House of Commons
Wednesday 20 December 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism continues to be severe within Northern Ireland, meaning an attack is highly likely. This Government will always give the fullest possible support to the brave men and women of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and MI5. We remain fully committed to keeping people safe and secure, and to ensuring that terrorism never succeeds.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although much of our time and focus are spent on international terrorism threats, it is vital that we do not lose sight of the very real and continuing threat from dissidents in Northern Ireland? In that context, will he commend the ongoing work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in disrupting their activities?
I absolutely will. There have been five confirmed national security attacks so far in 2017, and a small number of dissident republican terrorist groupings continue their campaign of violence. The threat is suppressed by the brave efforts of the PSNI and others, and by the strategic approach that we pursue. The PSNI and others who work to keep people safe have our full support for the public service they give.
The Secretary of State will be aware that a significant proportion of the resources available to the Police Service of Northern Ireland to fight terrorism has to go towards investigating legacy cases. Will he give a commitment that any money used for legacy cases will be replaced to ensure that the PSNI has the resources it needs to combat the existing terrorist threat?
The right hon. Gentleman may know that we have committed specific funds—an extra £32 million a year over the five-year spending review period—to deal with Northern Ireland-related terrorism. His point about legacy is valid and important, which is why we both want to see the Stormont House bodies take forward a new approach to legacy. That is what I want to see in the new year.
My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the potential security implications of the Bombardier-Boeing dispute. In their telephone conversation yesterday, was the Prime Minister able to raise her concerns with the President directly?
There have been various discussions with the US and Canadian authorities, and with Bombardier itself, in relation to the continuing dispute. Obviously, we see this as unjustified and unwarranted. We await the latest determination, but we will continue to challenge this and to underline our key focus and endeavour on seeing that those important jobs in Belfast are protected.
Does the Secretary of State expect still to have access to the European arrest warrant to bring back criminals and terrorists who reside in the Irish Republic and commit acts in Northern Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman, with his experience, will know about the cross-border work. I commend the work of the PSNI and the Garda Siochana in delivering security on the island of Ireland. Their very close co-operation points to a number of EU-related structures, which is why, knowing the significance and importance of deepening that relationship into the future, we want to see a new treaty established that is able to respond and address that co-operation.
Leaving the EU: Alignment
We have been clear that the UK as a whole will be leaving the customs union and single market. We want our future relationship with the EU to be a deep and special partnership that works for all parts of the UK, while recognising Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances.
If, at the end of this process, Northern Ireland remains aligned with the single market and customs union while the rest of the UK is not, what impact do the Government believe that will have on the Northern Irish economy?
As the joint report highlighted last week, there are three steps: reaching a free trade agreement; then providing responses that meet the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland; and, finally, the issue of alignment. We believe that it is possible and that we will address all these issues to ensure that we have not a hard border but a frictionless border that maximises the trading relationship without creating any new barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, where there is a reliance on trade, which is so important to the economy.
Has the Secretary of State’s office shown more diligence than the Department for Exiting the European Union in producing impact assessments on the effects to the Northern Ireland economy of all eventualities of leaving the European Union—and if not, why not?
I know this issue of impact assessments has been debated in this House previously. There are no formal impact assessments. Obviously, the Department for Exiting the European Union has provided detailed reports for the Select Committee, and it will be for the Committee to determine what happens with them. I can assure the hon. Gentleman of the joint working across government of assessing the implications and informing those negotiations, so that we get the right deal for Northern Ireland and for the UK as a whole.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain within the UK single market is worth five times as much as trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic?
Yes, trade—economic activity—between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is several times more than that in relation to Ireland. But the point is that we look to strengthen the whole economy. Indeed, as the UK leaves the European Union, we want to see the Irish economy equally having that access to Great Britain. A reliance is placed upon that. We want to succeed and prosper as we leave the European Union.
Is the Secretary of State not right to highlight that Northern Ireland’s rightful place is to make sure it is aligned with the rules of the rest of the UK, which is why Conservative Members had a clear manifesto commitment to do nothing to damage the single market of the United Kingdom?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend on that. Indeed, that principle was firmly enunciated through the provisions in the joint report, and that is the approach we will take as we move into phase 2 of the negotiations.
As we prepare to exit the EU, it would be far better if the Northern Ireland Assembly were in place. In the light of that, will the Secretary of State comment on the report by Trevor Rainey on the pay of Members of the Legislative Assembly? Secondly, will the Secretary of State bear in mind that the same principles that apply to MLA pay should also apply to Members of Parliament who do not fulfil their functions in this place?
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we want to see the Executive restored, and we will be approaching this in earnest in the new year to seek to see that re-established. That matters on so many different levels. He highlights the issue raised in Trevor Rainey’s report. I commend Mr Rainey for providing the report and I will be considering the responses carefully.
As well as not having the Assembly, not having Executive Ministers in place is of course a major disadvantage to Northern Ireland. As the Secretary of State knows, if the Assembly were called tomorrow, the Democratic Unionist party would re-enter government, as would many of the other parties, apart from Sinn Féin. That is a dereliction of duty on its part, for which it has to answer. Does he accept that if we do not have an Executive up and running quickly, he will have to step in and provide Ministers from the Northern Ireland Office to direct Departments in the Province?
I know firmly that an increasing number of decisions need to be taken. That has been highlighted this week by the Northern Ireland civil service publishing a consultation on budgetary issues, showing some of the determinations that need to be made. I want to see Ministers and an Executive up and running as quickly as possible to do those things. Obviously, it needs to happen quickly, given the decisions that need to be taken.
If the Irish border deal means no regulatory divergence after Brexit, can the Secretary of State tell us where the regulatory divergence between the UK and the EU will be? Will it be in the Irish sea? Does this mean Northern Ireland is staying in the customs union and single market, or will the UK simply adhere to the rules of the customs union and single market after Brexit, without having any input into the rules?
I know the Prime Minister dealt with this in her statement on Monday, but let me say that we will be leaving the customs union and the single market. The hon. Lady talks about divergence, but actually the joint report talks about alignment, which is about pursuing the same objectives. That could be the same way, but it could be different. That is the whole point. It is about achieving those positive objectives, and that is what we will do.
As you know, Mr Speaker, agriculture is more important in Northern Ireland than in any other part of the UK, and Northern Ireland is more reliant on EU farm payments than any other part of the UK, so 30,000 Ulster farmers need certainty about what Brexit is going to mean for them. In her Florence speech, the Prime Minister reassured them that transition would occur under
“the existing structure of EU rules and regulations”—
including, I presume, the common agricultural policy—but on Monday she said the opposite. She said that on 29 March 2019, we will be leaving the common agricultural policy. Which one is right?
They are both right. We have said clearly that yes, we are leaving the common agricultural policy, but we have also said that we will maintain payments in relation to those arrangements through to 2020. Indeed, if the hon. Gentleman wants to look back at what the Prime Minister said about maintaining the same arrangements during the implementation period, that will answer his question.
That cannot be correct. It cannot be right both that we will be under exactly the same EU rules and regulations, which is what the Prime Minister said in Florence, and that we will be leaving the common agricultural policy. If it is true that we are leaving the common agricultural policy, those 30,000 Ulster farmers and their families need to know how they are going to pay their mortgages and meet their other commitments in just 15 months’ time. This is a complete shambles. The Prime Minister is going to be here in a minute—can the Secretary of State tell her to sort this out?
The only shambles is the Opposition’s approach to Brexit. At this time of the year, many people will mark the 12 days of Christmas; we have had at least 12 different approaches to Brexit from Labour. Yes, we will be leaving the common agricultural policy, as the Prime Minister said on Monday, but she also underlined clearly our commitment in respect of those direct payments and, as I say, the transition and the need to provide certainty. The hon. Gentleman’s scaremongering does nothing to add to this—
Order. The trouble with these answers is that they are too long.
Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013
My position on this issue is clear: I voted in support of same-sex marriage in England and Wales and, like the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, I hope that this can be extended to Northern Ireland in future. I believe marriage should be a common right across the UK. However, the fundamental position remains that same-sex marriage is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland.
If my husband and I stick to our plans to retire one day to his home town in Northern Ireland, upon my death, my better half would lose a husband in every sense of the word. The registry confirms that no reference to the marriage will be included on any certificate issued and my husband would be recorded simply as a surviving civil partner—years of marriage wiped out by the stroke of a pen. Does the Minister agree that, if the Democratic Unionist party is so keen on having no regulatory divergence from the UK, this is a good place to start?
I very much sympathise with this issue and share the frustration encapsulated in the letter to which the hon. Gentleman refers. However, this is not the time to be unpicking the devolution settlement on this issue. It is, rightly, an issue for a future Executive to return to and look at. We hope that the Executive can be brought back to do that and deal with many other important issues.
I would welcome assurances from the Minister that she and the Secretary of State have already met the leaders of the four main Churches in Northern Ireland to discuss the sensitive issue of the recognition of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. That assurance would be very helpful.
I can certainly confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Department have regular contact with Church leaders. As I said, it is an important issue, but it really is an issue for a future devolved Government to look at.
Leaving the EU: Border Discussions
We speak regularly with counterparts in the Irish Government on a range of issues. As the Prime Minister has said, we will maintain the common travel area, there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and no new borders within the United Kingdom.
I am grateful both to the Secretary of State and to the Minister for making it very clear that there will be no hard borders within the island of Ireland and no hard borders between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. Will she make it very clear that a hard Brexit for the United Kingdom would be incompatible with the statement that she has just made? It is important that we have that clarity.
The Prime Minister has given that clarity. She was at this very Dispatch Box only earlier this week saying that we need not speak in terms of hard or soft Brexit. What we are out to do is to get the best possible deal for all parts of the United Kingdom.
Is it not the case that there already are different tariffs, for example, on petrol and diesel, and yet there is an open border? Surely the best way to ensure that there is an open border is to have a comprehensive free trade agreement with the rest of the European Union.
My right hon. Friend; I mean my hon. Friend—
It should be right hon.
Quite right. My hon. Friend is correct on two counts. The first is that, of course, there is already co-operation across the border. He mentions the way that we need to be able to deal with fuel, for example, on the two sides of the border. He is also absolutely correct that what we want is a free trade agreement—a comprehensive deal—which is laid out in the agreement that the Prime Minister brought back from Brussels. That is the work ahead.
Minister, in recent comments, the Irish Prime Minister, Mr Varadkar, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Coveney, have indicated that they will draw a border down the middle of the Irish sea. May I say that those sorts of comments do not give much confidence back to the people of Northern Ireland and the Unionist community that I represent, who want to be an integral part of the United Kingdom?
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we in this House want to see no new borders inside the United Kingdom. We think that the Union is a precious thing that must be preserved. I will also just note, as I did to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), that the relationship that we have with the Irish Government and that we want to continue to have with them should be one of close partners. We should work together to ensure the prosperity of the people in Northern Ireland, and I shall leave it to the Irish Government to continue to hold that strong relationship with us.
Order. I will call the hon. Gentleman on the understanding that his question consists of a single short sentence.
Given that the vast majority of trade goes from the Republic to the north in terms of coming to the UK, can my hon. Friend confirm that we will have no need for a hard border and that the only prospect of a hard border is if the EU sets one up in southern Ireland?
To keep the answer short, this should be a shared endeavour to ensure a future trade deal that has benefits for the people of the entirety of the United Kingdom. That is what we want to see.
Leaving the EU: Free Trade Agreement
As the Prime Minister has made clear, we are seeking a bold and ambitious free trade agreement that is of greater scope and ambition than any existing agreement. We are determined to reach a deal that works for the people of Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole.
At the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs this morning, the Environment Secretary made it clear that the plus-plus-plus in a Canada-plus-plus-plus agreement ought to include agri-foods, which is obviously really important to Northern Ireland. What steps is the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland taking to try to ensure that that is included in any future deal?
I agree with what the hon. Lady has said: agriculture is a key part of the economy within Northern Ireland. It is something that we highlighted very firmly in our August paper and will want to take forward in the phase 2 negotiations.
In assessing the evidence around a potential trade deal of this nature, did the Secretary of State conclude, as I have, that for decades we have successfully operated the common travel area between ourselves and Ireland and we will be able to do so under a similar deal, and that any hard border in Ireland will be the responsibility of Dublin and Brussels, not London and Belfast?
