Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 630: debated on Thursday 2 November 2017

House of Commons

Thursday 2 November 2017

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Exiting the European Union

The Secretary of State was asked—

Citizens’ Rights

1. What steps he is taking to maintain the rights of non-UK EU nationals resident in the UK in negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. (901552)

5. What steps he is taking to maintain the rights of EU citizens living in the UK after the UK has left the EU. (901557)

We have made a lot of progress through five rounds of constructive negotiations, and we are now within touching distance of an agreement on citizens’ rights. Providing swift reassurance and certainty to citizens as quickly as possible is a shared objective. With flexibility and creativity on both sides, I am confident that we can conclude discussions on citizens’ rights in the coming weeks.

Universities UK and Universities Scotland have expressed concerns about accessing skilled labour after Brexit. Does my hon. Friend agree that the mutual recognition of professional qualifications should be a priority in the forthcoming negotiations?

I agree heartily with my hon. Friend. Of course, our science and research paper sets out the importance of continuing to meet the talent needs of our country. In the negotiations, we have set out a positive approach to the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, and we would like to see broader definitions for the professions and individuals in scope.

My right hon. Friend is right to characterise it as such, particularly as regards the mutual recognition of professional qualifications but also in other areas, such as the voting rights that we would afford EU citizens in the UK. We would like those rights to be reciprocated for UK citizens across the EU.

At Edinburgh University, 25% of the senior academic staff are EU nationals. What is the Minister saying to institutions such as Edinburgh University, which needs those staff to be able to compete as one of the world’s leading universities?

I have met representatives of Edinburgh University and visited them to discuss exactly that issue. I recognise the benefit that the university receives from EU nationals working there; indeed, nationals of countries from across the world contribute to the university’s research. The university has welcomed what we set out in our science and research paper, and we will continue to work closely with the university sector to make sure that we can meet its needs.

EU nationals living in my constituency who are seeking permanent residency or settled status are being advised that currently there is no process and they will have to wait for a letter telling them to leave the country, which unsurprisingly causes a great deal of anxiety and distress. Is that the official advice? If not, what is the official advice?

The official advice is that the Home Office is clearly working on a process to ensure that settled status can be achieved as straightforwardly as possible. There is no need for anyone to apply for that status as yet, because it is very clear that EU nationals living in the UK have the right to be here under EU freedom of movement rules. What we are talking about is putting in place a process for when the legal order changes. As the Prime Minister says, we want them to stay, and we want to make that process as straightforward as possible.

Does my hon. Friend agree that not only do EU citizens in this country need rapid reassurance of their status, but the very large number of British citizens living in a host of EU countries need the same reassurance? When does he expect to conclude this agreement?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why it is very important that we work through the detail of this agreement to show how it works on both sides, and that it can deliver both for EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU. As I have said, the talks have been constructive and we believe that we are within touching distance of reaching a full agreement.

Last night, this House unanimously passed a binding motion requiring the Government to provide 58 sectoral impact assessments to the Brexit Select Committee. Non-EU UK nationals work in many of those 58 sectors, and you indicated, Mr Speaker, that it was not a motion that needed to be deliberated over for a long time. When will the papers be handed over?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman was present for the whole of yesterday’s debate. As he noted, I said that we would respond appropriately, and we will do so as soon as conceivable.

“As soon as conceivable”, I would hope, means by the end of the week, and certainly before this House goes into recess. I think that that was the period we were discussing last night. But the motion was clear: it is the impact assessments that must be provided—not redacted copies, but the assessments. The Government could have amended the motion, but they chose not to. Can it now be confirmed that the full copies will be handed over, and that it will then be for the Brexit Select Committee to decide to what extent, and in what form, the assessments are published?

I gently point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the first use of the word “redactions” in the debate came from him, on the Front Bench, speaking for the Opposition. We take very seriously the motion of Parliament, and we will be responding to it. The Secretary of State has already spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committee for Exiting the European Union and will be discussing this matter with him further in due course.

Workers’ Rights

13. What steps he is taking to maintain workers’ rights in negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. (901565)

The Government have firmly committed to protecting workers’ rights and to extending those rights when that is the right choice for the United Kingdom. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will ensure that workers’ rights enjoyed under European Union law will continue to be available in UK law after we have left the European Union. However, we do not need to be part of the European Union to have strong protection for workers. The UK already goes well beyond EU minimum standards in a large number of employment areas.

The Trade Union Act 2016 shows something different: the UK has some of the most restrictive trade union rights and freedoms in the western world, and even these could be compromised post-withdrawal. Will the Secretary of State give a cast-iron guarantee that my constituents in North West Durham will have as a minimum the same, if not more, workers’ rights when we have left the European Union?

Yes, I can give that guarantee. The hon. Lady’s constituency voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union, and it did that with open eyes. This assertion that our trade union rights and, more importantly, our employment law rights are somehow less good than in the rest of the European Union is simply untrue. My first meeting as Secretary of State was with the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress. The reason for that was that I knew her, because I had been co-operating with her on trade union law reform just a few months earlier. If the hon. Lady wants a single test of employment protection in the United Kingdom versus the European Union, she should look at the most fundamental right, which is the right to safety at work. We have one of the best records in the European Union for safety at work—much better than Germany, much better than Italy, much better than nearly all European countries.

I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for saying that he intends to extend workers’ rights when it is right to do so, but my great concern is that some in the Conservative party may see this as an opportunity to deregulate further the rights of our citizens at work. Will he look at doing away with employment tribunal fees, which prevent young workers, particularly women, from taking sexual harassment claims against their employers?

The first thing to say to the hon. Gentleman is that in the first three speeches I made after taking this job, I made it very clear that we were not going to use departure from the European Union as a way of reducing employment rights.

In addition, independently of this process, the Prime Minister initiated the Matthew Taylor review. The point of that review was to report back on employment rights—security, pay, progression and training, as well as the balance of rights and responsibilities, representation, opportunities for under-represented groups, and new business models in the gig economy and such things. The Prime Minister actually intends to improve employment rights, not reduce them.

I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has said he wants to extend workers’ rights. With that in mind, will the Government look at the hard work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), whose private Member’s Bill sought to enshrine workers’ rights in UK law immediately?

The nature of the British constitution is that Parliament is always the last to decide—we cannot entrench anything in British law in perpetuity—so as a party and as a Government, we will be seeking to extend workers’ rights, and it will be in our control for us, as a Parliament representing our constituents, to do that.

The European Union charter of fundamental rights contains protections —for example, equality and children’s rights—not contained in the European convention on human rights. Will the Secretary of State give this House a commitment that these rights will be protected as we leave the EU?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. I have said all along from the beginning—in fact, from the White Paper that presented what was then the repeal Bill and is now the withdrawal Bill—that we believe that all the rights enjoyed under the charter are rights that come either from European Union law, the ECHR, British domestic law or EU law that we are going to carry forward. I said to the shadow Secretary of State when the White Paper was presented that if any rights had been missed we would seek to put them back, so that is what we will do. We will of course discuss this at great length during the Committee and Report stages of the Bill. My undertaking to my hon. Friend is that we will protect all those rights.

