House of Commons
Tuesday 31 January 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Policing and Crime Act 2017
Wales Act 2017.
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
The first section of our Green Paper on industrial strategy sets out our ambition to make Britain the best nation in the world for scientists, innovators and technical inventors. In support of this, we have announced an increase of £4.7 billion in public research and development funds, which is the biggest increase in support of science for 40 years.
In evidence to the Education Committee last week, Professor Arthur, the president of University College London, spoke not only of the huge sums flowing into UK research from Europe—through Horizon 2020 and the European Research Council, for example—but of the need for a system to replace the mobility of people, networking and the ability to work across multiple boundaries. Does the Secretary of State recognise that if the Eurosceptics in his party prevail and we have a hard Brexit, spending even 3% of GDP on science funding will not be enough to protect our global reputation for scientific research? What is he doing to stand up for the needs of this sector?
The hon. Lady has two eminent universities in her constituency that are going from strength to strength. I agree that it is important that the best researchers from across the world come to our universities, and the Prime Minister said in her Lancaster House speech that that was a priority for our negotiations.
Science funding includes funding for the satellite sector, which is an important industrial base for the UK. The Government have set a target to grow this sector by a further 10% of global share in the next two decades. What more money could be put into the satellite sector from the industrial strategy challenge fund?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We say in the strategy that we should build on our strengths, and the satellite sector is a shining British strength that is creating huge numbers of jobs. It is specified throughout the industrial strategy as an area in which we want the industry to work together to ensure that, in particular, we are training the technicians and engineers of the future, which is what we have been doing.
The industrial strategy rightly points out the crucial significance of investment in science for our future economy and productivity. Given that the USA, Germany and France all outspend us in this area, will the Secretary of State give a commitment that future spending will outstrip theirs to give us a competitive advantage over them?
The hon. Gentleman is a thoughtful Member with regard to these matters, having chaired the then Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, and he will see in the Green Paper that we are candid about the need to maintain the pace. Indeed, we have increased public investment. He was right to mention the US, but actually the proportion of public to business investment is higher in this country than in Germany, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and other countries besides. We are building on strength, but we want to take things further, and I look forward to his contribution to the consultation.
There is great concern about the future of fusion research after Britain pulls out of the EU and Euratom. Will the Secretary of State reassure us that he will continue to support and fully fund the Joint European Torus project and other joint research projects such as ITER—the international thermonuclear experimental reactor—after Britain leaves the EU?
The collaboration between scientists and those in the nuclear sector is one of the important aspects of the continued co-operation that we want and intend to see continue.
The Green Paper makes much of re-announcing the welcome increase in science spending which, following cuts of up to 50% over the last seven years, has finally returned it to the levels under the last Labour Government. Research and development funding, however, remains barely half the recommended 3% target that Labour has committed to. Does the Secretary of State agree that, given the impact of Brexit on UK science, the lack of any overarching vision and the focus on picking sector winners, rather than mobilising the whole—
Order. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady—[Interruption.] Order. I am sorry, but we have a lot to get through. The Front Benchers, on both sides, must be much more self-disciplined. It is not fair on Back Benchers.
The hon. Lady does not have it right. She should know—the science sector has welcomed this fact—that we protected funding for science during all the difficult years in which we were recovering from the financial situation that Labour left us. There was a huge welcome for the £2 billion increase, which is the biggest since 1979. In other words, that is bigger than what any Labour Government ever offered.
The UK has the second largest aerospace industry worldwide, with strengths in some of the most technologically advanced parts of aircraft—wings, engines and advanced systems. The sector has annual turnover of around £30 billion and exports of some £25 billion a year.
Leading aerospace part designer and manufacturer Senior Aerospace Bird Bellows in my constituency speaks positively of the support from the Government’s Sharing in Growth scheme, which it says will be key in helping the company to realise its ambitious growth strategy. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the company on its plans and consider visiting its factory in Congleton to learn more?
I absolutely join my hon. Friend in congratulating the company. I have visited companies benefiting from the Sharing in Growth programme and I would be delighted to go to see the one in her constituency.
Rochester and Strood has a proud aerospace history, having had the Short Brothers iconic flying boats. It is now home to Aeromet, an important SME that is part of the supply chain for Airbus. Will my hon. Friend outline how his Department will ensure that the UK aerospace supply chain will continue to have unhindered access to major opportunities in our manufacturing industries?
As my hon. Friend will know, the aerospace growth partnership has been a great success, with the Government working closely with industry. As part of that, the Government have made a joint funding commitment with the industry for nearly £4 billion of aerospace research between 2013 and 2026, so I think that the future is relatively well funded.
What guarantees will the Minister give to ADS, the group representing the UK aerospace industry, which states that it must have
“Access to vital space programmes initiated by the European Space Agency, but funded by specific EU programmes”?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already talked about the importance of our satellite programmes in this country. The European Space Agency sits outside the EU structure, so it will be handled separately from EU discussions.
Does my hon. Friend see the signing of the contract in Turkey last week by the United Kingdom and Turkey on the new Turkish fighter jet as an endorsement of the skills and expertise of BAE Systems in this country, and does he foresee future deals with other countries?
I think that everyone concerned with the aerospace sector will welcome that transaction. It shows how BAE continues to be a global leader in this sector, and we must hope that it goes on to do further such work around the world.
In the last two years, Glasgow has built more satellites than any other city in Europe, with 100 private and public sector organisations such as Clyde Space contributing more than £130 million to the Scottish economy. This is much credited to Scotland’s long-standing strength in engineering, science and technology. As we face the prospect of a hard Tory Brexit, will the Minister make a commitment here and now that Scotland’s aerospace sector will be protected and that there will be no detriment to this vital sector and its many jobs?
The success of Scotland has been part of a wider UK success. I absolutely recognise the point that the hon. Lady mentions. I was in Glasgow only last week, talking to high-tech companies at Glasgow University, and I can absolutely vouch for their quality.
In my former career as an aerospace engineer—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] They have not heard the question yet, Mr Speaker. In that former career, I saw several examples of our aerospace competitiveness being diminished by the political enforcement of collaboration in engineering across Europe. Will the Minister ensure that future collaboration across Europe on aerospace happens where that is productive, not where it suits geopolitical objectives?
I admire the subtle and unobtrusive way in which my hon. Friend smuggled his personal experience into that question. I assure him that we will continue to take a thoroughly co-operative approach with European colleagues.
The recent “Steel 2020” report noted that steel is a key foundation industry for the UK that underpins our aerospace and automotive sectors, as well as many others. However, in the Government’s 130-page industrial strategy Green Paper, steel is mentioned just once. Can the Minister explain why he is neglecting this important industry?
I am surprised that the hon. Lady says that because the Government have had very productive discussions with the steel industry.
The gov.uk website and the business support helpline provide information on starting and running a business. Growth hubs also provide access to local and national support. Some 4.8 million people are currently self-employed.
When I started a business, I found that one of the most intimidating elements was employing my first member of staff. What more can the Government do to encourage and support the self-employed to grow their company and become employers in their own right?
We will support entrepreneurs across the UK to ensure that they can access finance and wider support so that they can grow. British Business Bank programmes are already supporting £3.2 billion of finance to more than 51,000 smaller businesses, including start-up loans to 39 entrepreneurs in my hon. Friend’s Braintree constituency.
This matter is particularly close to my heart, given that I was self-employed until a few months ago. Of course, there are many self-employed businesses in rural areas of West Oxfordshire. Can the Minister assure us that the Government will continue to make it easier to start and grow a business by deregulating, creating an attractive tax environment, and helping businesses to attract and seek the finance that they need?
We continue to work hard to make the UK a great place to start and grow a business. According to OECD statistics, we are internationally the third best place to start a businesses, but we are 13th when it comes to the best place to grow a business, which is where my focus as small business Minister is going to lie. I very much welcome the support of my hon. Friend.
North Kensington, an area that the Minister knows, has several fantastic initiatives through which new start-ups have access to shared space. Are there any plans to reduce business rates and provide relief for small companies using shared space initiatives?
The Treasury has no plans specifically for shared work spaces, but at the last Budget, the Chancellor announced £6.7 billion of cuts to benefit all business rate payers. They include permanently doubling small business rate relief and increasing the thresholds from 2017.
Will my hon. Friend tell us how the industrial strategy will support disabled people who want to start and grow their own businesses?
The disabled employment programme is an important part of our work in labour markets, and it is backed by many top retailers. We will continue to press this issue and work with the Department for Work and Pensions for greater access to work for people with disabilities.
In order to grow the businesses of the self-employed, they need access to good-quality training. When I met the Doncaster YMCA and its apprentices last week, an issue was raised about clarity regarding funding during the transitional arrangements for the Skills Funding Agency going to the Department for Education. Will the Minister take an urgent look at this?
I thank the right hon. Lady for bringing this to our attention. A new approach to improving access to skills and apprenticeships is a fundamental part of our new industrial strategy. I will raise the matter that the right hon. Lady mentions with the Secretary of State for Education.
Many self-employed people recruit apprentices and others who are seeking employment. Given that the report recently produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies cast doubt on the effectiveness of apprentices, the training scheme and the apprenticeship levy, what are the Government going to do about this?
Last week the Government launched the new industrial strategy, and the new academies programme for improving skills and access to apprenticeships is working with the existing apprenticeship programme to improve both the quality and number of apprentices.
Given that further education colleges have an important role in providing skills and training and help many people to become self-employed workers, does it make sense to cut their budgets?
Further education colleges remain an important part of our strategy to improve skills and access to apprenticeships, but they are not the only route to apprenticeships. The apprenticeship levy will increase funding for overall access to skills for our young people.
Compulsory quarterly digital tax updates cause real concern to self-employed people and small businesses. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs says that support is available. Will the Minister tell us what support is available to self-employed businesses and how much money is set aside for that support?
I am sorry; I did not follow all the hon. Gentleman’s question. However, I know that the Treasury is looking into the fairness of taxation as between self-employed people and the rest of the workforce. I will read the hon. Gentleman’s question in Hansard and write to him accordingly.
The ranks of self-employed people are being expanded by an increase in independent working. Will my hon. Friend ensure that labour market regulations are updated so that employee rights are maintained?
I very much agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend’s question. The Prime Minister has appointed Matthew Taylor to undertake a review of employment practices in the modern economy to ensure that while we embrace new technologies, we also protect workers’ rights.
What are the Government doing about the scourge of bogus self-employment, which too often is a rip-off of the workers concerned and a rip-off of HMRC?
The Taylor review will also look into that very important issue. A worker’s contract with his or her employer is the fundamental basis on which he or she is judged to be self-employed or an employee, and that distinction will be closely scrutinised by Matthew Taylor.
SMEs: Kent and Medway
SMEs in Kent are fundamental to our economy, as they are everywhere else. Through local growth funds, the work of Kent County Council and the business operations of Kent and Medway, the Government will ensure that the area benefits hugely from the increased number of SMEs.
In view of the Government’s commitment to investment in infrastructure, which will assist businesses in Kent and Medway, will the Minister confirm their commitment to the Lower Thames crossing, along with extra investment for Kent roads, which will provide connectivity for local businesses?
The Department for Transport will make an announcement, but my hon. Friend should be reassured that Kent County Council and the relevant business organisations are working closely with my Department to ensure that there are extensive improvements in the transport infrastructure in his constituency and the wider county.
I trust that the question will not be on the matter of Linlithgow, but will focus purely on Kent and Medway, in which I am sure the hon. Lady keenly specialises.
You can be assured of that, Mr Speaker.
The SMEs in Kent and Medway need someone in government to fight their corner. In July 2015, they were promised a small business commissioner who would focus particularly on late payments. The Federation of Small Businesses and others have raised concerns about the lack of power that the commissioner will have, and the fact that 18 months after the position was created, there is no sign of a commissioner. Will the Minister tell SMEs in Kent and Medway, for which I have the greatest regard, and others throughout the country when the commissioner will be appointed, and whether he or she will have proper powers to ensure that companies that do not pay are taken to task?
First, I can reassure the hon. Lady that Kent and Medway is ably championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), who asked the original question, but apropos of her specific point, we are in the process of appointing the small business commissioner at the moment; he will be in post by the summer and able to take complaints on the important issue of prompt payment in the autumn of this year.
The Hendry review published its report earlier this month. The Government are considering its recommendations and the issues that would arise from a broader lagoon programme, including the potential contribution of power generated by tidal lagoons. The Government will publish their response to the Hendry review in due course.
As an MP with a coastal constituency, I am a big fan of tidal power, and following the Hendry review it has been estimated that building some 10 tidal lagoon power stations by 2030 could generate 10% of our electricity requirements. So when considering the economics of the Swansea Bay scheme, will the Minister take into account the wider benefits for British manufacturing and technology of becoming a world leader in this clean technology?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise that the question must be considered in the round and not merely on the merits or no of the Swansea Bay scheme. It is the Government’s job to consider the advantages and disadvantages of tidal lagoons as a whole and to take a decision that includes not merely the financial elements, but also environmental elements, the capacity to generate power as part of a wider energy mix and ancillary elements.
The Minister surely knows that all kinds of alternative energy, including tidal power, need good recruits; they need trainees and, indeed, apprentices. Is he not hanging his head in shame this morning because of the report of the highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies which says that this Government’s apprenticeship programme is a disaster and should be ripped up and started again? When is he going to get real?
But purely in relation to tidal lagoons; we are not talking about apprenticeships more widely or seeking to shoehorn a personal interest into a question to which it does not ordinarily apply. But the Minister is a philosopher and dextrous to a fault, so I am sure he will cope.
Heaven forfend, Mr Speaker, that I should entertain so unworthy a suspicion as to think the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) might have smuggled some entirely unrelated question into a question on tidal lagoons. May I simply reassure him that skills remain at the centre of the Government’s concerns, and that is why they feature so prominently in the industrial strategy?
