House of Commons
Tuesday 24 January 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The House will be aware of the tragic death of Jenny Swift at Doncaster prison on 30 December. My sympathies are with her family. As with all deaths in custody, there will be an inquest and an independent investigation by the prisons and probation ombudsman. We are firmly committed to ensuring that transgender offenders are treated fairly, lawfully and decently, with their rights and safety respected.
I cautiously welcome the new guidance regarding the management of transgender prisoners, and I am sure we are all keen to see all transgender people treated with respect and dignity. However, can the Minister assure the House that the new guidance applies to transgender people held in immigration and detention centres, as well as to those housed in the general prison system?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The new guidelines to staff were issued on 9 November, following a review of the management and care of transgender offenders. The review involved independent oversight, including from the Prison Reform Trust. To put the issue into perspective, we have 70 people in this position in the estate at the moment, which broadly reflects the incidence in the population. Specifically on the question the hon. Lady asks, if she writes to me, I will reply.
The National Offender Management Service guidance is very welcome, but will the Minister outline whether it applies to non-binary people who are in prisons, because this issue is not just about those who define themselves as men or women but about non-binary people as well?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Again, to put the issue into perspective, we currently have four people who are in that position in the estate. The new guidelines state that all transgender prisoners
“must be allowed to express the gender with which they identify”,
irrespective of prison location.
Will the Minister confirm that that means there is no longer a requirement for a gender recognition certificate? Will he also tell us how confident he is that these guidelines are being applied across the whole estate and when he expects to do an assessment of their impact?
The underlying principle is that people are cared for and managed in the gender with which they identify, rather than that being based solely on their legally recognised gender. As I said earlier, the guidelines came about through interaction with various independent organisations, and staff are being trained in this area. I think some perspective is required here: we have a prison system that is traditionally male-female, and we are dealing with relatively small numbers, but, yes, I am keeping an eye on this issue. In particular, with regard to recent tragic events, I am also looking individually at each case.
The Prison and Courts Reform Bill will for the first time set out in legislation that the reform of offenders, as well as the punishment of offenders, is a key purpose of prison. We need to make sure the whole system is focused on getting prisoners the education they need, and getting them off drugs and into jobs, so that we can reduce the £15 billion cost of reoffending.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need standards so that we can hold prison governors to account on what they are achieving. We are going to start introducing those standards from April 2017. They will include measures such as prison safety, progress made in English and maths, progress on getting offenders into employment and measuring the time out of cell in prisons.
The Secretary of State will know that good rehabilitation depends on at least two things: a good probation service providing aftercare when people leave prison, and good partnerships with the business community and employers, who will give people appropriate employment to steer them on their way. We have had some good experience at Reading and other jails. Will the Secretary of State back that kind of partnership?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We know that when somebody gets into work on leaving prison, they are much less likely to reoffend. We are going to launch an employment strategy later this year to encourage more employers like Timpsons, which already does a fantastic job, to participate. We also want to get the third sector involved in that rehabilitation programme. We will also announce reforms to the probation system, and one key focus will be on how the probation service gets people into employment.
We are working with the Department for Work and Pensions to get the data and make sure that they are much more linked up. By giving governors more power we will enable them to work with local employers in making sure that jobs are available. We are training people in prison and getting them into apprenticeships so that they can continue those apprenticeships and that work when they leave prison.
What steps are the Government taking to ensure that mental health problems are picked up as part of the rehabilitation process, not just to reduce suicide rates in prisons but to ensure that services are streamlined on release?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that mental health is a major issue. We are giving governors more power over the commissioning of mental health services in prison. I also want to see better diagnosis of mental health issues earlier in the criminal justice system, when people appear in court and when they are on community sentences.
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. Catering and bakery is a big area in which we do a lot of training already. We are working with organisations like Costa Coffee to get people into employment. We also have the Bad Boys Bakery at Brixton, which produces some excellent cakes.
Getting ex-prisoners into employment is clearly very important, as the Secretary of State has said. What assessment has her Department made of the number of prisoners who leave prison and get into employment and stay in it for more than six months?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about the longevity of such employment. We are designing the measures on which prison governors and probation services will be held to account on the basis of getting people into sustainable employment. That is very important.
An offender who is assessed as presenting a high risk of serious harm will receive a standard recall. Thereafter, they will be re-released before the end of their sentence only if the risk they pose is reduced and they can be safely managed in the community. In cases that are not high risk, however, a fixed-term recall is often a more appropriate response.
It is bad enough that prisoners are automatically released halfway through the sentence, whether or not they still pose a risk to the public, but when someone released on licence from prison then reoffends, surely the least the public can expect is that the criminals concerned are sent back to prison to serve the remainder of their prison sentence in full. Instead, a huge number of these people are simply recalled to prison for just 28 days on a fixed-term recall, sometimes on multiple occasions. How does the Minister justify this fraud on the British public?
As I said, where a high risk is posed, the prisoner will not be re-released before the end of their sentence. Offenders on licence who are charged with a further offence and assessed as presenting a high risk of serious harm receive a standard recall. If they are convicted of a further offence, they get a fresh sentence.
In a recent case in Northern Ireland, someone charged with a serious terrorist offence in connection with the murder of prison officer David Black absconded when he was on bail, and the police did not report that to the courts for over five weeks. Is the Minister aware of that, and has he had any discussions with the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland to take this matter forward?
Some in the justice system have raised fears that recall is used too readily by community rehabilitation companies because they are disincentivised from investing time in those they consider will not be able to complete their community sentence. What assessment has the Minister made of the use of recall by community rehabilitation companies?
The hon. Lady makes a good point about the process whereby community rehabilitation companies have to justify the grounds for recall to officials in the National Offender Management Service before going ahead. Where officials do not find grounds for recall, they will then challenge the community rehabilitation companies. It is important to recognise that sometimes recalling an offender who is in breach of their licence allows the offender manager to put in place the appropriate mechanisms to manage them in the community.
We are recruiting an extra 2,500 prison officers and rolling out new body-worn cameras. We are also empowering governors and providing extra funding to enhance the physical security of the prison estate.
