House of Commons
Wednesday 30 January 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Border: Use of Technology
Today marks the tragic anniversary of the events of 30 January 1972, a day more commonly known as Bloody Sunday. I am sure the entire House will want to join me in marking this day, and our thoughts are with everyone who lost loved ones or who was injured as a result of the troubles.
In answer to my hon. Friend’s question, everyone agrees that we have to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, and I agree with him that technology will play a big part in doing so. In fact, in his excellent and thought-provoking report “Order at the Border”, he identified 25 systems that will have to be updated to cope with our new relationship with the EU. Those systems are owned and operated by different departments across government, particularly Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Cabinet Office. I am sure they will describe their progress to him should he ask.
I thank the Minister for that answer. What work, studies or advice the Northern Ireland Office has sought or commissioned to examine how existing techniques and processes within existing EU customs law can maintain the free flow of cross-border trade between the UK and Ireland? Will Ministers put a copy of this in the House of Commons Library?
I understand that the Cabinet Office commissioned work on what existing software and other technologies are available from other low-friction land borders around the world to see whether they could provide a solution to the problem. The conclusion was that no existing off-the-shelf package could deliver exactly what will be needed in Northern Ireland, so new solutions will be needed. That is why the political declaration outlines that there will be urgent work on alternative arrangements to permanently guarantee no hard border in Northern Ireland.
May I associate myself with the Minister’s remarks about Bloody Sunday? He will know that in that same city of Derry/Londonderry just a fortnight ago the dissident republicans tried to take more lives of Northern Irish citizens. Can he understand that the Chief Constable in Northern Ireland thinks that any infrastructure at the border—any technology—will be a target for those same dissidents? Will the Minister offer a guarantee here today that there will be no technology on or near the border, and therefore no violence at the border?
I am very happy to repeat what I said earlier: nobody, on any side—not just the police, as this is much more broad than that—wants a hard border in Northern Ireland. Ultimately, that is the best guarantee that there will not be one.
Will the Minister confirm that the alternative arrangements the Government will be pursuing in the next fortnight have to do with technology and systems, as evidenced in the European Parliament’s “Smart Border 2.0” report in 2017, rather than a customs union that may potentially tie the United Kingdom into an arrangement in perpetuity?
All I can do here is go back to the Prime Minister’s point of order after the votes last night, where she explicitly said that she was going to take the decisions that had commanded a majority in Parliament back in not only reaching out to people who tabled amendments yesterday, but in her discussions with the EU. I am sure that none of us would want to rule in or out any particular methods of achieving those outcomes that have mandated by Parliament. We need to make sure that those discussions can move forward as freely as possible while still delivering on the outcomes that Parliament has decided.
This week, the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has indicated that he has a team studying how we could have checks without having any points along the border, including by paperless means and decentralisation—checks away from the border. Will the Minister confirm that he will be seeking to work with the EU to deliver on those things?
I can do better than that. The Prime Minister, in her comments last night, already made the point that she wishes to discuss all these things with the EU. I would regard it as immensely promising if such a team were indeed already working on it from the EU’s side.
I join the Minister in his commemoration of the tragic events of Bloody Sunday, but may I also use this opportunity to recognise the work of and thank the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland? As he announces his forthcoming retirement, I think the whole House will agree that we owe him a debt of gratitude.
The Minister and the Secretary of State know that there is no operable technology anywhere in the world in current use that would not of itself become a target for the terrorists. The Prime Minister has said this in the past. We have to rule out the idea that a technological solution is available. If the Minister and the Secretary of State are going to use their influence to say that there can be no hard border across the island of Ireland, they have to say that they will abandon the attempts to placate those in favour of a no-deal Brexit on their own side and move towards a customs union.
All I think I can do is repeat my earlier comments. After examination, there are no currently available, off-the-shelf solutions, which is why the political declaration says that new solutions will be required. I would not want to rule out what those will be and what they will include or not include at this stage, because clearly they will need to be innovative.
Peace and Reconciliation
May I associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister of State about Bloody Sunday? The shadow Secretary of State has pre-empted me, but I too have a debt of gratitude to George Hamilton, the Chief Constable of the PSNI.
The Government fully support efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. I was pleased to announce earlier this month that about £300 million of UK Government funding will be committed to projects to support peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland between 2021 and 2027.
Does the Secretary of State agree with me that no discussion of peace and reconciliation can take place without considering the plight of Northern Ireland veterans, both police and military, who put their lives on the line for their country? Will she assure the House that she personally will do all she can to draw a line under these investigations, which breach the military covenant and our pledge to police forces in the UK?
My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner on these matters. He will know from the extensive discussions we have had that I am committed to delivering on the legacy proposals that were first agreed in the Stormont House talks and on which we have had a consultation. I look forward to working with him further on those matters.
From Caroline O’Hanlon to Carl Frampton, we know the ability of great Ulster sportsmen and women to bring people together. May I ask the Secretary of State about the curriculum sports programme? It receives £1.2 million of funding each year to provide Gaelic football, hurling and soccer coaching in 450 schools in Northern Ireland. That funding has been cut. Will she restore it to bring sport back to the people in all those communities?
The hon. Gentleman has campaigned on this matter. I know he is very keen to make sure that this funding is maintained. He makes a point about the fact that we do not have devolved government, which we will come on to later during questions. We do need Ministers in Northern Ireland to make those important decisions, because the example he raises is a very good one.
The recent events in Derry/Londonderry clearly showed that the peace we have in Northern Ireland is still fragile at times. Given that, does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, as the Brexit process progresses, it is crucial that politicians on both sides of the border and indeed in this House use language that is measured rather than inflammatory?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We all need to be careful in our language at this very fragile time.
The Secretary of State will recall the excellent work of the centenary committee that oversaw the world war one commemorations in Northern Ireland and sought to promote reconciliation through its work. As we look towards celebrating the centenary of Northern Ireland—this landmark in our history—will the Secretary of State assure me that she will work with us to do the same?
The success of the world war one commemorations in Northern Ireland was very much down to the right hon. Gentleman’s hard work in ensuring that all parts of the community came together. I think we saw a real moment in St Anne’s cathedral in November, when all parts of the community and the Irish Government come together with the UK Government to recognise what happened 100 years ago. I know he is very keen and we have met to discuss the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Northern Ireland, and we are working with him on it.
To promote peace and reconciliation across the island of Ireland, will the Secretary of State confirm that, after Brexit, British and Irish citizens will of course continue to be able to cross freely the Irish border in accordance with the common travel area? Will the Secretary of State confirm that technological solutions are being looked at to ease the flow of other EU nationals across the Irish border?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the common travel area is a very important foundation of the lives of those in Northern Ireland and Ireland, and it of course predates our membership of the EU. We are absolutely committed to ensuring the common travel area continues. We want to see that, and it is a very important point.
The restoration of a fully functioning Executive and Assembly remains my top priority. I am focused on bringing the parties together to work towards re-establishing devolved government at the earliest opportunity.
May I draw to the Secretary of State’s attention the very serious comments made to the Women and Equalities Committee last Friday by the chief medical officer for Northern Ireland regarding patient safety for certain women? Will the Secretary of State meet members of that Select Committee to discuss what actions can be taken?
My hon. Friend has alerted me to the comments that were made, and I am very happy to meet her and other members of the Committee to discuss the matter.
The lack of a functioning Assembly creates real problems for setting Northern Ireland’s budget. Can the Secretary of State explain what steps she is taking ahead of the 2019-20 budget? In particular, is she meeting with all parties represented in the Assembly?
I would very much prefer there to be a devolved Government in Stormont setting the budget for the Departments in Northern Ireland, but sadly that is not the case. Therefore, it is incumbent on me, as Secretary of State, to ensure that we have a proper statutory basis for public spending in Northern Ireland, and I am working on that budget. I will, of course, talk to other parties about the matter.
In relation to budgetary matters, the Secretary of State will be aware of the massive extra boost to the block grant as a result of the confidence and supply arrangement. Will she ensure that the Northern Ireland Office works closely with devolved Departments to ensure that progress is made on all blockages to the proper roll-out of all that money, and the other major infrastructure projects for Northern Ireland, as quickly as possible?
I want to make sure that all projects in Northern Ireland are properly delivered. Clearly, I do not have executive powers to ensure that they are delivered, but I am working closely with the Departments to make sure that money, particularly confidence and supply money, is spent properly.
In relation to devolved issues more generally, does the Secretary of State accept that there could be a greater role for Assembly Members, who are currently not meeting, in input into decision making and policy making in Northern Ireland? It is deplorable that certain elected representatives from Northern Ireland do not take their places here, and that the same party refuses to get the Executive up and running.
I want the institutions in Stormont to be restored as soon as possible, and I want to work with all parties to make sure that that can happen. It is important that where there are roles for Members of the Legislative Assembly, they continue to contribute. I pay particular tribute to the Churches, which have organised a number of meetings to allow civic society, MLAs and others to get together and discuss important matters. Those are great initiatives.
We have heard at first hand in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee about the detrimental effects of not having devolved government in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has no mental capacity legislation, and in education it is working to statements rather than education, health and care plans. What devolved powers can the Secretary of State give officials in Northern Ireland to help to rectify those problems while there is no devolved government?
We passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 last year to allow civil servants to take decisions based on guidance issued by me, as Secretary of State. I have to be clear that those are not major policy change decisions; they are to allow public services to continue to be delivered. The way to get through this is to get Ministers back into government.
On behalf of the SNP, I join the Minister and the Labour Front-Bench spokesman in marking the tragic and entirely avoidable events of Bloody Sunday. Earlier this month, the former Taoiseach John Bruton accused this Government of seeking to tear up the Good Friday agreement. Last night, the Government did exactly that. As a result of recent events in Northern Ireland and the implications of last night’s vote, it is imperative that we get power sharing back up and running as soon as possible. Is the Secretary of State concerned that increasingly strained Anglo-Irish relations will harm efforts to restore Stormont?
I like the hon. Gentleman very much, but I could not disagree with him more. This Government are absolutely steadfast in our commitment to the Belfast Good Friday agreement, and we will do nothing that jeopardises it.
The House has just heard of the sad necessity of the setting of a budget for the coming financial year, in the absence of a devolved Assembly. May I ask the Secretary of State if she has begun discussions with the Northern Ireland civil service on this? While she is in such a warm and inclusive mood, may I ask her if she will follow the example of her predecessor and involve Opposition parties in the process?
