House of Commons
Wednesday 12 October 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Mr Speaker, may I begin by commending you not only on your attendance at the Davis cup semi-final in Glasgow, but on your obvious enthusiasm and exuberance, which the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and I were witness to? I am sure you will agree that, although the result was not as we would have wished, the event once again confirmed Glasgow’s place as a great international sporting venue.
The UK leaving the EU should be seen as an opportunity for Scotland. Today’s GDP figures are an encouraging sign of growth. However, Scotland is still lagging behind the UK as a whole and that underlines the need for Scotland’s two Governments to work together to take such opportunities.
It is self-evident that, because the devolution settlements within the United Kingdom are predicated on the basis that the United Kingdom was a member of the European Union, those devolution settlements will be changed by the United Kingdom leaving the EU. Those will be matters that will be subject to debate and discussion.
The Prime Minister made it very, very clear at the Conservative conference that we want to have access to the single market and to ensure free trade. The sectors that the hon. Lady mentioned are very important; they are part of the group of sectors with which we are engaging very closely to identify their specific interests and concerns so that they are part of the UK’s negotiating position.
Sectors in Scotland would acknowledge that they have benefited from the devaluation of the pound. The tourism sector, which saw a record attendance at the Edinburgh festival recently, and the agricultural sector would acknowledge it, but I do not see that as being an end in itself. What we need to do is ensure that we get the best possible deal for Scotland and the UK from these negotiations so that Scottish business can flourish.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that we are leaving a dysfunctional union—the European Union—and that that is an opportunity for the people of Scotland. Is it not also the case that if we were to follow the Scottish National party’s advocacy and leave the union that works—the United Kingdom—we would land the people of Scotland with a huge public sector deficit and the prospect of either tax rises or cuts in services?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There seems to be a very strange contradiction here: Members on the SNP Benches are rightly concerned about Scotland’s continued trade with the EU, but they disregard the fact that Scotland’s trade with the rest of the United Kingdom is four times as much as with the EU, and that a million jobs in Scotland are dependent on our trade within the United Kingdom—that is the union that matters to Scotland.
If anyone actually listens to businesses in Scotland and, indeed, to the people of Scotland, it is quite clear that people do not want another divisive independence referendum in Scotland—other than individuals who are obsessed with independence. We need to listen to business, take a second independence referendum off the table and concentrate on getting the best possible deal for Scotland and the UK from these negotiations.
As a result of demands from Nissan, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has suggested that companies that will suffer a loss of profits as result of exiting the EU may be due compensation. Can the Secretary of State assure businesses based in Scotland which will suffer the same loss of profits that they will be entitled to the same deal, and if so has he made an assessment of the costs of such compensation?
May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on retaining his position as shadow Scottish Secretary? I understand that on the Benches behind him is the Westminster spokesman of the Scottish Labour party, and I am sure that it will emerge during these questions how those two positions interrelate.
The point that I would make in response to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that we will have a common response across the United Kingdom and that whatever support is put in place for businesses in the north of England will apply to businesses in Scotland.
I agree that we need to see Brexit as an opportunity, and I was very interested to see yesterday that the leader of Glasgow City Council also took the view that Brexit offered an opportunity for Glasgow to continue to flourish. Rather than doom-mongering, which is the constant refrain of the SNP, let us take a positive approach and seize the opportunities that are out there for Scotland.
May I remind the Secretary of State for Scotland that he was elected on a manifesto commitment to
“safeguard British interests in the Single Market”,
so will he and his Government work with the Scottish Government, respect the 62% of Scottish voters who voted to remain within the European Union and protect our place in Europe?
Of course I will do that, but I will also respect the half of voters in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency who voted to leave the EU. He does not make much of it, but a higher percentage of people in his constituency voted to leave the EU than voted for him, so let us respect everybody in this debate. I am committed to working with the Scottish Government. I have met Michael Russell on a number of occasions. The First Minister and the Prime Minister will meet on 24 October, and their engagement will be essential to achieving what we want: the best possible deal for Scotland.
Yesterday, we learned from statistics emanating from the right hon. Gentleman’s Government that Brexit will cost £66 billion a year. If these statistics are being prepared for the Cabinet Office, surely they are also being prepared for the Scotland Office, so will the Secretary of State for Scotland be candid with the House and with the people of Scotland and tell us how much Brexit will cost Scotland?
We are not even at the stage of beginning the negotiations. What we are going to see—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister has set out the process for taking those negotiations forward. It is inevitable that, over the next few weeks, months and years, we will see press reports and speculation, leaks and all sorts of other supposition. I want to ensure that we go into those negotiations in conjunction with the Scottish Government to get the best possible deal, and that is my commitment.
Has the Secretary of State seen the report published yesterday by the NAFC Marine Centre, showing that half of all demersal fish and two thirds of all pelagic fish caught in UK waters are caught by boats from other EU countries? Does he understand why Scottish fishermen see these negotiations as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to undo the damage caused by the common fisheries policy, and will he put their interests at the heart of the negotiations, unlike his Tory predecessors in the 1970s, who saw our fishing industry as expendable?
I commend the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and others on their approach to the negotiations; they see them as an opportunity, for the very reasons referred to by the right hon. Gentleman and by yesterday’s report. The SFF was quite right to characterise the report as “A Sea of Opportunities”, and it will have my support in realising them.
Has the Minister included, in his assessment of the impact on the Scottish economy of the UK leaving the EU, the impact of Scotland leaving its biggest single market: the rest of the UK—something that some people are demanding, week in, week out?
As I said earlier, I find it very surprising that people who declare a great enthusiasm for the European single market are willing to dismiss the United Kingdom single market, which is worth four times as much to the Scottish economy and employs a million Scottish people.
Today’s GDP figures for Scotland are welcome, as is the major increase in GDP arising from the services sector, probably driven by the financial services sector in Scotland, and in my city of Edinburgh. What specifically is the Secretary of State doing to protect that financial services sector, and can he give the House, and Scotland, an assurance that he will stand by the Conservative party’s commitment in his 2015 manifesto to saying yes to the single market?
First, we fully recognise the importance of the financial services sector in not just Edinburgh but Scotland more generally. I am determined to ensure that its interests are protected. We are working very closely with it to ensure that it is very much at the forefront as we move forward with establishing the UK’s negotiating position.
Since the EU referendum, Scotland Office Ministers have held over 50 meetings with Scottish Government Ministers, Scottish organisations and trade bodies to discuss the implications for Scotland. We intend to hold further such meetings in the coming months, to ensure that Scottish business interests are fully represented in the negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU and in any future trade arrangements.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when we negotiate free trade deals outside the European Union, we can remove some of the protectionist tariff barriers that the EU has erected, thereby reducing consumer prices for consumers in Scotland—and, indeed, across the United Kingdom?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I believe that this Government and this country can be advocates around the world for free trade. Trade liberalisation between advanced economies can have a positive impact on the consumer, and that is what we want to see in Scotland and across the UK.
Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that as he is conducting discussions around the world and engaging with British business, he gets the maximum opportunities for Scottish business, uses his opportunities to demonstrate that Scotland is better as part of the United Kingdom, and knocks on the head all this talk of independence that we incessantly hear from the Scottish National party?