To be fair to the Government, I appreciate that prison violence has been a problem for decades. I remember being a PPS 28 years ago when the Home Secretary was coping with a prison riot. But was it really wise to cut the number of prison officers by a quarter in the last six years, given these problems?
I should be delighted to have a conversation with my hon. Friend about his experience looking at these issues. He is absolutely right that they have been a problem for a number of years, and it will take time to build up the front line and recruit those 2,500 additional officers. We have recently faced new challenges, with psychoactive substances, drones and mobile phones. We are taking action to deal with those, but it is vital that we have the staff on the front line who can both reform offenders and keep our prisons safe.
Six major incidents in eight weeks is unprecedented in the 25 years I have been in this House. Following on from her reply to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), will the Secretary of State confirm that the figures to September meant a loss in that last year of 417 prison officers? When she says that she has to recruit 2,500 officers, does she not mean that in the next 12 months she will have to recruit 4,000 to make up those 2,500, and does she intend to do that?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We need to recruit 4,000 officers over the next year. I announced initially that we were recruiting officers for 10 of the most challenging prisons. We have already made job offers to almost all those 400 people, so we are making good progress. We have recently launched a graduate scheme, Unlocked. Within 24 hours of announcing that scheme, we had expressions of interest from more than 1,000 candidates, so there are people interested in joining the Prison Service. It is challenging to recruit that number of officers, but we are absolutely determined to do so. It is what we need to do to turn our prisons around and make them places of safety and reform.[Official Report, 26 January 2017, Vol. 620, c. 2MC.]
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the greatest support that we can give to prison officers is to make sure that they have the correct levels of staffing in their prisons? Is she aware that there have been significant problems, highlighted by recent reports, in Chelmsford prison, which have been attributed to the understaffing of the prison? May I ask her what is being done to get the levels of staff to the correct ones, and would she agree to the prisons Minister having a meeting with me to discuss that?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to recruit staff at Chelmsford, in addition to other prisons. I know that my hon. Friend the prisons Minister will meet my right hon. Friend soon. I am keen to visit Chelmsford myself to meet my right hon. Friend and see the situation on the front line.
As well as issues with understaffing and morale, we still have some old prisons that are not suitable for the kind of rehabilitation that we need, and that cause security issues. Can the Government update us on what is happening to deal with that fundamental infrastructure problem?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is harder to reform offenders and create the safe environments that we want in old prisons that are not fit for purpose. That is why we are building additional prison places. We have £1.3 billion allocated. We will open HMP Berwyn in Wales shortly, which will have additional places. We are committed to this, and I will announce more about our prison build programme in due course.
What has been the effect of the decisions in 2011, which were confirmed in 2016, to reduce the daily accommodation fabric checks to barely a weekly check? How has that helped to achieve the desired outcome, as stated at the time, of maintaining order and reducing self-harm?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. We need cells that are fit for purpose and usable. One of the things that my hon. Friend the prisons Minister has been focusing on in his regular meetings is making sure that our contractors get cells back to use and fit for purpose.
Some prisons, including Her Majesty’s Prison Birmingham, use prisoner violence reduction representatives—prisoners who are paid to monitor other inmates—to discourage disorder. Stakeholders we have spoken to suggest that some are ensuring compliance by themselves meting out violence to troublesome inmates. What assessment has the Justice Secretary made of their use?
The hon. Lady refers to violence reduction programmes. I have seen them in place in a number of prisons, where they can be very effective. Peer to peer support can often turn prisoners around, but it needs to be carefully managed and monitored. My expectation is that it is the role of the governor of the prison to make sure proper systems are in place.
In December, during her statement to the House on the riot at Her Majesty’s Prison Birmingham, the Justice Secretary suggested that as many as 13 Tornado teams were deployed to the prison. Such events deprive other prisons of officer numbers. Is she confident that she has the resources to deal with disturbances of this kind, and when will Sarah Payne’s investigation into what happened be concluded?
We are increasing the number of Tornado staff to make sure that we can deal with any incidents that arise across our prison estate, particularly while we are building up the strength of our frontline. Those officers do a fantastic job, and they did a fantastic job in resolving the incident at HMP Birmingham. I can tell the hon. Lady that the investigation into the incident at HMP Birmingham, which is being led by Sarah Payne, will report back in February.
Our prison safety and reform White Paper affirms the Government’s commitment fundamentally to reassess our wider approach to tackling the supply of and the demand for drugs in prisons. It also gives governors greater power over services in their prisons, devolving control over education and increasing influence over healthcare provision, including drug testing and rehabilitation.
I have visited many prisons in my role as rapporteur on mental health for the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and one of the most consistent and challenging problems is not only treating drug addiction but preventing new psychoactive substances from entering the prison system. Will the Minister update me on the Department’s plans to prevent NPS abuse in prisons?
The use of legal highs is undeniably changing behaviour patterns among prisoners. Last night’s “Panorama” illustrated the impact of new psychoactive substances. We have developed an innovative testing programme under the current mandatory drug testing regime, and we continue to work with health partners to reduce demand.
In the light of the increasing pressures on the prison population, does my hon. Friend see any merit in the Howard League for Penal Reform’s suggestions about increasing the use of community orders—they certainly work well in Southend—and in its approach to helping offenders with drug problems?
We want community orders to be effective so that further crimes are not committed. This includes better mental health interventions and drugs and alcohol desistance interventions. I am fully aware of the fact that if we can get to grips with the mental health challenges and the substance misuse challenges, crime will go down.
If the Minister is to address the issue of drug addiction, he will have to address the issue of drugs being smuggled into prison. One method of doing that would be the introduction of new scanning machines similar to those at airports. Has the Minister given any consideration to doing that in prisons, thereby stopping drugs being smuggled by people into prison?
Yes, consideration has been given to that. There is a particular difficulty with new psychoactive substances, because the way in which they are smuggled in—for example, by the impregnation of letters or paper—means that it is difficult to stop them via scanning. The hon. Gentleman should be assured that we are desperate to get a grip on the smuggling and supply of drugs into prisons because of the adverse impact that they are having.