I know from personal experience that my right hon. Friend takes workers’ rights extremely seriously. However, one right that British workers may not have is the right to go and work in the EU without a visa. The idea of associate citizenship has been raised by the President of the European Parliament and others. Will my right hon. Friend look at that seriously so that British workers—particularly younger British workers—have the opportunity to work in the European Union without a visa, certainly for a limited, if not for an extended, period?

It is nice to have a question from a co-conspirator from my freer days on this subject. Yes, we will look at these issues together. I have spoken briefly to Guy Verhofstadt about this, although not at great length, and I will be interested to hear from him what is being proposed. Of course we will listen to anything of this nature. The aim of this exercise is to be good for Europe and good for Britain, which means good for the citizens of Europe and Britain. That is what we intend to do.

Is this question not somewhat ironic, coming from the Labour party that voted against the withdrawal Bill on Second Reading—the very Bill that will protect workers’ rights? We do not need to be in the EU to protect workers’ rights; we pass legislation in this place to protect those rights, and will continue to do so.

My hon. Friend is of course exactly right. I remember that the last time he asked a question on this subject he reminded the House that it was the Conservative party that introduced the first employment protection legislation, way before the Labour party was created, and it will still be doing that way after the Labour party is gone.

I am sure we all take great comfort from the Secretary of State’s assurances about the Prime Minister’s change of mind. What he now attributes to the Prime Minister is very different from what she said about workers’ rights as Home Secretary. Given that there is no intention whatsoever to reduce workers’ rights as a result of our leaving the European Union, will the Secretary of State undertake to table a Government amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, so that the unprecedented powers given to Ministers in that Bill cannot by statute be used to reduce workers’ rights?

The point I have made time and again about the powers in that Bill is that they are not intended to remove or reduce any law; they are intended to make all the laws practical, and that is what they will do. If we have not got it quite right, we will talk to everybody involved, in Committee and on Report, and ensure that we do get it right.

As well as the potential threat to workers’ rights, there is a much wider threat in the Bill with the removal of the EU charter of fundamental rights from domestic legislation. Last week, the junior Minister was unable to give the Select Committee an example of anyone whose interests would be damaged by retaining that charter in domestic legislation. Will the Secretary of State tell us whose interests will be damaged if we just leave that charter in place?

I have made this point over and over again. The charter of fundamental rights is essentially a list of existing rights and does not, as far as we can see, generate any new ones. I have said that if the shadow Secretary of State can identify a right that will be lost, we will put it back.

Of all the people the Prime Minister could have chosen to fill yet another vacancy in her Brexit team, last week she settled on someone who has openly called for the scrapping of the working time directive, the temporary agency work directive, the pregnant workers directive and, in his words,

“all the other barriers to actually employing people.”

What signal does the Secretary of State think Lord Callanan’s recent appointment sends to workers across the country about how this Government will approach maintaining their rights at work?

The new Minister in my Department, the noble Lord, is a brilliant appointment, and he will deliver the Government’s policy incredibly well.

The public will rightly be suspicious about the commitments that the Secretary of State has given because they know that the sentiments that Lord Callanan expressed are widely shared on the Government Benches. There is an easy way to solve this: the Secretary of State could accept the amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill that provide for enhanced protection for workers’ rights, not just transposition. Will he think about making a commitment to that principle today?

I am afraid I will take no lectures from somebody who voted against the entire Bill and therefore undermined the protection of all workers.

Support for Farmers

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers after the UK leaves the EU. (901555)

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers after the UK leaves the EU. (901559)

22. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers after the UK leaves the EU. (901576)

We have been working closely with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on support for farmers. The Government will provide the same cash total in funds for famer support until the end of the Parliament. As my hon. Friend knows, we continue to work with a range of stakeholders to provide stability for farmers.

I thank the Minister for that response—it is important, particularly for my constituents, that he is having those discussions with DEFRA. May I seek his assurance that farmers will be provided with confidence, so that they can plan their financial arrangements for the years to come, and for their future crop rotations and animal stocks?

In making our pledge to maintain the same cash funds to the end of the Parliament, which we expect to be in 2022, we are giving a greater level of security and certainty for farmers and landowners than anywhere else in the EU where funding is guaranteed only until 2020.

It is clear to me that Banbury cake should be enjoyed the world over. Will my hon. Friend give me an idea of the analysis of the opportunities for global trade in the food and farming industry post-Brexit?

I agree with my hon. Friend that Banbury cake should be enjoyed the world over. We continue to work with the Department for International Trade to identify opportunities for such sales.

I strongly support the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack) for an independent review of the convergence uplift for Scottish farmers. When might the Government be able to respond to this request? Can the Minister reassure farmers in my constituency that any future support system that is developed post-Brexit will reflect the challenging conditions faced by some farmers in Scotland?

My hon. Friend represents the interests of Scotland with characteristic attention to detail and force. We have received the letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is looking into the issues raised and will respond in due course.

May I encourage the Minister to wake up early in the morning and listen to my favourite programme, “Farming Today”? Did he today hear farmers and experts saying that farmers are going to go bankrupt? Farmers, like those in other sectors, want to know what the prognosis is for the farming sector. Wake up and listen to the BBC’s “Farming Today” and do something decent for the people of this country!

The hon. Gentleman makes his point with his characteristic style. If I recall correctly, my first interview in the referendum campaign was for “Farming Today”, and I have always taken it very seriously.

No, I don’t think it was. I would have to go back and check for the hon. Gentleman. I do not always rise in time to listen to “Farming Today”, but we have given our guarantees, and I reiterate that we expect them to last until 2022—a better guarantee than anywhere else in the EU.

Sheep farming is integral to the landscape and economy of Cumbria and much of the rest of the country. Some 40% of lamb products are exported, 90% of which go to the European Union. World Trade Organisation rules state that the tariff for sheep products is 52%, so what can the Minister say to encourage and give confidence to our sheep farmers?

The hon. Gentleman knows that we wish to have a deep and special partnership with the European Union, including a free trade agreement of unprecedented scale. I very much hope and expect that we will be able to conclude tariff-free trade.

The Government are letting farmers down. They cannot even agree on what type of chicken we should allow to be imported after we leave the European Union: the International Trade Secretary says he is relaxed about lowering animal welfare and food standards, and the Environment Secretary has said the opposite. What is the Government’s position on the importation of chlorinated chicken?

In due course, when we have left the European Union and we are fully free to operate our own independent trade policy, I look forward to the debates in this House on all these matters.

Scotland

4. What assessment he has made of the economic effect on Scotland in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. (901556)

17. What assessment he has made of the economic effect on Scotland in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. (901569)

The Government are committed to the best possible deal for the whole United Kingdom, a deal that works for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and all parts of England. We have been engaging with the Scottish Government and have been clear from the start that the devolved Administrations should be fully engaged in this process. The Government are undertaking a broader range of sectoral analysis covering the entirety of the UK economy, including Scotland.

