House of Commons
Wednesday 13 June 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Universal credit is already operating in 15 jobcentres across Wales, with a further nine scheduled for roll-out this month. The number of people receiving universal credit in Wales is now over 40,000, and 36% of them are in employment. Wales’s jobcentres are in the latter part of the roll-out schedule and will be fully in place by December this year.
My constituent suffers from Huntington’s and early onset dementia. As a result of a 10-week delay to receive universal credit, her rent arrears went up £1,000. A couple of weeks ago, she attempted suicide. Thankfully, I managed to help her on this, but there may be other cases in Wales just like it. Will the Secretary of State work with his colleagues and revise this damaging policy?
I obviously cannot comment on the individual case, but I am sorry that the hon. Lady’s constituent was in that position. We have tried to do everything we can to ensure that the roll-out has been as smooth and as slow as possible, and where we have had issues such as those that she raised, we have made changes. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made the announcement in the Budget about the changes—we want to deal with the housing issues that she raises.
The IPPR, Shelter Cymru, the National Assembly’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, the Bevan Foundation and the Trussell Trust all argue that Wales should have the same powers that the Scottish Government have been using so effectively to mitigate this Government’s horrendous social security cuts. Why will the Conservative Government here and the Labour Government in Cardiff not make it happen?
In Scotland, the transfer from disability living allowance to personal independence payment has resulted in a total of more than £56 million being lost in annual payments. In my constituency, the total loss to people with disabilities is over £2 million a year, so what assessment has the Secretary of State made of a similar impact on disabled people in Wales?
The reason we have introduced PIP is to make sure that people who are living with disabilities are able to have as independent a life as possible. The problem with the old system of DLA is that people were given the payment and their needs were never reassessed. That is the reason why with PIP, we are making regular assessments, so that as those conditions may deteriorate, they will get more support. I also point out that more people are getting the higher rate of PIP than they did of DLA.
Will the Minister reflect on the fact that it is welcome that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has put measures in place to make sure that there is no delay in people getting universal credit, and that it is worth reminding people that universal credit means that it always pays to take a job, and that people are better off as they move up the income scale in work? Those are the important benefits of the policy that people need to be reminded of every day of the week.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. People who are on universal credit are spending 50% more time looking for a job than they did on jobseeker’s allowance. They are getting into work quicker and when they are staying in work, they are staying there longer. The figures are quite staggering: 86% of people on universal credit are looking to increase their hours, because they can do so, compared with just 38% on JSA.
The Department for Work and Pensions’ own figures show that 44% of universal credit claimants have seen their arrears rise by the time that they are nine months into their claim. Many of these claimants are vulnerable because they have issues with mental ill health, literacy and using computers, or they may have experienced domestic violence and recent bereavement. Whatever the reason, nearly half of them are suffering financially as a result of universal credit. Will the Minister and his team meet Opposition Members and advice agencies from Wales to discuss these issues and to see how we can improve this dreadful situation?
There are a number of reasons why people who come to universal credit have arrears—I presume that the hon. Gentleman is talking about housing costs arrears and rent arrears. Some of those people had arrears when they were on JSA. That said, we have listened very carefully. That is why in the Budget we made provision that from now on, people who are going on to universal credit will have two weeks’ extra payment to address that need.
Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon
I have regular discussions with Ministers at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on energy matters pertaining to Wales. A statement on the proposals for the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon will be made in due course.
The Swansea Bay tidal lagoon is vital to Britain’s future energy supplies and is the first of many major schemes to harness the vast marine energy resources around our shores to generate electricity and switch the country to renewables, to reduce and prevent climate change. That is now urgent. Given that, among other things, the Welsh Government have offered to help pay for it, when are the Government going to stop dithering and make the scheme happen?
I would really like the tidal lagoon to go ahead, but of course it must prove to be value for money. Tidal projects could have a positive energy potential, but of course they must deliver value for money for the taxpayer. A number of proposals have been made, and I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is supportive of just the project he mentions or marine and tidal projects in general.
The Secretary of State is fast becoming the grim reaper of Welsh politics—the bearer of bad news. When he pulls the plug on the lagoon there will be huge public anger in Wales. Many people back in the motherland will be left asking not only what the point of the current Secretary of State is, but what the point of having a colonial Secretary at all is.
I am disappointed with the tone the hon. Gentleman takes. I would hope that he would recognise the fair funding settlement that we got for Wales—something that the Labour party ignored for 13 years; the Severn tolls announcement; and the city and growth deals that we have got. For Swansea there is a £1.3 billion scheme, and the Cardiff scheme is the biggest in the UK. I hope that demonstrates the value that a Secretary of State for Wales can bring.
No announcement has been made on the tidal lagoon because we are still looking at the numbers. We are doing anything and everything possible to try to make this fit. The hon. Lady should not want it to go ahead if it is not good value for money for the taxpayer. She will be well aware that Tata is an energy-intensive industrial site right next door to the site for the proposed tidal lagoon. I do not think she or any other Member would want to increase energy prices in a way that could put those jobs at risk.
Will the Secretary of State point out to the Business Secretary that once nuclear energy commands 12% of global output, we will run out of uranium in 10 years and the price will go up, as will the price of fossil fuels, because we cannot use 80% of them if we are to fulfil the Paris agreement, whereas the price of energy from the lagoon will go down over 100 years? Will the Secretary of State point that out, rather than just sit there doing nothing?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman mentions the Wylfa project, because it is a great demonstration of the Government being prepared to look at the financial model and adjust it in order to make projects happen. It will be the biggest infrastructure project in Wales for well over 30 years, and it provides fantastic prospects. I hope that tidal and marine energy could offer the same, but we should want a scheme only if it is good value for money.
When the people of Wales and the Welsh Labour Government can see the merit of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon to the extent that they are prepared to invest more than £200 million to achieve the benefits in jobs, growth and cheap, clean renewable power, why will the Secretary of State’s UK Tory Government not even go as far as to sign the same deal they have already concluded with the French and Chinese Government to pay £92.50 per megawatt-hour for nuclear electricity that will be produced at Hinkley C for the next 35 years?
The hon. Lady raises an important point, because she talks about projects that are value for money. Of course £92.50 was rightly highlighted as extremely expensive at the time, and we said that that would be the highest we would pay for such energy projects. We have already said that the tidal lagoon, under the current proposals, would be twice the price of nuclear, so clearly we would not want to be in that position. I should add that I really want this project to happen if it is good value for money for the taxpayer, and my record is strong. I was the one who took Tidal Lagoon Power to meet the special advisers at No. 10 at the very beginning of this process in 2012, and it was from that moment on that the project was taken seriously.