We are pleased that the joint principles on the continuation of the common travel area after the UK leaves were very firmly highlighted in the joint report. I believe that there is that joint endeavour, and that is what we have been pursuing.
On the Canada-EU trade deal, Bombardier in my constituency is a company that greatly benefits from that trading relationship. Will the Secretary of State not only continue his support for Bombardier, but ensure that any future trade agreements do nothing that will injure such an important part of our local economy?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Bombardier and commend his work to highlight this important issue. Clearly the protection of the Northern Ireland economy and jobs will remain a focus of our attention.
This Government are committed to building an economy that is fit for the future right across the United Kingdom. That is clear from our industrial strategy and from the benefits for Northern Ireland in the Chancellor’s Budget. Ultimately, though, the key requirement for stronger growth is political stability, and I return to the theme that we should see devolution restored.
Will the Minister join me in welcoming the recent labour figures for Northern Ireland showing 3.9% unemployment, which is down from over 7% in 2010? Does she agree that yesterday’s CBI study, which exemplifies the fact that this country is ready to grow and provide jobs, is a testament to Northern Ireland businesses growing a strong economy?
I join my hon. Friend in remarking on the important figures. The unemployment rate in Northern Ireland is now down to 3.9% from over 7% in early 2010. Indeed, it is lower than the rate for the UK as a whole. That is, indeed, thanks to many businesses in Northern Ireland creating jobs, but it is also down to a Government who take a balanced approach to public spending, unlike the Labour party, and we wish to see more of that.
A strong economy requires stable politics. Does the Minister agree with this week’s editorial in the News Letter—Britain’s oldest running newspaper—which states categorically that Her Majesty’s Government need to “slap down” Mr Coveney, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, because the comments he is making are destabilising the economy of Northern Ireland?
The simplest thing to say is that we stand fully behind the Belfast agreement. We do have a strong relationship with the Irish Government that we wish to continue. My hon. Friend is right that political stability is required for a strong economy. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), the Government are committed to building an economy that works for everyone. We would like to see a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland who are able to do the same.
I call Stephen Pound—get in there, man.
Thank you very much indeed, Mr Speaker.
Well, this is all very well, but the Secretary of State referred to yesterday’s statement by the Northern Ireland civil service that is casting a dark pall over Northern Ireland. Will the Minister take this opportunity to say that, when the Government suggest ways of balancing the books by February, they will rule out scrapping the free bus pass, scrapping education maintenance allowance or even—heaven forfend—reintroducing prescription charges?
There are indeed important challenges to be faced in order to secure sustainable finances in Northern Ireland for the long term. Tackling those challenges requires political decisions, which is why we should all wish to see a restored Administration in Stormont.
Leaving the EU: Customs Officers
Customs is a matter for phase 2 of the withdrawal negotiations with the EU. The Government are committed to ensuring that the border remains open with no physical infrastructure, as set out in the joint report agreed with the EU on 8 December.
When even the Government accept that their proposals for a frictionless border are untested and go beyond existing precedents, we can see why businesses read that as undeliverable, unless ongoing membership of the single market and customs union are involved. Given that the Minister insists that such membership is not necessary, will he tell us what progress has been made in exploring and designing alternative solutions?
The joint report highlights the progress that has been made. It sets out the framework that will take us into phase 2, with customs and other arrangements to ensure that there is no physical infrastructure on the border and to see that open trading relationship.
The Exiting the European Union Committee visited Northern Ireland a few weeks ago, and everyone we spoke to was very anxious to press on us the fact that any change at all to the status of the Irish border would be seen as a backward step. Does the Secretary of State agree that the reddest of all red lines in the Brexit negotiations must be the maintenance of the integrity of the Good Friday agreement and the peace process that depends on it?
I do agree in terms of the maintenance of the Good Friday agreement—the Belfast agreement—and, very firmly, in terms of not seeing any hard border re-emerging, and that is what has been reflected in the joint report.
I think we should hear from the former Chair of the Select Committee. The final inquiry in this section today—Mr Laurence Robertson.
I have no current plans to propose any changes to the devolution settlement. This would be matter for discussion between the main Northern Ireland parties and the UK Government in accordance with the Belfast agreement.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but given that the failing of the Executive and the Assembly to exist is detrimental to Northern Ireland, and given that it is only one party in Northern Ireland that is refusing to allow them to function, is it not time to look at the Belfast agreement to see whether we can evolve it so that, in future, the Assembly and the Executive will continue to serve the people of Northern Ireland? [Interruption.]
Order. I am rather disappointed that the former Chair of the Select Committee was not heard in hushed and reverential tones, but we may have to wait until 2018 for that.
I agree with my hon. Friend in terms of the need to see devolved government restored. That is where the focus needs to remain and it is why the Government will be doing all that we can, and reinjecting further momentum into the process, so that we see that Executive re-established and devolved government functioning for all the people of Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister was asked—
May I start by wishing all Members and staff a merry Christmas and a happy new year? I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending our warmest Christmas messages and wishes to all our armed forces who are stationed overseas. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for the sacrifices that they make on our behalf.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
In 2009, the Prime Minister said it was
“a tragedy that the number of children falling into the poverty cycle”
was “continuing to rise.” Every child deserves to have a roof over their head and food on the table, yet on her watch, in Wandsworth alone, the number of families forced to survive on food banks is continuing to rise, and 2,500 children—yes, children—will wake up homeless on Christmas day. So my question is simple: when will this austerity-driven Government say enough is enough and put an end to this tragedy?
The hon. Lady should note that, in fact, this Government have lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of absolute poverty. But it is important for all those who have heard her question to be aware of this: she talks of 2,500 children in Wandsworth waking up homeless on Christmas day; anybody hearing that will assume that what that means is that 2,500 children will be sleeping on our streets. It does not. [Interruption.] It does not mean that. [Interruption.]
Order. Hon. and right hon. Members are accustomed to these exchanges taking somewhat longer. So be it. The questions will be heard, and the answers from the Prime Minister will be heard. I am in no hurry at all.
It is important that we are clear about this for all those who hear these questions because, as we all know, families with children who are accepted as homeless will be provided with accommodation. I would also point out to Opposition Members that statutory homelessness is lower now than it was for most of the period of the last Labour Government.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue on behalf of his constituents. As he will know, a local authority may alter a green belt boundary only in exceptional circumstances. In our housing White Paper, we were very clear that this means
“when they…have examined fully all other reasonable options for meeting…identified development”
needs. Of course, that includes looking at and building on brownfield sites. In the case of Guildford, I understand that the local plan was submitted for examination earlier this month, and of course it will be examined by an independent inspector for soundness in due course. I can assure my hon. Friend that he is absolutely right that we want to ensure that green belt is protected.
Could I take this opportunity, Mr Speaker, to wish you, all Members of the House, all our public servants and all our armed forces a very happy Christmas and all best wishes for 2018?
I pay tribute to our very hard-working national health service staff, many of whom, unlike us, will not get a break this Christmas. Is the Prime Minister satisfied that the national health service has the resources it needs this winter?
First of all, I join the right hon. Gentleman in his comments about those NHS staff who will not get a break a Christmas and will be working very hard. Of course, it is not only our NHS staff who will be working hard this Christmas; it is also those in our emergency services and many others who go to work on Christmas day so that others can enjoy their Christmas day. We thank all of them.
The right hon. Gentleman asks about preparations for winter. I can say this to him:
“The health service has prepared more extensively for this winter than ever before. These plans are helping to ensure safe, timely care for patients”.
As it happens, those are not my words—they are the words of the chief executive of NHS Providers.
Well, Simon Stevens did say that the NHS needs £4 billion next year just to stand still, and the reality is that the Government have given the NHS less than half of what he asked for.
The Prime Minister talks about the money that the NHS needs, but 50,000 people were left waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors last month. Last week, more ambulances were diverted to other hospitals because of A&E pressures, and 12,000 patients were kept waiting in the back of ambulances because there was no room at the A&E. So I ask the Prime Minister again: has the NHS got the resources it needs this winter to deal with this crisis?
The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that NHS funding is at record levels, and in the autumn Budget we put some extra funding into the NHS for this winter, in addition to the £6.3 billion extra that is going into the NHS over the coming years.
Time and time again, the right hon. Gentleman comes to this House and complains about what is happening in the health service. Can I just tell the House what is happening in the health service? We see now 7 million more diagnostic tests than seven years ago, 2.2 million more people getting operations, and survival rates for cancer at their highest ever level. Those are figures, but what does that mean? It means more people getting the treatment they need. It means more elderly people getting their hip operations. And it means that today there are nearly 6,500 people alive who would not have been if we had not improved our cancer care.
In the first three weeks of this winter, 30,000 patients were left waiting in the back of ambulances for more than half an hour. These delays risk lives. If the NHS had the resources it needed, we would expect it to be meeting its key treatment and waiting time targets. Can the Prime Minister give us a cast-iron pledge that all those targets will be met in 2018?
In 2018, we are looking, yes, to improve the standard of care that we provide in our health service, and to ensure that we improve on the figures that I have just given the right hon. Gentleman so that more people are treated in our health service and we have better survival rates for cancer. That is why we have been putting the extra money into the national health service. But it is not just about putting extra money into the national health service; it is about the proper integration of health and social care at grassroots level. That is what the sustainability and transformation partnerships in many areas are about—opposed by the Labour party. That is why we have lifted the cap so that there are more nurse training places—opposed by the Labour party. It is about ensuring that our NHS has the staff and the capability to deliver the first-class, world-class service that is our NHS. We should be proud of our NHS. We are, and we are going to make it even better.
A&E waiting time targets have not been met for two and a half years. Cancer treatment targets have not been met for two years. Our A&E departments are bursting at the seams because the Government have failed to ensure that people can get a GP appointment when they need one. The Government promised to recruit an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020. Where are they?
We are seeing more training places for our GPs. The right hon. Gentleman talks about A&E, and if he wants to look at targets, let us talk about what has happened in Wales. The standard on A&E in Wales was last met in 2008. Let me just think: which party is in government in Wales? Is it the Conservatives? No, it is the Labour party. On cancer care, the standard was last met in June 2008 in Wales. The right hon. Gentleman should look at what the Labour party is actually delivering before he comes to this House and complains.
The Welsh Government rely on a block grant from England that has been cut by 5% to 2020. Despite that, 85.5% of cancer patients in Wales start their treatment within 62 days, which is a rate higher than that achieved in England.
My question was about GPs. Perhaps the Prime Minister is not aware that there are 1,000 fewer GPs than there were on the day she became Prime Minister. It is not only the lack of GPs; another issue that is driving people into A&Es is the £6 billion of cuts made to social care budgets. Some 2.3 million older people have unmet care needs. Does the Prime Minister regret the fact that the Chancellor—he is sitting right next to her—did not put one penny in his Budget into social care?
We put £2 billion of extra money into social care in the spring Budget. The right hon. Gentleman started his question by referencing the record of the last Labour Government on health. The last Labour Government’s NHS legacy was described as a “mess”, and we are clearing that up and putting more money into the NHS. Who described Labour’s NHS legacy as a “mess”? It was the right hon. Gentleman. When he is running for leader, he denounces the Labour party, but now he is leader of the Labour party he is trying to praise it.
I can quote something the Prime Minister might be familiar with:
“If government wants to reduce the pressures on the health service and keep people out of hospital in the first place, then it needs to tackle the chronic underfunding of care and support services in the community, which are at a tipping point.”
Who said that? Izzi Seccombe, the Conservative leader of Warwickshire County Council.
The question was on social care, but the issue is about the NHS as a whole. It is there to provide care and dignity for all if they fall ill, but our NHS goes into this winter in crisis: nurses and other workers—no pay rise for years; NHS targets—not met for years; staff shortages; and GP numbers falling. The reality is mental health budgets have been cut, social care budgets have been cut and public health budgets have been cut. The Prime Minister today has shown just how out of touch she is. The truth is our NHS is being recklessly—I repeat, recklessly—put at risk by her Government. That is the truth.
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong because NHS funding has gone up. He is wrong because social care funding has gone up. But not that long ago, he was saying that he would be Prime Minister by Christmas. Well, he was wrong; I am, and the Conservatives are in government. Not that long ago, he said we would not deliver on phase 1 of the Brexit negotiations. Well, he was wrong; we have made sufficient progress and we are moving on to phase 2 of the Brexit negotiations. And not that long ago, he predicted that the Budget would be a failure; in fact, the Budget was a success, and it is delivering more money for our national health service. Labour—wrong, wrong, wrong; Conservatives—in government, delivering on Brexit, with a Budget for homes and the health service: Conservatives delivering a Britain fit for the future.