The Minister is quite right to say that he will analyse this in the round, because while I think many of us will recognise the economic advantages, particularly over a long period such as 100 to 150 years, the environmental impact will be considerable. Can he perhaps amplify what sort of things he will be looking at, including how tidal lagoons affect fish life, marine life and bird life?
It is of course true that, as well as the economic case and value for money issues that that raises, there will be wider consideration of environmental impacts, but in relation not just to individual schemes as they can be understood now, but to the way in which they might concatenate across a programme of tidal lagoons.
The Government have been very good at supporting the tidal stream generator in Portaferry in Northern Ireland. Can we ensure that we make the most of what is learned from tidal power in devolved Governments and the rest of the UK—not the events in Northern Ireland, but what we generate?
One hesitates to remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a different matter and a different technology from tidal lagoons, but I think he can take it as read that officials and Ministers will be thinking carefully about all the relevant precedents that might bear on this decision.
The question was about the potential contribution of power generated by tidal lagoons to UK energy provision. My understanding is that a limited deployment of tidal lagoons in the Severn estuary alone would contribute about 8% or more of UK electricity demand. Can the Minister tell me if there is any other technology that can provide that sort of power in one location—as a clue, perhaps I can suggest to him that Hinkley C running full tilt without any outages is estimated to contribute about 7% to UK energy requirements?
I dare to suggest that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. It is not quite clear what he thinks of as the lagoons in the scheme he describes, but Hinkley Point will be a bigger generator than, certainly, the first round of lagoons, as well as being a higher load and more reliable.
The issues considered by the Hendry review are complex, and the Government will be demanding a period of time to assess the recommendations and determine what decision is in the best interests of UK energy consumers. I have already said that we will not be dragging our heels on this, and we will not do so.
There is huge potential for tidal energy not only in the Swansea scheme but along the south Wales coast and the Severn estuary and along the north Wales coast. However, I am hearing worrying things about the Department dragging its heels on this. Will the Minister assure me that there will be strong ministerial leadership to take the recommendations forward and to get on with the Swansea scheme and others?
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman would say that, given that it was the Department’s expectation that the report might be published before Christmas and that it was in fact published only two or three weeks ago. There is no suggestion that the Department is dragging its heels, and nor will we do so, but we will, in the public interest, give the report proper, thorough consideration on value-for-money and other grounds.
In a previous answer, the Minister referred to advantages and disadvantages. Does he agree that the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon would not only meet energy needs but provide huge levels of investment in jobs in my constituency and throughout the region? As the Hendry report implies, it could put Wales at the forefront of developing a world-first technology.
I salute my colleague’s proper concern for support and investment in his constituency; that is absolutely right. The wider implications are being considered by the Government, and I remind him that the Hendry review asked for the issues to be considered specifically in the context of power generation, so those things go alongside the wider consideration we are giving to the report.
The Hendry report refers to tidal energy. The Minister will know that the first large-scale tidal steam generator in Northern Ireland, in Strangford Lough, was four times more powerful than any other in the whole world at the time. What consideration will he give to ensuring that the energy being produced in Strangford Lough can be utilised for the benefit of the whole of Northern Ireland?
As I have indicated in a separate debate with the hon. Gentleman, that is a different, although related, technology. It was funded in part by the Government and has produced interesting results. This is a matter for close consideration by officials and we will continue to reflect on the matter. If he wishes to write to me further, I would be delighted to take a letter.
One of the core objectives of the draft industrial strategy is to rebalance the UK economy, with engineering, construction and manufacturing making a larger contribution to economic growth. Does the Minister agree that if we are to achieve that objective, we will need to invest in major infrastructure projects such as the tidal lagoon?
I absolutely share my right hon. Friend’s view that major infrastructure investment is an important part, although only a part, of the wider overall investment that can be made in this country as part of the industrial strategy. He is right to suggest that those wider considerations must be balanced by a tempered assessment of value for money, and that is what we will be giving them.
With all due respect to the Minister, may I tell him that his Department simply not dragging its heels is not good enough? The Hendry report recommends that Ministers
“secure the pathfinder project as swiftly as possible”.
I can promise that he will have the full support of the Members on this side of the House for doing that, although I am unsure that he would have the same support from those behind him. Will he therefore press the Chancellor for an agreement on the Swansea tidal lagoon, to be announced in the March Budget?
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s dexterity in turning three weeks into foot-dragging. Given his rabbinical scrutiny of the Hendry review, I shall simply remind him that it specifically asks the Government to give these issues careful consideration, and that is what we will be doing.
Leaving the EU: Research and Development (Scotland)
As the Secretary of State has already said, the Government are supporting research and development throughout the UK. We protected the resource budget at the 2015 spending review and committed an extra £2 billion in the most recent autumn statement—the largest increase in science funding since 1979.
A hard Brexit will threaten Scotland’s world-class university sector, and the price of the research development investment that we are discussing was a staggering €8.8 billion from 2007-2013. What representations are this Department making to the Treasury and the Brexit Secretary to protect that vital investment?
Scotland is a powerhouse for academic research, and we want to play to one of this country’s great strengths, so we welcome the agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science and technology programmes in years to come. Britain will remain at the forefront of collective endeavours to improve and better understand the world in which we live.
The most important investment that we must safeguard is the people who work in science and research. What is the Minister doing to ensure that EU researchers in Scotland are sure of their place as we go through the Brexit process?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. As the Prime Minister made clear in her speech the week before last, we greatly value the contribution that EU nationals make in our institutions. The Government have been exceptionally clear that during the negotiations we want to protect the status of EU nationals already living here. The only circumstances in which that would not be possible are if British citizens’ rights in other EU member states were not protected in return.
We invest £2 billion a year in health life sciences research through our research councils and the National Institute for Health Research. Through funding for the biomedical catalyst, we are helping businesses to bring that research to market. We announced in the new industrial strategy that Sir John Bell will be leading work on a strategy to make the UK the best place in the world to invest in life sciences.
Alongside that welcome support, private investment will be critical to the success of the industry. Will the Minister outline what suggestions he might make in his Budget submission to the Chancellor to stimulate such investment?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Access to finance is key to a dynamic life sciences sector in the UK. In November, the Prime Minister announced a review of patient capital to identify barriers to access to long-term finance for growing firms, looking at all aspects of the financial system. We look forward to the review’s recommendations ahead of the autumn statement.
The industrial strategy will have a major impact on speeding up Genomics England’s ability to sequence the genome. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is working with the Department of Health to ensure that the Government’s investment will be spent effectively to encourage greater productivity?
The industrial strategy Green Paper highlights work on a new strategy for life sciences, bringing together the health system, industry and academia and potentially leading to an early sector deal. The accelerated access review sets out a vision of the NHS embracing innovation, and the Government will respond in due course.
Local Economic Growth
One of our most important reforms has been to devolve power and resources to local areas through city deals, devolution deals and growth deals, in which local businesses can shape the decisions most affecting them. The hon. Lady will have welcomed last week’s announcement that half a billion pounds was devolved to northern local enterprise partnerships, including £130 million to Greater Manchester.
I welcomed most of the announcements in the industrial strategy last week, but the Secretary of State will appreciate that a local area strategy is required for key infrastructure issues such as skills and childcare. What conversations has he had with colleagues in the Department for Education and across local government about the meaningful devolution of skills, early years and education?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the needs of different places should be reflected in decisions that are made locally. Along with the centrality of skills and training, that is a big theme of the industrial strategy consultation, to which I hope she will respond. I look forward to her contribution.
Business investment in science and technology is key to local economic growth and Britain’s leadership of the fourth industrial revolution. Will the Secretary of State continue supporting LEPs to fund these key sectors and technologies?
I will indeed. One of the big opportunities is to make sure that the excellence we have in science and research is married with local strengths so that we can have the products of that research, in manufacturing for example, as well as the discoveries themselves.
Northern Ireland has only one very small enterprise zone, which is up in Coleraine and has not really progressed. Can the Secretary of State give any support or assistance to the Northern Ireland Executive, when they are up and running again, for more enterprise zones within the Province?
I have, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, conversations with Simon Hamilton, the Minister responsible in Northern Ireland. My colleagues and I are very happy to consider his suggestions and proposals when we meet him.
I declare an interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council. The borough of Kettering has had one of the fastest rates of business rate growth in the whole country in the last 10 years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with local government to be fully funded by business rates from 2020, all local councils will have to get far closer to their local businesses in order for local economies to function as best they can?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and, as a councillor, he knows how important it is that that very direct connection is made. It is one of the measures going through the House that I was proud to have proposed when I was Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and it is something for which local government has long campaigned. I am delighted that it was this Conservative Government who were able to deliver it.
Bank lending is essential for local business success, and yesterday’s HBOS convictions are a stark reminder of the way that smaller businesses were treated by some banks during the financial crisis. Does the Secretary of State accept that lending has fallen over the last year? What is he doing to give confidence in the banks, unlock support and increase lending?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to the misbehaviour of the banks, especially with regard to small businesses, when they were inadequately supervised as a result of the destruction of the supervisory regime under the previous Labour Government. That has now been put on a much sounder footing. He will know that the lending opportunities for small businesses have been transformed, but the industrial strategy Green Paper is very clear that we want to make further opportunities available, particularly outside London and the south-east.
Offshore Energy: Humber
The UK is the world’s largest market for offshore wind, and the Humber energy estuary is, in my hon. Friend’s own words, “ideally positioned” to serve that sector. The Secretary of State and I saw that when we visited the new £310 million Siemens turbine blade factory, which has created more than 1,000 very valuable new jobs in the area.
This afternoon the Humber local enterprise partnership and Humber MPs are staging a showcase event to highlight the assets of the energy estuary. Can the Minister assure business leaders that the Government will continue to support the offshore centre, which is based in northern Lincolnshire, and the wider Humber region? Will he or one of his colleagues find time to visit the event this afternoon?
Yes to the event, and yes to the assurance that my hon. Friend seeks about continued support. On top of the growth deal, the city deal and the enterprise zone programme, he will be well aware of the very significant Government commitment to future contract for difference auctions worth £730 million for less mature renewable technologies, including offshore wind. I hope he welcomes that.
What steps are the Government taking to ensure the highest possible UK content in the steel used to build the energy infrastructure in the Humber?
That is an extremely important point, and it is part of our calculation of the return on the investment made by the British taxpayer. Good progress is being made, and analysis shows that aggregated lifetime UK content in operating windfarms is 43%, against a track target of around 50%, and the proportion is higher for the value of operations and maintenance contracts, which run at about 70% of value at the moment. This will be a key area of our focus as we go forward with the industrial strategy.
Access to Finance
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had discussions with the Chancellor on building the Government’s industrial strategy, which includes ensuring that businesses can access the finance they need. We already help businesses through the business finance and support finder on gov.uk, and we recently launched the finance platforms service, which offers small and medium-sized enterprises that have had finance rejected by the large banks the option of a referral to alternative finance providers.
With many new online alternative finance companies springing up across the UK, what is my hon. Friend doing, first, to ensure that our small and medium-sized enterprises know about these alternative ways of accessing finance, and, secondly, to give them the confidence to borrow from such organisations?
The British Business Bank has created the business finance guide, which is widely distributed and offers comprehensive information about the financing options available to businesses, including alternative sources of finance. The Financial Conduct Authority regulates peer-to-peer lending platforms and is currently reviewing its regulatory regime to ensure that it is robust and up to date.
What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of bank closures in town centres on the availability of business finance, to ensure that those such as my local one in Holywell, which is potentially losing three banks this year, will still have access to business finance and will still be positive town centres?
The impact of bank closures is, to some extent, ameliorated by the Post Office’s announcement a few weeks ago that it will be enabling both personal and SME banking customers to have a massive increase in face-to-face banking services across the country.
I call Mike Freer. He is not here. We will take the last question on the condition that we have a reasonably short, single sentence supplementary, as I want to move on to the main business promptly today. If it is a long question, we will not bother.
I will do my best.
A single short sentence is required.
This year the Medical Research Council will spend £655 million on world-class research. Our commitment to the future of the UK as a world leader in biomedical research is unwavering. For example, in November, Her Majesty the Queen opened the Francis Crick Institute, and we will continue to invest in this kind of excellence throughout this Parliament.
Autism is the most expensive medical condition in the UK, costing the economy more than £32 billion a year, according to the London School of Economics, yet we spend hardly anything on autism research compared with what we spend on research into cancer, heart disease and stroke, which cost the economy less. What can the Minister do to encourage more spending on autism research, which is so vital to people in this country?
Between 2010-11 and 2014-15, the MRC spent £13.3 million on autism research, and it always welcomes high-quality applications for support on any aspect of human health. Such applications are subject to peer review and are judged in open competition. The Department of Health, through the National Institute for Health Research, also funds research in this area, and the MRC’s centre for neurodevelopmental disorders at King’s College London opened recently, in November.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) can always have her question framed and put up on the wall in a suitable part of her home, of her own choosing.
Since our last questions, with the Prime Minister my ministerial team and I have launched our industrial strategy Green Paper, part of a cross-Government plan to build an economy that works for everyone. Efforts to secure global investment in British enterprise and innovation continue to meet with success, with the most recent example being the £115 million Novo Nordisk investment in Oxford, which is a further vote of confidence in Britain as a place to do both business and science. Today we launch the next energy capacity market auction. Last month, I signed a memorandum of co-operation with the Government of Japan on civil nuclear activities, and on Thursday I announced that we have secured a second mission to space for Major Tim Peake.
As always, my right hon. Friend has been extraordinarily busy, but may I ask my extraordinarily busy right hon. Friend to turn his attention to Morecambe and Lunesdale, as we now have a new link road going straight to the Heysham port and we would like an enterprise zone? Will he help me to get an enterprise zone?
I am never too busy for Morecambe and Lunesdale, and I know what a passionate campaigner my hon. Friend has been for the business prospects in his area. If I may, I will talk to the Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse, who has responsibility for enterprise zones—I am sure he will be happy to have a meeting with my hon. Friend.
