Oral Answers to Questions

Steve Barclay Excerpts
Thursday 9th June 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Steve Barclay)
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The Government are working closely with the food industry to ensure that the UK’s food security is resilient to shocks. The resilience strategy will be published this summer and will reflect a range of global resilience issues.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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This situation has become increasingly urgent because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has seriously disrupted global food supplies. Will the Minister comment on rumours that the Government are reportedly abandoning many of the recommendations in the national food strategy, on which their response is long overdue, including measures that would help us to improve our food security?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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We are working in partnership with the food industry—indeed, only yesterday I chaired a roundtable with industry representatives—and also working in partnership across the United Kingdom. We had representatives from the devolved Administrations there yesterday for what is a common purpose. We all want to see resilience, given the pressure on food prices, and we are working in partnership with industry representatives to take that strategy forward.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend outline what steps his Department is taking to mitigate the effects of the war in Ukraine on world supplies of food?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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One specific area is working with international partners as to how we get the grain out of Ukraine. There is a pressing timescale on that—a four-week window—so the matter is urgent. Indeed, when I met the US ambassador who has newly arrived in her post, that was one of the issues we discussed, as we do with other international partners.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Bearing in mind the need to secure knowledgeable farmers—I am very fortunate in my constituency to have many—what discussions has the Minister had with counterparts in the area of skills and learning on fostering a supportive route to farming and diversification to secure our food supplies at home?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point. I suggest that he looks first at the approach we took in the autumn, when our supply chains were under pressure. We showed considerable flexibility and worked with industry leaders such as Sir Dave Lewis on how to adapt our approach. Obviously, there are schemes such as the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which has a review mechanism that potentially allows an extra 10,000 workers if required. There is also the opportunity to invest in areas such as agri-tech, and policy from the Chancellor such as the super deduction facilitates that investment.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con)
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4. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on the effectiveness of Government procurement policy.

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Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
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16. What steps his Department is taking with international partners in response to the global cyber-threat posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Steve Barclay)
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The Government are dedicating significant resources to understanding and countering Russia’s cyber-threat, working with our allies. That has included joint advisories with our Five Eyes partners on how to mitigate that threat.

Giles Watling Portrait Giles Watling
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With daily cyber-attacks against this place as well as institutions and companies across the country, what are we doing to stem the tide of aggression from Russia?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend raises an important point. We are spending £2.6 billion over the next three years to counter that threat. That is additional to the significant funding going into the National Cyber Force, which gives us offensive capability as well. Alongside that, we have a whole of society approach as set out in our national cyber strategy. I know that you, Mr Speaker, will take a great interest in particular in the north-west cyber-corridor, which is about leveraging that investment in the National Cyber Force and making it about skills across the north-west as a whole.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins
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Does my right hon. Friend agree that disinformation campaigns from hostile foreign states such as Russia also pose a cyber-security threat and that it is important that tech platforms work closely with the intelligence services and the Cabinet Office to identify proactively those threats and to address them?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend is right on that. I know that he has taken a close, long-term interest in the issue, so he will be aware both of the provisions in the National Security Bill on capturing foreign interference as an offence and of the measures in the Online Safety Bill that will force big tech platforms to take action on disinformation.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
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I wish you a very happy birthday for tomorrow, Mr Speaker.

The US has voiced concern about potential cyber-attacks on major infrastructure operators. What recent assessment has been made of the threat level to UK interests and what additional steps have the Government taken to address it?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The assessment is a sobering one. If I just take online scams as one example of cyber risk, there has been a fourfold increase from 2020, with the national cyber strategy seen as thwarting 2.7 million online scams. I am sure the hon. Member and the House will agree that this is a UK-wide threat. That is why we are working closely with the devolved Administrations and industry to look at our skills, taking both a whole of society approach and a whole of the United Kingdom approach to countering that risk.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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19. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the level of civil service staffing to support timely responses to correspondence from hon. Members.

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Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Steve Barclay)
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Mr Speaker, I feel I should have started with a birthday tribute; I think the credit for that goes to the Opposition Front Bench.

After the wonderful platinum jubilee, which I know colleagues across the House enjoyed, I pay tribute to the work of civil servants across government, who played a key role in facilitating it. As part of the platinum jubilee celebrations, a civic honours competition was held for city status. The Government were pleased to announce that Her Majesty the Queen had commended city status to Bangor, Colchester, Doncaster, Douglas, Dunfermline, Milton Keynes, Stanley and Wrexham, and that lord mayoralty status was granted to Southampton. I know Members will take great interest in those awards.

Colleagues will have seen the work of our armed forces, as part of our work for the jubilee. One of our first actions on taking office was to create the Office for Veterans’ Affairs to co-ordinate support across government. As we approach Armed Forces Week later this month, the Cabinet Office remains focused on our goal to ensure that the UK is the best place in the world to be a veteran by 2028.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris
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Our constituents face ridiculous backlogs for passports, driving licences, decisions from the Home Office and much more across Government. I am afraid that my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) did not get an answer to her question: we are told that this will get better, but we are also told that we can afford to cut 91,000 civil servants—how are those two things compatible?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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Let me take that question on directly. First, the situation has got better, and the response has been addressed in Prime Minister’s questions and in other questions today. To be specific about how we are dealing with this, we are looking at business and the scope of machine learning and technology. At the moment, only a very small proportion of the passport application process is automated. If the photo is taken in a booth as opposed to at home, that significantly increases the level of automation that can be delivered and that, in turn, reduces the number of staff who are manually required. It is such a luddite approach from Opposition Members to suggest, when businesses such as Amazon are showing exactly what technology can deliver, that the Government who are there to serve the taxpayer and the public should not embrace the same technology that we see in our best companies.

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con)
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T3. Many of my constituents are frustrated that, while there are delays in getting passports and driving licences renewed, many civil servants continue to work from home. Will the Minister update the House on his progress in getting civil servants back behind their desks?

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab)
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May I say what a luddite approach it is not to see home working as something that can be efficient? We in the Opposition can see that.

Less than a year since his last outsource government review was published, Lord Maude has again been appointed to lead a review of the civil service, a role that he performed in Government for five long years. Will the Minister tell us what value for money and performance measurement has taken place since the conclusion of Lord Maude’s last review; what tender process has been conducted to award Francis Maude Associates that work; and what conflict-of-interest assessment has taken place? Or are Ministers lining the pockets of their mates with the public’s hard-earned money once again?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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Usually, one would expect the House to value corporate memory and experience and the fact that the reforms initially put forward by Lord Maude were a cornerstone of the declaration of civil service reform, signed by the Cabinet Secretary and my predecessor as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). If one looks, for example, at the changes in Government relating to functions and the role of developing functional expertise—whether that is in the Government Property Agency or is about commercial contracts or digital and IT—one can see the value for money that is delivered by bringing in that expertise. This is about learning from the best in the private sector. That is why it is a luddite approach to see any change that brings in technology and new ways of working as a threat to the trade unions that support Opposition Members.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
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T4. It is clear from the exchanges in the House this morning that not just my constituents, but many constituents are experiencing delays with passport processing, visa applications and driving licence renewals. I know that Ministers have replied on this issue already, but will the Minister reassure me and my constituents that the planned reduction in the civil service will not impact on the capacity of the processing done by those teams, and that the recruitment taking place—particularly in the Passport Office—will be directed into the frontline to speed up the application process?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend will know, having been a senior business figure before coming to the House, that it is about linking resource to outcomes. We have increased resource in the Passport Office on a temporary basis; we have put in 650 staff since April last year to address the surge in applications as a result of the backlog from covid.

At the same time, there needs to be a change in how we deliver public services, and particularly in how we digitalise access to them. Too often, the same information has to be entered multiple times when addressing things from the Government. We will streamline that through the single sign-on process, and the Passport Office will be one of the beneficiaries of that programme.

Kate Osamor Portrait Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)
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T2. The Minister will be aware that the worst covid outcomes have disproportionately been felt among communities from ethnic minority backgrounds. What steps will his Department take to ensure that those health disparities are examined under the terms of reference set out?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The hon. Lady raises an extremely important point. In the work of the equalities unit in the Cabinet Office, a key focus is on variations in the data across social groups, place and economic background, so that we can learn the right lessons. I am sure that, as part of the inquiry review, Judge Hallett will be looking closely at the data, particularly where there are variations within it.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call David Duguid. Not here, again.

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Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I very much recognise the considerable interest in and concern about that issue across the House. A cornerstone of our procurement legislation is much greater transparency about the £300 billion of taxpayer spend consequent on that legislation each year. That transparency will better enable the House to have discussions about exactly the point that my hon. Friend raises.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
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T7. As a consequence of smothering Brexit red tape, a third of UK exporters to the EU have simply stopped trading. Contrary to the frankly ridiculous answer that my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) received, that has hammered the economy, cost thousands of jobs and undermined economic recovery from the pandemic. How can the UK Government claim that Brexit is slashing red tape when it is plainly Brexit-derived trade barriers that are driving businesses into the ground?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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That is a very straightforward question to answer. It is the freedoms that we have from our exit from the European Union, on things like the £300 billion of procurement that we have just heard about, that allow us to put clauses in our legislation about social value, targeting procurement to better benefit small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly where that reduces food miles or allows social value around disability employment, an issue that was raised earlier. Those are the social value provisions in the procurement legislation that we are able to have as a consequence of our exit from the EU.

Peter Bone Portrait Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con)
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Will the Brexit Minister tell us which Departments are co-operating with him wholeheartedly and which are dragging their feet? Does he plan to report, perhaps quarterly, on the progress that each Department has made?