I am very pleased to welcome the development that is taking place in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, and I am also pleased to agree with him—I know he believes very strongly in this—on the importance of skills and training for the future; and that is a good commitment of this Government. It is more important than ever that people in this country are developing the skills they need to get the highly skilled, well-paid jobs of the future. That is what we are doing with our money going into technical education, and the college in his constituency will play an important part in that.
May I take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Speaker, all Members, staff and of course our armed forces and emergency personnel a merry Christmas and a good new year when it comes? We also, I am sure, wish for a peaceful election tomorrow in Catalonia.
In 2013, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, when reflecting on his position in representing the majority interest in the Royal Bank of Scotland on the departure of its then chief executive, said that
“of course my consent and approval was sought.”
Was the Government right to intervene in the departure of the chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland?
Obviously, decisions have been taken in the past in relation to Royal Bank of Scotland; the key decision was taken at the time of the financial crisis in relation to the support that the Government provided to Royal Bank of Scotland. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to raise branch closures, as he did last week, I am afraid I have to tell him that he will get the same answer as he got last week. This is a commercial decision for Royal Bank of Scotland, but the Government do ensure, through the protocol that is in place and the work that has been done with the Post Office to provide extra services, that services are available for people.
It is supposed to be Prime Minister’s questions; the Prime Minister is supposed to at least try to answer the question. If it was right in 2013 for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to intervene on the departure of the chief executive officer, then of course it is quite right that the Government shoulder their responsibilities when the last 13 branches in town are going to be closed in Scotland. Prime Minister, show some leadership: stand up for our communities. Bring Ross McEwan into 10 Downing Street and tell him that you are going to stand up for the national interest and stop these bank closures.
The decision on individual bank branches is, of course, an operational decision for the bank. The right hon. Gentleman talks about standing up for communities and standing up for people across Scotland. I have to say to him, that is a bit rich, coming from an SNP which, in government in Scotland, is going to increase taxes for 1.2 million Scots. The Conservative Government are reducing tax for 2.4 million Scots. There is only one clear message to people in Scotland: “Conservatives back you; SNP tax you.” [Interruption.]
Order. I wish the hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) and his hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) all the best for their wedding on Friday of this week, which I look forward to attending.
Mr Speaker, I join you in congratulating my hon. Friends on their forthcoming wedding, which unfortunately, because of my travels, I will not be able to attend. I wish them all the very best.
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue, and I absolutely agree with him that defence is the first duty of the Government. That is why we are committed to our NATO pledge to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence every year. We have a £36 billion defence budget, which will rise to almost £40 billion by 2020-21, and we are spending £178 billion on equipment over the next 10 years. He is absolutely right: a party like the one opposite, which wants to get rid of our nuclear deterrent, cut our armed forces and pull out of NATO, would not strengthen our defences; it would weaken them.
We and the EU have been clear that Gibraltar is covered by the withdrawal agreement and our article 50 exit negotiations. Just to confirm what I said on Monday, as we negotiate this, we will be negotiating to ensure the relationships are there for Gibraltar as well. We are not going to exclude Gibraltar from our negotiations for either the implementation period or the future agreement. I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in commending the work of our dairy farmers. He talks about the importance of dairy. He is, rightly, a great advocate for rural issues. It is one of the most efficient, innovative and high-quality dairy industries in the EU. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary will be very happy to discuss the particular points he raises, but I join him in recognising the importance of our dairy industry.
First, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, the Home Office recently published the Government’s updated drugs strategy. I have a different opinion to some Members of this House. Some are very liberal in their approach to the way that drugs should be treated. I am very clear that we should recognise the damage that drugs do to people’s lives. Our aim should be to ensure that people come off drugs, do not go on drugs in the first place and keep clear of drugs. That is what we should focus on.
I was very happy to meet my hon. Friend and other right hon. and hon. Members to discuss these important issues that have a real impact on women’s lives. Women want answers to what has happened, and I can assure her that the Government and I will continue to listen on these issues. We will continue to look to see what we can do to ensure that women do not suffer in the way that they have in the past. We will keep that clear focus on women’s health.
Order. I am sure the Prime Minister has better taste than that.
I think I will be having to resist the temptation to call the goose Jeremy.
On Thursday last week, there was a very important local referendum in Christchurch. The result was that 84% of the people of Christchurch want to keep it as an independent sovereign borough and are against its abolition. [Interruption.]
Order. I cannot understand this atmosphere. I want to hear about the views of the good burghers of Christchurch.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government respect the views of the people of Christchurch and give sufficient time—indeed, extra time—for the council to draw up alternative proposals that properly reflect the wishes of the people of Christchurch?
As my hon. Friend obviously knows, being very close to this, local councils have been considering this issue over a significant period, as has the Department for Communities and Local Government.
And there is a lot of support!
As an hon. Friend says from a sedentary position, other councils in the area support a change to the governance structure. Of course, DCLG will be looking very carefully at the views of the councils to ensure that the best result is achieved for the people of Dorset.
Order. It might be moderately good natured, but nevertheless it is disruptive. The hon. Lady is entitled to be heard. For as long as she is in the House and I am in the Chair, she will be heard, and that is the end of it.
We in North West Durham have some of the very best schools, but whatever the new funding formula, they are dealing with deficits after years of real-terms cuts and feeling the corrosive effect of academisation. On collaboration, school staff are working for longer for less pay. Please, Prime Minister, do not say there is more money in our schools. The fact remains that a significant proportion of schools in North West Durham will see totally unjust reductions in their funding. We have run out of ways to meet the Government’s cuts. Will she tell us what they should do next?
The hon. Lady asks me not to say that there is more money going into our schools, but of course there is more money going into our schools. That is the reality. The figures are that funding for our schools will rise by over £1.4 billion next year and almost £1.2 billion the year after, and we have protected the pupil premium, which is worth nearly £2.5 billion to support those who need it most. If we listen to the Labour party, education seems only to be about the amount of money put in, but actually parents are looking at the quality of education provided, and I notice that there is an increase of over 12,000 children in the County Durham local authority now in good or outstanding schools. That is because of this Government.
The year 2017 has been an excellent one for Fareham College: rated outstanding by Ofsted, shortlisted by The Times Educational Supplement for college of the year and successful in its bid to the local enterprise partnership to deliver its civil engineering provision. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing the principal and his staff a happy Christmas, congratulating them on supporting our young people into work and—because it is Christmas—creating a Britain fit for the future?
I am very happy not only to send Christmas wishes to the principal, staff and students at Fareham College, but to congratulate them on working hard to achieve such excellent results. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is about ensuring that young people have the skills, training and education they need for the jobs of the future. It is about building a Britain fit for the future.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we have to deal with cases where somebody has a terminal illness with the utmost sensitivity. These issues have been raised before. The conditions and principles applied to terminally ill people claiming universal credit are in fact the same as those for people claiming employment and support allowance, and have remained the same for successive Governments. A number of approaches can be taken, and there are several options for how people progress through the system, but he is right that we should deal with terminally ill people with sensitivity. That is what the system intends to do.
This morning I met Liam Allan, the young student whose life was put on hold for two years and who had to endure torture until his case collapsed last week. This week another case collapsed because of a lack of disclosure. Does the Prime Minister agree that when allegations are made there should be a full investigation, and that full disclosure should be made to the Crown Prosecution Service and to both lawyers?
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. The issue of disclosure has come to a focus of concern as a result of the case that he has cited and, I understand, another case which is in the press today. I can tell him that, even before these cases arose, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had initiated a review of disclosure. I think it important that we look at the issue again to ensure that we are truly providing justice.
The social mobility action plan
“will play an important role in enabling less advantaged young people to get on in life.”
That is not what I have said; it is what the Sutton Trust has said, and the Sutton Trust has a fine record in helping disadvantaged young people to get on in life. If the hon. Lady wants some more quotes, the Association of Colleges has said:
“The plan sets out an ambitious agenda to tackle longstanding and deep-seated inequalities which the education system struggles to overcome.”
It is a good plan, and it will make a real difference to young people’s lives.
In the 1980s, Mrs Thatcher famously commented to the Vietnamese—[Interruption.]
Order. This is very discourteous, and very unfair on the hon. Gentleman. Let us hear the fella.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As I was saying, in the 1980s Mrs Thatcher famously asked why, if Vietnam was so wonderful, millions of people were getting into boats to leave it. With that in mind, may I ask my right hon. Friend, as she enters the second phase of the Brexit negotiations, “If World Trade Organisation rules are so wonderful, why do so many countries seek WTO trade agreements?”
Of course countries around the world can trade. The question is, on what terms are they trading? We want to see a free trade agreement negotiated with the European Union. We also want to see free trade agreements negotiated with countries around the rest of the world. We are believers in free trade, because we believe that it brings growth, prosperity, jobs and a secure future to this country.
I wish the hon. Gentleman a merry Christmas too, and a happy new year. In fact, the introduction of the Government’s proposed arrangements for free school meals under universal credit will lead to more children having access to them.
May I wish you and everyone else a very happy Christmas, Mr Speaker?
Does not Michel Barnier’s claim that UK banks will lose their passporting rights post-Brexit—as opposed to the Bank of England’s statement that EU banks will be able to continue to operate here—vindicate my right hon. Friend’s principled and strong stance in negotiating reciprocity for EU and UK citizens?
We value the important role that the City of London plays, not just as a financial centre for Europe but as a financial centre for the world, and we want to retain and maintain that. Mr Barnier has made a number of comments recently about the opening negotiating position of the European Union. Both the Bank of England and the Treasury have today set out reassurance about ensuring that banks will be able to continue to operate and the City of London will continue to retain its global position. That will, however, be part of the negotiations on phase 2 of Brexit, and we are very clear about how important it is.
First, may I give our best wishes to Mr Walker and his family and say how sorry we are to hear of what has befallen him? The hon. Gentleman references a letter to the DWP and I will ensure that case is investigated and he receives a response.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the work of Fortalice, which has provided domestic abuse support in Bolton for 40 years? Will she consider under the current reforms the benefits of a new funding structure for domestic abuse refuges separate from the supported housing sector, so that refuges can continue to deliver their specialist support?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the question of refuges, and I am also very happy to join him in praising the work of Fortalice and services like it across the country. He mentions the reforms that we are putting in place. Indeed, that is because we feel that at the moment the system is not responsive to the needs of vulnerable women in local areas. That is why we want to put the funding in the hands of local authorities, but bring in new oversight to make sure we are delivering the right support for the right people. It is trying to ensure that we are focusing the support on those who need it and that the system is more responsive to the needs of vulnerable women.
My understanding is that this issue is being properly looked into. Of course, I recognise the concerns that have been expressed by the hon. Gentleman, and indeed will have been expressed by other Members of this House, and the Government are looking into that.
Does the Prime Minister share my dismay that the Scottish National party Government are planning on raising taxes on hard-working Scots when they could raise the same amount, if not more, by just getting their own house in order and improving efficiencies?
What the Scottish Government are proposing means that there are 1.2 million Scots earning over £26,000 who will be paying more tax than people in England. [Interruption.] I was not aware of the fact that my hon. Friend has given this House, which is very important—[Interruption.]
Order. I apologise for interrupting the Prime Minister, but may I ask her to face the House, because some of us cannot hear fully, and I would like to hear fully?
I was making the point that my hon. Friend has made an important addition to the knowledge of this House, which is that if the SNP Government got their own house in order, they could save the same amount of money that they will be raising by raising taxes, and not put that extra tax burden on people earning over £26,000.
In light of the very loose, inaccurate and misrepresentative language coming from politicians outside Northern Ireland who should know better, will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to repeat to the House and the public in Northern Ireland—both sides of the community—the well established three-stranded approach to Northern Ireland, which makes it clear that the internal arrangements and decisions on Northern Ireland are a matter for the United Kingdom Government and the parties in Northern Ireland?
I am very happy to make that clear to the right hon. Gentleman, and to confirm what he says. We are very clear about the position and the decisions that will be taken about Northern Ireland. What we of course want to see is a Northern Ireland Executive restored so that devolved decisions can be taken by that Northern Ireland Executive. The right hon. Gentleman also wants to see that Executive restored, and we will continue to work with his party and other parties across all communities to see that happen.