The hon. Gentleman will recall that last year when the budget was set, I made sure, as Secretary of State, that all the main parties and the Opposition were part of the process. As I say, I would much rather that Ministers in Northern Ireland were setting the budget, but given the situation, we have to work together to make sure that a budget can be set.
I have regular discussions with the Prime Minister and others about all aspects of our exit from the European Union.
Last October, the Secretary of State gave a guarantee that her Government would not renege on the backstop, saying:
“We are committed to everything we have agreed to in the joint report and we will ensure there is no border on the island of Ireland.”
Can she explain why there has now been a U-turn and the Government’s policy has changed to ditching the backstop?
The commitments made in the joint report remain. Those commitments were that we would find a solution to the Irish border, ideally through our future relationship. We are still committed to that being the case. Last night, the House showed that there is a majority to pass the withdrawal agreement if changes are made to the backstop. The Prime Minister is working on that basis.
The deputy head of the Irish Government, Simon Coveney, has stated that
“the backstop is already a compromise…And the European Parliament will not ratify a withdrawal agreement that doesn’t have a backstop in it.”
Again, that was confirmed last night by the EU. Does the Secretary of State agree that her Government are pursuing a dead-end policy by seeking to renegotiate the backstop?
Can I very gently point out to the hon. Lady that she voted against the backstop?
In order to protect the Good Friday agreement, the backstop protocol was designed as an insurance policy to prevent a hard border in all circumstances. The only major party in these islands that opposed the Good Friday agreement was the Democratic Unionist party. Did the Secretary of State consult with any other party in Northern Ireland before throwing her support behind the new Government policy of ditching the backstop?
This Government are committed to ensuring that we meet all our commitments under the Belfast-Good Friday agreement, and that we deliver on the vote of the British people to leave the European Union. That is what we are working to achieve.
As the Prime Minister develops the alternative arrangements, will the Secretary of State remember that we have an incredibly close working relationship with the Irish Government to deliver the common travel area? It seems to me that that perhaps provides a model for how we might deliver no hard border in the future.
Clearly it would not be appropriate to speculate on what discussions the Prime Minister will have with the European Union and the European Commission, but my right hon. Friend makes a very important point about the common travel area, to which, as I have said previously, we are absolutely committed.
Last night, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) made one of the most reckless and irresponsible speeches I have heard since coming to this place. The comments about the Good Friday agreement do not—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Gentleman is supposed to be asking a brief question, and the Secretary of State has no responsibility for the pronouncements of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). Single sentence, question mark, and sit down.
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House, and the people in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, that that is not the case, and that we are committed to the Good Friday agreement?
I can absolutely do that. This Government are committed to ensuring that we deliver on leaving the European Union in a way that works for all people who live in the United Kingdom, wherever that may be, fully respecting the commitments that we have under the Belfast-Good Friday agreement.
We do not have much time to find new technological solutions. In October, from the Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister said that
“technical solutions effectively involve moving the border—and it would still be a border. Some involve equipment, which could come under attack, and some involve a degree of state surveillance that, frankly, I think would not be acceptable in Northern Ireland.”—[Official Report, 15 October 2018; Vol. 647, c. 421.]
Does the Secretary of State agree with the Prime Minister?
If the hon. Lady had listened to the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), in his answer to the first question, it was clear that we have said as a Government that no technological solutions, off the shelf, exist today that solve this problem, but we are committed to working to find alternative arrangements because we have all agreed that the backstop, should it ever come into force, is a temporary measure. No one wants to be in it, and we want to find ways of avoiding it.
Last year, I passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018, which creates a limited period in which an Executive can be formed at any time. I am actively encouraging the parties to use that opportunity to come together to make progress on restoring the Executive.
On 31 October, at the last Northern Ireland questions, the Secretary of State answered questions on restoring devolution and said:
“The point of the legislation is that it provides the space and the time for the parties to come together”—[Official Report, 31 October 2018; Vol. 648, c. 895.]
That language almost suggests that she does not have any role in it. Will she therefore outline what she has actually done to convene talks, or have we given up?
As Secretary of State, I clearly have a role in helping to facilitate those talks, but I cannot impose a solution on the parties in Northern Ireland. That must be something that they want to do for the good of the people in Northern Ireland. I am working to find that.
Environmental campaigners in Northern Ireland have raised concerns with me about the fact that the push towards ever-more intensive industrialised farming is continuing unchecked because of the power vacuum. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not seem to be interested. May I urge the Northern Ireland Office to take an interest in the environmental damage that is being caused by that trend?
The hon. Lady will know that DEFRA does not have jurisdiction over environmental policies in Northern Ireland; that is for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland. I am sure the permanent secretary has heard her comments.
In endeavouring to restore devolution, will the Secretary of State ensure that there is appropriate emphasis on those who caused devolution to fall in the first place and are refusing to enter in without preconditions being met?
It is important that we find a framework in which the parties can come together. I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly that a devolved Government should be in place in Stormont delivering for his constituents. That is what I want to see.
Rural Hospitals: Public Transport
As I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware, public transport in Northern Ireland is a devolved issue. The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 allows Northern Ireland Departments to continue to deliver public services in the absence of a functioning Executive. There are ongoing discussions on all these issues, including services to hospitals.
The brain injury charity Headway recently supported a lorry driver who had to pay £370 in hospital car parking charges to visit his comatose son in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Will my hon. Friend work with the Secretary of State to scrap hospital car parking charges once and for all?
My right hon. Friend is pursuing one of the energetic and effective campaigns that have become his signature in Parliament. I believe that he is also pursuing the issue at Welsh and Scottish questions. I am sure that many of us have a great deal of sympathy with the case he described, but changing the policy in Northern Ireland to deal with it is best done by a functioning Executive at Stormont. I hope that he will agree that that is the clearest possible illustration of why people in Northern Ireland need the Executive to reform as soon as possible.
Community transport gives rural dwellers access to hospital care, but in the past four years it has been reduced by 40%. What measures will the Minister put in place to ensure that that is addressed in the new budget?
The difficulty that everybody faces at the moment is that all budgetary allocations have to be done on a business-as-usual basis. To make more fundamental changes and reforms—to modernise anything in any devolved area—requires the Stormont Executive to be sitting. I share the hon. Gentleman’s desire for change, but the answer, I am afraid, is that we have to get Stormont working.
At the autumn Budget, the Chancellor announced £350 million for a Belfast city region deal to boost investment and productivity, and the opening of formal negotiations for a Derry/Londonderry and Strabane city region deal. Furthermore, late last year, I was delighted to announce a £700,000 investment in Randox, a County Antrim life sciences company. That investment, through the Government’s industrial strategy, should help create well-paid manufacturing jobs in Northern Ireland.
Government Members are starting to feel more and more like honorary Ulstermen. Will the Minister commit to increasing and expanding the city deal to other cities in Northern Ireland to help that integral part of the United Kingdom?
I can confirm, as I have already mentioned, that the Derry/Londonderry and Strabane city deal discussions have begun, following my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcement, and I am sure that everybody here hopes they will progress speedily and successfully.
We know that the business community in Northern Ireland does not want a hard border, so surely, if technology and connected promises do not avoid that, the backstop is an understandable insurance policy for Dublin and the European Union, as indeed the United Kingdom agreed in December 2017. Surely the Government will not be reneging on that promise, which is beneficial to business.
I keep coming back to it, but Parliament voted last night and a democratic consensus has been reached. We all need to respect that decision.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will want to join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to all those affected by the collapse of the Brumadinho dam in Brazil. We are in touch with the local authorities and stand ready to provide whatever support we can.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and, in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments about the tragic situation in Brazil.
My son is one of thousands of young people to have their life chances transformed by their studies at Chesterfield College. Its funding, like that of further education colleges across the country, is 30% down in real terms since this Government came to power. Further education funding is in crisis. Why is the education of young people in further education colleges worth so little to the Government?
The hon. Gentleman could not be more wrong. It is this Government who are ensuring that by 2020 the funding available to support—[Hon. Members: “Now!”] The funding we are putting into further education is providing the best life chances for young people going into further education. It is this Government who are taking steps to ensure that young people can take up the opportunities that are right for them. For too long in this country, the assumption has been that the only way to get on in life is to go to university, and other ways, such as apprenticeships and further education colleges, have not been similarly respected. It is this Government who are ensuring respect for further education, and for technical education as well.
My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. I certainly agree about the important role a free press and journalists play in our democracies, and I thank him for raising an issue that I know is important to him and many Members across the House. Sadly, as he says, 80 journalists we killed in 2018; 348 are currently in prison and 60 are being held hostage around the world. We are deeply concerned because, as he said, these numbers have risen on the previous year. That is why in 2019 we are placing our resources behind the cause of media freedom. We are helping to train journalists around the world, such as in Venezuela, where we have seen an authoritarian Government suppress their critics, and this year we plan to host an international conference in London on media freedom to bring together countries that believe in this cause and to mobilise an international consensus behind the protection of journalists. This is an important issue, and the Government are putting their weight behind it.
I join the Prime Minister in sending support to the victims of the Brumadinho dam collapse in Brazil. I am very pleased that all possible support is being offered to the authorities there to try to deal with the crisis.
Following the vote in the House last night against no deal, the Prime Minister is again going to attempt to renegotiate the backstop on the basis of finding “alternative arrangements”. Will she tell us what those alternative arrangements might be?
Absolutely. Last night, the House set a clear direction on the way in which it could agree a deal, and that, as the right hon. Gentleman says, is about dealing with the issue of the backstop. As I said yesterday, there are a number of proposals for how that could be done. We are engaging positively with proposals that have been put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and my hon. Friends the Members for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), for Wycombe (Mr Baker) and for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). Others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), have put forward different proposals, such as a unilateral exit mechanism—
Where are they?
I am just telling the shadow Foreign Secretary, if she will listen—let me give her a piece of advice: if she wants to shout things, it might be better to shout them in response to what I am saying.
My right hon. and hon. Friends have put forward proposals such as a unilateral exit mechanism or a time limit to the backstop. The political declaration already refers to alternative arrangements and raises a number of proposals that can be addressed, such as mutual recognition of trusted trader schemes.