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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T8. As a former member of the Home Affairs Committee, I still take great interest in its work. I am reliably informed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) that yesterday the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration told the Committee that he had asked to meet the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to talk about the cross-Government approach to channel crossings and had been refused a meeting, and that the Home Secretary had cancelled requested meetings with him six times. Is this an acceptable approach to such a serious issue, and when will there be a meeting?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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One of the purposes of Cabinet Office questions is to enable Ministers to respond to issues as they arise. Obviously I have a range of external meetings that reflect the responsibilities that we have discussed in the House, not least my roundtable on food security and resilience, an issue that was raised earlier. As for the wider approach to illegal immigration, that is a policy matter for the Home Secretary, who leads external engagement on the issue, but of course the Cabinet Office plays a supporting role in relation to Home Office colleagues.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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I just want to make it clear that the Government’s approach to the study conducted by Sir Robert Francis was to publish it at the same time as their own response. That is what we were told—although the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood and many campaign groups had asked the Government for openness and transparency, and for the report to be published when it was given to the Government. Given that two people are dying every week as a result of the contaminated blood scandal, may I press the Minister on this issue? Do the Government accept that there is a strong moral case for compensation to be paid, irrespective of any legal liability, and for interim payments of at least £100,000 per individual to start now?

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Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
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I wish you a very happy birthday, Mr Speaker—the happiest of birthdays.

Why are the Government so bloated? In the UK, we have more Government Ministers than France, Germany and Italy put together, and more than India, Canada and Australia put together. When I arrived in this House in 2001, the Prime Minister made do with one Parliamentary Private Secretary. This Prime Minister has four PPSs; Mrs Thatcher had only one. Why is this Prime Minister so much less efficient than either Tony Blair or Mrs Thatcher? Is it not time, if we are going to have a cull of civil servants, that we had a cull of Ministers? At least one quarter of the Front Bench should go. Would somebody like to name one?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I used to think that the hon. Gentleman liked to have the opportunity to question Ministers, and it is good for him to have such a range to choose from. The key issue is how we are delivering for the public. That is what we as a Government are focused on and that is what the transformation programme will deliver.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)
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I welcome the Minister’s reply to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) a few moments ago about the need to join up Government information so that people do not have to put their data into Government systems all the time. Does that mean that the Minister will be moving forward with plans for automatic electoral registration?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The scope of the single sign-on programme has already been set in terms of the 75 services within the scope of how we make doing business easier. This is about looking at where data is entered—for example, for a passport or a driving licence—and how we then enable that to facilitate access to other services, such as access to benefits, so that we make the customer journey for our constituents as frictionless as possible. I think that that is of interest across the House.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
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Centrica’s veteran action pathway provides veterans with a secure role, training and support. It is a really positive opportunity for veterans looking to re-enter the civilian workforce. How are the Government supporting the private sector to develop initiatives like this that specifically focus on supporting veterans?

Oral Answers to Questions

Steve Barclay Excerpts
Thursday 31st March 2022

(2 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
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12. What steps the Government is taking to strengthen domestic cyber resilience against potential impacts from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Steve Barclay)
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Our new national Government cyber security strategy sets out our approach to making the UK more resilient to cyber attacks and countering cyber threats. We have undertaken significant outreach within the Government and critical national infrastructure, including with the UK devolved Administrations, to provide mitigating advice to bolster UK preparedness.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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I am grateful for that answer. We know that Russian-sourced cyber attacks rose by 800% in the 48 hours immediately after Putin’s renewed attack on Ukraine. As his ground war falters, we can expect cyber warfare to be ramped up even more. I understand that EU countries are establishing a cyber security fund to protect civil society and the private sector against Russian attacks, so what steps are the Government taking to help civil society and the private sector to protect themselves?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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We have set out a range of measures as part of our whole of Government, whole of society approach. That was the essence of the cyber strategy that we launched before Christmas. It includes working with local authorities, which have been particular victims, and takes on board the lessons from, for example, the attack on the Irish health system. It includes looking at regulation and helping with procurement so that products fit for cyber risk are bought. It has a particular focus on skills, with areas such as the north-west having a cyber corridor where we have, as part of our levelling-up work, a real focus on getting the cyber skills we need across all parts of the UK.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson
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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a wake-up call for everyone in this country. We are under threat of cyber attack every single day. What lessons have the Government learned from the invasion to prevent cyber attacks on our schools, education, transport system and all the things that we rely on every day?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend raises an important point. Before the Russian invasion, the rationale for the national cyber strategy that we launched in December was to make the UK more resilient. As we have just discussed, that requires a whole of society approach, but it also requires specific action within Government, which is why I launched the further Government cyber strategy, working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre, which is a world leader in its field.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call shadow Minister Rachel Hopkins.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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The Prime Minister says that he is serious about eradicating Russian influence from our country, yet his Government have sat on their hands for two years, with the majority of recommendations of the Russia report still yet to be implemented. On cyber security, the Russia report exposed the complete lack of accountability within and across Government Departments when it comes to cyber matters. New legislation has only made lines of responsibility more confusing. We are vulnerable. The National Cyber Security Centre has managed an unprecedented 777 cyber incidents over the last 12 months, up from 723 the previous year, with 40% aimed at the public sector. Either the Government are not taking the Russian cyber threat seriously, or the Minister does not have control of his own Department. Which is it?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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There is consensus across the House on the need for a whole of society approach on cyber. On the charge that the Government have sat on their hands, the fact that we launched the cyber strategy before the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out shows that that is not correct. Looking at the spending review, there is a significant uplift in funding for the National Cyber Force, which I visited in the north-west. Councils such as Preston, which you will be familiar with, Mr Speaker, are heavily engaged in terms of the skills agenda for the NCF. A huge amount of work has been done on that.

In terms of the wider Opposition charge that the Government are sitting on their hands, one need only look at what President Zelensky has said about the Prime Minister’s response, the military support, the sanctions support, the bilateral aid––where the UK has been a leader––and the work to ramp up our response on refugees. If the Opposition are unhappy with what President Zelensky has said, then look at what the Russian Government have said about the way in which the Prime Minister has been at the front of the pack in ensuring a united western response.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
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2. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the need to ensure value for money in the award of covid-19 contracts.

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Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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15. What steps the Government is taking to increase opportunities for small businesses to bid for Government contracts.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Steve Barclay)
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We are increasing opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises by transparently publishing contract pipelines and simplifying bidding processes. These measures are working, and the latest central Government procurement figures for 2019-20 show that £15.5 billion was paid to small and medium-sized businesses to help to deliver essential services for UK taxpayers.

Andrew Lewer Portrait Andrew Lewer
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Under policy procurement note 06/21, the new carbon reduction plan requirements are obligatory for any Government procurement of more than £5 million. That is especially onerous for SMEs, including those in my constituency of Northampton South. How will Ministers try to make this more proportionate for SMEs, which have much less ability to afford such costly bureaucracy?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I am sure that the ears of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency will have pricked up at the suggestion of any regulation that is onerous and will want to look at that in detail. It is worth reminding the House that the £5 million figure applies per annum and that advice is available—only one plan is required and there are private sector organisations that provide advice and support, some of which is free. However, my hon. Friend raises an important point and I am sure my right hon. Friend will want to look at that to reassure himself and the House that it is proportionate to need.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
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Both the report from the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in April last year and the national food strategy, which came out last July, made recommendations to the Government on transforming public sector food procurement. While we still await the Government’s response to the food strategy, we will need shorter, more local supply chains, so that we can get great-quality, sustainable British food into the public sector. The south-west stands ready to be used as a pilot to test out a dynamic procurement system, but plans are stalling after funding from the Crown Commercial Service for the South West Food Hub was withdrawn. What can my right hon. Friend do to speed up the roll-out of the dynamic procurement model? Will he look again at supporting the South West Food Hub as a pilot, because it is doing great work?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I am extremely keen to work with my hon. Friend on this issue. He raises an important point and I am happy to meet him as a matter of urgency to take this forward. It is worth reminding the House that there was not specific funding for this; the memorandum of understanding with the South West Food Hub did not include specific funding. The CCS had been using its existing headcount and funding to establish a commercial solution for food, but the wider point he raises is a very valid one and I am extremely keen to explore it with him.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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Small businesses experience frustration in getting on to the list of both local government and national Government contracts, so I welcome the light-touch approach that my right hon. Friend is taking. Will he assure me that taxpayers will also benefit from the transparency, so that everyone can see what contracts are being made, how much they are for and what the benefit is in the long term?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend raises an extremely valid and important point: simpler and more transparent processes, ones that are more accessible to the innovation of our small and medium-sized enterprises community, in turn drive far better value for money. As constituency MPs, we all see that, across the House, with our SMEs. This is very much at the heart of what the Minister for the Cabinet Office and colleagues are driving through with the procurement legislation that is planned, and it is exactly the point that we want to take forward.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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Many moons ago, after the global financial crash, Tameside Council developed an initiative called “Tameside Works First”, which was a way of circumnavigating the then Official Journal of the European Union rules on public procurement and meant that the council could award far more contracts to local companies, massively benefiting those local companies. We do not have OJEU rules any more, so I would like to offer Tameside Works First to the Minister. Let us have a Britain Works First initiative and encourage local government and central Government to do more to award contracts to British companies.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The hon. Gentleman raises a legitimate point. We have all seen in our communities that local businesses often have a pride in the service they give because it is within their locale and they know the local school, business or hospital involved. Their own workforce have an interaction with it, so it is not just about the quality of the service, but the pride in what they are delivering. That is not always reflected in simple tender prices that are bid. It is very much at the heart of the procurement legislation that we look at social value, for example, how many disabled employees a bidding company has. We need to consider that wider social value, looking at issues such as food miles and quality, not simply at the money that is bid. This is also part of having a more transparent, accessible and simple process that enables SMEs such as the ones to which he alludes to take part in those contracts.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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In my Strangford constituency and across Northern Ireland, we have large numbers of small and medium-sized businesses, with excellent people and entrepreneurs with talent and ability. What can be done to enable such businesses in Northern Ireland to obtain Government contracts and reinforce the fact that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is always better together?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I absolutely concur that we are better together as the United Kingdom. The ability shown in the pandemic to act across the United Kingdom, including through the firepower of Her Majesty’s Treasury in respect of schemes such as furlough, has amply demonstrated that.

On the hon. Gentleman’s more specific point, one material thing that can be done is on the visibility of the pipeline of available contracts. There is around £250 billion-worth of public procurement and around £50 billion-worth of central Government public procurement, and I am extremely keen that SMEs in Northern Ireland are able to get visibility of that pipeline, so that we can tap into the talent and entrepreneurial spirit of which the hon. Gentleman speaks.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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8. What progress his Department has made on reducing red tape since the UK’s departure from the EU.