Prison Staff: Recruitment
We are investing significant financial resources totalling about £100 million to recruit 2,500 additional prison officers. We are investing £4 million in our marketing campaign and effort. In addition to our national recruitment campaign, there are local recruitment schemes in 30 jails where it is hardest to recruit.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. I urge him, as he begins the recruitment process, to give due consideration to recruiting in rural areas, such as north Dorset, where house prices are high, rural public transport is scarce and unemployment levels are very low. That makes the governor’s job at a prison such as Guys Marsh in my constituency even harder.
I am aware that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in Guys Marsh, his local prison. I assure him that Guys Marsh has been made a priority prison, which means that the governor is getting extra resource, in addition to our national campaign effort, to recruit the staff he needs.
Many of my constituents work in the Prison Service and I was contacted recently by one constituent who has worked in it for more than 23 years. He was concerned about the morale among his fellow officers and cited recent riots. What assurances can the Minister give me that those who serve on the frontline are able to work safely and with the appropriate staffing numbers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: prison officers are some of our finest and bravest public servants, and we want them to be able to work in safe conditions. That is why we are tackling the scourge of drones, drugs and phones in our prisons, and recruiting more staff so that they can work in a safe environment.
Given the enormous turnover of staff on the prison estate and the reality that the Government will need to employ about 4,000 extra staff to reach their net figure of 2,500, what is the Minister doing to incentivise existing prison staff to stay and not walk out?
The reality is that, in 75% of our prisons, recruitment is not a challenge. However, there is a challenge in some prisons, particularly in London and the south-east. In those places, we are offering market supplements of about £4,000 to attract new people. For those who are already in the system, we are in discussions about professionalising the Prison Service more to give them a better status and more pride in their jobs.
The chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service, Michael Spurr, told MPs that there is a need to recruit 8,000 more prison officers to achieve the increase of 2,500, as we have heard again today, yet existing prison officers have rejected the latest NOMS pay offer. When Michael Spurr met the Prison Officers Association this week, did the Secretary of State join him, and did she make the necessary commitments to make increased staffing in the Prison Service a reality?
Leaving the EU: Justice
We are determined to use the opportunities presented by our exit from the EU to build a truly global Britain. Our world-leading legal services contribute £25 billion per annum to the UK economy. My Department is leading the work on future co-operation with the EU on civil, commercial and family law, and, together with the Home Office, on criminal justice.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s confirmation that we will be ceasing membership of the single market and thus ending the control of the European Court over this country. Does my right hon. Friend look forward to the day when the British courts are no longer undermined by European judges sitting in Luxembourg?
As with all things Brexit, we are facing a period of uncertainty around the recognition and enforcement of citizens’ rights associated with EU membership. What plans do the Government have to recognise the rights of parties in pending cases before the Court of Justice at the time of our departure from the EU?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a vital issue for our fantastic legal services profession—four of the top 10 international law firms are headed in the UK. I said this week at a joint meeting with the Lord Chief Justice and members of the legal profession that mutual enforcement of judgments will be a key part of our Brexit negotiations.
Civil and criminal justice are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Does the Secretary of State for Justice agree with the conclusions of the first report of the Exiting the European Union Committee that the great repeal Bill must be dealt with in a way consistent with the existing devolution settlement, and does she accept, therefore, that the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament to the great repeal Bill will be required?
Because civil and criminal justice are devolved, the triggering of article 50 will have major implications for the rights and freedoms of people in Scotland. Does the Secretary of State accept, therefore, that the Sewel convention will be engaged, and does she agree with the Supreme Court’s judgment this morning that the Sewel convention has an important role in facilitating harmonious relationships between the UK Parliament and the devolved legislature?
We are currently conducting a comprehensive review of the probation system so that it reduces reoffending, cuts crime and prevents future victims. A wide range of factors impacts on the effectiveness of probation services, including not only caseloads but the nature of supervision and rehabilitative support.
In October, a joint report by the prisons and probations inspectorates found that
“high workloads meant that there was no time to think about cases in prison”
“workload for resettlement workers meant that they spent very little time working with individual prisoners”.
Is not that evidence that the Government’s mistaken privatisation of the probation service is failing prisoners, failing to prevent reoffending and therefore failing to protect the wider community?
Our ambition for the probation system review, due out at the beginning of April, is clear. We want a simple probation system with clear outcome measures, such as getting offenders into employment and housing. Outcomes, rather than inputs, are the best way to judge our probation service across the board.
The Government’s reforms will modernise the courts and tribunals system and improve the experience of everyone who comes into contact with it, particularly victims and witnesses, but we need to make sure that the provision of legal support is also updated to reflect the new way the justice system will work. We will work closely with the legal sector, victims and witnesses and others to review across the board the types of support needed in a modernised justice system and produce a Green Paper in the spring of 2018.
Technology can mean that courthouses that were little used and have closed can still allow constituents to get access to justice. Can the Minister confirm that Skegness courthouse is going to receive the kind of technology solution that will allow my constituents still to get access to justice, and that that will not come at a cost to the local police?
Yesterday, the British-Irish Parliamentary Association heard how well the Garda and the Police Service of Northern Ireland are working together. When we leave the EU, however, it looks as if we will become associate members of Europol, and the Schengen information system is another item that we need to keep together. Will the Minister ensure that we are in either the same place or a better place?
In his reply to the question from the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), the Minister referred to modernising the tribunal system. Does he agree that part of that modernisation should be getting rid of employment tribunal fees, the introduction of which has led to a cut in the number of employment tribunal cases by two thirds and a cut of more than 80% in sex discrimination cases? Can the Minister announce today that those fees will indeed be abolished as part of access to justice and modernising the system?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have been reviewing employment tribunal fees, and I can say that the publication of that review is imminent. Having said that, there is a difference of opinion across the Chamber on this matter. We think it right that individuals should contribute to the costs of the tribunals. It is also worth bearing in mind that ACAS has increased its workload in employment cases from about 23,000 cases a year—the number it used to conciliate—to 92,000 cases now. The result has been a very large increase in the number of cases that do not then proceed to the tribunal.
I do agree. We have the best legal system in the world, but we also need to have the most modern one. Getting as many things out of court that do not need to be there, applying the full force of judge and courtroom for the most difficult and complex issues, stripping away unnecessary hearings, redundant paper forms and duplication are all important. I can report that, while two hearings ago, there was a saving of a Shard-load of paper as a result of these reports, that has now gone up to three Shard-loads, so we have saved a pile of paper as high as the Burj Khalifa, the largest building in the world.