A London School of Economics report concluded that Scotland faces losing £30 billion in the event of a hard Brexit. Will the Minister advise how that compares with the Government’s own Brexit impact assessment for Scotland, and when will it be published?

As we have said, the Government are undertaking a wide-ranging analysis covering the entirety of the UK economy, including Scotland. This will ensure that we take into account the individual circumstances of each part of the UK to inform our negotiating strategy. With regard to the content of that analysis, we have to reflect on the implications of yesterday’s motion and how best we meet the requirements set by the House for information to be passed on to the Select Committee, keeping in mind the fact that the documents they have requested do not exist in the form suggested in the motion.

Scotland—indeed, the UK—has a significant pharmaceutical industry. The Government repeatedly talk about the option of leaving the EU without a deal, but is the Minister aware that the WTO drug list was last updated in 2010, so any drugs developed since then would face tariffs?

The hon. Lady makes an important point. We have been engaging closely with the pharmaceuticals industry in Scotland and across the UK. Of course, she will have noted the joint letter from the Secretaries of State for Health and for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy setting out our intention to establish close co-operation with the European authorities, and there is huge mutual benefit in continuing to do so.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the importance of the food and drink industry across Scotland, not least in my constituency in the north-east. What recent discussions has he had with the Scotland Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on ensuring the best deal for Scottish fishermen and seafood processing businesses in the UK as we leave the EU?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I assure him that we have been meeting regularly with the Scotland Office and with DEFRA colleagues to discuss these issues, which have also been discussed in the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) in relation to important principles that were agreed about where shared frameworks might be required and where they will not.

Scotland is a significant beneficiary of the European Investment Bank. If Britain leaves the EIB after Brexit, will the Government replace it with a British investment bank, with equivalent resources?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the UK is a significant shareholder in the European Investment Bank, as well as a significant beneficiary of its lending. As the Chancellor set out in his Mansion House speech, we will look at the opportunities for co-operation in this area when we come to the talks on the future relationship, but the UK will of course take whatever steps are necessary in the event that there is no deal. That is not our central scenario; we are working towards a constructive deal for both sides.

Leaving the EU: Agreement

6. If he will publish the assessments carried out by his Department on the potential effect on the UK of exiting the EU without an agreement. (901558)

A future partnership between the UK and the EU is in the interests of both sides and I am confident that we will secure a good deal. A responsible Government should prepare for all potential outcomes, and we are undertaking work across a range of scenarios. We will share as much information as possible, but we will not walk into this negotiation risking our negotiating position.

The Government are hiding the true facts about Brexit from the British people. Using this information, the Government are making contingency plans for a failure to make a trade deal, but how can businesses, public services and devolved Administrations make their plans if they do not have the same information?

The hon. Gentleman mentions “true facts”, but there seems to be some misunderstanding about what the sectoral analysis is. It is not a series of 50-plus quantitative forecasts and, even if it were, forecasts could not be said to represent true facts. We have made our position clear and we will continue as we have set out.

The EU’s refusal to discuss the future relationship is clearly founded on the belief, which no doubt the assessments will show to be mistaken, that it may thereby panic the United Kingdom into handing over large sums to avoid what the EU perceives to be the horrors of no agreement. Will the Secretary of State and his colleagues assure the EU that although the UK is clearly anxious to have a free trade agreement, it is also entirely happy to trade with the EU on a WTO basis?

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s question—he is of course an expert in these matters. I assure the House that President Tusk has said

“we are all working actively on a deal,”

and that Mr Barnier has said the EU wants to build an “ambitious, long-lasting partnership” with the United Kingdom. Of course we all want to deliver that partnership, but my right hon. Friend’s point is well made.

18. The Government recently published a security, law enforcement and criminal justice negotiation paper without consulting the Scottish Government. What engagement did Ministers have with the Scottish legal profession before the paper was published? (901570)

The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), has met them, and I am sure that were he to be asked a question, he would give a fuller answer.

It was very wise of the Government to prepare dossiers on the impact of Brexit on sectors in the United Kingdom. I assume that the European Union has done something similar regarding what it is going to do when it loses £10 billion to £12 billion a year. Indeed, the German Government might have prepared a dossier about the impact on their car industry, and the French might have prepared one on their wine industry. Has the Minister received any representations from Opposition Members about pressing those Governments to publish their dossiers?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I feel sure that all sides in this negotiation are conducting their analyses of everyone’s negotiating capital. The electorate of all Members of this House will note who is asking for which negotiating position to be revealed, and what that says about their acceptance of the referendum result.

Horizon 2020/Erasmus Programme

8. What steps he has taken to maintain UK access to the Horizon 2020 programme and the Erasmus+ programme after the UK leaves the EU. (901560)

As the Prime Minister set out in her Florence speech, the Government would like to continue working with the EU on ways to promote the long-term economic development of our continent. That includes continuing to take part in specific programmes that are greatly to the UK’s and EU’s joint advantage, such as those promoting science, education and culture, and those promoting our mutual security. This will be a matter for the negotiations.

Why has the Secretary of State not engaged on the issue with more energy with the Commission? If access is not maintained, will there be a commitment to funding UK researchers as third-country participants?

We are engaged with great energy on this issue, but of course the structure of the talks means that this is for the future partnership. We have published a paper on these issues setting out our intention and a very open offer to the EU to discuss these issues. We look forward to seeing its papers in response, but they have not been published yet.

The Minister does not seem to get it: the time for fudge is over. UK researchers are being excluded from Horizon 2020 projects now because the Government have failed to confirm our position after March 2019. UK students who are considering applications now for Erasmus programmes starting in 2018 do not know whether they will be able to continue for those programmes’ duration. The Government can sort this out. Ministers should stop sending conflicting signals about the transitional period and commit to both programmes for the duration of the multi-annual financial framework. Will they do that?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his list of questions. The UK has already protected funding up to 2022. The research and development funding provided through EU programmes is additional to the protection of science resource funding announced at the autumn spending review. We will also underwrite successful bids to Erasmus+ that are submitted while the UK is still a member state, so the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion is simply not right.

Children's Rights

10. What steps he will take to maintain children's rights contained in the EU charter of fundamental rights in the event that that charter no longer applies in the UK once the UK leaves the EU. (901562)

I apologise for the delay, Mr Speaker; the question numbers have caught me out. With permission, I will answer Questions 10 and 17 together.

Reaching a reciprocal agreement to safeguard the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU, is our first priority—

Order. The Minister is in rather a pickle and I am sorry for him—I feel his pain—but there is no grouping of Questions 10 and 17. [Interruption.] As in American football, the hon. Gentleman can have a brief timeout.

Our commitment to children’s rights will remain unwavering after we have left the EU. The charter of fundamental rights did not create any new rights; instead it catalogued rights that already existed in EU law. These rights will be preserved by the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and case law relating to them will be retained in UK law at the point we exit the EU.

It is clear that Ministers take children’s rights after Brexit very seriously.

The Minister will know that EU mechanisms such as Europol and the European arrest warrant have played a significant role in protecting children from serious and complex cross-border crime. In negotiating future arrangements on crime and security, what assurances can he give the House that children’s interests and safeguarding will be paramount?