None of that was very clear to me; I do not know about anybody else. It would have been really nice if the Prime Minister had acknowledged that she did whip her MPs to try to support no deal, and she was defeated on that.
The EU said at the weekend that it was willing to renegotiate if the Government’s red lines could change. Will the Prime Minister now tell us which of her red lines are going to change?
What has been absolutely clear in my contacts with European Union leaders is that they want a deal. What the House voted for last night was to leave the European Union with a deal, but it also crucially showed what it will take to see support in the House for a deal in the future. I think that the plan that was set out last night shows that we can obtain a substantial and sustainable majority in the House.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about not being clear about positions on various things. I am very pleased that he is now going to meet me, because there are a number of issues that I want to discuss with him. For example, he talks about a strong single market relationship with the European Union in the future. I want to know whether that means that he wants to accept all EU state aid rules, because he has objected to them in the past, and he cannot have it both ways.
We need to know, with greater clarity, what it is that the right hon. Gentleman believes in. Perhaps next time one of his own Back Benchers wants to ask him about his position on a second referendum, he will actually take a question or an intervention.
Last time I looked at the Order Paper, it said “Prime Minister’s Question Time”. The Prime Minister has herself said that “the only possible deal” is within her red lines, so it is perfectly reasonable to ask which of her red lines has changed.
This morning, the Brexit Secretary was asked:
“What is the alternative to the backstop?”
“Well, that is what we’re exploring.”
Can the Prime Minister tell us which options are being explored?
I covered that in the answer to one of the right hon. Gentleman’s earlier questions. Perhaps if he listened to the answers to his questions, he would not have to repeat them.
I look forward to meeting the Prime Minister later today, because I want to put forward Labour’s alternatives, which could command a majority in the House and which are about protecting jobs and people’s living standards across the country.
This morning, the Brexit Secretary said that alternative arrangements meant looking at technology. That is a very interesting question. Will the Prime Minister make clear what technological advances she is expecting to be made in the next 58 days?
May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be helpful—[Interruption.]
Order. I want to hear about these matters.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I have pointed out that there are a number of options that people are putting forward that we are working positively with them on. I have already referenced a number of things that are in the political declaration on alternative arrangements that do set out various aspects that could be looked at; I referenced one of them in my answer to his earlier question.
But I would also say to the right hon. Gentleman that last night the House did vote to reject no deal, but it also voted to do what the European Union has consistently asked this House to do since it rejected the withdrawal agreement, which was to say what the UK wanted to see changed. Last night, a majority in this House voted to maintain the commitment to no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, to leave the European Union with a deal and to set out to the European Union what it will take to ensure that this House can support a deal. That is a change to the backstop; that is what I will be taking back to the European Union. That is what we will be doing to ensure that we can avoid no deal. The right hon. Gentleman stands up regularly and says he does not want no deal; I am working to ensure we get a deal. He has opposed every move by this Government to get a deal; he is the one who is risking no deal.
I would be grateful if the Prime Minister actually acknowledged that the House has voted to take no deal off the table. Can she assure the House that if she is unable to secure any legal changes to the backstop, she will work to find a solution based on a comprehensive customs union, a strong single market deal and the guaranteeing of rights and protections, rather than go back to the alternative that she has been threatening everybody with for months and months, which was to crash out without any deal whatsoever?
Last night, the House did vote to reject no deal, but that cannot be the end of the story.
Of course not.
The right hon. Gentleman says “Of course not.” I think that is the first time he has actually accepted that you cannot just vote to reject no deal; you have to vote for a deal, otherwise you leave with no deal. So far, he has opposed everything this Government have put forward in relation to a deal, and he said previously he will reject any deal that the Government put on the table. He says this is Prime Minister’s questions, but people want to know his position as well. Will he ensure that if this Government come back with a revised deal that ensures we do not leave with no deal, he will actually support it?
It really is time that the Prime Minister acknowledges that she has got to move on from the red lines she has put down in the first place, and she does not acknowledge that in answer to my questions or indeed anybody else’s.
Our responsibility is to bring people together, whether they voted—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, we are the Houses of Parliament; we are the House of Commons; we do represent the entire country; and the point I am making is that we should bring people together, whether they voted to leave or remain. Indeed, I look forward to meeting the Prime Minister to discuss a solution that could in my view unite the country. Changes to the backstop alone will not be sufficient. Businesses and trade unions are very clear that any solution must involve a customs union and the strongest possible deal with the single market to avoid the damage of no deal. The Prime Minister may have possibly temporarily united her party, but is she willing—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Ellis, you were at one time a barrister of one rank or another in the courts; there is no way that you would have been allowed to shout from a sedentary position in that way. The judge would have ruled you out of order; I do not know whether that is why you stopped practising law and came into Parliament. Behave yourself young man; you can do so much better when you try.
As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted—[Interruption]—the Prime Minister may have succeeded in temporarily uniting her very divided party, but is she willing to make the necessary compromises, which are more important, to unite the country going forward to secure jobs and living standards right across the UK?
The right hon. Gentleman is a fine one to talk about coming together, when it was only last night that he agreed to actually meet me to talk about these issues. Time and again, he has told me to listen to the views of the House. He has just stood up and said that the backstop is not the only issue in the withdrawal agreement, but last night the house voted by a majority to say that the issue that needed to be addressed was the backstop, so he needs to listen to the House and to recognise that. He put forward a proposal last night that referenced the customs union and the single market, but his proposal was rejected by this House. I will tell him what this Government have been doing. Over the past week, we have been getting more teachers into schools, we have been ensuring that we are giving more money to councils and we have won a majority on Brexit. What did he manage? His Brexit plan was voted down, he opposed ending free movement and he will not rule out a second referendum. He has no plan for Brexit, no good plan for our economy and no plan for our country.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue and points out not only the good news of the 10-year high in the number of first-time buyers but the opportunities available for local authorities to provide for this. We are clear that the planning system has a key role in delivering more affordable homes, and the national planning policy framework, which was revised last year, is central to that. It includes a wider definition of affordable housing, and local authorities are expected to consider the new definition—which includes starter homes and discounted market sales homes—in identifying the types of housing their communities need. There is an expectation that major developments will make a minimum of 10% of homes available for affordable ownership, including starter homes and discounted market sales homes. We have made good progress on first-time buyers, but there is more for us to do and this Government are doing it.
Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister told this House that if we voted down the deal in the hope of going back to Brussels and negotiating an alternative deal, no such alternative deal would exist, yet last night she told the House that she would go back to Brussels to seek an alternative arrangement. So what is it? Has the Prime Minister inadvertently misled the House, or has this Government’s incompetence reached a whole new level?
The very simple fact that the right hon. Gentleman appears to have omitted is that the deal was brought to the House of Commons and the House rejected that deal. Therefore, we looked to see what could be changed, what we could take back to Brussels and what we could fight for to ensure that the deal could get the support of this House. I was going to respond to his point of order last night, but unfortunately, when I looked, he had left. I think he had gone to do a Sky News interview—[Interruption.] I want to confirm absolutely the commitment of this Government to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and the remarks that he made last night in relation to that were frankly irresponsible.
The only thing that is irresponsible are the actions of this Prime Minister—[Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman has a right to be heard, the public would expect him to be heard, and he will be heard. Attempts to shout him down are not just rude; they are irresponsible and undemocratic, and they should certainly not have the sanction of anyone who sits on the Treasury Bench. Stop it! It is low grade, it is useless and it will not work.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. That was a graceless response from the Prime Minister, who is acting with sheer irresponsibility. What she demonstrated in that answer was, “Here are my principles. If you don’t like them, you can have some more.”
Last night, a majority of Scottish MPs rejected Brexit. The Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly—[Interruption.]
Order. Stop it. Chanting in the background is utterly irresponsible. Let the right hon. Gentleman ask his question and the Prime Minister answer it. That is what the public would expect.
The Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and this House of Commons have rejected the Prime Minister’s deal. The UK Government told Scotland in 2014 that being part of the UK meant continued EU membership. The UK Government told us that we would be part of a family of equal nations. Prime Minister, Scotland wants to stay in the EU. We are scunnered by this Government ignoring Scotland. Does the Prime Minister accept that she promised Scotland everything but delivered nothing?
Scotland is part of the United Kingdom and voted in 2014 to stay part of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom will be leaving the European Union. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the impact on Scotland in the future, perhaps he should look at the figures for exports that came out just this morning. Over 60% of Scotland’s exports go to the rest of the UK. That is more than Scotland’s trade with the rest of the world and over three times more than with the rest of the European Union. However, he represents a party that wants to erect a border between Scotland and England. The biggest threat to the future of Scotland is sitting on the SNP Benches.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about what we are aiming to ensure that we get from leaving the EU, which is the ability to have that independent trade policy. That is so important for us as we leave the EU. Yes, I want to have a good trade relationship with the EU, but I also want to ensure that we are able to have an independent trade policy and have trade deals around the world. This country should be a champion for free trade around the world. That is the way not only to enhance our economy and prosperity and to bring jobs to this country, but to benefit countries around the world, including some of the countries whose economies need to be helped and improved. Some of the poorest people in the world would be helped by those trade arrangements. That is what we are going to deliver and that is our commitment to the British people and, as my hon. Friend says, it delivers on the result of the referendum.
The hon. Gentleman has raised a specific constituency case, and I will ask the relevant Department to look into the details of that case.
On 12 July last year, my constituents took their son Jack to Leeds Children’s Hospital for surgery on his craniosynostosis. The surgery went well but, after that care, Jack declined post surgery. His parents raised concerns, and he had declined so much by 16 July that a nurse raised concerns regarding sepsis. Jack continued to be treated for gastroenteritis, and the next day Jack died of overwhelming sepsis. Sadly, this is now the subject of a coroner’s inquest, but my constituents want to ensure that this never happens again to another set of parents. Jack was just three days short of his second birthday. The hospital has since introduced an early-warning system for paediatric sepsis, but that came too late for Jack. Can the Prime Minister assure me that she will do everything in her power to ensure that no other parent has to go through what my constituents have been through?
First, I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Jack. A terrible tragedy has occurred with the loss of such a young life.
We recognise, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) will confirm, that sepsis is a devastating condition, and it is important that the NHS carries on developing its programme of work on recognising sepsis and improving outcomes. I know NHS England and NHS Improvement are working urgently with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to establish a single England-wide paediatrics early-warning system to improve the recognition of sepsis and the response of healthcare services to children and young people.