As one of the signatories to amendment 400 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, may I seek an assurance from the Prime Minister that its provisions to change the date of our leaving the EU will be invoked only in extremely exceptional circumstances, if at all, and only for a very short period?
I am happy to give my right hon. Friend and others that reassurance. We are very clear that we will be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019 at 11 pm. The Bill that is going through does not determine that the UK leaves the EU; that is part of the article 50 process and a matter of international law. It is important that we have the same position legally as the European Union, which is why we have accepted the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), but I can assure my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and the House the we would use that power only in exceptional circumstances for the shortest possible time, and that an affirmative motion would be brought to the House.
The Government, the Ministry of Justice, NHS England and the Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust should be thoroughly ashamed of their part in the national disgrace that is HMP Liverpool. Will the Prime Minister assure the whole House that those responsible for the deplorable conditions, for the lack of care and harm that has led to the suicide of some prisoners, and for the harm that has been caused to staff and prisoners will be held to account, that proper disciplinary action will be taken, and that they will not be allowed simply to move to other jobs? We need accountability for this tragedy.
As I understand it, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) said yesterday that he expects the report on HMP Liverpool to be published early in the new year. I understand that a number of actions have been taken, including changes to prison management. Overall, of course, we are increasing frontline staff in our prisons by putting more money into that, and we are increasing the support available to vulnerable offenders, especially during the first 24 hours of custody. We have also invested more in mental health awareness training for prison officers. But of course my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary will look carefully at the report when it is published.
I am sorry if I was keeping the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) awake, or perhaps he has some other pressing business. I want to hear the fella!
And a merry Christmas to you as well, Mr Speaker.
The Prime Minister has just given an assurance that amendment 400 will be used only in extremis and for a very short period of time. May I press her to be more specific? Will she assure the House that if the power is used at all, it will be used only for a matter of weeks, or for a couple of months at most? There is a concern that it could indefinitely extend our stay in the EU.
I thank my hon. Friend for seeking further clarification on that point. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East, we are going to leave on 29 March 2019. That is what we are working to, but we want to ensure that we have the same legal position as the European Union, which is why amendment 400, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, has been accepted. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay that, if that power were to be used, it would be only in extremely exceptional circumstances and for the shortest possible time. We are not talking about extensions—[Interruption.]
Order. We would hear better if the Prime Minister faced the House, but we would also hear better if Members did not keep wittering from a sedentary position. Let us have a new year’s resolution that there will be an end to sedentary chuntering, wittering and hollering.
Mr Speaker, I apologise for not facing the Opposition, but I was hoping to ensure that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay heard my response. I can assure him that we are talking about the shortest possible time, should that power be used. I am clear that we are leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019.
Last Friday, Jo Cox’s sister Kim, the hon. Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) and I published the Jo Cox loneliness commission manifesto. Will the Prime Minister join us in urging everybody to look out over Christmas for neighbours, family and friends who are struggling with the pain of loneliness? Will the Government also play their part by publishing a strategy on loneliness and by responding fully to our recommendations in the new year?
I know that the hon. Lady has worked extremely hard on this important issue together with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy). We are getting more and more awareness of the impact of loneliness on people, and we all recognise that social isolation is an issue. The matter is of importance to the Government, and we are looking at a number of things that we can do to help reduce loneliness. However, this is not just about what the Government can do; as the hon. Lady says, it is about what communities and neighbours can do. In my constituency of Maidenhead, I am pleased to say that the churches work together on Christmas day to bring elderly people who would otherwise be on their own together for a community lunch. That is just one small example of what we can all do in our communities to help to overcome the problem of loneliness.
It is very welcome that the Prime Minister is taking personal charge of building the homes that this country needs, which is such an important social justice issue for our country’s future. How does the Prime Minister see our doing that at the necessary scale and speed?
My hon. Friend is right that we need to build more homes and that we need to build them at scale. I am pleased to say that we saw 217,000 new homes built last year, which is a level of house building that has not been seen, apart from in one year, over the past 30 years, but we need to go further. That is why we have proposed several changes in terms of support for affordable housing, for councils and for people trying to get their foot on the housing ladder. We are also working with local authorities in a number of ways to ensure that land is released and that builders build out the planning permissions that they have.
Finally, I call Tim Farron.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—[Interruption.]
Order. That was not a very seasonal response from the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) from a sedentary position. I expect better of the hon. Gentleman.
Thank you for your characteristic greeting, Mr Speaker. I wish everyone a merry Christmas, especially the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson).
The Prime Minister will be aware that NHS England has extended the deadline for its consultation on the allocation of radiotherapy services into the new year. Will she therefore take this opportunity to ensure that one of the criteria is shortening the distances that people have to travel—travel time has a massive impact on outcomes—so that people who live in places such as south Cumbria can access this life-saving, utterly urgent treatment safely and quickly?
We are of course all aware of the need to ensure not only that people are able to access the treatment that they need, but that they can access it in an appropriate way. We recognise that in some rural areas that means travelling longer distances than in other parts of the country. As the hon. Gentleman says, there is a consultation, and NHS England will be looking closely at the issues. I am sure that he will have made representations.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the Budget debate, I raised the issue of steelworkers transferring out their pensions. Some financial advisers are fleecing steelworkers, and the regulators have been unco-ordinated and complacent. The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury promised me a response to my speech, but none has been forthcoming. Mr Speaker, do you know whether the Government will be making a statement on this urgent matter?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his intention to raise that point of order. I recognise that the matter is of considerable concern to him, to many other Members and, indeed, to their constituents. The simple fact is that, as things stand, I have received no indication of any intention on the part of a Minister to make a statement on this matter. Therefore, I am not at present expecting a Minister to offer to do so before we rise for the Christmas recess. However, it is open to the hon. Gentleman to raise the matter at business questions tomorrow, and he is sufficiently experienced in the House to know that a range of mechanisms is open to him to try to secure the attendance in the Chamber of the responsible Minister. I am sure that he will apply what Hercule Poirot would describe as his “little grey cells” to seeking satisfaction on the matter.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Since 2010, my staff have worked in the lower basement—otherwise known as the dungeons—of the House of Commons. On a number of occasions since 2010, they have had valuables and computers stolen, and I have had my valuables stolen when they have been kept there. I have raised the matter with the authorities several times, but little has been done. There has been a recent theft in which valuables were stolen not just from my staff but from other staff, and those other staff have approached me. My staff have also come in in the morning to find somebody sleeping under a desk and clothes just thrown in the middle of the floor. When I raised that with the authorities recently, one suggestion to deal with the issue was for staff to move into the offices of MPs.
It is unacceptable that my staff’s privacy should be invaded in that way and that there are constant thefts of valuable things, even when they are locked in drawers. We keep getting told to lock stuff in drawers, but things are already locked away. Something should be done about that, there should be proper security, and my staff and the others who work in the basement should be protected.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I have known him for probably 25 years, so I understand the sincerity as well as the seriousness of purpose with which he addresses the Chair. I note that a number of the matters have been reported to the police and—I say this is in no contentious spirit, but on the basis of advice that I received during his point of order—in respect of at least some of the matters of which it is said we did not have knowledge we need a proper and comprehensive report. Certainly, reference to Members sleeping in offices—
Strangers sleeping in offices—no further elaboration is required—is news to me. I had not known of that, and my understanding is that the authorities had not known of that. If there is a fuller picture to be provided, let it be provided, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will understand if I say that I cannot have a kind of Second Reading debate on the matter here on the Floor of the House now. He has aired his concern and should add to it in writing if necessary, and I assure him that I will give it my attention and so will the head of the House service. I wish the right hon. Gentleman a merry Christmas. [Interruption.] And a happy Hanukkah, as the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) chunters from a sedentary position. [Interruption.] I am against chuntering, but I cannot stop it overnight.
Immigration Detention of Victims of Torture and Other Vulnerable People (Safeguards)
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 immigration detention safeguards for victims of torture and other vulnerable people, including those that have suffered from severe physical, psychological or sexual violence; and for connected purposes.
The treatment of victims of torture and other vulnerable people in our country’s immigration detention system is unacceptable. Long-standing Home Office policy has been that vulnerable people, including those with “independent evidence of torture”, should not be detained other than in exceptional circumstances, but in practice many are. We know from extensive medical evidence that immigration detention can seriously harm the mental health of detainees, particularly those who have previously suffered ill treatment.
The conditions of immigration detention can be appalling. Six court cases in recent years have reported inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees. In 2017 alone, 11 people died in custody. Detainees are dying at a faster rate in immigration detention than we have seen before. When the then Home Secretary, now Prime Minister, commissioned the former prisons and probation ombudsman, Stephen Shaw, to conduct a review of the welfare of vulnerable persons in detention last year, his damning report found that safeguards for vulnerable people were inadequate, and that detention was used too often and for too long.
The Government’s response to Stephen Shaw’s recommendations has made a bad situation even worse. The Home Office’s flagship adults at risk policy, launched in September 2016, was intended to help to reduce the number of vulnerable people detained, and to cut the duration of detention, but according to the charity Medical Justice, the policy
“fundamentally weakens protections for vulnerable detainees leading to more rather than fewer being detained, for longer.”
This analysis was borne out in October 2017 by the High Court’s ruling in a case brought against the Home Office by Medical Justice and seven detainees. The Court found that the adults at risk policy unlawfully imprisoned hundreds of victims of torture as a result of the Home Office’s deeply regrettable decision to narrow the definition of torture so that it refers only to violence carried out by state actors and so excludes vulnerable survivors of non-state abuse. Given that the High Court ruled that the Home Office must review and reissue the adults at risk policy, this Bill provides a timely opportunity to ensure that we properly protect victims of torture and other vulnerable people.
My Bill would require all future policy to be inclusive, preventive and effective—inclusive by ensuring that the definition of torture used is broad enough to cover all those who are most likely to suffer from harm in detention, including all those who have suffered severe ill treatment at the hands of both state and non-state actors; preventive by protecting victims of torture and vulnerable people before harm occurs; and effective by ensuring that we actually see the release of those unfit for detention, and that victims of torture and other vulnerable people are not detained for immigration purposes except in very exceptional circumstances.
I thank Freedom from Torture for all its advice and assistance with the Bill. At one of their events that I attended in September, I met Jonathan, a torture victim working with the campaign group Survivors Speak OUT. Jonathan provided harrowing testimony of the torture inflicted on him in his country of origin, and spoke of his experiences in fleeing to the UK, seeking asylum, and having medical evidence of his ill treatment initially disbelieved by the Home Office. While working on issues relating to human rights and the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, I have met other survivors of torture who suffered a similar fate when they arrived in the UK.
The Home Office’s decision to narrow the definition of torture in its adults at risk policy is a prime example of the flaws of the system. That decision gave rise to a perverse situation whereby victims of sexual and physical abuse, trafficking, sexual exploitation and homophobic attacks were excluded from being recognised as torture victims by this Government, because the crimes perpetrated against them were carried out by non-state agents. The judge presiding in the High Court case ruled that the narrowing of the definition of torture lacked a “rational or evidence base”, and that the exclusion of
“certain individuals whose experiences of the infliction of severe pain and suffering may indeed make them particularly vulnerable to harm in detention.”
Torture is torture, whether carried out by a state or non-state actor.
In its initial 10 weeks of implementation, the adults at risk policy was applied incorrectly in almost 60% of 340 cases. One of the seven detainees who challenged the Home Office’s policy in the courts was Mr P. O. He was beaten, knifed and flogged in homophobic attacks in his country of origin. Fleeing to the UK, he was unlawfully detained, and his mental health deteriorated while he was imprisoned. He said that while he welcomed the High Court’s decision,
“it is still upsetting that the Home Office, who should protect people like me, rejected me and put me in detention which reminded me of the ordeal I suffered in my country of origin.”
It was not just the narrowing of the definition of torture that put Mr P. O. and others like him in such a terrible position. Medical Justice has said:
“For those detainees excluded by the narrower definition of torture, the policy required specific evidence that detention is likely to cause them harm—described as an ‘additional hurdle’ in the judgment. Not only does the policy lack effective mechanisms for obtaining such evidence, it also weakened already ineffective safeguards, encourages a ‘wait and see’ approach where vulnerable people were detained and allowed to deteriorate until avoidable harm has occurred and can be documented. As such, the policy effectively sanctioned harm to vulnerable detainees.”