The whole of Wales is waiting for this decision, because the tidal lagoon project is not just about Swansea. If the Secretary of State’s UK Tory Government accept Carwyn Jones’s kind offer, tidal lagoons for Cardiff, Colwyn Bay and Newport will quickly become real prospects. They could bring jobs and prosperity to the whole of Wales and boost our vital steel industry. This is about the development of technological innovation and bringing it to the point of full commercial productivity. That is what we do in Wales, in stark contrast to the way the Government have proceeded. Were the Government to participate in a general election in the next few months, what exactly would the Secretary of State be able to claim as the industrial or infrastructure achievement that they have delivered for the people of Wales?
The hon. Lady referred to the Welsh Government’s commitment of £200 million, but that is merely a small fraction of the cost of the proposal. We are working with the Welsh Government: we have shared our financial analysis of the project and they have not rejected or pushed back on the sharing of that data. That demonstrates the collaborative approach to the project that we want to take. I point out to the hon. Lady that the city and growth deals throughout every part of Wales are a good demonstration of the industrial strategy and of how the UK Government are committed to development and growth in Wales.
I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, including about how we work together to promote Wales across the globe. Along with the Minister responsible for tourism, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), I recently met key figures from our tourism sector to discuss the industry in Wales and the important role that the UK Government and VisitBritain have to play.
Given my hon. Friend’s participation in the programme “First Dates”, I am somewhat perturbed by his proposition. Anyway, I agree that the removal of the tolls will show that Wales is open for business and that we are determined to get people to come and visit the wonderful sights on offer in south Wales and throughout the country.
The fastest-growing industry in Wales is tourism, and as the Minister will know, the jewel in its crown is Anglesey, Sir Môn. Many businesses have been helped to establish themselves by the European social fund; how will that gap be filled post Brexit? Those businesses need the UK Government’s help.
Having been born and brought up on Anglesey, I have to agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is a wonderful place to visit. The European funding systems have been very complex and a source of frustration for businesses. We want to ensure that the UK prosperity fund is far more effective for exactly the industries that the hon. Gentleman refers to.
The 24 policy areas held back by Westminster in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill have now, with Labour’s seal of approval, been increased to include state aid. Why are the Government deliberately intervening to deny Wales the means to help ourselves?
Last night, the Unionist parties showed their complete contempt for devolutionists by collaborating to ensure that we had no longer than 18 measly minutes to debate the fate of our national democracies. Is this another attempt by Westminster to defeat what a former Prime Minister once described as the “enemy within”?
I have the utmost respect for the hon. Lady, but I completely disagree with her. I am a proud Unionist and I am also proud to be Welsh. I have to say that it was not Members on the Conservative Benches who curtailed the debate; it was the Opposition, who pushed every single Question to a Division.
It may be a small thing, but one way of attracting tourism to Wales is to clean up our verges and our roads. There is nothing worse than coming to Wales and seeing rubbish thrown across the sides of the valleys. What are the Government doing to speak to the Welsh Assembly and local councils to ensure that they are cleaning up their roads to attract more people to Wales?
The hon. Gentleman is right. It is actually issues such as that that matter a great deal to people and give a good impression. That is exactly why we have given more and fairer funding, to the Welsh Government. My understanding is that it is £120 per head at the moment.
Heathrow Expansion: Benefits for Wales
My hon. Friend is right, and I know that he is keen to gain a logistical hub in Scotland, which demonstrates that Heathrow airport expansion is a project not just for London and the south-east, but for the whole of the UK. I was in Shotton just a couple of weeks ago, one of the potential sites for a logistical hub, so I suspect that we may be in competition.
I welcome the moves that my hon. Friend is taking to ensure that Wales benefits from Heathrow expansion. I have a Heathrow hub in my constituency, just on the other side of the Severn. Aside from removing the tolls on the Severn bridge, which is an excellent thing to do, what else is he doing to try to strengthen economic links between the south-west of England and Wales?
My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point, because the removal of the Severn tolls creates a great opportunity to create and generate a new economic region. I held a Severn growth summit in Wales in January, and more people attended from the south-west of England than from Wales, which demonstrates the will to combine the capacity of the area to compete with the northern powerhouse, the midlands engine and London and the south-east.
Liverpool and Manchester airports serve north Wales. Will the Secretary of State ensure that those airports, which want further contacts with Heathrow, are not relegated to a position behind Heathrow on the issue of service access to airports?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He talks about Liverpool and Manchester. Part of the condition of the expansion of Heathrow airport and the construction of the third runway relates to the protection of 15% of slots for regional airports around the UK, and Liverpool and Manchester stand to benefit significantly from that.
Community transport operators provide vital services to the people of Wales. The Government have recently consulted on how to align domestic law on section 19 and 22 permits with EU legal obligations, as well as updating existing guidance on permits. We are now analysing the responses and will respond in due course.
As the Minister said, community transport operators in Wales have many valuable functions, including helping isolated people get to the shops, doctors, friends and family. They will be hit very hard by Government changes in terms of extra licensing and certification. The Community Transport Association says that this will affect 95% of operators, so what will the Minister do to help the Department for Transport listen and make changes?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady that community transport operators provide vital services, particularly in Wales, where there are an estimated 2 million passenger journeys over a total of 6 million miles. But we do have to align ourselves with the EU regulations, so we are consulting widely and looking at the responses in detail to ensure that we come up with the right answers.
The Minister will be aware that community transport providers along the Welsh border play a vital role in helping patients get to hospital and undertake some school contracts. I encourage him to speak to his colleagues in the Department for Transport to ensure that these vital services continue, irrespective of the court ruling, so that these services can be maintained in rural areas.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. These services often carry some of the most vulnerable and isolated members of society, which is why we are being careful to consult widely. I assure him that I already have an appointment in the diary with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman).
Bridgend Community Transport has some specific concerns about having to employ a transport manager costing in excess of £35,000. There is a real risk of that if the regulations go through after the consultations by the Department for Transport. May I ask the Minister, with all sincerity, to please be aware that these measures will have real implications if the Government simply do nothing to support community transport organisations?
I am aware of the real concerns of many operators. I have seen a lot of letters that have come in. There have been more than 500 responses to the consultation, and 550 operators attended each of the events around the country. We will ensure that we look at this in detail. [Interruption.]
Will my hon. Friend press his colleagues in the Department for Transport to query the legal advice that has changed the interpretation of these European Community rules, because it seems to be ultra-cautious? Will he ensure that genuine community services with unpaid, voluntary drivers and unpaid staff—providing services that no commercial operator would provide—are not put out of business by quite unnecessary regulations and costs?