The hon. Lady makes a good point. I refer her to our future security paper, which makes clear our interest in co-operating on these matters. This House takes children’s rights extremely seriously and we will ensure that we establish the best approach to them in both the negotiations and our own domestic law.

Euro Clearing Market

Since the creation of our Department a year ago, my colleagues and I have engaged widely with the financial services industry and others with a stake in London’s euro clearing market. We have received representations from, and had meetings with, a wide variety of stakeholders, including UK Finance, TheCityUK, the Association of Foreign Banks and the Investment Association, and we will continue to do so.

Because of our current ability to access European markets, the London financial services sector processes transactions worth about £880 billion every day. For context, that is about 100 times our net annual contribution to the EU, and about 15 times the highest sum that has been spoken of as a potential financial settlement. Against that background, does not my hon. Friend agree—

Order. I am glad that the question mark is coming. Questions are terribly long-winded today; it really is very poor. Anyway—blurt it out, man!

Against that background, is it not imperative that we secure a deal on leaving the European Union that will protect access to European markets for our financial services?

My hon. Friend draws attention to the huge importance of the global financial centre in London to the whole of Europe. The Government are well aware of the importance of financial services market access. Our access brings benefits to businesses and customers across the UK and Europe, and we are determined to maintain the City’s competitiveness now and into the future. That is why we are working closely with the Treasury to ensure that we have the strongest possible offer on reciprocal market access in this space.

But it is not just that the euro clearing houses deal with transactions worth €1 trillion a day; it is also the fact that 100,000 jobs in the financial sector could be at risk if Brussels decides that, because of systemic risk, the clearing houses have to move within the EU. May I urge the Minister to take this seriously and to enter into negotiations to ensure that we protect this vital industry?

We absolutely do take this issue seriously. Neither the Council nor the European Parliament has yet reached a position on this proposal. Negotiations are ongoing, and the Council is still discussing the merits of location policy. The UK is very much involved in those discussions. As the hon. Lady knows, the Treasury leads on financial services, including ongoing business-as-usual EU negotiations, and this is an issue on which we continue to work with it very closely.

Of the 75,000 people that the Bank of England predicts could lose their jobs, what percentage might come from the euro clearing sector? Would the Minister support the call from the Bank of England for an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to protect derivatives?

The right hon. Gentleman refers to a figure that I understand the Bank of England discussed but did not produce. With regard to amendments to the repeal Bill, we look forward to debating all of them during its upcoming Committee stage.

UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement: European Parliament

12. What assessment he has made of the powers available to the European Parliament to block a UK-EU withdrawal agreement. (901564)

Article 50 of the treaty on European Union stipulates that the final withdrawal agreement should be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. The European Parliament is entitled to a straight yes or no vote. It does not have the power to amend the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU. As the Prime Minister has said, we are confident that we will be able to conclude the negotiations and agreement in time to honour the voting commitments made in our Parliament and in the European Parliament. We do not approach these negotiations expecting failure; we are expecting success.

Given that crazed Europhile MEPs such as Guy Verhofstadt are seeking to punish the United Kingdom for daring to vote to leave the European Union, and given that these same people are under the deluded impression that no deal would actually be worse for the UK than a bad deal, it seems likely that the European Parliament will seek to veto any such agreement. Should we not therefore redouble our efforts to prepare for a no-deal situation?

The last time I used the phrase “Get thee behind me, Satan” in answer to a question about Guy Verhofstadt, he thought that I was calling him Satan, so I will stay off that one. Of course the European Parliament is very enthused about the institutions of the European Union, but when it comes to this vote, the deal that we have agreed with the European Union will be clear, and MEPs will have to reflect on their responsibilities to their constituents in their own countries. What he and I have always agreed is that the best outcome for everybody is a free trade arrangement that will help not just us but Holland, France, Germany and all the other 27 member states.

The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), told the Select Committee that the deal would cover permission to communicate personal data between the UK and the EU, so if there is no deal, there will no longer be a lawful basis for the large part of the British economy that depends on European data communications. Should we not therefore take steps now to secure a data adequacy declaration from the European Commission and, in the light of that, may I commend to the Secretary of State amendment 151 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which I tabled?

It is always nice to get another preview of our upcoming consideration of the Bill.

When I was talking to the relevant Commons and Lords Select Committees in the past week or so, I made it plain that a so-called no deal is not probable; a deal is by far and away the most probable thing for our country’s future. However, even no deal is not likely to mean a complete blank slate, and I have talked about what is called a basic deal. In any event, I would expect there to be a deal for data, aviation, nuclear trade and a whole series of other areas where there are massive amounts to lose on both sides. In our contingency planning exercises, we are looking at all options, including the one that the right hon. Gentleman outlines, and we will have plans for that, too.

Universities

14. What representations his Department has received from UK universities on negotiation priorities for the UK leaving the EU. (901566)

As we leave the EU, the Government are committed to ensuring that Britain remains a global hub for education, science and research. Our future partnership paper on collaboration in science and innovation sets out our aim for an ambitious agreement with the EU that ensures that the valuable research links between us continue to grow.

The Prime Minister rightly established in her Lancaster House speech the Government’s priorities for science and technology, particularly as the fourth industrial revolution accelerates. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s plans for future collaboration with the EU in that area?

My hon. Friend, who is a champion in this House for the fourth industrial revolution, is absolutely right. The Government published a paper that set out that the UK will look to build on its unique relationship with the EU and establish an agreement on science and innovation to ensure that valuable research links between us continue to grow. That will deliver shared UK and European prosperity, and social, environmental and health benefits. The UK would like to work with the EU on designing the agreement and would welcome a full and open discussion about all options for continued collaboration.

The United Kingdom has a world-beating universities and research sector, and Newcastle University, which is in my constituency, and its world-leading research are an excellent example of that. The university has repeatedly emphasised to me that successful research and innovation depends on collaboration with people from all disciplines who come to the UK. What will the Minister do to ensure that that is possible and to reassure researchers who are here in the UK now that they will continue to be able to work?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We have been clear that we do not see the referendum result as a vote for the UK to pull up the drawbridge. We will remain an open, tolerant country that recognises the valuable contribution that people coming to our country can make. We will welcome those with the skills, drive and experience to make our nation better still. Our science and research paper and our citizens’ rights paper set that out, and it is important that we continue to send that message.

Citizens’ Rights

15. What progress has been made on the matter of citizens’ rights since withdrawal negotiations began with the EU. (901567)

We have made great progress through five rounds of constructive negotiations, and we are now within touching distance of an agreement on citizens’ rights. Right hon. and hon. Members can track the progress of the negotiations through the joint table published by the United Kingdom and the European Union. Over two thirds of the most recent table is green, signalling areas of significant convergence. That progress has been built on further in the latest round of negotiations, where we reached agreement on the majority of key issues, including a broad framework for residents, all aspects of reciprocal healthcare arrangements, the vast majority of social security co-ordination, protection for frontier workers, and a commitment to incorporate anything agreed in the withdrawal agreement fully in UK law to enable citizens to rely directly on the terms of that agreement in the UK courts. With flexibility and creativity on both sides, we are confident that we will be able to reach a final agreement shortly.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that extremely comprehensive response. EU citizens living in Colchester are an important part of our local community. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give me and them that reaching an agreement on their rights before our departure from the EU will continue to be the utmost priority in our negotiations?