The Secretary of State’s plan to impose arbitrary cuts on the pensions of 16,000 nuclear energy workers, 7,000 of them in Copeland, threatens industrial relations in a key sector. I urge him to take the opportunity, at this week’s meeting with trade unions, to end his attack on workers who power our country and abandon the raid on their pensions before the industry is plunged into chaos.
I met the unions last week, and we had some constructive, although undoubtedly robust, conversations. The discussion continues and we hope it will end constructively.
As my hon. Friend would expect, my colleagues meet representatives of all kinds of businesses, both in the UK and those looking to invest here. We are clear, as the Prime Minister has been, that we intend to pursue our negotiations to secure the best possible access to the single market so that the manifest advantages of the UK continue to be available to companies, here, now and in future.
Of course it will continue. We are in discussions about the mechanics of that, as part of a broader conversation that the Secretary of State and I are having with senior management of the steel industry and trade unions about securing a sustainable future for the industry.
I commend Loughborough University and its vice-chancellor, Robert Allison. It is a fantastic example of an excellent academic institution that makes a big impact locally. I am always happy to meet my right hon. Friend and the leadership of that fine university.
This country and this Government are on track to invest in excess of £8 billion a year by 2020 in continuing the transition to a clean energy system. We are talking about a low-carbon economy that is generating, at the last count, at least 450,000 jobs. As I made clear in an earlier announcement, there are new commitments to contract for difference auctions for less mature renewable technologies, so the Government’s commitment to clean energy is not in doubt.
I very much hope that my hon. Friend’s Committee will engage with the consultation. If we are to have a strategy that endures, it is important that it takes into account the views of all those on both sides of the House with an interest in securing our economic prosperity and future scientific excellence.
Yes I can, and I take a strong personal interest in those matters. The hon. Lady says they are not mentioned in the industrial strategy, but they are. One of the clear pillars of the industrial strategy is a commitment to clean growth, within which are some explicit references to our desire to explore the opportunities attached to higher resource and energy productivity.
As the Prime Minister said in Prime Minister’s questions last week, this country is fully committed to the Paris climate change agreement—as are all the countries that endorsed the Marrakech proclamation—and we hope that all parties will continue to ensure that it is put into practice.
We want British business and British industry to compete on the basis that they are price-competitive. There are opportunities that come from being outside some of the bureaucracy, which affects small businesses in particular when it comes to public procurement, and those are opportunities that we will be able to take.
I call Mr David Nuttall. I thought that he was interested in this question. Has his appetite diminished? [Interruption.] No? Go on. Get in there, man.
I had not planned to stand for topical questions, but may I urge my right hon. Friend not to be swayed by the arguments from the Opposition to spend a specific amount of our GDP on research for scientific projects? If the private sector is unwilling to fund those projects, we should ask serious questions about whether the public sector and my hardworking taxpayers should be asked to foot the bill.
Happily, the private sector—British business —is an enthusiastic and increasing supporter of investment in science and research. Sometimes that is done jointly with important publicly funded institutions such as our universities, and that is one of our strengths as an economy.
In November, the Secretary of State hauled energy companies into his Department to put pressure on them regarding claims that they were generating excess profits. This morning, at the Select Committee, Which? told us that energy companies are dismal when it comes to customer service and prices. Does he agree with that assessment, and will he outline to the House what progress has been made to get a better deal for energy customers since that meeting in November?
Yes. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The Competition and Markets Authority report identified a huge detriment that consumers were facing. There has been some limited response from the energy companies. For example, they have deleted some of their more abusive tariffs, but there is further to go, and we will be making a response to the CMA report in the days ahead.
It has been recently announced that the strategy for the midlands engine for growth will be announced soon. The midlands engine is vital for business in Derby and the midlands, so may I urge the Secretary of State to consider it sooner rather than later?
The midlands engine is a very important part of the strengthening of the economy, and there is real momentum there. My hon. Friend can look forward to some very important announcements that will be made imminently.
Last week, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), said that there had clearly been instances of the pubs code being flouted and that Members should bring such things to her attention. I have a case in her own constituency to bring to her attention, which also shows that the adjudicator is not doing his job. May we discuss this matter please?
I am very happy to discuss the case in my own constituency with the hon. Gentleman, but the Pubs Code Adjudicator is doing a good job. His line of inquiry has received 435 inquiries to date and 121 referrals for arbitration, but I will discuss the problem with the hon. Gentleman.
The industrial strategy makes a clear commitment that future rounds of infrastructure investment will take into account the balance of spending per head as between different regions. On the basis that there is a 60% imbalance between London and the rest of the country at the moment, what balance would the Secretary of State like to see going ahead?
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution to the consultation. We are very clear that we need to see infrastructure investment in all parts of the country. It is one reason why we have created institutions such as Transport for the North to be able to take those decisions locally.
The Government’s industrial strategy has sector deals for a number of sectors, which is welcome. Given the vital cross-cutting foundational nature of the steel industry, will the Minister now commit to a sector deal for steel?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I have already been having discussions with the steel industry with precisely that purpose in mind.
Order. We come now to the ten-minute rule motion. The hon. Member for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani) will be pleased that she has such an interested, large and expectant audience.
Crime (Aggravated Murder of and Violence against Women)
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 make provision about the aggravated murder of, and aggravated domestic violence against, women, who are citizens of the United Kingdom, outside the United Kingdom; to prohibit the use of the term honour killing in official publications; to require the Government to arrange for, and meet from public funds the costs of, the repatriation of the bodies of female citizens of the United Kingdom who are victims of aggravated murder outside the United Kingdom and the provision of assistance to female citizens of the United Kingdom who are victims of aggravated domestic violence outside the United Kingdom in order to enable them to return to the United Kingdom; to provide for the prosecution in the United Kingdom in certain circumstances of citizens of the United Kingdom who commit the aggravated murder of, or threaten or incite domestic violence against, women, who are citizens of the United Kingdom, outside the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes.
Language matters. The use of the term “honour” to describe a violent criminal act—sometimes committed against a man, but more often against a woman—can be explained only as a means of self-justification for the perpetrator. It diminishes the victim and provides a convenient excuse for what in our society we should accurately and simply call murder, rape, abuse or enslavement. I want us in this House to send a clear message that the excuses end here. Even more than that, the term assumes that violence, in particular against women, is culturally sensitive—a sensitivity that allows the perpetrator to use further coercion to prevent the victim from seeking help and to intimidate the agencies of the state to stop them pursuing and prosecuting these violent crimes. The principles that every victim should be treated equally and with dignity and that our law enforcement agencies should respond to every crime with equal vigour are threatened when a separate set of cultural norms and practices are accepted for some victims of domestic violence.
We have one law in our country—one law that applies to everyone, regardless of their heritage or faith. The Bill builds on the progress already made by the strategies on ending violence against women and girls, tackling female genital mutilation and forced marriage; by coercive control laws; and by the brave work done by our Prime Minister to introduce the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I want to place on the record my special thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, and their teams, for their continued support and time.
Between 2010 and 2015, 11,000 incidents of crime to which the term “honour” was applied were recorded in the UK. During their constituency duties, Members will have encountered cases in which the police and other agencies, including the Crown Prosecution Service, have been reluctant to tackle domestic violence in minority communities for fear of being accused of racism or of provoking community unrest. Indeed, the CPS has acknowledged that it needs to improve its understanding of and response and support to victims—victims such as Sarbjit. Sarbjit was abused throughout her marriage. She was battered by her husband and treated as a domestic servant. She was terrorised and went to bed not knowing whether she would be alive the next day. She was told that the honour of her family would be at stake if she complained and that the police would just treat her as a number. Sarbjit told me that she did not feel alive, but nor was she dead. When she summoned up the courage, she called Crimestoppers as well as the police. She risked her life in reaching out. But after statements were taken, she was returned home to her abusers because it was just a “cultural misunderstanding”: shockingly, the evidence of her abusers was believed over hers. Sarbjit was reduced to going to a temple, falling to her knees and begging for help from community leaders. It was a desperate act from a desperate woman. She was sent home again and told to think of her family’s honour. She was trapped and, once she had been let down by the authorities she trusted to protect her, she had nowhere to turn.
Fozia’s husband beat her and secured a second wife. Like many domestic violence victims, she was nervous about asking for help. She told me that when she did call the police—three times—she was treated with indifference as the situation was dealt with as a community issue and an honour crime, not as bigamy and assault as she had hoped. She wanted equal treatment and support under our law, not culturally appropriate interventions.
In what way does the term “honour” describe these crimes, except as the pathetic self-justification of the perpetrator? It is a term used by those who see women as the property of men and who think women’s decisions, lives and loves belong to the family, community or religious institution. This Bill commits us to describing such crimes as they really are and being clear to the police, local authorities, community leaders, the CPS and victims themselves that cultural and religious sensitivities are not a barrier to justice.
We have no record of how many British women are taken overseas by family members to be abused or killed. However, we know that when it happens, their assailants believe that their crimes are beyond the reach of British justice. The Bill would change that, extending the provisions of the Modern Slavery Act, so that if someone is taken from the UK to anywhere in the world to be exploited, the offence can be investigated in the UK because the planning and part of the trafficking took place here.
Seeta Kaur was born in the UK, and she died in India. She was subject to domestic violence throughout her marriage, was terrorised by her in-laws and was told to give her eldest son to her childless brother-in-law in India. She was coerced into travelling to India and was forced to return home without her son. Seeta would beg until she was reunited with him. Her husband and his family saw this as a question of honour. There is no official confirmation as to the cause of Seeta’s death. Her husband said it was a heart attack, but her family bore witness to bruising around her neck and upper chest, and intended to bring her body home. Before they could, Seeta was cremated by her husband in the dead of night. While in shock and grieving, Seeta’s family reported her death as suspicious to the Indian police, but they saw it as a family matter and tried to reconcile the families, even offering the return of Seeta’s children—British citizens—in exchange for dropping the murder allegation. When that did not work, the case was simply closed.
The Bill extends extraterritorial jurisdiction to domestic violence. I hope it will re-emphasise our responsibility to investigate murder aggravated by domestic violence. At present, victims do not have the same level of protection, and there is not the same commitment to investigate, prosecute or provide desperately needed support to victims and families. Crucially, the Bill would end the near impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of domestic violence who often, with the complicity of foreign states, seek to escape justice by taking women abroad so they can continue committing their crimes. In this country, we make no distinction based on faith, heritage or background. There can be no exceptions to equality of treatment before the law or to the pursuit of justice. The words we use and the actions we take must reflect the values that we hold dear.
I am afraid that, for reasons that I will set out, I oppose this Bill as it is currently framed. For the benefit of the morons on Twitter, and for some in this House, I should make it clear from the start that obviously, along with everybody else, I oppose women suffering from honour-based violence, but it seems that I am the only one in this House at the moment who equally opposes honour-based violence against men too.
I certainly commend my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani) for her wish to tackle the politically correct culture that sometimes surrounds certain cultures in this country and which can be very damaging to those caught up in them. I attended a meeting organised by Baroness Cox where three very brave Muslim women explained how they had been very badly treated by sharia courts. Unfortunately, despite all the people here who claim to be concerned about women, I was the only Member of the House of Commons at that meeting, so concerned were people about the violence that those women had faced through judgments from sharia courts.
This Bill deals, quite rightly, with dangerous political correctness, as it does not get any more serious than murder. I completely agree with my hon. Friend about the term “honour killing”—there is nothing honourable about murdering someone. I would encourage her to keep making this point, as even without legislation she could make some progress. I am afraid, however, that while tackling one element of political correctness, she has opened up another politically correct can of worms.
The main reason I oppose this Bill is that it relates only to female victims and not all victims. I fear that we are going to have a rerun of the debate on the Istanbul convention that we had not so long ago in this House. We cannot let—[Interruption.] I know that people do not like any other opinions being expressed, but this is a Parliament; this is a democracy. [Interruption.]
Order. Members will have noticed that I was keen to move on from Question Time on time today, not least because of the number of would-be contributors to the main Second Reading debate. I do not want matters to be delayed, but the hon. Gentleman must be heard.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
We cannot let this trend of having laws that are unjustifiably aimed at dealing with just one gender take hold, and I will continue to oppose all Bills and motions that do that. Why do we need to have just females mentioned in this Bill? Why can it not be for all victims of these terrible crimes? We do not have an offence of female murder or male murder—we just have murder. There are more male victims of murder in the UK than female victims of murder. If I introduced a Bill that said we are only going to care about the families of the male victims because there are more of them, I suspect that most of the Opposition Members who are complaining would be up in arms about such a Bill that focused only on the male victims of murder because they are in the majority—and the same should apply here. Yes, of course women are far more likely to be the victims of honour-based crimes than men, but they are not exclusively the victims of these crimes. As far as I am concerned, all these things are just as bad as each other.
I am no expert, but I am told that karo-kari, which is the Pakistani term for so-called honour killing, literally means “adulterer” and “adulteress”. These terms have wider definitions than their literal ones to cover all immoral behaviour, and it is quite clear that they cover both sexes and are therefore not gender specific.
In 2007-08, the Home Affairs Committee said that men are also victims of honour-based violence. In January 2015, the Henry Jackson Society published a report on so-called honour killings, where it said that
“men are also victims of ‘honour’ killings. In the cases of male victims reported in the media over the past five years, the perpetrators usually included the families of a current or expartner”.
It went on to confirm that in the UK there were 22 female victims, but seven male victims too. A report by the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit says:
“In 2015, 980 cases…involved female victims and 240…involved male victims. This highlights that men can also be forced into marriage.”
The Crown Prosecution Service report, “Violence Against Women and Girls”, says that
“where gender was recorded, female victims accounted for”
“and male victims were”
This means that nearly a quarter of all the victims of these crimes are men. That is not an insignificant number, and it is not something that we should ignore. I understand that this is particularly an issue for gay men, but they would certainly not be included under the provisions of the Bill.
