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Charities (Regulation)

8. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): What plans he has for the future regulation of charities. [1348]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): The Government are committed to making it easier for people to set up and run charities and to reduce the amount of regulation, monitoring and reporting that has been imposed on the sector. I am meeting the chair and chief executive of the Charity Commission next week to discuss this further.

David Tredinnick: I welcome my hon. Friend to his post. Will he discuss gift aid at that meeting? At present the administrative burden falls largely on the charities and that should be rectified.

Mr Hurd: We know how important gift aid is to the sector, and I will meet the Economic Secretary to the Treasury to discuss reform. We have said that we would like to reduce the bureaucratic burden associated with gift aid which falls on charities, and disproportionately on small charities. The Treasury-led gift aid forum is examining the case for reform and will report in September.

Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): I, too, welcome the hon. Gentleman and the other Ministers to the Front Bench. In reviewing the regulation of charities, it is also important to maintain both the capacity and the capability of charities. Perhaps the Minister can therefore explain to the House the reasoning for ending the funding of the Futurebuilders programme, which was widely acclaimed in a recently published evaluation by Sheffield Hallam university, and which is building the capacity of precisely the organisations that the Government want to take more responsibility for delivering services?

Mr Hurd: We have not closed the funding for Futurebuilders. As the right hon. Lady well knows, Futurebuilders is effectively shut for business. It has spent the money. We have taken a decision to use the
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future income from the loan book to fund our programmes for training community organisers and a new community grants programme.

Tessa Jowell: That is precisely the problem: the Futurebuilders programme is an investment fund, with loans made that are then recycled to other organisations. The Government have decided to end the programme and, therefore, effectively to shut it. Why?

Mr Hurd: The programme has run its course, and we have taken a decision on where to recycle the income. We think that the future of loan finance delivery is through the big society bank, and we want to encourage the traditional banking industry to meet the sector's debt needs. That is the future-not the Futurebuilders programme, which distorted the market, rather than built it.

Cabinet Committees

11. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the contribution of Cabinet Committees, Sub-Committees and working groups to the work of his Department. [1351]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr Oliver Letwin): I am very conscious of your admonition to be brief, Mr Speaker, so I shall just say to the hon. Gentleman that we have a rather more modest ambition, which is not to ask what the Cabinet can do for our Department, but what our Department can do for the Cabinet.

John Mann: I appreciate that the Government have to find something for their official bag carrier to the Prime Minister to do, but will the Minister confirm that for every new Committee and working group established an existing one will be abolished?

Mr Letwin: I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that I am actually the unofficial bag carrier to the Prime Minister; I do not even qualify as the official one. We have organised ourselves in a way that means that we have cut to the bare minimum the number of groups that we operate. We have a far tighter Cabinet Committee system than that which was operated under the previous Government, because, as I said to the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), who asked an earlier question, we are absolutely determined that our Cabinet Committees be genuine decision-making bodies, not merely a dignified part of the constitution.

Efficiency and Reform Group

12. Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): If he will ensure that trade unions are involved in the work of his Department's efficiency and reform group. [1353]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): We are committed to proper engagement with public service staff and their representatives. Last week I had a good meeting with the Council of Civil Service Unions, and yesterday I attended a meeting of the TUC's public service liaison group. We will invite the TUC and its member organisations, plus other representatives of public service employees, to meet regularly to discuss matters affecting the work
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force who deliver our vital public services, and to build on the work of the Public Service Forum, which I am committed to continuing and which will meet in July. There will be difficult issues to discuss, no doubt, but we are determined to air them through regular dialogue.

Mr Anderson: I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he look at the report that the Public and Commercial Services Union produced last year, showing that 20,000 tax collectors were sacked at a time when at least £40 billion of tax evasion and avoidance was going on in this country? Will he work with the unions to try to resolve that matter?

Mr Maude: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but he will recollect the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury who said that there was no money left. We have to run the Government with less money than there was, and there will have to be cuts. We hope, to the maximum extent possible, that public spending can be cut without affecting jobs, but it is unreal to expect that that will be totally avoidable.

Early Intervention Programmes

13. Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): Whether he has had recent discussions with third sector organisations on the financing of early intervention programmes; and if he will make a statement. [1354]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): I salute the hon. Gentleman's pioneering work in that area, and he will know that the voluntary and community sector can be a very helpful provider of early intervention services that reduce the drivers of demand on the state. I shall be in contact with my colleagues in all relevant Departments about any future policy developments on early intervention, and about how the Office for Civil Society can contribute.

Mr Allen: I welcome the Minister to his place. Will he meet me and a Treasury Minister to discuss how we can release the bonds on the voluntary and charitable sectors so that they can raise money in the City of London in order to pursue early intervention through social investment bonds? Will he agree to meet me?

Mr Hurd: I can certainly speak for myself and agree to meet the hon. Gentleman. He will know about the interesting work on social impact bonds, which bring in private capital for investment in early intervention and involve payment by results. That will be an important part of the future.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Does the Minister agree that voluntary organisations are preferable to state organisations when providing early intervention?

Mr Hurd: I am sure that that is the experience of most colleagues in the House-if they have been to visit social enterprises or community organisations and seen the extraordinary work that they can do and the different relationships that they can have with the people whom they are trying to help.

Mr Speaker: There was some very helpful co-operation there from a Government Back Bencher, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), and indeed, I pay tribute to the Minister on the Front Bench for responding in such a pithy and, I hope I can say, timely fashion. The
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House will be very grateful and will join me in thanking both the hon. Member for Wellingborough and, indeed, the Minister in his response from the Front Bench.

I ask the House to stand and to observe one minute's silence in memory of those who lost their lives in west Cumbria a week ago today.

12 noon

The House observed a one-minute silence.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked-


Q1. [1326] Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 9 June.