The new chairman of the Bar Council, Andrew Langdon QC, has warned people not to rely too heavily on the delivery of justice online. Yesterday the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, complained that facilities in his courts were a disgrace,
“prone to the link”
—the video link—
“failing and with desperately poor sound and picture quality”.
His own court, Court 33, has no such facilities and no video links. Does the Minister understand that some cases are not suitable for video links, and is he prepared to properly resource the ones that are?
It is important for the courts to have the facilities that they need, which is the reason for our modernisation programme. As for the concern expressed about open justice, everything will work on the basis that people are able to see what is happening in a virtual hearing, so there will not be any secret justice.
It is vital for us to reduce the £15 billion cost of reoffending, and all the misery that it causes in our society. We must therefore ensure that offenders enter employment when they leave prison, and as a result of our new standards governors will be held to account for that.
My private Member’s Bill, which is intended to reduce homelessness, will return to the House on Friday. One of its key provisions is a duty for the Prison Service to help people who are leaving prison to find stable homes. What measures can my right hon. Friend take to ensure that prison governors use the four two-hour workshops to prepare prisoners for a life outside prison?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Finding suitable housing, like getting a job, is very important to reducing reoffending. We will therefore measure housing rates as well as employment rates, and prison governors will be held accountable for how well they do in helping offenders to obtain housing.
I entirely agree that it is important for us to help people to find work. I support the Ban the Box initiative, and we are exploring options for its promotion. Later this year we will publish our employment strategy. We want to encourage more employers like Halfords, Greggs and DHL, which already work with ex-offenders, to become involved. Once they have jobs, ex-offenders often prove to be loyal and effective employees.
Human Rights Act 1998
We are committed to reforming our domestic human rights framework, and we will return to our proposals once we know the arrangements for our exit from the European Union.
In September, the Secretary of State said that she was expecting to meet the Scottish Justice Minister to discuss the repeal of the Human Rights Act in Scotland. How does she plan to guarantee that the proposed British Bill of Rights will not compromise the autonomy of the Scottish legal system?
The Secretary of State has offered some dates, and I hope it will be possible for the meeting to take place. There will be some time for that now, because, as I have said, we will return to our proposals once we know the arrangements for exit from the EU.
It is of course right that our manifesto commitment to replace the Human Rights Act remains on the Government’s agenda, but does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that leaving the European Union and freeing the United Kingdom from the bonds of the charter of fundamental rights must be their top priority?
I do not accept that the sort of changes we are proposing to consider once the situation is known about our exit from the EU would be a crisis-making combination. This country has always had a proud respect for human rights; it long predates the Human Rights Act, and I think we can all agree on that.
Foreign National Offenders
As of 30 September 2016 there were 6,688 foreign national offenders serving a custodial sentence in our prisons. A further 2,374 foreign nationals are being held in prison on remand or in immigration detention centres. We are committed to increasing the number of foreign national offenders removed from our prisons, whether they are removed under the prisoner transfer agreement or the early removal scheme. In 2015-16, 5,810 FNOs were removed from prisons and immigration removal centres; that is the highest number since records began, and since 2010 33,000 have been removed.
Poland has one of the biggest national groups of foreign national offenders in our prisons. Poland’s derogation from the compulsory EU prisoner transfer directive was due to expire in December 2016. Are we now in a position to send these Polish prisoners back to prison in their own country?
We have already been in touch with the Department for Exiting the European Union on prisoner transfer agreements, but, as I said in my opening answer, that is one way of removing prisoners from this country. The early removal scheme is another way, and we have been successful at removing a lot of prisoners through that scheme.
Has the Ministry of Justice made an assessment of how many British offenders are held in foreign prisons?
The Prime Minister claims she wants to protect workers’ rights. Is not the Government’s fear in publishing this report that it is going to demonstrate that the introduction of fees has negated that process? The Minister earlier said that publication is “imminent”; his predecessor said last July it was “soon”. Can he define the terms and give us a date?
Today the Supreme Court issued its judgment on article 50. The 11 justices of the Supreme Court heard evidence over four days in December before handing down their judgment. Our independent judiciary is the cornerstone of the rule of law and is vital to our constitution and freedoms. The reputation of our judiciary is unrivalled the world over, and our Supreme Court justices are people of integrity and impartiality. While we might not always agree with judgments, it is a fundamental part of any thriving democracy that legal process is followed. The Government have been clear that they will respect the decision of the court.
The Secretary of State has been gallivanting with City of London law firms of late, most recently on Thursday in Fleet Street, promising to put English law at the forefront of the attempts to create global Britain. Does she think that English law is superior to Scots law? What efforts is she making to promote the international interests of law firms from across the UK, and will firms not in the City of London get the same consideration as the firms in that one square mile?
I want to promote both English and Scots law internationally; I think they are both huge assets to our country, and a very important part of commerce and business and the trust people have in our system. When I meet the Scottish Justice Minister, I will be delighted to meet some law firms up in Scotland.
We welcome the Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) on this subject, because we are determined to provide help to the families left behind when a person goes missing. It is our policy to introduce legislation, but we also now look forward to responding to my hon. Friend’s Bill on Second Reading.
There are two things that are dangerous for our democracy: attempting to ignore the outcome of the referendum, and standing by while the independence of Britain’s judiciary comes under attack. In the light of that, I welcome the progress that the Secretary of State has made today, under pressure, in speaking up for the independence of our judiciary, but that has not deterred the continuation of the attacks. Will she now, once and for all, condemn the attacks on our judiciary?
I am delighted to hear that the Labour party wants to support the will of the British people. That is a welcome development. As I have said, I am intensely proud of our independent judiciary—it is a core part of our democracy—but I am also proud to live in a country that has a free press.
My hon. Friend and I have discussed this matter informally. The welfare of the child is always paramount in court decisions, but he will remember that parental involvement provisions were inserted into the Children and Families Act 2014. The courts are now required to presume that a parent’s involvement in the child’s life will further that child’s welfare unless the contrary can be shown.