Obviously, nothing we can do will bring Jack back or compensate for the devastating impact on his family, but I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), and I hope he will be able to reassure his constituents, that we will continue to do all we can to improve the care for those with this devastating condition.
When I was Home Secretary, I took measures to ensure that we improved the recording of hate crime because—[Interruption.] Actually, no. We did not have a full picture of what was happening.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has recently reviewed and revised our hate crime strategy, but the point underlying what the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) has said is that none of us should accept hate crime. We should all be very clear from this House that there is no place for hate crime in our society. Wherever we see racism, in whatever form, we should all take action to eradicate it.
In her discussions with EU leaders, will the Prime Minister be making it crystal clear that this Government stand firmly behind all their commitments under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement?
I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that absolute assurance and commitment. We stand fully behind our commitments under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and everything we do will be in light of those commitments.
We recognise the importance of buses to local communities, which is why we spend £250 million every year to keep fares down and maintain an extensive network that benefits people up and down the country. We particularly put money into supporting free bus travel for older and disabled people, because we recognise how particularly important buses are to vulnerable people. We are looking at what we can do to further improve access for people with disabilities, but we have been putting money in to ensure that there remains an extensive bus network that is of benefit to local communities.
Last night, a majority of this House voted in favour of a deal to deliver on the democratic will of the people of the United Kingdom and leave the EU. In the next phase of the negotiations, will my right hon. Friend continue to stand firm against the fishing nations of the EU and their vain attempts to maintain guaranteed common access to our waters?
I can give my hon. Friend an absolute commitment that I will do that. Leaving the common fisheries policy and becoming an independent coastal state is so important to this country, to enable us to enhance and give opportunities to fishing communities around the United Kingdom. I recognise that fishing is particularly important in Scotland, but fishing communities around the UK will benefit from our becoming an independent coastal state. I am very clear: our position is there, we have that agreement, and it is not up for renegotiation.
Clearly, this is a very serious issue, and I understand that the judiciary and devolved justice authorities in Northern Ireland are keeping it under close and active consideration. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, policing and justice is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, as is the length of custodial sentences. In recently passing the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland enabled Departments to continue to take decisions in the public interest to ensure the continued operation of public services, but that is not and cannot be a replacement for a devolved Government. The example the hon. Gentleman has given is yet another reason why it is important for us all to work to get the devolved Administration back up and running.
The Prime Minister will appreciate that the Government are spending over 50% more per head, in real terms, on education than was spent in the year 2000—and achieving much better results, might I add. However, there are still some challenges with resources and funding in many areas across Hitchin and Harpenden, especially in small rural schools. Will the Prime Minister commit to special consideration for education in the upcoming spending review? I believe that would command widespread support across the House.
I think the Chancellor was listening to my hon. Friend’s remarks and comments on funding. As he says, it is absolutely right that we have been putting more money into schools. It is also right that we now see 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010. We will of course look carefully across all elements of public expenditure when we come to the spending review but, as I said to my hon. Friend, I am sure the Chancellor has heard the lobbying in which my hon. Friend indulged in his question, particularly for small rural schools.
I recognise that this is a concerning time for the employees at Knight & Lee in Southsea. It is obviously a commercial decision for the company to take. We will ensure that the Department for Work and Pensions and Jobcentre Plus work with the company to understand the level of employee support required. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that if he is worried about jobs in his constituency, the policies that would cause most damage to jobs there are the policies of the Labour party and those on the Labour Front Bench.
Last week, SNP-led Moray Council announced a number of devastating cuts to local services, many of which will impact young people. From the closing of libraries and swimming pools to the ending of the Active Schools programme and increasing of fees for music tuition, young people are affected while the council’s highest-paid senior managers are not. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the SNP in Moray should focus on services rather than managers, and will she call on the Scottish Government to deliver a fairer funding deal for Moray?
Of course, the UK Government have increased the block grant that is going to the Scottish Government next year, so decisions on cutting budgets are a matter of priority for the SNP rather than necessity. Extra money has been given to them. It is a question of where they want to put that money and what they put as a priority. It is time that the SNP empowered local government in Scotland, rather than hoarding power at Holyrood.
I will ensure that the relevant Minister meets the hon. Gentleman and addresses this issue with him.
With record numbers of women in the workplace now, more and more women will experience the symptoms of peri-menopause or menopause while they are at work. Often, the symptoms are not well understood by the general population and they include much more than just hot flushes and night sweats. Will the Prime Minister please join my campaign, which calls on employers to update their health and wellbeing policies to ensure that women can get full information and proper support so that they can continue contributing at work?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. Obviously, this is something that many Members across this House will recognise as an important issue. We recognise the difficulties that women going through the menopause face. We are encouraging employers to adopt menopause-friendly policies such as flexible working and giving women information about healthy lifestyles that may help to improve their experience of the menopause. I will certainly encourage all employers, as she is doing, to take reasonable steps, including those that she has referenced, to support employees so that they can continue to carry out their jobs and contribute to our economy in the way they have done so far.
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is right that, last night, Parliament voted to reject no deal. What Parliament also voted for last night was to say that it wanted to leave the European Union with a deal, and it identified what was necessary to change in the deal in order to enable that to happen and for the House to support a deal. That is where we should be focusing. We can only ensure that we avoid no deal by having a deal, by agreeing a deal and by this House supporting a deal and voting for a deal.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for her commitment yesterday to return to Brussels and reopen the text of the withdrawal agreement? That is the right thing to do. People in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland will welcome it because they want to leave with a good deal for our country. I commend the excellent compromise proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), which has every chance of success in uniting this Parliament and this country behind a good exit.
Obviously, there was a very clear message from the House last night as to what needs to happen in terms of returning to Brussels, but also we are engaging positively, as my hon. Friend said, with the proposals that my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire and others have put forward in relation to dealing with the issue of the backstop.
Obviously, passengers expect better. I understand from the Department for Transport that the first phase of work to protect the sea wall at Dawlish began in November, with essential repairs to the breakwaters. That is part of the £15 million wider investment to make the railway at Dawlish and Teignmouth more resilient to extreme weather. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that world-leading engineers have been carrying out the detailed ground investigations to develop a long-term solution to protect the railway in a way that minimises disruption for passengers. Network Rail will soon be reporting on how it will deliver this solution. I am clear that delivering this improvement to the south-west’s transport infrastructure is a national priority. It is essential for unlocking the region’s economic prosperity and jobs, and that is why we are giving it the focus that we are.
Cotmanhay Junior School in my constituency has increased its proportion of pupils attaining the required level of key stage 2 standards from 35% to an amazing 67% over the last year. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the pupils, the teachers and the head, Simon Robinson, and 13 other primary schools across Erewash, on all improving their key stage 2 performances?
I am delighted to hear of the increase in performance at Cotmanhay Junior School. The education of children is improving, regardless of where they live or their background, so that they can get the education that they need to fulfil their potential. I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the pupils and staff of that particular school, and of the other schools she referenced across her Erewash constituency that have seen improvements, which are important for the future of those children.
The House rejected no deal last night, but I hope that the hon. Lady, when the time comes, will play her part in avoiding no deal and will vote for a deal.
The Prime Minister knows that I want to ensure that we leave the European Union on 29 March. She also knows that, regretfully, I could not support her deal two weeks ago because of the backstop, its impact on the relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and its potential to trap us in a customs union. I welcome the fact that the House yesterday voted by a clear majority to renegotiate the backstop. If the Prime Minister can deliver that, I will vote for her deal, and I am confident that there will be a sustainable majority to get it and the legislation through the House. I ask my right hon. Friend to tell the European Union that there is a majority in this House for that deal to get us out of the European Union on good terms. I ask my colleagues to give the Prime Minister space; the EU is not going to crumble tomorrow. We are going to have to hold our nerve and we can be successful.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of the vote that took place last night. Winning that vote with a majority—agreeing what it was necessary to change in the withdrawal agreement in order to achieve a majority across this House—gave a very clear message to the European Union that a deal can go through this House, but it has to be a deal that recognises the concerns that have been expressed across the whole of this House in relation to the backstop. I am going to be fighting for the change that this House has been very clear that it wants to see in the future. Then, as my right hon. Friend says, I am confident that we can see a sustainable and substantial majority across this House for leaving with the deal.
Like one of her hon. Friends, the hon. Lady has raised an individual constituency case and the details of that individual constituency case. I will ask the relevant Minister to look into that case and to be—[Interruption.] She is asking me to take a position purely on the question that she has asked me. I am asking the Minister in the relevant Department to look into the case and to be able to assess that case and to respond to her.
This afternoon we shall be debating the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill, which, among other things, will facilitate the cross-border exchange of data, enabling us to investigate crimes such as terrorism and paedophilia. Is it not the responsibility of all of us in this House to wholeheartedly support that Bill?
Absolutely, yes. This is a very important Bill in the impact that it will have. I am sure that everybody across this whole House wants to ensure that we can deal with terrorism, with paedophilia and indeed with other organised crime. Exchange of data is an important way of doing that, and I hope that everybody will see the importance of support for that.
In recent days we have heard the Irish Prime Minister talk about bringing his troops up to the border in the event of no deal. We have heard the Irish Deputy Foreign Minister talking of people jumping out of windows. Is not this highly reckless talk extremely dangerous in the present circumstances? That sort of rhetoric should be toned down and we should instead focus on what Michel Barnier said the other day—that even in the event of no deal, we would sit down and find operational ways to have checks and controls away from the border. Is not that the way forward? And it blows a hole in the entire concept of this backstop.
Obviously it is important—I will be speaking to the Taoiseach later today—for us to work with the Government of Ireland on the arrangements that will be in place in the future. We have obviously sent a clear message from this House about what needs to happen in relation to the backstop. We retain our commitment to no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and look to working with the Government of Ireland and with the European Union to ensure that we can all maintain our commitments under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and that commitment to no hard border on the island of Ireland.