I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is vital that we promote Scotland’s interests in that way, and do so working in conjunction with the Scottish Government. Both Governments have a role to play—in, for example, as the Scotch Whisky Association identified, developing new markets and promoting that product, which is vital to Scotland’s economy.
I was pleased to read last month that exports of Scotch whisky were up for the first time in three years, with a surge of exports to India. Does my right hon. Friend agree that everyone in the UK should work together to support the export of great British products, including great Scottish products such as whisky?
I am sure that that is the type of speculation that will constantly be sought from Ministers in the weeks and months ahead. The Prime Minister has set out the process for negotiating our exit from the EU, and at the conclusion of that process I am confident that we will be able to achieve the best possible deal for Scotland and the rest of the UK.
The Secretary of State has, on many occasions, extolled the trade benefits of the single market for Scotland. Regardless of whether or not the UK is a member state of the EU, does he still believe that it is in Scotland’s interest to have membership of the single market, rather than trying to negotiate third-party access?
What I have also said on many occasions, as the hon. Lady will know, is that the UK will have a bespoke arrangement with the EU when we leave. It is not appropriate or sensible to see the negotiating process in the context of existing arrangements with other countries or, indeed, the existing structure of the EU. We should seek to get the best possible deal for our businesses.
Crucial to promoting trade is the need to support apprenticeships. However, training bodes, organisations, businesses and employers in Scotland have told me that they are struggling to get clear guidance on how the apprenticeship levy will work. Will the Secretary of State ensure, unlike his colleague the Business Secretary, that he works urgently with the Scottish Government to give those people the information that they need?
One area in which apprenticeships could work is the oil industry and the decommissioning of oil rigs. We have already seen the loss of 80,000 jobs in that industry, and that will be compounded if we continue, as has happened recently, to lose decommissioning contracts to other countries. Do the Government have any strategy at all to ensure that those crucial jobs remain in Scottish hands?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are committed to the industry, and a £2.3 billion investment and associated tax changes were exactly the support that it asked for. We have also established, along with the Scottish Government, the £250 million Aberdeen city deal, which will have at its heart a new technology centre to ensure that skills and jobs remain in the north-east.
A significant number of new welfare powers came into force this September, and give the Scottish Parliament new choices over welfare in Scotland. The joint ministerial working group on welfare, which includes Scottish Ministers, met yesterday to continue its important and constructive work overseeing the transfer of remaining powers.
With that significant transfer of powers from the UK Government to Edinburgh, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Scottish Government should get on with exercising those powers for the sake of the welfare of the people of Scotland, rather than wasting time on expensive and unnecessary talk of a second independence referendum?
I absolutely agree. These are significant powers, which the Scottish Government and the Scottish National party in this House asked for. People around Scotland will want to see how they are being deployed and what process is being used. The message from the people of Scotland generally to the Scottish Government is “Get on with the day job.”
We have made it absolutely clear that we will respect that desire for the programmes to proceed on a voluntary basis. What I think the people of Scotland will want to know is what the Scottish Government intend to do in relation to people who do not volunteer to be part of the programmes.
North Sea Oil and Gas
The Government continue to work closely with industry, both directly and through the Oil and Gas Authority, to drive investment and support jobs in the North sea.
As my colleague rightly notes, there has been a shock in the oil and gas industry resulting from global changes. As the latest public finance figures show, being part of the UK protects living standards in Scotland. The drop in revenues has been offset by a vigorous programme of Government support in tax relief and allowances, as well as in a host of other areas.
The supply of home-grown feed stocks is vital to the Cheshire chemicals industry and is in part reliant on the success of North sea oil and gas. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government will continue to take steps to support the many jobs in our foundation industries that depend very much on this sector?
My colleague is absolutely right to highlight this issue. The UK chemicals sector is a vital part of our manufacturing industry and an important contributor to the economy. The Government are working closely with the industry to implement the desire to grow gross value added by £105 billion by 2030, and a key element of that will be delivering competitive energy and feed stock supplies.
Exploration remains very important. The continental shelf is depleting. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government have taken some serious steps in Aberdeen with the city deal. I will not comment on the autumn statement, but it is an issue of some focus for the Government.
Since Question Time began this morning, five Members on the Scottish National party Benches have asked about membership of the European Union, and two have asked about Scottish jobs. Seven Members on the Conservative Benches wanted to talk about Scottish independence. Which group would the Secretary of State describe as being obsessed with independence?
Not quite a debutante, Mr Speaker—we can only hope.
The steel industry in Scotland remains a vital part of the UK steel industry as a whole. The Government continue to engage with steel companies, devolved Governments and trade unions to ensure a sustainable and prosperous steel industry for the UK.
Liberty House is taking more than 70% of its new workforce from among former Tata Steel employees, which is good news for Motherwell, and it should be congratulated on that. Will my hon. Friend congratulate the company, in particular, on its apprenticeship programme, which is a positive endorsement of Britain’s engineering future?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on the Dalzell plate mill, which opened last month under its new owners, Liberty House Group, with the Government’s support. As this illustrates, we have taken clear action to help the industry, for example by securing state aid to compensate for energy costs and through flexibility over EU emissions regulations and many other areas. I also share his delight in the work that has been done on apprenticeships.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Previously, I worked in an NHS service that the coalition Government gifted to Virgin Care, which is now seeking another contract covering my constituency. Among many unethical practices that I witnessed, Virgin imposed a system of double appointments, forcing patients to have unnecessary extra consultations before surgery, boosting its profits at the expense of the taxpayer and patient safety. Is that acceptable? If not, what is the Prime Minister prepared to do about it?
Of course, what we want to see in the provision of local services are the best services possible for local people. The hon. Lady talks about outsourcing of services in the NHS; I have to say to her that the party that put greater privatisation into the NHS was not my party but the Labour party.
Economy/Public Services: West Midlands
The west midlands economy, I have to say, is in a very positive position at the moment. I am very pleased to say that since 2010 nearly 200,000 more people are at work there, and there are 42,000 new businesses. I saw the strength of the economy when I was in Birmingham last week. Of course, we are giving the west midlands new powers with the devolution deal and the election of a Mayor. Andy Street, with his business and local experience, would be a very good Mayor for the west midlands.
On the subject of the NHS, 18 months ago my wonderful doctor, Helen Stokes-Lampard, suggested that I have a general “well man” check-up. It is just as well that I did: the blood test revealed a problem with my prostate, despite the fact that I was symptom-free. I was immediately referred to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, whose staff were simply wonderful. After a period of surveillance, I had a prostatectomy back in June.
But hey—I’m now fine! [Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] I want to thank the whole team at the QE, including my surgeon Alan Doherty and my excellent specialist prostate nurse Richard Gledhill, who gave me practical advice. But, in the next 10 years, there will be a real shortage of specialist prostate and urology nurses, as many are due for retirement. May I ask the Prime Minister what the Government can do to avert a shortage of these much needed specialist nurses?
May I say to my hon. Friend that the whole House is pleased to see him back in his position as his normal exuberant self? He raises a very serious issue. I join him in commending not only those doctors, nurses and other health service staff who treated him for his prostate cancer, but those doctors and nurses who, day in, day out, are ensuring that, as we see, cancer survival rates are at a record high.
