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?
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 the Prime Minister?
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 does 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.
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 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?
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.
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.]
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
First, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s latter point, 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?
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 on the 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.
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.
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.]
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.
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?
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?
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 was the very worst thing about being detained, 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 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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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?