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): As the people of Cumbria gather for memorial services to remember the shocking and tragic events of last week, it is right that our thoughts are with them and with the friends and families of all those who were killed or injured.

I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the soldiers who have died in Afghanistan: from 40 Commando Royal Marines, Marine Anthony Hotine; from 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment, Lance Corporal Alan Cochran and Corporal Terry Webster; and a soldier from 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery who died yesterday. They were all extremely talented and professional servicemen who gave their lives for the safety and security of people in our country. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude, and our thoughts should be with their families and with their friends.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Albert Owen: May I associate myself with the words of the Prime Minister and offer my condolences to the families of those who were tragically killed in west Cumbria and of the servicemen who have died serving our country?

There have been reports in the newspapers that the Prime Minister wants a positive relationship with the Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and, indeed, wants to work with them in partnership. On that theme, will he put a measure before the House that allows a referendum this autumn for greater powers for the Welsh Assembly? Will he come clean with this House, and with the people of Wales, and say whether he is in favour of additional powers himself?

The Prime Minister: First, let me be as frank and as clear as I can be. We had a meeting of the joint ministerial council yesterday with representatives of all the devolved Assemblies and Governments. I want to have a genuine respect agenda between the UK Government and all those Administrations. We have always said- [ Interruption. ] I will tell you exactly what that means: there will be a referendum on extra powers for the Welsh Assembly. That referendum, we believe, should take place next year.

Albert Owen indicated dissent.

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The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but if he wanted to have a referendum earlier, the last Secretary of State could have pushed it through earlier, and he did not. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that that referendum will take place. It will be a matter for people in Wales to decide. They must determine their future. As for my view, as someone who spends a lot of time in Wales and has great respect for people in Wales, I always find that, yes, there is a debate about powers for the Assembly, but there is also debate among people in Wales wanting to know how we are going to make progress on housing, on health care, on schools, and on jobs-the real issues as well as just the institutional ones.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): May I associate myself with the remarks that the Prime Minister rightly made about the dreadful shootings in Cumbria last week, and also pay tribute to the emergency services and to all those who are recovering from that appalling tragedy?

The Prime Minister will be aware that the national cancer reform strategy states that no cancer patient should have to travel for more than 45 minutes to receive radiotherapy treatment. Last December, we received a commitment from our local health trusts that there would be a new cancer unit for South Lakeland in Kendal. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet me and health campaigners and NHS officials soon to try to ensure that he, too, makes a commitment to the delivery of a cancer unit-

Mr Speaker: Order. We really must have shorter questions.

The Prime Minister: First, the hon. Gentleman will note from the coalition agreement, as I am glad to remind everyone, that we are protecting NHS spending. There will be real increases in NHS spending under this Government year on year. I absolutely understand the concerns that there are about wanting to keep services local to people. I know that is the case in Lakeland, and it is also the case with the West Cumberland hospital. I am very happy to ensure that there is a meeting between the Health Secretary and the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter and ensure that we keep services local. A lot of the reconfigurations that took place under the previous Government caused an enormous amount of pain and unease in local areas and did not actually lead to improved services.

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the four soldiers who have died in the service of our country in the past week: Marine Anthony Hotine from 40 Commando Royal Marines, Lance Corporal Alan Cochran and Corporal Terry Webster from 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment, and a soldier from 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery. They fought with bravery, and today we remember not just the sacrifice they made but the loved ones they leave behind.

I support what the Prime Minister said about Cumbria and join him in expressing our heartfelt sympathy to the family and friends of all those who were killed or injured. The police investigation is under way. Can he update us on the work that the Government are doing,
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and is he in a position yet to tell the House whether the Government have any plans to reconsider the regulations on guns? As the Home Secretary rightly said in her statement last week, we have to learn any lessons we can.

The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her words. It is right to reflect on this appalling tragedy and think about how best we can go forward. Specifically on gun laws, we need to be clear first about the full facts of the case. We also need to determine the type and scope of reviews that will take place after this tragedy. Of course the Home Office will look again at the gun laws in the light of the tragedy, and I can also announce today that the chief constable of Cumbria has already written to the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers asking him to support a peer review, to be conducted by national police experts on firearms licensing and police firearms response and tactics. Those reviews will become publicly available documents. We should not leap to conclusions, and I do not believe in knee-jerk legislation. We have in this country some of the tightest gun laws, but of course we should look again at them.

On the issue of what sort of review is right for people in west Cumbria, I will be meeting two of the west Cumbrian MPs whose constituencies are affected straight after Prime Minister's questions in my office, and the right hon. and learned Lady would be very welcome to join us with the Home Secretary to discuss that matter. In the end, we must ensure that we do the right thing by the people of west Cumbria and that they are properly served by the things that we decide as a Government.

Ms Harman: I fully support everything that the Prime Minister said in that answer, and may I say that I am sure that the visit that he and the Home Secretary made to Cumbria was very much appreciated?

Just before the general election, the Electoral Commission published a report showing that despite the efforts of electoral registration officers, there are still serious concerns about the number of people who are eligible to vote but who are not on the electoral register. Given that the Government are committed to major reform of constituency boundaries, will the Prime Minister undertake not to press forward with those changes on the basis of an electoral register that excludes 3.5 million people?

The Prime Minister: First, I agree with the right hon. and learned Lady that it is important that people who are eligible to vote register to vote, and we want to see that sped up and improved. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is taking forward that work. We also want to see individual voter registration, because there has been a great increase in fraud in recent years, but even as that work goes ahead it is important that we have reform so that we have equal-sized constituencies across our country. Those of us who support the first-past-the-post voting system want to make it more fair by ensuring that seats are the same size across our country. Where on earth is the unfairness in that?

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