The Government are putting more money into awareness of cancer problems. We will look at the training of nurses—50,000 nurses are in training—and continue to make sure that the specialisms are available to do the work that is necessary in the health service.
I, too, join the Prime Minister in wishing the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) well and obviously hope the treatment he got is the same treatment that everybody else gets, because we want good treatment for everybody in our society. [Interruption.] It is not controversial—I am just wishing him well. Is that okay? I am sorry to start on such a controversial note, Mr Speaker. I do apologise.
At the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister said she wants Britain to be
“a country where it doesn’t matter where you were born”,
but the Home Secretary’s flagship announcement was to name and shame companies that employ foreign workers. Could the Prime Minister explain why where someone was born clearly does matter to members of her Cabinet?
First, may I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on winning the Labour leadership election? [Interruption.] I welcome him back to his place in this House as his normal self. The policy that he has just described was never the policy that the Home Secretary announced. There was no naming and shaming, no published list of foreign workers, no published data. What we are going to consult on is whether we should bring ourselves in line with countries such as the United States of America, which collect data in order to be able to ensure that they are getting the right skills training for workers in their economy.
I am most grateful to the over 300,000 people that voted for me to become the leader of my party, which is rather more than voted for the Prime Minister to become the leader of her party. She seems to be slightly unaware of what is going on: first, the Home Secretary briefed that companies would be named and shamed; the Education Secretary clarified that data would only be kept by Government; yesterday, No. 10 said the proposal was for consultation; and the Home Secretary clarified the whole matter by saying,
“it’s one of the tools we are going to use”.
This Government have no answers, just gimmicks and scapegoats.
Yesterday, we learned that pregnant women will be forced to hand over their passports at NHS hospitals. No ultrasound without photographic ID—heavily pregnant women sent home on icy roads to get a passport. Are these really the actions of
“a country where it doesn’t matter where you were born”?
I have made absolutely clear the policy that the Home Secretary set out. The right hon. Gentleman raises issues around the health service. I think it is right that we should say that we ensure, when we are providing health services to people, that they are free at the point of delivery; that people are eligible to have those services; that where there are people who come to this country to use our health service, and who should be paying for it, the health service actually identifies them and makes sure that it gets the money from them. I would have thought that that would be an uncontroversial view. Of course, emergency care will be provided, when necessary, absolutely without those questions, but what is important is that we ensure that where people should be paying, because they do not have the right to access free care in the health service, they do so.
Some of the Prime Minister’s colleagues on the leave side promised £350 million a week extra for the NHS. She does not seem to have answers to the big questions facing Britain. On Monday, the Secretary for Brexit, when questioned about the Government’s approach to single market access, replied:
“We…need hard data about the size of the problem in terms of both money and jobs”—[Official Report, 10 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 50.]
It would have been much easier if he had simply asked his colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he would have been able to tell him that the Treasury forecast is a £66 billion loss to the economy—7.5% of the GDP. Can the Prime Minister now confirm that access to the single market is a red line for the Government, or is it not?
The right hon. Gentleman has asked me this question before. [Interruption.]. He says it is a simple question, and I will give him the simple answer: what we are going to do is deliver on the vote of the British people to leave the European Union; what we are going to do is be ambitious in our negotiations, to negotiate the best deal for the British people, and that will include the maximum possible access to the European market, for firms to trade with, and operate within, the European market. But I am also clear that the vote of the British people said that we should control the movement of people from the EU into the UK, and, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, we believe we should deliver on what the British people want.
Someone once said that in leaving the single market
“we risk a loss of investors and businesses…and we risk going backwards when it comes to international trade.”
That person is now the Prime Minister, and that was before the referendum.
The Japanese Government wrote to the Prime Minister in September, worried about a shambolic Brexit. Many Japanese companies are major investors in Britain—such as Nissan in Sunderland, which has already halted its investment—and 140,000 people in Britain work for Japanese-owned companies. They have made it clear that those jobs and that investment depend on single market access. What reassurance can she give workers today, desperately worried about their future, their company and their jobs?
First, I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that the biggest vote of confidence that we had in Britain after the referendum vote was the £24 billion investment from a Japanese company, SoftBank, in taking over Arm. Secondly, in relation to what we are doing in our negotiations, he does not seem to get what the future is going to be about. The UK will be leaving the European Union. We are not asking ourselves what bits of membership we want to retain. We are saying: what is the right relationship for the UK to have for the maximum benefit of our economy and of the citizens of this country?
The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) has said that
“there is a danger that this Government appear to be turning their back on the single market”.—[Official Report, 10 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 46.]
Staying in the single market was, indeed, a commitment in the Conservative party manifesto. The reality is that, since the Brexit vote, the trade deficit is widening, growth forecasts have been downgraded, the value of the pound is down 16%, and an alliance of the British Chambers of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry, the British Retail Consortium and the Trades Union Congress have all made representations to the Prime Minister demanding clarity. Is the Prime Minister really willing to risk a shambolic Tory Brexit just to appease the people behind her?
What the Conservative party committed to in its manifesto was to give the British people a referendum on whether to stay in the European Union. We gave the British people that vote, and they have given their decision: we will be leaving the European Union. In doing that, we will negotiate the right deal for the UK, which means the right deal in terms of operating within and trading with the European market. That is what matters to companies here in the UK, and that is what we are going to be ambitious about delivering.
In his own inimitable way, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:
“The reason the pound keeps zooming south is that absolutely nobody has the faintest idea what exactly we’re going to put in place.”
Those of us on the Labour Benches do respect the decision of the British people to leave the European Union, but this is a Government that drew up no plans for Brexit; that now has no strategy for negotiating Brexit; and that offers no clarity, no transparency and no chance of scrutiny of the process for developing a strategy. The jobs and incomes of millions of our people are at stake. The pound is plummeting, business is worrying and the Government have no answers. The Prime Minister says she will not give a running commentary, but is it not time the Government stopped running away from the looming threat to jobs and businesses in this country and to the living standards of millions of people?
Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I am optimistic about the prospects of this country once we leave the European Union; I am optimistic about the trade deals that other countries are now actively coming to us to say they want to make with the United Kingdom; and I am optimistic about how we will be able to ensure that our economy grows outside the European Union. But I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that Labour did not want a referendum on this issue—we, the Conservatives, gave the British people a referendum; and Labour did not like the result—we are listening to the British people and delivering on that result. [Interruption.] The shadow Foreign Secretary is shouting from a sedentary position. The shadow Foreign Secretary wants a second vote. I have to say to her that I would have thought Labour MPs would have learned this lesson: you can ask the same question again; you still get the answer you don’t want.
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. What I said at our party conference, and have been saying since I became Prime Minister, is that we want an economy that works for everyone; that means for every part of our country, including areas such as Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. We have already negotiated a devolution deal with Cornwall, which was signed in 2015; that demonstrates that we recognise the challenges that Cornwall faces. We are open to further discussions on ways in which we can improve Cornwall’s economy for the future.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance has found that there are
“a number of areas of concern”
regarding political discourse and hate speech in the UK, as well as violent racial and religious attacks. Police statistics show a sharp rise in Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and xenophobic assaults over the past year. Does the Prime Minister agree that all mainstream Governments and mainstream political parties should do everything they can to oppose xenophobia and racism?