Last Sunday, we commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day, when we remembered the darkest period in Europe’s history. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the Holocaust Educational Trust, its youth ambassadors, and the incredible survivors, who give their personal testimony to young people so that they will remember what the ultimate destination of racial hatred and antisemitism truly is?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the excellent work that the Holocaust Educational Trust does, and the youth ambassadors. I have met some of these youth ambassadors, who have understood the importance of learning the lesson from the holocaust, and understood the importance of acting against antisemitism wherever it occurs—and, indeed, wider racial hatred. As my hon. Friend says, the survivors from the holocaust have given their time to ensuring that nobody is in any doubt about where man’s inhumanity to man can lead. They have done a really important job. I pay tribute to them and to their continuing work. It is important that we all recognise the terrible things that can happen when we let antisemitism occur. We should all be fighting against antisemitism wherever it occurs.
In the cold of Sunday, Kane Walker was found dead on the pavements of Birmingham. He was 31, and he became one of over 2,600 homeless people to have lost their lives in the last five years. When will the Prime Minister recognise that the scale of homelessness today is a moral emergency, and that we cannot wait until 2027 for this Government to end homelessness for good when we need action now?
First, we all want to ensure that everybody in this country can have a safe and secure roof over their head—that nobody has to be on the streets sleeping rough. That is why we are putting money into this. We have taken a number of initiatives like Housing First which are already showing benefits in helping people who would otherwise be homeless and could end up on the streets in having a home and dealing with the issues that ensure that they are able to stay in that home. This is something that we recognise the importance of. That is why we are putting money into it. That is why we are acting. That is why we are ensuring that action is being taken across the country to deal with this.
Draft Domestic Abuse Bill: Territorial Extent
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on the territorial extent of the draft Domestic Abuse Bill and the consequences of this for victims of violence across the UK.
The landmark draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which we published last week, will help to transform the response to these horrific crimes. It is aimed at supporting victims and their families and pursuing offenders, to stop the cycle of violence. The Bill will cement a statutory definition of domestic abuse that extends beyond violence to include emotional, psychological and economic abuse. The Bill does not create new criminal offences in relation to domestic abuse, because those offences are already settled law—for example, section 18 grievous bodily harm, coercive and controlling behaviour and even, in the saddest of cases, murder—and are all devolved.
In line with existing criminal law, the provisions of the draft Bill extend to England and Wales only. Contrary to the suggestion in the hon. Lady’s question, there has been no change in the territorial application of the Bill compared with the proposals in the Government’s consultation published last spring. That was made clear in the consultation paper and reflects the fact that the subject matter of the draft Bill is devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
We are currently in discussion with the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Department of Justice about whether they wish to extend any of the Bill’s provisions to Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. We are seeking to establish a Joint Committee of both Houses as soon as practicable to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill, and I encourage the hon. Lady and all Members to contribute to that process.
Domestic abuse affects communities in every nation in the UK, yet last week, after two and a half years of waiting, the Government published a draft Bill that restricts action to only England and Wales. I am asking this question not to debate the nature of devolution, but to ask why this Bill has been restricted when what was promised from the outset was very different.
The original consultation recognised that
“Insecure immigration status may also impact on a victim’s decision to seek help.”
We know that migrant women are much less likely to seek help because they fear deportation. Some may point to other immigration legislation going through this place, but that does not include anything on this issue either. This Bill would have been the vehicle for helping those victims, as immigration is not a devolved matter.
The then Home Secretary, who is now the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has rightly recognised that financial destitution can hold women in abusive relationships. This Bill contains much to be welcomed regarding action in the courts and an independent commissioner, but because it is restricted, it does not address critical areas of policy. Why, after two and a half years, would the Government do this?
The Sunday Times provided the answer this weekend, with confirmation that the Bill had been vetted by the Cabinet Office and that the Government feared making the Bill UK-wide because of the Democratic Unionist party. Why? Because this Bill is also about implementing the convention on violence against women—a convention the United Nations has said that we are breaching right now, because citizens in Northern Ireland are denied the right to choose not to continue an unwanted pregnancy.
Today, a brave young woman aged just 28, Sarah Ewart, is taking our Government to court to vindicate her human rights. She suffered a fatal foetal abnormality but, as a resident of Northern Ireland, was denied the right to an abortion at home, so she had to travel to England, as 28 women a week currently do. Last June, the Supreme Court told the Government that this situation breached the rights of UK women, but because of a technicality, it could not compel them to act.
This Bill from the outset could have been the remedy, but this weekend’s revelations show that the Government have drafted the Bill with a mind not to the victims of domestic violence but to their partners in the coalition. The Bill talks about domestic abuse protection orders, which are supposed to have effect across the whole of the UK, yet there is no clarity, given the restricted scope, on how the Government intend to compel Scotland or Northern Ireland to act on them. Given that the original consultation talked of working with the Northern Ireland Executive, these problems are clearly of the Government’s own making and a direct response to the call for equal rights for the women of Northern Ireland.
Given this mess, can the Minister confirm at which of the DUP co-ordination committees this decision was taken? It is not minuted in the notes of those meetings from July 2017 to Christmas 2018. The power to veto legislation affecting all of the UK is not in the confidence and supply agreement, which I note was updated on 19 December, so can the Minister explain how the decision to restrict the Bill for this purpose was made? What implications does it have for the role of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who has direct responsibility for upholding the human rights of the people of Northern Ireland? Can the Minister explain why migrant women and those on low incomes in abusive relationships should pay such a price?
Can the Minister stop hiding behind devolution and say sorry to Sarah Ewart for making her relive the trauma of what happened to her, just because the Government need the 10 votes of the DUP to stay in power? We saw that last night, and I have no doubt that we will see it again, but this Bill shows the human consequences for women across the UK of the confidence and supply arrangement.
I know that Members across the House want to see action on domestic violence, and these restrictions will trouble women only our in constituencies but across the whole UK. Given that this is a draft Bill, will the Minister commit to going back to the drawing board and coming up with a Bill that helps to protect every victim across the UK? I ask the Minister to fight us fair and square on abortion rights in this place, not through backroom deals and bargaining. Otherwise, it will take a rape victim having to come to court to make the Government do the right thing and not block this change. Put DV, not the DUP, first.
Home should be a place of safety and love, and yet for 2 million people in this country a year, that is not the case. That is why we are introducing this unprecedented Bill, to try to help the victims of domestic abuse.
The hon. Lady rightly highlighted the fact that the Bill applies only to England and Wales at the moment. I set out the reason for that in my initial statement: the raft of offences that would support prosecutions of domestic abuse, including section 18 GBH and coercive and controlling behaviour, are devolved.
We have not rested on our laurels. I have written to the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Department of Justice to ask whether they will replicate this legislation in their own territories. I am delighted to say that the Scottish Government are looking at their own measures. I am sure that Scottish National party Members will have their own thoughts on devolved matters and the UK Parliament respecting that.
I must bring the hon. Lady back to the central subject of the Bill. This is about tackling domestic abuse, which I know she and many Members across the House feel strongly about. We must focus on the Bill. Let us not throw taunts across the Floor of the House. Let us work together to ensure that the Bill is in a good state when it is introduced formally. She asked about scrutiny of the Bill. We have said from the very beginning that this is a draft piece of legislation that will be scrutinised by a Joint Committee of both Houses. We anticipate that taking about 12 weeks, and once the Committee has produced its recommendations, we will look at those carefully before introducing the Bill.
Whatever the hon. Lady may have read on Sunday, I urge her not to believe everything she reads in the papers. We have to remember the people whom we are trying to help through the Bill. I have been delighted at the cross-party consensus on the Bill. Let us work together to stop this cycle of violence and help the victims of domestic abuse.
I highly commend the Minister and the Government for this very good Bill, but I very much share the concerns of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). I am gravely concerned that this is, in effect, a way of stopping what should be happening: a fundamental reform of the laws in Northern Ireland so that women in Northern Ireland have exactly the same rights as women in my constituency. Forgive me, Mr Speaker, for asking the Minister this, but I genuinely do not know the answer: are there any civil remedies in this Bill? If there are, I am afraid that the Minister’s response falls absolutely flat, because civil remedies are relevant across all the UK— [Interruption.] Apart from in Scotland—and therefore the scope of this Bill immediately needs to be changed.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that issue. I know how passionately she has worked to help the victims of domestic abuse, not only in this place, but in her previous career. I note her concerns and she knows that I, too, have my concerns, although those are not for today. I am sure she will join me in urging all those people who can make a difference in Northern Ireland to get around the table so that they can represent people and deal with this in the devolved Administration. On civil remedies, we have sought to consolidate the range of orders that are in existence at the moment, which can be very confusing, not only for victims, but for professionals involved in safeguarding victims. We are seeking to consolidate the range of orders available to protect victims in domestic abuse protection orders. They apply across the courts—family, civil and criminal courts. My understanding does not accord with hers, but I am happy to take that issue away.
As a Welsh MP, I have every confidence that the Welsh Labour Government are working towards delivering an excellent strategy on support for victims of domestic violence—I have no doubt that the same is true in Scotland. I totally respect the concept of devolution—when it works. But with the absence of Stormont, victims in Northern Ireland will see the progress in other parts of the UK only as further evidence of where they are falling behind in the support services and legislation available to them. We already know that in Northern Ireland they have no coercive control law and no stalking law, and the current controversy over the legality of abortion rumbles on. We need the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to take firmer action so that we can see a return to devolved government.
The good people of Northern Ireland deserve the same rights as everybody else in the UK, and currently they are not getting that. They are not protected by a devolved Government because of Stormont’s suspension. Even in today’s Northern Ireland questions we have been calling for the return of devolved institutions. We believe that support and services for victims of domestic violence in Northern Ireland are best made in Northern Ireland, but after two years of no Government the situation is stagnant. The people of Northern Ireland are suffering the effects of this political hiatus, none more so that the victims of domestic violence, as their voices reverberate in an echo chamber. I know that no MP in this place would believe that policies and strategies that support our constituents should not be afforded to the people of Northern Ireland, with one of the most notable issues being that of abortion. Human rights issues are not devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive and, as such, issues around women’s reproductive health are the responsibility of this Home Secretary and other relevant Ministers. Decisions on the provision of public services, legislation and support for the people of Northern Ireland need to be reached urgently. If there is no likelihood of Stormont reconvening very shortly, this Government need to take responsibility to protect and support victims of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland.