My condolences go to Dean Saunders’ family. This is a dreadful case. I have seen the details of it, and I am seeking the details of all those cases to see whether there is a pattern in why they are happening. I hope to come forward later in the year with suggestions for policy change relating to mental health assessments in prisons.
Of course, sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the courts. However, the Government are concerned that women—and, indeed, men—should not be sent to custody if they do not need to be there. Revised guidance on sentencing for non-payment of the TV licence fee was issued today by the Sentencing Council. The guidelines set out possible factors that could reduce the seriousness of TV licence evasion, including circumstances in which the culprit is experiencing significant financial hardship.
I thank the hon. Lady for her response to the consultation, which has now closed. We will, of course, announce our decision in due course. As was made clear in the consultation, there is excess capacity in London magistrates courts. Camberwell Green has significant outstanding maintenance, totalling more than £1 million. The consultation is about ensuring modern and efficient courts and improved court arrangements for everyone.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are seeing a record number of people prosecuted for sexual crimes, but I make it clear that victims and witnesses should be able to come forward. We are having more pre-trial cross examinations so that people do not have the difficulty of appearing in court. I recently held a summit with victims’ organisations about what more we can do to protect vulnerable victims.
HMP Lewes went into special measures on 12 December, and a bespoke package of support is being developed for the newly appointed governor, who took up his post on 9 January. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the support in detail.
We have launched the Unlocked programme, which is like Teach First but for prisons, to encourage the brightest and best graduates. We have had a huge response, with more than 1,000 expressions of interest within 24 hours. I look forward to them joining our fantastic Prison Service.
The Government have signalled their intention to remain a member of Europol after we leave the European Union. Is there a similar resolve to continue membership of Eurojust?
The Justice Secretary has already said that four of the 10 biggest legal firms are based in the United Kingdom. What steps is she now taking, given the similarity between English law and the law in New York state, Australia and New Zealand, to promote opportunities for British law firms after we leave the European Union?
Last week, I hosted a meeting with the Lord Chief Justice and leading legal firms to talk about mutual recognition and enforcement of contracts. In the spring, we will hold a global Britain legal services summit to promote the fantastic capabilities we have in the law.
When people leave prison, we need to ensure that those addicted to drugs or alcohol have the best start away from their dependency so that their loved ones can be protected from that harm. Does the Minister agree that former prisoners with a substance addiction, who might come back coercively to control their families to get to that substance, can be managed better?
Ministers will be aware of the disturbing incident that took place recently at Haverfordwest magistrates court, where a defendant, while in the dock, was able to use a sharp object to carry out a serious act of violence against themselves. Will the Secretary of State please commit to looking into what went wrong with the security arrangements at the court? No one should be in a position to do harm to themselves or others in any courtroom in England and Wales.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point about an extremely concerning incident. I have been briefed already, but I have asked for a further report from Her Majesty’s Courts Service on exactly what happened and what measures are necessary to ensure that such an incident does not happen again.
When I met Lancashire police federation representatives last Friday, they said that they believe the sentencing guidelines dealing with an assault on a police officer to be adequate, but that in some cases they are not properly enforced by the courts. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that an attack on a police officer is always considered an aggravating factor, because an attack on the law enforcers is an attack on society itself?
The use of psychoactive substances, especially Spice, was highlighted in a Home Affairs Committee report last year. Will the Secretary of State tell me what links can be highlighted between the rise in psychoactive substances and levels of violence in prisons?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that psychoactive substances have had a serious effect in our prisons: the prisons and probation ombudsman described them as a “game changer”, which is why we have now rolled out testing to deal with those substances. We have extra sniffer dogs to deal with them as well, and we are making progress.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: victims have to be at the centre of the justice system. That is what our court reforms will help to deliver. Restorative justice programmes, led by our police and crime commissioners, can help to bring a sense of justice to victims.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will now make a statement on the Government’s response to today’s judgment by the Supreme Court.
This Government are determined to deliver on the decision taken by the people of the UK in the referendum granted to them by this House to leave the EU, so we will move swiftly to do just that. I can announce today that we will shortly introduce legislation allowing the Government to move ahead with invoking article 50, which starts the formal process of withdrawing from the EU.
We received the lengthy 96-page judgment just a few hours ago, and Government lawyers are assessing it carefully, but this will be a straightforward Bill. It is not about whether or not the UK should leave the EU. That decision has already been made by the people of the UK. We will work with colleagues in both Houses to ensure that this Bill is passed in good time for us to invoke article 50 by the end of March this year, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set out. That timetable has already been supported by this House.
Let me go through the issues step by step. The Government’s priority following the European Union referendum has been to respect the outcome and to ensure it is delivered in the interests of the whole country. This House voted by six to one to put the decision in the hands of voters, and that Bill passed in the other place unopposed. So there can be no going back: the point of no return was passed on 23 June last year. The Government have always been clear that we must leave by following the process set out in article 50 of the treaty on European Union. People want and expect us to get on with implementing the decision that was made.
Let me now turn specifically to the process for invoking article 50 and the issues that arise from today’s Supreme Court judgment. The Government’s view, which we argued in both the High Court and subsequently the Supreme Court, was that it was constitutionally proper and lawful for the Government to begin to give effect to the decision of the people by the use of prerogative powers to invoke article 50. Today, the Supreme Court has agreed with the High Court’s judgment that the prerogative power alone is insufficient to give notice under article 50, and that legislation is required to provide the necessary authorisation for this step.
In addition, the Supreme Court considered the roles of the devolved legislatures in the process of triggering article 50. On this, the Supreme Court ruled—and I quote from the summary:
“Relations with the EU and other foreign affairs matters are reserved to UK Government and parliament, not to the devolved institutions.”
The summary goes on to say:
“The devolved legislatures do not have a veto on the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU.”
I will come back to our collaboration with the devolved Administrations later in this statement.
The Government have been giving careful thought to the steps that we would need to take in the event of the Supreme Court upholding the High Court’s view. First, let me be clear that we believe in and value the independence of our judiciary, the foundation on which the rule of law is built. So, of course, it goes without saying that we will respect the judgment. Secondly, as I have already made clear, the judgment does not change the fact that the UK will be leaving the European Union, and it is our job to deliver on the instruction that the people of the UK have given us.