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Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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11. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of erecting a memorial for victims of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Steve Barclay)
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There is no disputing the horrors of what occurred during the slave trade, which is why we commemorate the annual International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on 23 August.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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A number of my constituents are part of the Memorial 2007 project, which is a campaign to set up a memorial for the millions of Africans enslaved in the transatlantic trade. The right hon. Gentleman’s predecessor promised that he would meet me and the campaigners, but then the schedule did not allow that to happen. Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster now commit to meet me and the campaigners of the project?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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One reason why the UK Government were engaged with the UN memorial in New York was to ensure that the suffering and trauma inflicted as a result of the slave do not happen again, so we contributed to the memorial there. Even as a constituency MP, I think of Thomas Clarkson. There are already memorials of the leading figures in the campaign against slavery, including of Thomas Clarkson who should be remembered alongside Wilberforce. I will ensure that somebody from the Cabinet Office meets the hon. Lady to discuss anything further that we can do.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
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13. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to reduce cyber crime through the Government Cyber Security Strategy.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Steve Barclay)
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The Government’s cyber security strategy will strengthen the public sector’s cyber resilience, making it harder for malicious actors, including cyber criminals, to disrupt Government functions. Building organisational cyber resilience and introducing measures to enable Government to defend as one will ensure that the Government present an increasingly hard target.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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Will my right hon. Friend please consider a report by the Royal United Services Institute entitled, “The Silent Threat”, which calls for fraud to be made a national security priority, so that the full machinery of the state can be brought to bear on criminals often based overseas?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point, and it is one that Cabinet colleagues are looking at, not only in the context of covid fraud and issues such as bounce back loans, but, as he rightly says, in light of the RUSI report and its recommendations. We are discussing with the Home Office and industry stakeholders how we can best commit to ensuring that all possible action is taken to address the risks from fraud that he identifies.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Steve Barclay)
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This month we appointed Baroness Gisela Stuart, who is well known to the House, as the new civil service commissioner to oversee the body guaranteeing that civil servants are selected on merit, on the basis of fair and open competition. Baroness Stuart brings a wealth of experience, having been a Member of this House for 20 years and a Government Minister for the Labour party, and brings a non-partisan spirit to roles including her time at the University of Birmingham, the Royal Mint and as a non-executive director of the Cabinet Office. We have also been working on taking forward the Prime Minister’s work on Brexit opportunities; my right hon. Friend the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency has identified almost 2,000 EU regulations remaining in British laws, which he is reviewing in order to reduce the burdens on business and the public. I have also written to Departments across Whitehall to ensure that we make the necessary regulatory changes to ease the burden of the cost of living, and will have further meetings with colleagues to take that work forward.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland
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Events in Ukraine prove that the international rules-based order continues to be threatened by aggression and competition. What is being done to increase and improve the UK’s strategic independence and self-sufficiency for its needs?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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That is an extremely important point in terms of both our energy security and our wider commitments building on COP26 and net zero. That is why the Prime Minister, the Trade Secretary and I hosted a number of Australian investors, who collectively have committed £25 billion of inward investment in green technology to the UK, at No. 10 Downing Street last night. That is both an indication of our commitment to energy security and to ensuring that we learn the lessons of Russia and Ukraine, and a signal of the attractiveness of the UK for foreign investment, which reflects this Government’s commitment to supporting business and levelling up across the UK.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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Contrary to the Prime Minister’s own promises last year, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has quietly shelved any attempt to limit MPs’ second jobs. He claims it is impractical. Since I was elected two years ago, I have received more than 1,500 emails a month, sent nearly 40,000 emails back to my constituents, spoken in this Chamber more than 380 times and tabled more than 500 questions. For me, what would be impractical is having a second job in the first place. However, more than a quarter of Conservative Members have second jobs, and I do not think many are NHS workers. That brings them an extra £4.4 million a year in extra earnings—so, colleagues, the post-Adjournment party drinks are on the Conservatives. I will ask a question being asked across the country: is it impractical finally to stop the second jobs bonanza, or is it simply inconvenient?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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It is slightly odd simply to say it is the Government side of the House. There are hon. Members on both sides of the House who have had second jobs, including with the NHS and in a range of public services; but equally, working with business is important as is ensuring that the House is aware of how we generate the prosperity to level up across the community and building on that £25 billion investment that we were discussing a moment ago. Perhaps she can enlighten the House on whether writing a book is a valid use of someone’s time, or indeed chairing a panel on “Have I Got News For You”, as one of her colleagues did recently, and on the distinction between that and working in areas that contribute tax and contribute to the country at large?

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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The Chancellor has asked businesses to think very carefully about any investments that would in any sense support Putin and his regime. However, this is pretty hypocritical given that he and his family are still making millions from Infosys, a company still trading out of Moscow. We need to be united in our opposition to Putin. It cannot be one rule for us and another for the Tory elite.

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Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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Thank you, Mr Speaker; I withdraw it.

But I would like to ask if there will be an investigation, or there has been an investigation, into whether the ministerial code has been broken in this instance and what action will be taken given the Chancellor’s failure to declare his family’s huge shareholdings in this company.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I am not going to engage with sweeping comments that do not address the record of this Government, which is very clear in respect of Russia and Ukraine. This Government have led in their actions on sanctions, in their investment in bilateral aid, and in their response to military support in-country. That is reflected in the response both of the Ukrainian Government and of the Russian Government. In respect of the ministerial code, Lord Geidt addresses those issues in the usual way.

Shaun Bailey Portrait Shaun Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Con)
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T2. Local government procurement is an important part of ensuring that we get vital services to the most vulnerable in our communities. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the disgraceful procurement practices at Labour-led Sandwell Council, which has seen contracts handed to mates, dodgy land deals, and finally commissioners bashing down the doors to deal with these problems. Can he assure the House that as part of his reforms to local government procurement, he will prioritise value for money, and, more importantly for my constituents in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton, prove to them that the actions of Sandwell Council are not the norm?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. It would be great to hear voices from the Labour Benches showing their commitment to tackling these issues. I can reassure him as to the Government’s support on the issue that he raises, and he is right to bring it to the attention of the House.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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T8. This week I joined grieving families like mine to mark the anniversary of the covid memorial wall. On the same day, we watched in shock as the Met police issued 20 fines for the Downing Street parties. Right now, the chair of the UK inquiry is meeting the bereaved families on the terms of reference of the inquiry, and soon the chair will pass draft terms to the Prime Minister. Given the importance of this inquiry, will the Minister confirm that the draft terms will be published in full to guarantee that the chair’s recommendations are implemented?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point. It is a deeply emotive point for the families affected. That is why we are committed to getting the terms of reference right. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office set out, this is shaped by the judge Lord Hallett and comes under the terms of the legislation passed by a previous Labour Administration. I know that Lord Hallett is committed to working with stakeholder bodies as regards reflecting the terms of reference in a way that meets the wider need.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
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T3. Does my right hon. Friend agree that as the House moves after the Easter recess to legislate through the online safety Bill, there must be effective co-ordination on disinformation between the counter-disinformation unit and the RESIST programme at the Cabinet Office, as well as Ofcom, as the online safety regulator, to make sure that social media companies take proactive action against known threats to this country, including the online frauds and scams mentioned earlier?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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That is an extremely important point. Both the Minister for the Cabinet Office and I have chaired a number of Cabinet Sub-Committees looking at our wider domestic resilience and our response in the context of the conflict in Ukraine. It builds on the national cyber strategy launched before Christmas and the Government cyber strategy launched after Christmas. It is about working with relevant stakeholders to have a whole-of-society approach, whether that is in relation to the excellent communication from the Ministry of Defence in recent weeks in de-classifying key documentation around some of the Russian misinformation campaigns, or looking at the wider piece: getting in the right skills, the right training and the right product regulation so that we have that whole-of-society resilient approach, building on work through the situations centre and the Civil Contingencies Secretariat.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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The Radisson RED, a hotel in my constituency, was promised full compensation by the UK Government for business disruption during COP26, but it has not received the full compensation it believes it was entitled to. It has been passed from pillar to post by the COP26 President, the right hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), who committed in this House to meet me, but never did, and the Cabinet Office, which has been ignoring its emails. Can the Minister tell me how many other businesses in Glasgow have been similarly treated by the Cabinet Office? Will he meet me on this, because it has taken the shine off events that Glasgow was very proud to host?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I know that the COP26 President will have a strong commitment to addressing any issues. Rightly, Members across the House have recognised that the event in Glasgow was a great demonstration of the UK working together. It was an illustration of how we are better together. If there are some specific issues that Members of the House are rightly highlighting from a constituency perspective, I will ensure those are brought to the attention of the COP26 President and ask whether he will meet her as a matter of priority.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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T4. The news that there will be legislation to ensure that we maximise the benefits of Brexit is incredibly welcome. Will my right hon. Friend comment on how that legislation, will enable and set free those companies in the thriving tech sector across my constituency of Buckingham to innovate in a more free manner than when we were in the EU?

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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Earlier, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities decried an Act of Parliament from 1972. There was a further Act of Parliament that year that also changed the face of England and Wales: the Local Government Act 1972. Much of that made sense for the delivery of public services, but the lords lieutenant have no role in local government. They are Her Majesty’s representatives in a county, and as a patron of the Friends of Real Lancashire, I can say that much damage was done to historic Lancashire. Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster look at restoring the lords lieutenant to cover the historic counties for ceremonial purposes, so that the Duke of Lancaster’s representative can cover all the Duke of Lancaster’s county palatine, from the Mersey to the Furness fells, and from the Irish sea to the Pennines?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I fear it is not just me who has to declare an interest in this—Mr Speaker himself may have to declare an interest. Any question that starts with reinforcing the county of Lancashire is extremely welcome. Before the hon. Gentleman’s siren call draws me on to the rocks of constitutional propriety, I would want to take advice as to what the interaction is with the Palace and other quarters that may have a view on this. I take this moment—I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree—to pay tribute to the incredible work that the lords lieutenant do up and down the country. They are at the heart of so much civic activity within our constituencies and make a hugely valuable contribution through their work.

