Minister do to assist that process as statistics suggest that only 13% of students are registered at present? It would save both them and councils money.

As I stated in an earlier answer, I met Baroness Royall to discuss her amendment. I am committed to ensuring that more students are able to register easily, which will save money for electoral registration officers. I am working on looking at this process. The Cabinet Office funded the pilot in Sheffield in the first place, and we are determined to ensure that we carry on this work.

The Cabinet Office has set up a centre of expertise that is working with public bodies to understand the overall problem, agree and monitor aspirations for a reduction of fraud, and put in place standards for organisations. As a result of that work, we had the benefit of savings of £733 million for 2015-16.

The ministerial code clearly states that former Ministers require advice from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments prior to announcing any new business appointments. ACOBA is unable to report on its advice retrospectively after a new post has been made public. Can the Minister explain why he gave different advice to the House during his response to the urgent question on Monday? Was it just a mistake, or have the rules conveniently been changed in the space of a week?

The hon. Gentleman has made his point very clear. ACOBA is coming to its determination and it will consider all the evidence in the round. It is important that it does so without my prejudicing its decision by passing comment.

Order. There is excessive noise, which is rather discordant and very unseemly. Let us have a bit of order for Mrs Sheryll Murray.

T5. Does my right hon. Friend agree that local authorities should strive to be as efficient as possible? To that end, perhaps he can assist the Lib Dem/Independent-led Cornwall council in prioritising the interests of residents rather than political vanity projects. (909398)

I am very concerned that the Liberal Democrats in Cornwall are not seeking to use the One Public Estate programme, which is set up precisely so they can save public money and direct it to the frontline. That is where they should be directing their efforts.

Fortunately for the right hon. Gentleman, he is not responsible for the Liberal Democrats—either in Cornwall or anywhere else.

T3. What is the Minister’s assessment of the results of the British attitudes survey, which shows that only one in four people trust the Government’s use of statistics? (909396)

I am as concerned as the hon. Gentleman will be. That is why we need to make sure that the independence of our statistics machine, to which other countries look for advice, is shown to the public to be the best in the world. That is what it is.

We have made considerable progress. According to our original timetable, we will be able to release the results of the first part later this year. That will be a moment of reckoning for this country, as we face up to the serious challenges still ahead of us in making sure that everyone has an equal opportunity, no matter what their colour or background.

T4. Some £200,000 of election spending misreported or omitted from returns; an unwillingness to co-operate with the Electoral Commission; a £70,000 fine that the Tories can just shrug off because of their wealthy donors: does the Minister agree that there needs to be a greater punishment for political parties that break the election spending rules? (909397)

It is clear that on that issue the Electoral Commission has taken action against parties across the political divide. It is right, going forward, that we look at incremental ways in which we can reform party funding, but our elections are the most transparent in our democracy. They ensure the publication of spending and it is right that that should take place.

T8. What steps is the Minister’s Department taking to maximise opportunities for UK industry through cross-Government procurement? Does he have any early sense of how the new procurement guidelines are bedding down? (909401)

My hon. Friend is right to point out that it was this Government who introduced new guidance to make sure that we could support the UK steel industry wherever possible. That has been well received by the industry, and I hope to be able to write to my hon. Friend quite shortly with the results of where we have got so far.

Will the Minister for Digital and Culture recuse himself from decisions on Government media policy, given his close relationship to the new editor of the London Evening Standard?

My right hon. Friend the Minister is a decent and honourable man, and he will make his own decision about his ministerial responsibilities. It is wrong to impugn his motives in the House, if I may say so.

Does the Minister intend to expand the One Public Estate initiative? It not only rationalises our public buildings for financial reasons, but gives us the opportunity to create better and more streamlined services for our residents.

My hon. Friend has it in one: not only does this initiative allow us to save costs so that we can direct money to the frontline, but it means that public services are far simpler for our citizens to deal with, because they are located in one place.