As always, I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady. Indeed, I should call her my hon. Friend, as she and I are agreeing furiously on the hope and aspiration that those who can make a difference and express the wishes of the residents of Northern Ireland—I hope we can all accept that they may not agree with our individual viewpoints on issues such as abortion, but that is why that topic is devolved—will get back round the table to sort this issue, as well as many others. I am sure we all encourage them in that, as I know she does. I gently remind colleagues again that this is about domestic abuse. Although, sadly, some abortions may be as a result of an intimate abusive relationship, not all abortions fall into that category, and I am keen that we try to focus on the victims of domestic abuse in this Bill and our scrutiny of this Bill, because they are the people we really are trying to help with the passing of this piece of legislation.
Let us call this out for what it is: part of an orchestrated campaign to alter abortion laws in Northern Ireland and here, and to replace those laws with extreme proposals for which there is no public appetite whatsoever. Does the Minister agree that it is highly inappropriate for such campaigners to hijack the Domestic Abuse Bill in this way, undermining a Bill to support victims of domestic abuse and their families? Does she agree that it is equally inappropriate to interfere in a devolved matter, one that has been devolved for almost 100 years, and set a dangerous constitutional precedent—a precedent of interference that would undermine the Good Friday agreement itself?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She demonstrates the range and depth of views, and the passion with which they are held, across the House on this topic of abortion. I am grateful to her for reminding us that this Bill is, as it says in the title, a draft Domestic Abuse Bill. I very much note her observations about the political structure in Northern Ireland. Again, I am not sure that this urgent question is the forum in which any changes to that are going to happen. I am grateful to her for her question, which underlines that we have to keep in mind the subject matter of this Bill; we are trying to tackle domestic abuse here.
The situation in Northern Ireland as regards women’s rights, particularly on abortion, is deplorable and requires addressing. However, this Bill could never have been UK-wide, because civil and criminal justice are devolved to Scotland. Indeed, last year Scotland passed its own Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which has already significantly strengthened statutory definitions and protections in respect of domestic violence, for example, by recognising the offence of coercive control.
There is much to be welcomed in the UK Government’s Bill, but I am pleased to hear that they are putting it through pre-legislative scrutiny, which we hope signifies that they are willing to listen to genuine concerns from Members from across the House. There are some UK-wide issues that this Government could and should legislate on. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) has led the campaign calling for default separate payments in universal credit, to protect the victims of domestic abuse from financial coercion. Scottish National party Members were dismayed that that was dismissed out of hand by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Will the Minister speak to her counterpart at the Department for Work and Pensions so as to urgently introduce default separate payments or at least to create provision for the Scottish Government to do that, because of course that is one of the many aspects of welfare powers that are not yet devolved?
As has been mentioned by others, the insecure immigration status of women who are victims of domestic violence also needs addressing. I want to know what the Minister is doing to extend the eligibility of the destitute domestic violence concession, so that it supports more migrant women. More generally, what discussions will she have with her counterparts to support migrant women, throughout the UK, who are victims of domestic abuse?
I am very grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for her astute and concise analysis of the legal position. May I put on the record the UK Government’s thanks to the Scottish Government for the work they do with us on this and other associated crimes, such as stalking and harassment?
The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right. I hope the House realises that we are being very open and transparent about the process for this Bill. It is a draft Bill specifically so that there can be a Joint Committee of both Houses—I think it is fair to say that this is an unusual level of scrutiny for the House—to look at the detail of the Bill and see whether improvements can be made.
On the specific issue of universal credit, I very much know about the issues that have been raised on these Benches. There is already a range of special provisions for victims of domestic abuse—for example, temporary accommodation, easements, same-day advances and signposting to expert support. However, I welcome the recent measures introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions regarding payments to the primary carer.
We will continue to work on this together, but I would make this observation. Those of us who take a particular interest in this subject all know that economic abuse, like all forms of domestic abuse, has no regard to income levels, job status or whatever. We must make sure that our answers are right not just for those on low incomes, but for women who do not need to have recourse to the welfare system.
I echo the words of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), in agreeing that there is a democratic deficit in Northern Ireland at the moment. In Northern Ireland questions this morning, we heard that there is currently no mental capacity legislation in Northern Ireland. In our Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, we have heard that it is still working to statements, rather than to education, health and care plans. The suicide strategy is sitting there but cannot be implemented, and we have the issue of equal marriage. This is much bigger than the Bill, and just to change the Bill to deal with one issue undervalues the role of devolution. The priority must be to get the Assembly back and functioning in Northern Ireland and dealing with all the inequality issues that are so important to the people in all communities.
Very much so. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for setting out the political complexities of this, but also the impacts on people living in Northern Ireland. Again, I am not sure we can solve the issue of devolved politics in Northern Ireland on the Floor of the House during this urgent question. However, we have contacted the permanent secretary who is currently acting in a temporary capacity in relation to Northern Ireland, because we want to see what can be done to help women in Northern Ireland as well as in England and Wales.
I have a great deal of time for the Minister, but what does she really think about how long it is acceptable to use the problem of there being no Assembly in Northern Ireland for this House not to act on the breach of women’s human rights in Northern Ireland, which we have debated at length in this Chamber? I would be interested to know what the Minister has to say about that.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, and I note her campaign on the particular issue of abortion and the decriminalisation of the law regarding abortion. At the risk of overreaching myself, I am not sure it is my place at the Dispatch Box at this time to give an assessment of how long this is taking, other than to say that the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and everyone in this Government are very keen and we urge all those parties present in Northern Ireland to get back around the table. There are so many issues that need their attention.
May I ask my hon. Friend to confirm two things? First, is she committed and determined to tackle domestic abuse in all its forms? Secondly, is she determined to improve rights and protections for women across the United Kingdom?
As this Bill passes through pre-legislative scrutiny, but also through this House and the other place, I hope the message will go out to people who are not perhaps as passionate about tackling domestic abuse and those for whom it has not yet become a priority that domestic abuse is not restricted to acts of violence, but can encompass sexual abuse, coercive and controlling behaviour, and economic abuse. Interestingly, since we launched the draft Bill last week, I have been inundated with emails from victims of all different forms of domestic abuse seeking help and thanking me for recognising the hell they are going through. If every Member can help us to inform and educate people about the forms of domestic abuse that in itself will be incredibly powerful in helping victims.
My party, the Democratic Unionist party, recognises the importance of tackling domestic abuse and of supporting victims of domestic violence. However, this is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland, and the need to strengthen the legislation should be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly. If the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) was to amend the Bill to change the law on abortion in Northern Ireland, this would breach the devolution settlement. The emphasis should be, must be and has to be to restore devolved Government in Northern Ireland. The Government and all Members of this House on both sides of the Chamber should respect the right of the people of Northern Ireland to deal with these matters through their elected Assembly.
The hon. Gentleman of course speaks for his constituency, and I am pleased to hear that he is urging others in Northern Ireland to get back around the table and help to deal with these many issues. As has already been pointed out, however, this is but one of the important issues facing Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole.
May I thank the Minister for this Bill, which I believe will transform the way in which we deal with this horrific crime? It largely impacts on women, although men can of course be impacted by domestic violence as well. I think it is totally despicable that politicians in Northern Ireland have left such a void in this and other areas for two years now. Will the Minister confirm that the devolved powers, which mean that this Bill has to be only for England and Wales, have actually been devolved for many decades?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am particularly grateful to her for pointing out that, although the vast majority of victims are female—indeed, of the 2 million people affected, it is estimated that 1.3 million are female—men can none the less be victims of domestic abuse as well. That is why, through the non-legislative package of measures that sits alongside the Bill, we are also investing in, for example, a specific helpline for male victims. We understand that they face particular stigmas in being a male victim, and they may feel even greater pressure not to seek help.
On the point about the nature of the criminal laws underpinning the prosecution of domestic abuse offences, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act dates back to 1861.
When Ireland was part of the UK.
I call Jess Phillips.
I would just like to point out that in 1861 there was no devolution—the whole of Ireland was part of the UK—so things have somewhat moved on since 1861. Anyway, that was not my question, Mr Speaker; it was just an indulgence.
I am going to ask about domestic abuse. Specifically, why does the Bill in its current form—I accept that it may well change, and I will certainly be seeking to change it—not have any immigration statutory law changes in it to protect migrant women? I know that throughout the consultation there was a very strong push on how this Bill will not help any women unless it helps all women. We have to leave no woman behind, and currently migrant women are left behind by this Bill. If we extend it to cover immigration law, the extent of the Bill will of course be expanded. Would the Minister welcome that?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, who needs no introduction in terms of her experience and expertise in this area. On expanding the Bill to alter the immigration status, the view was taken that, although domestic abuse does, of course, affect women who are not British citizens, or who do not have the right to remain, the Bill as a whole must focus on victims, the types of abuse and how we treat abuse.
I very much welcome the hon. Lady’s wish to assist—[Interruption.] I am sorry—I am trying to keep a straight face; the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is gesticulating wildly from a sedentary position. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) knows that I will welcome her contributions during the scrutiny process—indeed, I hope that she will be involved in it.
I note that various provisions are in place to help women who, for example, have come across on a spousal visa, but both the Minister for Immigration and I are very alert to the challenges that those women face, and we are very keen to work with the hon. Lady.
I agree that Northern Ireland must get its political system up and running to tackle these really serious issues. I welcome the draft Bill. It is such an important step in tackling domestic abuse, particularly areas that have not been tackled previously—for example, controlling behaviour towards the elderly. I wonder whether the Minister could put the whole thing in perspective, so that we can really understand how important the Bill is. How many people does she think will be helped by the Bill in all its forms?
I thank my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right to draw attention to elder abuse. The number of colleagues and other people who have contacted me since the launch of the draft Bill to tell me their stories of abuse by their children or grandchildren is heartbreaking. Several months ago, the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) called a very important Westminster Hall debate on abuse by children of their parents and grandparents.
It is something that we are keen to uncover and shine a light on, because if a parent is being abused by their child, the stigma and shame that victims unfortunately and wrongly feel is compounded even more, because parents feel that they should be able to control the behaviour of their children. We want to shine a light on that, and say to everyone, whether they are parents, children or grandchildren, “Abuse in your home is not right, and we are here to help.”
The Minister failed to answer the central question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). Who decided to exclude Northern Ireland from the Bill, and was it discussed with the DUP?
As the hon. Lady knows, the process is that any Bill that is introduced has to go through various Government committees to ensure, across Government, given that we have collective responsibility, that it meets with approval. I do not know of any such meetings with the DUP. I will happily take that away, but as far as I am concerned, I looked at the Bill, I have examined it very carefully, and I am afraid that the central point about devolved matters seems to me to apply.