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid (Banff and Buchan) (Con)
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T5. Will the Veterans Minister join me in thanking the Department for Work and Pensions and other Government services that help veterans find work when they leave the armed forces? Will he consider visiting some of those services and the many veterans support charities in a visit to my constituency? Finally, will he also join me in thanking those veterans in Banff and Buchan and across the country who have been donating clothing and other supplies to those fighting for their lives in Ukraine?

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Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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Every one of the 65 million or so people in these four nations who has a mobile phone, tablet, iPad or Alexa-enabled device is a potential target for hostile nations seeking to damage our cyber-security, but the National Cyber Force budget amounts to 10p a month for each of those citizens. What representations has the Minister made to the Chancellor to raise that budget to a more reasonable level?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I have some exposure to this, having been Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Of all the budgets, the agencies’ budgets have increased more than most, if not the most. Significant funding has been put into the National Cyber Force as part of the cyber corridor in the north-west. There are sometimes limits to how much detail one gives on some of those budgets, but I am happy to interact with the Intelligence and Security Committee to provide any reassurance the House needs that significant funding is being provided on our resilience and our national cyber-response. That builds on a number of points raised this morning, including our work on the skills needed as part of that resilience and the situation centre in which we have invested.

Giles Watling Portrait Giles Watling (Clacton) (Con)
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T6. We have exited the EU and regained control, but I fear we have lost a lot in trade and unity in these isles. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should explore new avenues of trade, and perhaps reinvigorate lost avenues of trade, such as through the Commonwealth?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I concur with my hon. Friend that the Commonwealth is of huge importance. He is right to highlight that, but it fits within the wider strategy of the integrated review as part of global Britain, including building on defence ties such as with the Australian and US Governments through AUKUS. This brings significant defence opportunities, as well as opportunities for Treasury policy such as freeports and for our wider work through the Department for International Trade on free trade agreements. This is all part of global Britain, of which the Commonwealth is a key stakeholder.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call James Shannon.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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My mother calls me James or Jim, so you can choose, Mr Speaker.

I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for all his answers. On the recent fears of Russian cyber-attack, what contact and security support is there for our banking sector? What financial help or assistance can be offered to keep our institutions free from Russian cyber attack?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have rightly highlighted the importance of our cyber resilience in general and at this time. There is a host of excellent advice in the whole-of-Government approach set out in our national cyber strategy launched before Christmas. I specifically draw the House’s attention to the advice from the National Cyber Security Centre, which hon. Members can reinforce through their weekly columns and interaction with businesses in their constituency. The NCSC is a great repository of advice on how to take action on cyber resilience.

Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con)
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T7. In the light of the benefits of their pension schemes to public sector workers of all ages, can my right hon. Friend offer support for the idea of expanding pension auto-enrolment to workers of all ages in the private sector so that they can begin building a pension in the same way as their counterparts in the public sector?

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Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I simply pay tribute to my right hon. Friend. For a question of that sort, I think brevity is the best response in acknowledging the point that he raises.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
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I thought I would take advantage of an extra question. With our trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, which are to be welcomed, we will need to make a great drive to send food and drink across the world. Can we have more enthusiasm from the Government to drive our exports, especially food and drink?

Oral Answers to Questions

Steve Barclay Excerpts
Thursday 24th February 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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17. What progress his Department is making on moving civil service jobs outside of London.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Steve Barclay)
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Before I start, Mr Speaker, I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say I am appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine. This is an unprovoked attack by President Putin, and the UK and its allies will respond decisively. This morning the Prime Minister spoke to President Zelensky and chaired Cobra. He will make a statement to this House later today to outline the UK response, including overwhelming sanctions. The Cabinet Office is accelerating work on domestic resilience and we will provide more information on that in due course.

More than 2,000 civil service jobs have already moved to places across the UK under the Places for Growth programme, including York and the south-west.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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May I associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s words? In this Parliament, we will stand in solidarity against the deranged tyranny we have seen and make the road that President Putin has chosen as painful as possible.

York is a beautiful city. It is the beating economic heart of the York city region, the new devolved region of York and the whole of the beautiful county of North Yorkshire. We would give a very warm welcome to anybody who relocates their jobs and their families to the area. Will my right hon. Friend update us on the very exciting plans we have heard about, which will see a number of jobs coming to the city?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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Mr Speaker, even as Lancastrians I am sure that both you and I recognise that York is indeed a beautiful city. It very much features in our plans to relocate roles. Around 300 civil service roles have already moved or are moving to the city, in addition to the 2,790 civil servants already based in York.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the south-west also needs levelling up? Devon and Cornwall are more than just great places to go on holiday; they are also great places to live and work.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I very much agree. That is why the south-west is already home to 45,000 civil servants. The recent levelling-up White Paper highlighted the range of Departments that will be relocating, including to the south-west.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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We know it is important to have a good breadth of civil service jobs out in the country, but it is also important to have a diverse civil service. Will the Minister explain what he will do to ensure that the top jobs in the civil service better reflect the nation they seek to serve?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I could not agree more. The hon. Gentleman is right to champion diversity, which is at the heart of the Places for Growth programme. If we want a meritocracy, we need diversity as a part of that, recognising, as the Prime Minister has frequently said, that talent is equally distributed but opportunity often is not. People should be able to fulfil their careers closer to home. Moving senior-level jobs—for example, with the Treasury in Darlington—is a key part of enabling people from all backgrounds to access the very best jobs in our civil service.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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I associate myself with the remarks made earlier. This is a dark day for democracy. As someone who has been in this House for a very long time and who was born during the Blitz, I know that dictators are never deterred by sanctions; they are deterred by firm action.

Huddersfield is a booming university town. It is the perfect place for people to come and live, with beautiful countryside. We are also a real centre for technology and innovation. We would love anything to do with green skills, green enterprise and green start-ups based in our university town.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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First, I thank the hon. Gentleman. Through his experience in the House, he brings great context to the issues we face.

On Huddersfield, I very much agree. One of the issues is how we combine the Places for Growth programme with other parts of Government, not least the record investment in research and development—increased from £15 billion to £22 billion—so that we take the best of our academic research in our universities, and get the start-ups and then the scale-ups in places such as Huddersfield.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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I echo the comments that have been made and our thoughts are with the people of Ukraine after Putin’s unprovoked and unjustifiable attack.

To ensure that talented civil servants can build their careers outside London, we need to see senior civil service roles based in our towns and cities, not just concentrated in Whitehall. We need to put opportunities back in the places that built Britain. The Government’s levelling-up White Paper estimates that about 7% of senior civil service roles will be moved out of London by 2025 and that a further 10% would need to be moved out by 2030 to meet the Government’s Places for Growth target, but beyond vague words and wishful thinking, there is no clear plan to achieve that, is there? So what is the Minister’s plan? Is it to move Londoners out, sack hard-working civil servants, as the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency suggests, or to have a meaningful recruitment strategy across our regions?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I went to Preston City Council and to look at the new National Cyber Force—we have investment going into the cyber corridor of the north-west, combining the innovation in Manchester with, for example, the fantastic courses that Lancaster University and the University of Central Lancashire offer—and as I found when talking to that Labour-led council, there is actually a lot of cross-party support for Places for Growth. I do not think there is a huge difference between the parties. On the plan, we can look at the 2,000 roles that have already moved and the levelling-up White Paper of 2 February, which sets out the plan for how this will be taken forward.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
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2. What steps his Department is taking to support the return of civil servants to the office following the end of guidance to work from home during the covid-19 outbreak.

Robin Millar Portrait Robin Millar (Aberconwy) (Con)
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6. What steps his Department is taking to support the return of civil servants to the office following the end of guidance to work from home during the covid-19 outbreak.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Steve Barclay)
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The Cabinet Office has followed central Government guidance to employers to reduce the risk of transmission in the workplace, so that all our buildings return to the maximum available capacity as soon as possible now that new restrictions have lifted.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton
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I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. As well as getting Whitehall back to the office, and given the recent announcements about rolling back the state, does he agree that we should now focus on reducing both the record numbers of people working in central Government and the civil servant headcount?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I very much agree. My hon. Friend will have noticed that the spending review 2020 included a provision to do exactly that. However, the point is more nuanced, because this is also about empowering civil servants and taking away often the many layers so that the very good work of sometimes more junior civil servants can get to Ministers and senior decision makers. There is a fiscal benefit of this and an opportunity in how we better empower staff and, in turn, combine that with our learning and development offer. Indeed, that is why the Cabinet Office is doubling the learning and development package that we offer to our staff.

Robin Millar Portrait Robin Millar
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We all know that civil servants have a vital role in delivering and managing public services and it is essential that they can get on with that, so I welcome what has been described. However, will my right hon. Friend reassure my Aberconwy constituents by clarifying that any UK Government instruction to civil servants will also apply in Wales, where Welsh Government guidance remains to work at home?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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We are clear, in relation to areas of reserved authority, that we are a UK Government—indeed, the Prime Minister is the Minister for the Union—and we have been clear on that in our messaging with Departments. The point is that many staff want to get back into the office, particularly those who do not have the benefit of a larger house, a garden and perhaps an office at home. There are often important opportunities that come from being in the office that are not always available when they work from home.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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It is very good to hear the Minister’s positive response. Has the Department considered encouraging staff by allowing flexible working for a short time to allow reduced staff to acclimatise to working closely with others again? Not only is there a benefit for the workers, but there is a benefit from the economic spin-off of having people in offices so that the shops can also continue to thrive.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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As an MP for a rural constituency, I absolutely recognise that point, as well as the issue of wellbeing relating to commuting times and other aspects, so this is part of a nuanced approach. However, the point is that the desks in Whitehall, for example, do not equate to the total number of full-time equivalent staff. There are already far fewer desks than FTEs, so if we are paying for office space, the question is why it would not be used. This is about using the office space that we have as well as recognising that there are opportunities for hybrid working.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
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4. What recent progress the Brexit Opportunities Unit has made in delivering growth and innovation.