Sadly, this situation could have been avoided if the Home Office had listened to and acted on concerns when the policy was written. Freedom from Torture was clear that the policy’s implementation
“could…weaken…standards protecting vulnerable people.”
It was correct, but its views, like those of many other organisations, such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, were ignored.
Parliament was marginalised, too. Medical Justice noted:
“The policy was laid before parliament the day before summer recess and came into effect one week after recess with little opportunity for meaningful debate. Parliamentarians’ attention was not drawn to the intention to narrow the definition of torture”.
I question the Government’s commitment to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty if Members are not given adequate time to debate issues, such as the adults at risk policy, that are fundamental to our human rights and our common humanity.
The UK has a proud history of providing sanctuary to people fleeing violence and persecution. We have both moral and legal obligations to victims of torture and other vulnerable people who seek asylum. The UK must set an example as a country that respects and upholds human rights commitments. The torment faced by many individuals in the Government’s immigration detention system runs counter to this country’s proudest traditions.
It is the day before Parliament rises for the Christmas recess. It is the season of good will, and there can be no group more in need of our consideration, care and compassion than victims of torture and other vulnerable people who have come to this country seeking refuge. In the spirit of good will, I call on the Prime Minister to take a personal interest in addressing this issue. As Home Secretary she ordered the Shaw review, and the Home Office’s woefully poor response to his report happened on her Government’s watch. Now, as Prime Minister, she has the power to right this wrong. For all those reasons, I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Joan Ryan, Tom Brake, Paul Blomfield, Dr Lisa Cameron, Yvette Cooper, Caroline Lucas, Siobhain McDonagh, Dr Matthew Offord, Jim Shannon, Gareth Thomas, Tom Tugendhat and Catherine West present the Bill.
Joan Ryan accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 November 2018, and to be printed (Bill 146).
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
[8th Allocated Day]
[Relevant document: First Report of the Exiting the European Union Committee, European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, HC 373]
Further considered in Committee
[Dame Rosie Winterton in the Chair]
New Clause 21
Plain English summary of retained direct EU legislation
“HM Government shall ensure that the publication of copies of retained direct EU legislation as set out in the provisions of section 13 and schedule 5 is accompanied wherever possible by a summarising explanatory document setting out in terms that are readily understandable the purpose and effect of that retained direct EU legislation.”—(Mr Leslie.)
This new clause would require Ministers to publish copies of retained direct EU legislation accompanied by ‘plain English’ and readily understandable summarising explanatory documents.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 77, in clause 13, page 9, line 9, at end insert—
“(3) A Minister of the Crown may by regulations—
(a) make provision enabling or requiring judicial notice to be taken of a relevant matter, or
(b) provide for the admissibility in any legal proceedings of specified evidence of—
(i) a relevant matter, or
(ii) instruments or documents issued by or in the custody of an EU entity.”
Clause 13 stand part.
Amendment 348, in schedule 5, page 36, line 9, at end insert—
“(c) any impact assessment conducted by Her Majesty’s Government that in any way concerns the economic and financial impact of in anyway altering, modifying or abolishing any relevant instrument.”
This amendment would require the Government to publish its economic impact assessments of the policy options for withdrawal from the EU.
Amendment 76, in schedule 5, page 37, leave out paragraph 4.
That schedule 5 be the Fifth schedule to the Bill.
Merry Christmas to you, Dame Rosie, and to all hon. and right hon. Members.
Under the peculiar vagaries of the Government’s programme motion, we have ended up with a peculiar day 8 in Committee, with a potential four-hour chunk to debate amendments to schedule 5, which is quite a narrow area of concern—the publication of retained EU legislation and rules of evidence—and, in theory, only four hours in the second half to debate the massive number of remaining amendments. The Committee will understand why I probably do not want to spend too much time on this first group, because I suspect a large number of hon. Members will want to speak on the second group.
Nevertheless, I will have a crack at new clause 21 because it is always worth probing the Government on every part of a Bill. This new clause would ensure that, when Her Majesty’s Government publish EU retained legislation, they accompany it with a summarising explanatory document setting out, in terms that are readily understandable, its purpose and effect.
This might seem an obvious point, and someone might say, “Of course Ministers intend to do this. Surely, if we have all the legal gobbledegook we normally get in statute and in primary and secondary legislation, there will be a summary not just for Members of Parliament but for the public to read and understand so they know what they are talking about.” But that practice has only been in effect for a small number of years and, although it started with the good intention of providing explanatory statements and explanatory notes, it has slipped back a bit from the original intention. When hon. Members pick up a dense and complex proposal, they will often find that the explanatory notes basically say the same thing, perhaps with a few dots and commas changed here and there, and feel that the proposal is as impenetrable as it ever was.
The point is that clarity is needed if we are to transfer a great set of EU legislation into UK law. Such clarity is an important principle that Parliament should underline and establish, which is what new clause 21 seeks to do. More than that, when we legislate we should make it clear not just for the lawyers but for everyone so that all our constituents know and understand the consequences of the laws we are putting in place.
Such clarity was not always evident in the referendum campaign in the run-up to June 2016. In fact, many would still say that there was a lot of obfuscation and opacity, and that the consequences of Brexit were not clear at all. In my view, as much clarity and plain English as possible should be obtainable.
Before I give way, I have to confess that I am a serial offender when it comes to not necessarily speaking in plain and clear terms, so I am not pretending in any way to be the world’s greatest simple communicator on such things. I am sure I will transgress this afternoon.
Another advantage of new clause 21 is that it would enable the Government to give us a clear explanation and perhaps say that “regulatory alignment” and “regulatory convergence” mean the same thing.
My hon. Friend takes the words out of my mouth. He has spotted that the famous paragraph 49 of the phase 1 agreement between the negotiators on the EU side and the negotiators on the UK side talks about maintaining regulatory alignment, which is a phrase that manages to span all sorts of different interpretations. The EU and Republic of Ireland side believes “full alignment” to mean full alignment and that we will essentially have the same arrangements as we have now. But when the Prime Minister returned to the House of Commons, she sort of said, “Oh, no, it is a very narrow meaning in the terms set out in particular paragraphs of the Belfast agreement.” It is amazing how words can mean one thing to one listener and another thing to an entirely different listener.
I agree that clarity is usually an admirable virtue, but if the thing the Government are trying to describe is not very clear in itself—perhaps because it is very complicated and impossible to make clear, or perhaps because it is deliberately obfuscating—what happens then? We cannot have a dishonest account of what a complex clause is doing.
We should not assume that those watching our proceedings, or reading them in Hansard, entirely trust the Government or Members of Parliament simply to know and understand what is happening. People outside have a right to know, and of course we expect businesses and members of the public to interpret the legislation we pass.
This is a signal moment, and the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) rightly pointed out on, I think, day 2 in Committee that we are about to copy and paste a phenomenal body of legislation, which has accrued over decades, from the EU corpus of law into the British legal context. That requires us to pause for a moment to think about whether we are properly articulating to our constituents and others what exactly is happening in this process.
The hon. Gentleman refers to trust in the Government. Does he think our constituents will be reassured by the Prime Minister’s confirmation on Monday that the Cabinet’s discussions on our future trade deals do not involve the Cabinet having any assessment of the impact of different potential models?
Governments would normally be expected to have information and facts, with evidence being collected and presented and with an assessment made based on information that has been analysed and digested in a professional way, but it appears that, although we were told they exist, the impact assessments do not actually exist but are sectoral analyses. What is the difference between an impact assessment and a sectoral analysis? Well, we have been discussing that for quite some time.
Returning to EU retained legislation, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield rightly pointed out that we have lived with important legal understandings, such as on equalities law and environmental law, for a number of decades. Those understandings have been tenets of our expectations of the civilised society in which we live. Of course, they will now be transferred from European law into UK law. If they had originated in this House, they would have been enacted in primary legislation and any changes would have had to be made through primary legislation. But the Government’s proposal is to take this new category of EU retained law and bring it into UK law, and it will not have the same status as primary legislation. In many ways, it will be repealable or amendable, often by secondary legislation—by statutory instrument. This is not a point about Brexit; it is about the process of transposition. It is important that the public know what is going on when we are doing this. If a transfer is taking place, information should be set out in the explanatory notes, not just about the technical details, but about the weight that those legal rights will have once they come back into UK law.
There are a number of other aspects to this—
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting and relevant point, although it is of course true that all this legislation came in via secondary legislation in the first place and Parliament will have considerably more control over the secondary legislation that amends it than we currently have over the method that created it. I would imagine, as I am sure he does and the Government do, that Acts of Parliament will become more important, particularly if we want to make sure that this is not challengeable in the courts, as secondary legislation is much more vulnerable to challenge through the courts than primary legislation.
Yes. Although we disagree on many things, I think we can agree that if we are going to do this exercise, it needs to be done thoroughly and robustly, making sure that the intent of Parliament and the laws we are transposing are robust enough to withstand the test of time. Having explanatory statements to accompany those is an important development that has helped us in our legislative process recently. If we are going to have a sifting committee—it is not really a sifting committee; the procedures committee will be doing this—looking through all these statutory instruments and picking out which ones it thinks should not be passed through the negative procedure, this explanatory process ought to be in place to help hon. Members figure out which of these hundreds or even thousands of aspects of legislation are important enough to flag up to hon. Members more widely. That is a small point but it needs making. Other issues arise relating to “tertiary” legislation and the powers the Bill is giving to agencies and regulators to make, or to amend or remedy, laws. Again, I would like these things to be flagged up in plain English, wherever possible, so that parliamentarians can know about them. In essence, new clause 21 is about transparency, clarity and shining a light on this complicated bandwidth of activity that is about to hit all hon. Members, and that is important.
The only other point I wanted to make on this group—
The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of this place for far longer than I have. We have lived through 40-odd years of what he is now describing as “dense and complex” legislation which applies to the UK, but only at this stage does he seem to be concerned about what that legislation really means. Why has he not been so similarly vexed and exercised these past 40 years?
I have been vexed and exercised for quite a long part of the past 40 years, but that is my problem. The hon. Gentleman should know that as we go forward we are creating a new type of legislation. It is true that many of the European directives and regulations have been adopted over the years in different ways, but we are now importing this great body of EU retained law. It is going to affect him and his constituents, as well as my constituents. The first point to make is: can we understand what it is? That provides a useful opportunity in this exercise—
The hon. Gentleman may agree with me that if there are deficiencies in the way EU law has been imported into our law, the last thing we want to do is to perpetuate them by keeping the uncertainties after we have gone. Yet schedule 5 raises a number of uncertainties, which this House would do well to address.
We are doing our duty by at least trying to comb over these issues now.
I wish to commend the Labour Front-Bench team on their amendment 348, which seeks to ensure that impact assessments are made properly and thoroughly before we take many of the decisions in this whole Brexit process. We already know enough about what has happened with the Brexit Secretary promising impact assessments and their turning out to be sectoral analyses. Many of us will have gone to the reading room and looked at the hastily written 50-odd documents, which would be good if someone was writing a master’s degree dissertation on the aviation sector—they are full of facts and information—but do not really provide much more analysis than people can already get off Google.
Where we did get an insight, although it may have been a slip of the tongue, was when the Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared before the Treasury Committee on 6 December and said that he has
“modelled and analysed a wide range of potential alternative structures between the European Union and the United Kingdom”
“it informs…our negotiating position”.
So obviously there does exist within government some level of impact assessment and analysis that has not yet been placed in the public domain. It might be that the Brexit Committee wishes to explore that further or that the Treasury Committee wishes to do so, but it is important that we know whether this is simply a reference to the pre-referendum work that was done under the former Chancellor George Osborne or whether further assessments have taken place, independently undertaken by the Treasury. We need to know what analysis the different Departments have undertaken and what sort of modelling on the different sectors of our economy has been done.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that the Government produce assessments, whether or not they are “sectoral assessments”, on issues that are a lot more trivial than such an important thing befalling our country as Brexit? It is therefore imperative that we have detailed assessments on how this will affect our country.