I have been very clear from this Dispatch Box on a number of occasions that there is absolutely no place in our society for racism or hate crime. It is right that the police investigate allegations of hate crime where they occur. I am pleased to say that as Home Secretary I was able to bring in arrangements that improved the recording of hate crime. We also improved the requirement on police specifically to record hate crime relating to faith, so that we can see when Islamophobia is taking place, as well as anti-Semitism and other types of hate crime. There is no place for such crime in our society. With one voice, from across this Chamber, we should make that absolutely clear, and give our police every support in dealing with it.
I remind the Prime Minister that when she was Home Secretary she put advertising vans on the streets of this country telling foreigners to go home. At her party conference we heard that her party wishes to register foreigners working in the UK. The crackdown and the rhetoric against foreigners from this Government have led to even UKIP—UKIP—saying that things have gone too far. Across the length and breadth of this land people are totally disgusted by the xenophobic language of her Government. Will she now confirm that her Government’s intention is still to go ahead with the registration of foreign workers, but that we apparently should not worry, because her Government will keep it secret?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The configuration of services in his constituency and others is obviously a significant issue across the House. I am pleased to say that we are now seeing more people being treated in A&E. We will look at the proposals. The point about how this is being done is that local people should be able to have their voice heard and the decisions taken should reflect the needs in a particular local area. We all want to see that. A&E services are vital, and I pay tribute to all those who work in A&E in hospitals across the country.
The Government took a very simple approach. We asked the NHS itself to propose its five-year plan for the NHS. We asked it how much money it required. It said £8 billion; we are giving it £10 billion, which is more than the NHS said. Funding in the NHS is at record levels. The only place where money for the NHS is being cut is under a Labour Administration in Wales.
My hon. Friend campaigned long and hard for Gary McKinnon, and I obviously took that decision. At that time, it was for the Home Secretary to decide whether there was a human rights case for an individual not to be extradited. We subsequently changed the legal position on that, so this is now a matter for the courts. There are certain parameters that the courts look at in terms of the extradition decision, and that is then passed to the Home Secretary, but it is for the courts to determine the human rights aspects of any case that comes forward. It was right to introduce the forum bar to ensure that challenge on whether cases should be heard here, but the legal process is very clear, and the Home Secretary is part of it.
We recognise the concerns of British steelworkers. That is why the Government have worked, under both my predecessor and me, to ensure that we do what we can to promote, encourage and retain a steel industry here in the United Kingdom. A number of measures have been taken. If the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber earlier for Scottish questions, he will have heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland setting them out.
As my hon. Friend says, we want to ensure that patients experience the same high-quality care regardless of where they live and wherever they are. That is why, as I understand it, the funding for my hon. Friend’s local clinical commissioning group is being corrected to reflect more accurately the local health need. An investment of more than £757 million will be going into his local area, which shows the Government’s intention to ensure that we see a health service that is working for everyone across the country, but we can do that only with the economy to back up the NHS.
I have been clear, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been clear, and the Taoiseach has also said that, on both sides of the border, we do not want to see a return to the borders of the past. It is worth reminding the House that the common travel area has been in place since the 1920s, so it was there well before we were both members of the European Union. We are working with the Government of the Republic, and I have had discussions on this with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that we do not see a return to the borders of the past.
I commend my hon. Friend for taking his opportunity to support the bids from Pendle. He is absolutely right that the money put in has enabled growth in local projects like Brierfield Mill to be unlocked. We have seen £250 million committed to the Lancashire local enterprise partnership, £2.8 billion to the northern powerhouse through the local growth fund, and the latest round of funding is worth up to £1.8 billion, with good bids coming in from local LEPs. We are assessing the proposals, including those from Pendle. They will be looked at with the seriousness my hon. Friend would expect.
I will not comment on the individual case. I know that the hon. Lady sent me the details of this specific case in writing. I will make sure that she gets a full reply from the Immigration Minister. On the broader issue she raises about the income threshold for those wishing to join a partner here in the United Kingdom, the Government asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the level of the income threshold. The committee suggested a range of figures and we actually took the lowest figure, £18,600, in that range. It recommended that figure because it is the level at which a British family generally ceases to be able to access income-related benefits, and is able to support themselves and integrate into society. We believe it is important that people coming here are able to support themselves.
I join my hon. Friend in commending all those who have been involved in the bid at Gainsborough’s House. Many people will enjoy visiting Gainsborough’s House in the future as a result of the work that will be able to be done. I know the importance of the Heritage Lottery Fund. It supported the excellent Stanley Spencer gallery in my own constituency, so I have seen the impact it can have. He is absolutely right. The point about devolution deals is people coming together with that ambition for their local area to generate the transformative investment he talks about. Suffolk is looking at the sort of deal it might wish to have locally.
We are very clear that it is for the courts to decide where a war crime is being committed. We co-sponsored a UN Security Council resolution in May 2014 to refer those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, regardless of affiliation, to the International Criminal Court. Of course, that was vetoed by Russia and China. On the issue of a no-fly zone, this has been addressed. People have looked at this over a number of years. The scenes we see of the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent civilians are absolutely appalling. We want to see an end to that, but there are many questions about a no-fly zone. Who is it there to protect? Would it lead to Assad bombing people in the expectation that they would then move to that zone? How would a safe area actually be enforced there? Who would do that enforcement? There are many questions that need to be looked at in those sorts of issues. What we all know is that the only real solution for peace and stability in Syria is political transition, and it is time Russia accepted that: that the future of Syria is a political transition to a stable Syria, free of Assad.
I thank my hon. Friend for the example she has given of the work that is taking place in her constituency. The whole aim of the Government’s education policy is to increase the number of good school places, so parents can have the confidence that their child will have a good school place and they will have the school place that is right for them. That is why we want to see universities more involved in schools, more faith schools being opened up and the independent sector helping the state sector where that is sensible and its expertise can help. And yes, we do want to lift the ban that currently says that one type of good new school cannot be opened. It is illegal to open a new good school that is a selective school. We want to remove that ban so that pupils of all abilities get the opportunity.
The Prime Minister appears to have made a choice, and that choice is to side with the protectionists and nationalists who have taken over her party, as surely as Momentum has taken over the Labour party. She has chosen a hard Brexit that was never on anybody’s ballot paper and she has chosen to turn her back on British business in the process. As a result, petrol and food retailers have warned of huge price rises at the pumps and on the supermarket shelves in the coming days. When will she put the interests of hard-working British people ahead of an extremist protectionism that absolutely nobody voted for?
The hon. Gentleman asks about who we are siding with. I will tell him who this Government are siding with. We are siding with the British people, who voted to leave the European Union. It is high time the hon. Gentleman listened to the vote of the British people and accepted that that is exactly what we are going to do.
I can say that I believe every effort is being made to fill the vacant obstetrics posts at the Horton general hospital. I understand that those mothers who are having a midwife-led delivery are still able to go to the Horton general hospital, but others have to go to the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford. Maternity services are important to people and I believe the trust is actively looking to ensure it can fill those posts. What matters is a safe maternity service for mother and baby.