As we are talking about crimes taking place outside this country, we ought to look at the victims of crime over there. The Pakistani Human Rights Commission, which monitors reports of such crimes, came to the conclusion that about a quarter of victims in Pakistan were men. People might want to bear it in mind that The Guardian has reported cases of male killings. The newspaper cited the case of Ahmed Bashir, who died after he was attacked with a sword and a machete in the garden of his west London home. It is very sad that the Opposition do not care about Ahmed Bashir, who was killed with a machete in his own home; it seems that that does not count because he happens to be a man. What kind of Parliament have we become? The Telegraph ran a piece that highlighted the case of another male victim of an honour-based killing. Phyllis Chesler, emerita professor of psychology at Richmond College of the City University of New York, has also written about how male victims are included in honour-based crimes.
There are other issues with this Bill, which I do not have time to go into now, but I believe that its discriminatory premise is wrong. Not all victims are female, and not all offenders are male. We should introduce gender-neutral legislation that is designed to help all victims of crime, whether they be men or women, and to punish all offenders responsible for such crimes, whether those offenders be men or women. [Interruption.] People are saying that that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden said, but I am looking at the annunciator screen, which reads: “Crime (Aggravated Murder of and Violence against Women)”. There is no mention of men. It is no good saying that this Bill includes men; it does not. That is there on the screen for hon. Members to see, if they cannot hear what is happening. They clearly have not read the Bill. Some people will ask, “Why not support something that might help somebody, if not everybody?” I say, “Why not help everybody from the start?” What possible reason is there for not including men and women in the terms of the Bill?
I end where I started. Of course, we all oppose women suffering from honour-based violence, but I, for one, equally oppose honour-based violence against men. To have a strategy for dealing with one but not the other is, in my opinion, not acceptable and not justifiable.
Question put and agreed to.
That Nusrat Ghani, Mr David Burrowes, Michael Gove, Yvette Cooper, Tim Loughton, Robert Jenrick, John Mann, Naz Shah, Craig Whittaker, James Berry, Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil and Stuart C. McDonald present the Bill.
Nusrat Ghani accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill to be read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March, and to be printed (Bill 129).
I will be here.
The sedentary observation of the hon. Member for Shipley that he will be here was, if I may say so, superfluous. None of us doubted it for a moment.
European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill
[Relevant document: The First Report from the Committee on Exiting the European Union, The process for exiting the European Union and the Government’s negotiating objectives, HC 815.]
I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of Mr Angus Robertson.
No fewer than 99 Back Benchers are seeking to catch my eye today, without regard to how many might seek to contribute tomorrow. There will have to be a tough time limit on Back Benchers, the severity of which will depend on the level of consideration shown by Front Benchers, so there is of course no pressure.
I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a Second time.
Given your admonishment, Mr Speaker, and indeed the state of my voice, I give the House warning that I will not take very many interventions. I will take some, but not my normal two dozen.
The Bill responds directly to the Supreme Court judgment of 24 January, and seeks to honour the commitment the Government gave to respect the outcome of the referendum held on 23 June 2016. It is not a Bill about whether the UK should leave the European Union or, indeed, about how it should do so; it is simply about Parliament empowering the Government to implement a decision already made—a point of no return already passed. We asked the people of the UK whether they wanted to leave the European Union, and they decided they did. At the core of this Bill lies a very simple question: do we trust the people or not? The democratic mandate is clear: the electorate voted for a Government to give them a referendum. Parliament voted to hold the referendum, the people voted in that referendum, and we are now honouring the result of that referendum, as we said we would.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
Not at the moment.
This is the most straightforward possible Bill necessary to enact that referendum result and respect the Supreme Court’s judgment. Indeed, the House of Commons has already overwhelmingly passed a motion to support the triggering of article 50 by 31 March. We will respect the will of the people and implement their decision by 31 March.
Clause 1(1) simply confers on the Prime Minister the power to notify, under article 50 of the treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union. Clause 1(2) is included to make it clear that the power to trigger article 50 may be conferred on the Prime Minister regardless of any restrictions in other legislation, including the European Communities Act 1972. Together, these clear and succinct powers will allow the Prime Minister to begin the process of withdrawal from the European Union, respecting the decision of the Supreme Court. This is just the beginning—the beginning of a process to ensure that the decision made by the people last June is honoured.
Given that triggering article 50 is an inevitable consequence of the result of the referendum, does the Secretary of State agree that although it may be honourable for MPs who voted against having a referendum in the first place to vote against triggering article 50—that would be entirely consistent—it would be entirely unacceptable for those who voted to put this matter to a referendum to try to renege on the result of that referendum?
My hon. Friend makes his point in his own inimitable way. As he knows, I always take the view that people’s votes in this House are a matter for their own honour and their own beliefs.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I want to make a little bit of progress, and I will then give way to him.
I draw hon. Members’ attention to the explanatory notes to the Bill, which set out the application of the Bill to Euratom. The Bill also gives the Prime Minister the power to start the process to leave Euratom. The Bill makes it clear that in invoking article 50, we will be leaving Euratom, the agency established by treaty to ensure co-operation on nuclear matters, as well as leaving the European Union. This is because, although Euratom was established in a treaty separate from the EU agreements and treaties, it uses the same institutions as the European Union, including the European Court of Justice. The European Union (Amendment) Act 2008 makes it clear that in UK law membership of the European Union includes Euratom. That is why article 50 applies to both the European Union and to Euratom.
I received an email yesterday from Professor John Wheater, the head of physics at Oxford University, who had the very dubious pleasure of being my tutor for four years in the mid-1990s. He is concerned about the implications for his fusion research programme of our leaving Euratom. Is there any way in which we could postpone leaving Euratom by a year or two, and if that is not possible, what assurance will the Secretary of State give Professor Wheater and his colleagues?
The first thing I would say to my hon. Friend is that there is a two-year timetable, so we are still two years out from this. The Prime Minister has also said very clearly in her industrial strategy and in her speech on Brexit that we intend to support the scientific community and to build as much support for it as we can. When we engage in negotiations after March, we will negotiate with the European Union with the aim of creating a mechanism that will allow the research to go on.
Order. I do not want to have to keep saying this, because I know it is very tedious. I know that the Secretary of State is a most attentive Minister, but may I appeal to him not to keep turning around and looking at people behind him? It is incredibly frustrating for the House. I know that is the natural temptation. [Interruption.] I am sure that he has made a very valid point, but it suffered from the disadvantage that I could not hear it.
I give way to the right hon. Gentleman.
The question from the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) is an illustration of the fact that the consequences of the Bill go much further than the Secretary of State is telling us. Is not the reason why the Government find themselves in a position of such abasement to President Trump that they have decided to abandon the high ground of the single marketplace, without so much as a negotiating word being spoken? That is why they are desperate to do a deal with anybody on any terms at any time. Why did the Secretary of State lead this country into a position of such weakness?
That is almost exactly the opposite of the case. Since the right hon. Gentleman picks up on Euratom, let me make the point in rather more elaborate detail. Euratom passes to its constituent countries the regulations, rules and supervision that it inherits, as it were, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, of which we are still a member. When we come to negotiate with the European Union on this matter, if it is not possible to come to a conclusion involving some sort of relationship with Euratom, we will no doubt be able to reach one with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is possibly the most respectable international body in the world. I am afraid he is wrong on that.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
Our aims are clear: we will maintain the closest possible nuclear co-operation with the European Union. That relationship could take a number of different forms, and it will of course be subject to negotiations that will start after we have notified.
Brexit affords huge opportunities for international trade for global Britain, and part of that global trade is with the single European market. Although there may be access to the full market—hybrid access—will the Secretary of State confirm that anything that introduces new taxes, tariffs or duties on British goods is not in our national economic interests?
The answer to that intervention is yes.
May I urge the Secretary of State and the Government to keep an open mind on Euratom? There is a danger that years of uncertainty will put at risk the 21,000 new jobs slated to come in as part of the Moorside development, as well as many others across the UK?
The hon. Gentleman made his point very well, and I take it absolutely. He is right that a lot of jobs are involved, as are our standing in the scientific community and our international reputation, as well as individual projects, such as the Joint European Torus project and ITER—the international thermonuclear experimental reactor—all of which we will seek to preserve. We will have the most open mind possible. The difficulty we face is of course that decisions are made by unanimity under the Euratom treaty, so we essentially have to win over the entire group. We will set out to do that, and we will do it with the same aims that he has described. Absolutely, yes: I give him my word on that matter.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
No, not for the moment.
The Prime Minister set out a bold and ambitious vision for the UK, outlining our key negotiating objectives as we move to establish a comprehensive new partnership with the European Union. This will be a partnership in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, and we will continue to work with the devolved Administrations to make sure that the voices of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland continue to be heard throughout the negotiation process. I will come back to this point in more detail, so, if I may, I will take interventions on it a little later.
I made a statement to this House on 17 January about the negotiations ahead of us and I do not propose to repeat it, save to say that our aim is to take this opportunity for the United Kingdom to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before. I also set out our 12 objectives for those negotiations. They are: to deliver certainty and clarity where we can; to take control of our own laws; to protect and strengthen the Union; to maintain the common travel area with the Republic of Ireland; to control immigration; to protect the rights of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the European Union; to protect workers’ rights; to allow free trade with European markets; to forge new trade deals with other countries; to boost science and innovation; to protect and enhance co-operation over crime, terrorism and security; and to make our exit smooth and orderly. In due course, the Government will publish our plan for exit in a White Paper in this House and in the other place. [Interruption.] I hear the normal, noisy shouts from the shadow Foreign Secretary asking when. I will say to her exactly what I said to her in my statement last week: as soon as is reasonably possible. It is very hard to do it any faster than that.
On 17 January, the Prime Minister also made it clear that this House and the other place will have a vote on the deal the Government negotiate with the EU before it comes into force. Ahead of that, Parliament will have a key role in scrutinising and shaping the decisions made through debate in both Houses, and the work of Select Committees, including the Exiting the European Union Committee, whose Chair, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), is in his place.
Ministers will continue to provide regular updates to Parliament. Further, since our proposal is to shift the entire acquis communautaire—the body of EU law—into UK law at the point this country leaves the EU, it will be for Parliament to determine any changes to our domestic legislation in the national interest. But as the Prime Minister said, to disclose all the details as we negotiate is not in the best interests of this country. Indeed, I have said all along that we will lay out as much detail of our strategy as possible, subject to the caveat that it does not damage our negotiating position. This approach has been endorsed by the House a number of times.
I thank my right hon. Friend for being generous with his time. Does he not agree that there is no such thing as hard Brexit or soft Brexit? There is just Brexit, and we are going to make a success of it.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. I said last week that I view the terms hard Brexit and soft Brexit as propaganda.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the people need to be better informed about the impact of Brexit? At what point are the Government going to publish their analysis of the impact on jobs of our leaving the single market?
The assertions that people like the right hon. Gentleman made in the run-up to the referendum have turned out to be universally untrue so far, so I do not think he is in a position to lecture us on this matter.
I turn now to the reasoned amendment tabled by the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson). As I have already said, the Bill simply seeks to deliver the outcome of the referendum, a decision the people of the UK have already made. They will view dimly any attempt to halt its progress. The Supreme Court’s judgment last week made it clear that foreign affairs are reserved to the UK Government. The devolved legislatures do not have a veto on the UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union. However, that does not mean we have not paid a great deal of attention to them. We have consistently engaged with the devolved Administrations through the Joint Ministerial Committee on European Negotiations and the Joint Ministerial Committee plenary. The latter met yesterday in Cardiff, and the meeting was attended by the First Ministers of all the devolved Administrations. In addition, and independent of those meetings, I have had bilateral meetings with the devolved Administrations, and there have been 79 official-level meetings to discuss the interests of each of the devolved Administrations.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. Does he not accept that the people of Scotland voted to remain within the European Union, and that respect has to be shown to the Scottish people, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, which empowers the Government to act in our interests? Why will he not negotiate to allow Scotland to remain with access to the single market as we demand?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that there was another referendum a little while ago, which was about the people of Scotland deciding to stay within the United Kingdom. That is what they are doing and that is what we expect them to continue to do.
The Prime Minister has committed to bring forward a White Paper setting out the Government’s plan and I confirm that it will be published in the near future. Guaranteeing UK citizens’ rights in the EU, and EU citizens’ rights in the UK, is one of the objectives set out by the Prime Minister. We have been, and remain, ready to reach such a deal now—now—if other countries agree.
Finally, there has been continual parliamentary scrutiny of the Government on this process: I have made five oral statements in the House of Commons; there have been more than 10 debates, including four in Government time; and over 30 Select Committee inquiries. We will of course continue to support Parliament in its scrutiny role as we reach the negotiating stage.
Does the Secretary of State accept that Northern Ireland voted to stay in the European Union? In fact, my constituency voted 70%, on a 70% turnout, to remain. Does he accept that we do not have a devolved Administration at the moment? Does he have any plans to recognise the situation in Northern Ireland and the damage that has already been done to the Northern Ireland economy, in particular our agricultural economy?
The position of Northern Ireland, the peace process and all related issues were obviously at the forefront of the Prime Minister’s mind when she went there as one of her first visits as Prime Minister. It will be at the forefront of my mind, which is why we have, without any qualification whatever, guaranteed the retention of the common travel area. On continuing representation, although there is no Executive individual Ministers stay in place, as is the norm with Governments during election times. I wrote to the Executive a week or so ago asking them to send a representative to each of the Joint Ministerial Committee meetings. They have done so, and they have made a serious and significant contribution to the meetings. We are taking very seriously the analysis they have provided of industries in Northern Ireland, including special issues such as the single Irish energy market. They are the sorts of issues that we have put front and centre in the list of negotiating points to deal with. The hon. Gentleman may absolutely take it as read that we take protecting Northern Ireland very seriously.
