House of Commons
Wednesday 5 December 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—
Ministers from the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales hold regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues, including the Home Secretary, on a range of issues that are of importance to Wales. Drugs can devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities. The Government’s approach to them remains clear: we must prevent drug use and support people through treatment and recovery.
The chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council has warned that relying on local taxpayers while slashing funding from Westminster will mean tough choices about priorities for many local forces. Surely rising drug-related crime should be a priority. Will the Minister commit to fighting for more central Government funding for the police in Wales, so that they can effectively tackle those particular crimes?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for all her work in the all-party groups on this issue. I know the subject is close to her heart.
We understand that police demand is changing and complex. That is why, after speaking to all forces in England and Wales, we have provided a comprehensive settlement that is increasing total investment in the police system by more than £460 million in 2018-19.
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Llefarydd. Croesawaf y Gweinidog newydd. I welcome the new Minister to his place. The Minister will be aware that last night the National Assembly for Wales supported a Plaid Cymru motion to reject his Government’s deal. What, if any, attention will he pay to that crystal-clear mandate from Wales? Will he make representations to secure an official say for our nation on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, assuming we even get to that stage?
That was a rather creative way of bringing in a question about Europe under drug-related crime. However, I remember that the Welsh population voted to leave.
I am sure that the hon. Lady will seek to render her inquiry more relevant and apposite to the context of the question on the Order Paper. I feel sure that that is not beyond her creative genius.
The debate in my country is how to deal with crime post Brexit and the challenges that we face, with drug crime in their midst. None the less, I feel that I must explain the answer. Yesterday the Welsh Assembly voted in favour of a Plaid Cymru motion to reject the withdrawal agreement of the Minister’s Government. In addition, the Government’s own chief Brexit adviser admitted on Monday that the Joint Committee outlined in the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration will not include representatives from the devolved nations. What will he and the Secretary of State do personally to rectify that deficit of representation with Prime Minister?
The Joint Ministerial Committee does in fact involve members of the Welsh Government, so I am not entirely on the same page as the hon. Lady.
Drug-related crime across the South Wales police force area has gone up month on month from September 2017 to September 2018 by more than 22%. What discussions with Home Office colleagues has the Minister or the Secretary of State had since the summer recess about additional funding for the South Wales police in recognition of the fact that it is policing a UK capital city?
The hon. Lady raises a good point. This Department is talking constantly with our colleagues in the Home Office, in particular on policing matters. I remind her politely of the increased, comprehensive settlement that we agreed to three or four months ago, which will see almost half a billion pounds in 2018-19 for policing.
As police numbers have plummeted, drug-related crime has rocketed, especially on county lines. Drug lords enforce their vile trade with knives and guns. Knife crime is half the level in Wales that it is in England; nevertheless, in the past year alone, there has been a 30% increase in knife crime in Wales. Do the Minister, the Secretary of State for Wales and his Cabinet colleagues share any responsibility for that, and what will they do about it?
It is incredibly important that we work together closely in this area. The hon. Gentleman makes some valid points about the types of crime, and that is why we must also work collaboratively with our police and crime commissioners. I know that he has a good relationship with the North Wales police and crime commissioner. Although this is a reserved matter, we are determined to work closely with Wales and ensure that the right resources are available, particularly in the case of county lines problems, which do not respect borders.
Extreme Poverty and Human Rights
I regularly speak with my Cabinet colleagues on a host of issues affecting Wales. Prosperity in Wales is my No. 1 priority. It is crucial that those experiencing poverty get the support that they need and that no one is left behind. We will consider the interim report’s findings carefully.
It is good to hear that the Secretary of State will consider the report. The UN special rapporteur praised the Scottish Government for what they are doing to mitigate the austerity cuts from the Tory Government, but he also noted that the powers of the Welsh Government are limited in that respect. What representations has the Secretary of State had from the Labour Welsh Government about getting additional powers to mitigate that and implement welfare in a fairer manner?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the devolved settlement. He will be well aware that the Wales Act 2017 passed through this House not so long ago, but at no stage were there any calls to devolve functions from the Department for Work and Pensions or to devolve welfare, because of the volatility that that creates on the budget.
The rapporteur found that one in four jobs in Wales do not pay enough for people to live on, and that Wales has the worst record of relative poverty of any of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State believe that the people and the workers of Wales deserve better than that? Will he accept that in-work poverty is a serious problem in Wales, and will he tell us what he is doing to address it?
There are two points that I would make. There were some factual errors in the report, which may well undermine the conclusions, but of course we will respond fully in due course. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point, I point to the sharp increase in payments from the national living wage, as well as the increases in the personal allowance. As a result, the inequality gap between people who have and people who do not have is at a record low level.
The UN special rapporteur highlighted that low-paid, part-time or insecure jobs are often taken up by women, because of difficulties in balancing work and the disproportionate impact of caring responsibilities. These are, of course, often the women who have been adversely affected by this Government’s increase in the state pension age. Can the Secretary of State explain just how the Government are working for the women of Wales?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting women and employment, because there are 63,000 more women in employment in Wales than there were in 2010. I also point out to her the record fall in unemployment. Reducing unemployment is the best way out of poverty, and unemployment in Wales is 3.8% whereas across the UK it is 4.1%. There will not be many times in history when unemployment in Wales is lower than the UK average.
The list of countries that have received this kind of criticism is fairly small, and I think the UK Government should be absolutely ashamed to find themselves on that list. The reality is that people in Wales are in the difficult position of having an uncaring British Government and a Labour Government in Wales that are abdicating responsibility. Is it not the case that the only way that Wales can be a fair country is with the normal powers of independence?
It is interesting to hear that point made by a Scottish Member of Parliament, when that is not the view in Wales. As I said in relation to the report, I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that poverty rates are lower than they were in 2010, and unemployment in Wales is lower than the UK average. There are more men in work, there are more women in work and the economy in Wales is growing faster than in any other part of the UK.
I know that the Secretary of State will agree that one way of tackling poverty in Wales is the growth of more high-skill, high-paid jobs, like those in the aviation and tech sectors around Bristol. Does he agree that the policies that the Government are putting in place to spread the benefit of that growth across southern Wales are exactly what is needed to tackle some of the challenges that have been identified?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue and points to some of the policies that we are developing to tackle the root cause. Universal credit is making a significant difference, and I would highlight the growth deals that we are promoting across the whole of Wales. Wales is the only nation of the United Kingdom that will have a growth or a city deal in every part.
Figures released this week show that one in five of my constituents has used a food bank in the past three years. Does the Secretary of State think that that is anything to do with the fact that Flintshire was one of the first areas in the roll-out of universal credit?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He is well aware that there are myriad complex reasons why people turn to food banks. That was one of the conclusions of the all-party parliamentary group. Food banks have a key role to play in bringing back into the state welfare system people who, for a range of reasons, have fallen out of it. I am a strong supporter of my food bank and food banks across the whole of the UK because of the part that they can play.
Our welfare reforms are incentivising work and supporting working families. The unemployment rate in Wales is at a record low. At the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced new policy changes to enable working households to keep more of what they earn and to support claimants through the transition to universal credit. We will continue to take a test-and-learn approach, acting on feedback and improving the system as it rolls out.
Perhaps the Minister could explain why the Government are determined to press ahead with managed migration in the face of the advice of more than 80 disability organisations, the Resolution Foundation and the National Audit Office that they should not do so until they have fixed the major flaws in universal credit and can cope with much greater claimant volumes.
I thank the hon. Lady for all the work she does in this area. I understand that she chaired a Disability Confident meeting last week. These are very important things for hon. Members to get involved with. We do not underestimate the challenge that managed migration could present, and we are working very closely with all stakeholders to design the best solution. We are keeping our options open on the design, and we are committed to keeping the House updated.
First, may I say that I am very glad that Welsh people will now be able to claim universal credit online, just like everybody else, through the medium of Welsh? Department for Work and Pensions staff had a very complicated task in fixing the faulty system. Will the Minister tell the House what he is doing to fix the other problems relating to universal credit that people in Wales are suffering from, such as the unfair and oppressive two-child policy?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work he has done. I am very pleased that the Welsh language version of the universal credit system was rolled out last week, I believe. Hopefully it is working well, and we will continue to monitor it. Of course, this is a huge transformational project, and it is absolutely right that, on occasion, we pause, reflect and make sure we get the system right. Fundamentally, I agree with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who said that universal credit is a force for good.
My constituent has 10-month-old twins and has not been paid universal credit for two months. She is at risk of homelessness and is using food banks. How are the Government responding to the recent judicial review on the impact of assessment periods, and what can the Minister say to my constituent and others who are suffering like her?
The hon. Lady will be aware that I cannot comment on an individual case. I am sure that if she raises her constituent’s case with the Department, she will get a response. As I said earlier, this system is a huge transformational project, and we must learn as we go along. It is designed to mirror the way in which people in work are paid. There are advances available for anybody who is waiting for their universal credit payment.
Hospital Car Parking Charges
I have not discussed this matter with the Welsh Government. Decisions on charges are entirely for the Welsh Government to make, as this is a devolved responsibility.
The brain injury charity Headway has supported families who have incurred hospital car parking charges of as much as £248 in just seven days. Given that all hospitals in Wales have now abolished hospital car parking charges, will my hon. Friend make representations to the Health Secretary on abolishing them in England too?
It is clear—everybody in the House will know—that there is no stronger champion of such causes than my right hon. Friend. We allow individual hospitals to take their own decisions in England, assisted by clear guidance. There are potential additional costs of a blanket removal of charging, which could be significant, but we keep our ears open.
When the Welsh Government abolished car parking charges, certain people thought that it was a waste of money. We now know that it has been a great success. Is it not time that the UK Government stopped denigrating the Welsh Government, talked to them a bit more and shared good ideas?
We are certainly not in the business of denigrating the Welsh Government, as the hon. Lady should know, but we cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach. I have read in the Welsh press in the past few weeks that some free hospital car parks are being used incorrectly by shoppers. We have to be mindful, but I assure her that we are not denigrating anyone.
I counsel the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) that this is not a silver bullet to hospital transport issues. In Wrexham Maelor Hospital, car parking is a major issue. The focus should be on providing public transport solutions in public services, and in hospitals in particular.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it is not a silver bullet. Without the correct levels of public transport, the wider solution cannot be delivered. I totally agree with him.
Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration: Economic Effect
The Government’s analysis shows that the deal the Government have negotiated is the best deal available for Welsh jobs and the Welsh economy. That allows us to honour the referendum and realise the new opportunities Brexit will bring.
But nobody in Wales voted for Brexit to make them poorer. Perhaps that is why the Welsh Assembly voted to reject the withdrawal agreement last night, as the Scottish Parliament will do this evening. The Minister’s Scottish colleagues are going around saying that the vote is needless. Does that not simply demonstrate the contempt that the Government and the Tories have always had for the devolution settlement? They are using Brexit to further undermine devolution.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that Wales voted to leave the European Union and that we have an obligation to respond to the demand that came from the referendum. We will continue to work with the Welsh Government in seeking a legislative consent motion to the withdrawal agreement Bill when it goes through Parliament. That is exactly what we gained having worked with them closely in relation to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. I look forward to continuing to working with them on the Bill.
Manufacturers and producers in Wales currently have tariff-free access to the Europe single market of more than 500 million people. The market provides the destination for two thirds of all Welsh exports. Will the Minister explain to me and the House how ripping Wales out of the customs union and the single market will improve prospects for those Welsh businesses?
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the deal my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has negotiated gives the opportunity of tariff-free access with the European Union. It also gives us the opportunity to strike independent trade deals right around the world as an independent trading nation. I am optimistic about our prospects outside the European Union. I wish that optimism was shared elsewhere.
Last week, I spoke to the Welsh Automotive Forum annual dinner. The sector represents 18,000 employees in manufacturing in Wales. It was strongly supportive of the deal that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has negotiated. I wish the hon. Gentleman would appreciate it too.
The Secretary of State says he is optimistic about Wales’s future after Brexit, but can he confirm from the Dispatch Box that Wales is going to be poorer—our GDP will be smaller—if we vote for his deal next week?
The hon. Gentleman points to a range of economic scenarios that have been painted, but they do not take into account any response that the Government will make. Of course, a responsible Government will respond to the economic situation as it emerges. I am excited about the prospect of striking free trade deals right around the world as an independent trading nation once again.
I welcome the Minister to his place. On 2 May, the Secretary of State told the House that
“we are keen to negotiate to allow for the most frictionless trade possible with the European Union.”—[Official Report, 2 May 2018; Vol. 640, c. 300.]
Why does the term “frictionless trade” not appear in the political declaration?
I kindly point the hon. Lady to the political declaration, which says “as frictionless as possible”. In my mind, that can include frictionless.
That just is not good enough. The Secretary of State has given his backing to an agreement that does not even mention Wales, let alone protect workers’ rights, environmental standards, consumer protections or living standards. Is not the reality that this is a bad deal for Wales that fails to give Welsh people the certainty needed to safeguard jobs and livelihoods?
The deal that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has negotiated gives us the certainty of access to EU markets, but it also gives us new opportunities to strike trade deals around the world. I say to the hon. Lady that I am not sure what certainty a further referendum would bring, if that is her policy.
The hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) is much preoccupied with the elegance of his tie, by which I am myself duly impressed, but if he wished to shoehorn in the concerns he had in respect of Question 15 now, he could legitimately do so.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. He allows me to point to the UK shared prosperity fund, which was a manifesto commitment. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will outline at the comprehensive spending review the sums of money that will be available, but I am determined to get a much more efficient system that is responsive to the demands and needs of the community. After all, £4 billion has been spent in Wales over the last 16 years and we have not always received the best value out of that. [Interruption.]
Order. There is a hell of a lot of noise in the Chamber. The House must hear Tom Pursglove.
The Government have a host of policies to support businesses in Wales, from tax reductions to city deals and a modern UK industrial strategy. As a result, Wales continues to attract inward investment across all sectors.
As we leave the European Union, we clearly need to promote all parts of the United Kingdom and their fantastic trade potential. How does the Secretary of State plan to harness Wales’s potential, building on the success of the “Great” campaign?
I pay tribute to what my hon. Friend does to promote businesses across the whole United Kingdom. He gives me an opportunity to highlight the fact that, in less than two weeks’ time, the tolls on the Severn crossing will be abolished for the first time in 52 years—a major boost to the economy of the south-west of England as well as south Wales.
Question 8, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman can legitimately shoehorn his concern about broadband into this inquiry. Go ahead.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who is a strong campaigner in this area. We are determined to work closely both with him and with the Welsh Government to deliver the best broadband possible in the constituency of Ceredigion and in all other parts of Wales. Already, £69 million has been spent, in addition to the gainshare, but there is more that we can do, particularly in linking businesses with broadband. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a strong supporter of that campaign.