Yes, indeed, in Wales, Mr Speaker. Well, I defer to my right hon. and learned Friend’s expertise in all matters legal. I would therefore, perhaps, in preparation for my meeting with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, ask for my right hon. and learned Friend’s guidance and advice so that I can present a case for the people of Wales.
Air Pollution: Chepstow
I have met Monmouthshire county councillors and share their concerns regarding air pollution around Chepstow. The abolition of the tolls on the Severn crossings represents a huge opportunity for economic growth in Chepstow and Monmouthshire, but we must also be alive to those sorts of pressures.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the interest that he has taken in this issue. Will he continue to press the Welsh Labour Government to fulfil their obligations by building a Chepstow bypass and showing the same commitment to clean air and a better environment that is being shown by this Conservative Government?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has established a strategic roads group in Britain, in which we can discuss cross-border issues. A meeting was held just last week. I am disappointed that the Welsh Government were not present, but we can continue to engage on a positive basis to ensure that these cross-border opportunities are exploited to the best of our ability.
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point about air quality, which is why the Government have launched their clean air strategy. There have been significant improvements in this field since 2010, but we absolutely recognise the challenges. I am not sure about the second element of his question, which relates to further devolution of fiscal policy.
I regularly discuss the role of Welsh steel plants in supporting a successful UK steel industry with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. We remain committed to supporting the sector to remain competitive in a challenging global marketplace.
The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has raised this matter directly with the President of the United States. The Secretary of State for International Trade has also raised it with his counterpart, and I have spoken to the UK’s trade commissioner in the US and to the US ambassador here in the UK. It is only by working with the European Union on these issues that we can bring about the best pressure. I am confident that the UK can play a leading part in those negotiations.
It is estimated that 100,000 tonnes of steel will be needed for the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project, so what representations has the Secretary of State made to his colleagues to show that scrapping the project would mean denying the Welsh steel sector that vital opportunity?
We had a series of questions on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon earlier, and we said that the project should only go ahead—I would really like it to go ahead—if it represents good value for money for the taxpayer. The hon. Lady notes the amount of steel that would be needed, but that is less than a month’s output for a major steel plant. The project has an important procurement role, but it should not be overstated.
North Wales Growth Deal
I am meeting the leaders of the growth board later today to discuss the progress they are making towards a deal, and last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met members of the CBI in north Wales to hear what business needs. I remain committed to securing a deal, but it must deliver a step change in economic activity.
The hon. Lady might be interested to know that I have met every single council leader in north Wales—I had a particularly good conversation with the leader of Conwy Council about this issue—and I am encouraging them to involve the sector in the growth deal bid.
Leaving the EU: Benefits for Wales
The Welsh economy approaches EU exit from a position of strength. Leaving the EU will allow us to shape our own ambitious trade and investment opportunities, in Europe and beyond, and put Wales and the wider UK at the forefront of global trade and investment opportunities.
Some 67% of Welsh exports are to the European Union. Yesterday, the Office for National Statistics reported that manufacturing in our country declined by the greatest amount in the past five years, and Ernst and Young says that our exports are nosediving. How is Brexit going to help?
I would say in the first instance that the hon. Gentleman is calling for a second referendum, which would create the greatest uncertainty for the UK, both economically and constitutionally. I also point out that exports from the UK are growing, and at a faster rate than areas outside the European Union, and he well knows that exports from Wales cannot be taken in isolation without considering the wider procurement and networking of businesses across the UK.
My hon. Friend is obviously very interested in how the successor to European aid programmes will work, as I am in relation to west Wales and the valleys in general. We have committed to a UK shared prosperity fund, which will allow us—this is one of the benefits of leaving the European Union—to come up with a much simpler and more targeted approach that can help the poorest communities across the UK.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I hold regular discussions with colleagues on the promotion of Welsh exports, and I am pleased to say that those exports continue to grow. The latest figures show that the value of exports from Wales, including those to destinations outside the EU, increased by more than 7% over the past year.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention that. Indeed, a good example is Net World Sports in Wrexham. That is an example of Welsh success in the retail market. Over 60% of its sales were in foreign markets last year, and it has won numerous industry awards in recognition of its success. There will be more of that in the future.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Tomorrow marks one year on from the Grenfell Tower fire. I know that Members on both sides of the House will join me in saying that this unimaginable tragedy remains at the forefront of our minds. On Monday, I had the privilege to attend the very moving vigil in memory of those who were lost that night, and I was honoured to take part in an iftar with members of the local community. Let me again reassure the House that we are doing everything we can to see that the survivors of Grenfell get the homes and support that they need and the truth and justice that they deserve.
I would also like to take this opportunity to wish the England men’s football team the very best in the upcoming World cup.
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.
I am sure the whole House will want to echo the Prime Minister’s comments about the Grenfell tragedy 12 months ago. My constituents certainly will want me to echo her good wishes to the England football team.
Last year, the top five co-operatives in our country paid more than four times the corporation tax of Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Starbucks and E.ON. I am sure the Prime Minister will want to praise the patriotism of those who have signed up to the Fair Tax Mark campaign. Might this not be an opportunity to encourage the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury to take a more proactive and supportive interest in the growth of co-operative and mutual businesses?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about his constituents’ support and thoughts for all those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.
On the issue of taxation, the hon. Gentleman may have noticed that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has been requiring some of the large companies that he referenced to pay more tax and has ensured we get that tax from them. It looks fairly across all types of institution that operate in this country.
I wish the England team all the best in the tournament in Russia and hope that it goes really, really well—[Interruption]—and that England win!
This week is national Carers Week, and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the thousands of usually unpaid carers whose commitment to family and friends too often goes unrecognised.
As the Prime Minister pointed out, tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire. I will be meeting families again tomorrow at their silent march. The sad truth and reality is that many of them are still waiting for the security of a permanent home one year on from that disaster.
When the Prime Minister met President Donald Trump last week, did she do as the Foreign Secretary suggested and ask him to take over the Brexit negotiations?
On the Brexit negotiations, I might remind the right hon. Gentleman that, before December, Labour cast doubt on whether we would get a joint report agreed—we did—and before March, he cast doubt on whether we would get an implementation period, and we did.
I wanted, if I may, just to respond to the comment that the right hon. Gentleman made about the very important subject of providing those who were the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire with permanent homes. Just so that I can make it clear to the House: 203 households were in need of a new home; every household has received an offer of temporary or permanent accommodation; and 183 have accepted an offer of a permanent home.