Yes. That again gets to this question: are we accidentally bumbling our way through, where nobody has thought about doing an assessment, or, worse, is this work being done but then hidden, covered up and held back from Members of Parliament and from the public at large? I suspect that any serious analysis worth its salt will show that there are some damning consequences of exiting the single market and customs union, and I think that needs to be shared with the wider public.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Brexit Secretary was rather lucky when he appeared before the Select Committee, because having agreed to produce papers, he got out of it by sticking to a narrow definition of “impact assessment”? It was semantics that enabled him to get away with just producing the new documents, which he had hastily produced in the past few weeks, containing bland descriptions of where we are. As the originals are important documents, as these questions have been looked at and as we were told a summary had been sent to the Prime Minister, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the House’s motion meant that whatever documents the Government had that bore on the subject, they should have been produced? The Brexit Secretary should not have been allowed to get away with saying, “Strictly speaking, they’re not impact assessments.”
I do agree with that. We should not just skim over this question. These are some of the most profound decisions that Parliament will make for a generation and, if we are going to do our jobs correctly as Members of Parliament, having the right facts, getting the evidence, assembling the analysis, making sure we can weigh up the pros and cons of all these matters, and getting readily understandable, plain English explanatory statements of what is actually being proposed are prerequisites. They should be there to make us do our jobs properly.
I will give way one last time, and then I will conclude.
How does the hon. Gentleman imagine that the assessments are going to be any less divisive than the issue that we are seeking to assess? The assessments are based on assumptions, and we profoundly disagree about the assumptions.
That is getting us into this question about experts again and whether there is such a thing as a fact or whether everything in this world is an opinion. It is important to make sure that if there are facts and if we can prove cause and effect—for example, if we know that the introduction of inspections or a hard border is going to slow down lorries going through a particular port—we can, QED, prove that there is going to be a particular consequence for the economy. That sort of analysis ought to be shared with the wider world.
I did say I was trying to finish, but my hon. Friend tempts me.
I wanted to give my hon. Friend an example before he concludes. Last week, the Prime Minister claimed that the UK would make “significant savings” as a result of our leaving the EU, but I have asked questions and Treasury Ministers have not been able to explain what those savings will be or to put a figure on them. Yet Financial Times analysis suggests that we will lose £350 million per week, which contrasts with what was on the side of that red bus.
That is right. That Financial Times analysis was worth sharing and should be shared, but we should not rely on journalism alone to do the job. We have a professional civil service; let us not gag it or try to lock it under the stairs somewhere. We should let that expertise come out so that we can all see and hear it.
Members are enjoying new clause 21 so much! I thought it was a simple one.
I only want to help the hon. Gentleman. Does he think it would have been a lot easier had the Exiting the European Union Committee asked the Secretary of State for the impact opinions that he may well have had?
Again, when is an assessment an opinion? In some ways, it diminishes and slightly denigrates the professionalism of our civil service to suggest that its output is merely conjecture or opinion. There are some things in this world that are facts, from which we can draw conclusions and which any rational observer would not really question.
I give way for the final time.
May I read my hon. Friend the steel sector view? It says that
“it will be a lengthy and potentially very costly process for UK manufacturers to break into new markets…Returns on sales to new markets will frequently be poorer than from existing contracts with customers in neighbouring countries.”
Is not that something that the British people need to know?
That is the level of analysis and assessment that deserves to be shared and that was not available to the public prior to the referendum. It should not be dismissed but made more widely available. Members, and beyond them voters, can weigh up the different opinions. Some Members might rubbish representatives of the steel sector and say, “What do they know? I know better,” but we can weigh these things up and bring them into balance. We have the opportunity to debate transparency. Let us allow sunlight to flood over this issue and make sure that we are better informed going forward than we were before the referendum.
It is a pleasure to participate in the Committee’s consideration of schedule 5 and clause 13, although the reality is that the clause says very little and the schedule says a great deal.
As we have just heard, part 1 of schedule 5 provides for the publication of retained direct EU legislation by the Queen’s printer, which should be completely uncontroversial because its purpose is to promote transparency and access so that people in the United Kingdom can know what the law is. That is not some slight matter. One of the points that has been gently canvassed in the debate so far is the extent to which EU law may have created, in the way it has been brought into UK law, a degree of uncertainty as to what it is, in which case that is the last thing we should retain when we carry out this retention of the law. One of the central principles of the rule of law is that the law must be
“accessible…intelligible, clear and predictable”.
That is one of Lord Bingham’s principles of the rule of law, and it should matter to the House very much with respect to how it legislates. People need to be able to understand what activity is prohibited and therefore discouraged, and what their rights are so that they are able to claim whatever rights they have.
The interesting thing about part 1 of schedule 5 is that paragraph 2 empowers Ministers to make exceptions to the duty to publish retained direct EU legislation by
“giving a direction to the Queen’s printer specifying the instrument or category of instruments that are excepted.”
There appear to be no limitations on that power and no guidance on when such instruction might or might not be appropriate. My first question to my colleagues on the Treasury Bench, and particularly my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, is: what is the Government’s intention in respect of that exception? Why is it there—we need to understand why it has been included in the Bill—and how will it be used in practice? It seems to me that it is desirable that the entirety of retained direct EU legislation should be made available through the Queen’s printer, so what is the intention as to the circumstances in which a Minister might remove himself from the duty and give a different direction? There is, perhaps slightly to my regret, no amendment to address that question—had I focused on it slightly better at an earlier stage and not been diverted by other matters, I might have tried to tease it out by tabling an amendment—but as we are also debating whether the clause and schedule should stand part of the Bill, it is important that we give the matter some consideration. Indeed, it ties in exactly with what the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) said in introducing new clause 21, which is on exactly the same principle or philosophical issue of providing certainty.
My second question is about part 2 of schedule 5, which provides for Ministers by regulations to enable or require judicial notice to be taken of retained EU law or EU law. There are no limitations whatsoever on this delegated legislative power to enable or require judicial notice to be taken and, as far as I can see, nor are there any provisions to require that a Minister can make such regulations only under certain circumstances—for example, regulatory harmonisation might be a legitimate reason for making such regulations. This is a classic Henry VIII power, as paragraph 4(3) provides total Henry VIII powers, and is only limited, under paragraph 4(4), to primary legislation made or passed before the end of the Session in which this Bill is passed.
All that takes me back to an interesting debate the Committee had on a previous day—which one has rather faded out of my memory—in which my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and I raised our continuing concerns about the judiciary having a lack of clarity about how they were supposed to interpret and apply retained EU law. Lord Neuberger and Lady Hale have expressed concern that the Bill is insufficiently clear about how retained EU law should be interpreted by the courts post exit. Lord Neuberger in particular was concerned by the prospect of the courts having to determine questions of regulatory harmonisation against divergence between UK and EU law—an essentially political topic, with possible economic consequences to the interpretation. As it happens, regulations made under part 2 of schedule 5 might address the judiciary’s anxiety about the need for better guidance on retained EU law, but what troubles me is that this provision again subtly sidelines Parliament from any role in providing guidance, as it is a matter of Executive discretion.
I must say to my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, and to my other colleagues on the Treasury Bench, that I do understand the Government’s difficulties. The whole Bill is about an accretion of power to a Government who do not really know how they are going to have to use that power and are fearful that something will come up that will require them to act swiftly, and who therefore think that they have to maximise the tools at their disposal.
Forgive my repeating this—I think that the Bill has been quite well improved as it has gone through the House and, indeed, some of the assurances that have been given will lead to further improvements, I have no doubt, on Report—but it was this sort of thing that made me describe the Bill as a monstrosity on Second Reading. It is so contrary to the normal way in which one would expect to legislate for Parliament both to grant the powers that a Government need, including, where necessary, powers of secondary legislation, and at the same time to make sure that these cannot run out of control. On the plain face of the Bill, this is really one of the immense Henry VIII powers. The Government have decided to resolve this issue by taking a very big sledgehammer to the normal structures.
During last Wednesday’s debate, I specifically asked whether the Bill was first drafted before the June general election. My view—I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend shares it—is that this Bill was all about delivering a quick and hard Brexit, and the reason for these extraordinary powers is that they were needed by Ministers to execute that process in quite a short period of time. Does he think that there is any merit in that?
I think I might be a little kinder to my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench, because it seems to me that at the time the Bill came into being, the Government still thought that it was all that was required to take us out of the EU. I think that that is where its genesis and origin lie. In actual fact, one of the supreme ironies is that for all the heat that has been generated—we have carried out some proper scrutiny as well, but certainly, last Wednesday, there was a lot of heat—much of what we are doing here might well turn out in practice to be completely academic. In fairness to the Government, once they were landed with this immense problem, I am not sure that they were wrong to proceed in this way, but it just so happens that that is where we are going to end up. However, that is not a reason why we should not pay attention to the powers that the Government are seeking to take—we do have to pay attention to them.
I will give way to my right hon. Friend in just a second, because I do not wish to speak for very much longer.
For that reason, I do hope that a bit of focus can placed on schedule 5. I do not have any amendments tabled. I am not about to create difficulties for the Government or to divide the House on schedule 5, but I will, if I may, just ask a question as we approach Report, because I cannot believe that this will not be looked at in the House of Lords. It would be quite nice for the Christmas period to be used for quiet reflection on just how wide these powers are and whether, yet again, the Government might, on reflection, be able to circumscribe them a little bit, so that they appear to be slightly less stark in terms of the power grab that they imply. That is quite apart from the fact, to come back to my first point, that the exception in paragraph 2 giving Ministers the power not to print strikes me as very, very odd.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Henry VIII powers, as he calls them, in the Bill are much more modest than the Henry VIII powers in the European Communities Act 1972 that it replaces? This is about only transferring existing law into UK law. Where and when we wish to amend, improve or repeal, that will require a full parliamentary process, which it did not need when it came from Europe.
I understand my right hon. Friend’s point. Of course, I am mindful of it—it has been raised on numerous occasions during the passage of the Bill—but the system that we had to follow as a result of our EU membership implied that that law, having been agreed by the Council of Ministers and translated into directives, had direct effect in this country and was then applied, not usually through primary legislation but by means of secondary legislation, or indeed directly sometimes. I understand all that, but it does not provide a justification for taking unnecessary powers in trying to effect our departure.
As I said, there is something a bit odd about schedule 5. There must be legal certainty, so why are the Government taking for themselves a power to create legal uncertainty if they so wish? Let us be clear about this: if guidance is a matter of Executive discretion, it is a very unusual state of affairs indeed. There is guidance and guidance. There may be general guidance that Parliament might give as to how it intends retained EU law to be treated. I do not have difficulty with that. Indeed, I think that it may be something that we will have to do. As we have discussed—my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset and I were in agreement about this—we think that Parliament might want to explain how it wishes this matter to be approached generally. That, if I may say, is a rather different thing from saying that Ministers can suddenly wake up one morning and decide, “I want the law to be interpreted in a different way on some specific matter, and I am going to lay a statutory instrument before Parliament that will enable me to do that.” It is a very unusual thing to do, and the Government must be in a position to justify it. It slightly troubles me that the law can be tinkered around with in this form. Obviously, Parliament can decide what it likes about changing law. Occasionally, we change laws by statutory instrument, through regulatory change, but it is not something that we should do lightly.
Clause 13 is confined to the publication and rules of evidence. The schedule itself is about publishing what is retained direct EU legislation. Can my right hon. and learned Friend describe to me what latitude the Government would have that could do so much damage, or be so capricious, within the powers of the Bill, and can he give an example of what would be so damaging and outrageous?
As I have explained, this is a Henry VIII power, so within the period in which this power is operational—this is on my reading, but perhaps my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench will correct me—a Minister of the Crown may, by regulation, essentially change the way in which retained EU law is handled by requiring
“judicial notice to be taken of a relevant matter, or…provide for the admissibility in any legal proceedings of specified evidence of…a relevant matter”.
That is a very extensive power. Effectively, it gives a power to rewrite how legislation should be interpreted.
Give us an example.
The examples could be endless—[Interruption.] Well, if there is an established rule by which, for example, EU law is currently being applied, a Minister could say that, in future, that should be disapplied because notice should not be taken of its previous application.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is not correct to compare the direct application of EU law with Henry VIII powers? When EU law is made, we all sit around the table. EU law is not other people’s law but our law. We sit at the table when EU law is being made, so it is an incorrect comparison.