I reassure my hon. Friend and his constituents that protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and of UK nationals in the EU, is our first priority in these negotiations. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear repeatedly at the Dispatch Box, and again in her recent open letter to all EU citizens in the UK, we want people to stay and we want families to stay together. We continue to seek a reciprocal arrangement that will work in the interests of EU citizens in the UK, and of UK nationals in the EU. As I said before, we are confident that with flexibility and creativity we will be able to conclude the discussions on citizens’ rights swiftly.

Will the Secretary of State outline the discussions he has had with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Secretary about EU citizens’ rights in relation to the visa system for seasonal workers, who are desperately needed to ensure that farmers’ crops are brought in at the right time of the year.

We have had a number of conversations about the labour market generally and about Northern Ireland in particular, because it is an important area with unique characteristics. We have commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to produce a report that will cover this issue. However, if the hon. Gentleman has specific issues he wants to raise with me directly, I would be very happy to hear from him.

16. What assessment his Department has made of the effect on the rights of UK citizens living in the EU and of EU citizens living in the UK of no deal being reached with the EU. (901568)

As I touched on earlier, reaching a reciprocal agreement to safeguard the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU is our first priority for the negotiations. It is clear that it is a shared priority for both sides and that there is a lot of common ground between us. We are confident that we will reach a deal and we have held five rounds of constructive negotiations so far.

There are lots of words, but despite the Foreign Secretary telling EU nationals that their rights would be protected “whatever”, they remain unsure and their morale remains challenged. Why do the Government not just accept Labour’s suggestion of a unilateral recognition of EU citizens’ rights, which would transform the tone of the negotiations and be a giant step forward for this country and the people we serve?

I repeat from the Dispatch Box what the Prime Minister has said: we want them to stay and we want to protect those rights. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the detail of the negotiation on citizens’ rights, he will see that it is about making sure that this works and making sure that people have their rights properly protected. He will see that we have reached agreement on a large number of areas and that on the remaining areas, the UK offer goes beyond that of the EU in many respects. What we want to do now is seal the deal and make sure that we end up with a deal that provides certainty to citizens both in the EU and in the UK.

Transitional Arrangements: Timetable

We will build a bridge from our exit to our future partnership to allow business and people time to adjust, and to allow new systems to be put in place. It makes sense, therefore, for there to be only one set of changes. The Prime Minister’s Florence speech laid out our proposal for a strictly time-limited implementation period, based on the existing structure of EU rules and regulations, to provide certainty to individuals and businesses. The European Council has set out the possibility of such a period in its guidelines. We intend to get the form of the implementation period agreed as early as possible.

The Chancellor has described the proposal for a transitional arrangement as a “wasting asset” for businesses: the arrangements will become less valuable the longer it takes to negotiate them, as they will cease to provide certainty about the future. Does the Secretary of State agree with that assessment? Will he therefore rule out lengthy negotiations over the terms of the transitional arrangements?

The hon. Lady makes a good point. There are three reasons for the implementation period. One is to give businesses a significant amount of time after the decisions are made, so that they can make their decisions on the basis of clarity and certainty. The second is to give the Government time to prepare changes in the regulatory structures, regulations, customs and all the other things we have to do. The third is to give foreign Governments time to make accommodations too, because we will depend on, for example, French customs arrangements. Those are the three reasons. The first is, as the Chancellor says, a wasting asset if it goes on for very long—not immediately, but if it goes on for very long.

The European Council is, I think, on 13 or 14 December —anyway, it is in the middle of December. If it finds that there has been sufficient progress at that point, we will start straightaway and conclude as fast as we can. However, it is a negotiation and there are two sides to make the decision. The hon. Lady can take it as read that we will be as quick as we can on that to give as great an amount of certainty as early as possible to British business.

We are better informed as a result of the insistence of the right hon. Gentleman on including in his answer any consideration that might be thought, in any way at any time, to be in any degree material.

In the light of your comments, Mr Speaker, the hon. Gentleman will have to ask the European Union that.

Topical Questions

We are eagerly hoping to hear the hon. Lady’s question, but Question 1 will do for a start.

I am glad it is not just me that makes those mistakes, Mr Speaker. I have been here a lot longer than the hon. Lady, so I have got less excuse. Since our last oral questions, the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence has provided a new dynamic for the EU negotiations. That was recognised at the EU’s October Council, where leaders confirmed the intention to begin their internal work on future partnership. We are ready for that discussion to begin as soon as they are. In the meantime, we are making good progress on a raft of separation issues—the financial settlement, Ireland and citizens’ rights—and I look forward to further hard work when I travel to Brussels to continue talks next week. As we do so, I will continue to engage with member states across Europe to talk about the deep and special partnership we seek to strike. To that end, I am meeting my counterparts from the Irish Government later today and others later next week.

I thank the Minister for showing that time does not always mean talent. I am hoping he can help answer a question that my constituents keep asking: how much is all of this going to cost us? Departments do not seem able to answer that, and I have been asking them. Some of them think they are not paying anything at all, whereas others think everybody else is paying. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy says it has received extra cash to pay for the impact of the Brexit negotiations; the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport says it does not know how much any of this is going to cost; the Department for Communities and Local Government says it is expecting the Treasury to pick up the tab; and the Ministry of Defence says it is not spending anything because it expects there to be a deal and so no funding is required. This is a bit of a mess, so can this Secretary of State commit to publishing, by Department, by year, details on how much money has been put aside for the cost of negotiations and whether that money is from the Department or from another budget?

Order. I know the hon. Lady is an academic doctor, but it is not necessary to treat Question Time as the occasion for the presentation of a thesis.

The hon. Lady demonstrated the second half of her original quip; speed of wit does not equate to speed of question. The simple answer to her question is that, as we have already said, the Treasury is putting aside £250 million for contingency planning this year and a total of £500 million overall. That money will be spent where it is necessary, and that will change depending on the progress of the negotiations.

T2. Does the Secretary of State agree that the regions, particularly the Black country, which I represent, need a voice in the negotiations, so that the voice of business in the Black country can be firmly put on the agenda in terms of the priorities of a growing manufacturing area seeing a great revival in employment and growth? (901578)

My hon. Friend is right to say that this is about all the regions and all the nations of the United Kingdom—not simply the Black country, although that is very important. I have already seen the London Mayor to talk about London and northern mayors to talk about the north, and I am about to see Andy Street. We will continue our ongoing discussions with the regions of the UK, both through local government and the businesses in these sectors.