I just wanted to say this, because it is not just about the buildings; it is not just about the bricks and mortar of a home. People who suffered that night are having to rebuild their lives. Many of them lost somebody—members of their families—with whom they had been living and making a home for years. They lost all their possessions; they lost their mementoes; and they lost anything that reminds them of the person they loved. When they move into that new home, they will be restarting their lives, and I wanted to pay tribute to all the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire for the strength and dignity that they have shown.
I, too, pay tribute to the families for all they have been through and all the fortitude they have shown, but, sadly, the reality is that some of them have still not got a permanent home to move into. It is very important for the mental wellbeing of everybody that they have somewhere they can call home and they know it is their home.
Last week, the Prime Minister confirmed we would leave the European Union in March 2019 and the transition would end in December 2020, but we now know the Government are working on the basis that the transition could continue for a further year, till December 2021. Could she be clearer today? Which December are we talking about?
No, the right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in the way he has put this to the House, so let me be clear to the House. I think what he is trying to talk about is the backstop arrangement that we have agreed. Let us be very clear what this backstop is: this is an arrangement that will be put in place in the circumstances in which it is not possible to put the future new customs arrangement in place by 1 January 2021. It is there to ensure that, if those new customs arrangements are not in place, we are able to continue on the basis that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We are working to make sure that the future customs arrangements overall deal with the issue of ensuring no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We do not want the backstop to be necessary. We are working to ensure that we can have our future customs arrangements in place on 1 January 2021.
I am not really sure whether it is a backstop or a backslide that the Prime Minister is talking about here.
Last week, I asked the Prime Minister about this, and I am sorry to bring this subject up again because it is probably quite painful for her, but when is the Government’s Brexit White Paper going to be published? She did say it would be published before the June EU Council summit. Is that still the case?
No, I did not actually say that. I said the White Paper would be published, and we will be publishing it. We will be bringing Ministers together. [Hon. Members: “When?”] Just calm down. We will be bringing Ministers together after the June Council, and the White Paper will be published thereafter.
It gets ever more confusing, because at the weekend the Minister for the Cabinet Office told the BBC that it would not now be until July. Can I offer a solution to the Prime Minister? Instead of worrying about this White Paper, on which the Cabinet would have to agree, how about making it a Green Paper in which all their disagreements are in the open, and we can all comment on it? If the Government do not, as looks likely, have their detailed proposals ready for the June summit, surely the Prime Minister cannot be going to Brussels without anything to negotiate on, so is she going to seek a delay to that summit while the Government decide what their position actually is?
Perhaps I could just help the right hon. Gentleman. The June European Council is not a summit about the Brexit negotiations. There will be many issues that the European Union leaders will be discussing at the June European summit, including the important issue of sanctions against Russia. I will be pressing to ensure that we maintain sanctions against Russia, because the Minsk agreements have not been put in place, and indeed I think there are some areas where we should be enhancing that sanctions regime.
The right hon. Gentleman says that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office said that the White Paper would be published in July and that that is different from what I have just said. I have to say to him that after the June European Council is July. But if he wants to talk about differences of opinion, I will tell him what division really is: it is Labour Members—[Interruption.] It is all very well the deputy leader of the Labour party pointing like that. Division is members of the Labour party circulating instruction manuals on how to deselect all the Labour MPs sitting behind him.
“You’ve got to face the fact there may now be a meltdown.” They are not actually my words, but those of the Foreign Secretary, even as his fellow Cabinet Ministers are preparing people for the Government's negotiations, which he clearly thinks are going to end in disaster. Last week, he also took aim at the Treasury—the Chancellor is sitting absolutely next to him—calling them “the heart of remain”. He criticised them, saying:
“What they don’t want is friction at the borders. They don’t want any disruption of the economy”.
Does the Prime Minister back the Foreign Secretary in wanting more friction and more disruption to the economy?
Order. I want to hear both the questions and the answers, and as the record shows—[Interruption.] Order. I do not require any assistance in this matter. As the record shows, that will always happen, however long it takes. There is a lot of noise and much gesticulation from Members on both sides of the House, but I want to hear the questions and I want to hear the answers.
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) is absolutely right: we are in government, not Labour. We have set out our position on the border, but what we see is a Labour party that said it wanted to do trade deals, and now wants to be in a customs union that would stop that. They said they wanted to control our borders, and now they want free movement. They said they would respect the referendum, and now they will not rule out a second referendum. That is the difference between us: the Conservative party in government is going to deliver on the will of the British people.
In the parallel universe inhabited by the Foreign Secretary, we are apparently not respecting the referendum result unless we want friction at the borders and disruption of the economy.
The Cabinet is divided, and they are briefing against each other—they are even whispering during Prime Minister’s Question Time. The Prime Minister has been left with no White Paper on which to negotiate. Last week the transition period was delayed by a year, in the space of 24 hours. Yesterday a deal with her Back Benchers was reneged on within hours. Meanwhile, the economy is weakening and industry is increasingly alarmed at the sheer ineptitude of her Government. How much more damage is the Prime Minister going to do to this country before she realises that the important thing is to get a deal for the people of this country, not one to appease the clashing giant egos of her Cabinet?
It is the Labour party in opposition which is trying to frustrate Brexit. It is the Labour party which is trying to stop us getting a deal for the British people. This Government will deliver on Brexit. This Government will deliver a Brexit for jobs. This Government will deliver a Brexit that is good for Britain. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the economy, the last Labour Government left office with half a million more people out of work than when they went into office. What has happened under the Conservatives? We have seen nearly half a million more people in work just over the past year: that is the Conservatives delivering on a Britain that is fit for the future.
I have heard that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to organise a music festival, Labour Live. I will pass over the fact that it is going to have a “solidarity tent”, which obviously won’t have any Labour MPs in it. I do not know if all Members of the House are aware of the headline act at Labour Live. The headline act at Labour Live are the shadow Chancellor and the Magic Numbers—that just about sums them up.
I commend my hon. Friend for his work. I know he has worked hard on the issue of flood defences. I am sure, however, he will understand that Ministers need to consider the various options for allocations of the fund very carefully. We need to ensure we are getting the best possible outcomes across the whole country. The scheme to which he refers is on the list of projects being considered for the £40 million fund. It is intended to support high risk communities and I can tell him that we anticipate the decision will be made by summer 2018.