I do actually agree with the hon. Lady and, I am afraid, disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin). Of course, membership of the EU implies a pooling of sovereignty, but the decision-making process by which law has been created in the EU is one that is done not by faceless bureaucrats, but by the Council of Ministers. There is absolutely no doubt about that at all—
I do not wish to be dragged off into some new polemical argument. My hon. Friend says in secret, but, if I may say, we are signed up to hundreds of treaties other than that with the EU in which we pool our sovereignty to come to common positions with our fellow treaty makers.
I think that I am about to take up much more time than I wanted to. I give way to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon).
I am extremely grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. I agree entirely with his eloquent points about the power that schedule 5 transfers to Ministers of the Crown. Will he spend a moment reflecting on the definition of a Minister of the Crown that is set out in clause 14? The definition comprises not just Ministers, but
“also includes the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs”.
The power in schedule 5 is being given to a very broad range of individuals.
The hon. Lady is right. [Interruption.] Next to me, from a sedentary position, my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex is saying, “It’ll only be used for technical matters.” Indeed—let us be clear about this—I strongly suspect that that is the intention, but this is a very extensive power and, as it is worded, it goes way beyond technical amendments. As we are in Committee, it seems perfectly proper for me, as a Back-Bench Member of Parliament—it does not matter which side of the Chamber I am sitting on—to ask my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to explain to the Committee how the power will be used. I gently say to my hon. Friends that the problem with this debate is that the heat that starts to come off very quickly goes into issues of principle about what has been going on over the past 50 years. Could we just gently come back to focus on the issue at hand?
As much as I would like to give way to my right hon. Friend, I am actually now going to sit down.
Just for a second.
All right, I will give way.
I want to take up my right hon. and learned Friend on one small point. After agreeing with the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and justifying the past 40 years by saying that decisions were agreed by Ministers sitting together to make law, he knocked down his own argument as to why he cannot support what Ministers are doing because, of course, they would use this power as Ministers who have been elected to implement change and make law. My right hon. and learned Friend cannot have it both ways. Either he thinks that the last 40 years were wrong, which is why one defends the idea of change, as he did originally; or he thinks that the last 40 years were fine, in which case there is no attack on this particular aspect of the Bill.
I am afraid that I disagree totally with my right hon. Friend. In the last 40 years, we decided to pool sovereignty as a matter of national interest and necessity. This is a totally different issue; it is about our domestic law. When it comes to matters of domestic law, this House does not have the necessary constraint, which is the very reason why I have asked these questions. I am quite confident that my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench will be able to provide some cogent answers to the points I have raised.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
All right, but this is the last one.
Is there not also another difference, which is that decisions within the European Union are not just taken by meetings of the Council of Ministers, as there is a co-decision process that involves elected Members of the European Parliament representing all 28 member states?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I do not want to get dragged into revisiting the way in which the European Union works. The European Union has many flaws, and there are many issues on which I have seen fit to criticise it during my years in the House—including, sometimes, the way it goes about its business. Having said that, this constant conflation of the two issues when we are carrying out scrutiny of what will be domestic legislation is, in my view, not helpful. We need to focus on what we are doing. If we do, we will come up with the right answers.
It is a real pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who made a characteristically thoughtful and reasonable contribution. It is always remarkable to see how such thoughtfulness and reasonableness can be so provocative to some Government Members.
I wish to speak to amendments 348 and 349 in my name and the names of my hon. and right hon. Friends. I hope, in doing so, to build on the agreement across the Committee that was evident last Wednesday, when we made the decision that Parliament should have a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal.
Just for clarification, amendment 348 is in the first group of amendments and amendment 349 is in the next group.
Thank you for that clarification, Dame Rosie, although I think that the points that I am making stand regardless.
Following on from the decision last Wednesday, let us be clear that an overwhelming majority of Members respect the result of the referendum, as was reflected in the vote on article 50, but there is also a clear majority who reject the deep rupture with our friends and partners in the EU 27 that is advocated by some of the more extreme Brexiteers. In the months ahead, that clear majority needs to find its voice. Most Members—many more than reflected in last Wednesday’s vote—recognise that our future lies in a close and collaborative relationship with the EU. [Interruption.] I am sorry if that was provocative to some Government Members. The Prime Minister describes that relationship as a “deep and special partnership”. It is a relationship based on maintaining common EU standards and regulations necessary for our future trading relationship, and it is vital in protecting jobs and the economy.
It is also a majority of the House who recognise that the referendum was a close vote—not the unprecedented mandate that some have suggested. Yes, 17.5 million people voted to leave the EU in 2016. That is roughly the same number as voted to remain in 1975, although that represented 67% of voters in 1975. It was a clear decision, but a close vote, and one that we should be implementing in a way that unites the country, not in a way that drives a further wedge between the 52% and the 48%.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should be trying to bring people together, rather than separating them. In that context, will he explain his definition of Brexiteer? He used the word earlier in the phrase “more extreme Brexiteers”. In his definition, is every Member who voted for article 50—I think that five sixths of the House did so—characterised as a Brexiteer?
Clearly not. Like hon. Members across the House, including the overwhelming majority of the Opposition, I campaigned to remain in the European Union because I thought it was right thing to do economically and politically for our country and our continent. But I voted for article 50. That clearly does not characterise me as an extreme Brexiteer. Since I was elected in 2010, it has startled me that a small number of Members seem to define their politics by their ambition to leave the European Union at any cost and at any price; that is what I would describe as extreme.
Again, just for clarification, Members who voted for article 50 are not Brexiteers, but presumably those who did not vote for article 50 are also not Brexiteers. Therefore, none of us is a Brexiteer; or are we actually all Brexiteers and just trying to resolve the issue?
I am not really sure where the hon. Gentleman is trying to go with that argument. My point is that an overwhelming majority in the House wish to see us implement the decision of 2016 sensibly, and in a close and collaborative relationship with the EU 27. There are others—a small number, whose voices I expect to hear shortly—who would see us leave at any cost, and I regret that.
My hon. Friend says a number of extreme Brexiteers in this House want to leave at any cost. Does he accept that a small number of Members will do anything—anything—to stop the United Kingdom carrying out the wishes of the British people to leave the European Union?
No, I do not, and it is unfortunate that some people have been characterised in that way, as the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and others were by some of their colleagues last week. If I can now make some progress—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Well, while we are talking about extreme voices, I am happy to give way.
There are right hon. and hon. Members who say they want to honour the result of the referendum, but who actually want the European Union to carry on controlling our laws. I call them Brexinos—people who want Brexit in name only. There may well be a majority of them in this House, but that would not be respecting the result of the referendum, would it?
The hon. Gentleman is a good example of those who see conspiracy in any corner. I note the article he wrote in The Guardian on 8 October under the title “It’s a sad truth: on Brexit we just can’t trust the Treasury”. He went on to say:
“There is no intrinsic reason why Brexit should be difficult or damaging, but the EU itself has so far demonstrated it wants to make it so…it has co-opted the CBI…the City and…the Treasury to assist.”
Well, I think that the majority of Members take a more rational view.
The decision taken in 2016 was not a mandate for driving over a cliff edge with no deal or for having no transitional arrangement in place. It was not a vote for leaving all the agencies and partnerships from which we have benefited over the years and could continue to benefit or for turning our back on the single market, walking away from the customs union or—I say this with an eye on the contribution made in the last debate by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who is paying more attention to his phone than to the debate—turning our back on the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Would the hon. Gentleman let me intervene?
I was hoping the right hon. Gentleman would.
Is the hon. Gentleman not guilty himself, however, of attempting to interpret what the vote was for? On the ballot paper was the issue of whether to leave; the rest is down to negotiation. So, surely, his position is as absurd as that of anyone who says they know these things. He does not know. He knows only one thing: that the British people voted to leave. The rest is for negotiation.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The rest is indeed down to negotiation, and it is down to this Parliament to make the final decisions.
In the right hon. Gentleman’s contribution to, I think, the debate on day one, he sought to interpret the mandate by saying that the primary reason, from the research he had done, for leave voters voting as they did was their antipathy to the Court of Justice of the European Union. I was quite surprised by that, because I talked to hundreds of people on the doorstep who told me they were voting to leave, and the jurisdiction of the CJEU was not one of the regular issues raised.
Therefore, after day one, I took the time to look at the right hon. Gentleman’s research, which was carried out in partnership with the Foreign Secretary’s and the Environment Secretary’s favourite think-tank, the Legatum Institute. I located the report, and I read it with interest. Unusually, it did not include data on the full results, only the final weighted results, but the interesting thing was the question itself. Whereas the other choices were value-neutral—the economy, immigration, national security or the NHS— one option was
“The ability for Britain to make its own laws”—
a leading question if ever I heard one. [Interruption.] If the question had been “Jurisdiction of the Court of Justice”, the right hon. Gentleman may well have found a different answer. Other research, with larger samples—
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can skip that and go to the point that was in that pamphlet, which made it clear that when people were asked what their primary reason was for voting to leave, it was “Take back control”—control of our laws, our borders and our money. He can debate that as much as he likes, but the public knew about that when they voted.
Are we not in a discussion about who interprets what? Is it not therefore time that we asked the people: what did they mean?
We will come to that point in the second half of our debate today, and I will take the opportunity to comment on it then. However, to answer the right hon. Gentleman, the point I was making was that he sought to interpret the leave vote in a way that, on the basis of the research he cited, was flawed.
Analysis he might look at of nearly 3,000 British people, which was conducted by the NatCen Social Research, found that concerns about immigration were the driving factor for 75% of leave voters, which should not surprise him, because that was something he put very much at the centre of his arguments during the leave campaign.
If we know what the vote was not, let us remind ourselves what it was: it was simply a vote to leave the European Union. The campaign was hugely divisive. I spoke at dozens of meetings during the campaign, and the very last question of the very last meeting, in a local church, was, “How are you going to put our divided country back together again after all this?” Sadly, that question is as relevant now as it was then, as some of the abuse faced by Conservative Members after the vote last week demonstrated.
Meeting that challenge is a responsibility for us all, and it starts with us recognising that the majority in this House speaks for the country in wanting a sensible approach to Brexit. Instead of fuelling division, the Government should reach out and seek to build on that consensus for the next phase of the negotiations, in a way that will bring people together.
Last week’s drama should have been unnecessary. We should have been able to readily agree on the sovereignty of Parliament and on a meaningful final vote for this place. Labour amendments 348 and 349—when we come to it—which seek the publication of any impact assessment conducted by the Government, should be as uncontroversial as the idea that Parliament should have a say.
Clearly, events have moved on since these amendments were tabled, but real issues do remain. We obviously brought a motion on the issue to the House on 1 November, asking that impact assessments should be passed to the Exiting the European Union Committee. We did that for the same reason that the House voted last week: we want proper transparency and accountability in this process, but that is not what we got.
The Government neither amended nor opposed our motion, but they hoped to sidestep it. When Mr Speaker confirmed it was binding—
On a point of order, Dame Rosie. My understanding of the advice you gave earlier is that amendment 348, which is about impact assessments, is not being discussed at this moment. I think that you told us that this debate is supposed to be about new clause 21, which is about clear English. That is why I asked the question about the shadow Minister’s definition of the word “Brexiteer”. However, I have not heard anything about new clause 21, and I think that you said we are going to take amendment 348 later.
No, I think the hon. Gentleman misheard. I actually said that amendment 349 was in the second set and that amendment 348 is in this set, as is clause 13 stand part and schedule 5—hence why the debate is a little wider than the hon. Gentleman might wish it to be.
Thank you, Dame Rosie.
The point I was making was that when Mr Speaker confirmed that our motion was binding and, indeed, that the Government should comply urgently, they clearly found themselves in a bit of a fix. Three weeks later, they finally produced something, although it was not what we voted for. I was really keen to read the papers that had been described by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union as offering “excruciating detail” on the impact of the various options we faced as a country when leaving. So I, like a number of other Members, booked my slot for the DExEU reading room at the earliest opportunity.
On 5 December, I turned up at 100 Parliament Street and reported to reception. I was accompanied, closely, to the room. When I arrived, I was required to hand over my mobile phone. Having been sat at the table, two lever-arch files were brought to me from a locked cabinet, and as I read them I was supervised by two civil servants. So what did I find? Nothing that could not have been found in a reasonable internet search—which is presumably what the civil servants had been doing over the preceding three weeks in order to prepare them.