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Jamie Wallis Portrait Dr Jamie Wallis (Bridgend) (Con)
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7. What steps the Government are taking to strengthen the UK’s cyber-resilience.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Steve Barclay)
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Our national cyber strategy sets out how we will ensure that the UK remains a leading democratic cyber-power that is more resilient and able to counter cyber-threats. This and the Government cyber-security strategy are supported by £2.6 billion of taxpayers’ money over the next three years.

Jamie Wallis Portrait Dr Wallis
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I welcome the Government’s pledge to create regional cyber-clusters across the UK as part of their levelling-up agenda, but does my right hon. Friend agree we need to be conscious that, if we attempt to standardise security protocols across multiple organisations, the overall effectiveness of the security of each individual organisation must improve and not be weakened as a result?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I take my hon. Friend’s point, but having the 12 regional clusters will help businesses that want to do the right thing and know how best to protect against the risks of cyber. Our aim is to help businesses improve their cyber-security. Given events in Europe today, it is particularly pressing that businesses take this seriously.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call John Spellar. Not here.

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Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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11. If he will make an assessment with the Foreign Secretary of the potential merits of introducing a national strategy council to develop and support a long-term global strategy for the UK.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Steve Barclay)
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The Government’s approach to national security was set out in the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy. The National Security Council provides strategic direction to ensure that the review is implemented, and provides the necessary flexibility and agility to respond to the changing global context.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely
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On responding to the changing global context, would it be accurate to say that this morning deterrence has failed? Do the Government also agree that perhaps if we had a national strategy council that looked forward a decade to the trends shaping our world, our policy might be less ad hoc, less reactive and less last-minute, and our ability to deter wars, which are currently breaking out in Europe, might be stronger?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in these issues, so he will know better than most that the whole purpose of the integrated review was to look at the period up to 2030, and it clearly identified China as a systemic competitor. I also know from my time as Chief Secretary to the Treasury that at the spending review 2020 we put in place the biggest investment in the Ministry of Defence—in defence—for about 30 years. That shows this Government’s willingness to look longer-term at what the right strategic approach is.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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12. What discussions the Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities has had with (a) industry bodies and (b) the devolved Administrations on the Government’s assessment of the potential benefits of the UK leaving the EU.

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Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Steve Barclay)
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I begin by welcoming an excellent new ministerial team. This includes an expanded role for the Paymaster General to include Minister for the Cabinet Office. My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler) is the new Parliamentary Secretary, and my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) is the new Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency.

As right hon. and hon. Members will also know, the Prime Minister has pledged to make changes to the way Downing Street and the Cabinet Office are run so that we can better respond to delivering across the UK and to the issues raised by parliamentary colleagues across the House. In my role as a Minister and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, I will be supporting Cabinet colleagues in delivering for the British people, uniting and levelling up across the UK.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
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I am sure the Minister will have been as appalled as I was to see the scenes of Russian aggression on our televisions. We should be equally concerned, however, about the Russian aggression that we cannot see. The Minister has responsibility for cyber-security. Can he give the House some assurance that his Department is now taking urgent steps to ensure that Government and commerce in this country will be protected against what we should reasonably expect to be coming from that direction?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Hansard - -

The right hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point. It is one that I touched on in my opening remarks about Cabinet Office plans for domestic resilience. It is something that we are working on across the United Kingdom, including with the Scottish Government. Through the excellent work of the National Cyber Security Centre, we are ensuring that the new national strategy that I launched before Christmas and the Government strategy on cyber that we launched shortly after Christmas are taken forward. They are about building resilience to the cyber risk for the whole of society while also recognising the huge opportunities that online platforms offer.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T2. I thank my hon. Friend for his commitment to making the United Kingdom the best country in the world in which to be a veteran by 2028. Will the Minister outline for me what he and his Department are doing to improve employment opportunities for veterans in my constituency of Dudley North and across the United Kingdom?

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Further to the question from the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), may I urge the Minister to give more detail on civil resilience, especially in light of what is happening with cyber-attacks and threats emanating from Russia. What extra support is being offered to businesses? I know national infrastructure is important, but many businesses across the UK are concerned about this. Has the national security cell done an assessment, and will that assessment be published?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Hansard - -

This is an area of common ground across the House. I know the National Security Adviser has shared briefings with Opposition leaders, as referred to earlier in the week, and we continue to work closely across the House. The clear message being sent by all parties today is extremely welcome. On the specific question of cyber, we will set out further details of the work that the Cabinet Office is doing. We had a Cobra meeting this morning and that was one of the topics focused on.

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for that response. My heartfelt sympathies go out to Ukraine and my support is there with its people. The tragic events of this morning show that there is no space, excuse or justification when it comes to Putin’s continued influence in the UK’s democracy and national infrastructure. We have seen this week that Russian oligarchs and Kremlin-linked organisations have begun intense lobbying of Government Ministers in an attempt to avoid sanctions if Moscow invades Ukraine. Will the Minister confirm that none of his Conservative colleagues have accepted donations from anyone with links to the Kremlin currently lobbying the Foreign Office?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Hansard - -

Again, the right hon. Lady raises an important point. She will well know that there is a long-standing principle that permissible donors are those who are on the UK electoral register: in essence, if people can vote in the UK for a party, they are able to donate to it. It is important in our discussions in this House that we remember—although I do not think that is what she was saying—that people in this country of Russian origin are often British citizens.

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T4. My constituents and I were shocked by some of the revelations that came out of the Grenfell inquiry on building products manufacturers. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that none of those manufacturers will be used for Government contracts and that we have robust processes in place to ensure that Government contracts only go to honourable companies?

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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T3. The job of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is a huge one. The Cabinet Office has responsibility for some very important projects, from the covid-19 inquiry to cyber-security, emergency response and national security. Those all matter to people in Newport West—national security more so than ever today. How will the Minister reassure my constituents that their concerns will be listened to and acted on without dither or delay?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Hansard - -

In part, by physically going to areas such as the north-west—I referenced my visit to Preston earlier—working on a cross-party basis to look at creating a cyber-corridor across the north-west, bringing the talent and skills agenda through schools into the universities with courses such as those at the University of Central Lancashire, and ensuring a better pipeline of apprentices into both the business community, such as BAE in that part of the world, and Government itself.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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T5. On a day like today a celebration is perhaps not at the forefront of our minds. However, Her Majesty the Queen’s 70th jubilee this year does mark the unwavering devotion that she has had towards this country and the service therein. Across the United Kingdom—and not just in this country but of course around the world as well—people will be very keen to celebrate this historic milestone. Will my right hon. Friend elaborate on what he plans to do about putting this momentous occasion forward?

Taiwo Owatemi Portrait Taiwo Owatemi (Coventry North West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T7. I would like to begin by sending my thoughts and prayers to the people of Ukraine at this impossibly difficult time.There has been a great deal of controversy regarding the Cabinet Office’s handling of public procurement during the pandemic, and we have all read the reports of cronyism and contracts being dished out to Government friends. With this in mind, my constituents in Coventry North West want to know what steps the Cabinet Office is taking to clean up procurement processes going forward.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Hansard - -

I think this issue has been well rehearsed at pretty much all the Cabinet Office questions that I have participated in. As was touched on earlier, the purpose of the high priority lane was to efficiently prioritise credible offers of PPE, and that is what we did. The priority was to ensure that our frontline services had the PPE they needed. That is what we invested in and that is what we secured.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby  (North Devon) (Con)
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T6.   I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new role as the Prime Minister’s chief of staff in addition to his role as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Will he commit to ensuring that No. 10 drives forward levelling up places such as North Devon, whose variation in opportunity is often hidden due to the averages of a large county such as Devon?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I very much agree that levelling up is a UK-wide endeavour and there are often pockets of variance within regions, as I know with a constituency in the fens: North East Cambridgeshire has a very different set of issues from Cambridge. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of levelling up from the skills, health and transport infrastructure perspectives, which impact differently within different regions of the UK.

Chris Law Portrait Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP)
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I want to put on record my fullest support and solidarity for the people of Ukraine as they face the unlawful, aggressive and unprovoked invasion by Russia.

The Minister will know that the recently published national action plan does not include a commitment on aid transparency, which is critical for all of us in ensuring that taxpayer money goes to those who need it most. Bond, the network of development and humanitarian organisations, is calling on the Government to engage in meaningful and inclusive consultation on this. Will he commit to meeting Bond to create an ambitious target to ensure that we remain a world leader on the transparency of our aid budget?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Hansard - -

First, I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks. The theme this morning has been the unified voice with which this House has spoken on the troubling events in Ukraine. In respect of transparency in the aid budget, I am happy to highlight his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and ask whether she or one of her Ministers would be willing to meet him to discuss the issue he raises.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the cross-departmental work to tackle illegal immigration across the English channel, and specifically the plans for the establishment of an offshore immigration detention and processing centre?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Hansard - -

As part of taking back control of our borders, this is an issue of huge concern. That is why, through my role in the Cabinet Office, I have been working closely with the Home Secretary and other colleagues on a whole-of-Government response to the challenge of illegal migration. The Home Secretary has set out a number of areas of that work and we will be saying more on that in the weeks ahead.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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How many staff is the Downing Street chief of staff the chief of? How many of them are civil servants? How many of them are political appointees or Spads, and how many of them are employees of the Conservative party?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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In terms of how many people currently work in No. 10, it is slightly over 400. Within the Cabinet Office, the number is much larger, but that depends on whether we cut the data to include fast-streamers, who sit on the Cabinet Office headcount, or to include the Government Commercial Function, which is located with different Departments. In short, one can have a wider answer depending on how we want to analyse the data. The wider point is how we have very clear lines of accountability, how we ensure that the issues raised by the House are addressed and in particular how we empower the Cabinet and Cabinet Government. That is something I am keen to help facilitate through my engagement with Secretaries of State.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Earlier this month, a former civil servant was awarded a large pay-out after suffering a prolonged and sustained campaign of racial abuse, hinting at a systemic problem in the Cabinet Office and its agencies. What steps is the Minister taking to tackle racism in his Department?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Hansard - -

There are two issues there. The first is the issue of pay-offs when people leave roles, and we have a manifesto commitment. It is something I was committed to in the Treasury, and I know that the current Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke), is taking forward proposals on the size of payouts. We had a manifesto commitment to cap those at £95,000. The issue the hon. Lady raises is slightly different, because it pertains to employment law, and as the House knows, it is not appropriate for Ministers to comment on individual cases. Where there is common ground between her and me is that it is important that the civil service is an exemplar in how it supports colleagues across the civil service and how it champions diversity, which again is a theme that has come out of the discussion this morning.