Many people across the House will be reassured that the Government accepted the amendment to the Opposition motion to be debated later this afternoon that guarantees that this House is able properly to scrutinise the plan for leaving the European Union before article 50 is invoked. Can she tell us: will that scrutiny involve a vote?
I have to say to the hon. Lady that the idea that Parliament was somehow not going to be able to discuss, debate or question issues around Brexit is, frankly, completely wrong. Let me provide her with some examples. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has already made two statements—and I believe four hours of questions followed from those. A new Select Committee has been set up, which crucially includes representatives from all parts of the United Kingdom to look at these issues. Only just over a week ago, I announced that there will be a great repeal Bill in the next Session to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. Parliament will thus have every opportunity to debate this issue.
Every year in the UK, 3,500 babies are still-born, and I commend the Government for setting the target of a 20% reduction by the end of this Parliament and a 50% reduction by 2030. Does the Prime Minister agree that in Baby Loss Awareness Week we must do all we can to provide the best quality bereavement care for those parents who sadly lose a baby?
I think my hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am pleased to say that the Health Secretary will attend the Baby Loss Awareness Week reception, which will be held in Parliament immediately after today’s Prime Minister’s Questions. I encourage other Members to attend it, too. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the loss of a baby must be absolutely devastating; I am aware that some people sitting in this Chamber have been through that tragedy in their lives. What is absolutely essential is that the best possible bereavement care be given to parents at this tragic moment in their lives when they are at their most vulnerable. That is why we have provided money to introduce dedicated bereavement rooms at 40 hospitals, as well as investing more in improving birthing facilities, which are also important. Care and counsel for people who have lost a baby is essential; I think we all accept that.
On 2 July, the Home Office was given details of the 178 children who are still stuck in the Calais refugee camp, but who had a legal right to be here in the UK with their families to keep them safe and protected. Given the delays in acting, what responsibility does the Prime Minister think this Government have to the 18 of those children who have now gone missing?
Far from not acting, this Government have been working with the French Government on dealing with those who are in the camps. We have put extra resource into speeding up the process of dealing with the claims of the unaccompanied children, making that process faster and quicker, with more children coming here as a result. That is alongside all the other work we are doing in relation to refugees and unaccompanied minors. Crucially, of course, we are also working to ensure that we deal with the traffickers and the smugglers who are often in the camps; we need to make sure that they do not have access to children in the future. We have speeded up the process and more children are coming here as a result.
Tomorrow is secondary breast cancer awareness day, and I would like to ask the Prime Minister to join me in wishing these men and women well. Currently, only a third of NHS trusts collect the data in this area. Does my right hon. Friend agree that better data collection can inform diagnosis, treatment and the use of NHS resources across the piece and give better outcomes for all patients?
I entirely accept my hon. Friend’s point that better information provides greater opportunity to address these issues. I join her in commending and wishing well all those—as she says, both men and women—who have suffered from breast cancer and who have come through that, as I know my hon. Friend has. Other Members and so many people across the country are in the same position; it is important that they receive the right care so that they can come through that and see a bright future.
Last night, a huge number of MPs presented in this House WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality—petitions from towns up and down the country, so will the Prime Minister now commit to overturning those mistaken arrangements of 2011 and provide justice and transitional arrangements for WASPI women?
The hon. Lady should know that transitional arrangements are already in place. We did make changes. We committed £1 billion to lessen the impact of the state pension age changes on those who were affected, so that no one would experience a change of more than 18 months. In fact, 81% of women’s state pension ages will increase by no more than 12 months, compared to the previous timetable.
The Department for Work and Pensions informed people of the change in the state pension age after the changes that were made in 2011. Moreover, in the future women will gain from the new pension arrangements that are being introduced. Women’s pensions are a long-standing issue, but there will be better pension arrangements for them in the future because of the changes that the Government have made.
I gather that the Prime Minister made Chancellor Merkel a gift of Wainwright’s “Coast to Coast Walk”, which describes the fabulous walk that runs through my constituency. Is she aware that the “coast to coast” is not, in fact, an official national trail, and will she meet me to discuss my campaign to give this national treasure its deserved national status?
As my hon. Friend knows, I enjoy walking as well. There are some fantastic walks across the United Kingdom. I have not yet done the “coast to coast” myself, however; there is not much time for me to do it at the moment.
My hon. Friend probably knows that the decision about the designation of the “coast to coast” is more appropriately one for Natural England, and I am sure that he will do all he can to lobby Natural England on the issue.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 14 September, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said at the Dispatch Box, in relation to the debacle that is the handling of tax credits by Concentrix, that people who provided information would receive money in their bank accounts within four working days. It came to my attention on 29 September that that had been changed, and it would be two to three weeks before the information would even be looked at. Furthermore, on 4 October I learned that the four-day system was not even in place.
There are people who are suffering, who cannot feed their children and cannot even send them to school because they do not have money for lunch, and who have to leave their jobs because they cannot afford childcare as a result of this absolute mess. My constituents cannot wait until the next questions session for an answer. Can you advise me, Mr Speaker, on what tools I can use to ensure that the Financial Secretary comes to the House and clarifies the Government’s position?
I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order.
What Ministers, and other right hon. and hon. Members, say in the House is, of course, their individual responsibility. If a Minister has inadvertently misled the House, I would expect that Minister to correct the record, and I am sure that the Financial Secretary would do so if she felt this to be the case. She will have an opportunity to hear and study what the hon. Lady has said today.
The hon. Lady asked for my advice on how she could hold Ministers to account for their statements on this matter. The answer is that there are a number of routes that she might usefully follow. However, she may particularly wish to note that a debate on the performance of Concentrix in dealing with tax credit claimants, nominated by the Backbench Business Committee, is scheduled to take place next Tuesday at 9.30 am in Westminster Hall. I confidently predict that the hon. Lady will be in Westminster Hall at that time. Although I will not be chairing the debate, because the Speaker does not chair such debates, I have a keen sense that her chances of being heard on that occasion are pretty high. Meanwhile, she has made her concern clear, and it is on the record. We will leave it there for now.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Prime Minister’s Question Time, the Leader of the Opposition very kindly wished me well, and I thank him for that; but he went on to imply that in some way I had received special treatment from the national health service. May I say that that is completely outrageous, and is not the case? Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition would like to clarify the position, or even apologise to me and to the NHS workers who worked so well in providing my care.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I did no such thing during Prime Minister’s Question Time. I wish the hon. Gentleman well, as I wish everyone else well who is being treated in the national health service. I love and value our national health service because it treats everyone equally, gives everyone the best care that it can provide, and gives everyone the best recovery prospects that are available. I meant no such thing, and I think it is unfortunate if the hon. Gentleman thought that I did.
We cannot continue the debate, but the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), who asked his question most powerfully, has raised his concern, to which there has been a response. I cannot be expected to be the arbiter of the respective value of the contributions. The House will be reassured to know that nothing disorderly has occurred.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that the Prime Minister, who has just left the Chamber, asserted that I was in favour of a second Brexit referendum. I never have been, and I am not. I just wanted to set the record straight, and I hoped that she would be able to hear me do so, but unfortunately we have just missed her.