The Prime Minister gave a commitment that she would treat Scotland as part of a union of equals, yet last night she pressed ahead with a power grab in direct opposition to Scotland’s elected Parliament. The Prime Minister silenced Scotland’s voice. Having broken constitutional convention and plunged Scotland into a constitutional crisis, will the Prime Minister now commit to bringing forward emergency legislation, so that the will of the Scottish Parliament can be heard and, more importantly, respected?
We expect—and it will happen—that the outcome of the whole process of Brexit is going to be a significant increase in Holyrood’s decision-making power. It is not the case that this is in any way a power grab. More than 80 areas of decision-making responsibility will flow directly to Holyrood. Only the Scottish National party could say that was a power grab. If the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about the legislative process the House has followed, he should really ask why the Labour party used procedural manoeuvres last night to ensure that there was no debate on the amendments that referred to Scotland.
I really hope that the people of Scotland listened very carefully to what the Prime Minister said. The reality is that powers enshrined under the Scotland Act 1998 are being grabbed back by this House—it is a power grab—and MPs from Scotland were not given the courtesy even of being allowed to debate the matter last night. It is a democratic outrage. The people of Scotland will not be disrespected by this Parliament. In the circumstances, given the disrespect shown, I have no option but to ask that this House now sit in private.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman can resume his seat. I will happily take advice, but I do not think I am obliged to hear the matter at this time.
I think the relevant Standing Order requires that the matter be put, if it is to be put, forthwith—[Interruption.] Order. It might be for the convenience of the House for the matter to be addressed at the conclusion of Prime Minister’s questions, and if the right hon. Gentleman, who had not signalled to me his intention to do this now, wishes—[Interruption.] Order, order. I am always grateful for the moral support of the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), even when chuntered from a sedentary position. I realise it is done for my benefit, but I think I can handle the matter. We could have the vote now, or it could be taken at the end. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to indicate a desire to conduct such a vote now, so be it.
My advice—I have had a mixed sequence of advice—[Interruption.] Order. This has not happened before. [Interruption.] Order. My view is that it is better for the vote to be conducted—[Interruption.] Order. My view is that it is better for the vote to be conducted at the conclusion of questions to the Prime Minister.
Order. I always admit of the maximum number of votes and Divisions, as the right hon. Gentleman should know from his experience in the House, and I hope that he will trust that I know of what I speak. There can be a Division, and it will be at the end of questions, not now. That is the end of the matter. I call the Prime Minister.
Resume your seat. No, no. Mr Blackford, resume your seat. No, no. Resume your seat. No, no. Resume your seat. [Interruption.] Order, order. The House will have heard very clearly—[Interruption.] Order, please. The House will have heard very clearly my acceptance that there can be a vote on this matter—
No, no, Mr Blackford. Order, order.
Under the power given to me by Standing Order No. 43, in the light of the persistent and repeated refusal of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) to resume his seat when so instructed, I order the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw immediately from the House for the remainder of this day’s sitting.
The Speaker ordered Mr Blackford, Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, to withdraw immediately from the House during the remainder of the day’s sitting (Standing Order No. 43), and the Member withdrew accordingly.
Order. [Interruption.] Order! Mr Jayawardena, you are a very jocular fellow, but you are a little over-excitable today. Calm! There is a long time to go. [Interruption.] Order. I say only to the House, what a pity that the Scottish National party Members have left the Chamber, because some of them have questions on the Order Paper, and, as colleagues know, I always like to get to the end of the Order Paper. They would have had their chance, and they have lost that chance by their own choice.
I call Mr Luke Hall.
Order. I recognise that the House is in a state of some excitement—even Mr Hollinrake, who is normally a model of solemnity, is looking as though Christmas has come early—but I beseech the House to try to resume calm, not least out of courtesy to Members who have questions on the Order Paper, to whom, and to whose questions, we wish to listen. Luke Hall.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Youth unemployment in Thornbury and Yate has fallen by 23% in the last year, and the scrapping of stamp duty for more than 80% of first-time buyers means that more people in south Gloucestershire can afford a home of their own. Does the Prime Minister agree that while the Labour party can offer only higher taxes, fewer jobs and broken promises on student debt, this Government will focus on finding opportunities for young people up and down the country?
I am pleased to hear that a significant number of young people in Thornbury and Yate now have jobs. If we look at the figures, we see that, nationally, youth unemployment has fallen by about 141 every single day since 2010. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is not just about ensuring that young people are in jobs, but about helping them get on the housing ladder so that they can get a home of their own. That is why we are building more homes, and that is why the cut in stamp duty has been so good for young people, enabling them to be in work and to have their own home.
I am not aware of the particular circumstances of the former Mayor of Ipswich. However, what we have done in relation to the European Union citizens who are living here in the United Kingdom as we leave the European Union is to negotiate very good arrangements which will ensure that their rights here are protected.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
May I join my right hon. Friend in remembering the anniversary of the Grenfell fire and commend her for the way she has established the inquiry looking into that tragedy. May I testify to her, having met victims of the Grenfell fire, as she has, that they are showing growing confidence that the findings of that inquiry will be what they want, to make sure that such a thing never happens again? That is a testament to my right hon. Friend’s personal courage and persistence in making sure that the inquiry was not blown off course by the understandable anger that immediately followed the tragedy.
I add my personal congratulations to my hon. Friend on his knighthood. I absolutely agree with him about the importance of ensuring that the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire is able to provide the truth, to get to the answers of exactly why what happened happened and to ensure that justice is provided for the victims and survivors. It is a statutory inquiry; it has the power to compel witnesses and the production of evidence, which is important, and anyone who is found to have misled the inquiry would face prosecution. I hope this gives confidence to the survivors and people in the local community that this inquiry will indeed get to the truth.
The hon. Lady has raised a specific case and I am sure that she will understand that I do not have the details to address it, and it would not be right to do so here in this Chamber. What I can assure her and other Members is that individual cases that are raised with me in Prime Minister’s questions are taken extremely seriously and this one will be no exception. So I will ensure that the case is looked at urgently by the relevant Minister; obviously cases are complex and multifaceted, but this case will be looked at urgently.
My constituents have been incredibly tolerant in the face of the fiasco of their commuter journeys following the reorganisation of the timetables. However, added to their misery is the fact that when trains do turn up they are incredibly overcrowded. I have written to Govia three times asking it to conduct a risk assessment on the safety of my constituents who are their passengers as they come into London, and three times Govia has refused to answer me. Will the Prime Minister please use her good offices to ensure that our passengers travelling on overcrowded trains at the moment and suffering because of the rail delays are safe?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and the experience of passengers of Govia Thameslink and also Northern as a result of the change in timetables and the way that was done is simply unacceptable. It is important that they improve the services, and they have plans in place. I think, for example, that Govia Thameslink is introducing a new timetable that is better than the pre-May timetable and will have 200 more planned journeys. But of course passengers want to feel that they can travel in trains that are not too crowded, and I am sure that Govia Thameslink will be looking at that issue very seriously. The Department for Transport is working with that company and Northern to ensure that we can provide the services that people deserve; they pay for a ticket—they book a ticket, they pay for a season ticket—and they deserve to have a decent journey.