T3. Earlier this week, Calum Steele, the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said that a failure to be a part of Europol after Brexit will hinder our ability to investigate horrendous crimes such as people trafficking, drug dealing and prostitution. Obviously, the Secretary of State will recognise that organised crime does not respect national borders, so will he categorically assure the Scottish Police Federation and this House that co-operation through Europol will continue after Brexit? (901579)

We are at the beginning of a negotiation, as the hon. Gentleman knows. [Interruption.] I cannot hear his heckle from a sedentary position. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the whole issue of security, counter-terrorism and foreign policy will make up a second treaty which we intend to put to the European Union. Every member state I have spoken to has welcomed that, so I expect that we will be able to make the Scottish Police Federation very happy.

A superb event last night in this House celebrated the contribution of Lincolnshire’s great food sector. One question our fine producers asked was about their wish to have access to labour continue as free movement ends. Can the Secretary of State reassure those great businesses that he will continue to work with the Home Office to make sure that some version of a seasonal agricultural workers scheme continues as free movement ends?

This is similar to the question put to me earlier about Northern Ireland, and I will make a final point to add to the one I made earlier about the Migration Advisory Committee looking at this. Throughout the past year I have said time and again that taking back control of migration does not mean a sudden stop on migration or migration being managed in such a way that damages the economy. So my hon. Friend can take comfort from that.

T4. Given the House’s clear expression yesterday of its will that the sectoral analyses should be provided to the Select Committee, does the Secretary of State agree with the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who said that the Government“must publish these papers to the Brexit Select Committee in full”?—[Official Report, 1 November 2017; Vol. 630, c. 922.]Or does he not trust the Select Committee? (901580)

I was not here yesterday; by the sounds of it I missed a good debate, and one that would have suited my character, but there we are. I have already spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—he sends his apologies for not being present today; I think he has to be in Leeds—and I am organising discussions with him about how we handle the confidentiality of the documentation that we hand over. I reiterate the point made by the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), which is that these documents are not some sort of grand plan; they are data about the regulations and markets of individual sectors, which inform our negotiation. Of course we will be as open as we can be with the Select Committee—I fully intend to be.

Has the Secretary of State been made aware of the evidence given by people from the aviation industry to the Transport Committee on Monday? They spoke positively about the future of their industry post-Brexit and were very satisfied with the Government’s approach. Talk of aircraft being grounded is nonsense.

I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. Yes, we are aware of that important evidence. We will of course continue to work with the industry to ensure we have the best approach to future negotiations on this front, but it is reassuring to hear that confidence from the aviation industry, which is very important to the UK.

T5. Ministers have kindly committed today to coming back to the House with their response to last night’s vote “in due course”. We know that “shortly” meant four months. Will Ministers confirm what they mean by “in due course”, and if they do not know yet, when will they? (901581)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said moments ago, he has already spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committee, and I spoke to him briefly last night. We are fully apprised of the will of the House and we will move as swiftly as possible in all the circumstances.

Bass has been fished in the Solent for centuries, and the exceptionally resilient fishermen of today are based in Warsash in my constituency. For decades, they have seen their livelihoods and freedoms eroded by EU regulations. Will the Minister explain to and reassure the fishermen in Warsash about the opportunities they will face once we have left the EU and taken back control of our fisheries policy?

As I have travelled during my duties, I have met a number of fishers who have been very keen to make sure that we take back control of our waters. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will be seeking a fairer share of quota as we take control of our fisheries policy.

T6. Will the Secretary of State undertake to publish a list of all the regulatory and supervisory agencies that currently operate under the auspices of the European Union that he believes will need to be replicated by the United Kingdom on the day of Brexit? (901582)

That work is currently ongoing. Departments have set out that, together, they will expect to introduce between 800 and 1,000 statutory instruments in order to carry forward the degree of certainty and continuity that we expect to deliver through the repeal Bill. In due course we will of course put all those instruments before the House.

The president of the European Free Trade Association court will visit London later this month. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State take that opportunity to explore with him the potential that that court might offer a means of resolving potential legal disputes and other matters of resolution in a transitional future arrangement?

Actually, I have already met the president of the EFTA court. He has come to see me before and is a very—how can I say it?—enterprising individual who I think wants to get more business for his court. We will of course look at all options. I do not think the EFTA court is likely to be the one that we land with, but when we go through the whole question of arbitration mechanisms, which we will need to have, we will of course look at all options.

T7. What steps are Ministers taking in the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU to protect environmental standards? (901583)

We take the UK’s commitments to environmental standards extremely seriously. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government have promised to be the first ever to leave the environment in a better state than the previous generation, and that commitment applies across Government. We are looking forward to discussing environmental standards with the EU as part of the discussions on the future partnership.

While aiming for an open free-trade arrangement with the EU, is it not simply sensible planning to prepare also for a no-deal scenario?

Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right, and that is precisely what we are doing. As I said to a Labour Member earlier, we are planning for all options: the deal option; the bare bones, or basic deal; or the incredibly improbable no-deal option. We are prepared for all of them.

T8. Speaking on behalf of small businesses in my constituency, let me ask the Minister what plans his Department has to protect supply chain small and medium-sized enterprises when the UK leaves the EU. (901584)

Small businesses will of course benefit from the frictionless market access that we set out in our customs paper, and we look forward to discussing it further as we move on to conversations with the EU about our future relationship and a strong deal on market access for both goods and services.

There have been reports that senior current and former parliamentary figures have been engaged in private discussions with the EU’s chief negotiator and that some of those individuals are members of Her Majesty’s Privy Council. In the interests of transparency, have transcripts of those meetings been made available, and does the Secretary of State regard such extra parliamentary activity as helpful or a hindrance to the UK’s national interest?

There are no such records. As for helpful or a hindrance, let us say that it adds to the gaiety of nations.

T9. The Secretary of State will be aware that a series of amendments have been tabled to the Bill to protect the place of Scotland and Wales in the constitutional settlement as it stands. Has he had any representations from the Scottish or Welsh Conservative leaders about areas in the Bill that need to be changed to protect the place of Scotland and Wales? (901585)

We are in constant discussion with the Conservatives in both Scotland and Wales over their future after Brexit, and they have been very active.

T10. Again today, the Government have completely failed to understand the urgent need for a transition agreement as soon as possible. Apart from being out of the European Commission, the Council and the Parliament, will the Secretary of State say which other EU institutions will not be included in a transition deal? (901586)

I can say two things. First, let me deal with the premise of the hon. Lady’s question. We are in a position in which the European Council will come to a conclusion in the middle of December—I think that it meets on 13 and 14 December. I have said at this Dispatch Box today, while she was listening, that we will undertake the negotiation as fast as possible thereafter. How much more urgent we can be, I do not know.

Will one of the Ministers give some early clarity over the issue of protected status for agricultural exports, including the 14 agricultural products in Wales worth more than £300 million?

I have answered questions on that issue in previous question sessions and I have been very clear that it is our intention to seek agreement with the European Union on mutual recognition of protected names of origin, and we will continue to work on its delivery with colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as we enter the future partnership negotiations.

This week, the Committee of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill was told by many expert witnesses that the Bill was inadequate and the time insufficient to create an alternative structure for Euratom when we leave the EU. Given the risks, will the Secretary of State commit now to pushing for maintaining our membership of Euratom in the agreement?