Commission for Racial Equality Pension and Life Assurance Scheme

Steve Barclay Excerpts
Thursday 3rd February 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Written Statements
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Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Steve Barclay)
- Hansard - -

It is normal practice, when a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability in excess of £300,000 for which there is no specific statutory authority, for the Minister concerned to present a departmental minute to Parliament giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances.

I wish to notify Parliament of a contingent liability that the Government have entered into in the form of an indemnity connected to the winding-up of a pension scheme managed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, an arm’s length body which is sponsored by the Cabinet Office.

The EHRC is the successor body to several anti-discrimination bodies that were dissolved by the Equality Act 2006. One such body was the Commission for Racial Equality, which set up a pension and life assurance scheme—CREPLAS—in 1974.

The winding-up process is now nearly complete. The scheme has surplus assets of c. £7.4 million, and when winding-up is fully completed the trustees will refund the surplus, net of tax, to the Treasury via the EHRC.

The Treasury granted the CREPLAS trustees two lines of protection in the form of (a) post-wind-up indemnity against future claims and (b) the power to purchase private insurance. The Treasury is satisfied that its handling of this unusual case should not set a precedent for other existing or future cases both within Government or for other public sector bodies.

The residual risk borne by EHRC/Treasury under the proposed indemnity has been estimated at under £3 million, and is acceptable to the Treasury. In relation to this, I have today laid before Parliament a departmental minute giving notice of the Department incurring this contingent liability.

The contingent liability will in due course be included in departmental and ALB annual reports and accounts.

[HCWS580]

Government Cyber Security Strategy

Steve Barclay Excerpts
Tuesday 25th January 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Written Statements
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Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Steve Barclay)
- Hansard - -

Further to my statement to the House on Wednesday 15 December on the National Cyber Strategy (HCWS484), I am pleased to announce the publication of the Government Cyber Security Strategy. This will deliver on the public sector resilience aspects of the national strategy which is critical to realising our ambitions as a cyber power.

Government have made significant progress in the last five years. The introduction of the minimum cyber-security standards for Government in 2018, and the underpinning annual “health check”, signalled clear requirements for cyber-security controls and behaviours and improved Government’s understanding of their cyber-security posture. Yet, while Government’s recognition and understanding of cyber-security risk has evolved, it has also highlighted the gap between where Government cyber resilience is now and where it needs to be.

As such, the Government Cyber Security Strategy sets out the vision that core Government functions are resilient to cyber-attack, strengthening the UK as a sovereign nation and cementing its authority as a democratic and responsible cyber power. The measurable aim is for these critical functions to be significantly hardened to cyber- attack by 2025, with all Government organisations across the whole public sector being resilient to known vulnerabilities and attack methods no later than 2030.

A copy of the Government Cyber Security Strategy will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS558]

Oral Answers to Questions

Steve Barclay Excerpts
Thursday 13th January 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Stephen Morgan Portrait Stephen Morgan (Portsmouth South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

15. What support he is providing to businesses and the voluntary sector to support key services affected by the omicron variant.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Steve Barclay)
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The most important thing to support businesses in the voluntary sector is to come out of the covid restrictions and reopen our economy. Boosters remain the best way to save lives, reduce the pressure on our NHS and keep our country safe. It is a great tribute to those working in our NHS that almost eight out of 10 eligible adults in England are now boosted.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies
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A year ago, Phil Grant of the DVLA tragically died of coronavirus. He was a man in his 60s with a heart condition who had previously been allowed to work from home during the first lockdown and was forced to go to work. A year on, just pre last Christmas, unions and management agreed that, after 700 cases of coronavirus at the DVLA, there should be new arrangements for people to work from home and a rota system to allow safety. The Government intervened and stopped that from being instated on the grounds that omicron was not as dangerous. Since then, we now have a cumulative figure of 1,700 coronavirus cases at the DVLA. Will the Minister intervene to enable the scheme agreed by both unions and management to be implemented for at least a couple of months and meet me urgently so that the safety of workers and their families can be protected?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Can we try to make questions shorter?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Hansard - -

I recognise the seriousness of the case. On behalf of all colleagues in the House, I am sure, I express our sympathy for the family concerned. As he will know, it is difficult to comment on individual cases. He will also be aware that under plan B, employees are encouraged to work from home where possible. I am happy to flag the case to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who oversees the body concerned. My right hon. Friend is balancing the need to address those employment issues with the importance of getting testing boosted when it comes to HGVs, cars and others. But he will pick up the case and I will raise it with him.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist
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During the pandemic, charities have played a hugely important part in supporting people, particularly those in need of help and more vulnerable older people. Does not the Minister agree that it would have been better to have involved those charities in the planning right from the start? Can we learn that lesson for the future?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the importance of charities, including in the pandemic response more widely. That is why we have had a package of £750 million of support for charities, which indicates their importance and how they have been involved throughout the pandemic.

Virendra Sharma Portrait Mr Virendra Sharma
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Ealing food bank in my constituency is doing tremendous work feeding those struggling the most. Those in greatest need already cannot afford to feed themselves and their families even while in work. If the Government move to charging for testing, will the Minister commit to funding lateral flow tests for the most vulnerable to prevent unwanted covid-19 outbreaks?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The reality as we meet today is that we continue to offer universal free testing. Actually, the UK is an outlier both in terms of the sheer quantum of testing that we have delivered—more than any other country in Europe—and the fact that we have not charged to do so. Testing has played a key role in our response, along with the booster campaign, but we need to balance that with value for money and the cost, which is very significant.

Stephen Morgan Portrait Stephen Morgan
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MAKE, based in Fratton, is an amazing, award-winning service that is supporting men struggling with their mental health during the pandemic through its Breakfast OK project, which provides a safe space for them to share their experiences with others with similar issues. What specifically is the Minister doing to support Portsmouth social enterprises to flourish and succeed at a time of rising demand and lengthening waiting times for vital mental health services?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I will have to pick up on the specific organisation the hon. Member references, but as I said in my answer a moment ago, we have had a package of £750 million of support. We have worked with a number of organisations, including our school sector with holiday clubs and other support that has been offered. I am very happy to look at the specific case he highlights to the House.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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At every twist and turn during this pandemic, the Government have dangerously dithered and delayed instead of being ready and resilient. The reality is that Labour brought in the Civil Contingencies Act in 2004, but the Conservatives have deprioritised and underfunded vital emergencies infrastructure since 2010. While I welcome the temporary funding for local resilience forums announced last year, it is just a meagre £7.5 million. It is tiny sum in the grand scheme of resilience needs, and it runs out in three months’ time. This leaves us unprepared to face the omicron variant, and potential future variants and emergencies, so will the Minister commit to properly and sustainably funding local resilience forums and ensure they are never again left without the resources they need to keep us all safe?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The hon. Lady is right on the importance of local resilience forums, but she is not right to say that the Government have not responded. There has been over £400 billion of support from the Government as part of our pandemic response. On specific measures, I refer her to the statement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on 21 December 2021 announcing further measures. I will not run through the full quantum of them, but just to take one, there are the one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises to support the hospitality and leisure sector. We have also taken wider measures to support businesses, such as reducing the isolation period, the daily contact testing and addressing issues within specific sectors—whether that is in social care or in the transport sector. There has been a whole range of measures from the Government, including the funding support, and as she mentioned in her question, much of that is continuing until the end of March.

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Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
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8. What recent steps the Government have taken to strengthen cyber-security in the UK.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Steve Barclay)
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Our new national cyber-strategy was launched in December. It builds on the previous five-year strategy, which reinforced the UK’s position as a global leader in cyber, second only to the US and China in independent studies. The new strategy sets out how the UK will continue to be a leading, responsible and democratic cyber power, and able to protect and promote our interests. It is supported by £2.6 billion of investment over the next three years.

Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What further steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that the UK’s use of cyber-space enhances the UK’s economic and social prosperity and national security, and ensures a strong, cohesive and resilient society while maintaining our core values of freedom, fairness and the rule of law?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. That is why the strategy sets out a whole of society approach, including a focus on building skills and the highest standards in cyber-security across society. Over the last five years, we have seen the cyber sector grow significantly, with more than 1,400 businesses generating revenues of £8.9 billion last year alone, and supporting 46,700 skilled jobs. That is also why we are targeting key sectors as part of that strategy, such as through the CyberFirst programme, which will ensure that 6,500 pupils from 600 schools can benefit, in particular by attracting girls into that competition so that they are a part of the cyber-strategy.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

A cyber-attack last March on the UK Defence Academy was recently reported to have caused significant damage despite ultimately being unsuccessful. Those behind the attack remain unidentified. What measures are the Government considering to improve identification of malicious hackers and impose consequences on them?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- View Speech - Hansard - -

That is an extremely important point, and the hon. Lady is right to highlight it to the House. First, that is why we are putting in more funding: £2.6 billion over three years, as opposed to the previous £1.9 billion over five years. On her particular point about deterrence, that funding is outwith the funding provided to the National Cyber Force, which is going into Preston and the north-west as part of our levelling-up agenda. That will have a key role in the deterrence aspects of the risk that she quite rightly identifies.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

9. If he will take steps to reassure the public that Cabinet Ministers’ personal and lifestyle costs are not being funded by donors and therefore vulnerable to outside influence.