Of course it is important that people are able to have their appeals heard in a timely fashion. My right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary is looking at exactly this issue to see what can be done in the tribunal system to ensure that people get a more timely result.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, Mr Andriy Parubiy, to Westminster—although I suspect that he is utterly mystified by the events that took place 10 minutes ago? Will she take this opportunity to reaffirm the support of the UK for Ukraine, which is in the frontline against Russian aggression? Does she share the concern of Ukraine, along with Lithuania and Poland, about the strategic threat of the Nord Stream 2 Russian gas pipeline?
I am very happy to reaffirm the United Kingdom’s commitment to and support for Ukraine. Only a matter of weeks ago, I was pleased to be able to have a further conversation with President Poroshenko about the support that we are able to give to Ukraine, and about the work we are doing with Ukraine on the reforms that are being put through. Also, as I mentioned in response to a previous question, it is important that the European Union should maintain the sanctions on Russia, because the Minsk agreements have not been put in place and fully implemented. We need to continue to show the Russians that we do not accept what they have done in Ukraine.
The hon. Lady raises a number of aspects of this issue. The domestic violence and abuse Bill will be published in draft first. We have been taking our time, through the consultation, to work with those involved in working with victims of domestic violence and abuse, and to hear from victims and survivors, because we want to ensure that, as we bring this legislation together in the new Bill, we are getting it right for people. She refers to the issue of abortion. I believe it is absolutely right that a woman should have the right to a safe and legal abortion. As regards Northern Ireland, I believe that the best way—and my preferred way—is for that decision to be taken by the elected politicians in Northern Ireland, because it is a devolved matter. As regards votes on abortion in this House, they have always been treated as conscience matters and they will therefore be subject to a free vote.
This month, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence—NICE—will decide whether to fund a new treatment for neuroblastoma, a vicious childhood cancer that is affecting my constituent, Isla Caton. Will the Prime Minister encourage NICE and the drugs companies to do a deal to provide new treatments for children in Britain, so that their families do not have to fundraise for them to receive those treatments in America?
I know that my hon. Friend has raised this issue on behalf of her constituents; I believe that she has a constituency case involving the issue. NICE is developing guidelines for the NHS on the use of dinutuximab beta—I am not sure if I pronounced that correctly—for the treatment of high-risk neuroblastoma. It has not been able to recommend the drug as a clinically and cost-effective use of resources in its draft guidance, but it has consulted stakeholders on its draft recommendations. This is an ongoing NICE appraisal, and it is not for the Government to intervene in that, but NICE will obviously take all comments into account in its final guidance. I think that the manufacturer of the drug is currently making it available to some NHS patients through a compassionate use scheme, and has agreed to continue the scheme for patients who are currently receiving the treatment.
Vernon Bogdanor called the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham’s amendment, which we rejected yesterday, a “constitutional absurdity”. While it is essential that this House should hold the Government to account and have meaningful votes on many things, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely essential that the separation of powers should be observed, and that it should be made clear in any compromise amendment that the job of the Government and the job of Parliament are different?
I am happy to be clear about this situation. We have seen concerns raised about the role of Parliament in relation to the Brexit process. What I agreed yesterday is that, as the Bill goes back to the Lords, we will have further discussions with colleagues over those concerns. This morning, I have agreed with the Brexit Secretary that we will bring forward an amendment in the Lords, and there are a number of things that will guide our approach in doing so.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the separation of powers and the different roles of Government and Parliament. As my right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary made clear in the House yesterday, the Government’s hand in the negotiations cannot be tied by Parliament, but the Government must be accountable to Parliament. Government determines policy, and we then need parliamentary support to be able to implement that policy.
The other aspect of this that I am absolutely clear on is that I cannot countenance Parliament being able to overturn the will of the British people. Parliament gave the decision to the British people, the British people voted to leave the European Union and, as Prime Minister, I am determined to deliver that.
Fifteen months ago, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), called in the planned expansion of the Mall at Cribbs Causeway in my constituency. The plan represents huge economic benefit to the Bristol and south Gloucestershire area, and there are 3,000 construction jobs, 3,750 permanent jobs and 150 new homes at stake, as well as a significant amount of infrastructure investment. Will the Prime Minister urge the new Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to start as he means to go on and make a good decision quickly?
Obviously, my hon. Friend refers to the independent public inquiry, and after that took place the then Communities and Local Government Secretary called in the decision, and the new Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary is considering the inspector’s report. I understand that the Secretary of State hopes to issue his decision on or before the published target date of 2 August.
We have given Transport for the North unprecedented powers to influence decisions about transport investment in the north, but what is more we have backed it up with £260 million of Government funding. It has the powers to deliver a transport strategy, which the Government must formally consider, to fund organisations and to deliver transport projects. Those and its other powers are exactly what Transport for the North requested.
The Prime Minister is, I know, aware of the severe difficulties that my constituents have faced with recent delays to train services. Will the Prime Minister reassure me and my constituents that the Government will do everything they can to ensure that Govia Thameslink Railway and Network Rail get into shape to ensure a better-quality train service both now and into the future?
As I said in response to the earlier question from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), the immediate priority is to ensure that we see an improvement in services for Govia Thameslink passengers. That is why it has introduced a new timetable that is not the final timetable, but it is better than the pre-May timetable. We also need to ensure that GTR takes action so that it can bring forward the proposed new timetable, which will provide more services and better services for passengers. In the long term, the Government are working to bring train and track together so that we do not see problems like this in the future.
The Prime Minister will be aware that schools are often targeted in warzones. A couple of months ago, I met year 7 students from Lees Brook School in my constituency, and they implored me to ask the Prime Minister to sign the safe schools declaration, which I understand has subsequently been signed. Does that declaration mean that she will now veto future arms sales to brutal regimes such as Saudi Arabia, which has been targeting schools as part of its military campaign in Yemen?