That is not a point of order for the Chair. It is, however, very interesting, notably to the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). Because I take an anorakish interest in the pronouncements of each and every Member, it is also of considerable interest to me, so I am very grateful to her for what she has said.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that you take very seriously your responsibility for protecting the rights of the House. I do not know whether you ever consult Facebook, but if you were to do so, you would find that George Galloway, a former Member of Parliament, still describes himself as a Member of Parliament. Would it not be in the interests of the House to make it absolutely clear to Facebook that he is not a Member of Parliament and should not be claiming that privilege?
It is not my responsibility, but I am perfectly willing to write. He cannot currently be heard in this place. When he was here, he was heard—fully, sometimes loudly and with very considerable eloquence—but he is no longer a Member of Parliament and I am happy to put that on record. If there continues to be ambiguity, or if misleading impressions are given, they must be corrected.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am looking for advice on how to hold the Government to account and get answers from Ministers. On 22 June, I sent a letter on behalf of a constituent to the then Home Secretary. When I got no response, I followed it up but was advised that my letter could not be found. It was then resubmitted to the new Home Secretary on 16 August, but I am still awaiting a response. Similarly, in June I was given notice of a ministerial visit from the Scottish Secretary and told that if I wanted information on the visit, I should respond to the email. I did so immediately, asking what the purpose of the visit was. I am still waiting to hear. Luckily, I was able to find the answer from other sources. Those two examples are unacceptable, and I would appreciate your advice on this matter.
My initial advice would have been to tell the hon. Gentleman to make his point in the presence of the Leader of the House, but he seems to have anticipated me. That is exactly what he has done, and the Leader of the House was listening intently as he raised his concern. There is a responsibility on Ministers to provide timely and substantive answers to questions. Previously, Leaders of the House have chased Government Departments that have fallen down in that regard, and knowing the esteem in which the present Leader of the House holds this place, I know that he will do the same. I hope that that will broker a step change in performance to the satisfaction of the hon. Gentleman.
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to increase the maximum sentences available to the court for stalking offences; and for connected purposes.
Stalking is a horrible, violating crime. It rips relationships apart, destroys careers, and can cause lasting mental harm. All too often it is the gateway to serious violence. Put bluntly, it shatters lives. Yet, despite the vital progress made by the coalition Government in criminalising stalking in 2012, the sentencing powers available to the courts to protect victims remain wholly inadequate. It is high time that we did something about it.
I began this campaign, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), after learning what had happened to one of my constituents, a GP living in Cheltenham and working in Gloucester. Over the course of seven years, Dr Eleanor Aston suffered a horrific ordeal at the hands of her former patient. He turned up at her surgery more than 100 times. He posted foul items through the letter box. He followed her on patient visits, slashed her tyres and sent threatening mail. He even appeared at a children’s birthday party her daughter was attending. It caused exceptional anxiety and fear.
After serving a short prison sentence, and in a pattern that is not uncommon in this type of offence, he restarted his campaign. Dr Aston received packages at her surgery in Gloucester and her home in Cheltenham. One was threatening and abusive and made it clear he knew where her children went to school. The second package simply read, “Guess who’s back”. When he was arrested again, a search on his computer revealed the enquiry, “How long after a person disappears are they assumed dead?”.
The effect on Dr Aston was profound. She was advised by police to change her name and job, and move address. It was suggested that she should come off the General Medical Council register. At one point, she had to leave work and developed post-traumatic stress disorder.
How did the criminal justice system protect her? It is clear that the judge himself thought that he did not have the tools he needed. When passing sentence at Gloucester Crown court for the second time, the judge stated to the stalker:
“I have no doubt at all that you are dangerous in the sense that you pose a significant risk to her in future in terms of causing her serious harm… I am frustrated that the maximum sentence…is five years. I would, if I could, give you longer.”
Therein lies the problem.
In practice, a five-year maximum means that a stalker who pleads guilty in the face of overwhelming evidence for the worst imaginable offence will serve just 18 to 20 months. In reality, sentences are far shorter than the maximum—typically around 10 months. That means stalkers are out in five, often unreformed, untreated and ready to carry on where they left off.
There are three central reasons why the law needs to be changed. First, the most fundamental imperative is to protect the victim. In a digital age, there is more opportunity than ever to terrorise victims and make their lives a misery. Anonymous accounts can be used to send threatening messages. In one case I am aware of, the stalker set up a fake Facebook profile in the name of the victim’s dead father. In another, the stalker created an account to impersonate the victim—a successful author—and used it to send abusive messages to work colleagues.
What has shone out from the conversations I have had with victims is not just the extent to which they are devastated and consumed by their ordeal, but the extent to which they can only truly get on with their lives when they have the reassurance of knowing that their stalker cannot come and hurt them. One can see their anxiety ratchet up with each day as the release date gets closer.
The fact is that courts frequently sentence repeat offenders. The fixation and obsession associated with this offence mean that offenders often ignore repeated warnings handed down by the police or the courts and often ignore short sentences. According to Paladin, the stalking charity, 42% of those convicted and subject to a restraining order go on to reoffend. The courts need powers that enable them to reflect that in the length of the sentence for a repeat offender.
The second reason is the need for rehabilitation. Ultimately, I want to see prison sentences that reform the offender and address the underlying obsession in an effective way. However, the evidence from psychiatrists that emerged in our report suggests that repeat short sentences do not have that effect. Instead, they can make things worse. Resentment can fester, ready to burst out on release. Longer sentences, in appropriate cases, can provide the prison system with greater opportunity to rehabilitate and treat stalkers.
The third point is that the five-year maximum makes no sense when compared with other offences. To put it in perspective, the equivalent maximum for shoplifting is seven years—two years longer. For fraud, it is 10 years; for burglary, another violating offence, it is 14 years; and for street robbery, it is life. Despite stalking being such a violating, intrusive crime and despite it having the capacity to do such significant physical and mental harm, it is still treated as a minor offence. That will not do. At the very least, the maximum needs to be increased to 10 years’ imprisonment.
The call for greater sentencing powers for judges has been backed by charities, criminologists and victims’ groups, as well as by MPs and peers from all parties. As for the judiciary, one recently retired circuit judge, his honour Judge Wade, was quoted in our report this year as saying:
“I entirely agree that the present sentencing regime for this often very worrying offence is quite unsatisfactory. I consider that Parliament must revisit this matter soon… Stalkers can be dangerous and delusional, and their often unpredictable behaviour can easily escalate to serious or even fatal violence.”
It is clear that the Government get this point. While she was Home Secretary, the Prime Minister stated:
“Offenders need to know that they will be brought to justice for making others’ lives a misery. We will do all we can to protect victims of stalking more effectively and to end this appalling crime.”
The previous Prime Minister, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) at Prime Minister’s questions, called stalking a “dreadful crime”. It is therefore no surprise that the coalition did more than any Government in history to tackle the menace of stalking, including by creating a specific offence in 2012, but there is still more to do.
For as long as the courts are left in a sentencing straitjacket and forced to treat this as a minor crime, victims will not be properly protected. The task falls to those of us in this Chamber at this time to get on and finish the job.
Question put and agreed to.
That Alex Chalk, Richard Graham, Jim Dowd, Liz Saville Roberts, Sir Henry Bellingham, Robert Neill, Victoria Prentis, Michelle Donelan, Liz McInnes, Rishi Sunak, Caroline Ansell and Dr Sarah Wollaston present the Bill.