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Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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17. What steps his Department is taking to make regulatory reforms following the UK’s departure from the EU.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Steve Barclay)
- Hansard - -

The Government are driving a wide range of regulatory reforms, from shaping the approach for new technology such as data, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles, to reforming existing regulations to better suit the UK, including on financial services. In addition, a range of smaller reforms will make a material difference to specific industries, and we are digitising regulation and reviewing all EU retained law.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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Despite years of Labour trying to block Brexit and keep us tied to mirroring EU rules and regulations, it is this Prime Minister who got Brexit done, and we are therefore able to reform procurement rules, blocking companies with a poor track record of delivery from winning public contracts. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if Labour had its way, we would be in a scenario whereby companies failing to deliver for the taxpayer with their money could still win public contracts?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He highlights an extremely important Brexit opportunity around our £300 billion procurement spend. As we heard earlier, we now have the ability to use our public procurement in new and innovative ways, particularly to drive social value within communities. That will make a big difference as part of our wider levelling-up agenda.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

18. What discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on formally starting the public inquiry into the covid-19 pandemic.

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David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Steve Barclay)
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I would like to begin by paying tribute to the Member for Birmingham, Erdington, who was a hugely respected figure throughout the House. When I first arrived in Parliament, I worked very constructively with him on the important issue of gangmasters, on which he had long been a champion, particularly in respect of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. He will be greatly missed on both sides of the House. We send our condolences to colleagues opposite and, in particular, to Harriet, for their great loss.

May I also take this opportunity to place on the record my thanks to Sir Dave Lewis for all his work with the supply chain unit in helping to ensure greater resilience of supplies in the run-up to Christmas and that some of the wilder concerns that were highlighted about shortages at Christmas did not materialise? That is a great tribute to his work and that of the supply chain unit.

Today, the Cabinet Office is launching a Government campaign on an issue that I know unites all of us in this House: tackling the abhorrent crime of child sexual abuse. The Stop Abuse Together campaign empowers parents and carers to help keep children safe from harm by recognising potential signs of abuse, and by building trust by speaking to children regularly and finding further support where they have concerns.

As the lead Minister for cyber-security, I find it shocking and tragic, as I am sure all Members do, that this is the worst year on record for child sexual abuse online. The Internet Watch Foundation reports a threefold increase in imagery showing seven to 10-year-olds who have been targeted and groomed by predators during the pandemic. The charity investigated more than 360,000 reports of suspected criminal material in 2021, which is more than it dealt with in the previous 15 years. An estimated one in 10 children in England and Wales will experience sexual abuse before they are 16 and many will not tell anyone at the time. We all want to play our full part in keeping young people safe, online and in person, and this important campaign launched today can help bring them the protection they need.

David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I very much welcome what has just been said.

Colleagues at the London Borough of Hillingdon have told me of the benefits to the procurement process that they see from the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, so what measures does my right hon. Friend have in mind to promote the benefits that that Act can bring to public sector procurement, and especially in how it might support the levelling-up agenda?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend knows from his own time in local government how important that Act is in requiring that people who commission public services think about how they can secure wider social, economic and environmental benefit. That is why we are going to extend the terms of that provision. As the Paymaster General set out a moment ago, the new procurement legislation will further empower local authorities, and others procuring on behalf of the taxpayer, to drive better social value, for example by targeting contracts to businesses that employ a larger proportion of those with disability. I think these measures will be supported across the House, and they build on much good work that has already been done in local authorities across the country.

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Earlier, in his response to the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), the Paymaster General talked about poor performance. The Government’s VIP lane for personal protective equipment procurement was not just dodgy, but actually illegal. That was not my opinion, but the judgment of the High Court yesterday. Once again, this Government have been shown that they cannot seem to stay on the right side of the law. Listening to the Paymaster General, anybody would think that they had won their case in the Court yesterday. Time and again, Cabinet Office Ministers have stood at the Dispatch Box and told us that detailed diligence and full financial checks were done. Yesterday, the Court found that the Cabinet Office simply did not have the resources necessary to undertake due diligence. Officials simply searched online to confirm that one company existed, and another received a red warning but it was not passed on. Can he tell us how much, from those two contracts alone, was spent on equipment that was not even used by the NHS?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- View Speech - Hansard - -

With respect, what the right hon. Lady omitted was that the court acknowledged that it is highly unlikely that the outcome would have been “substantially different” if a different assessment process had been followed. What the House would quite rightly challenge the Government on is, first, whether anything different would have occurred had there been a different approach; and secondly, the fundamental point of whether, at a time of national crisis, the Government were straining every sinew to ensure that the clinicians at the sharp end of our NHS had the PPE that they needed, and the answer is that they did do that.

That is why we paid higher procurement costs when I was in my role as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. It is why colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care strained every sinew possible to get that procurement. What the Court said was that it was highly unlikely that the outcome would have been “substantially different”. That is the key finding of the case yesterday, but, of course, we will look closely at that case—it was only yesterday—to see what lessons can be learned.

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

There was no answer to the question about the billions of pounds that were wasted on the dodgy contracts through that VIP fast lane. I encourage people to read that judgment, because the Government at the moment seem to think that it was all good and rosy.

When the Paymaster General was sent to cover for the Prime Minister this week, he told the House that

“a fair and impartial investigation takes place before there is a judge, jury and executioner.”—[Official Report, 11 January 2022; Vol. 706, c. 430.]

The terms of reference for that investigation are clear. They say:

“Any matters relating to the conduct of Ministers should follow the process set out in the Ministerial Code.”

That process is also clear. The rules say:

“The Prime Minister is the ultimate judge of the…appropriate consequences of a breach”.

So, will the Prime Minister act as the judge and jury even though he is also the man in the dock, or will his Conservative colleagues find their integrity and finally act as executioners to his premiership?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The right hon. Lady is conflating two different issues. On the first issue, the reality is that more than 16.5 billion PPE items were delivered, and that was the key challenge, at a time of national crisis, that the Government were set to ensure that those on the frontline were protected, as they needed to be. The Court’s judgment yesterday was very clear. As I said a moment ago, it is highly unlikely that the outcome would have been “substantially different” had a different process been followed.

On the right hon. Lady’s second item, the Prime Minister addressed those points in the House yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions, when he apologised. He recognised the extraordinary sacrifices that have been made by the British public over the past 18 months, and it is right that Sue Gray, a highly respected senior civil servant, as the Paymaster General said, is allowed to complete her inquiry so that the full facts can be established.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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T2. As part of the celebrations for Her Majesty’s 2022 platinum jubilee, 39 places are in competition for city status, including the town I represent, Dudley. Does my right hon. Friend agree that city status can deliver more jobs and business opportunities, and play a vital part in the wider regeneration of towns such as Dudley?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I do agree with my hon. Friend. These civic honours are a rare acknowledgment, awarded by Her Majesty herself, to celebrate a place’s individual heritage, its sense of community and the fact that residents have worked so hard to create a special environment. That is being recognised. The platinum jubilee will be a historic moment in time that brings people together and helps us to renew our nation as we emerge. I am delighted that Dudley, among a number of places, has put itself forward for Her Majesty’s consideration.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
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Repeatedly throughout the pandemic, the devolved Administrations have asked their people to do the right but often difficult thing, which, to their enormous credit, they have. Does the Minister think that the Prime Minister’s remarkable admission that he attended an illegal Downing Street party during a period of strict national lockdown will strengthen or undermine the relationship between the Government in London and those in Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The fact that yesterday I, together with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, was on a call with the First Minister of Scotland, the First Minister of Wales and others underscores the commitment on all sides across the Union to work together on the common challenges we have faced throughout the pandemic. At both official and ministerial level, people have been willing to set party differences aside to respond to a common challenge. Building on the conversation yesterday, that response shows a willingness to work together, and I think that is what the public in Scotland and across the United Kingdom want their elected representatives to do. Certainly in my role I am extremely keen to continue that positive engagement with the First Minister and others in the interests of our electorate.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara
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I assume, therefore, that the answer is, “No, it will not strengthen that relationship.” Still on the illegal party in Downing Street during a strict national lockdown, when did the Minister first become aware that the party had taken place? Now that the Met is finally taking an interest in this matter, what advice has he sought from the Attorney General, ahead of speaking to the police?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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To the direct question the hon. Gentleman raises, I first became aware when it was covered in the media—I am sure at a similar time to him. We cannot anticipate the conclusions of the current inquiry, as the Prime Minister said to the House yesterday, and we should allow that inquiry to conclude.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
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T3. Last week, I met my constituent Mark Isaacs from the UK Veterans Hearing Foundation, who explained that services for veterans with hearing loss got considerable funding from the LIBOR fines, but that since that money has not been available many veterans are struggling to get the support they need. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss how veterans can get the services they need for often considerable hearing loss?

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)
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T4. The civil service fast stream graduate programme to recruit more black civil servants has been an abject failure. Out of over 14,000 black applicants, only 98 were successful. That is one in 143, compared to one in 44 for white applicants. That is clearly not levelling up. Does the Minister agree that that is because of deeply entrenched institutional racism? Will he explain what assessment has been undertaken on levels of diversity and what actions will be taken to deal with such significant under-representation?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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With respect to the hon. Lady, I do not accept the characterisation she places on the civil service.

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson
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They are facts and figures.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I was actually going to come on to what I hope is a constructive point, because the underlying concern the hon. Lady raises is fair. I am very happy to pick up on the issue with the disability and equalities unit that sits within the Cabinet Office. It is important that we have the right processes in place, particularly with fast streamers, because if we are to have better representation at senior civil service level, including at perm sec level, then we need to get the ladder in place for other ranks in order to have the trajectory through. So I do not accept her characterisation, but she raises an important point and it is one that I will pick up with the disability and equalities unit. I will write to her on the point she raises.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Sir Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
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In considering ministerial responsibility for the hydrogen sector, will the Minister bear in mind that 95% of hydrogen is so-called blue hydrogen derived from natural gas and that, if we really are to have a hydrogen revolution that puts Britain on the map, we need more green hydrogen derived from renewable or nuclear power?

--- Later in debate ---
Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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T5. Given the damage that the self-styled Minister for the Union has done to public trust in recent days and the decision of some Cabinet colleagues to diminish the role of the Scottish Conservative leader, the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), will the Minister prove that the Government can at least try to do one thing right and commit to supporting my private Member’s Bill, which would at least ensure that the boards of public bodies include appropriate representation from the devolved nations?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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As a former member of the Whips Office, I know that it is always a triumph how different issues can be used in support of a private Member’s Bill. I am sure that my colleague the Chief Whip will look at the Bill’s terms in detail.

