I apologise but I did not absolutely get the point that the noble Viscount makes. It is certainly the case that in a free society and a free country, it is perfectly reasonable for individuals or organisations to go to their MP, the Government or the local council to put the case for changes and provide information from outside, which may help government, councils or others make decisions. That is an inherent part of a free society.
My Lords, over the years the process of providing information to civil servants, Ministers and parliamentarians has traditionally been done by lobbying, which is part of the democratic process. There is a belief that, of late, lobbying has become an integral part of the process of winning government contracts. Will the Minister reflect on that and discuss the suggestion with some of his colleagues?
My Lords, obviously I agree with what the noble Lord said in the first part of his question: in a free society it is an inherent right to make representations. As I have told the House, the Government are open to considering any proposals that do not restrict that. Lobbying and approaches to government should be transparent and properly conducted and exclude personal advantage; that is the purpose of the system.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a strong point with which I agree, having chaired one of your Lordships’ Select Committees that looked into longer-term planning. His point is important. The NSRA certainly takes into account the impact of risks on the most vulnerable in society in its methodology.
My Lords, as I say, the Government are in contact with a range of people. We have just discussed the issues of flooding and vulnerable groups, and, as I said in answer to the first supplementary question, the Government are obviously in contact with the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. We cast our interests and our ears—if you can cast your ears—widely.
My Lords, all Members of the House are aware that the Isle of Man lies half way between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, yet it has never been a member of the European Union in its own right and is not included in the UK membership of the EU. That relationship is dependent upon protocol 3 of the UK’s Act of accession. That protocol also allows the island to be part of the European Union customs area. Will the Minister double check—or indeed treble check—that the interests of the Isle of Man are covered by and included in this agreement?
My Lords, I will certainly check, as the noble Lord asks. I am not briefed in detail on the Isle of Man but I will make sure that I write to him and that the letter is made available to others present.
My Lords, there is a large packet of questions there. I will obviously try to provide answers to some of them, but I cannot provide answers to all of them. The Government certainly recognise the priority attached to the groups for whom the noble Baroness so rightly and strongly speaks. Our strategy ensures that our audience receives bespoke Covid communications. Our partnership includes 47 BME publications, and core market materials are translated into community languages on request. The Government are overseeing BME audience-focused communications and engagement as part of specific campaigns.
My Lords, will the Government publish an equalities plan to ensure that there is the correct infrastructure across the country so that no community is left behind in the rollout of the vaccine? We already know that poorer areas have fewer GPs, so additional facilities need to be in place to ensure that these areas are not left behind in the rollout.
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord will welcome the fact that this country is leading the world in the availability of vaccines. We have a programme, for which the set of priorities has been published, to distribute that vaccine broadly and widely, without fear or favour, to any group within this country.
My Lords, of course I have listened to what my noble friend said. Like her, I have spent a lifetime in public service in different guises and I attach the highest importance to probity in every place and at every level. As she says, the NAO is undertaking an investigation to examine government procurement during the pandemic covering the period up to July 2020. The report is expected to be published in December.
What a disappointing reply from the Minister. Does he not realise the deep concerns over the relationship between HMG and various companies in recent months? Have any formal reservations or qualifications been lodged under their code of conduct by senior civil servants on Ministers’ proposals? Whatever, will he confirm that eventually, there will be an inquiry into these activities?
My Lords, I have already referred to the ongoing NAO investigation. So far as the Civil Service Code is concerned, Section 4.1.3c is absolutely specific that
“civil servants must not misuse their official position or information acquired in the course of their official duties to further their private interests or those of others … Where a conflict of interest arises, civil servants must declare their interest to senior management.”
Every civil servant will be expected to abide by that.
My Lords, I repeat what I said yesterday. Of course, all the factors the noble Lord has mentioned have to be weighed and taken into account in any reflections on the future of our Parliament and the role of this House. At the moment, Parliament is operating remotely—as the noble Lord himself is—and it is not impossible. However, I am sure that all the factors mentioned will be considered.
My Lords, all power to the Government’s elbows to distribute civil servants across the country, but yesterday the Minister was absolutely clear that only Parliament could determine its own relocation. Will the Government desist from acting ultra vires and leave it to Parliament to pursue its own conclusions, backed by primary legislation?
My Lords, I do not believe the Government are acting ultra vires in any way. It is important that all of us—in this House, in the other place and in the political world generally—reflect on how we may restore respect in the political process and bring that closer to the people. That does not change the fundamental constitutional point which the noble Lord has cited.