We have been clear that there must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to re-join it through the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union and it is the duty of the Government to make sure we do just that.
Finally, we remain committed to the timetable set out by the Prime Minister to trigger article 50 no later than 31 March. We will provide plenty of time for debate and scrutiny of the Bill, but it is equally vital that right hon. and hon. Members move swiftly to adopt this proposed legislation, in keeping with the Prime Minister’s timetable for triggering article 50 by the end of March. The House voted in favour of that timetable in December, and it is providing certainty both at home and in the Europe Union.
I conclude by saying this: the eyes of the nation are on this Chamber as we consider the Bill. For many years, there has been a creeping sense in the country—and not just in this country—that politicians say one thing and then do another. We voted to give the people the chance to determine our future in a referendum. Now we must honour our side of the agreement: to vote to deliver on the result. So, we are considering that very simple question: do we trust the people or not? For generations, my party has done so. Now that question is before every Member of this House. The Bill provides the power for the Prime Minister to begin that process and honour the decision made by the people of the United Kingdom on 23 June last year. I commend it to the House. Trust the people.
We have before us a short and relatively simple Bill, but, for the Labour party, this is a very difficult Bill. [Laughter.] I ask that hon. Members be courteous as I try to set out the position of the Labour party in what are very difficult circumstances. I will try to set that out clearly, and I expect people to be courteous.
We are a fiercely internationalist party. We are a pro-European party. We believe that through our alliances we achieve more together than we do alone. We believe in international co-operation and collaboration. We believe in the international rule of law. These beliefs will never change. That is why we campaigned to stay in the EU. We recognise that the EU is our major trading partner and that the single market and customs union have benefited UK businesses and our economy for many years. We recognise more widely the benefits of collaborative working across the EU in fields of research, medicine, technology, education, arts and farming. We also recognise the role that the EU plays in tackling common threats, such as climate change and serious organised crime. We share values and identity with the EU.
But we failed to persuade. We lost the referendum. Yes, the result was close. Yes, there were lies and half-truths—none worse than the false promise of an extra £350 million a week for the NHS. Yes, technically the referendum is not legally binding. But the result was not technical; it was deeply political, and politically the notion that the referendum was merely a consultation exercise to inform Parliament holds no water. When I was imploring people up and down the country to vote in the referendum and to vote to remain, I told them that their vote really mattered and that a decision was going to be made. I was not inviting them to express a view.
Although we are fiercely internationalist and fiercely pro-European, we in the Labour party are, above all, democrats. Had the outcome been to remain, we would have expected the result to be honoured, and that cuts both ways. A decision was made on 23 June last year to leave the EU. Two thirds of Labour MPs represent constituencies that voted to leave; one third represent constituencies that voted to remain. This is obviously a difficult decision. I wish the result had gone the other way—I campaigned passionately for that—but as democrats we in the Labour party have to accept the result. It follows that the Prime Minister should not be blocked from starting the article 50 negotiations.
That does not mean, however, that the Prime Minister can do as she likes without restraint from the House—quite the opposite: she is accountable to the House, and that accountability will be vital on the uncertain journey that lies ahead. She fought to prevent the House from having a vote on the Bill until she was forced to do so by the Supreme Court last week. She resisted Labour’s calls for a plan and then a wider White Paper until it became clear that she would lose any battle to force her to do so. Just before Christmas, she was resisting giving the House a vote on the final deal—a position that she has had to adjust.
That is why the amendments tabled by the Labour party are so important. They are intended to establish a number of key principles that the Government must seek to negotiate during the process, including securing full tariff and impediment-free access to the single market. They are intended to ensure that there is robust and regular parliamentary scrutiny by requiring the Secretary of State to report to the House at least every two months on progress being made in the negotiations and to provide documents that are being given to the European Parliament. The amendments would also require the Government to consult regularly the Governments of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland throughout the Brexit negotiations. I have recognised on numerous occasions the specific issues and concerns of those living in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and I support the proposition that they should absolutely be consulted throughout the process and that their interests should be borne in mind.
I will press on for a minute and then take interventions.
The amendments would also ensure that this House has the first say, not the last say, on the deal proposed at the end of the article 50 negotiations.
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
I will give way in a minute, but I want to make some progress, if I may.
We also support amendments in relation to workplace rights and environmental rights, and we will be making the case that the legal status of EU nationals should be resolved before negotiations take place. I recognise the Government’s position on EU nationals and the work done to try to ensure that there is a reciprocal arrangement, but that has not worked, and now the Prime Minister should act unilaterally to give assurance to EU nationals living in this country. I am sure that all hon. Members will have had, in their surgeries, EU nationals in tears over the uncertainty of their situation. I have seen it at every public meeting I have attended on the topic and at every surgery. I understand the constraints, but we must now act unilaterally to secure their position.
Taken together, the amendments would put real grip and accountability into the process, and the Government should welcome them, not reject them out of hand.
I will make some progress and then give way. I am mindful of the fact that 99 Back Benchers want to speak, and it is important, on such an issue, that I set out our position.
It is important to remember what the Bill does and does not do. It empowers the Prime Minister to trigger article 50—no more, no less. It is the start of the negotiating process, not the end. It does not give the Prime Minister a blank cheque—and here I want to make a wider point that has not been made clearly enough so far in any of our debates: no Prime Minister, under article 50 or any other provision, can change domestic law through international negotiations. That can only be done in this Parliament. If she seeks to change our immigration laws, she will have to do so in this Parliament in primary legislation. If she seeks to change our tax laws, she will have to do so in this Parliament in primary legislation. If she seeks to change our employment laws, our consumer protection laws or our environmental laws, she will have to do so in this Parliament in primary legislation. If she seeks to change our current arrangements in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, she will have to do so in Parliament in primary legislation.
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not realise that the very point of our leaving the EU is to ensure that this place can make decisions on those very points?
When the Secretary of State last week said there would be many votes on many pieces of legislation in the next few years, he was not wrong. In each of those votes, at every twist and turn, Labour will argue that jobs, the economy and living standards must come first. We will argue that all the workers’ rights, consumer rights and environmental protections derived from EU law should be fully protected—no qualifications, limitations or sunset clauses.
My hon. and learned Friend rightly points to the very necessary consultation that must take place with the devolved Administrations, but on 17 January I asked the Secretary of State what discussions he had had with the north-east about the impact of leaving the single market, given that 58% of our exports go to the EU. Does my hon. and learned Friend share my concern that we still do not have an answer to that question—whether the Secretary of State has even had those discussions—as well as many other questions?
I agree, and I urge the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State to ensure that there is the greatest consultation in relation to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. They each have specific areas of concern, which are well known to this House.
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman share my concern that if no deal has been struck at the end of this process, all options must remain open and it will be for this place, not the Government, to decide what happens next?
I am grateful for that intervention. It is to ensure that this place has a meaningful role that Labour has tabled these amendment, in relation to the final vote, to ensure that the issue comes here first, rather than later.
In that spirit, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is astonishing that the Government have not told us when they will publish the White Paper? Does he agree that it should be published ahead of the Bill’s Committee stage, which is scheduled for next week?
I am grateful for that intervention. My view is clear: the White Paper ought to be published as soon as possible, and before the Committee stage is concluded, and I hope that it will be.
Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?
I am going to make some progress, given the number of hon. Members who want to come in on this debate.
More broadly, Labour will be arguing for a strong, collaborative future relationship with the EU. In her Lancaster House speech, the Prime Minister said that she does not
“seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave”.
That is short-sighted, as we are now finding in relation to Euratom. Why would we want to be outside the European Aviation Safety Agency, which certifies aircraft before they are allowed to fly? Why would we want to be outside the European Medicines Agency, which ensures that all medicines in the EU market are safe and effective? Why would we want to be outside Europol and Eurojust, which, as the Prime Minister and I know, are agencies that work closely together in the prevention and detection of serious crime and terrorism? The same goes for the European Environment Agency and Euratom. We challenge the Prime Minister on these fronts and ask that consideration be given to finding ways to ensure that where we can we stay within those agencies, for the obvious benefits that they bring, and we will absolutely challenge any suggestion that the Prime Minister has any authority whatsoever to rip up our economic and social model and turn the UK into a tax-haven economy.
I come back to the vote on this Bill. It is a limited vote: a vote to allow the Prime Minister to start the article 50 process. It is not a vote on the outcome, nor is it a vote on wider issues, which will fall to be voted on separately, but it is a vote to start the process. I know that there are some colleagues on the Benches behind me who do not feel able to support the Bill. I respect their views, just as I respect the views of constituents who feel the same way. I also understand and recognise the anxiety of so many in the 48% who voted to remain about their future, their values and their identity. They did not vote themselves out of their own future, and their views matter as much now as they did on 23 June last year.
I hope that the respectful approach that I have tried to adopt to colleagues and to the anxiety among the 48% is reflected across the House and that we will see a good deal less of the gloating from those who campaigned to leave than we have seen in the past. It is our duty to accept and respect the outcome of the referendum, but we remain a European country, with a shared history and shared values. It is also our duty to fight for a new relationship with our EU partners that reflects our values, our commitment to internationalism and our commitment to an open and tolerant society. Above all, it is our duty to ensure an outcome that is not just for the 52% or for the 48%, but for the 100%. That we will do.
Mr Speaker, you will not be surprised to hear that it is my intention to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, if a vote is called, and to support the reasoned amendment, which I think will be moved very shortly by the Scottish nationalists.
Because of the rather measured position that the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) had to present on behalf of the official Labour party, it falls to me to be the first Member of this House to set out the case for why I believe—I hope that I will not be the last such speaker—that it is in the national interest for the United Kingdom to be a member of the European Union, why I believe that we have benefited from that position for the past 45 years and, most importantly, why I believe that future generations will benefit if we succeed in remaining a member of the European Union. It is a case that hardly received any national publicity during the extraordinary referendum campaign, but it goes to the heart of the historic decision that the House is being asked to make now.
It so happens that my political career entirely coincides with British involvement with the European Union. I started over 50 years ago, supporting Harold Macmillan’s application to join. I helped to get the majority cross-party vote for the European Communities Act 1972, before we joined in 1973, and it looks like my last Parliament is going to be the Parliament in which we leave, but I do not look back with any regret. We made very wise decisions. I believe that membership of the European Union was the way in which we got out of the appalling state we were in when we discovered after Suez that we had no role in the world that we were clear about once we had lost our empire, and that our economy was becoming a laughing stock because we were falling behind the countries on the continent that had been devastated in the war but appeared to have a better way of proceeding than we did.
I believe that our membership of the European Union restored to us our national self-confidence and gave us a political role in the world, as a leading member of the Union, which made us more valuable to our allies such as the United States, and made our rivals, such as the Russians, take us more seriously because of our leadership role in the European Union. It helped to reinforce our own values as well. Our economy benefited enormously and continued to benefit even more, as the market developed, from our close and successful involvement in developing trading relationships with the inhabitants of the continent.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?
I am very fortunate to be called this early. I apologise to my right hon. Friend—my old friend—but 93 other Members are still waiting to be called, so if he will forgive me, I will not give way.
The Conservative Governments in which I served made very positive contributions to the development of the European Union. There were two areas in which we were the leading contender and made a big difference. The first was when the Thatcher Government led the way in the creation of the single market. The customs union—the so-called common market—had served its purpose, but regulatory barriers matter more than tariffs in the modern world. But for the Thatcher Government, the others would not have been induced to remove those barriers, and I think that the British benefited more from the single market than any other member state. It has contributed to our comparative economic success today.
We were always the leading Government after the fall of the Soviet Union in the process of enlargement to eastern Europe, taking in the former Soviet states. That was an extremely important political contribution. After the surprising collapse of the Soviet Union, eastern and central Europe could have collapsed into its traditional anarchy, nationalist rivalry and military regimes that preceded the second world war. We pressed the urgency of bringing in these new independent nations, giving them the goal of the European Union, which meant liberal democracy, free market trade and so forth. We made Europe a much more stable place.
That has been our role in the European Union, and I believe that it is a very bad move, particularly for our children and grandchildren, that we are all sitting here now saying that we are embarking on a new unknown future. I shall touch on that in a moment, because I think the position is simply baffling to every friend of the British and of the United Kingdom throughout the world. That is why I shall vote against the Bill.
Let me deal with the arguments that I should not vote in that way, that I am being undemocratic, that I am quite wrong, and that, as an elected Member of Parliament, I am under a duty to vote contrary to the views I have just given. I am told that this is because we held a referendum. First, I am in the happy situation that my opposition to referendums as an instrument of government is quite well known and has been frequently repeated throughout my political career. I have made no commitment to accept a referendum, and particularly this referendum, when such an enormous question, with hundreds of complex issues wrapped up within it, was to be decided by a simple yes/no answer on one day. That was particularly unsuitable for a plebiscite of that kind, and that point was reinforced by the nature of the debate.
Constitutionally, when the Government tried to stop the House having a vote, they did not go to the Supreme Court arguing that a referendum bound the House and that that was why we should not have a vote. The referendum had always been described as advisory in everything that the Government put out. There is no constitutional standing for referendums in this country. No sensible country has referendums—the United States and Germany do not have them in their political systems. The Government went to the Supreme Court arguing for the archaic constitutional principle of the royal prerogative—that the Executive somehow had absolute power when it came to dealing with treaties. Not surprisingly, they lost.
What about the position of Members of Parliament? There is no doubt that by an adequate but narrow majority, leave won the referendum campaign. I will not comment on the nature of the campaign. Those arguments that got publicity in the national media on both sides were, on the whole, fairly pathetic. I have agreed in conversation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union that he and I can both tell ourselves that neither of us used the dafter arguments that were put forward by the people we were allied with. It was not a very serious debate on the subject. I do not recall the view that £350 million a week would be available for the health service coming from the Brexit Secretary, and I did not say that we going to have a Budget to put up income tax and all that kind of thing. It was all quite pathetic.
