Topical Questions

Cabinet Office and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Labour, Enfield North 12:00 am, 8th February 2017

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Ben Gummer Ben Gummer The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

The Cabinet Office is the centre of Government. The Department is responsible for delivering a democracy that works for everyone, supporting the design and delivery of Government policy and driving efficiencies and reforms to make government work better.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Labour, Enfield North

Will the Minister provide an update on any progress in the Prime Minister’s audit to tackle racial disparities? As so much is already known about the devastating consequences of these disparities, should not the Government be getting on with doing a great deal more about them now rather than waiting for an audit?

Photo of Ben Gummer Ben Gummer The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I find the right hon. Lady’s comments surprising. It was this Government and this Prime Minister who commissioned the racial disparity audit. When the right hon. Lady was in power, her party had 13 years to do that, but did not. I am proud of what the Prime Minister has done. We have committed to publishing the audit in the next few months, and the right hon. Lady will be excited by the possibilities it presents to make things better for everyone in the country.

Photo of David Warburton David Warburton Conservative, Somerton and Frome

Safetech Engineering in Frome offers superb expertise in nuclear safety and cyber-security, but to get security clearance and bid for work at Hinkley C or the Ministry of Defence, it needs to be a list X company. The only way to get that status is to be sponsored by another list X company or the MOD. Does the Minister’s Department have plans to let business escape from that circularity and access the markets it needs?

Photo of Ben Gummer Ben Gummer The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

Although list X is the responsibility of the MOD and the Secretary of State will have heard that question, I have a responsibility for small and medium-sized enterprises in public procurement. I shall certainly take forward my hon. Friend’s concerns and ensure that they are represented.

Photo of Ian Lavery Ian Lavery Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Since 2010, more than 100,000 civil service jobs have gone. With 300 new recruits and funding of £42.7 million for the Brexit Department, is the Minister really serious about the fact that the UK is properly prepared to enter the most complex negotiations for generations? The reality is that it is an absolute shambles.

Photo of Ben Gummer Ben Gummer The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I have full confidence not only in that, but in the civil service and the remarkable people who inhabit the Departments across our state.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

Last week, I met the chief constable of Sussex police about a number of issues, including electoral fraud. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that police forces around the country engage with returning officers and local authorities to combat voter fraud?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

I thank my hon. Friend for his commitment to and interest in combating voter fraud, and for taking those measures. I addressed a conference of the National Police Chiefs Council and the Electoral Commission last Friday, setting out why it is important that the police take the issue of voter fraud seriously. There have been cases where convictions have not been followed through. That is wrong and I hope that the issue will be addressed.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

When will the Government publish departmental performance in respect of their commitment to deliver ever higher levels of UK steel content in their procurement policy?

Photo of Ben Gummer Ben Gummer The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

The hon. Gentleman knows that it was this Government who established a far more rigorous understanding of steel content in public procurement policy. I will update the House in due course to give hon. Members an idea of the progress we are making.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

I applaud the Government’s efforts to give more contracts to small and medium-sized enterprises, and the use of technology such as the Contracts Finder website. Will the Minister tell me how many businesses are signed up to the Contracts Finder process, and how I can get more businesses in Worcestershire to sign up?

Photo of Ben Gummer Ben Gummer The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

As of yesterday, 15,745 companies were registered with Contracts Finder, 59% of which were small and medium-sized enterprises. My hon. Friend could encourage his local businesses to sign up. It is very easy to do so, and the best he can do is to tell them that.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

Will the Minister enhance and strengthen the northern powerhouse by ensuring that small and medium-sized enterprises in Yorkshire can take full advantage of public procurement contracts?

Photo of Ben Gummer Ben Gummer The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

In the measures I have described today, I shall.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, Chelmsford

Does my hon. Friend accept that although we are told that it is good to talk, Departments are making it infinitely more difficult for Members to contact private offices on behalf of their constituents due to inaccuracies and the withdrawal of the central register of private office numbers? Will the Minister tell us when the practice of putting communal numbers in the register will be stopped, and the individual numbers of Ministers’ private offices will be restored as they were, so that we can have proper communications between Ministers’ offices and Members on behalf of our constituents’ needs?

Photo of Ben Gummer Ben Gummer The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office

I owe Members an apology for this. It is true that some of the telephone numbers in the directory were inaccurate and some were general numbers. The revision is being made quarterly—the next one is in March—and I have instructed all Departments to provide private office numbers, as Members rightly expect.