Yesterday the House of Commons staged Welsh questions.
Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons Shailesh Vara and Wellingborough both asked about the treatment of Welsh and English residents in the other country's hospitals:
"The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wayne David): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues and the Welsh Assembly Government on such matters. The discussions include the new cross-border protocol for health care services of Wales, which, I am pleased to say, has been agreed between the Welsh Assembly Government and the UK Government.
Mr. Vara: I am grateful to the Minister for those comments. He will be aware of the recent Welsh Affairs Committee report on cross-border health policy, to which he referred in his preliminary comments. He will also be aware that there should be clinical excellence for all those who wish to have medical treatment, as close as possible to their homes. Does he acknowledge that that would mean Welsh patients ending up having medical treatment in English hospitals? Will he do all that he can to urge the Welsh Health Minister to abandon her so-called in-country policy, which is causing so much distress to neurosurgery patients in Wales?
Mr. David: The hon. Gentleman is correct in referring to the Welsh Affairs Committee interim report on the provision of cross-border health services in Wales. We have considered that important report, and the Department of Health will respond to all its points in due course. It is important to recognise, however, that devolution is about addressing particular needs. The Welsh Assembly Government have clearly defined and articulated their policy, and we are seeing consistent and radical improvements in the health care of the people of Wales. Obviously, given the unique situation with regard to the Welsh-English border, a close working relationship is needed. I am absolutely confident that the protocol that is now in place and is being implemented will ensure effective co-operation and cross-border flow to the benefit of English and Welsh patients.
There was a thought-provoking exchange between Deputy Leader of the House Chris Bryant and his Shadow Shailesh Vara yesterday.
"Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): “The Governance of Britain” document says that the Executive should be more accountable to Parliament, yet the Government have refused to ensure that the noble Lord Mandelson is answerable to Members in this House. At a time when thousands and thousands of businesses are in a desperate state, why is it that the Government will not allow the unelected Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to be answerable to elected Members in this House?
Chris Bryant: That is a load of poppycock. For a start, all Ministers appear before Select Committees and the hon. Gentleman undervalues the role of Select Committees when he says that noble peers are not able to appear at all. Secondly, I have never heard from him or any Conservative Member the suggestion that peers should be able to answer questions in this House, although some Labour Members have called for that. It would be a significant departure, but it seemed to be what he was calling for. Now he is looking rather shamefaced about it."
I've never been convinced by this argument about Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary. It is not, as far as I'm aware, Conservative Party policy that no big offices of state should be held by a peer. Statements from Lord Mandelson get read out in the Commons by a deputy, who is then subjected to questions. Other Business ministers are questioned regularly at oral sessions like those for other departments. MPs can write to the Business Secretary. Written questions are essentially answered by civil servants.
This risks appearing to be more about trying to benefit from Lord Mandelson's public image than sincere constitutional politics.
I see no good reason why even the Prime Minister should not be a peer. If that did ever happen again, I would be in favour of them submitting - on a weekly basis - to a specially convened session of questions from MPs. But that would not be hard to organise. Perhaps Lord Mandelson would like to lead the way!
Does the Business Secretary lack a democratic mandate? Well I suppose so. But no minister is directly elected as a minister. And I think it's a good thing if a few of them don't have to worry about a constituency on top of their governmental duties.
What do you think?
In light of the scandal of child benefit data being lost in 2007, the Government laid down minimum standards for data protection. (These include better use of encryption and passwords and restricting the ability of officials to remove data from discs and laptops.)
It turns out that the MoD is lagging behind. This would be worrying for any department, but is especially so in the case of the Ministry of Defence.
"Mr. Vara: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what percentage of the IT systems in (a) his Department and (b) its agencies are fully accredited to the Government’s security standards. 
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The Ministry of Defence and its Agencies have several hundred computer systems in use ranging from corporate IT systems serving thousands of users across the Department and its Agencies, to business area systems serving smaller communities. The following data covers those systems within the MOD and its Agencies where accreditation is centrally controlled by Defence Security and Standards Assurance (DSSA), which are either connected to the MOD networks, or are stand alone above Secret, or are systems that contain significant value to the MOD e.g. those systems that contain particularly sensitive or personal data. It does not include those systems where authority for accreditation has been delegated e.g. stand alone systems with no onward connectivity, and where a further breakdown of information could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
58 per cent. of systems have been through the accreditation process. Of these, 27 per cent. of systems are classed as fully accredited and are being operated in a manner within the MOD’s Senior Information Risk Owner (SIRO)’s risk appetite; 31 per cent. of systems are currently classed as having conditional or interim accreditation with constraints placed on the operation of the system to ensure that identified risks are adequately managed within SIRO’s risk appetite.
The balance of systems (42 per cent.) are in the process of being accredited; this represents the significant workload undertaken to plan and develop solutions for new equipment systems or platforms; this also includes applications from legacy systems, many of which will be migrated onto the developing Defence Information Infrastructure."
The MoD has already lost dozens of USB memory sticks, some of which contained information classified "Secret".
Yesterday the story was written up by James Kirkup in the Telegraph. Mr Vara was quoted:
"We are dealing with very sensitive and important data and it is simply unacceptable that there is so much information which is still at risk."
Mr Vara is quite right.
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