Let me provide an analogy—a loose one but, I think, not totally loose—explaining the position of Members of Parliament after this referendum. I have fought Lord knows how many elections over the past 50 years, and I have always advocated voting Conservative. The British public, in their wisdom, have occasionally failed to take my advice and have by a majority voted Labour. I have thus found myself here facing a Labour Government, but I do not recall an occasion when I was told that it was my democratic duty to support Labour policies and the Labour Government on the other side of the House. That proposition, if put to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) in opposition or myself, would have been treated with ridicule and scorn. Apparently, I am now being told that despite voting as I did in the referendum, I am somehow an enemy of the people for ignoring my instructions and for sticking to the opinions that I expressed rather strongly, at least in my meetings, when I urged people to vote the other way.
I have no intention of changing my opinion on the ground. Indeed, I am personally convinced that the hard-core Eurosceptics in my party, with whom I have enjoyed debating this issue for decades, would not have felt bound in the slightest by the outcome of the referendum to abandon their arguments—[Interruption.] I do not say that as criticism; I am actually on good terms with the hard-line Eurosceptics because I respect their sincerity and the passionate nature of their beliefs. If I ever live to see my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) turn up here and vote in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union, I will retract what I say, but hot tongs would not make him vote for membership of the EU.
I must move on, but I am told that I should vote for my party as we are on a three-line Whip. I am a Conservative; I have been a decently loyal Conservative over the years. The last time I kicked over the traces was on the Lisbon treaty, when for some peculiar reason my party got itself on the wrong side of the argument, but we will pass over that. I would point out to those who say that I am somehow being disloyal to my party by not voting in favour of this Bill that I am merely propounding the official policy of the Conservative party for 50 years until 23 June 2016. I admire my colleagues who can suddenly become enthusiastic Brexiteers, having seen a light on the road to Damascus on the day that the vote was cast, but I am afraid that that light has been denied me.
I feel the spirit of my former colleague, Enoch Powell—I rather respected him, aside from one or two of his extreme views—who was probably the best speaker for the Eurosceptic cause I ever heard in this House of Commons. If he were here, he would probably find it amazing that his party had become Eurosceptic and rather mildly anti-immigrant, in a very strange way, in 2016. Well, I am afraid that, on that issue, I have not followed it, and I do not intend to do so.
There are very serious issues that were not addressed in the referendum: the single market and the customs union. They must be properly debated. It is absurd to say that every elector knew the difference between the customs union and the single market, and that they took a careful and studied view of the basis for our future trading relations with Europe.
The fact is that I admire the Prime Minister and her colleagues for their constant propounding of the principles of free trade. My party has not changed on that. We are believers in free trade and see it as a win-win situation. We were the leading advocate of liberal economic policies among the European powers for many years, so we are free traders. It seems to me unarguable that if we put between us and the biggest free market in the world new tariffs, new regulatory barriers, new customs procedures, certificates of origin and so on, we are bound to be weakening the economic position from what it would otherwise have been, other things being equal, in future. That is why it is important that this issue is addressed in particular.
I am told that that view is pessimistic, and that we are combining withdrawal from the single market and the customs union with a great new globalised future that offers tremendous opportunities for us. Apparently, when we follow the rabbit down the hole, we will emerge in a wonderland where, suddenly, countries throughout the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that we were never able to achieve as part of the European Union. Nice men like President Trump and President Erdogan are impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access. Let me not be too cynical; I hope that that is right. I do want the best outcome for the United Kingdom from this process. No doubt somewhere a hatter is holding a tea party with a dormouse in the teapot.
We need success in these trade negotiations to recoup at least some of the losses that we will incur as a result of leaving the single market. If all is lost on the main principle, that is the big principle that the House must get control of and address seriously, in proper debates and votes, from now on.
I hope that I have adequately explained that my views on this issue have not been shaken very much over the decades—they have actually strengthened somewhat. Most Members, I trust, are familiar with Burke’s address to the electors of Bristol. I have always firmly believed that every MP should vote on an issue of this importance according to their view of the best national interest. I never quote Burke, but I shall paraphrase him. He said to his constituents, “If I no longer give you the benefit of my judgment and simply follow your orders, I am not serving you; I am betraying you.” I personally shall be voting with my conscience content, and when we see what unfolds hereafter as we leave the European Union, I hope that the consciences of other Members of Parliament will remain equally content.
I call Mr Angus Robertson. [Interruption.] No; the amendment has been tabled in his name, but I think it is Mr Gethins who is going to orate to the House, and we look forward to that with eager anticipation.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:
this House declines to give a Second Reading to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill as the Government has set out no provision for effective consultation with the devolved administrations on implementing Article 50, has yet to publish a White Paper detailing the Government's policy proposals, has refused to give a guarantee on the position of EU nationals in the UK, has left unanswered a range of detailed questions covering many policy areas about the full implications of withdrawal from the single market and has provided no assurance that a future parliamentary vote will be anything other than irrelevant, as withdrawal from the European Union follows two years after the invoking of Article 50 if agreement is not reached in the forthcoming negotiations, unless they are prolonged by unanimity.
The amendment stands in my name and, indeed, that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), as well as those of other colleagues, including representatives of the various constituent parts of the United Kingdom. I thank Members in all parts of the House for backing it today.
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who spoke a huge amount of sense—a great deal more sense than we have heard in recent times. He made some exceptional points, for which I thank him. It is also a privilege for us that he will be voting with us tomorrow evening. In particular, he made some good points about the benefits of the European Union, and it is important for us to reflect, even briefly, on those.
The European Union has had an impact on all of us, from the progress that we have made as member states in protecting workers’ and parents’ rights and the environment to our progress in helping to bring about peace, security and prosperity over the past 70 years—something that was never guaranteed. There are endless reasons for voting for our amendment, and I know that a number of my colleagues will touch on them today and tomorrow. One of the main reasons, however, must be connected with scrutiny. What is the purpose of having a Parliament—what is the purpose of us all being here—if it is not to scrutinise the work of the Government? Their unwillingness to subject this decision to any proper scrutiny reflects a lack of confidence in their own position and in the process that will follow once this has been done.
It is good that, despite the Government’s best efforts, we are to have a say on the triggering of article 50, but we did have to drag them here kicking and screaming, and at great expense. I also think it imperative for all Members to reflect on the debt of gratitude that we owe to Gina Miller, who made today’s debate possible. Today, however, I want to reflect on our amendment.
Primarily, what we want is scrutiny. It is interesting that the Government have not published a White Paper in time for the debate, and that they want to publish it after the Bill has been passed. That must surely be unprecedented. Secondly, there is a lack of respect for the devolution settlement. Thirdly, there are the consequences of leaving the EU without certainty, and fourthly, there is the vision of the United Kingdom that is being created.
One enormous step that the Government could have taken—this was touched on by both the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe and the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer)—was to deal with the position of the EU nationals who contribute so much to our country. Given that the Government are surely in need of friends with influence, they should give those people the certainty that they and we need.
Let us reflect for a moment on why there is so much uncertainty. The leave supporters campaigned on a blank piece of paper, an act of gross irresponsibility and negligence which has been perpetuated by the Government over the past nine months and which lies at the heart of why we need a White Paper. I must add, as the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union returns to the Chamber, that Ministers, both present and previous, who supported the leave campaign bear a particular culpability when it comes to the uncertainty in which we now find ourselves.
Will we have the White Paper before the Bill’s Committee stage? Will we go through the normal process, whereby we see a White Paper before a Bill is passed? That has certainly been the practice in the past when the House has been given a say. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe reflected on European debates gone by. I remind Members that John Major published a White Paper before entering the negotiations on the Amsterdam treaty in 1996. The Foreign Secretary is no longer in the Chamber, but I also remind Members that Gordon Brown, who was Prime Minister at the time, published a White Paper on the Lisbon treaty.
What are the Government afraid of? My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), who is present, has some experience of referendums and of scrutiny. I have here a copy of the Scottish White Paper. This is what a proper White Paper looks like.
This White Paper contains 670 pages of details of what the country looked like, and it was published a year before the Scottish referendum. There was no scrabbling around for the odd detail nearly a year after a referendum. It is a disgrace, and the Government should be ashamed.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what that White Paper told the people of Scotland? Did it tell them what currency they would be using if they voted for Scottish independence?
The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. Does he know what the White Paper talked about? It talked about currency. Moreover, a Fiscal Commission Working Group was set up. So much more work was put into that.
On the issue of modernity and progress for this country, I give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I seem to remember that the Scottish people blew a large raspberry at that White Paper.
The Scottish people had an opportunity to discuss and debate it. It is a great pity that the hon. Gentleman does not trust the people enough to give them some details, and campaigned on a blank page.
Let me gently remind the House that this is a big deal. We are not just divvying up the Nana Mouskouri records or the “Borgen” box sets. This will have an impact on each and every one of us. We published the details, and we can reflect on that. You do not have the courage of your convictions.
Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is in a state of great animation and excitement, and I do not want to spoil that for him, but I have always had the courage of my convictions, and, therefore, his breach of parliamentary protocol is, in this case, mildly offensive. May I just remind him that debate here takes place through the Chair? The word “you” is not only not required, but should be deleted from any part of his text.
I apologise, Mr Speaker. You, of course, have the courage of your convictions every time, although those on the Government Benches may be a different matter altogether—but that is well said, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, I am sure you will also agree with me that scrutiny is a good thing; it strengthens governance and has a major role to play.
Let me talk about the devolution settlement and what has been happening. The Secretary of State talked earlier about listening. He says a great deal about listening, but I have not seen anything that has changed so far from all this listening that has been going on; I have not been seeing any changes. They were listening in Cardiff all day yesterday, and we have seen nothing. The Court ruling made the point that this is a political decision; the decision to involve the devolved Administrations should be a political one.
The Secretary of State for Scotland has also said that the Bill will put the Sewel convention on to “a statutory footing.” If that was the case and he was true to his word, we would not be in the situation we are in just now.
Only two plans have come forward. One was from the Scottish Government about Scotland’s place in Europe, and I also pay credit to Plaid Cymru and to Labour colleagues who managed to pull together a plan from the Welsh Government as well. Fair play to them for putting aside their political differences and producing more detail.
The Scottish Government plans have won praise from stakeholders and European partners across the spectrum. They would maintain our place in the single market, give new powers to the Scottish Parliament—as suggested by the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove)—and ensure that EU nationals can continue to stay.
On that point I will give way to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray).
It has taken a long time for the hon. Gentleman to take my intervention, but I am somewhat confused as to how he expects to get a 600-page White Paper on a two-clause Bill. Can he explain that to me please?
The hon. Lady says she is confused. I will make this point: if the Government come forward with a White Paper that is not quite 670 pages, I think we will be okay with that on these Benches. Indeed, if the Secretary of State comes forward with a White Paper, it would be some progress. But the hon. Lady is a little confused: may I remind her and others on the Conservative Benches on a point of democracy that they got their worst general election result in Scotland since 1865, so they could do with a little bit of listening? They are being pulled by their nose by the UK Independence party who have never even saved their parliamentary deposit in Scotland. Let me say on democracy that the Conservatives govern on 15% of the votes, claim a victory on one in five voters, and want to bring powers back to this place and hand them to the House of Lords.
I will not give way any more.
The consequences of leaving the EU will be significant for universities, for the opportunities that I had and people should continue to have, and for our environment and low-carbon industries. Paragraph 22 of the “Explanatory Notes” says:
“This Bill is not expected to have any financial implications.”
That is courageous, indeed.
Finally, on vision—
I am not going to take any more interventions.
This is a debate—
Order. The hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) has made it clear that he is not giving way, and may I gently say that an enormous amount of heckling is taking place, sometimes from the hon. Gentleman’s own Benches? They are heckling more loudly than I shout when watching Britain in the Davis cup, and I do not do that while play is in progress.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Let me gently remind colleagues about this. As well as learning a lesson on democracy and on the Conservatives’ abject failure in terms of winning any kind of vote in Scotland, this House is at a crossroads today. Are we going to have a future of continuing progress and prosperity whereby we maintain a close relationship with our partners in Europe, as set out by the Scottish Government in our plans—which were a compromise, when we failed to see any kind of compromise from the other side?
Political opponents in Wales have been able to compromise. The Scottish Government, in spite of two thirds of people in Scotland voting to remain in the EU, have been able to set out a compromise. The alternative to that is a path of isolationism and exceptionalism that leaves us desperately scrabbling around for friends, and the Prime Minister, who has left the Chamber, will note the reaction to her visit to Washington on streets the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.
Going back in history, Scotland has done well as an EU member state. I want to see us continue with research, trade and political alliances going back centuries, and where sharing sovereignty is a good thing. As another lesson to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, I say that that is sharing sovereignty, but what is not sharing sovereignty is being forced to have a Trident missile submarine that the Scottish people are against and 98.5% of Scottish MPs have moved against. What is not sovereign is being taken out of the EU against our will, and what is not sovereign is having a Tory Government that have one MP in charge of our affairs.
Europe is where our future lies. It is one where we tackle inequality and climate change and where refugees get help—areas that do not get much of a hearing in Whitehall these days. Pooling our sovereignty and working together is a good thing. If the House passes this Bill and turns its back on our amendment, it will be turning its back on the progress made and disrespecting the devolution settlement.
I urge Members to vote for our amendment; otherwise, this is a backward and damaging step, and an act of constitutional and economic sabotage.
Order. I referenced earlier the very large number of colleagues wishing to contribute, which I am afraid necessitates the imposition on Back Benchers, with immediate effect, of a six-minute time limit.
This has been for me, and for many of us, a very long journey. It is 30 years since I tabled an amendment to the Single European Act to retain the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament. I have to say, Mr Speaker, that it was denied me; the amendment was not selected. However, I looked with interest at clause 1 of this Bill, which says:
“This section has effect despite any provision made by or under the European Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment.”
I believe that that satisfies the requirements of sovereignty in respect of this Bill.