The issue of the education of girls and boys in conflict zones is an important one, and it is one that was addressed at the G7 summit. We have been clear, as the United Kingdom Government, that we are providing financial support to ensure 12 years of quality education for girls, particularly in developing countries, and the G7 summit gave its commitment not only in financial terms, as we are contributing more to provide for quality education, but to focus on areas where there are conflict zones and particular action needs to be taken to ensure that education can be provided.
Very sadly, my constituent Gena Turgel lost her life last week, aged 95. Gena survived the Krakow ghetto, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald, and she became known as the bride of Belsen when she married her liberator. Will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating the life of Gena, who dedicated her life to informing young people about the horrors of the holocaust, and in ensuring that, although a light has gone out, her legacy lives on?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Gena Turgel and to the work she did over so many years. She was one of the first survivors to go into schools to share her story. I have seen, as I am sure other hon. and right hon. Members have, the impact on young people of a survivor of the holocaust going into schools to explain what happened. It is moving, and she showed considerable determination and strength. Her example is truly humbling.
It is right that Gena Turgel is going to live on in the national holocaust memorial and in the accompanying education centre, which will house her testimony for generations to come. We must never forget what Gena taught us. We must fight hatred and prejudice in all its forms.
When I go walking in Wales I tend to walk up and down hills, rather than on the beaches, but I know that Wales has some fantastic beaches. The hon. Lady raises the important issue of marine plastic. The UK public, as well as Members across the House, have shown great energy in picking up this cause and in wanting to fight against plastic waste.
Indeed, the UK is going to be leading, jointly with Vanuatu, the newly formed Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, and we are committing £61 million to fund global research and to improve waste management in developing countries to tackle plastic pollution. Again, this is another issue we took forward at the G7 summit and we got commitments on dealing with plastic waste.
I say to the hon. Lady that, with the greatest of respect, I am sorry but I think my diary has already been slightly changed as a result of what has been happening in the Chamber today. I regret that I will not be able to sit and listen to her speak to her Bill.
Does the Prime Minister agree that those people who want a meaningful vote in this House which would allow the House to vote to stay in the European Union would be betraying the result of the referendum? That shows how much the Labour party has lost touch with working-class people up and down this country. Does she further agree that those people who want to take no deal from the Government’s negotiating hand would only incentivise the European Union not to negotiate in any meaningful way, and would betray not only the result of the referendum but the best interests of the British people?
As we go ahead with these Brexit negotiations, we are of course ensuring that we make preparations for all eventualities. That is entirely right and proper for the Government to do but, as I set out in response to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), I am also clear that I cannot countenance Parliament overturning the will of the British people. The British people were given the choice on whether to stay in the European Union, and they were given that choice through the overwhelming vote of this Parliament. It is right that we listen to the British people and deliver what they asked us to do, which is to leave the European Union.
For a number of years we held a march in Islwyn to commemorate the service of test veterans to our country. Last week, test veterans were in the House of Commons to campaign for a medal for their service. Will the Prime Minister look at their campaign with a view to giving them a medal for the service they have given to this country?
As a father of twin girls who, as they are happily growing up in Clacton, enjoy a very equal upbringing and education, I celebrate the announcement of the G7 supporting girls’ education. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should support equality for women across the globe?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in agreeing with that and in saying that there are many ways in which we can express that and put it into practice, not just in supporting girls’ education but in the work we are doing on modern slavery. Modern slavery affects men as well as women, but we see many women from around the globe being trafficked into other countries for sexual or labour exploitation, and we are leading the fight to ensure they have equality and are not put into that position.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The president of the CBI has said today that sections of the UK car industry face “extinction” unless the UK stays in the EU customs union. Is there any level of damage inflicted by Brexit that would cause the Prime Minister to consider supporting the people having a final say on the deal and a chance to exit from a disastrous Brexit? I could also put that to the Leader of the Opposition.
As I have said many times in this House, we are looking to ensure that our future customs arrangement with the European Union enables us to have as frictionless trade with the European Union as possible and no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, while also enabling us to have an independent trade policy and to negotiate trade deals around the world. I have been clear in a number of my answers that I and this Government will deliver on the vote of the British people to leave the European Union. I seem to remember there was a time when the Liberal Democrats thought that the people should have the choice.
Today marks the Princess Diana Award’s Stand Up to Bullying Day. Although much progress has been made, too many young people take their own life as a result of bullying in schools. Will the Prime Minister congratulate the people at the Diana Award on their work, and recommit her Government to tackling this scourge?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this. I am happy to join him in congratulating the work of all those involved in the Diana Award. He raises a really important issue. We have made progress but, as he has pointed out, too many young people are bullied in schools, and sadly that sometimes has tragic consequences. We are providing £1.7 million of funding over the next two years for anti-bullying organisations, one of which is the Diana Award, but more needs to be done. We will continue to press hard on this issue and to work hard to eliminate bullying.
I must say to the House, before we come to points of order, that for all the turbulence and discord of today’s proceedings, the little baby who has been observing them has been a model of impeccable behaviour from start to finish. [Applause.] I have just been advised that the father is the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis). I am not going to go so far as to say that his behaviour is always impeccable, but the little baby has been impeccable, and we salute that—the future of our democracy and the future of our country. I am most grateful to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and colleagues.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As he left the Chamber, the leader of the Scottish National party apparently said that it will use parliamentary devices to hold this Government to account—I wonder how you use parliamentary devices when you walk out of this Chamber in a co-ordinated move. As you will know, Mr Speaker, I had submitted an application for an urgent question on the Sewel convention, which I hoped to call Ministers to the Dispatch Box to discuss. I am sure that in your determination of that, you considered the fact that we had a Standing Order No. 24 application in front of us. Because the mover of that SO 24 application has now left the Chamber—been forced to leave in a co-ordinated move—and applications must be lodged by 10.30 am, there is no opportunity for any Scottish Member of any party to raise that now. I wonder if you can tell me how those who remain on these green Benches—who remain here representing our constituents—can address these issues, rather than those who take the pathetic, theatrical route of leaving this Chamber and not representing their constituents by walking out. [Interruption.]
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman —I would urge that we try to lower the decibel level. I understand that he feels his point keenly and he has made it with sincerity. He is a very assiduous Chamber contributor and I respect that.