I know that that does not meet with the hon. Lady’s approval, but the fact is that the law is the law, and we have to build a Bill around it. As I say, I have written to the devolved Assembly in Scotland and to the permanent secretary in Northern Ireland, and those communications are ongoing.
The Supreme Court judgment made it absolutely clear that lawmakers would have to change the law to give greater rights to women from Northern Ireland in the circumstances that were discussed. The women who my colleagues and I met and women such as Sarah Ewart should not have to go all the way through a court process to get their rights—it adds insult to injury for them. I ask the Minister, who always listens: if not this law, what law will be introduced by this Parliament, which unlike Northern Ireland is responsible for treaty compliance, to give those rights to women, who deserve them?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that he works on a wide range of issues tackling violence against women and girls. First, on the case that he referred to—I do not want to be legalistic about this, but he asked me about it specifically—he may recall that the Supreme Court judgment was unable to deliver a full ruling, because the litigant bringing the proceedings was not judged to have locus. I have to say that, because that is the situation.
I obviously must not comment on the specific case that has been referred to in the Chamber and that is going through the court process at the moment, but I return to the point that the Bill is about domestic abuse. We have to focus on the subject matter of the title of the Bill, and any matters in relation to devolved powers are part of a much wider debate across Government.
I welcome, as I am sure others do, the Minister’s obvious passion and commitment to tackling domestic abuse, which I think is the central issue for all of us present. I also believe passionately in devolution, but devolution means to transfer, or delegate, power to another body. That body at the moment does not exist. Devolution does not mean to abrogate responsibility.
Those women are citizens of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom Government surely have a responsibility to respect the views expressed by our Supreme Court and the United Nations that the human rights of women in Northern Ireland are not being protected. Does the Minister not agree that that should be the overriding principle, not whether devolution, which is not working at the moment, should be preserved?
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind comments. She has perhaps recognised the situation in which we find ourselves, in that these matters have been devolved. I go back to the point that the criminal laws that underpin the prosecution of domestic abuse, and so on, are devolved. As we have heard, that does not have an impact only in relation to domestic abuse; a wide range of measures are affected by the Assembly not yet being able to be convened in Northern Ireland. I am sorry that it will not meet with the hon. Lady’s approval, but the only answer that I can give is yet again to urge those who can make a difference in Northern Ireland to please get back round the table and start talking to each other.
Although I welcome the inclusion in the Bill of financial abuse as a type of domestic abuse, it is not enough to have that simply as words when Government policy is trapping women in financially abusive relationships. Universal credit payments must be automatically split. Charities have said that not having automatically split payments gives a hand to abusers. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) did not quite get a straight answer. Will the Minister recognise the problem, and meet her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to urge that universal credit payments be split?
If I may just correct the hon. Lady, we are not talking about financial abuse; we talk about economic abuse, because we appreciate that abuse can take many forms—for example, preventing access to food cupboards in the kitchen, taking a woman’s mobile phone away, so who she can contact is restricted, and even hiding the car keys, so that she cannot get to work on time in the morning, which puts her employment at risk, with all the ramifications that that can have.
On the point about universal credit, I am in constant dialogue with my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is formerly of the Home Office manor. I very much hope that the fact that one of her first announcements was an important one about looking after primary carers gives reassurance and comfort to the House that we are looking at this matter very carefully.
Criminal justice is not yet devolved to Wales, but I draw attention to, and commend, the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, which came into force in Wales in 2015. The 2018 progress report raises concern about the lack of collaboration and integration between the devolved and non-devolved organisations charged with taking forward the aims of the Act. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister responsible in the Welsh Government to address that?
I am very concerned to hear that, not least because I visited Cardiff a few months ago, as part of our domestic abuse consultation engagement events, to listen to people who are doing great work in Wales to tackle domestic abuse and to see how we can improve collaboration. I very much take on board what the hon. Lady says. If we need to improve, I hope she knows that I will not rest until that has happened.
I welcome the Minister’s response today. I also welcome the support from the Scottish National party, in particular the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), with regards to women in Northern Ireland. The Minister said that the criminal elements are devolved, but the Supreme Court’s warning from last year is that human rights are not devolved but extended. Is this not a missed opportunity to empower the Minister and the Secretary of State at the Home Office with regard to the human rights of victims of domestic violence and of women in general?
I absolutely understand the hon. Gentleman’s feelings and his reasons for raising that point. At the risk of being legalistic, the Supreme Court judgment was advisory because of the locus. I hope he appreciates that I cannot talk about the case going through the court process at the moment. When that judgment is delivered we will of course look at it very carefully, but I come back to the point that at the moment, on this and on a whole range of issues, domestic abuse is devolved. I gently remind the House, by way of explanation, that the topic of the Bill is domestic abuse and that not every abortion is as a result of domestic abuse.
I would like to start by saying to the Minister that unless she is going to devolve Department for Work and Pensions and UK Visas and Immigration functions, it will be a missed opportunity for the Bill not to tackle the issues those Departments are responsible for, particularly with regards to women in the immigration system and some DWP policies, including the rape clause, which, in the way it is formed, either forces a woman to leave an abusive relationship at a time not of her choosing, which can be extremely dangerous, or denies her support.
I would also like to know a bit more about the recommendations for training DWP staff. I have heard from some organisations that that can be sorely lacking in the advice that is offered to women. I would like to know how exactly that would operate for both England and Scotland.
Lastly, if Mr Speaker will allow, it was announced today that all judges and sheriffs in Scotland will be given specific domestic violence training, particularly around coercive control. Will she consider doing something similar for all judges in the English court system, too?
I think the hon. Lady can be satisfied that she has provided comprehensive coverage of her concerns, to which, doubtless, there will be an equally comprehensive response from the Minister on the Treasury Bench.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker. First, I thank the hon. Lady for pointing to the fact that the draft Bill, important though it is, is not the only action the Government are taking to tackle domestic abuse. Indeed, there are some 120 commitments that sit alongside the Bill. She mentioned training. That is a crucial part of our package, not just for DWP or jobcentre workers but across what I would call the frontline, for example housing association officers, police officers and the judiciary. The judiciary in England and Wales already receive training, which we keep under review. I should also say that we are looking at the offence of coercive control and behaviour. It has been in force for three years, but we appreciate that it can be a very difficult offence to investigate and prosecute. We are reviewing it to ensure that it is as effective as possible. On the DWP more generally, I am in conversation with my counterparts there. We want a wraparound approach, which is why the announcement by the Secretary of State was so significant.
Like many Members from across this place, I am very enthusiastic about the Bill and the potential for making a real difference in our communities. That is why it is so disappointing that we are not even at the first hurdle and we are already divided. I have worked very constructively with the Minister on a number of issues, so it gives me no pleasure to ask this question but I feel that I must. When the decision was made to not put things in the Bill such as migration and welfare, therefore allowing the Government to restrict their territorial scope to just England and Wales, was it based on the best interests of women in the United Kingdom or was it a narrow political judgment?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I find myself being held to account by him in pretty much all of my portfolio. On the territory of the Bill, I draw the attention of hon. Members to the consultation that was launched last year. At that point, the consultation’s scope was England and Wales. I would not want hon. Members to leave the Chamber thinking there has been some kind of handbrake turn in relation to the territorial decisions made for the Bill. The fact is that this is a devolved matter. That is why I have written to the devolved Government in Scotland and our Northern Irish counterparts to see if we can reach an agreement on whether they want to implement the measures too. I hope he understands that my motivation all along has been to help the victims of domestic abuse not just today, or for the victims I could not help when I was prosecuting in the criminal courts 15 years ago because none of these measures were anywhere near coming into being, but the victims in the future. We all know the impact domestic abuse can have on children growing up in abusive households and we need to break that cycle of violence.
Earlier, an hon. Member said that there were no devolved institutions in Ireland in 1861. Of course, in 1840, under Daniel O’Connell, the first home rule movement commenced and in 1861 the second movement was well under way, leading to devolution and the creation of two Parliaments in Ireland. I think it is important to have that on the record.
It is unfortunate that some Members have tried to conflate a very important domestic abuse Bill here in England and Wales, which we will support, with what is happening in a very confusing situation in Northern Ireland. Does the Minister agree that that confusion means we have a strange arrangement whereby at one moment in this Parliament some Members talk about protecting absolutely the integrity of the Belfast agreement when it comes to some matters that we discuss, namely Europe, but that when we move on to domestic arrangements that are specifically devolved under the terms of the Belfast agreement we can suddenly cast those arrangements aside? That confusion has to go. We either accept devolution and implement it, or we do what the Labour Front Bench seems to be saying and introduce direct rule.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his history lesson on Ireland and Northern Ireland. He makes the point eloquently that we cannot pick and choose between devolved matters. The mention of the Good Friday agreement reminds us all, if we need reminding, about the particular sensitivities in Northern Ireland, how we have reached where we are today and its broad history. We of course very much hope that those who can get around the table will do so, so we can sort out those and other matters.
Was the Bill vetted by the Cabinet Office in relation to the confidence and supply agreement?
I do not understand what the hon. Gentleman is trying to get to. I have already said that the Bill, like every piece of proposed legislation, has to go through what is called “write round”. That is where every Government Department, including the Cabinet Office, considers a Bill. I am very conscious of my responsibility as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office and that we share the Bill with the Ministry of Justice. That is how the Bill has been developed. The consultation last year was clear in its scope and we are bringing the Bill forward in good faith.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for not giving you advance notice of this; it just came to me. If the Domestic Abuse Bill relates just to England and Wales, can I clarify that the rules of English votes for English laws will apply, and that Members from Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be invited to vote on anything to do with it?
It would be somewhat premature of me to offer a judgment from the Chair on that matter at this time. Certainly, when legislation is potentially open to such designation, it is the normal practice that I am advised on it, that I see the paperwork relating to it and that a view is formed. That is something of a holding response, but the matter will clearly be live.