I want to pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). I respect him and the way in which we have battled over these matters over all these years. We have done so over a similar period of time—he from a little earlier than me, I must admit—but we have been on different roads, and now we have arrived at different destinations.
For me, the referendum was a massive peaceful revolution by consent, of historic proportions. This Bill at last endorses that revolution. From the 17th century right the way through our history—through the corn laws, the parliamentary reform Act that gave the vote to the working class, the suffragettes who got the vote in 1928, and then again in the period of appeasement—there have been great benchmarks of British history and they have all ultimately been determined by the decisions taken in this House, and, if I may be permitted to say so, by Back Benchers. That is where the decisions have so often been taken. The fact is that the fundamental question on which we have fought not only this referendum but all the battles back to the 1980s has been that of who governs this country. This Bill answers that question.
With respect to the Bill itself, I simply say—I do not want to spend time on this, but just to make the point; and the shadow Minister for Brexit, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), made the same point—that if one looks at the Supreme Court decision, it is clear from the manner in which its ruling was given that this is not about timing, method, our relationship with the European Union or the terms of withdrawal. That is all set out in paragraphs 2 and 3 of the judgment itself. It goes on to say at paragraph 1.22 that the freedom to make these decisions lies exclusively with Parliament, and that is where we are now embarking on yet another journey.
With respect to the referendum, I came to the conclusion back in 1990, looking at the Labour and Conservative Front Benches in the House of Commons, that nothing was going to break the collusion between those two Front Benches on the European issue or on the question of sovereignty. A strategic decision had to be taken, so I set up the Maastricht referendum campaign. After many, many years, we have reached this point, largely on account of the efforts made by all my hon. Friends on this side of the House and by those I will describe as my hon. Friends on the other side. They have all fought the same battle in the same way. They include Peter Shore, Tony Benn, my hon. Friends the Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins)—
Yes, Bob Cryer, and others. This has been a huge battle, and I do not disrespect the Governments of either party for the decisions that they have taken during this period, because they have been forming judgments, although they fell short of what we needed in this country. In this democratic cockpit, we had to fight our battles and to stand up for our own constituents. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe said, we had to stand up for what we believed in. Conscience, principles and convictions must drive our decision making. Remoaners who wish to vote against the Bill simply do not get the scale of what this revolution involves. They say that they respect and accept it, but they do not.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that although there has been a vote to leave the EU, there has not been a vote on the terms of our withdrawal from it? Does he also accept that as soon as article 50 is triggered, those terms will be decided by the EU 27 and not by anyone here? What sort of democracy is that?
From the beginning, my main objection has been that decisions are often taken in that way. The hon. Gentleman sits on the European Scrutiny Committee, which I chair, and he knows perfectly well that I have complained vigorously, for ever, about the fact that decisions are taken behind closed doors within the EU. It was not about our sovereignty; it was about theirs. Their sovereignty has been imposed on us. That is why I objected to it, and that is why we are standing here today.
I wish to say that Eurosceptics in this House owe a great debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), who has been our leader on this issue for many decades.
I am very touched by my good friend’s comment.
We fought for a referendum on Maastricht and afterwards. We fought to unshackle the United Kingdom from increasingly undemocratic European government. Those who vote against the Bill will be voting against the outcome of the referendum. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), is absolutely right to say that we must trust the people. Those Members will be voting against the people and against their vote, as expressed in the referendum. If the House of Lords were to attempt to stand in the way of the vote by the British people, it would be committing political suicide. This Westminster Parliament is now the focus, where the instructions of the British people have to be carried out, and that is what we will do. I shall repeat the words of William Pitt in the Guildhall speech of 1805:
“England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe”—
and the United Kingdom—
by her example.”
Order. Just before I call the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), I must appeal to Members not to keep coming up to the Chair and asking where they are on the list, either explicitly or by the back door by asking, “Is it all right if I go to the loo?”, “May I have a cup of tea?” or “Am I permitted to eat a biscuit?” I shall do my best to accommodate everyone in the substantial amount of time available, but I appeal to colleagues to show a little patience and some regard for the Chair needing to concentrate on the debate. I will get you in if I possibly can, and so will all other occupants of the Chair.
Our relationship with Europe has run like a contentious thread through our politics for more than 60 years, and the referendum revealed a nation that remains divided. Though it pains me to say it, for the reasons so ably set out by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke)—the Foreign Secretary, who is no longer in his place, was shaking his head throughout that speech, probably because he did not wish to be reminded of the arguments he had included in that other article, which he chose not to publish back in June—we are leaving the European Union, and our task now is to try to bring people together. This means that, whether we voted leave or remain, we have a responsibility to hold in our minds the views, concerns and hopes of everyone in our country, whether they voted leave or remain.
The Supreme Court decided, rightly in my view, that a decision of this magnitude should be made by Parliament and not by the Executive, but with that power comes a responsibility to respect the outcome of the referendum, however much some of us might disagree with it. This is about democracy. This is about faith in our politics, not just in the United Kingdom but across the western world, where—if we are honest—it is not in very good shape. If this Parliament were to say to the people, “You did not know what you were doing, only 37% voted leave, the referendum was only advisory and there were lots of lies”—whether or not we agree with some of those assertions—we really would have a crisis of confidence in our politics, for the reasons so eloquently set out by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). That is why the democratic thing to do is to vote for this Bill, and I shall do so tomorrow.
But the referendum decided only one thing: the fact that we are leaving the institutions of the European Union. It did not determine the terms on which we leave or our new relationship with the other 27 member states. That is why we have, as a nation, to get our objectives and the process right as we start this great negotiation. The Government’s handling of this matter so far has not shown sufficient respect for Parliament—notwithstanding the number of times the Secretary of State has come to the Dispatch Box. For several months, Ministers appeared to believe that saying that there would be “no running commentary” and telling those asking for greater clarity that they were not, in the words of the No. 10 spokesperson, “backing the UK team” was the right approach. It was not. Commitments have eventually been made to set out objectives, to seek transitional arrangements, to publish a White Paper and to confirm that Parliament will have a vote—all things that the Exiting the European Union Committee, which I have the honour to chair, called for—but at every stage, far from being freely made, they were reluctantly conceded, usually a day or two after the Secretary of State had resisted them from the Dispatch Box.
My right hon. Friend refers to the fact that the Government now say that there will be a vote on the eventual deal. I presume that what they mean is that, under the provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, there will be a single vote on an unamendable motion in relation to a treaty. I do not think that that is good enough. If the European Parliament—and, for that matter, the Irish Dáil and the French Assemblée Nationale—will have the right to consider such a treaty line by line, this House should have that right as well.
I agree with my hon. Friend, but the House must have a proper plan and, in the words of my Front-Bench colleague, a “meaningful” opportunity to scrutinise the agreement in draft, rather than being presented with a fait accompli at the end of the process. This is one example of how the Government have had to be pushed, cajoled and prodded at every stage into giving Parliament its proper role.
I say to the Secretary of State—this may not be his fault—that it is extraordinary that we meet here today, and are being asked to vote on this Bill tomorrow, when not a single Government document setting out the consequences has been published. Seven months after the British people reached their decision, there has been no economic assessment, no analysis of the options, and no White Paper. That is not the way to do things and that attitude must change. The Government need to recognise that Parliament should be not a bystander but a participant in what is probably the most complex and significant negotiation that this country has ever faced. We have to unwind and recast 43 years of relationships with our neighbours. It affects every area of our national life, every part of the country, every person, community and business, and the jobs and incomes on which they depend. It is therefore essential that we have unity of purpose in trying to get the best deal for Britain, despite the inevitable uncertainty of the outcome.
We will come to the issues of substance in Committee and subsequently. What does special access to the single market mean now that the Prime Minister has decided that we are leaving it? How exactly will seeking to remain and leave the customs union at the same time work? If ensuring a continuation of tariff and barrier-free trade is a priority for Ministers, but Europe comes back and says, “You can’t have your cake and eat it. You have to choose,” I trust that the Government will choose to remain in the customs union. The world is more uncertain now than at any time over the past 60 years, so how will we continue to co-operate with our neighbours on foreign policy, defence, security and the fight against terrorism?
Finally, the referendum result revealed something else: two great political forces in the western world are now reflected in our politics. On the one hand, people desire greater devolution and control in a world in which many believe that we barely have any control at all owing to the pace of change in our lives. On the other hand, every single Member of the House, whether we voted leave or remain, understands that in the modern world we have to co-operate with our neighbours to deal with the great challenges that we will face in the years and centuries ahead. Leaving the European Union may change the balance between the two, but it will not change the necessity to embrace both as we look to the future.
I rise to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—not that I will agree with much of what he said, but I fully respect his ability and strength of purpose, in line with what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said, to stand by his convictions. It is therefore a privilege to follow him.
It is also a privilege for me, as it is for many of my colleagues, to speak on this Bill. It is without doubt that I support the Government and therefore the passage of this Bill. I commend the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the Opposition spokesman, who made a particularly measured speech on what the Bill is and is not about. He was clear in his words, for which I commend him because I actually agreed with them when he said that this is about giving the Government the right to invoke article 50, and nothing more. He said in his interesting speech that no place but here can have the right to change domestic laws, and I agree. That is why I and my hon. Friends have urged that we repeal the European Communities Act 1972 at the same time. Strictly speaking, that is not necessary under article 50, but it is the right thing to do domestically and provides an answer to those who say, “But what will we do about all these issues?” Every element of our membership of the European Union is within that Act, and I am certain that the House will debate that for many hours and reach a decision.
I have a huge amount of respect for my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe. We served together in the same Government and have debated this issue for a long time. There is nobody whom I respect more in this House than him. He is as constant as the compass. There is absolutely no way in which anyone could have any doubt about where he was going to be not only on this matter, but on many others. I look across the Chamber to my erstwhile right hon. Friend, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), who will agree that during the coalition Government we absolutely knew where my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe was going to be on many issues in Cabinet—invariably not where the Government were.
Not only is our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) to be respected for his views on Europe, about which he has been entirely consistent and courteous, but he was surely one of the most remarkable Chancellors of the Exchequer that our country has seen.
I do not doubt that at all. In fact, so successful was he that he managed to tie the following Government in all sorts of knots as they sought to pursue his policies without any of the same drive or intelligence in how they were going to do it.
My purpose today is simply to explain that I opposed the Maastricht treaty. In case anybody asks, I did not actually want to leave the European Union. I originally voted to join the European Union, or the Common Market as it was then, but when it came to Maastricht I decided that there was something fundamentally wrong with the direction of travel. I am going to raise the name of an individual whom not many people in this House ever raise in debate: Altiero Spinelli. He was essentially the architect of both the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty. His purpose was quite clear. He believed that the whole purpose of the European project was the eradication of the nature of the nation state. He said:
“If a post war order is established in which each State retains its complete national sovereignty, the basis for a Third World War would still exist”.
I do not agree with him, and I never did. The reason we fell into the terrible cataclysm of the second world war following the great depression was the absence of democracy and, most importantly, robust democratic institutions in many European states. War will never happen where we have democracy and strong democratic institutions with open trade. Such democracies simply will not do that. My sense was that the European Union’s direction of travel from Maastricht was bound on a course that was going to lead to the UK ultimately deciding that it can no longer stay within it.
I agree with much of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe said. I have come to a different conclusion, but I fully respect anyone who decides to vote against the triggering of article 50. They were sent here to use their judgment. Yes, the British people have made a decision, but the job of an MP is to use judgment on such matters. If somebody chooses to oppose the Bill, I will respect that. I will disagree with them, but they deserve a hearing and we should in no way attempt to shout them down.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his thoughts on democracy. Does he accept that Members in this House have less information about this crucial decision than the average local ward councillor has about their annual budget?
I am grateful for that intervention, but I do not agree. Given the past 40 years, if anybody in this House does not have enough information to make a decision, I wonder where they have been for all those years—or the years that they have spent here. Of course we have enough information. The hon. Lady is referring to the publication of the White Paper, which the Government have said they will publish. I stand by that and think it is a good idea. I must say, however, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a pretty good of fist of it in her recent speech, in which she set out the 12 points that will guide her negotiation. I hope that the Government reprint them with a couple of diagrams, the odd explanation and a nice picture, which will make an excellent White Paper.
I absolutely do not agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe that my party is somehow anti-immigrant. When I was in government with him, both in coalition and subsequently, we did more than any other country to help those who were displaced as a result of the wars in Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. As a Government and as a country, we should be proud of our support for immigration. Whatever other countries choose to do, we put ourselves on the side of those who flee terror.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and for that clarification. We are not anti-immigrant, and I do not think that anyone who voted to leave the European Union is anti-immigrant. There is a difference between being anti-immigrant and being anti-uncontrolled immigration. It was the latter that the British public were against. They wanted control, and many people of different backgrounds voted to leave the European Union.
That is the point: they wanted to take back control. They are not anti-immigration but simply want to make sure that it is controlled migration at a level that the country can absorb without any difficulties. That is where we should be on this, that is where my party should be and that is where we stand. I intend to pursue that because I am pro-migration.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman because I have literally a matter of seconds and he will have plenty of time to speak.
The only thing on which I disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe is that we are not the hatter’s tea party. The hatter’s tea party is sitting in opposition. I do not know who the dormouse is or who the hatter is, but I am sure they will tell us later.
Having listened throughout to all these debates, I will be voting tonight to trigger article 50. [Hon. Members: “Tomorrow.”] Tomorrow, I will be voting to trigger article 50 simply because of all the mistakes of the past. We were told that somehow we can place our trust in a larger body that will do a lot of our protections for us, but we cannot. As a nation state, we can be in Europe but not run by the European Union. That is why I am voting to trigger article 50 tomorrow.
As this is the formal beginning of a process that will most likely lead to the end of Britain’s leading role in the heart of Europe and the European Union—a cause I have espoused and defended all my political life both in opposition and in government—I have to confess that of course I feel sad that we have come to this point, much as I was surprised and saddened, as many people were, by the outcome of the referendum last summer.