The institutions of Euratom are tightly coupled with the institutions of the European Union. Therefore, we need to leave Euratom as we leave the EU.

That is the advice that we have had. We will look carefully at the advice of those experts and take what steps are appropriate to the Government.

The young people of the Glasgow youth council are applying for Erasmus plus funding. I am sure that the Secretary of State would like to give them all his best wishes on their application. They are applying as part of the Year of Young People 2018. How will he ensure that that generation is not the last generation to benefit from freedom of movement across Europe?

First, I wish them well, through the hon. Lady. Secondly, Erasmus is one of the institutions that we may stay a member of—if we can negotiate that—as we leave.

The west of England economy contributes £10 billion to the Treasury. Is it conceivable that, in due course, we will understand what the impact of leaving is on the west of England economy? Can the Secretary of State add the people of the west of England to his list of those he will meet to discuss the impact?

As somebody originally from Cornwall, I was pleased recently to visit the county during the course of our regional engagement. I hope and expect that we will continue that engagement as we seek ways to ensure that the opportunities of leaving the European Union are enjoyed by all parts of the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales have not been able to answer this question in the past week, so I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Brexit can. Can he name one power that will definitely be devolved to the Scottish Parliament as a result of Brexit?

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, a discussion is under way with the devolved Administrations through the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) led by the First Secretary of State. Agreement has been reached on principles where common frameworks will be required. I look forward to that discussion, agreeing a long list of powers, as we increase the competence of each of the devolved Administrations.

Far from creating a global Britain, the Government have created a Britain in which EU citizens are having to seek counselling, and 10% of them who worked in the NHS have left. Why will the Government not ring-fence this matter or issue a unilateral declaration to provide certainty for those EU citizens?

The Prime Minister has been very clear from this Dispatch Box that we want EU citizens to stay. We are negotiating to achieve certainty over the way in which that will work under the legal frameworks of the EU and the UK. It is very important that we do that and get that agreed as soon as possible.

The Government’s paper on foreign policy, defence and security after we leave the European Union suggests that there are many areas where we want to maintain a very strong relationship with the EU. The paper seems to suggest that we should have some kind of observer status at the relevant Council meetings afterwards. Would it not be bizarre for us not to have that if we are still engaged in things such as Operation Atalanta, Operation Althea and many other projects? Otherwise, the rules and the determination of how those projects should be progressed will be determined by people in a room that we are not able to access.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Indeed, I had dinner with the French Foreign Minister last week. Speaking to him, it was clear that member states see a very important role for Britain as a provider not just of military power, but of wisdom, skill, history, tradition and reputation.

Catalonia

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the political situation in Catalonia.

The events of the past few weeks in Catalonia are a matter of public record. The Catalonian authorities held a referendum on independence on 1 October that was found by the Spanish courts to be illegal under the Spanish constitution. Holding it was, therefore, illegal and an attempt to undermine the rule of law. The Catalan Parliament then unilaterally declared independence on 27 October. Her Majesty’s Government do not and will not recognise this declaration of independence. It is based on a vote that was declared illegal by the Spanish courts and we continue to want to see the rule of law upheld, the Spanish constitution respected and Spanish unity preserved.

The situation in Catalonia is an internal matter for Spain and its people. The Spanish Government have set a date—21 December—for regional elections. This provides a path to return to the rule of law, which is an important principle that the UK strongly supports, and it is for all the people of Catalonia to have their say through democratic processes that are consistent with the Spanish constitution. I remind the House that Spain is a close ally and a good friend whose strength and unity matter to us. We consider it essential that the rule of law be upheld and the Spanish constitution respected.

I am asking the Government to act in two ways: to call on the parties in Catalonia to enter into talks and to offer their good offices to facilitate progress. No one can doubt that this is eventually a political matter, rather than a legal one. Getting both parties to talk is the way forward. In this situation, the UK Government have a responsibility and an opportunity.

First, they must do all they can to ensure the safety and security of UK citizens living in Catalonia. Secondly, this is happening in our neighbourhood as we are a leading European power, and a member of the Council of Europe, the EU, NATO and the United Nations Security Council. Thirdly, uniquely, the UK Government have recent experience of an independence referendum carried out in Scotland, largely by agreement. We have some advice to offer. And, of course, the hard-won peace agreement in Northern Ireland rests partly on the opportunity there was for all to have their say in a referendum.

In my debate on Catalonia on 10 October, the Minister replying said that no request for advice had been made by the Spanish Government, and none had been offered by the UK Government. I now ask that that offer be made.

I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s view of how Britain should take an interest in the internal affairs of Spain. Talks for Spain are an internal matter. This is, indeed, a legal matter. We held an independence referendum, but it was within the law; in the case of Spain, it was not. In respect of UK citizens, I believe I am right in saying that we have had no reported consular problems, and I obviously hope that that remains the case.

May I just take up that point? Is it not a cause for celebration, first, that at least no violence has erupted of a significant nature in Spain? Secondly, is not the way in which we handle independence questions—whichever side we are on in relation to Scottish independence—a cause for satisfaction and an example to others?

Obviously, there were scenes on television of some acts of violence, and they are not the sort of things we want to see, but the fundamental point is whether this declaration of independence or the referendum were legal, and they were not.

On the comparison between Scotland and Catalonia, no two situations are alike, and each needs to be considered in its own legal and constitutional context. What is clear is that, in this case, the vote and subsequent actions in the Catalan Parliament were neither legal nor constitutional.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for this urgent question. I also thank the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing it. I was interested to hear his contribution, and I agree with some of the things he said.

We are currently in a very dangerous position, where the future of Catalonia has been turned into a binary choice—a false choice, an impossible choice—between, on the one hand, a unilateral declaration of independence and, on the other, direct rule from Madrid. I do not believe that either choice offers a satisfactory solution to this crisis or that either choice is what the majority of Catalans or Spaniards actually want. I believe that the majority want to see peaceful, sensible dialogue between the parties to try and find a resolution. That is what the socialist party of Catalonia and the socialist party of Spain support, and we support our sister parties in that endeavour.

But what we are currently seeing from the Government of Spain and the Government of Catalonia is as far from peaceful and sensible dialogue as it is possible to get. From Madrid, we see the use of officially sanctioned violence and intimidation by the police and scenes that are horrific to watch. That has been followed over the last month by equally heavy-handed political tactics. From Barcelona, we see a unilateral declaration of independence based on a referendum that had no constitutional basis in Spanish law and in which around 30% of Catalan residents were not permitted to take part and a further 40% chose not to take part.

Neither of those approaches offers a sustainable way forward and neither is a fair or democratic way to proceed; my fear is that the longer we are stuck with this false, binary choice, the deeper and more entrenched the divisions will become and the harder it will be to negotiate a peaceful solution. So, as a matter of urgency, we call on both sides to take a step back, to ease the confrontational rhetoric and heavy-handed tactics, and to start listening to what the majority of people in Spain and Catalonia actually want, which is peace, dialogue and an end to division.