May I, too, welcome the new Minister to the Wales Office, which is now attracting talent from across the whole of the United Kingdom? Does the Secretary of State agree that communications would be much improved if the Welsh Labour Government got on with building the M4 relief road?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. I highlighted earlier the fact that in less than two weeks’ time the tolls on the Severn crossing will be abolished, but it is hard to believe that the former Member of Parliament for Richmond (Yorks) was the Secretary of State for Wales when the commitment was first made in relation to that road around Newport. The resource is available and the time has been available; I am only sorry that the Welsh Government have not reacted and built that road in response to those calls.
Business growth in north Wales is being choked off by congestion on the M56, on my side of the border. Will the Secretary of State sit down with the Transport Secretary to work out when it will be upgraded?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I regularly discuss those issues with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who has brought together a working group of officials and Ministers from all parts of the United Kingdom to discuss cross-border issues. I am only disappointed that the Welsh Government did not attend the last time we met.
Businesses across north Wales were delighted with the Chancellor’s Budget announcement of £120 million of funding for the north Wales growth deal. They are disappointed, however, that that announcement has not been followed by a similar announcement from the Welsh Assembly Government. Does my right hon. Friend know when such an announcement might be expected?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for highlighting that important policy. It is taking some time to negotiate the north Wales growth deal, but as he rightly points out, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced £120 million of funding in the Budget statement. We are working closely with the Welsh Government to encourage them to follow the same lines of commitment, and on Friday there will be further meetings to seek to crystallise that.
Order. I want to invite the House to join me in warmly welcoming to the Gallery a quite extraordinary, brave and courageous rape victim who has waived her anonymity in order to campaign not merely for her rights, very important though those rights are, but for the rights of all women similarly violated. I am referring of course to Sammy Woodhouse. Welcome to the House of Commons, Sammy. [Applause.]
The Prime Minister was asked—
May I first join you, Mr Speaker, and the whole House in commending Sammy Woodhouse? I think we all recognise, across this House, that for too long it has been difficult for rape victims to speak out. I hope that now, following her example, others will recognise that they will be heard and that proper action will be taken.
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.
May I, from the Back Benches, echo your comments, Mr Speaker, and those of the Prime Minister in respect of Sammy Woodhouse?
Does my right hon. Friend believe that today’s announcement of significant investment by the UK life sciences sector to work alongside the NHS, using genomics and artificial intelligence to help diagnose major diseases early, shows that world-class life sciences companies, such as Agilent in my constituency, will continue to invest in the UK to help the NHS improve patient outcomes post-Brexit?
That investment of £1 billion is indeed significant. It will deliver a state-of-the-art research and development facility in the UK and support 650 jobs. It is absolutely right to say that that shows the opportunities available to the UK post-Brexit. It also shows the advantage of our industrial strategy, with AI right at the heart of it, recognising the importance of AI in the health sector in the future. This is a very significant investment. It will support jobs and other employment in the UK, and it will support our economy in the future.
I join you, Mr Speaker, and the Prime Minister in welcoming Sammy Woodhouse to Parliament today. It is an act typical of your generosity to refer to her presence in the Gallery today, so that others may be emboldened to deal with the horrors of the rape crisis we face.
I also express our sympathies to the family of Luke Griffin from Merseyside, who was killed in Kabul last week alongside five fellow G4S workers who were Afghan nationals. Luke had previously served in 16th Regiment, Royal Artillery.
While we debate the critical issue of Brexit, we must not neglect the crisis facing millions of people across our country. Last week, I wrote to the Prime Minister about the scathing report by the UN special rapporteur on this Government’s brutal policies towards the poorest in Britain. As of now, I have received no reply from the Prime Minister. When she read the report, what shocked her more: the words the UN used, or the shocking reality of rising poverty in Britain?
We have been clear, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has been clear, that we do not agree with the report— [Interruption.] No, we do not agree with this report. What we actually see in our country today is absolute poverty at record lows, more people in work than ever before, youth unemployment almost halved and wages growing, and that is because of the balanced approach that we take to our economy—a Conservative Government delivering for the British people.
It could be that the Prime Minister does not agree with the report because it contains an unpalatable truth. The new Work and Pensions Secretary seems to have taken lessons from her and created a hostile environment for those who are claiming benefits. One of the Government’s policies which is causing the greatest anxiety and poverty is universal credit. The UN rapporteur, Professor Alston, said it was
“fast falling into universal discredit”.
When will the Prime Minister demonstrate some of her professed concern about burning injustices and halt the roll-out of universal credit?
We have exchanged on this issue of universal credit before—[Interruption.] Oh, the shadow Foreign Secretary, from a sedentary position, says that we have not done anything about it. What we have done is made changes as we have rolled out universal credit, but I am afraid we had a Labour party that would not support the changes we were making to universal credit. We have listened and we have made changes. It is time that the Labour party recognised that universal credit is ensuring that more people are in work in this country and that absolute poverty is at record lows. That is a system that delivers for people and encourages them into work—a simpler system that is better for the people who need to use it.
The Prime Minister might care to cast her eyes over the report from the Trussell Trust, which said that
“the only way to prevent even more people being forced to foodbanks this winter is to pause all new claims to Universal Credit.”
The UN also called for the five-week wait to be scrapped. In the coming weeks, universal credit is being rolled out in Anglesey, Blackpool, Milton Keynes and parts of Liverpool, London and Glasgow. There is a risk that people will be left with no money at Christmas. If the Prime Minister will not halt the roll-out of universal credit, will she at least immediately end the five-week wait?
The right hon. Gentleman does not quite seem to understand how the system actually operates. No one has to wait for money if they need it. We have made advances—[Interruption.]
Order. We are less than a third of the way through and already there is too much noise on both sides of the House. Members must calm themselves. The questions will be heard, however long it takes, and the same is true of the replies. Please try to get used to that.
No one needs to wait for their money if they need it. We have made it easier for people to get advances. We have ensured they can get 100% of their first month’s payment up front. We have already scrapped the seven-day waiting period. I repeat: what happened when we scrapped the seven-day waiting period? Labour voted against it.
It is a loan that is offered for some people.
The Trussell Trust has also pointed out that food banks face record demand this December. I gently say to the Prime Minister and the Members behind her: food banks are not just a photo opportunity for Conservative MPs, all of whom supported the cuts in benefit that have led to the poverty in this country.
Yesterday, research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found “in-work poverty is rising” faster than the overall employment rate due to chronic low pay and insecure work. The United Kingdom has the weakest wage growth of all G20 nations. Living standards have fallen for the majority of people. What is so wrong with our economy that our pay growth is so much worse than in each of the other nations in the G20?
We now see wages growing faster than they have for nearly a decade. We see employment at record levels. The right hon. Gentleman talks about scrapping universal credit, but what he wants to do is to go back to square one. That means going back to a system that left 1.4 million people spending most of a decade trapped on benefits. It left people paying an effective tax rate of 90%, and it cost every household an extra £3,000 a year. As ever with Labour, it was ordinary working people who paid the price.
The chief economist of the Bank of England describes the last decade as a “lost decade” for wages. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister might laugh at this, but it is the reality of people’s lives; it is the reality—[Interruption.]
Order. I appeal to Members making too much noise to stop doing so. [Interruption.] Order. I very gently say to the junior Minister on the Back Bench, who is making far too much noise, that he is ordinarily a good-natured and genial chap—I am referring to the hon. Member for Hexham. Mr Opperman, you can do so much better; try to be a well-behaved citizen today. [Interruption.] Well, possibly like some others, but there are quite a lot of badly behaved people. Try to set a better example, Mr Opperman—you are a Minister of the Crown.
Two years ago, a United Nations committee found this Government’s policies towards disabled people represented
“a grave and systematic violation”
of their rights. Does the Prime Minister think that situation has improved in the past two years?
First, in answer to the latter point that the right hon. Gentleman has made, it is this Government that have a key commitment in relation to helping disabled people get into the workplace. There are too many disabled people who have felt that they have not been able to do what they want to do—actually getting into the workplace and earning an income for themselves and their families. It is this Government who are helping. The Disability Confident arrangements that the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions put in place are doing exactly that.
However, the right hon. Gentleman started off his comments by referencing the last decade. Yes, the last decade has meant that difficult decisions have had to be taken, but why did those difficult decisions have to be taken? They were taken because of the Labour party’s mismanagement of the economy. Remember, remember the letter from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne): under Labour, there is no money left.
When I hear a Prime Minister talking about difficult decisions, what always happens afterwards, in these contexts, is that the poorest in our society lose out. Some 4.3 million disabled people are now in poverty; 50,000 were hit by appalling cuts to the employment and support allowance benefit alone last year. This Government labelled disabled people as “scroungers” and called those unable to work “skivers”—[Hon. Members: “Withdraw!”]
Order. Calm—[Interruption.] Order. I do not need any advice from the Home Secretary. He should seek to discharge his own obligations in his office to the best of his ability; I require no advice from the right hon. Gentleman on the discharge of mine. Be clear about that.
This Government also created a hostile environment for the Windrush generation. When the UN rapporteur said:
“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and…callous approach”,
he could not have summed up this contemptible Government any better. Child poverty is rising; homelessness—rising; destitution—rising; household debt—rising. When will the Prime Minister turn her warm words into action, end the benefit freeze, repeal the bedroom tax, scrap the two-child cap and halt the roll-out of universal credit?
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the poorest losing out. I will tell him when the poorest lose out: it is when a Labour Government come in. [Interruption.]
Order. The finger pointing, yelling and braying must stop. I understand that passions are running high, but on both sides of the House we need some sense of decorum.
When the poorest lose out, it is when a Labour Government come in. What have this Government done? We have introduced the national living wage—Conservatives, not Labour. We have taken millions of people out of paying tax altogether—Conservatives, not Labour. Under this Government, 3.3 million jobs have been created.
Every Labour Government leave office with unemployment higher than when they went into office. What do we see under this Government? Our economy is growing, employment is rising, investment is up, we are giving the NHS the biggest single cash boost in its history, taxes are being cut and wages are rising. Labour would destroy all that. It is this Conservative Government who are building a brighter future for our country.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising what is an important point. We do recognise that we need to do more to encourage women to undertake cervical screening tests. In October, we announced a package of measures that will be rolled out across the country, which has the aim of seeing three quarters of all cancers detected at an early stage by 2028. That will see a radical overhaul of the screening programmes, and they will be made more accessible and easier to use.
But I just want to give this very simple message, and I am able to do so standing at this Dispatch Box: smear tests are not nice. All those of us who have had smear tests recognise that they are not nice. But they are important. If you want to see cancer detected early, have your smear test. A few minutes of discomfort could be saving your life.
May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your words of welcome to Sammy Woodhouse, a very brave woman who has done the right thing in waiving her anonymity? We must all call out crimes of sexual violence and those responsible must be held to account.
We were promised strong and stable. What we have is a Government in crisis: a Government that have lost two Brexit Secretaries, a Home Secretary, a Foreign Secretary, and a Work and Pensions Secretary; a Government that have suffered three consecutive defeats in just two hours, the first to do so in 40 years; and, now, a Government that have been found to be in contempt of Parliament. Is it not time that the Prime Minister took responsibility—the responsibility for concealing the facts on her Brexit deal from Members of this House and the public? Will she take responsibility?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong about that. We have not concealed the facts the on Brexit deal from Members of this House. He will see that the legal position set out on Monday in the 34-page document, together with the statement made and the answers given to questions by the Attorney General on Monday, clearly sets out the legal position.
That is an incredibly disappointing response from the Prime Minister. The facts have had to be dragged out of this Government by Parliament. This morning, we have seen the detail of the legal advice. We have seen the fact that the Government tried to hide—this Government are giving Northern Ireland permanent membership of the single market and the customs union. The legal advice is clear. It states:
“Despite statements in the Protocol that it is not intended to be permanent...in international law the Protocol would endure indefinitely”.
Since the Prime Minister returned from Brussels with her deal, the Prime Minister has been misleading the House, inadvertently or otherwise. The Prime Minister must explain—
Order. There can be no suggestion of “otherwise”. The right hon. Gentleman must make it clear that there is no suggestion that the Government are misleading the House deliberately. There can be no question of that. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to use the word “inadvertently”, which people do now and again, he can, but there must be no ambiguity on the point, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to clarify that—[Hon. Members: “Withdraw.”] Order. I do not need any advice from anyone. I know exactly what I am doing, and the right hon. Gentleman must comply.
Mr Speaker, I did use the word “inadvertently”, and I repeat it. Since the Prime Minister returned from Brussels with her deal, the Prime Minister has been misleading the house, perhaps inadvertently—[Interruption.]
Order. I always want the right hon. Gentleman to be heard fully, and he will be, but there can be no imputation of dishonour, and the insertion of the word “perhaps” suggests that the right hon. Gentleman wants to keep his options open. The option of imputing dishonour does not exist. That word must now be removed. Please rephrase, continue and complete—briefly.
Mr Speaker, I say again: “inadvertently”.
The Prime Minister must explain why she continues to deny Scotland the rights and opportunities that her deal offers to other parts of the United Kingdom.
I think what the right hon. Gentleman will see if he makes a careful analysis of the statement that the Attorney General made, of his answers to questions and of the legal opinion that was set out by the Government—in many ways, it was unprecedented that the Government published such a 34-page document—is that the advice he is holding in his left hand has no difference from the statement given. Indeed, I might take up the personal challenge from the right hon. Gentleman, because I have said on the Floor of the House that there is no unilateral right to pull out of the backstop. I have also said that it is not the intention of either party for the backstop to be used in the first place or, if it is used, to be anything other than temporary.
The right hon. Gentleman finished by saying, once again, that he wishes to look to what Scotland should have from the deal. We are leaving the European Union as the whole United Kingdom, and we will negotiate as the whole United Kingdom. For Scotland, remaining in the internal market of the United Kingdom is the most important economic interest, and it is in the interests of Scotland to come out of the common fisheries policy. That is in our deal and our policy, and not in his.
I absolutely recognise the concern raised by my hon. Friend, and people are often concerned when they see proposals for development in their areas. However, we need to build the homes that the country needs, so that everyone can afford a decent, safe place to call their own, and we must help more people on to the housing ladder. Young people today worry that they will not be able to get on the housing ladder, and I am sure my hon. Friend shares my determination to ensure that they are able to do so. I am pleased that in the past year we have delivered more than 222,000 new homes—the highest level in all but one of the past 31 years—and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss his local issue further.