I went through the exact same experience. I visited the Cabinet Office and gave in my mobile phone, and made my written notes on the various tables in the section I was interested in. Afterwards, I found that I was given the identical information by submitting written parliamentary questions —so why all the secrecy?
My hon. Friend makes the point very well. Why all the secrecy for what was available in that room, because there was certainly no assessment—or analysis, if we are playing with words—of the impact of the policy choices facing the Government and the country?
The education section starts by saying, “We will not touch on the effects on Horizon 2020 or Erasmus.” It does not touch at all on non-higher education. There is no impact assessment on summer schools or language teaching in this country. Clearly, the work was not really done even with an internet search.
We are probably straying on to dangerous territory if we start talking about the content, such are the rules surrounding the documents until such time as they are made public, but those of us who have been there know that they provide no analysis and no impact assessment. So it was no surprise when the Secretary of State told the Brexit Committee last Wednesday that the Government had undertaken “no quantitative assessment” of the impact of leaving the customs union—just one of the policy choices we face. Yet just a few hours later, in a room just a few yards away, the Chancellor told the Treasury Committee that the Government had
“modelled and analysed a wide range of potential alternative structures between the EU and the UK, potential alternative arrangements and agreements that might be made.”
The Chancellor’s answer was developed in oral questions last Thursday by the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), who is in his place. He said:
“Our sectoral analysis is made up of a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analyses examining activity across sectors, regulatory and trade frameworks and the views of stakeholders.”—[Official Report, 14 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 588.]
Let us bear in mind that the Secretary of State had said that no quantitative assessment has been undertaken on the impact of leaving the customs union. So in this
“qualitative and quantitative analysis of regulatory and trade frameworks”
have the Government for some reason exempted the customs union?
Is the hon. Gentleman confused, as I am, about the reasons why the Government seem to have this problem—I do not know whether it is an ideological objection—with conducting impact assessments? We heard from the Prime Minister on Monday that Ministers are sitting down to discuss our future trading relationship with the European Union without having in front of them any impact assessments on what the different economic impacts of these models might be. How irresponsible is that?
The worry is that either they are not conducting them or they are conducting them and not sharing them in the way that was required.
Could not there be another, far more simple, explanation—that the Secretary of State is heading a Department that should be renamed “the Department for Winging It”?
That is probably the sort of phrase that the Secretary of State might use on some occasions.
On 2 February 2017, the Secretary of State told the House:
“We continue to analyse the impact of our exit across the breadth of the UK economy, covering more than 50 sectors—I think it was 58 at the last count—to shape our negotiating position.”—[Official Report, 2 February 2017; Vol. 620, c. 1218.]
Was he right? Or was the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) right when he said recently that the Secretary of State
“has never actually referred to impact assessments… These were a fiction of the media and the Labour party”?
If the Government are playing with semantics, claiming that assessments of impact and impact assessments are not the same thing, they should be aware that they are at serious risk of misleading the House. Even more worryingly, have they, as we have heard suggested, actually not undertaken this work at all? Are they hiding these assessments in semantics—hiding them from the House and from the Select Committee—or do they not even have any work to hide?
We will not press the amendment to a vote. It would, after all, replicate the vote on the decision that the House took on 1 November—we have seen how the Government responded to that—but that should not be interpreted by those on the Treasury Bench that this signals an end to the matter. We will continue to press for accountability and transparency throughout the negotiations and hope that that will find support across the House.
I want to speak briefly on new clause 21 and amendment 348. I also want to make some points in response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), because I agree with him on half of what he says and not on the other half. I will keep that stored up for the end to try to persuade him to stay; otherwise, I am sure that cups of tea may beckon for many.
I think that new clause 21, tabled by the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie), is the great confession that we have been waiting for from the pro-Europeans in this House. The new clause has been given the support of some of the most luminous pro-Europeans known to the nation: the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), and that great panjandrum of pro-Europeanism, the distinguished gentleman the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable). All have signed this new clause. It says what we Eurosceptics have been saying all along: that the European Union produces its law in a form of gobbledegook—stentorian, sesquipedalian sentences that nobody can ever understand—and that when it is brought into British law, it should therefore be brought in in a plain English translation. The title of the new clause is “Plain English summary”.
I agree with my hon. Friend’s description, actually. Does he agree that a lot of these things are almost as bad as the drafting of the Finance Bills that the Government bring before the House of Commons year after year?
I am extremely grateful for the humility being shown by my distinguished right hon. and learned Friend, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, who admits that some of the Bills brought forward by his own former Department are incomprehensible to the lay reader. It is a broader problem of legislation, but it has been a particular problem of European legislation. That is why I have some sympathy for the new clause. As EU law is brought into UK law, which is widely accepted as the right starting point for when we leave the European Union, the Government ought to seek to do it in a form that is intelligible and easy to understand. This is one of the areas where I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, who said that that is one of the principles of the rule of law. As we do this, we should of course be sticking to principles of basic constitutional fairness.
It is glorious that the second argument of the Eurosceptics has been accepted in this new clause. The first argument is the basic one of taking back control, but the second is that the fundamental nature of the way in which the EU created law, and the whole body of the acquis communautaire, was not comprehensible to most people, was not subject to satisfactory democratic control, and was a bureaucratic monster that rolled on and on regardless.
Of course I give way to the hon. Lady, whose constituency I encircle.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, my constituency neighbour, for giving way. Has he ever tried to put any legislation in front of an ordinary person and ask him or her whether it is comprehensible? Our discussion demonstrates our difficulty, as parliamentarians, in making comprehensible to the people who elect us what we are actually about.
In North East Somerset, we do not have ordinary people. We have only exceptional, brilliant and talented individuals of the highest and finest calibre. I have a serious point to make in that: we, as politicians, should never use the term “ordinary people”, implying that we are some priestly caste who understand the mysteries of legislation, whereas ordinary people do not.
I apologise for the use of the term “ordinary people”. I accept that it is possibly not a very good way of describing the people who elect us.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for that. I think the point is important, and we should try to remember it.
A lot of the legislation that we pass can be explained to everybody—even to ourselves—in an understandable way. If we look at the Treasury Bench, we see some of the finest brains in Britain. They get up at the Dispatch Box and explain to us what is going to be passed into law, in terms that even Members of Parliament—including those of us who are not learned Members—can understand. I think that laws can be explained simply, and that is a worthy ambition.
New clause 21 makes the important point that during our period of membership, the EU increasingly turned out law that people did not understand. We have a golden opportunity to improve the quality of the legislation that we pass, improve people’s general understanding of it and improve our own understanding of it. Clarity is just and fair. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, that we want to apply this to our own work as well. There is no point in complaining about the European Union in that regard, but making our own laws incomprehensible. As an aside to what he said, one of the reasons why there is so much tax avoidance is that tax law is written in so complicated a manner.
Amendment 348 is important, and as the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) rightly said, it touches on the subject of the Humble Address that was brought forward on 1 November. The Government have dealt with the matter, and it is important to look at what they have done in response to the Humble Address. Many Conservative Members have opposed the European Union on the grounds of parliamentary sovereignty and an understanding of the nature of our constitution. We must recognise that a Humble Address motion is unquestionably binding. That has always been the tradition of this place. It is quite clear from “Erskine May” that there is a profound duty on the Government to fulfil the terms of any Humble Address. It will be interesting to see how often the Opposition use that procedure over the next few years to try to get information from the Government.
It is worth noting why the Humble Address procedure fell out of practice. I think the real reason was that Governments tended to command sufficient majorities in the House that a Humble Address motion they opposed would not get through. In the situation of a very slim overall majority, with the help of our friends from the Democratic Unionist party—
It is not expensive help. That is quite wrong. As the hon. and learned Lady knows, the £1 billion is less than was spent in Northern Ireland in the last Parliament. It is quite right that a Unionist party should help to form a Unionist Government.
Humble Addresses fell out of favour because they simply could not be got through. We need to look at how the Government responded to the Humble Address. My initial reaction was that the Government had not fulfilled the terms of the Humble Address, because it was not initially clear that the impact assessments did not, in fact, exist. The first indication was that the Government were nervous about producing information —they never said “impact assessments”—that might undermine the negotiating position. That seemed a sensible point to make, but not one that could conceivably override a Humble Address, which took precedence over it.
As the information was presented to the Exiting the European Union Committee, it became clear that the Government had been as helpful as they possibly could have been in producing information that had not, in fact, been requested by the Humble Address, which asked for something that did not exist. I think that technicalities in this field are important, and it is rational for Governments to follow them.
I happen to think that that is a lesson for the Opposition. If they are to call for Humble Addresses, they must make sure that those Humble Addresses are correctly—even pedantically—phrased to ensure that they are asking for something that really exists. I feel that the hon. Member for Sheffield Central was being unfair when he criticised the Government for failing to produce information that did not exist. The Government did as much as they could to produce the two folders—the 800 pages—of sectoral analysis. When we look through the record, we see that that is what the Government always admitted existed. The Government were careful to answer questions by referring to sectoral analyses, even if the questioner asked for impact assessments. That, I think, is where the misunderstanding developed that such impact assessments existed.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has been in to read the documents, but by no stretch of the imagination are they an analysis or an assessment. They are purely descriptive. Either they have come from Wikipedia or—I think this is more likely—they are a bad piece of GCSE coursework, which would get a fail if it was supposed to contain analysis.
I did go to see the documents, as a member of the Exiting the European Union Committee. I was lucky; I was not told that I had to hand over my mobile telephone, my secret spyglasses or whatever other kit I might have borrowed from James Bond and brought with me so that I could try to take these secret bits of information out to the wider world. I did not have to suffer the great indignity that some other hon. Gentlemen have suffered. I was allowed to sit down and plough through the documents.
I must confess that on that afternoon, I would have been happier reading a P.G. Wodehouse or a similarly entertaining document. I also confess that there was not a great deal in the bit that I read that could not have been found out by somebody with an able researcher or competence in the use of Google. None the less, the information had all been brought together in a usable fashion in one place, and it was an analysis of the sectors covered. It may not have been exciting, it may not have been the read of the century and it may not have won the Booker prize. None the less, it was a detailed sectoral analysis and it more than met the requirements laid down by the Humble Address, which asked for something that did not exist.
The hon. Gentleman is extremely generous to give way again to me. I asked the Secretary of State in the Select Committee where and when he thought the misunderstanding had arisen, but I do not think I got a very satisfactory answer. He had plenty of opportunities in the House to correct us and say, “These are not impact assessments; they are sectoral analyses.” He never chose to do that, and I am still waiting for the answer. Why does the hon. Gentleman think that the Secretary of State did not have the opportunity to clear up that misunderstanding?
I do not agree with the hon. Lady. I think the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), made the situation clear from the Dispatch Box. He said in no uncertain terms that there were not impact assessments, but there were sectoral analyses. Dare I say that there are none so deaf as those who will not hear? I think the House did not particularly hear that those impact assessments did not exist, and therefore rode over the information that was given from the Dispatch Box.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being so generous. I brought up the issue with the Secretary of State in October 2016, when he told me:
“We currently have in place an assessment of 51 sectors of the economy.”—[Official Report, 20 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 938.]
The hon. Gentleman knows as well I do that there are only 39, and they do not look like assessments of sectors of the economy. Will he join me in asking Front Benchers whether they will clarify their position on that issue?
The hon. Gentleman is moving away from the Humble Address, which asked for impact assessments, not assessments of the economy by sector. He is asking about another piece of information, which he is quite entitled to do. It is perfectly legitimate to ask for that information, but it in no sense represents a breach of the Humble Address; nor is it covered by amendment 348. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to intervene again? No?
Let me be bipartisan and take our friend from Scotland first.
In fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) on the SNP Front Bench, he was referring to his own question, not the Humble Address, so will the hon. Gentleman address his point?
Yes, but I was saying that the terms of the question asked by the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) and the Humble Address were different. The Humble Address is a binding motion, but although the hon. Gentleman’s questions are very important and deserve to be taken seriously—and treated, as all questions should be, properly and diligently—they are not binding in themselves. It might be a great thing if the hon. Gentleman’s questions were to become binding and have the force and weight of the whole House of Commons behind them, but that is not yet the situation. I will now happily give way to my right hon. Friend.
We are rehearsing matters that I thought had been thoroughly covered, but the reality is that had the Secretary of State not addressed the requirements of the Humble Address, he would have been guilty of a contempt, and Mr Speaker has made it absolutely clear that that was not the case.