Thirdly, we will within days introduce legislation to give the Government the legal power to trigger article 50 and begin the formal process of withdrawal. It will be separate from the great repeal Bill that will be introduced later this year to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. It will be the most straightforward Bill possible to give effect to the decision of the people and respect the Supreme Court’s judgment. The purpose of the Bill is simply to give the Government the power to invoke article 50 and begin the process of leaving the European Union. That is what the British people voted for, and it is what they would expect. Parliament will rightly scrutinise and debate this Bill, but I trust that no one will seek to make it a vehicle for attempts to thwart the will of the people or to frustrate or delay the process of our exit from the European Union.
Fourthly, our timetable for invoking article 50 by the end of March still stands. That timetable has given valuable certainty to citizens and businesses in the UK and across Europe. It is understood by our European partners, and provides a framework for planning the negotiation ahead. This House itself backed the timetable by a majority of 373 in December, so we look forward to working closely with colleagues in Parliament to ensure that the legislation on article 50 is passed in good time to allow us to invoke it by the end of March, as planned.
The Government’s fifth and final principle for responding to this judgment is to continue to ensure that we deliver an exit that is in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom. The Supreme Court has ruled clearly in the Government’s favour on the roles of the devolved legislatures in invoking article 50. But while that provides welcome clarity, it in no way diminishes our commitment to work closely with the people and Administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as we move forward with our withdrawal from the European Union.
Let me conclude with a word on what today’s judgment means for the UK and the nature of our democracy. I know that this case, on an issue of such importance that arouses strong views on all sides, has not been without controversy, but the Court was asked a question, a proper, thorough and independent process was gone through, and it has given its answer in law. We are a law-abiding nation; indeed, the UK is known the world over for the strength and independence of its judicial system. We will build on this and our many other strengths as we leave the European Union. We will once again be a fully independent, sovereign country, free to make our own decisions.
The Prime Minister has already set out a comprehensive plan, including our core negotiating objectives. She has been clear that we want a new, positive and constructive partnership for the UK and the EU—a partnership that will be good for the UK and for the rest of Europe.
Today, we are taking the necessary step to respect the Supreme Court’s decision by announcing a Bill. It will be up to this Parliament to respect the decision that it entrusted to the people of the United Kingdom—a decision that the people took on 23 June. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement. This is a good day for parliamentary sovereignty, as the Supreme Court has ruled that we shall have a say in this House on article 50. Given the issues that are involved, that is quite right and the Prime Minister was wrong to have attempted to sideline Parliament in this process. This Bill is to be introduced only because the Prime Minister has been ordered to do so. I hope that, in the aftermath, there will not be the attacks on our judges that there were when the High Court gave its ruling. It is the duty of all of us to defend them if there are such attacks, and to do so quickly. I hope that the Secretary of State will join me in that endeavour.
The question now moves on to the proper role of Parliament. The Supreme Court said nothing about the particular form of legislation. On issues as important as this, it would be wrong for the Government to try to minimise the role of Parliament, or to seek to avoid amendments. I ask the Secretary of State to confirm that he will not take that approach.
This is a question of substance, not of process. Last week, the Prime Minister committed herself to swapping the known benefits of single market membership and the customs union for the hoped-for benefits of a free trade agreement, with a fall-back position of breaking our economic model. That is high risk, and there are big gaps, inconsistencies and unanswered questions in her approach.
If the Prime Minister fails in her endeavour, the cost will be borne by families and working people and communities throughout the UK. The stakes are high, and the role of this House in holding the Prime Minister and the Government to account throughout the process is crucial.
Labour accepts and respects the referendum result, and will not frustrate the process, but we will be seeking to lay amendments to ensure proper scrutiny and accountability throughout the process. That starts with a White Paper or plan—a speech is not a White Paper or plan. We need something on which to hold the Government to account throughout the process. We cannot have a speech as the only basis for accountability for two years or more. That is the first step. There needs to be a reporting-back procedure and a meaningful vote at the end of the exercise. The Government should welcome such scrutiny, and not try to resist it, because the end result will be better if scrutinised than it would otherwise be. I hope that the Secretary of State will confirm that he will not seek to minimise scrutiny and accountability.
I will leave it to others to talk about the devolved Administrations, but whatever the Court ruled it is important that those interests are taken properly into account.
I end with this: what a waste of time and money. The High Court decision was 82 days ago. The Prime Minister could have accepted then the need to introduce a Bill, and we could have debated the issues. I would like the Secretary of State to lay out what the cost to the taxpayer has been of this appeal.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman should resume his seat. The House is in an understandably excited and excitable state. What I want to say to colleagues is that they do not need to look into the crystal ball when they can read the book. Members should know by now that I always want to facilitate the fullest possible questioning and scrutiny, and it is right that that should happen, but it is also right that, when the Secretary of State is responding to questions, he is given a fair and courteous hearing.
The Prime Minister was aiming to carry out the will of the people—all 17.4 million of them—in the national interest. That was what she was doing. Let me pick up on the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman quite properly raised: the issue of our judges. I think that I mentioned at length three times in my statement that this is a nation of the rule of law, a nation to which the independence of the judiciary is important, and a nation that is watched by other countries as an example for themselves. Of all the people he could criticise, I do not think that I am at the front on this issue.
Similarly, on the parliamentary process, there has been an interesting litany through this whole process over the past six or seven months. Every time I get up, I say that I will give the House as much information as possible subject to not undermining the national interest or our negotiating position. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do—not just through this Bill, but through the great repeal Bill, subsequent primary and secondary legislation, and the final vote at the end, which we have promised.
The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned membership of the single market, putting to one side of course that that membership means giving up control of borders, laws and rules, on all of which the Labour party is singularly incapable of even making a decision let alone coming up with a policy. He also talked about a plan. Last week, the Prime Minister gave a 6,500-word, closely argued speech that has been recognised across the country and around Europe as the epitome of clarity with clear objectives, aims and ambitions for this country, so I do not take that point at all.
