Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th March 2018.

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Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon 12:00 am, 28th March 2018

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

Today we are publishing the Government’s state of the estate report for 2016-17. That report demonstrates the progress that we have made in transforming the use of the estate and in freeing up property receipts of £620 million to be reinvested in supporting local and national services.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

We live in a London-centric country. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on what he is doing to ensure that Government Departments are relocated to other parts of the United Kingdom, including, of course, the great south-west?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

This Government are committed to locating economic activity outside London and the south-east. Since 2016, 12 new public bodies have been located outside London, and indeed in the south-west to which my hon. Friend refers. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has set up a regional centre in Bristol, which employs 1,600 people.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

An RNIB report on the general election of 2017 shockingly found that one in four blind and partially sighted people were unable to vote independently and in secret. With just five weeks to go until the upcoming local elections, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that blind and partially sighted people can vote independently and in secret?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip

There are already measures in place. For example, there are improvements to the way that the certificate of visual impairment can be shared with local authorities. I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this further.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

Perhaps an apt question for Spy Wednesday is: what more can be done to ensure cyber-security across our public sector?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Cyber-security is a major priority for the whole of this Government, and our world-leading national cyber security strategy is supported by almost £2 billion of investment. It sets out measures to ensure that the public sector, and the wider economy, is cyber-secure.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

Yesterday, the Government called time on business in the House two hours early. Meanwhile, important Bills such as the draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill languishes in purgatory. My constituents are desperate for this Bill to be debated as it pertains to the AEA Technology pensions debacle. Will the Minister please push for this Bill to be sent to the Floor of the House?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

These matters are always the subject of keen discussion between the business managers of all political parties. I am sure that the hon. Lady will encourage her party’s spokesman to make those representations.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart Conservative, Brentwood and Ongar

What progress is my right hon. Friend’s Department making on tackling the issues raised in the racial disparity audit?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

Two weeks ago the Prime Minister launched a £90 million programme to help to tackle inequalities in youth unemployment. That is in addition to targeted employment support already under way in 20 areas across the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Labour, Weaver Vale

Jess Leigh from my constituency is one of the many campaigners for votes at 16. At what stage are the Government going to see sense and extend the franchise by introducing votes at 16?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip

My right hon. Friend and I are both so keen to answer that question that we are vying to do so.

The Conservative party manifesto was quite clear that we shall not be doing that, and it was that manifesto that won the general election.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. I was always taught that you should listen to a doctor. The hon. Lady is a doctor so the House should listen to her, particularly when she is talking about contaminated blood, which is a very serious matter.

Photo of Sarah Wollaston Sarah Wollaston Chair, Health and Social Care Committee, Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons)

The victims of the contaminated blood scandal have waited decades for answers. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on progress on the inquiry? Is there any room to revisit the decision to deny victims and their families legal aid in order to prepare adequately for the inquiry?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

The inquiry launched a consultation on its terms of reference on 2 March. Details are on its website. The deadline for responses is 26 April. Sir Brian Langstaff wants to hear from as many of those who were affected as possible. As with any such inquiry, it is for the inquiry to decide the level of financial support, including for legal representation for the inquiry proceedings. I am very happy to talk to my hon. Friend and other interested colleagues, or for the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Chloe Smith, to do so, about how the terms of reference are being handled. Sir Brian wants this process to be as user-friendly as possible.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

Will the Minister look at extending the balanced scorecard approach of public procurement to schools and hospitals?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

As the hon. Lady will be aware, we have invested in the balanced scorecard approach. Of course, we will look at extending it to whatever procurements are possible.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham North

Ministers talk a lot about voter fraud, even though there were only two convictions in 2016. Ministers do not talk about the 6 million people who are not on the electoral register. May I have a commitment from Ministers that, when it comes to strengthening our democracy, they will prioritise the many, not the few?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip

The hon. Gentleman is unaware that the number of people on his own constituency’s electoral register rose, according to Office for National Statistics figures released last week.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Conservative, Chippenham

What conversations has the Minister had with charities and health workers about raising awareness of changes to anonymous voter registration for victims of domestic abuse?

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip

I really welcome this question, as it gives us an opportunity to remind health workers and the professionals throughout our constituencies who can now help with this. For example, the Royal College of Midwives, with Government support, recently released such guidance.