What the analysis actually shows is that outside the European Union, the best deal available in relation to our economy, and which delivers on leaving the European Union, is the deal on the table—the deal I have negotiated with the European Union. When people voted to leave the European Union, one issue they voted on was bringing an end to free movement once and for all, and that is what the Government will deliver.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. We are all concerned about rough sleepers, but as he says, it is finding the solutions and ways through that is important. I commend him for his excellent work in campaigning on the issues of homelessness, rough sleeping and social impact bonds, and I congratulate P3 and CCP in Cheltenham. The rough sleeping social impact bond, which is designed to support individuals who have spent a long time within the homelessness system, and to reduce rough sleeping in the long term by helping people to access the support and services they need, is an important step forward. I congratulate those organisations on the work they have done in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the arrangements we have in place for the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, it is clear that we will not be in the single market and we will not be in the customs union, and we will continue to work for frictionless trade at the border. What we will have is an ambitious trade agreement unlike any that has been given to any other advanced economy—the most ambitious trade agreement that any advanced economy has with the European Union. That is good for this country, and good for jobs in his constituency.
I think the number of people marrying in England and Wales at 16 or 17 is very small, and actually continues to decline. We have not seen any evidence of failings in the existing protections for people marrying in England and Wales at 16 to 18 with the appropriate consents, but we continue to keep this under review. My noble Friend Baroness Williams said back in September that we will look at whether there is any link between parents giving consent when girls are aged 16 or 17 and instances of forced marriage; that may be one of the concerns behind the point that my hon. Friend makes. We will specifically look at that issue.
I think the hon. Lady knows of incidents when people in her region have been able to trust the Tories. [Interruption.] She knows. Let us look at the explosion in New Ferry. It was clearly devastating. It clearly impacted both residents and businesses, and I did, as she said, make a commitment to look at it. I will look at the letter that she received from the Secretary of State, because my understanding was that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was encouraging Wirral Council to apply to a range of funding streams for various sums of money that would have been available, and that it asked Homes England to work with the council on its regeneration plans and had made money available in response to that. However, I will certainly look at the letter to which she refers.
I rise from the naughty corner, so I might need your protection, Mr Speaker.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her determined campaigning in the area of mental health, both as Home Secretary and now as Prime Minister. Will she join me in congratulating Sir Simon Wessely, who has just done a review of the Mental Health Act 1983? His findings will be published tomorrow. Sir Simon conducted the review with great good humour, compassion and dignity. Even though this House is so divided on so many issues, it should be united on this report.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Mental health, and how we look at the Mental Health Act, is an important issue that I hope will unite people across the House in recognition that we were right to have this review. I am certainly happy to congratulate Professor Sir Simon Wessely on the work that he has done. He has engaged with a wide range and large number of service users and their families, as well as health organisations and professionals, to help shape his recommendations. I certainly look forward to reading them. We obviously commit as a Government to coming forward with legislation in due course. This is an important area. We should all get behind this, because we need to ensure that we are delivering for those people in our country who suffer from mental health problems.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the Government’s decision. This is an exciting opportunity for the United Kingdom to take a leading role in the new commercial space age. He has referenced the new spaceport and the ambition we have for it. I understand that, following a report by the local crofters association, Highlands and Islands Enterprise is moving ahead with its plans, which could create 40 skilled jobs locally in spaceport construction and operation. I recognise the importance of the skilled jobs he is talking about locally. This is a real opportunity for his constituency, but it is also an opportunity for the UK to be at the leading edge of this technology.
The motion relating to the Attorney General that was passed yesterday related to the whole agreement, not just to the question to which the letter that has now been published relates, which is exclusively the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. Given that the ministerial code states:
“The Law Officers must be consulted in good time before the Government is committed to critical decisions involving legal considerations”,
and that the Attorney General has stated that the international agreement is binding on the United Kingdom and the EU, why have we not had an opinion on matters such as the control over laws, European Court of Justice jurisdiction and the incompatibility of the agreement with the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972—matters that are of seminal importance in deciding this question?
I suggest that my hon. Friend looks at the remarks that were made in the Chamber yesterday following the Government’s announcement that they would publish the final advice given by the Attorney General that was asked for.
My hon. Friend has referred again to the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. As I have said in answer to him on more than one occasion in this Chamber and in the Liaison Committee, it was always clear during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which did indeed repeal the 1972 Act and bring the EU acquis—EU law—into UK law, that in the event that there was an implementation period in which we were to operate much as we do today as a member of the European Union, it would be necessary to ensure that any necessary changes were made, and those changes will be made in the withdrawal agreement Bill, which will be brought before Parliament.
I understand that, in Home Office oral questions this week, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service undertook to get back to the hon. Lady. As he made clear this week, the authority’s core spending power has increased this year. I am also informed that the Tyne and Wear service holds £25 million of reserves, which is equivalent to 52% of its core spending power.
In Cumbria, we have endured 42 days of rail strike action, despite the Transport Secretary’s assurance that the guards on the Cumbrian coastal line will remain. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister condemn the actions of the RMT, which have left vulnerable people without public transport and businesses suffering in the run-up to Christmas?
I do indeed condemn the action that has been taken by the RMT, which as my hon. Friend says is leading to people and businesses suffering. We call on the RMT to end the strikes. The jobs have been guaranteed beyond this franchise. There is no reason to continue this needless action. The message is very clear: “Stop the strikes, get round the table and put passengers first.”
Every child deserves the right education for them. We are working to drive up quality for children with special educational needs and for those with disabilities. We have taken several steps, such as introducing a new inspections framework and focusing more on a local area’s strengths and weaknesses, and we are working to spread best practice, but that is being dealt with better in some areas than in others. When used properly, EHC plans do ensure that support is tailored to the needs of children and that families are put at the heart of the process, and more money is going in this year for children with special educational needs. However, I recognise that parents of children with special educational needs often feel that they constantly have to beat their heads against the bureaucracy that they come up against to ensure that they get the right support for their children. We are committed to ensuring that we are delivering for children and that we are delivering quality education that is right for children with special educational needs.
I know how much the Prime Minister likes to get out on to the doorsteps of her constituency whenever she is able to, as I like to in mine. Does she, like me, find that people are raising the issue of potholes on a regular basis, and does she, like me, welcome the fact that we are spending £6.7 million—[Interruption.]
Order. This happens in my constituency as well. I want to hear about the pothole situation in Redditch and elsewhere.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The roads in Redditch are excellent on the whole, but we are pleased that Worcestershire was awarded £6.7 million of funding in the recent Budget. How quickly does the Prime Minister think that that money will be spent on fixing our roads?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Potholes, local services and other issues that matter to people on a day-to-day basis are issues that are raised on the doorstep. My understanding is that the money is available and should be being spent now.
Both the UK Government and, actually, the European Commission felt that it was right that the issue be tested. We will not revoke article 50. That is clear. The Government will not revoke article 50. Everyone in the House needs to understand what the judgment of the advocate-general means. If experience is anything to go by, the Court will go with it, but it still has not come to its final decision. However, if the determination of the advocate-general goes ahead, it says that it is possible for a country unilaterally to revoke article 50, but that is not about extending article 50—it is about making sure that we do not leave the European Union. That is what that judgment is about. We will not revoke article 50. The British people voted to leave the European Union and we will be leaving.
A number of Members of this House and members of the public are still concerned that we may risk being in an extended, if not permanent, backstop situation or customs territory. Can my right hon. Friend explain why, in her opinion, the European Union will not want that to exist and why it will negotiate in good faith for an extensive free trade agreement?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I recognise that there are concerns about the backstop but, for a number of reasons, it is indeed the case that it is not attractive for the European Union to have the United Kingdom in the backstop. First, in that backstop, we will be making no financial obligation to the European Union, we will not be accepting free movement and there will be very light touch level playing field requirements. These are matters that mean that the European Union does not see this as an attractive place for it to put the UK. The EU thinks that is an attractive place for the UK to be in and it will not want us to be in it for any longer than is necessary.
That will indeed be replaced by the shared prosperity fund, which will look at ensuring that we deal with the disparities that exist between communities and between nations. The Government will be consulting before the end of the year.
Next week will be the first opportunity for MPs to vote on the withdrawal agreement, and I was glad to have the opportunity to speak in the debate last night. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House and my constituents that, should the withdrawal agreement not secure the support of Parliament, Her Majesty’s Government will seek early dialogue with negotiators in Brussels to seek to address the genuine concerns of MPs on both sides of the House?
I believe that the deal we have negotiated is a good deal. I recognise that concerns have been raised, particularly around the backstop. As I said yesterday in my speech during the debate, I am continuing to listen to colleagues on that, and I am considering the way forward.
I am very sorry to hear of the case in relation to the pension of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and the actions of that financial adviser. I will ensure that the Treasury looks at this issue and these sorts of cases with the Financial Conduct Authority.
Our country’s children are our country’s future. Yesterday, Ofsted reported that 95% of early years providers are now rated good or outstanding, up from 74% six years ago. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking all those who work in early years organisations for giving our children the very best start in life?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that early years education is important. It is important for children to give them that good start in life, and it is to be welcomed and applauded that 95% of those providers are now rated good or outstanding. We should thank all those who work in early years provision for the excellent work they are doing for our children and their future.
This is not a negotiating ploy by the European Union against the UK. It is our commitment, as a UK Government, to the people of Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman says that the political assertion that there will be no hard border is sufficient to give people reassurance for the future. I say no. What people want to know is that arrangements will be in place. It does not have to be the backstop. The future relationship will deal with this. The extension of the implementation period could deal with the temporary period. Alternative arrangements could deal with it. But people need to know it is beyond a political assertion that there is that commitment there to the people of Northern Ireland to ensure that we have no hard border.
Yesterday, London students heard from the renowned holocaust survivor Hannah Lewis, who described the horrors of Europe’s darkest hour. As we celebrate the festival of Hanukkah, does my right hon. Friend agree that there could be no better place for the national holocaust memorial and learning centre than alongside this Palace of Westminster, to stand as a permanent memorial to the horrors of the ultimate of antisemitism?
I commend Hannah for the contribution she is making and has made over the years in bringing home to people the absolute horrors of the holocaust. I commend the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which does important work up and down our country. I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that there is no better place for the holocaust memorial and learning centre to be than right next to our Parliament. What is important is that this is not just a memorial; it is a learning centre and it will be educating young people and others about the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man.
I, too, would like to take the opportunity to express my respect to Sammy Woodhouse for her courage. Yesterday, the National Assembly for Wales became the first Parliament on the British Isles to reject the Prime Minister’s deal and clearly it will not be the last. Wales has seen through how she is intent on inflicting GBH—her Government’s Brexit harm—on our nation. Beset on all sides, will she come to her senses and rule out a no-deal scenario before this House forces her to do so?
If the hon. Lady is concerned about the possible effects of a no-deal scenario, the only way to ensure that there is not a no-deal scenario is to accept a deal scenario and accept the deal that is on the table.
Prime Minister, the legal witch hunting of military veterans, which I have been raising with you for about a year now, is getting worse. The latest victim is David Griffin, a 77-year-old former Royal Marine who is being reinvestigated for an incident that took place in Northern Ireland 45 years ago, on which he was thoroughly cleared at the time. They knew where to find him, because he is an in-pensioner at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. How is it that we live in a country where alleged IRA terrorists are given letters of comfort and we go after Chelsea Pensioners instead? Prime Minister, this nonsense must stop. Please, please, do something about it.
My right hon. Friend raises a particular case, which will have touched everybody across this House. He also raises the contrast between the treatment of veterans and the treatment of terrorists. About 3,500 people were killed in the troubles, 90% of whom were murdered by terrorists, and many of these cases require further investigations, including the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces. We have committed to establishing new mechanisms for dealing with this, in a balanced and proportionate way. We are concerned that at the moment we see a situation where there has been a disproportionate emphasis on those who were serving military or police officers at the time. I want to ensure that the terrorists are investigated, and we continue to look at this question. We have consulted on it and we will be responding to that consultation. I recognise the strength of feeling from my right hon. Friend and others about this issue and the Government will be responding in due course.
I know the whole House is inspired by the bravery of Sammy Woodhouse in speaking out so that we can drive real change, and is horrified by the news that the man who raped Sammy and is serving a 35-year prison sentence was encouraged to seek access to her child through the family courts. Does the Prime Minister agree that no man who has fathered a child through rape should have parental rights? Will she seek to amend the legislation, through the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill when it comes back to this House, so that men who have fathered children through rape cannot weaponise the courts to access children and re-traumatise their victims all over again?
This is obviously a very distressing case and I am sure that, as we have just heard, the concerns of the whole House rest with Sammy Woodhouse and with what has happened in this case. As the facts have been reported, I am sure we all consider it extraordinary that this should have happened in the first place. What is important is that the Ministry of Justice and other Departments are urgently looking at and working with local authorities on the issues raised in this case to ensure that there is a process in place in future that does protect children and mothers from harm. I understand that the hon. Lady has met the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), and I urge her to continue engaging with the MOJ on this very important issue.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. When you quite properly point out a citizen of this country who has done a remarkably courageous thing, as Sammy Woodhouse has done, we all want to support her and to applaud. The only reason why there was no applause from Members on these Benches—there was applause from people in the Public Gallery—was because of the conventions of this House. May I suggest that we really do need to sort this out? I say that because this was not a sign of disrespect or of a lack of support here; it was merely the convention. That needs to be recorded and as a House we need to sort this out.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for her point of order. I had not known that that was what she was intending to raise—I could not have done, because, whatever other merits I may have, I am not psychic. But I do now know what she has in mind and my response is to say that I have sought to exhibit flexibility in this matter. In other words, when it is obviously a spontaneous reaction in the House, particularly one of a non-partisan character, the Chair is very much inclined to be accommodating of that. When a political party engages in what might be called orchestrated clapping, in defiance of the convention of the House and really in celebration of a party point, that is inappropriate and the Chair deprecates it. I think it would have been different in this situation. This Speaker has not exactly been a slave to convention, as I think the right hon. Lady will agree. All sorts of conventions have been adjusted, and situations evolve in accordance with changing mores in this House, and this Speaker would seek to be flexible. She has registered the fact that Members on the Government Benches wish to extend a very warm welcome to Sammy Woodhouse, as did people on the Opposition Benches. As far as I can tell, that feeling was universally exhibited across the House.
Immigration (Time Limit on Detention)
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 for a maximum period of detention under the Immigration Act 1971 of 28 days; and for connected purposes.
I realise that I have chosen to introduce my first ten-minute rule Bill in a very quiet week in Parliament, but I hope that colleagues from across the House will indulge me as I speak about a campaign that I am very passionate about and which is close to my heart. I am proud to be an MP for a constituency that has a proud history of welcoming immigrants. My constituency has a long history of welcoming economic migrants from Ireland and refugees fleeing political persecution in Nazi Germany. At this moment in time, my constituency has 22,000 European Union nationals, who form the very fabric of our community. I am proud that both the councils in my constituency recently welcomed refugees from Syria and Somalia. My mother came here as a political asylum seeker in the 1970s and settled in the very constituency I am now proud to represent here in Westminster.