On scrutiny more generally, we have now had, I think, five statements, 10 debates, and some 30 different Select Committee inquiries. I hardly think that all that in six months represents an absence of scrutiny of a central Government policy. The hon. and learned Gentleman does not often surprise me, but for the ex-Director of Public Prosecutions to say that taking a matter to the Supreme Court is a waste of time strikes me as quite extraordinary. I have made this point several times over the past few months: once the process has started, a reason for taking it the full distance is to get the most authoritative and clearest possible guidance on a major part of our constitution. Yet again, the hon. and learned Gentleman has not advanced the knowledge of the House very much, but I look forward to the contributions of other Members.
Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to note that my recently published memoirs are cited with approval in paragraph 195 of the judgment? Does he share my surprise that that is a minority dissenting judgment?
More seriously, does my right hon. Friend accept that parliamentary sovereignty has always meant that Governments of the day pursue broad policy objectives in the national interest and quite willingly submit them to the judgment of the House, through both debates and votes, and that they proceed with broad policy objectives only when they have the support of a majority in the House of Commons? Will he give me the Government’s assurance that the Bill will be drafted on the basis that it improves opportunities for Parliament to give or withhold its consent to major policy objectives and that the Government will pursue that approach in future years? Having one vote right at the end of the process, when the House will be told that it either takes the deal that the Government have or goes into the alternative chaos of having no agreements with the EU or anybody else, is not a good substitute for the normal tradition of Parliament consenting to the policy aims of the Government of the day.
My right hon. and learned Friend and I have been skirmishing over this issue for, I think, some 30 years, always with good humour, and I hope to respond to him in the same vein today. He repeated on television earlier today that characterisation of what the Government are proposing, so let us look at it. As I said, we have already had 10 debates and vast numbers of other arguments, but this is what is going to happen: first, we will have a Bill to authorise the triggering of article 50; then we will have a great repeal Bill whereby we go through the entire corpus of European law as it applies to the United Kingdom, which I should think will go on for a considerable amount of time; and then we will have primary legislation on major policy changes and secondary legislation, all put before both Houses. There will not be just one vote. At the end of the process, we will have the vote that eventually decides whether or not the House supports the policy we propose. Let me make it plain: that policy will be aimed solely at advancing the interest of the United Kingdom—getting the best possible negotiated outcome that we can achieve, having taken on board the informing debate of this House of Commons throughout the entire two years running up to it.
First, I welcome the judgment and anything that strengthens parliamentary scrutiny of this process. There was a time, back in the dim and distant past, when the Secretary of State was a great champion of parliamentary scrutiny, so I am sure that, deep down inside, he welcomes the judgment as well.
I wonder why the Government fear parliamentary scrutiny. Is it because they might be found out? Is it because we will find out that the emperor in these circumstances has no clothes? They talk of democracy, but I gently remind the Secretary of State that in Scotland at the general election, the Conservatives got their worst result since 1865. They have one MP.
We are told today that this is a political decision, and as a political decision on the role of the devolved Administrations I hope that this Parliament and this Government will continue not to legislate on areas that are the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament without its consent. Today’s judgment said that this process should enhance devolution. If that is the case, will the Secretary of State tell us today that no powers will be returned from the Scottish Parliament to Westminster during the course of this process, and will he seek consent from the Scottish Parliament before legislating in areas over which it has responsibility?
Again, I am surprised. I would have thought that, of all people, the Scottish National party attached great importance to the results of elections to the Scottish Parliament, in which last time the Scottish Conservative party came second under the estimable Ruth Davidson.
To the main point of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I want to make two responses. First, the process we have gone through with all the devolved Administrations—the joint ministerial process—has been going on for some months now, and at the very last monthly meeting we had a presentation from Mike Russell, the Scottish Government Minister, on the Scottish Government’s proposals. We disagreed with some and agreed with some absolutely—for example on the protection of employment law—and some we will debate in the coming weeks and months, most particularly on the point the hon. Gentleman raised: the question of devolution and devolved powers.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I am a devolutionist. I can say to him firmly that no powers existing in the devolved Administrations will come back, but there will be powers coming from the European Union and we will have to decide where they most properly land, whether that is Westminster, Holyrood or wherever. The real issue there is the practical interests of all the nations of the United Kingdom—for example, preserving the single market of the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom’s ability to do international deals. There is a series of matters that are just as important to the ordinary Scot as they are to the ordinary English, Welsh or Northern Irish citizen, and that is what we will protect.
The very fact that this was a split judgment shows that our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was absolutely right to take the case all the way to get a full decision. I ask the Secretary of State to resist our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and not to overcomplicate this matter. After all, the question is: should the Government trigger article 50? I urge the Secretary of State, when he brings the Bill to Parliament, to keep it short, to keep it simple and, most of all, to keep it swift?
Well, we will certainly keep it straightforward. My right hon. Friend is right: this was—is—a unique circumstance in many ways. It is unique in terms of the importance to the United Kingdom, but also unique in the fact that it is carrying out the will of 17.5 million people who voted directly—something that has never happened before in our history—so it was important to take the matter to the Supreme Court to get the full judgment. I give him this undertaking: I will do everything in my power to make sure that the measure goes through swiftly, and that while it is properly scrutinised, it is a simple and straightforward Bill that delivers the triggering of article 50 by 31 March.
Having argued in court that Parliament should not decide on the triggering of article 50 and lost, will the Secretary of State accept the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union—and in the process agree with himself before he got his present job—and now publish a White Paper on the Government’s objectives so that they can be considered alongside the legislation that he has just announced? If the Government do not do so, they will be showing a lack of respect for this House of Commons.
I do not often disagree with myself, but let me say this to the right hon. Gentleman: the speech given last week by the Prime Minister was the clearest exposition of a negotiating strategy that I have heard in modern times. It laid out clearly what we judge the national interest to be and how we intend to protect it, what we want to do, and what we hope does not happen and how we will avoid that. I do not see that this Government have avoided answering any question, whether from his Committee or from Opposition Front Benchers. The only questions that we have been unable to answer are those that it would be to the disadvantage of the country to answer, because that would undermine our negotiating strategy.