As for the Union, the Prime Minister is the Minister for the Union, and its importance was reinforced by the recent machinery of Government change and the leading position taken by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. We want to level up across the entire Union of the United Kingdom. I referenced the call that I had yesterday with other Ministers and colleagues in the devolved Administrations as part of the ongoing covid response on which we are working closely together. The Union is fundamental to the Government—it certainly informs much of my work as a Minister—and the Prime Minister and ministerial team are hugely committed to it.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con)
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The Nationality and Borders Bill is a crucial step forward to preventing illegal immigration and abuse of our asylum system, but the Home Office clearly cannot solve the problem on its own. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on cross-departmental efforts to stop small boats crossing the channel?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point that is a key issue for the illegal migration taskforce, which I chair. I will meet the Home Secretary later today, and I met the Foreign Secretary yesterday. He is right that our response is a whole of Government endeavour and I am sure that the Home Secretary will update the House further on our progress.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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T6. Does the Paymaster General, as a former Law Officer, agree that there is a fatal flaw in our system when the person who ultimately makes judgment on the ministerial code is a Prime Minister who is at the centre of allegations of breaking the law and misleading the House? Does it not go against all the rules of natural justice to be judge and jury in your own case?

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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I want to thank my right hon. Friend and the noble Lord Agnew who, with the Cabinet Office and the Home Office, have managed to bring more than 500 brand-new jobs to the city of Stoke-on-Trent as well as further investment in developing a site. Will he update the House on progress for the Stoke-on-Trent relocation and on the wider move that is taking civil servants out across our United Kingdom?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend is right to mention the importance of the Places for Growth agenda not just to Stoke, but across the entire United Kingdom. It is fundamental to greater diversity in our civil service—diversity of place, as well as gender and race—and I am very happy to have further discussions with him about the role of Places for Growth in Stoke. As he knows, it fits within a range of Government programmes that are committed to levelling up Stoke, including those that he and other Stoke MPs highlighted to the House at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday.

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry (Ilford South) (Lab)
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The Government’s VIP lane for personal protective equipment contracts has been ruled by a judge to be unlawful. The judge found that the

“operation of the High Priority Lane was in breach of the obligation of equal treatment…the illegality is marked by this judgment.”

The House needs to know what steps Ministers will take to ensure that there are no corrupt processes, particularly involving contracts to Conservative party cronies. In particular, I would like to hear confirmation from Ministers today in relation to some of the serious questions about PPE Medpro. Will the Minister agree to release details of the financial checks done on that company, including its connections to a Conservative party peer?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think that question perhaps predated the various discussions we have had, including with the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), in the course of these departmental questions. As I said, we have delivered more than 16.5 billion PPE items. The court found that it is highly unlikely that the outcome would have been substantially different. We have had questions in the House on, for example, the contracts with PestFix and Ayanda, and the court found that we did not rely on a referral to the high-priority lane when awarding those contracts. It is right that the House considers properly the judgment yesterday, but that judgment shows that the outcome would not have been substantially different.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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We will face local elections later this year. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what action will be taken to make sure that personation does not take place and that postal and proxy voting is in accordance with the law?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. He will be well aware, following the recent machinery of government change, that that subject no longer falls within the purview of the Cabinet Office, so I do not want to incur the displeasure of Mr Speaker by straying into the territory of ministerial colleagues. However, I will ensure that the relevant colleague is alerted to the very good point that my hon. Friend highlights.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I remind the Minister for Defence People and Veterans of my request to him about the charity Beyond the Battlefield, which does amazing work for veterans who suffer from poor mental health and particularly those who often go under the radar and are not accounted for in the stats process. In Northern Ireland, its work is phenomenal. Will the Minister consider allocating funding to assist with its privately funded veterans centre in Portavogie in my constituency, which is due to open next week? The Minister would be very welcome to come along with me to visit it.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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Does the Cabinet Office agree that the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), is a “lightweight”?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I think he is a hugely talented colleague. I work extremely closely with him and I look forward to doing so. One of the points that has come out through departmental questions is the commitment from many across the House, although not those on the Scottish National party Benches, to the importance of the Union. That is an absolutely central commitment of the Government and the Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet are committed to defending it.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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Can I give a bit of friendly advice to the Paymaster General, who has been valiantly defending the indefensible? When the ship is about to sail, you jump on it because it is leaving without you. The ministerial code matters, standards in public life matter and trust in politics matters. The case against the Prime Minister is clear. Why is the Paymaster General destroying his own integrity to save a man who has none?

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
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Despite the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s words at the Dispatch Box, the reality is that his Cabinet colleagues yesterday were calling the Scottish Conservative leader a “lightweight” and irrelevant because he was up in Elgin. Is it not the case that there has never been a Union of equals? It is always “Scotland, know your place,” and that was demonstrated yesterday.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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Again, that is a question that pre-empts the discussion that we have had in the House today. I flagged to the hon. Gentleman’s colleague a moment ago the very constructive discussions that I, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and indeed the Paymaster General had with the First Minister of Scotland yesterday. We touched on the role—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to heckle through the answer, that is entirely up to him; I was just running through the various things that we do as part of our commitment to places for growth. The Cabinet Office has a commitment to our office in Glasgow: we had a hugely successful COP26 event that showcased the great talents of Glasgow, of Scotland and of the United Kingdom. That is part of our wider commitment to the Union, which is four-square at the heart of our agenda as a Government.

Independent Review of Construction Frameworks

Steve Barclay Excerpts
Thursday 16th December 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Written Statements
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Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Steve Barclay)
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My noble Friend the Minister for Efficiency and Transformation, Lord Agnew Kt, has today made the following written statement:

The Government have today published the “Independent Review of Construction Frameworks Report”. The review is a key part of implementing the Construction Playbook which was published in December 2020 to deliver the Government’s ambition of transforming how we assess, procure and deliver public works projects and programmes. This work has been led by Professor David Mosey of King’s College London and supported by the invaluable input of over 120 participants from across the construction industry and public sector. The recommendations in the review will help to ensure the principles of the Construction Playbook apply to the many projects that utilise commercial frameworks and not only those that run standalone procurement exercises. This will help change the face of the construction industry and enable better, faster and greener project outcomes.

The review reflects the Government’s focus on delivering for the taxpayer by getting projects right from the start, driving better outcomes and achieving a more productive and sustainable construction sector. It sets out the components of a gold standard framework that will help the Government to make informed procurement and contracting decisions. The report makes specific recommendations and highlights examples of good practice that provide value for money through reducing waste and supporting innovation.

Applying the gold standard will enable us to easily identify those frameworks which embody the policies and principles of best practice while providing a number of options to ensure competition and flexibility. This will be achieved through:

An outcome-based strategic approach that drives economic, social and environmental value;

Collaborative, multi-party relationships that align objectives, success measures, targets and incentives with commitments to jointly work on improving value and reducing risk;

Improved framework call-off systems, cost models and incentives that provide a fair return for suppliers and that drive value rather than a race to the bottom.

Construction is a key UK industry and we are committed to underpinning the economy through investing in infrastructure. By improving our approach to construction frameworks, we will progress towards a sustainable and more productive construction sector which benefits all of our citizens. A full list of the recommendations is available as part of the report published today on gov.uk.

A copy of the “Independent Review of Construction Frameworks Report” has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS502]

National Cyber Strategy 2022

Steve Barclay Excerpts
Wednesday 15th December 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Written Statements
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Steve Barclay Portrait The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Steve Barclay)
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I am pleased to announce the publication of the new National Cyber Strategy.



This strategy builds on the significant progress made through the National Cyber Security Strategy 2016-2021 and delivers on a commitment made in the Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy which was published earlier this year.



Exponential advances in technology combined with decreasing costs have made the world more connected than ever before. The pandemic has accelerated this trend, but we are likely still in the early stages of a long-term structural shift. The global expansion of cyberspace is changing the way we live, work and communicate, and transforming the critical systems we rely on in areas such as finance, energy, food distribution, healthcare and transport. In short, cyberspace is now integral to our future security and prosperity. This offers extraordinary opportunities for technologically advanced countries like the UK to pursue their national goals in new ways.



As such, this strategy reflects our ambition to cement the UK’s position as a leading cyber power. While cyber security remains at the heart of this strategy, it now draws together the full range of the UK’s capabilities inside and outside Government, with a particular emphasis on taking the lead in technologies relevant to cyber. It calls for a truly joined up, national strategic approach that is shaped by and helps guide decision-making in organisations across the country, and provides the basis for stronger collaboration with our partners in the UK and around the world.



Our vision is that the UK in 2030 will continue to be a leading responsible and democratic cyber power, able to protect and promote our interests in and through cyberspace in support of national goals:



a more secure and resilient nation, better prepared for evolving threats and risks and using our cyber capabilities to protect citizens against crime, fraud and state threats;

an innovative, prosperous digital economy, with opportunity more evenly spread across the country and our diverse population;

a science and tech superpower, securely harnessing transformative technologies in support of a greener, healthier society; and,

a more influential and valued partner on the global stage, shaping the future frontiers of an open and stable international order while maintaining our freedom of action in cyberspace.

The strategy is built around five core pillars which focus on: investing in our people and skills; increasing cyber resilience; taking the lead in the technologies vital to cyber power; advancing UK global leadership in cyber; and detecting, disrupting and deterring our adversaries.

As announced in the spending review, the Government will be investing £2.6 billion in cyber and legacy IT over the next three years to support the strategy. This is in addition to significant investment in the National Cyber Force announced in the spending review 2020.

We will invest more than ever before in a rapid and radical overhaul of Government cyber security, setting clear standards for Departments and addressing legacy IT infrastructure.

Government’s critical functions will be significantly hardened to cyber-attack by 2025 and we will ensure that all Government organisations—across the whole public sector—are resilient to known vulnerabilities and attack methods by 2030.



A copy of the National Cyber Strategy has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

[HCWS484]

Oral Answers to Questions

Steve Barclay Excerpts