I am sure Members from all parties will agree that we are proud of the fact that Britain is a safe haven for people who cannot go back to their country of origin. The practice in our country of indefinitely detaining people, however, blights the nation, and we should all be ashamed of it. We are the only country in the EU—and one of only a few in the world—that indefinitely detains people. Immigration officers go around in the middle of the night capturing people and putting them in prison-like cells. Many Members from all parties will have visited these detention centres and will know the conditions in which these people are kept.
In this country, we have legislation that limits how long terror suspects and criminal suspects can be detained. Terror suspects can be detained without charge for 14 days and criminal suspects can be detained without charge for 28 days, but we do not afford that same protection to refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants. That should put us to shame. The people who are detained range from nurses to doctors to teachers to students. Some of them have no previous criminal convictions and have come here to seek economic opportunity. Some of them are former offenders who have served their term and come here to make a life for themselves anew. They are people who have come here because they have gone through insufferable trauma in their country of origin and this is a safe haven for them. Many are men, some are women and some are children, but above all they are human. Detaining them indefinitely is a blight on their human right to freedom.
Members from Government and Opposition parties who have been to detention centres will know what they are like. People are ripped away from their families in the middle of the night and put in bare cells, with no recourse to legal advice so that they can know when they are going to come out. Unfortunately, cases of abuse and neglect are commonplace. When the Red Cross interviewed some of these detainees and asked them what the very worst thing about being detained was, Emmanuel said that it was not knowing when he was going to be released. The thought that there was no limit on how long he was going to be in that cell caused such mental trauma and mental health problems. A similar detainee talked to the Red Cross about how she could see no light at the end of the tunnel because she knew that her situation could go on forever. That should shame us all.
Being in indefinite detention leads to problems with mental health. There have been 600 cases in which people have needed medical assistance and treatment because they have suffered and gone on to self-harm. Indefinite detention has led to an epidemic of suicide and self-harm throughout our detention centres. It has reached the point at which, when Amnesty and the Red Cross interviewed people, nearly all of them had witnessed some form of suicide, self-harm or desperation, having been stuck in those cells for so long.
For me, the worst thing is that people are not detained for reasons of criminal justice but because of an inefficient administrative process that insiders themselves have admitted could be sped up and take only weeks, rather than months. That should make us even more embarrassed. The Home Office guidance says that people should be detained for a reasonable amount of time. Does the House think it is reasonable to detain someone for more than two years, as happens regularly? One fifth of detainees spend more than two months at a time in cells. At what point does that become reasonable or unreasonable?
When we have discussed whether we should have a 28-day limit, a lot of people have objected. For those who object and are not convinced by my arguments about detention being cruel or inhumane, let us think about the cost and how inefficient the system is. Currently, the system is wholly inefficient and hugely costly. The House should reflect on these figures: it costs £86 a day to detain someone and £34,000 a year for everyone who is currently detained. Matrix Evidence found that the if we imposed a time limit and got people out when they were meant to be out, we would save £344 million over five years. So those Members who are not convinced by the emotional argument should think about the money that could be saved if we had a proper time limit on detention.
Furthermore, the existing policy seems to be to detain first and ask questions later. Perhaps if there was a time limit, the immigration officers who go around could ask the questions, handle things more sensitively and detain later. A time limit might also curb the cruel practice of mistaken detention, which happened to two people from the Windrush generation last year.
The Home Secretary has said that a 28-day limit on detention is based on slogans rather than evidence. It is not based on slogans; it is a cry that has come from report after report, committee after committee and investigation after investigation. The all-party group on refugees has called for it, Select Committees have called for it, and experts in the UN, EU and international non-governmental organisations have called for it. My Bill is backed by Liberty and Amnesty.
When I put forward my Bill, I approached some unlikely names from the Government Benches and was impressed by how quickly people came back to me to say that they wanted to support it. For the past few months, we have had huge division in the House, but I was inspired and reassured by the fact that ultimately we are all here because we want to make society a better place. We want a more equal society in which the most vulnerable are protected.
We have to think about the history of our country. Some 800 years ago, in a field in Runnymede, the Magna Carta laid out our basic civil liberties. It set out how people should not be imprisoned without due process and a fair trial. The criminal system in this country now is not perfect, but it serves us well. However, there is one part of our legislation and criminal justice system—in society and generally in Parliament—where we have failed. We have absolutely failed to protect the most vulnerable because we allow them to be detained without any hope, without any reason and without a light at the end of the tunnel. I say to the Home Secretary: there is no time for a review—we have been there and done the reviews. This is about life and death, and we need to act now, so I implore Members from all parties, who have really indulged me by listening to my very long speech: please get together and support me—I ask for your support, too, Mr Speaker—to make sure that we end the indefinite detention of the most vulnerable in society.
Far be it from me to argue, but the hon. Lady has not made a long speech; she has made a speech absolutely within her rights and in conformity with the title. The clue is in the title: it is called a ten-minute rule motion. She was within her time.
Question put and agreed to.
That Tulip Siddiq, Mr David Davis, Mr Dominic Grieve, Dame Caroline Spelman, Mr Andrew Mitchell, Paul Blomfield, Lisa Nandy, Layla Moran, Rushanara Ali, Christine Jardine, Mr David Lammy and Stella Creasy present the Bill.
Tulip Siddiq accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January 2019, and to be printed (Bill 302).
European Union (Withdrawal) Act
[2nd Allotted Day]
Debate resumed (Order, 4 December).
Question again proposed,
That this House approves for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the negotiated withdrawal agreement laid before the House on Monday 26 November 2018 with the title ‘Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community’ and the framework for the future relationship laid before the House on Monday 26 November 2018 with the title ‘Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom’.
Just before I ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to open the continuation of the debate on behalf of the Government, I feel that it is important that Members are aware of the correct protocol for today and for each of the remaining subsequent days in this overarching debate on the Government’s proposed deal.
It is true that it is a debate essentially revolving around one subject. However, I should remind colleagues that there are wind-up speeches each day from the Opposition and Treasury Benches, and the implication of that should be blindingly obvious to colleagues: if you speak in the debate it is incumbent on you to turn up at whatever hour the debate is concluded to hear the wind-up speeches. Yesterday, I am sorry to say, there were a number of examples of Members who spoke, in some cases at considerable length, in the debate, but who, on account no doubt of being very busy with many commitments and very full diaries, felt that they had to be elsewhere for the wind-up speeches. I know and I think that it may well be widely accepted that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition did not come for the wind-up of the debate, and, personally, I take no exception to that at all—it would have been marvellous to welcome them, but I quite understand why they could not be here—but in every other case, if you speak in the debate, please then do me the courtesy, or do the House the courtesy, of turning up for the wind-ups. With that little homily duly completed, I invite the Secretary of State for the Home Department to continue the debate.
It is a great pleasure for me to open this debate. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate my 49th birthday.
The coming weeks will be one of the most defining political periods not just of this Parliament or of our time as MPs, but since the second world war. I know that all hon. and right hon. Members will have the national interest at the very forefront of their minds. Next Tuesday, we will be asked whether we will support the Brexit deal of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Each one of us will have to make that decision. It is my belief that the deal on the table is the best option available in ensuring a smooth exit from the European Union. It will ensure that we leave the EU, as planned, on 29 March next year, that we take back control of our borders, that we end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK and that we stop sending vast sums of money to Brussels. The deal will have a significant impact on two major areas of Home Office policy—security and immigration.
I will very happily take an intervention from the right hon. Gentleman.
I am very grateful to the Home Secretary. He has just mentioned taking back control and ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. I presume that he has seen the legal advice, published today, from the Attorney General, which makes it clear that, in fact, that is not the case in terms of the backstop, which he also says is indefinite. The advice says:
“NI remains in the EU’s Customs Union”—
not in some kind of customs arrangement—
“and will apply the whole of the EU’s customs acquis, and the Commission and CJEU will continue to have jurisdiction over its compliance with those rules”.
Northern Ireland will treat Great Britain as a third country. How can he possibly stand here and recommend this deal and say that it brings to an end the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice and takes back control?
I very much respect what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. He has shared it with the House on a few occasions, and I absolutely understand what he says. Let me just say from the outset: no one can pretend that this deal is perfect in every sense. Inevitably, there will be some compromises with this deal and with a number of objectives, including, as we have just heard from the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s questions, a need to ensure that the commitments in the Good Friday agreement are upheld. What he is referring to is if—and it is an if—the backstop arrangement kicks in. He is right to point to the legal advice, but it is worth keeping in mind the fact that that situation does not necessarily arise, even if there is no final deal on the future arrangement by December 2020, because there is an opportunity for alternative arrangements, including extending the implementation period. Even if the backstop arrangement kicked in, he referred to, it is, at a minimum—legally from the European Union’s perspective—not sustainable because it is done under article 50 of the European Union’s own rules.
Does my right hon. Friend not accept that, if we are maintaining an open border where there is a land border, it can only be done in a modern economy by having some form of customs union applying to both sides of the border? Unless and until someone else comes forward with an alternative way of timelessly guaranteeing an open border, the arrangement proposed is the only conceivable one that is possible for the foreseeable future, until something better comes along. This was quite obvious months ago, and it is quite futile to start protesting about it now.
I always listen carefully to what my right hon. and learned Friend has to say on all matters. It is correct that this is one way to ensure, in that all-important border, completely frictionless trade, but I do not accept that it is the only way to do that. Although it is recognised in the agreement, under the backstop arrangement, that this is a way that clearly has been foreseen by this agreement, there are, as I said a moment ago, potentially other ways that that can be achieved, and it is right that we properly explore all possible alternative arrangements.
Rather than listen to the advice of the Father of the House, will the Secretary of State listen to the advice of the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic, Mr Juncker and Michel Barnier in the EU and his own Government, all of whom have said that, in the event of a no deal or of any kind of deal, they would not impose a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, so, quite clearly, it must be possible to do this, despite the comments of the Father of the House.
What the right hon. Gentleman highlights is that it is important to listen to all voices. Again, it points to the fact that, although this is one arrangement, it is right that we look and continue to explore to see whether there are other arrangements that can lead to a more permanent and more easily acceptable outcome.
I will give way one more time, but I do need to make some progress.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. The legal advice released this morning makes it clear that the protocol does not provide for a mechanism that is likely to enable the UK lawfully to exit the UK-wide customs union without a subsequent agreement. It goes on to say:
“This remains the case even if parties are still negotiating many years later, and if the parties believe that talks have clearly broken down and there is no prospect of a future relationship agreement.”
Does that not undermine the point that he made a moment ago when he argued that this arrangement was not sustainable in the long term because of the limitations of article 50? The advice of the Attorney General is that it is going to last.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. No doubt he has had some time to digest the legal opinion, but he might also note that it is perfectly consistent with what the Attorney General said at this Dispatch Box earlier this week. He made it clear then that, naturally, what he is providing is legal analysis, but this should also been seen in the context of the politics of such a situation, and he set that out quite clearly as well on the day. I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the remarks that the Attorney General made on that point earlier this week.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that if we approve the withdrawal agreement, the UK will have to pay a lot of money for many years after we have left the European Union, although there are no cash limits or numbers in the documents, and very general heads? Will he also confirm that the EU will have preponderant power in deciding just how vast this open-ended commitment will be, and that it will be massively more than £39 billion?
In the withdrawal agreement, there is an estimated amount that the UK will pay. It will not be instant; it is over a number of years. The general figure that has been talked of by Government Ministers and others is a total of £39 billion.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will come back to the hon. and learned Lady in a moment.
The Home Office is affected by this deal in two significant areas: security and immigration. Today I will set out what is on offer in these two important areas and why the deal is in the interests of the United Kingdom. Let me start with security. The Brexit deal negotiated by the Prime Minister delivers the solid foundation that we need for future security co-operation with our European partners. It avoids a cliff edge by providing for an implementation period, ensuring a smooth transition from current arrangements to a new, strong partnership.
An unplanned no deal Brexit would mean an immediate and probably indefinite loss of some security capability, which, despite our best efforts, would likely cause some operational disruption when we leave. As Home Secretary, I know which option I would prefer. I have seen at first hand how important it is to have a strong security partnership with our European allies. I have seen the potential dangers that such co-operation prevents, and the security and safety that it ensures.
Of course, what the Home Secretary says about no deal is right, but the Chancellor has earned some respect for showing a level of candour this week by saying that there will be an economic trade-off with any form of Brexit. Will the Home Secretary be similarly open with the House and the public that there will be some form of security trade-off over Brexit in order to achieve the aims of the Brexiteers?
I point the hon. Gentleman to the assessment of the security arrangements in the deal that we published in quite some detail last week. I accept that, with this deal, security arrangements will inevitably be different because we will be a third country outside the EU, but I think we can safely say that it is the most comprehensive security agreement that the EU has with any third country.
The Home Secretary has spent some time giving evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs recently on the subject of database access. Yesterday, the Prime Minister was questioned by a fellow member of the Committee, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), on the question of whether Schengen Information System II is included in the agreement. The Prime Minister stated that it is referred to in the political declaration, but paragraph 86 of the declaration only refers to passenger name record data and Prüm, not to SIS II, which is a vital database. Will the Home Secretary now put the House straight as to the exact situation with those databases?
I will happily do so, although I do not have the exact paragraph before me. In terms of the SIS II database, the document refers to the wanted and missing persons database. It also refers to another database—on European criminal records—in a similar vein. The declaration says that we will consider co-operation on those databases, but it does not guarantee that.
Could the Secretary of State point me to the pages in the document that he has published that give guarantees on our continued membership of Europol, Eurojust and the European arrest warrant? As a former Home Office Minister, I can tell him that they are critical to the safety of our citizens, but they are absent from the document.
The agreement clearly refers to the mutual exchange of data on passenger name records, DNA, fingerprints, vehicle registrations and fast-track for extradition—which I will cover later in my speech—as well as continued co-operation with Europol and Eurojust.
I just want the Home Secretary to clarify his answer. I cannot find any reference to SIS II anywhere in the political declaration. I am very happy to give him my copy if he does not have one with him. As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who is also a member of the Home Affairs Committee, said, paragraph 86 refers only to passenger name record data and the Prüm database. It does not refer to SIS II. Will he clarify for the House that there is no reference to SIS II in the declaration?