Let me give the right hon. Gentleman one example. A couple of weeks ago, my opponent, as it were, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), said on Channel 4, “What we want to know is whether the Government will pay for access to the single market and how much they’ll pay.” If anything would undermine the negotiating position, that would. It is precisely that sort of thing that we are going to avoid. We will continue to give information to the House. I gave the Brexit Committee an undertaking that we will give at least as much information as will go to the European Parliament—indeed more, I think. We will continue to keep the House informed throughout the entire process, which is not going to be over in a few weeks—it will last two years—and the House will be as well informed as it has been on any matter of such importance.
The Supreme Court this morning ruled that the form of the Bill is
“entirely a matter for Parliament.”
The judgment also indicated that the issues before the Supreme Court have nothing to do with the
“political…merits of the decision to withdraw, the timetable and terms of so doing, or…any future relationship between the UK and the EU.”
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in relation to any potential amendments, the Bill itself will be short and tightly drawn to give effect exclusively to the Supreme Court decision?
The short answer is yes. My hon. Friend cites paragraph 122 of the decision and the Court’s commentary. The purpose of the Bill is to meet the requirements of the Supreme Court to deliver the instruction from the nation at large and to do so in the national interest. That entails a straightforward, easily comprehensible Bill so that the country at large can see what Parliament is doing and what decision it is visiting on the Government.
I agree with the Secretary of State that Parliament must respect the result of the referendum, but I hope that he agrees that the Government do not have a blank cheque from either Parliament or the public on what kind of Brexit they now pursue. He says that there will be votes in the process. Given that the Government have said they are ruling out being in the customs union, the common external tariff and the common commercial policy, and that, as he knows, there are strongly held views on different sides about the impact that that will have on our manufacturing industry, which will be crucial to our future, can the right hon. Gentleman say when he will give Parliament a vote on that decision?
I would say a couple of things to the right hon. Lady. First, we are asked on the one hand to tell the House what our plan is, and then we are told, “Oh, but we don’t like that, so we want a debate or a White Paper”—[Interruption.] No, it is fine; I perfectly understand the argument. The simple truth is that there will be any number of votes—too many to count—in the next two years across a whole range of issues. For example, I can see the sort of issue she is raising coming up in the great repeal Bill, in subsequent primary legislation, and perhaps even in subsequent major secondary legislation as well. I am quite sure there will be a number of votes on that subject in the next two years.
If someone votes against sending the article 50 letter, are they not voting against restoring the very parliamentary sovereignty that they call in aid? Do not the British people want a proper Parliament, rather than a puppet Parliament answering to Brussels, and does that not require sending the letter soon?
Does the Secretary of State accept my view that the public want us to get on with this and actually carry out what they voted for? Does he also accept that while they will not look lightly on amendments that are tabled, particularly by parties that actually want another referendum, to delay things unnecessarily, they do perhaps want amendments that clarify the situation and make us all more aware of the Government’s intentions?
The hon. Lady, as ever, goes right to the heart of the matter. The public will not view well attempts to thwart, delay or confuse this process. They will view well attempts to elucidate what is going on, to promote the national interest, to help the negotiating position and so on, and that is entirely what the Government are going to do.
There is a genuine desire, I believe, for people to come together, to support the Government, to build a consensus and to get the best deal possible. The reality is that we have abandoned the single market and the free movement of people without any debate in this place, never mind a vote.
Well, there was one question on the paper: leave or remain. We are leaving the European Union—that is accepted.
I take my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as a man of his word. When I voted for the two-part motion in December, I did not agree with triggering article 50 at the end of March, but I voted for the motion in the spirit that we would have a plan—I would like a White Paper—that we could debate. That would bring us together. What does my right hon. Friend have to lose by having a debate on a White Paper?
Let me say this to my right hon. Friend, who passionately holds a well-formed view on these matters. First, in terms of bringing people together, a large part of the Prime Minister’s speech was aimed at creating a sense of this country that everybody can get behind, ranging from the protection of employment rights through to our role in the world, all of which is very important. Secondly, the Prime Minister laid out an incredibly clear future and a future approach for us, so I think that she did everything one could ask of a Prime Minister to deliver on our undertakings.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) talks about things that were not on the ballot paper. What was on the ballot paper was leaving the European Union. I am afraid that it is very difficult to see how we can leave the European Union and still stay inside the single market, with all the commitments that go with that. What we have come up with—I hope to persuade her that this is a very worthwhile aim—is the idea of a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have, but also enable my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade to go and form trade deals with the rest of the world, which is the real upside of leaving the European Union.
Last week in her speech, the Prime Minister said:
“the Government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament, before it comes into force.”
The article 50 negotiation is not the final deal—the final deal is the future trading agreement between the UK and the EU—so can the Secretary of State confirm that Parliament will get a vote on both the article 50 agreement and, as the Prime Minister said, the final deal? What will happen if Parliament says no to the terms of either of those agreements?
The answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s overall question is yes—we are standing by both those votes and we will continue to do so. But I reiterate again that the point is that they will not be the only votes; there will be a large number of other votes in between. Labour Members can ignore it till the cows come home, but the simple truth is that they are going to have many, many, many votes on many different policy areas after extensive debate on primary legislation. So the answer is that Parliament will have a great influence on this process, and it will have the final say. That is democracy in action.
Further to that last reply, my right hon. Friend has given us admirable clarity on article 50 and the timetable. Could he give us a little more information on his current thoughts about the timetable for the great repeal Bill?
That Bill will be in the Queen’s Speech, it will be presented to the House very soon thereafter and I expect it to be debated extensively. I think that it will be the centrepiece and the start of a major debate about the nature of this country and the future, so it is important to get it in front of the House very early.
The final vote offered by the Government on the negotiated package will not be meaningful unless they also guarantee that, if there is a vote against the withdrawal treaty, we will have an option to continue talks with the EU for a better deal, rather than simply falling out with no deal at all. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that we will have that vote in time for such further discussion to happen?
That is of a piece with those arguments that say that we want to have a second referendum so that we can revisit this. What it does is to give a prize to somebody who is trying to put up the worst possible negotiation for us. There are plenty of members of the European Union that want to force us into changing our mind and going back inside, and we do not want to do anything that allows or encourages that to happen. The hon. Lady is not right to say that the vote is meaningless; for a start, the Select Committee and the Opposition both asked for it. In addition, it will be—I repeat this again—the last of many, many, many votes and debates on major legislation.