I will not make any personal criticism of any Members. We have had what we have had and people will make their own assessment. The hon. Gentleman’s surmise is, of course, correct. I say this as much for people attending to our proceedings as for people sitting in the Chamber: an SO No. 24 application—an application for an emergency debate under the relevant standing order—requires notice by 10.30 am, on a Wednesday, and I fear that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), for example, who has expressed some interest in this matter, and I will come to him soon, made no such application. Nothing new or urgent has happened since. We have to take things on a case-by-case and day-by-day basis. I cannot be expected to work retrospectively. The fact is that there was an application. It would have been heard. The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) who had made the application chose to put himself in a position in which he would not be able to persist with his application. Responsibility for that choice is that, and that alone, of the right hon. Gentleman. It is not down to the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) and it is not down to me. Members must take responsibility for their own actions. As to whether there will be either an urgent question on the matters of which the hon. Gentleman has just treated, or indeed an SO 24 application on another day, that is a matter for another day.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker—this is, in fact, further to the point of order from the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross). As you have said, Mr Speaker, applications should normally be made by half past 10 in the morning. Obviously, I did not make such an application, but Standing Order No. 24, subsection (4), allows you, Mr Speaker, to consider an application if
“the urgency is not so known”
at 10.30 am, and notice can be given
“as soon thereafter as is practicable.”
My suggestion to you, Mr Speaker, is that the urgency became apparent at the point at which the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) decided that pulling a stunt was more important than allowing Scottish Members a proper debate on this subject.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I say that with sincerity. He is an accomplished and dextrous lawyer—[Interruption.] Well, I think he is an accomplished fellow. What I say to him is “nice try”, but I am afraid that it does not work. The reason why his argument, or thesis, if I may dignify it thus, does not quite work is that the matter in question, which was arguably urgent or even constituting an emergency, was the need for a debate on the Sewel convention, adherence to, violation of or non-compliance with it. That was the urgent matter, and not the fact that there was subsequently an eruption, whether pre-arranged or otherwise, in the Chamber. I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for having a go—he would not be the versatile lawyer he is if he did not—but I am afraid that it does not work on this occasion. I rather think that the genial smile on his face suggests to me that he knows he was being a cheeky chappie. We will have to return to these matters subsequently—I hope at not such excessive length, but I will take the remaining points of order briefly.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your advice on clarification about this misinformation that seems to be circulating that the Opposition did not want to take part in the debate on devolution yesterday and on the amendments? You will know, Mr Speaker, that the Opposition voted against the Government’s programme motion. Initially, we were allocated only 12 hours, but then under pressure, it was extended to two days. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) made this point yesterday through a point of order and was shouted down. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) mentioned in the debate that the only voice that would be heard was the Deputy Prime Minister’s. Could we seek your clarification on the fact that the Opposition did want the extra time to debate the devolution amendments?
I am not sure that it is for me to interpret proceedings, and to attempt to place my own construction on motivation not publicly declared, but what I would say to the shadow Leader—I think I can say this without fear of contradiction, because it has the advantage of being true, and demonstrably true—is that the Opposition opposed the programme motion. That is a matter of unarguable, incontrovertible fact. There was a Division on the matter, and I was notified by the Opposition Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown), courteously—he was not obliged to notify me, but he did notify me in advance—of an intention to oppose that motion, so it certainly should not be said that the motion was bought into by or was under the ownership of the Opposition. It was a Government programme motion.
I have tried throughout these difficult altercations of the last 24 hours to be scrupulously fair. As I said to Scottish National party Members last night in the presence of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, the Minister was not guilty of any procedural impropriety yesterday at all. He was entirely entitled to speak for the length of time that he did in setting out the Government’s position and indeed, characteristically, taking a very significant number of interventions, including from people who subsequently complained about the fact that they did not have the chance to speak. He was entirely in order and the Government were procedurally perfectly in order to operate as they did in the construction and submission to the vote of the programme motion. The Standing Order is written in that way presumably for a reason, and it has been written, in a sense, and approved with Government support. There was nothing disorderly about that, but it certainly was not the Opposition’s programme motion. It is abundantly clear to me that the Opposition were opposed to the programme motion. I do not think that I need to add anything more beyond that.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to have caught your eye from such an unfamiliar place in the Chamber. We had lengthy points of order yesterday on what the shadow Leader of the House has just intimated, and we were looking forward to the Standing Order No. 24 application today, so that we could represent our constituents on major amendments relating to devolution and the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Given that we no longer have that Standing Order No. 24 opportunity because of the childish antics of certain Members of this House from the Scottish National party, I wonder whether, through you, I could ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is in his place, whether he would be willing to bring forward a statement in the House today, or first thing tomorrow morning, so that Scottish Members who are here, with their voice, to represent their constituents can make the points about the Sewel convention that were the basis of the Standing Order No. 24 application and so that the SNP cannot gag us as well as themselves on behalf of the people of Scotland.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. I simply say to him that I do not think I need to consult the Secretary of State for Scotland on this point. There is no possibility of a statement on that matter today, even if the Secretary of State were minded to volunteer it. That would interfere with our proceedings in a way that a lot of Members would regard as frankly unsatisfactory. In so far as the hon. Gentleman is seeking some guidance from the Chair, I would say that that would not be appropriate today. Tomorrow is another day. I simply point out, without wanting to venture further into this otherwise hazardous terrain, that even had an Standing Order No. 24 application been successful, the debate would not have been today—it would have been on a subsequent day. The debate would not have allowed any vote on any propositions appertaining to parts of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill; it would simply have been a debate on a “take note” motion. There could be such a debate subsequent to today; tomorrow is another day and let us wait to see what happens.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you confirm that under the rules of order of this House, if the parliamentary leader of the SNP had had his way, not only the baby to whom you referred but every member of the public and indeed of the press would have been cleared from this House? Can you inform me, because I am not now sure about this, whether under present circumstances it would also have led to the cessation of the broadcasting of this House, which would have brought a great loss in public scrutiny?
In the first instance, people would have had to exit the Gallery—I am pretty certain of that and the right hon. Lady is quite right. The specific proposition was that the House do sit in private. I do not know whether amid the hubbub people heard that that was the thrust of what the leader of the SNP here was requesting, but it is the gravamen of what he was requesting and it would have required members of the public to exit the Gallery at once. If the motion had been carried, the broadcasting of our proceedings would have had to be halted with immediate effect. It is important that people understand the implications of some of these devices that people use.
I also add, without prejudice to any particular application but on the basis that I think the House will believe me and that the record shows this to be true, that I am very open to urgent questions being heard in this place and to Standing Order No. 24 debates taking place, whether the Government of the day particularly like it or not. I might make the judgment, as Speaker, that it is in the interests of the House for such a debate to take place, but of course if people absent themselves when they have the opportunity to make these applications, they cannot then complain. I really do think it would be a good thing if we perhaps brought to a close the operation of stunts and focused instead on the proper discharge of our responsibilities in this place. I thank the right hon. Lady for her point of order.