Alex Chalk accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 October, and to be printed (Bill 74).
[8th Allotted Day]
Parliamentary Scrutiny of Leaving the EU
I beg to move,
That this House recognises that leaving the EU is the defining issue facing the UK; believes that there should be a full and transparent debate on the Government’s plan for leaving the EU; and calls on the Prime Minister to ensure that this House is able properly to scrutinise that plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked.
I will start with something I think we can all agree on. The decisions that will be taken by the Government over the next few months and years in relation to exiting the EU will have profound implications for the future of this country, its economy, its people and its place in the world. We have probably not seen a set of such significant decisions since the end of the second world war. Today’s debate is about the proper role of Parliament, and this House in particular, throughout that process. It is about scrutiny and accountability.
There was one question on the ballot paper on 23 June:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
The majority of those voting voted to leave. That result has to be accepted and respected, notwithstanding the fact that many of us, including myself, campaigned for remain. However, that is not the end of the matter. The next question, and one that is increasingly pressing, is: on what terms should we leave the EU? That question was not on the ballot paper. Nor was it addressed in the Conservative party’s 2015 manifesto—there was no plan B in the event of the referendum concluding with a leave vote. Nor did the Prime Minister set out her terms for Brexit before assuming office, because of the nature of the exercise by which she assumed that office. Nor do we have a White Paper setting out the proposed terms. Instead, hiding under the cloak of the prerogative, the Secretary of State has, until now, declined to give the House a meaningful role in scrutinising the Government’s opening terms for negotiations, and that matters.
I am glad to see that a Government amendment—amendment (b)—has been tabled. This implies that the Government are taking a step in the right direction towards scrutiny.
I am sure that, like me, the hon. and learned Gentleman welcomes the half U-turn from the Government, allowing a debate before article 50 is invoked, but what about an actual vote? I am concerned that the amendment does not mention a vote in this House before article 50 is triggered, and that is crucial.
I will come on to the important question of a vote, but let us take one step at a time.
There is scrutiny and there is accountability. The first question is whether the Secretary of State is prepared to put the plans before the House so that Members can see them and debate them. The next question is what the House can do about them, and that is a matter of accountability. I hope that amendment (b) indicates that the Government will go further down the route of scrutiny than they have been prepared to do so far. If they are, I will not crow about it, because it is the right thing to do and it is in the national interest. We all have a duty to ensure that we get the right result for the country.
I will answer the first intervention, please.
We are not in government and our manifesto did not have a referendum without a plan for exit. We need to be clear at the beginning of this exercise where responsibility for the position in which we find ourselves lies. It lies with a previous Prime Minister and a Government who had no plan for a no vote. That is why we are here today.
The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the terms of our exit and also national interest. I come from a business background, and I would love to get a sense of his approach to a successful negotiation. Does he believe that the national interest would be best served by the Government coming to this place and explaining in precise detail all their negotiating positions before we have even walked into the room?
I will not give way, no. We are debating a fundamental question, which is whether the basic plans for the negotiating position will be put before the House. That really matters. Of course there is a degree of detail that cannot be discussed. Of course there is a degree of flexibility that must be there in any negotiation. Of course the starting position may not be the end position. We all accept that; we are all grown up. The question here is whether the basic terms should be put before the House.
Like the hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), I also have a business background, as of course does the director general of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn, who said:
“At the moment if the commentary was to read into what we’ve heard so far, it’s that we’re heading to something of a cliff edge in two and a half years.”
Does my hon. and learned Friend recognise, as I do, that there are many people in business who are very, very concerned about the lack of commentary and lack of direction from the Government?
I am grateful for that intervention. There are two aspects to today’s debate. Partly, there is the political aspect: what is the role of Parliament. There is also the question of uncertainty. It is absolutely clear that, across business, across EU citizens and across the population as a whole, there is great uncertainty about what the plans are, and that uncertainty simply cannot be kept in place for the next three years. It is growing uncertainty.
There is different scrutiny for different treaties and provisions. One example is the scrutiny that was provided in relation to the original decision to go into the European Economic Community, because then, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, Command Papers were put before the House. An economic impact assessment was also put before the House, and some of the Command Papers were voted on. The idea that scrutiny cannot be done and that it was not done in the past is wrong.
My hon. and learned Friend mentions uncertainty. I have been contacted by a business in my constituency that has, until recently, been growing very rapidly, and had plans to announce a £100,000 expansion this autumn. That has now been cancelled because of the uncertainty about our future in the single market and because of what it sees as the Government’s headlong rush to a hard Brexit. What can he say about Labour’s position to reassure those businesses across the whole of Britain that are worried about our future in the single market?
I will make some progress if I may. I have only got to page 2, and I have taken about 10 interventions already. If Members will bear with me, I will press on.
On Monday, the Secretary of State confirmed that the Prime Minister will invoke article 50 no later than the end of March next year. Unless Parliament has a meaningful role in shaping the terms of Brexit between now and then—a maximum period of just five-and-a-half months—it will be too late. I can see what will happen. Once the negotiating process has started, there will be a claim by the Secretary of State that it would be inappropriate to put anything before the House by way of detail. Once the process is over, the risks of any debate will be purely academic.
On a point of information, that is not correct. I have already said that it is not correct. In talking to the Lords Committee in September, I said that the House would have at least the information available to the European Parliament. What the hon. and learned Gentleman says is just not the case.
I am grateful for that intervention. I read the transcript of the Secretary of State’s evidence to that Select Committee. What was put to him was that, on one view, the European Parliament would have more answers than this Parliament. In 2010, as he knows, there was a framework agreement between the Commission and the European Parliament. It states:
“Parliament shall be immediately and fully informed at all stages of the negotiation and conclusion of international agreements, including the definition of negotiating directives.”
That goes a long way further than I understood the Secretary of State’s position to be on Monday, and in his first statement. I would be very pleased to hear from him if he can confirm now that at least that part of scrutiny is guaranteed.
This is a matter not just of process, but of real substance. Both those who voted to leave the EU and those who voted to remain recognise that different negotiating stances under article 50 could provide radically different outcomes, each of which carries very significant risks and opportunities. That is undoubtedly why there is a keen debate going on behind the scenes on the Government’s side. Everybody recognises the potential consequences of adopting the wrong opening stance.
My hon. and learned Friend is making an excellent case. Does he agree that the British people may have voted to leave the European Union, but what they did not vote for is for their food to become more expensive, for the wages of low-paid workers to be hit and for jobs to be lost in the manufacturing, agricultural and banking sectors, which is what we are in danger of if we choose the wrong exit from the European Union.
I am halfway through a sentence. There are different concerns from different businesses and different individuals. I certainly have not met anyone without them—if there are MPs who have, well, so be it—and I think that the Secretary of State would recognise the deep concern across the business community and among a number of individuals, groups and communities about the uncertainty about the future .
I am sure that I am not alone in having many representations from individuals among the millions of EU citizens living in this country and, of course, Britons living abroad who are deeply insecure about their position. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is deplorable to discuss those individuals in terms of being bargaining chips and cards that we need to play in negotiations? Do we not need to make a priority of ensuring that those individuals, with their businesses and their lives, have the security that they deserve?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and again, many of us have had anxious conversations with EU citizens who simply want to know what their position is and want some guarantees about the future.