That sadness is increasingly mixed with a growing sense of anger at what I consider to be the Government’s deliberate distortion of the mandate they received from the British people in a way that I think is divisive, damaging and self-serving.
Let us be clear: the British people gave the Government a mandate to pull the United Kingdom out of the European Union. The British people did not give this Government a mandate to threaten to turn our country into some tawdry, low-regulation, low-tax, cowboy economy. The British people did not vote to make themselves poorer by pulling out of the greatest free-trading single market the world has ever seen—incidentally, that is one of the many reasons why the Liberal Democrats believe that the British people should be given a say at the end of the process, much as they were given a say at the beginning. And the British people most certainly did not give a mandate to the Government to indulge in the ludicrous, sycophantic farce that we have seen in recent days in which this Government, having burned every bridge left with our friends in Europe, rushed across the Atlantic to sidle up to a US President without seeming to be aware that his nativism, isolationism and protectionism are diametrically opposed to the long-term strategic interests of the United Kingdom.
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why my constituents, the majority of whom voted to leave, reject his party’s call to hold a second referendum? I really believe it is an insult to the integrity of my constituents to promote that.
The insult was that the Brexit campaigners deliberately withheld from the British people what they meant by Brexit. It was a deliberate, effective but highly cynical tactic. We never received a manifesto with the views of Nigel Farage, the Foreign Secretary or the former Education Secretary, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), explaining what Brexit means. Therefore, when we finally know what Brexit really means in substance, rather than in utopian promise, of course the British people should have their say.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I wish to make some progress. That is why I believe that this House has not a choice but a duty to withhold from the Government the right to proceed with Brexit in the way they have planned. That would not stop Brexit but would simply urge the Government to go back to the drawing board and to come back to this House with a more sensible and moderate approach to Brexit.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I really wish to make some progress. I have only four minutes.
Some people say that there is no alternative, that we must leave the single market and that there is no remote chance that we could find an accommodation with our European partners. Nonsense. For instance, I confirm to the House that I have recently heard it on very good authority that senior German decision makers, shortly after the Prime Minister, no doubt to her surprise, found herself as Prime Minister without a shot—or indeed a vote—being fired, were keen to explore ways to deliver her an emergency brake. In return, they hoped for an undisruptive economic Brexit.
But what did this Government choose to do? They decided to spurn all friendship links with Europe. They decided to disregard the needs of Scotland, Northern Ireland and, indeed, our great capital London. They decided to placate parts of the Conservative party rather than serve the long-term strategic interests of this country. They decided to pander to the eye-popping vitriol and bile that we see every day from people like Mr Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, and other members of the moneyed elite who run the Brexit right-wing press in this country—and this Government have become too slavishly preoccupied with their opinions. But, above all, this Government have decided to disregard the hopes, the dreams and the aspirations of 16.1 million of our fellow citizens, which is more than have ever voted for a winning party in a general election— 242 Westminster constituencies voted to remain.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I have only two minutes.
You will get an extra minute.
I have a very simple question to ask and the right hon. Gentleman will get the rest of his minute. Does he recall that, during the referendum campaign, the then Prime Minister and many others on the remain side said that if the British people voted to leave the European Union, it would absolutely mean that we leave the single market? Did he agree with that at the time?
It is a novel concept that the winning side in a competition invokes the arguments of the losing side to make a case that it did not make itself. That is ludicrous. The Brexit campaign deliberately did not spell out to the British people what Brexit means, which is why it is right that, when we finally do know what Brexit means, the British people have another say.
My final point is that the British Government have taken the mandate of 23 June 2016 and not only disregarded the 16.1 million people and the 242 constituencies that voted to remain but have very deliberately decided to ignore the pleas, the dreams, the aspirations and the plans of the people who should actually count most. It is our children and our grandchildren, the youth of Britain, who will have to live with the fateful consequences more than anybody in this House or anybody on the Government Front Bench, and—guess what?—conventional wisdom says that the youth of today are politically indifferent and do not participate but 64% of 18 to 24-year-old voters voted. They mobilised in huge, unprecedented numbers, and 73% of them voted for a different future.
I know that the vote of a 19-year-old does not weigh any differently in the ballot box from the vote of a 90-year-old but, when we search our consciences, as we have just been asked to do, we should search our consciences most especially about what country we think we are handing on to the next generation. Call me old-fashioned, but when a country decides to go on a radical, uncompromising departure to a new and as yet entirely unpredictable future, and does so against the explicit, stated wishes of those who have to inhabit that future, it is a country embarking on a perilous path, and I hope that our consciences will not pay for it.
I have a great sense of foreboding. Notwithstanding my personal admiration for the Secretary of State for Brexit, who will try to conduct his negotiations in good humour, the negotiations are going to get nasty and acrimonious. Just think what will happen in the British tabloid press when the Government first start arguing about money in the next few months. The Government’s position is asking for the impossible and the undeliverable. Most especially, it is not possible to say that we will not abide by the rulings of a marketplace and then somehow claim that we will get unfettered access to that marketplace. That is not going to happen.
European leaders, many of whom I have spoken to, look at us with increasing dismay and disbelief at the incoherence and the confrontational manner in which this Government are proceeding with Brexit.
My final plea is that Members look to the long-term interests of our country and their constituents when voting, not to the short-term interests of this Government.
In following the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), I rise proudly on this side of the House, where, I remind him, we are standing by our mandate of “Brexit means Brexit.” I also remind him that once a politician stood on a mandate of “No tuition fees.”
This Bill may be simple, small and perfectly formed, but its significance is way above its size. This Bill is about delivering on democracy and on commitments made by politicians to the electorate. Last June, the country spoke decisively in a democratic vote, in a referendum that had been initiated by a very large majority—more than 10 to one MPs—in this House, and we should all remember that. More people voted to leave the EU than have ever voted for a single political party. That vote cannot be ignored, so I will therefore be voting for this Bill on Second Reading and then supporting the Government in their negotiations to ensure that a good deal is obtained, which works primarily in the interests of the UK, but without damaging the 27 other member states of the EU. We do expect a professional attitude towards those negotiations from the European Union, without the vindictiveness that has come through in some of the statements made by European politicians.
In my commercial life before entering the House, I worked in many countries in Europe. I am fortunate to have represented the UK in European institutions, and I also have strong personal ties with Europe, as many of my family live in Denmark and are Danish, so I am certainly not anti-European. When people say that we are anti-European, I tell them that we are not leaving Europe—we are leaving the European Union. Europe is a fantastic place to call home—it is diverse in culture and language, and its unique history enriches us all—but the EU’s goal of standardisation and a one-size-fits-all Europe has been a source of bewilderment to many of us.
While many countries, including our own, are devolving power away from central Government, the EU is moving in the opposite direction, centralising power in Brussels and imposing bureaucracy from above. The EU has constantly eroded national sovereignty and undermined the nation state. Its key decision makers in the European Commission are unelected and unaccountable, and nobody can say that the single currency has been a success for many of those countries facing such dire economic situations at the moment. It has been clear for some time that the EU needed fundamental reform, but it has become equally clear that it lacks the political will to do this.
So, like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), I have been consistent in my views about Europe. When I was first elected to Parliament, the Maastricht treaty was going through this House. I was a member of the Fresh Start group, with many of my colleagues here today, and I have not changed my position in 25 years of serving this country and my constituents. I made no secret of the fact that I supported the campaign to leave the EU, but I knew it was up to individuals to make up their own minds. Now the country has made that choice clear, the Prime Minister has made her intentions clear and we need to get on with it. The choice that some seem to be offering between what they call “hard Brexit” and “soft Brexit” is a false one. If soft Brexit means staying in the single market with no controls on our borders and, crucially, the UK being subject to the European Court of Justice, it is not really Brexit at all. Indeed, I believe I recall the remain campaigners arguing during the referendum campaign that sacrificing EU membership but staying in the single market was the “worst of both worlds”.
We are leaving the EU, and that means freeing ourselves of its institutions. But we remain a firm friend and ally of all the European countries with which we have been working over decades to try to maintain peace, prosperity and stability on European soil. Not only do we want to have and will seek an open trading relationship with those countries, but, no matter what the outcome, we will continue to work with them on tackling areas of common interest: terrorism, crime, climate change and environmental protection. This major change in our governance means that Britain can freely reach out to the rest of the world, forging new friendships, building new alliances and expanding into new markets. But, like the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), I recognise the disappointment of people who were satisfied with our membership of the EU and wish we were in a different place. I think we have a bright future ahead of us. There is a whole world out there and I want to see a free, open, tolerant self-determining Britain thrive in it. Therefore, I will have no hesitation in going through the Lobby tomorrow in support of the Government and this Bill.
May I say at once that although I deeply regret the decision made by the British people, including in my constituency, to leave the EU, I do not seek to challenge it? I regret the opening remark made by the Secretary of State—I am sorry he is not here to hear me say this—that this debate is about whether or not we trust the British people. It is not about that; it is about whether we commence the process of implementing their decision, a process that will not be simple, easy or fast. It does no one any favours to pretend otherwise.
Although I accept that decision and I will vote for the Bill, I fear that its consequences, both for our economy and our society, are potentially catastrophic. I therefore hope that the practice of dismissing any calls, queries and concerns, however serious and well founded, as merely demonstrating opposition to the will of the British people will now cease, along with the notion that they would merely obstruct the process. Once we commence this process, there are serious and profound questions to address, and it helps nobody to cheapen it in that way.
A second practice I deplore is that of pretending that the question the public actually answered—whether to leave the European Union or to remain—is instead the question some leave campaigners would prefer them to have answered. I hear many claiming that the people voted to leave the single market—that they voted to leave the customs union. First, those were not the words on the ballot paper. Secondly, although we all have our own recollections of the debate, mine is that whenever we who campaigned to remain raised the concerns that if we were to leave the EU to end the free movement of people, we might, in consequence, find that we have to leave the single market, with massive implications for jobs and our economy, some leave campaigner would immediately pop up to assure the people that no such complications or problems were likely to arise and that we could have—
I am looking at one of them now. They would suggest that we could have our cake and eat it—that we could leave the EU not only without jeopardy to our economy, but even with advantage, because we could negotiate other trading relationships without any such uncomfortable ties.
Does the right hon. Lady not remember that the official leave campaign said that one of our main aims is to have many more free trade agreements with the rest of the world and that in order to do that of course we have to leave the single market customs union, because we are not allowed to undertake free trade?
No, honestly I do not particularly recall that. I recall those in the leave campaign saying that we could have trading arrangements with a whole lot of other countries, and I am going to turn to that now. India was cited as one example, but I have the distinct impression that when the Prime Minister discussed these issues with the President of India she may have been advised that far from closing the immigration door, he would like to see it opened wider. Nor do I think a trade deal with China will be without any quid pro quo.
Further to that, does my right hon. Friend recall the International Development Secretary making the case to my constituents of Indian descent, of Bangladeshi descent and of Pakistani descent that leaving the EU would not only lead to future trade deals, but would improve immigration to this country from the Commonwealth? Does my right hon. Friend expect that promise to be delivered?
I am extraordinarily grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because not only do I recall it, but I originally had it in my speech, only to take it out on the grounds of time.
As for the United States, I am sure that the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, who, like me has had a degree of experience in complex international negotiations, is as conscious as I am that one of the first prerequisites is to listen to the words. It was not the President of the United States who said that Britain would be at the front of the queue, it was British politicians. What the President said was, “You’re doing great.” I do not take much comfort from that, especially coming as it does from a President whose motto is “America first.” I wholly share the fears that have been expressed, and that probably will be again in this debate, about the possibility of America’s companies wishing to exploit the healthcare market here or weaken our regulations on, for example, food safety.
The negotiations we will trigger with this Bill will be extraordinarily difficult and very time-consuming. I do not think for a second that they can be concluded within two years, and I do not think anybody who has ever negotiated anything would. It will therefore be vital to make allowance and preparations for possible transitional arrangements.
I am conscious of the time, so I shall make my final point. It is not clear whether the Prime Minister frightened the European Commission with her threat to devastate our tax base and, in consequence, all our public services, but she successfully frightened me. I do not believe—not for one second—that that is what the British people thought they were voting for. When this process is concluded, the European Parliament will have the right to vote on the outcome. If taking back control means anything, it must mean that this House enjoys the same right.
It is with a heavy heart, and against my long-held belief that the interests of this country are better served by our being a member of the European Union, that I shall support the Bill. In 2015, I promised the good people of Broxtowe that, if I was elected to represent them for another term, and in accordance with my party’s manifesto, I would vote for an in/out referendum on our EU membership, agreeing, in the words of David Cameron, that the people would “settle the matter”. I promised to respect and honour the vote. On 9 June 2015, along with 544 Members of this place, I agreed to that referendum, and in so doing I agreed to be bound by the result.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) was not in favour of that referendum and did not vote for it, so he is, of course, free and able to vote against the Bill. I am sure it is no coincidence that he happens to enjoy a considerably large number of people in his constituency who voted remain, and that he has—quite wrongly, in my view—announced that he will not be standing again in 2020. I say to Opposition Members, though, that you cannot go back on your word because you do not agree with the result.
I believe that history will not be kind to this Parliament, nor, indeed, to the Government I was so proud to serve in. How on earth did we ever come to put to the people an alternative that we then said would make them worse off and less safe and would weaken our nation? I echo the wise words of some of the speech by my new friend, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), when I say that I greatly fear that generations that either did not vote or are yet to come will not thank us for our great folly. Neither will they forgive those who since 23 June have chosen not to be true to their long-held views—those who have remained mute as our country has turned its back on the benefits of the free movement of people, a single market and the customs union, without a debate, far less any vote in this place. Why is that? It needs to be said and recorded that our Government have decided that the so-called control of immigration, which actually means the reduction in immigration—that is what so many people in our constituencies believe—is worth more than the considerable benefit