I thank the right hon. Lady for the focus that her Select Committee has brought to this issue, including recently. Just to be clear, there is no claim that the document itself refers to the database as SIS II or to the European Criminal Records Information System database, for that matter. The document talks about considering continued co-operation on the kind of information that is in those databases. We will properly consider the matters to see whether there is a way to continue that type of co-operation.
Will the Secretary of State give way one more time?
I will give way to the right hon. Lady one more time as she is the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.
Paragraph 87 refers to considering further arrangements and arrangements that might
“approximate those enabled by relevant Union mechanisms.”
The SIS II database contains 76 million pieces of information. There is no sign that anybody is going to create another alternative database that contains just as much information, so what on earth does it mean to talk about approximating access to the SIS II database? Either we get access to it or we do not.
It means exactly what it says in paragraph 87, which is that we will “consider further arrangements” that will help the
“exchange of information on wanted or missing persons…and of criminal records”.
Give the right hon. Lady’s interest in these matters, she will be more aware than most Members of this House that we did not join this database until 2015. Before that, we were using other databases on wanted and missing persons, including the Interpol database, so there are other pieces of data that we can use for this type of information. However, it is good that we have an outcome whereby we will consider further co-operation on exactly this kind of important information.
For all the concern that is being expressed by colleagues on both sides of the House, is the Home Secretary aware of a single Interior Minister or security agency chief around the whole EU who actually wants to reduce the level of co-operation that the UK currently has with the EU and the countries within it?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. In all my discussions with Interior Ministers on security co-operation, I have not come across a single one who wants to reduce security co-operation. Every single one understands the mutual benefit that comes about through continued co-operation and information exchange.
The deal that the UK has reached with the EU will provide for the broadest and most comprehensive security relationship that the EU has ever had with another country. This agreement allows for our relationship to include various important areas of co-operation: continuing to work closely together on law enforcement and criminal justice; keeping people safe in the UK, across Europe and around the world through exchanging information on criminals and tackling terrorism; ensuring that we can investigate and prosecute those suspected of serious crime and terrorism; supporting international efforts to prevent money laundering and counter-terrorist financing; and combating new and evolving threats such as cyber-security. It also allows for joint working on wider security issues including asylum and illegal migration.
The declaration sets out that we should carry on sharing significant data and processes such as passenger name records, so that we can continue disrupting criminal networks involved in terrorism, serious crime and modern slavery; DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data, ensuring that law enforcement agencies can quickly investigate and prosecute criminals and terrorists; fast-track extradition to bring criminals to justice quickly where they have committed a crime; and continued co-operation with Europol and Eurojust.
The thing is that that is completely a wish list. It is all in the political declaration, but it is no more deliverable than a letter to Santa Claus—it really isn’t—because there is no settled policy on extradition, and no settled policy on a legal definition that could be delivered through the law courts on any of these elements. The proof of this is that the Government do not even have an immigration policy. It is all very well having a wish list, but how on earth could a serious Member of Parliament vote for nothing more than a wish list?
With regard to leaving the EU, the only wish list I am aware of that is worth nothing is Labour’s so-called six principles. That is the wish list that the hon. Gentleman has continually supported again and again. In this deal, specifically on security co-operation, there is, for example, an agreement on mutual exchange of data on passenger name records, DNA, fingerprints, vehicle registrations and fast-track extradition. He should go and explain to his constituents how important that is to them.
Can the Home Secretary confirm that if we are out of the European arrest warrant and unable to put any identical arrangement in place, a number of countries will be unable in future, under their own constitution, to extradite their nationals to this country?
We are not going to have an identical way of extradition in future because there is no need for an identical way. We will be outside the European Union, no longer a member, so it is not appropriate that we are members of exactly the current mechanism—the European arrest warrant. However, that does not mean that we cannot continue to co-operate through an agreement with the EU on fast and expeditious extradition procedures and fast-track extradition. That is in the agreement; it has been agreed.
Will the Home Secretary give way?
No, I will not—I have to make some progress.
When it comes to external threats, we will be able to have an ambitious partnership on foreign policy, security and defence that will enable both sides to combine efforts for the greatest impact. It allows for ongoing co-operation on other important cross-cutting issues, including countering violent extremism and the spread of infectious diseases.
Of course, there is some further work to be done to ensure that we build on the foundation that this deal provides. This is not about wanting to stay close to the EU and its security arrangements just for the sake of it. We are leaving, and our relationship must change. This is about a hard-headed, pragmatic, evidence-based decision on what is the best security interest of the UK.
Can the Home Secretary confirm that because we will not be participating in the PESCO—permanent structured co-operation—arrangements, we will have no seat in the room, no voice and no vote or veto within any of the foreign policy defence and security arrangements; we will not be in the European Defence Agency; and we will not, unless we have a special arrangement, be in the European Defence Fund? What is the point of that in terms of increasing our security?
I would say gently to the hon. Gentleman that of course when we have left the EU we will not be participating as direct members in those kinds of foreign security tools. We will have our own independent foreign and defence policy, and we will have the ability, if we choose, to align ourselves with the EU. He should also remember, and it is worth recalling in this House, that our security is underpinned across Europe by our membership of NATO, not membership of the European Union. Ultimately, I believe that this deal strikes the right balance on security, and we will keep Britain one of the safest countries in the world.
I turn now to the consequences for security of no deal. An unco-operative no deal would have an impact on protecting the public. There will be no implementation period smoothing our transition into these new arrangements. The UK would have to stop using EU security tools and data platforms from March next year. There will be unhelpful implications for our law enforcement agencies and border guards. There would be disruption and they would have less information available to do their jobs, including identifying and arresting people who could threaten the security of some of our citizens. They would have fewer options for pursuing criminals across borders as we would lose the ability to pool our efforts through Europol and Eurojust. It would take longer to track, arrest and bring to justice those who commit crimes internationally. I have established and I chair a weekly Cobra-style planning meeting within the Home Office to plan for this eventuality properly in case it comes about. But no matter how effectively we prepare for no deal, setting aside the capabilities we have developed with our EU partners will of course have some consequences.
I have been listening to the Home Secretary very intently. He has not really given me the assurance I want on Europol. Can I give him a last chance just to mention Galileo?
The hon. Gentleman says that he has been listening very carefully. I doubt that, because I think I have given him and hon. Members an assurance about the security implications of this deal, and what the security situation may look like if there is no deal. It is clear to me: we are lucky to live in one of the safest countries in the world, and with this deal, we will continue to be one of the safest countries. Of course, even if there is no deal, there are some mitigants. There is no perfect mitigant. We will lose certain tools that certainly would have been helpful from a security perspective. But whatever happens, Britain will continue to be one of the safest countries in the world.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the problems with the withdrawal agreement, whatever he has said, is that state aid provisions would prevent the Government from subsidising or supporting our defence industries in the same way that the EU can, and as we currently can under the EU treaties? Is that not a serious risk to our national security that the Government have failed to take into account?
I have listened to my hon. Friend carefully. So far, in terms of how those EU state aid rules apply to the UK at the moment, and will indeed apply through the implementation period, I have yet to see how that has a detrimental impact on our security apparatus and supply. However, given that he has raised this issue, it is worth looking at it more closely. If he will allow me, I will do so and get back to him.
Is not the Home Secretary giving us a completely false choice by saying that it is either this deal or no deal, particularly given the decision that we made yesterday in this House that clearly allows us, as a House, to choose different options than just this deal or no deal? Is he not giving us a false choice?
No, I am not.
I would now like to turn to the other big issue for the Home Office regarding this deal, which is immigration. Concerns over immigration were a key factor in how people voted in the referendum in 2016. People wanted control over immigration. They wanted future decisions on UK immigration policy to be taken in this country and by this Parliament. That is what this deal delivers. The deal will allow us to create an immigration system that is not constrained by EU laws and that works only in the national interest. Free movement will end. In future, the decision on who comes to the UK will rest with the UK itself, and not with individual migrants. The UK will continue to be an open and welcoming country that attracts the best talent from across the world.
Can I impress on the Home Secretary again the acute problems that there have been in fishing on the west coast of Scotland and, indeed, in Northern Ireland? I do not know how many numerous meetings I have had with various Government Ministers—they come and they go all the time—but will he look at this next year to make sure that it does not happen again? Will he make sure that we are getting crews on boats and that non-European economic area labour is coming in? The problem is going to get worse with the situation we have at the moment. The Home Secretary has this in his gift; it is not Europe that is stopping him. He can lift the pen and this will happen. He will be thanked and appreciated across the west coast of Scotland if he does that.
I am always happy to listen to Members. Indeed, I have met many Conservative Scottish Members of this House, who have made that point powerfully. We are listening. The hon. Gentleman refers to current issues, whereas I want to focus in this debate on the future immigration system.
The Home Secretary is absolutely right to say that concerns about immigration were at the forefront of many reasons that people cited for voting to leave. Is it not therefore extraordinary that ultimately we do not know what the immigration policy and stance of this country would be after March? It necessarily will be interrelated with the future economic relationship. We have no certainty on that—we do not know what it will be—and he has not published his immigration Bill, so how can anyone know before this vote what they will be getting on immigration in the withdrawal agreement?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that immigration was a big issue in the referendum debate and that the type of immigration system we have in the future will have an impact on our economic performance. I know he will be listening carefully to the rest of the debate, and I will give more information on what that system might look like. We are setting out the broad principles of the new system and will be publishing a White Paper, which will have much more—[Interruption.] We will be publishing a White Paper soon. [Hon. Members: “Soon!”] Yes, we will publish it soon.
I will give way in a moment.
I know that Opposition Members in particular are very eager for this White Paper. They do not have to wait long. It is worth keeping in mind that when the White Paper is published, that is not the end of the conversation. Like all White Papers, it is essentially the start of a broad consultation that will last for many weeks, where we will speak to many businesses and others, including right hon. and hon. Members. That will be a moment when we can set it out in much more detail.
Speaking as a Brexiteer and somebody who campaigned for Brexit, I know that the most important determinant was sovereignty of this place, part of which was sovereignty to decide our own immigration policy and control our borders. We are not against immigration; we want controlled immigration. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that the immigration policy will be non-discriminatory as far as the world is concerned?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance, and I agree with all the points he made, including the importance of control of our immigration policy.
The Home Secretary and I both served in the Cabinet of the previous Prime Minister, and he will recall that the previous Prime Minister tried, without success, to get from the European Union a limitation on access to welfare payments for those who have just arrived here. Now we are leaving, and we say we want to take back control. The political declaration is very vague; it talks about social security co-operation. Is it our ambition to ensure that businesses cannot bring people over, pay them very cheap wages and expect them to claim benefits and live in squalid conditions? Will we now rule out access to many of those benefits, which cost a lot of money, for people who come over from the EU?
I agree very much with the sentiment of what my right hon. Friend said. I think it is fair to say that once we have left the EU, we will have a lot more flexibility in that area. To return to the previous question, the rules that we apply will be non-discriminatory. The broad intention is to apply the same rules to anyone, regardless of their nationality. It will be focused on an individual’s skills—what they have to offer and the contribution they have to make—and we will not want welfare or any other type of social security payment to be part of someone’s decision to come and work in this country. The White Paper will set out more detail on that.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way, and I want to put in a word for my fellow member of the Home Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), who is hoping to catch his eye. The Home Secretary told us just eight days ago that the immigration White Paper would “certainly” be published in December. Is that still true?
It is certainly still my intention to publish it in December. That has not changed.
The Home Secretary said at the Home Affairs Committee that
“the meaningful vote is on the 11th. I hope it”—
the immigration White Paper—
“will come before that”.
That was just last week, yet on Monday he said on the radio that it was “very unlikely” that the White Paper would be published before the vote. What happened in those four or five days to change his mind? Does he think it is acceptable for the House to vote on the withdrawal deal without the information in the White Paper?
I will say two things to my hon. Friend, who makes a fair point. First, he asks what has happened. It is worth reminding him and the House that this is the most significant change in our immigration system in 45 years. Rather than rush the White Paper, it is important that we focus on the detail, get it right and get it out as soon as possible. Secondly, of course we should think of our new immigration system as part of our deal as we exit the European Union, but it is also clear that if we have no deal, there will still be a new immigration system. It is worth keeping that in mind.
I will give way to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), who has been very patient.
I just want to disturb the slightly cosy consensus arising between those on the Government Front Bench and some on the Labour Back Benches. The view on immigration in Scotland is different. Voters in Scotland do not want to reduce immigration. Business, the universities, the financial sector, the FinTech sector and the cyber-security sector in my constituency are very keen not to reduce migration to Scotland. Is he aware of that, and will he take that on board in his White Paper?
I think the hon. and learned Lady will agree with what I have to say next, which is that immigration has been good for Britain. It has made us a good hub for culture, business and travel, and it has boosted our economy and society in countless ways. That is as true for Scotland as it is for other parts of the United Kingdom. That is why, from the very start of this process, my first priority has been to safeguard the position of more than 3 million EU citizens currently living in the UK and almost 1 million UK nationals living in the EU. The withdrawal agreement guarantees the rights of EU citizens and their family members living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU.
My message on this has been very clear. EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and our way of life. They are our friends, our colleagues and our neighbours, and we need and want them to stay, regardless of whether there is a deal. I can confirm that, even in the event of no deal, EU citizens and their families living here in the UK before we leave will be able to apply to the EU settlement scheme and stay. We will be setting out more details on that shortly.
I hope the Home Secretary will also think about the fact that it is not necessarily a win for British citizens to lose the right to travel, study and work elsewhere in the European Union, which has been vital to a whole generation of people in this country. More importantly, he says that he is going to change the immigration system, but is he still going to stick to this ludicrous proposal of getting net migration down to the tens of thousands? Even migration from other parts of the world outside the EU, over which the Government have had full control, runs at more than 200,000 a year. Will he say that they will get rid of that nonsense?
The hon. Gentleman mentioned students. I welcome student exchanges, and I want to see more students, whether from the EU or from outside the EU, choosing Britain as a place to study. We have been very clear. When it comes to students, for example, there is no cap on student numbers. In the past year, we have seen a significant increase in student numbers from across the world. That is just the type of country we want to remain—welcoming people, especially students and others, from across the world who want to study here or come here as tourists or those who can contribute skills that we actually need.
Of course, we do not just want the students to come here; particularly in Scotland, we want them to stay here and contribute to our economy. Will the Home Secretary look at reinstating the post-study work visa, so that we are not educating young people from across the world simply for them to take their skills elsewhere and feed other countries’ economies?
I actually have some sympathy with what the hon. Lady says. Interestingly, a report that I will mention in a moment—the independent Migration Advisory Committee report—talks about looking at some of the post-study work rights, and I am actively doing so. We have to be careful, however, that those post-study work rights do not in themselves become the reason for someone to choose to study in Britain. They must choose to study in Britain because of what our fantastic universities and other educational establishments have to offer. However, it is also sensible, when people choose to study in Britain and take qualifications in the skills needed in our own economy, that we have a sensible approach that allows them to stay and to continue to contribute, if that makes sense for us.