I will make some progress. Some models for exiting have been much discussed. The most cited are the Norwegian model, the Swiss model, the Turkish model and the Canadian model. It is unlikely that any deal reached between the UK and the EU will replicate any of those models—nor should it—but in negotiating our future relationship with the EU, the Government will be defining the future of our country, so the terms matter hugely. It is frankly astonishing that the Government propose to devise the negotiating terms of our exit from the EU, then to negotiate and then to reach a deal, without a vote in this House. This is where my opening remarks become important because, in the absence of anything in the manifesto, in the absence of anything on the referendum ballot form and in the absence of any words from the Prime Minister before she assumed office, where is the mandate? Nobody—public or in the House—
No, the referendum is not the mandate for the terms. We have been round this block and everybody understands the distinction. I have stood here and accepted that there is a mandate for exit. There is no mandate for the terms. It has never been put to the country; it has not even been put to the Secretary of State’s political party; and it has not been put to the House. Where is the mandate on the terms?
Reference has been made to the Lisbon treaty, which may provide a rather useful precedent. Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the policy on that treaty was debated repeatedly on the Floor of the House, beginning with the abortive European constitution. The then Government were accountable to the House for the view that they were taking towards the treaty, and the treaty itself was then debated for days on end on the Floor of the House, with repeated votes at several stages in that process. Nobody mentioned the words “royal prerogative” throughout the entire process.
Is not the prerogative absolutely key here? In 1924, when there was a Labour Government, we insisted that all treaties would be laid before the House for 21 days, so that the House and the House of Lords could take a view on them. That was the Ponsonby rule. When there was a Conservative Government, they got rid of it. When there was a Labour Government again in 1929, we put it back, and in 2010, we put it on the statute book. Is it not really worrying that Ministers have been going to the House of Lords and this Chamber and relying solely on the prerogative in relation to treaties?
It is, and I will deal with the prerogative in some detail because it is not fixed. The prerogative changes over time, and in any event, even if it may legally allow the Executive to proceed without scrutiny and accountability in the House, it does not prevent that scrutiny and accountability. It does not require the Government to proceed in that way. It is being used as cloak to avoid the scrutiny that is needed.
Some of us were here during the Maastricht treaty debates, when there were many votes and the Government forces of the day were brilliantly whipped by the present Secretary for Brexit in favour of the Maastricht treaty. Just to be quite clear, is the hon. and learned Gentleman—I am very much minded to support his motion—calling for a vote, not just an examination, on the terms before we send the Secretary of State off to negotiate?
Absolutely, but I take this in two stages because both are important. Scrutiny—putting the plans before the House—really matters. There is a separate argument about a vote, and I say that there should be a vote, but we must not get to a situation where, to resist the vote, the Secretary of State will not even put the plans before the House.
Is not the convention very clearly established that a major treaty change has to be triggered by an affirmative resolution of the House? The fact that that may only be a convention is still something that must be respected. After all, there are lots of conventions, such as the convention that a Government resign if they lose a vote of no confidence. That is no more than a convention, but Members might be a bit surprised if a Government were not to go in those circumstances.
The prerogative has come up so often that I will deal with it now in substance. Prerogative powers, of course, developed at a time when the monarch was both a feudal lord and Head of State. That is the origin of prerogative powers, but they have changed over time, yielding where necessary to the demands of democratic accountability. There are plenty of examples, as the Secretary of State will know, in the courts of that change in accountability, but there is also the example of the prerogative power to commit troops in armed conflict. In theory, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet retain the constitutional right to decide when and where to authorise action, but in practice Governments in recent times have ensured parliamentary debate and a vote.
Responding to the Chilcot report earlier this year, the then Prime Minister made the point during Prime Minister’s questions when he said:
“I think we have now got a set of arrangements and conventions that put the country in a stronger position. I think it is now a clear convention that we have a vote in this House, which of course we did on Iraq, before premeditated military action”.—[Official Report, 6 July 2016; Vol. 612, c. 881.]
A strong political convention modifying the prerogative has thus been set.
I will just complete this section on the prerogative.
The underlying premise of the development of the prerogative is clear and obvious. The more significant the decision in question and the more serious the possible consequences, the greater the need for meaningful parliamentary scrutiny. That lies at the heart of this, and it is hard to think of a more significant set of decisions with very serious possible consequences than the terms on which we leave the EU.
I will press this point because all this is well known to the Secretary of State. After all, he tabled a ten-minute rule Bill in June 1999 that was concerned with
“the exercise of certain powers of Ministers of the Crown subject to control by the House of Commons”.
I shall quote his approach to the prerogative. When he introduced that Bill on 22 June 1999, the right hon. Gentleman, now of course the Secretary of State, said:
“Executive decisions by the Government should be subject to the scrutiny and approval of Parliament in many other areas... The Bill sets out to...make”
“subject to parliamentary approval, giving Parliament the right of approval over all Executive powers not conferred by statute—from the ratification of treaties to the approval of Orders in Council, and from the appointment of European Commissioners, some ambassadors, members of the Bank of England”.—[Official Report, 22 June 1999; Vol. 333, c. 931.]
So he has changed his position. Back then, he recognised that the prerogative ought to be subject to Parliament. It was 20 years ago, but progressive movement with the prerogative is usually in favour of greater accountability, not less, so the fact that he argued that 20 years ago is not an argument against doing it now. That Bill did not proceed, but the principles are clear and set out. The prerogative is not fixed; parliamentary practice and convention can change the prerogative, and have done so in a number of ways. In any event, I fall back on my primary point: even if the prerogative permits the Government to withhold the plans from Parliament, it does not require them to, and political accountability requires the Government to put their plans before Parliament.
The hon. and learned Gentleman misses one rather important fact: there has been a vote of the British people—a vote delegated to them by the terms of the European Union Referendum Act 2015. This is the question that he has to answer: suppose there was a vote in this House; how would he vote? Would he vote against article 50 invocation, or in favour? Just give a straight answer to that.
I will not take long responding to that, because I have made the point, which is that the mandate on 23 June was not a mandate as to the terms, and I think that most people understand that; I cannot put it any clearer than that.
There is the question of how Members would vote, what they would vote on, and what happens if Parliament does not like the terms. The Secretary of State, in his statement on 5 September, emphasised that he would consult widely, including the devolved countries, which of course are very important in all this, and which deserve scrutiny of how exit will impact each of them. He also said he would
“strive to build national consensus around our approach.”—[Official Report, 5 September 2016; Vol. 614, c. 38.]
The question for the Secretary of State is: how will he build consensus around his approach if he will not tell the House what his approach is?
The hon. and learned Gentleman is, of course, a first-rate lawyer of international renown, and it is a real pleasure to hear him develop his argument. I am interested in what he said about the devolved Administrations. Does he agree that the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations should have a central role in negotiations on the UK’s terms for exiting the European Union, and will he and his party throw their weight behind that argument?
I do agree with that, absolutely, and we will throw our weight behind it. In fairness, the Prime Minister signalled that by her early visits as soon as she assumed office. I was hesitant to answer that question in case I got relegated from second to third or even fourth-rate lawyer. I will press on—