What are the UK Government doing to promote that, or does Brexit suck so much life from our ability to have any influence in Europe that the honest answer is, “Not a lot”?

As usual, not a lot. I agree that these things were illegal and against the rule of law. However, I disagree with how the right hon. Lady portrays this choice. This is not a binary choice in the way she describes; it is a binary choice between upholding the rule of law or not.

I perfectly understand my right hon. Friend’s reluctance to interfere in Spanish internal affairs and I respect the Foreign Office’s view that the referendum was illegal, although my constituents were disturbed to see Spanish police removing ballot boxes and people being prevented from voting. We do, however, have a strong legitimate interest in how Spain regards our sovereign citizens in Gibraltar. Will he confirm that Spain respects their wishes to remain British?

My hon. Friend draws a false parallel between Gibraltar and Catalonia. I repeat that we fully support Spain as it upholds the working of its constitution and will stand with it in opposing illegality wherever we see it.

A lot of fake news has come out of Catalonia, not least regarding the number of casualties, which was grossly inflated by the Catalan authorities. It was reported on the television that one woman had had every finger broken, one by one, by the police, but she later went on television herself to say that this was simply untrue—that none of her fingers had been broken. Will the Minister assure us that if in this country a councillor were to agree an illegal budget they would be pursued by the law, that being the law of this land, and that we will respect the law of other countries when it is pursued there?

I agree very strongly with the hon. Gentleman. Each country has its laws, and those laws, having been made by a sovereign Parliament—do not forget that Spain is a properly working democracy—should be upheld. We have been robust in saying so. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken to Prime Minister Rajoy, I have spoken several times to the Spanish ambassador in the UK, and we issued a very firm statement last week, when the declaration of independence was made, standing firmly with Spain as it upholds the workings of its constitution.

In the light of the situation in Catalonia, do the Government need to provide additional guidance not only to the tens of thousands of Brits living there but to the hundreds of thousands planning on holidaying there next year?

I would like to think that much of life can continue as normal and I would not want to dissuade anyone wanting to be a tourist in Spain from going there. In terms of demonstrations or violence, things have very much settled down—they were tightly focused in the first place—so I hope that people will look on Spain as a properly working country to which they want to go as tourists. In the same spirit, we welcome Spanish people coming here.

Will the Minister accept that the most fundamental of all principles is the right of the people to determine their own future? Does he not recall that the unilateral declarations of independence by the United States of America, the Republic of Ireland, Norway and Slovenia were all illegal and unconstitutional, and that the actions of Gandhi, Mandela and many others were also illegal and unconstitutional? Does he agree that if the law makes it illegal to express an opinion, the law must be changed, not the people?

How can the Minister say that Spain is upholding the rule of law when there is conclusive evidence of the Spanish state sending people into demonstrations to incite violence against the police and of excessive police brutality against unarmed citizens doing nothing other than attempting to express a view? How can it be the rule of law to threaten to arrest a blogger who blogs an opinion that the Prime Minister or the King do not agree with? Will he accept that if this had happened in other countries outside the EU the UK would already be making representations that it had to stop, because the UK takes pride in not allowing national borders to stand in the way of respect for fundamental human rights? Will the Government agree to put pressure on the EU to offer to act as a mediator so that the wishes of the people of Catalonia and of Spain can be resolved in a way that does not involve any further unlawful acts by the Spanish state?

By and large, in response to almost everything the hon. Gentleman said, the answer is no. I consider this an internal matter. It is not for other countries to instruct a country on how to perform within the proper workings of its constitution. Catalonia and Scotland are not exactly the same as countries horribly oppressed by the Soviet Union, and we should not draw parallels between quite different situations. As the Spanish courts have ruled, the vote was not held within the Spanish legal and constitutional framework. The Scottish referendum, on the other hand, was a legal referendum held following the signature of the Edinburgh agreement between the Scottish Government and the UK Government and was overseen by the Electoral Commission.

My right hon. Friend is aware that both Spain and this country are members of the Council of Europe and as such work with the Venice Commission, which has a code of practice on referendums. That code of practice is getting quite ancient: I think it was first drafted back in 2006. Does he agree that if a country is a member of the Council of Europe and subscribes to the Venice Commission, it is important that its referendums are held under the rule of law, and that that must be maintained and upheld?

The House will be grateful to my right hon. Friend for the benefit of her wisdom. Indeed, yes—if that is what the code of conduct says and it is clear, then countries should do things within the rule of law. In the case of the Catalonian referendum and the subsequent declaration, both were not.

Like the Bourbon kings, the Spanish authorities have

“learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”

Would it not be good, as a friend of Spain, if we, with the EU, were to suggest that the country holds a legally binding referendum on the future of Catalonia so that then everyone could be satisfied?

The Spanish are entitled to do whatever they choose to do within the workings of their constitution, but it is not for us to tell them exactly how to go about it—it is for them to work it out themselves as a functioning democracy.

May I welcome the measured approach that my right hon. Friend the Minister is taking? Could he perhaps tell me how Her Majesty’s Government would approach a situation in which a foreign power was advising us on how to run our own internal affairs?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Indeed, I hope that his Committee might look in some respects at the comparative situations across the world. I am confident that if it were to do so, it would conclude things very much along the lines of what I have been saying to the House today.

If the UK Government do not get involved in the internal affairs of foreign countries, does that not render the work of a lot of ambassadors and a lot of the work of his Department useless from here on in? Why do the Government pick and choose what unilateral declarations of independence or rights of self-determination they recognise?

My constituents have sent me a number of emails about this, and I was visited in my constituency surgery by a Catalonian/Spanish constituent. Does the Minister agree that the policing style of the original poll was heavy-handed, and that the only way forward is through peaceful dialogue towards a resolution?

I am reluctant to speculate, but one interpretation that has been put on the violence is that the Catalonian police declined to take orders from central Government. I do not know whether that is true, and it is not for me to pass judgment on it. It is clear, however, that this was an illegal referendum that is therefore invalid and against the rule of law, so it counts for nothing.

There are lessons that could be learned from this situation. There are many reports that the economic impact on Catalonia will be catastrophic, with many businesses leaving the region as a result. Will the Minister have a chat with his Treasury colleagues and commission some work on the economic impact of this illegal referendum and what it will do to the Catalonian economy?

Again, it is not for us to deploy our resources to make such a calculation. Proper scrutiny of the economy of Catalonia will soon make the facts apparent one way or another.

The Minister is right to be careful about drawing parallels between Catalonia and Scotland, but there is one similarity. The now-dissolved Catalonian Parliament had a majority in favour of holding an independence referendum, just as Scotland did in 2011. The Scottish Parliament did not, under the British constitution, have the power to hold that referendum, but, to the UK Government’s credit, they agreed a process with Alex Salmond whereby a legal referendum could be held. All we are asking is for the Minister to use his good offices and his positive experience to suggest a similar approach to our Spanish allies.

That is entirely up to the Government of Spain. In the same way as this House is sovereign and agreed what to do with Scotland, it is up to the Parliament of Spain to decide how it wishes to proceed. It is not for us to tell Spain which course to take.