I am struggling to understand what the Home Secretary is saying about post-study work visas. Is he saying that we should not deliberately try to attract talent to the nations of these islands? Is his position that we should not deliberately try to attract talent to the nations of these islands? Is that the Government’s position?
That is the complete opposite of what I was saying, so either the hon. and learned Lady misheard me or that is what she would have liked me to say so that she can open it up as some sort of attack line in a press release. That is exactly what I did not say.
Will the Home Secretary give way?
No. I am happy to make it clear that I welcome students who choose Britain, and I think we should take a fresh look at how we can retain talent, with people who have chosen to study in Britain continuing to work in Britain if that meets our economic needs.
On the point about universities more broadly, they obviously rely on attracting the best academic talent to teach our students and international students. Will the Home Secretary briefly explain whether his immigration White Paper will make sure that we do not close the doors to that, reflecting on the fact that many of these professionals are not highly paid, and that salaries are often taken to translate to skill levels although in this case—it is the same with the performing arts—that does not hold?
My right hon. Friend speaks with a great deal of experience in this area, and she is absolutely right to point that out. Our universities do rely on academic talent, much of which comes from abroad, and that is to be welcomed. We must have an immigration system that continues to allow that, and we must take a careful look at the salary levels she has mentioned.
Further to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), will the Home Secretary commit to looking at the extra costs and the bureaucracy that will fall on our health service and our care sector? As she has said, because of the salary threshold that applies, many of the key staff who enable our health service and care sector to function will fall below that salary threshold, and the extra costs that will fall on the care sector in particular are quite extraordinary. Will he commit to reducing bureaucracy and tackling that cost?
Again, a very important point has been raised by one of my colleagues. I absolutely make that commitment. My hon. Friend is quite right to raise it, because we have to recognise that as we move from the current system of freedom of movement, in which there is virtually no bureaucracy to speak of, to a system under which we will require visas for every worker, we must keep an eye on the paperwork and bureaucratic requirements and keep the system as simple and light-touch as possible. That applies not just to larger employers, such as hospitals or NHS trusts, but to the smaller employers that may be looking for skills but perhaps taking only one or two people a year, and we should keep that in our minds as well.
This is not just about doctors and nurses of course; in my constituency, an awful lot of those involved in agriculture and tourism are concerned to ensure that a seasonal workforce continues to be readily available. Will the Home Secretary reassure us that there is a mechanism in his plans to allow that sort of migration so that the needs of those very important industries in Somerset can be met?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. He will know that we have announced a pilot for the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which we are starting early next year, working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The purpose of the pilot is to make sure that we look carefully at how we can continue to meet the needs of that very important sector.
I am sure the Home Secretary realises that 800,000 people in this country work in the automobile industry, and it is therefore very important that we get the specialist labour that facilitates research and development. That involves the universities, and not very much has been said in relation to Brexit about the plight of the universities if it is not handled properly.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right to highlight the importance of our automobile industry and the need for skills, particularly in areas such as engineering. I can give an assurance that we will want to make sure that the new immigration system allows for these vital skills where they are needed.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that in the case of a no deal, there will be an immediate hard border in Northern Ireland to stop the passage of people and products, and that in the event of a deal, people will just be able to fly into Dublin and walk into the UK via Northern Ireland?
No one wants a no deal, but I can confirm that in the event of a no deal, the UK Government would not do anything to create a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Unrestricted immigration has caused some people some concerns. As I have said, I will shortly introduce a White Paper, which will set out proposals for the future immigration system. I understand hon. Members’ frustrations about the timing of the White Paper, but I say again that it is an entirely new system—the most significant change to our immigration rules in 45 years—and we need to take the time to get the details right. We have made it clear that it will be a system based on skills, not on someone’s nationality.
The design of the future system has to be based on evidence about the needs of our economy. This is why we have commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to report on the economic impact of EU workers and to ensure that the new system benefits Britain. In addition, we have been listening and engaging with businesses up and down the country to hear their views, concerns and ideas. I am grateful to all those who have taken the trouble to give us their views and have submitted evidence to the MAC. We have considered that advice, and we will be setting it out and taking it into account when we publish our White Paper.
Our future system will be flexible, so that the trade deals we agree with the EU and with others can allow businesses to provide services and move existing staff between offices in different countries, supporting our dynamic economy. The agreement we have reached with the EU will enable us to do this through visa-free travel for tourists and business travellers, and arrangements for service providers and for researchers and students.
The Home Secretary has been very generous in giving way. He did not actually answer the question from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), but is it not time that we stopped demonising immigration and came clean about the fact that immigration is actually dictated by the job market, not by wishful thinking about how much immigration we would actually like? In fact, the figures that have come out showing immigration from the EU is down but immigration from outside the EU is up clearly demonstrate that we need immigration.
I feel that I have been very clear on that point. I just said a moment ago that immigration is good for our country and that we need a system that welcomes people and the talent we all want to see in this country. That will help this country, particularly our economy and our needs.
How does the Home Secretary feel that the immigration section of the Home Office will cope in the new regime when it cannot even run an effective, efficient and fair immigration service at the moment? It is already damaging Britain’s reputation overseas in non-EU countries.
I am confident that the Home Office can cope with a big change in our approach to immigration. That is not to say that there are not lessons to learn from mistakes that have been made in the past, but it is important to ensure that when things go wrong—they do go wrong; that happens in any large organisation and it has happened under successive Governments—there is independent analysis and the proper lessons are drawn. That is exactly what we are doing in the Home Office. I am confident that with that, and with the talent we have in the Home Office, we can deliver the new immigration system.
Our immigration system must be tailored to support and give preferential treatment to highly skilled workers. Of course, there are sectors and businesses that have come to rely on low-skilled workers and continued access to migrant labour—I understand that—but in controlling migration, we should always look to those in our own workforce first. We will need to work with businesses, so that they can adapt and play their part in increasing the skills of British people. We are also committed to ensuring that our world-class education sector can continue to grow and prosper, with no limit on the number of international students who come here to study.
On work, will the Home Secretary lift the ban on asylum seekers having the right to work?
We currently have no plans to change that arrangement, but it is one of the areas I would like to review.
Let me be very clear: the White Paper is intended to be the start of a new conversation on immigration. It is not the last word, but the start of an ongoing dialogue with employers, businesses and others who use our immigration system. The Home Affairs Committee has said we should aim for a greater consensus on immigration; I agree. Basing our policy on evidence and extensive discussion with those affected will help us to achieve that.
We plan to introduce new immigration rules from 2021, after the end of the implementation period. For the first time in over 45 years, the UK will have complete control over its immigration arrangements. We will ensure that we have a system that ends free movement, is fair and fast, and works in the interests of all parts of the UK.
Let me conclude by reminding right hon. and hon. Members that the British people were given a choice and were told that their choice would be honoured. This deal involves taking back control of our money, our borders and our laws, while also protecting jobs, security and our precious Union. For the first time in a generation, we will be able to build an immigration system that is designed in Britain, made in Britain, and serves only our national interest. The deal protects not only EU citizens living in the UK, but UK nationals living in the EU. It also upholds the first duty of any Government: keeping our citizens as safe as possible. I urge hon. Members to join me in supporting it.
In many ways, migration and security are at the heart of the debate around Brexit, so I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to it from the Labour Front Bench. I think, however, that after the events of yesterday evening there can be little doubt that this is indeed a botched Brexit. Ministers should be ashamed that they had to be forced to comply with a motion of this House. We heard a lot, when they were trying to argue that they should not have to comply, about the national interest. But we have read the legal advice. There is nothing in it that compromises the national interest. It may be embarrassing for the Government, but it does not compromise the national interest. As the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) pointed out, it is not actually the full legal advice. It may be that he wants to return to that matter.
I voted to remain and the Labour party campaigned to remain and reform, but my party has said from the beginning that we respect the referendum result. It is true that there were substantive reasons to vote for Brexit. Above all, there were the long-standing concerns about sovereignty, which were so well articulated over his entire lifetime by my late colleague, the former Member for Chesterfield, Tony Benn. Nobody would deny, however, that concerns about migration were not far from the minds of some, if not all, leave voters.
Does the Labour party support the continuation of the free movement of people—yes or no?
The hon. Gentleman will know that when we leave the single market, freedom of movement falls. We said that in our manifesto and we are saying it now.
The available research confirms the salience of migration to leave voters. In June 2017, a report collated from the British social attitudes survey revealed that the most significant factor in the leave vote was anxiety about the number of people coming to the UK. A comprehensive study published by Nuffield College drew similar conclusions.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that since 2010 the Conservatives have made the poor poorer and then told them that the reason they were poor was because of foreigners, and that that is why they voted for Brexit? In fact, migration helps us. This is about not allowing right-wing propaganda to lead our country, and it is about staying in the EU and having a public vote on the deal.
All I can say is that the Labour party, whether in opposition or in government, will never scapegoat migrants. It does not help society, and it is not a constructive way to go forward politically. Who can forget Nigel Farage in the referendum campaign posing in front of the poster which showed floods of brown people surging into this country?
The right hon. Lady mentioned a moment ago that one of the main reasons people voted to leave was a concern about sovereignty, and she referred to the views of the late and very well respected former Member for Chesterfield. May I ask her to speculate on this? Why is it that the Irish, the French, the Germans, the Spanish, the Dutch, the Swedish, the Danes—I could go on—do not share the same concerns that the English, not the Scots, have about sovereignty and the EU? Will she answer that question, because it is a question that genuinely puzzles me?
I do not think it is entirely true to say that those countries do not share those concerns. I think we would have to look to our very different national stories to understand that concern.
Migration is at the heart of this Brexit debate, and I am glad to have the opportunity to address it this afternoon. Before I turn to immigration, however, I want to speak about the other theme to today’s debate: security. Ministers have been trying to drum up support for the Prime Minister’s deal by saying that the alternative is no deal, which would be disastrous for security. But the Prime Minister’s deal would be almost as bad. At best, we can say that it is a blindfold Brexit on security. At worst, it may be leading us off a cliff on security matters.
Ministers insist that the deal that is being put before this House will offer us better arrangements than any other third country. I put it to Ministers that that is not the point. The point is not whether there are better arrangements in other third countries. The point is whether these arrangements will give us the same assurances on security and fighting crime that we currently have. If we go through the deal, we can see that there appears to be a trade-off on security, because in order to achieve a seamless transition on a range of security, policing and justice matters and have the current level of co-operation, it would require a new security treaty between the UK and the EU, yet there is no expressed aim in the exit document to move towards a security treaty.
Ministers cannot say that they are unaware of the need for a new security treaty. In Brussels, the stakeholders and commissioners who are concerned about these matters have been talking for two years about the importance of moving forward with a security treaty. Without a security treaty, we may run the risk of losing a number of tools that are vital to cross-border security, policing and justice, while other tools will be hampered or severely compromised.
The right hon. Lady appears to be putting all the blame for this on the United Kingdom. Is she not aware that when Rob Wainwright, the very distinguished British former head of Europol, appeared in front of the Home Affairs Committee, he said that all the current arrangements and data sharing from which we and our European allies benefit could be continued, and that that is what their security forces want? Those things are not being continued purely because of politics.
They could be continued—my point is that there is nothing definite in the deal that we are being presented with in the House that would make sure that they were continued. On the question of security, assertions, aspirations and a wishlist are not enough—we need a treaty.
Last year, 183 people were returned to this country from other European countries to face justice under the European arrest warrant. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that as things stand, that process will end?
I absolutely share that concern.
The critical point that my right hon. Friend needs to be aware of is that the European arrest warrant is subject to the ECJ for other European countries, and the Government have specifically said that we should not be a member of the ECJ, so we would have to have individual relationships with each country and would therefore be less safe under the Government’s proposal.
I will come to that point, but I will say now that the Prime Minister’s red lines, one of which was the ECJ, may well prove to have been reckless. The EU insists on treaty arrangements governing key aspects of international security, justice and policing, as do we. Without a treaty, courts have no legal basis to implement arrest or extradition warrants and cannot allow third countries access to criminal and other databases. We are on course to become a third country in our relationship with the EU. Because there is no security treaty planned or even aimed for in the exit documents, the level of co-operation between the UK and the EU post Brexit could be severely and unavoidably downgraded.
Ministers will be aware that neither France nor Germany will automatically extradite to non-EU countries—their constitutions say that. There will be a mutual loss of the use of the European arrest warrant, and the UK will no longer be able to access the Europol database in real time. In addition, as a third country, the UK’s access to databases of criminal records, fingerprints, DNA and missing and wanted persons will be compromised. Ministers promise a future security partnership between this country and the EU. However, the assurance on access to SIS II and the European criminal records information system is only that
“the UK and the EU have agreed to consider further how to deliver capabilities that, as far as technically and legally possible, approximate those enabled by EU mechanisms”.
That is not the same as assuring us of the same level of co-operation that we have today. In relation to the European arrest warrant, there is not even that promise. On passenger name records and the exchange of DNA, fingerprints, and vehicle registration, the agreement says:
“The UK and the EU have agreed to establish reciprocal arrangements”.
It does not say that they have established reciprocal arrangements; it is a wish for the future. However, without appeal and oversight by a court—that role is currently played by the ECJ—all these things could be subject to legal challenge in practice.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
No, I need to make progress.
In addition, on the EU agencies Europol and Eurojust, about which Members have made interventions, the deal says:
“The UK and the EU have agreed, as part of the FSP, to work together to identify the terms for the UK’s cooperation via Europol and Eurojust.”
Working together to identify the terms is not the same as a guarantee of the same access and co-operation that we have today. As these are EU agencies, they are not in principle open to non-member states. Again, if that were to change, the legal basis for that would require a treaty.
I need to make progress.
The practical effects would be severe. Last year, the UK law enforcement agencies accessed SIS II checks 500 million times. UK authorities requested access to criminal records 3,000 times a week. The danger is that extradition arrangements would fall back on the 1957 European convention on extradition, which proved extremely time-consuming and cumbersome. Most members of the Council of Europe have reserved rights or derogations under the convention, limiting its effect. At worst, the gaps and loopholes created under this exit agreement could create a situation in which organised criminals and terrorists in the EU might come to regard the UK as a relative safe haven from justice. Under this agreement, absent any significant change to the issues I have enumerated, ongoing co-operation in cases and investigations may ultimately be compromised. On the basis of security concerns alone, no Member of the House should be signing off this deal.
The right hon. Lady gives a very accurate list of consequences that follow from leaving the European Union, which is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary deftly avoided the question, “Is it not inevitable that the arrangements of this country for security and the fight against international crime will be weaker once we have left the European Union than when we were in it?” As the right hon. Lady has committed her party to leaving, will she explain how Labour believes that it can negotiate anything other than this between now and next March? The Labour party has no remedy for this, unless it is thinking of reopening the question of our membership of the European Union.
As I said earlier, one problem in these negotiations, and one reason why they have not gone further, is the Prime Minister’s reckless red lines, particularly on the ECJ. However, let me return to the issue of immigration.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
I have to make progress.
Let me first deal with the status of EU nationals. I begin by saying how distasteful it was to many of us that the Prime Minister referred to “queue jumpers”. She seemed to be implying that there was some unfairness or illegitimacy in their role in British society, whereas EU nationals play a vital role in business, academia, agriculture and public services such as health and social care. EU citizens and their dependants living here cannot be reassured by the terms of the deal. The Home Secretary has given general assurances, but the deal says almost nothing in detail about their rights, including work, residency and access to services. No one on either side of the House who has ever had anything to do with the immigration and nationality directorate can have confidence in the Home Office’s ability to process the approximately 5 million applications that are required to process settled status applications. I am aware that the Home Secretary sets great store by his app, but he knows perfectly well that it cannot be used on iPhones, and although it has been trialled, the trials involved volunteers and only the simpler cases.
We have all seen the shameful chaos around the Windrush scandal. Today’s National Audit Office report on Windrush is comprehensively negative. It criticises the Home Office for its poor-quality data; the risky use of deportation targets; poor value for money; and a failure to respond to numerous warnings that its policies would hurt people living in the UK legally. It is a damning report, and Ministers should be ashamed. EU citizens can only await with trepidation their further and deeper engagement with the Home Office.
My right hon. Friend and I represent very different constituencies, but they are both among the poorest in the land. One of the ironies of the present immigration situation is that my constituency now has the lowest percentage of people living in it who were not born in it for 120 years. One of the many benefits that my constituents have enjoyed in recent years has been the ability to live, work and study elsewhere. I understand all the arguments about wanting to limit the number of people coming into this country, though I personally find it quite distressing, but should we not make sure that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater? We need to make sure that our citizens have the right to study, work and prosper, whether they come from the poorest or the richest background in this country.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. If Members talk to younger people, they will hear that one of their biggest doubts about Brexit is that they do not welcome the idea that they will not be able to travel, work and study in the way they have done under our membership of the EU.
Then there is the question of the missing immigration White Paper. The Home Secretary said he did not want to rush to produce it. I remind the House that we were originally promised it in summer 2017, then the Government were going to produce it this February, then it was to be published in March, before the recess, then in July, and then after the Migration Advisory Committee report in October; now the Home Secretary assures us it will be published “soon”. What confidence can anyone have in post-Brexit immigration policy when Ministers still do not seem to know what they want—or, more to the point, cannot agree on what they want? How can the House be expected to vote on this deal without detail on proposed immigration policy?
We know that the Tories are stealing some of Labour’s terminology about a rational immigration system based on our economic needs, but I suspect that Ministers mean something very different. On this issue, Government rhetoric sounding like Labour is a very insincere form of flattery. The suspicion must be that the Government’s actual policy is to begin to treat EU migrants as badly as they have treated non-EU migrants over many years.
There is one other factor, which my right hon. Friend may be coming to. Does she agree that it would be quite possible for the Government to apply free movement in a more restrictive way, particularly regarding the world of work, as other countries, such as France, have done? Would she like to speculate on whether one reason why the Government have not done that is that the Home Office is so overwhelmed and has been so greatly cut that it does not have the capacity to enforce such a tighter policy?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention. The cuts have unquestionably had an impact on the Home Office.
The Government have suggested that they will distinguish between high and low-skilled migrants and discriminate in favour of the former. On the face of it, that is a logical position, yet all indications are that their real distinction will be between high and low-paid migrant workers, which will leave a range of sectors struggling with skills and labour shortages, including among nurses, social care workers, agricultural workers and others in the private sector. This artificial distinction between high and low-skilled migrants, which is really about income, is both unfair and potentially damaging to the economy,
The Government have long been promising a new immigration Bill for a post-Brexit environment, but it seems that there is a split in the Government—I know it sounds shocking—between adjusting the immigration system towards supporting our economic needs and a constant campaign against migrants and migration. They will probably try to do both—“have cake and eat it” politics. There is also no indication that they will drop their unworkable net migration target, which has never once been met but which allows a continuing negative narrative campaign against migration and migrants. The level of non-EU migration alone is currently running close to 250,000 a year, and that is migration over which the Government have absolute control. There is no indication either that they intend to end the hostile environment policy—rename it yes, but end it no—yet we know that it led directly to the Windrush scandal.
The spurious distinction between high and low-skilled migrants, which is really discrimination against the lower-paid, will have negative consequences for a range of sectors. We await with interest the publication of the immigration Bill to see how the internal differences within the Government are resolved, but the Government are asking all of us to vote for their deal without telling us what their new immigration policy will be. This is a blindfold Brexit deal. As I said at the beginning, the Opposition honour and respect the referendum vote, but how can it be that Ministers are asking the House to vote for a deal that neither leavers nor remainers are happy with; asking us to vote for a deal when so many crucial issues, notably on security, are not yet clear; and asking us to vote for a deal that could endanger not just our economy but our security? The more we examine the deal, the more it becomes clear that the House cannot vote for it.
It is with a sense of trepidation that I stand to speak from the Back Benches for the first time in six years and for the first time since I resigned last Friday in order to vote against this withdrawal agreement. I loved my job. Innovation, scientific endeavour and our universities represent the best of Britain, and they underpin our future and our place in the world, so I did not take the decision lightly. At this point, I would like to say congratulations and good luck to my successor, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), and wish him all the best in that job.
I carefully considered the deal, which has been described as having a remain flavour. Even as a remainer, it became clear to me that it was not politically or practically deliverable, and that it would make us poorer and risk the Union. I encourage everyone to look at the deal and come to their own decision. I believe that whether we are leavers or remainers we are all first of all British and that it is the national interest we care most about, but the political declaration is not a deal; it is a deal in name only. It is a framework for negotiation with a lot of aspirations. Yes, it has all been hard fought for and hard won—I give the Prime Minister and her team the credit for that—but, now that it is in front of us in Parliament, we have to look at it as parliamentarians. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary admitted at the Dispatch Box that the deal might not be perfect, almost implying that this was like trying on a pair of shoes that were not the right colour and perhaps a bit tight, but getting on with it and life would be fine. However, this deal is like a pair of shoes with holes in the soles. It is fatally flawed.
There are three big reasons for that. The first is that all the big issues, whether they relate to security, home affairs, agriculture, fishing, our independent trading policy or frictionless trade, have been kicked into the long grass. While the public are being told that this is almost like the end of the process, we are actually just finishing one process and about to begin on another long and arduous process. We will be doing that at a time when we will have given up our vote, our veto and our voice, and will have no leverage whatsoever.
The ultimate fall-back position in this deal is the Northern Ireland backstop. We will be negotiating with the clock against us, with a fall-back position that is existential for us and not existential for the EU, and we will be expected to get the best deal for Britain. I doubt very much that we will. I believe that, in voting for this deal, we will be losing and not taking control of our destiny. We must be clear-eyed as we go into these negotiations because they have been set up for failure. The EU will manage the timetable, it will manage the sequencing of the negotiations, it will set the hurdles and it will tell us when we can progress to the next stage. That is what happened in the first phase of the negotiations and that is what will happen in the second phase. We will always be in a position in which we have to walk away or fold, and I know what will happen: we will always fold because the clock will be ticking.
The EU elections next year will pose a big problem for us. In 2019, everyone in the EU will be focused on those elections, so I doubt that much progress will be made during the first year of our initial two-year implementation period. At the end of that year there will be a new Commission and a new Parliament, which will not be party to the political declaration on which we will vote in the House. A new Trade Commissioner will be appointed. We will then have one year, as part of the first implementation period, in which to negotiate or go for an extension. In all likelihood we will go for the extension in June-July that year, so we will trip into the second implementation period and pay a significant amount of money for the privilege. We will go into the second period with a general election on the horizon, a Northern Ireland backstop that no one in the House wants, and yes, whatever assurances we are given, in all likelihood we will pay any price that the EU asks of us in order to get out of that backstop. So what do we have? We have “best endeavours” to rely on.
In my previous job as science and innovation Minister, I was involved in the Galileo negotiations. The EU stacked the deck against us time and again. Before the ink was dry on the transition deal, we were served notice that we could not participate in the security aspects, although when we were negotiating the deal we were led to believe that we could. We were then served notice that British industrial interests could not bid for contracts, even though British companies had built the encryption and security elements of Galileo—or, rather, they could do that, but they would have to move to countries within the EU in order to do so. We threatened to use our veto. The date of the vote was moved, and during the interregnum the EU changed the rules to involve simple majority voting, so our veto did not apply. Galileo is a foretaste of what is to come in these negotiations. We are setting ourselves up for failure by going down this route.
The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that the concerns about Galileo were raised as long ago as the summer of 2016. It is simply not the case that the potential problems of access were not known during the negotiations. Many articles were written about it and many representatives of industry raised their concerns with us.
The concerns were raised and were discussed. We signed a transition deal on the basis of best endeavours, only to realise that that was not the basis on which the other side was operating.
I bear no grudge against the EU for putting the EU first. I bear no grudge against the EU for aggressively prosecuting its interests. What does concern me is that, given the political declaration that we have before us, we do not have much leverage. The unique relationship that we are being told we can negotiate is unlikely to happen. What is most likely to happen is that we will be given a free trade agreement dictated to us by the EU.
We should level with the public. This deal does not bring closure. It is not a case of “Sign here, let us have a compromise and all the discord and disharmony that we have experienced over the last few years will suddenly disappear.” We will see Brexit Secretaries resign next year because so many of the issues have still not been thrashed out. The deal will not heal the divisions that we see in our country. Ultimately, we are at the foothills of a long and arduous process. Brexit will not be over as a result of the vote next week.
The Home Secretary said that there was no alternative, but I believe that that is a false choice. There are many options. What we have is a deal that has been engineered to put maximum pressure on all the other options in favour of the options that the Government are putting before us. We could list some of those options, and I will list them without prejudice initially. First, there is the Government’s deal. Secondly, there is the revocation of article 50. Thirdly, there is no deal. The important thing about those things is that all are within our control and do not require negotiation with the EU. If we want to negotiate with the EU, we can negotiate to extend article 50 in order to look at the backstop again. We can negotiate with the EU to extend article 50 in order to hold another referendum. We can negotiate with the EU to extend article 50 in order to look at the Norway option, in which I know a number of colleagues are interested. The Government may box themselves in with their own red lines, but that is no reason for Parliament to accept being boxed in by those same red lines.
There is, however a constraint. The ultimate constraint seems to me that there is no majority for any option in this Parliament. There may be plenty of options, but I doubt that there will be a majority for them. I have said that we should not rule out, if need be, going back to the people. When I say that, everyone says that it will be corrosive of our politics, it will be destructive of our politics and it will be hugely divisive. We should not be presumptive about where the electorate are, but I believe that that is not a reason to vote for the withdrawal agreement. If we vote for the agreement, we will give the public the impression that this is the best compromise and there are no problems further down the line: this is Brexit done. Waking up and seeing that Britain is being hobbled and crippled in those negotiations would also disappoint voters and that would also be corrosive of our politics.
I resigned because I thought, “This is probably the biggest vote in which I will take part during my political career.” It is for each Member in the House to decide what to do but, for me, the national interest is not served by voting for the Government’s motion.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), and I applaud his courage in resigning as a result of his concerns about the deal.
There is much I could say about the detail of this agreement: red lines breached, for example, and the Court of Justice of the European Union articles 87, 89, 158 and 174 and article 14 of the protocol in relation to Northern Ireland make it very clear that the Prime Minister has had to make some pretty major concessions on her red line on the Court of Justice. We have heard in the Chamber—and have now seen it clearly in writing in the legal advice—that as a matter of law we could be trapped in the Northern Ireland backstop permanently and unable to get out of it, as I sought to clarify with the Attorney General earlier this week. The Northern Ireland backstop also means that the catch of fishing vessels registered in Northern Ireland will have preferential treatment through tariff-free access to the market in a way that fishing vessels registered elsewhere in the UK, including Scotland, will not have. I look forward—but do not hold my breath—to hearing the Scottish Conservatives making a fuss about that.
Today and the next few days should be about the bigger picture. I am looking forward to having an in-depth debate about immigration in due course, if we ever do see that much-promised White Paper, but I do want to make a few remarks about it now before moving on to the bigger picture. As I said earlier, it is a matter of record, because Scotland voted to remain, that the Scots did not hold the same concerns about sovereignty or immigration as held elsewhere in these islands, yet the political declaration confirms the UK Government’s intention to end freedom of movement. That will see people across these islands, but in particular the Scots who did not vote for it, lose the rights they have as EU citizens.
This is a deal that will see us made poorer not just economically, but also, equally importantly, socially. Even the Migration Advisory Committee has acknowledged that inward migration has made an overwhelmingly positive contribution to the economy of these islands, and particularly Scotland. The MAC, while failing to acknowledge the need for regional and national variations in immigration policy across the UK, did knock on the head many of the myths about immigration that drove the sort of xenophobia that led to the poster the Labour spokesperson, the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), described earlier.
Scotland in particular has benefited from inward migration because at the start of this century we had a dwindling population and that EU migration has built our population and brought many young and economically active people into Scotland. Any Scottish MP who holds regular surgeries will confirm that that is a fact. There are two major universities in my constituency and all the academics tell me it is a fact that the process of Brexit and the rhetoric around immigration in this country is discouraging people from coming to live and work and study in Scotland. Scots did not vote for that, and that is one of the many reasons why we will not be supporting this deal.
Freedom of movement has been vital to fill gaps in the employment market in Scotland, and indeed across the UK. We have a big crisis across the UK in how we look after our ageing population. A lot of the people who look after our ageing population at present come from elsewhere in the EU and it will be a real shame if we discourage them from coming here in the future.
I agree with the hon. and learned Lady about students coming to the UK and that they should be able to work for a period as part of the payback; I think that is important. But does she accept that many people who voted for Brexit are not saying no to immigration? This is just about controlling immigration and that it should be this Parliament and the Government of this country that decide immigration levels.
No one is saying we should not have an immigration policy; of course we must have an immigration policy. The point I am making is that the immigration policy should be evidence-based and take account of the needs of the economy and the different regions and nations of these islands, and this Government’s policy does not do that. If the Government have such a great idea about future immigration policy across the UK, why is it taking them so long to publish the White Paper? And if they are so keen to throw their arms open to people from all across the world and have everyone come here on an equal basis, why does the Prime Minister—the Prime Minister of those on the Conservative Benches—persist in her ridiculous net migration target? It is just nonsense that the Conservatives want to throw the doors open; for so long as the Prime Minister is in place and that ridiculous migration target is in place, that simply will not happen.
The Government will try to ramp up the rhetoric around EU migrants, but the reality is that in order to get some of their trade deals through, they will have to bend the visa rules for India and elsewhere, so what they take with one hand they will give with the other anyway.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is crystal clear that if we ever get to the stage of being able to enter into third-party trade deals, which looks pretty unlikely at the moment, in return for access to the markets of countries outside the EU, those countries are going to want access to the UK for people who want to migrate from their country to here.
Does the hon. and learned Lady agree that it is the language around immigration that has been so toxic? I am a European migrant and I look around thinking, “Do they mean me?” That is exactly what other Europeans feel.
I agree, and part of the reason why the language has been so toxic is because we have not been talking about the reality of the situation but about a perceived reality.
A Labour Member who is no longer in his place made a point earlier that I entirely agree with: the Conservatives have through their policies created a great deal of poverty across the UK. Wales and Scotland have to an extent been protected from that because we have had different devolved Governments, but I notice as I travel around provincial England that the infrastructure is not in as good condition as it is in Scotland. No social housing has been built here for years, too; in contrast we are building a lot of social housing in Scotland. Many working-class people in England have been led to believe that the cause of their woes, such as the fact that they cannot get a house or a well-paid job—they can get a job, but not a properly paid job—is the immigrants, when it is the fault of this toxic Conservative Government.
Under the withdrawal agreement, EU citizens who are already here will not continue to enjoy the same rights that they enjoy now; they will continue to enjoy some rights, but not the same rights. They will lose their lifelong right of return, they will not have the same family reunification rights, and they will get no protection from inadvertently becoming undocumented illegal citizens—and, my goodness, the Windrush scandal has taught us what happens to undocumented citizens who are lawful citizens in this country. God help EU citizens who find themselves undocumented illegal citizens. Do not take my word for it; take the word of the National Audit Office and reports of various Committees in this House. And in order to hang on to the rights they already have—not to get a passport, but to get the digital identity that means they can hang on to the rights they already have—fees will be imposed on EU citizens. In Scotland, the Scottish Government have said they will pay those fees for those working in the public sector, but now it appears that there might be a bit of a tax-catch in relation to that, and I am looking forward to the Conservative Government addressing that properly, and perhaps extending the same largesse that the Scottish Government have to people working in the public sector south of the border.
I am going to touch briefly on the security, justice and law enforcement issues. As other Members have said, it is simply impossible for us as a third country to have the same degree of security, justice and law co-operation that we previously had, and, in fairness, the Home Secretary recognised that. But one of the things that has concerned those of us who represent Scottish constituencies—or some of us, at least—and the Scottish Government and commentators in Scotland most about this process has been the abject failure of the British Government to recognise that Scotland has a separate civil and criminal justice system. This is not about devolution; this is about the Act of Union. Scotland has had a separate legal system forever, and it is protected by the Act of Union. Yet our separate criminal justice system, our separate civil law system, and our separate Law Officers have not been consulted properly on the impact of these matters on the Scottish legal system. As we know, there is no mention whatsoever of Scotland in the withdrawal agreement or the political declaration. A lot of other much smaller regions get a mention, but not Scotland. This is not fanciful; I know, because I used to work in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, that co-operation across Europe has made a huge difference to law enforcement in Scotland, and if we lose that, we will be worse off as a result.
As I said earlier, today is a day for looking at the bigger picture. Speaking as someone who represents a Scottish constituency and as someone of Irish parentage, I see the bigger picture of the whole Brexit process as a tale of two Unions: the Union that is the United Kingdom and the Union that is the European Union. There are extremely stark differences between the ways in which the members of those Unions treat one another. So far as Ireland, north and south, is concerned, British politicians largely overlooked the threat that Brexit posed to the Good Friday agreement until after the referendum, and even then, many of them—particularly on the Conservative Benches—were and still are unable to accept the reality of the legal obligations that the United Kingdom undertook in that agreement. That old anti-Irish xenophobia that people like my mother remember so well has raised its head again, even to the extent of some on the Conservative Benches talking about the Irish tail wagging the British dog, and other such insulting metaphors. However, because the EU27 got behind the Irish Government’s legitimate concerns, they became central to the Brexit process. Conservative politicians—not all of them, but some—and indeed a few on the Benches behind me, waited in vain for the EU27 to crack and throw Ireland under the bus. That did not happen, and it is not going to happen.
I was at an event recently where the distinguished professor of modern history at University College Dublin, Mary Daly, remarked that the current situation in this House had uncanny echoes of what happened here 100 years ago when the electric politics of Ulster determined what happened at Westminster. It is quite ironic that that should be so, given that we are shortly to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the election of the first female MP to this Parliament. She was of course the distinguished Irish nationalist, the Countess Markievicz, who went on to be the first woman Cabinet Minister in western Europe. The truth is that the problems that arose as a result of partition have come back to haunt this House as a result of the Brexit process, but I believe that something that unites us all is that we want to see peace being kept in Northern Ireland.
Does the hon. and learned Lady accept that the Republic of Ireland actually has been thrown under the bus but does not realise that the wheels are running over it? If this agreement goes through, a border down the Irish sea will affect not only Northern Ireland but the Republic of Ireland, whose main market is GB and which takes its goods across GB, using it as a land bridge. It will find checks not just at Holyhead but at Dover.
No, I do not accept that. I speak regularly with politicians from all parties in the Republic of Ireland and that is certainly not how they see matters. In fact, politicians, businesses and the wider community in the Republic are broadly very happy with the way in which the European Union has dealt with this. It is sometimes conveniently forgotten in this House that Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union. It is forgotten partly because Northern Ireland has not had the democratic voice of its Assembly during this time. It is only the voice of the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) that has been heard here in relation to Northern Ireland, but his party, the Democratic Unionist party, does not represent the majority of people in Northern Ireland, who voted to remain. The Prime Minister has refused to meet the Greens, the Social Democratic and Labour party, Sinn Féin or the Alliance, which is quite disgraceful.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, the people voted to remain in the EU by an even more substantial margin than that of Northern Ireland. It was 62%, and polls show that if a vote were held tomorrow, the figure would be nearer to 70%. Despite that, the Scottish Government have concerns. They are a democratically elected Government, although I know that those on the Conservative Benches like to call them the SNP Government and pretend that they have no legitimacy. They were elected democratically, and their legitimate concerns, which are often supported by other parties in the Scottish Parliament—as they will be today when the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Labour will vote with the SNP to try to protect Scotland from the consequences of Brexit—have been wholly ignored. We can only look on with envy as the concerns of the Irish Government are placed centre stage in Brussels. Unlike Northern Ireland, Scotland has had a strong and functioning Government and Parliament during this process that have been well able to express their views, but that has not protected us. This Brexit process has highlighted the limits of devolved—as opposed to independent—government.
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. We fully expect the Scottish Parliament this evening to endorse a cross-party motion rejecting the withdrawal agreement, just as the Welsh Assembly did last night. The Scottish Conservatives are describing that debate as needless. They suggest that Scotland does not need to talk about Brexit, that the big Parliament in Westminster will make that decision for us and that we should know our place. That exemplifies just how they want to undermine devolution and use Brexit to do so.
Of course, of the Scottish Conservatives do not represent the majority of Scottish opinion in relation to anything, let alone Brexit. It is often forgotten, after the hullabaloo when they won seats here last year, that they are still very much in the minority in Scottish politics and the Scottish Parliament.
Let us look at what has happened to Scotland in the past two years. The UK Government cut the Scottish Government out of the Brexit negotiations completely. The Scottish Government put forward the idea for a differentiated deal or a compromise for the whole of the United Kingdom at an early stage, but that was completely ignored. The Scottish Parliament voted—with the cross-party support of everyone apart from the Tories and one Lib Dem—to withhold consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, but that, too, was ignored. When the Scottish Parliament tried to pass its own legal continuity Bill, it was challenged by the British Government in the UK Supreme Court, and we are still waiting for that decision. When amendments to the withdrawal Bill came back from the House of Lords to the Floor of this House, Scottish MPs got 19 minutes to debate the implications of those amendments, with the rest of the time being taken up by the Government Minister. Scotland is not mentioned in the withdrawal agreement or the political declaration, while little Gibraltar—important though it is—was afforded advance sight of the agreement. The Scottish Government saw it only when the rest of us did.
My point is that Scotland’s marginalisation and its very weak bargaining position within the Union that is the United Kingdom have been very exposed by Brexit. After our failure in the independence referendum of 2014, 56 Scottish National party MPs were elected to this House, yet not one of our amendments to the Scotland Bill at that time got passed, despite the fact that we had 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland and 50% of the vote at that time. We were told that the wonderful Scotland Act was going to give us huge amounts of power and that we would have the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world. I would like to ask any fair-minded person in this Chamber, and anyone watching, whether they think the sequence of events I have just described really makes it sound as though we have the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world. Of course it does not, because devolution’s constitutional fragility has been revealed by Westminster’s assertion of control and attempts to repatriate powers here from Brussels, and by the disregard shown for Scotland’s preferences in the negotiations in Brussels.
The Brexit process has told Scottish voters a lot about the reality of devolution. It has told them that power devolved is indeed power retained, and that the United Kingdom is not the Union of equals that we were told it was before 2014 but a unitary state where devolved power is retrieved to the centre when convenient and where no one but the Conservative party, which represents only a minority of voters in Scotland, gets a say on major decisions over trade and foreign policy.
The experience of Ireland and Scotland during the Brexit process shows a significant contrast between the way in which nations that are member states of the European Union and nations that are members of this Union are treated. I heard the distinguished former Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, John Bruton, speak recently. When he was asked about this by a member of the audience, he said that Scotland’s marginalisation within the United Kingdom would not happen in the European Union, and that if the European Union were taking a decision as drastic as Brexit and it had only four nations in it, all four nations would need to agree. In the UK, however, it does not matter what Scotland and Northern Ireland say. They can always be overridden by the English vote. That is not an anti-English comment; it is a comment on the constitution of the United Kingdom. If Scotland were a member state of the EU, even though we are a country of only 5.5 million people, we would have the same veto as Ireland over such a major decision, in the same way that the big countries have.
There is still a little bit of hope for Scotland, and it comes from the cross-party working that we have seen there, both in the Scottish Parliament today and from the group of politicians, of which I am proud to have been a member, who took a case to the Court of Justice of the European Union. We found out yesterday that the advocate-general says that proceedings under article 50 can be unilaterally revoked. I was interested to hear the Prime Minister acknowledge earlier today, in response to a question of mine, that it is highly likely that the grand chamber of the Court will follow the advocate-general’s opinion. It seems that Scotland, Scottish politicians and the Scottish courts are throwing this Parliament a lifeline that would enable it to get out of the madness of Brexit.
Even if we do throw that lifeline, the United Kingdom Parliament takes it, there is a second referendum, and the whole UK is smart enough, having been put in possession of the full facts, to vote to remain part of the European Union, do not think that that will be the Scottish question closed, because the Brexit process has wholly revealed our inferior status within the Union, and people will not forget that. The last two years have shown us that across the United Kingdom, the leave vote was won on the back of promises that have proved undeliverable. Many people say that those promises were lies, but whether they were or not, they have proved undeliverable.
It is hard for me to be fair to the Prime Minister because of the scorn that she has shown for Scottish democracy, but I will try: I do not think that it is because the Prime Minister is a bad negotiator that the deal is bad. The truth is that there is no better deal than the one the United Kingdom currently enjoys from within the European Union.
The Prime Minister at least tried to negotiate a deal. Others who led the leave movement have totally and utterly abdicated their responsibility. I watched with interest yesterday while the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) attempted and struggled to explain what he wants. I was none the wiser at the end of his speech. Let us not forget his partner in crime in the leave movement, who has now left the Treasury Bench: the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Why did he not take the job of Brexit Secretary when it was offered to him a couple of weeks ago? If someone desires something so much, why not take responsibility for delivering it? I think we all know the answer to that question.
Then, of course, there is the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). His insouciant appearances at the Exiting the European Union Committee were highly entertaining, but also deeply shocking. Now where is he? We have not seen him in the Chamber much in the last few days, but he is certainly not proposing any firm alternative to the deal.
The much maligned Court of Justice of the European Union, with the assistance of Scottish parliamentarians and the Scottish courts, has opened up new vistas of possibility for this Chamber. There is a chance of reversing the madness, but I accept that there will need to be a second vote. To achieve that, we will have to work cross-party in this Chamber. There is a lot of that going on already. May I respectfully suggest that parliamentarians in this Chamber look north to what is happening in Edinburgh this afternoon? They would see that it is possible for at least the Scottish National party, the Labour party, the Lib Dems and the Greens to work together. We know from this House that it is also possible for those parties to work with some Members on the Government Benches.
I want to make something crystal clear. Make no mistake about what would happen if there was a second vote across the UK, and England, in possession of the full facts on the reality of Brexit, again voted to leave—I am quite sure that Scotland would vote to remain. Scotland would not stand for that, and there would have to be a second independence referendum. This time, we know that we would have a far more sympathetic ear in Europe, even from the Spanish, supposedly Scotland’s great enemies. Their Foreign Minister said recently that if Scotland secedes from the UK constitutionally, he will not veto Scotland’s membership of the European Union.
As I said yesterday, I very much hope that when an independent Scotland tries to seek membership of the European Union, it will be remembered that it was Scottish parliamentarians and the Scottish courts who attempted to give the UK Parliament an escape route from Brexit. Even if the United Kingdom takes that escape route, the Brexit process has shown that the United Kingdom in its present form is not a Union in which Scotland can continue to function properly.
Will the hon. and learned Lady give way?
No, I am coming to the end of my speech.
We have seen writ large during this process the difference between what it means to be a member of the United Kingdom and a member of the European Union. In the European Union, even small countries such as Ireland are equal partners with big countries such as Germany and France. In the United Kingdom, a small country such as Scotland is not an equal partner with England. A power devolved is a power retained, and Scottish democracy is always at the whim of the majority in this House. That is not tolerable.
Regardless of what happens with Brexit, which I very much hope is reversed for the whole United Kingdom, I hope that the Scots will soon take the opportunity to say that Scotland’s position in the UK Union is not tolerable. We want to take our seat at the top table in the European Union, where I very much hope we will eventually be an equal partner with England, because I hope England stays, too.