It is, of course, a draft Bill and will be considered by a Committee. It seems unimaginable that that point will not be further explored, both during consideration by the Committee and subsequently. The hon. Lady is herself a living testimony to the truth of what I have just said. It is unimaginable that it will not be the subject of further discussion and questioning, and therefore there will be a requirement for a ministerial response. I should say, as much for the benefit of people attending our proceedings as for Members in the Chamber, that the very fact that I granted an urgent question on it—I think it is the 550th urgent question—is testament to the fact that I regard it as a matter that warrants the attention of the House and the response of a Minister in the Chamber.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I notified you earlier about the point of order that I seek to make, as I did the hon. Member I wish to mention—the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes). Yesterday in Treasury questions, the hon. Lady indicated that she had received correspondence from a constituent. That is fine; we all respond to constituents. The quotation that she cited, which relates to a bomb that went off in Londonderry two weeks ago, reads:
“‘The official position is that’ the recent bomb attack ‘is nothing to do with Brexit; everyone I’ve spoken to finds this laughable—it is everything to do with Brexit.’”—[Official Report, 29 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 640.]
Immediately after the bomb, the police made it clear who was responsible: the dissident republican movement in Northern Ireland. Those who planted the device issued a statement—I will not read it in full—which said:
“All this talk of Brexit, hard borders, soft borders, has no bearing on our actions and the IRA won’t be going anywhere.”
I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, on the need for all of us to speak responsibly and deal effectively with the issues that come to us in a way that does not raise the spectre of giving incentives to those who activate violence or support or give credence to it.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise his point of order. I am also obliged to him for confirming in the Chamber that he notified the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) of his intention to raise the matter.
It is, of course, the responsibility of each and every hon. Member to have a care for the accuracy and appropriateness of what is said in this Chamber. It must be added that, in saying what they think is accurate and appropriate, very often other right hon. and hon. Members disagree with their assessment. I say that, as people will readily appreciate, because that is the nature of political discourse.
Does anybody else wish to contribute on this matter?
Of course, I will happily hear the hon. Lady. She is not under any obligation to respond, but if she wishes to do so, she may. I hope the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) feels that he has registered his point with his usual force and courtesy. That is on the record.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I too thank the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) for advance notice of his point of order. I hope he will respect the fact that yesterday I quoted verbatim from a constituent of mine who works and is an employer in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency in Northern Ireland, and has spent extensive time there over several years. It was not conjecture, but a report of reality on the ground.
Responsibility for individual despicable acts of violence clearly rests squarely with the perpetrator, but after 30 years of the troubles, peace in Northern Ireland was painstakingly negotiated through the Good Friday agreement. My constituent has been raising concerns with me for several months about escalating tensions in the community in Londonderry where his business is based. Those issues and the impact that Brexit is already having on the fragile and complex situation in Northern Ireland have been reported widely, but there has been very little discussion of them in this Chamber. They are of an order of magnitude that demands that they be raised. If the Democratic Unionist party will not raise them, I will do so where I have cause to do so via my constituents.
The Prime Minister has so far failed to give any details of alternative arrangements for the Irish border to provide reassurance that a frictionless border without infrastructure is possible—
Order. I have indulged the hon. Lady, who always addresses the House with great courtesy. I hope she will forgive me. She is very forensic, but she was reading out what amounted to a speech on this matter. It therefore strains credulity to suppose that it could be characterised as a point of order. I normally have no wish to cut her off. She has made her point with considerable force and insistence—[Interruption.] And she enjoys the benefit of the endorsement of her right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), who has just observed from a sedentary position that she made her point very well. I suspect that her cup runneth over, and I think she should leave it there.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I rise to support your comment that political discourse of course produces different points of view. Speculation in this House on live intelligence actions and investigations is unhelpful and rarely reflects the facts. All Members should be cautious about entering into sub judice or live investigations with speculation that can add fuel to the fire.
Everybody should be responsible in his or her use of language. I can say only, however, that although I am not unmindful of the Minister’s point, no breach of order has taken place. We will leave it there. He has made his point with some force, and I do not think there is any need for me to add to it.
I have got a feeling that the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) thinks that the House needs to hear him. Therefore, we will have a point of order from Mr Mark Francois.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for not giving you notice of this, but it is a very straightforward matter. I had a meeting earlier this month with Mr Andrew Haines, the chief executive of Network Rail, to discuss the delay in completing engineering works on the Southend Victoria to Liverpool Street line, which is vexing my constituents greatly. Network Rail representatives briefed me on a new plan to shorten the works, which was welcome. I then went on the media and explained what would happen in good faith. The following Monday, Network Rail contacted me and said, “I’m terribly sorry. We got that slightly wrong,” and then changed what they had offered. I think that was a genuine mistake, but they promised to write to me by the end of the month to clarify the matter. There are two days to go, and no letter has been received. Do you agree that if they give a guarantee like that, Mr Speaker, it would be a good idea to keep it?
It would be a very good idea to keep it as a matter of principle. Moreover, as the right hon. Gentleman has aired the issue in the Chamber, that seems to me to constitute an additional reason why it would be politic or prudent for that letter of response to be provided.
The right hon. Gentleman probably recalls that the late Sir Gerald Kaufman was much given to tabling questions about when he would receive a reply to a letter he had sent or a question he had posed. He was wont to observe that, shortly after tabling said question, the reply—to a letter or question from some considerable period earlier—seemed miraculously and speedily to arrive.
If that chief executive were here, I would say to him—he is not, so I cannot, but I will say it indirectly—that I remember what a persistent fellow the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford was in 1986, when he stood against me in a student election. He was a very dedicated campaigner, although he was unsuccessful on that occasion. It would be altogether wiser for the chief executive to recognise that of one thing he can be certain: the right hon. Gentleman will not go away. He will just become ever more demanding, and so that letter should arrive sooner rather than later.
European Union (Requirements Relating to Withdrawal)
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 establish requirements in connection to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.
We do not have the luxury of time. Unless an alternative is in place, in 58 days—just 29 sitting days—we will leave the EU with no deal. My Bill looks ahead to what happens if, as looks likely, the Prime Minister returns empty-handed from her mission impossible to Brussels, and is based on the recommendations of the 11th report of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, so I start by paying tribute to its Chair, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), and all its members for that excellent report.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly commented that, while the House has said what it does not want, it needs to decide what it does. In the event of there being no agreement to change the backstop, we will be back to square one, but with one important difference: we will be much nearer the no-deal cliff edge. In a nutshell, my Bill would allow the House to express its view on what could command the support of the House through a serious of indicative votes on free-standing motions, and the Committee recommended that those be taken in order.
The motions would give the House an opportunity to vote first on the Prime Minister’s negotiated withdrawal agreement and framework for the future relationship; secondly, on the option of leaving with no deal; thirdly, to instruct the Government to seek changes to the backstop—although I think by then we would have tested that to destruction; fourthly, to instruct the Government to seek a Canada-style deal, as set out in the report; fifthly, on seeking to join the European economic area through the pillar of the European Free Trade Association and remain in a customs union with the EU, or a variation of it; and finally, to return the decision to the British people by giving them the opportunity to decide in a public vote what kind of Brexit deal they want or whether they wish to remain in the EU on the current deal.
Last night, the House gave two instructions to the Government. Not for the first time, it rejected leaving the EU with no deal, but it also passed an amendment unilaterally requiring that the Northern Ireland backstop be replaced by unspecified “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border. It adds up, essentially, to tearing up the withdrawal agreement. Donald Tusk in his statement following the vote has made it clear that the backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement and that the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation. Most people do not seriously feel that the EU will be prepared to renegotiate.
In the absence of meaningful changes to the withdrawal agreement, it is hard to see how the Government will secure support for a deal that we rejected so comprehensively, by a margin of 230 votes. If my Bill went ahead, the House would have the opportunity to express its view on where the Prime Minister should go from here by giving it the opportunity not only to reject no deal but to consider other alternatives.
I want to be clear about why the House rejected no deal. No Government could seriously, knowingly and deliberately inflict such pain on their people. We are talking about changes not just to the economy but to livelihoods and jobs. It is the real world crashing into Brexit fantasy. It would affect not only our economy but many other sectors, including health, transport links, security, food and farming—the list is very long. No responsible Government could inflict that kind of pain, but unfortunately, up until now, the Prime Minister has given the House a binary choice: “My deal or no deal.” My Bill would allow the House to say there are other routes forward.
Some colleagues want to press forward with an EEA-EFTA arrangement and a customs union, while others would prefer a Canada-style arrangement. We should all have the opportunity to vote on the way forward. I and many of my colleagues have made it clear we favour returning the decision to the British people to give them the final say. The problem with the original referendum was that it did not set out which of these many options the public were voting for. Once we know that decision, we will see that it is far removed from the sunlit uplands promised during the referendum campaign.
We need to seek the informed, valid consent of the British people; otherwise, we are pressing forward with a deal that commands the respect of neither leavers nor remainers. Nobody could realistically claim it is the will of the people, but if we give it back to the people and tell them exactly what is involved, so that they can weigh up the risks and benefits themselves, we will get that informed, valid consent, and then we could proceed together.
It is quite possible that the British people would decide to proceed with Brexit—I accept that—and they would need the absolute guarantee that it would then be acted on as quickly as possible, but a second vote would also allow them to change their minds. Everybody deserves the opportunity to change their mind. Even our first Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has famously commented that if people cannot change their minds in a democracy, it ceases to be a democracy.
I reject the notion sometimes put forward that it would be a betrayal of democracy to ask people again, and I particularly object to the assertion that it would cause civil unrest. We need to stop talking that up. Since when did this House bow or cave in to the concerns and demands of the far right? We should be standing up to them and making it absolutely clear that democracy does not stand still, and should never stand still, and that this House has a duty to give the public the right to vote and have the final say.
We must recognise that this call comes not from the EU but from the people—the hundreds of thousands of people who marched through the streets of London in the summer and the many hundreds of thousands beyond that who did not make it here but who have written to us and campaigned for the right to have the final say in a people’s vote. The House owes it to them to debate and vote on that as part of a series of indicative votes, and I commend the Bill to the House.
I rise to oppose the Bill.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) —for whom I have the deepest respect—I voted in the referendum to remain, but in my constituency, as in hers, a majority voted to leave. It seemed to me, as a democrat and as one who had voted for a referendum to be held in 2016, that as 17.5 million people—a majority—had voted in the referendum to leave the European Union, we must respect that result. And so, from that day onwards, I made it plain that I would do everything I could to ensure that the people’s vote was respected and that we executed the instructions that we had been given.
We need to be clear: the people of this country did not vote to remain. They voted to leave, which is why we must take “no Brexit” off the table. A second referendum asking people to choose between the Prime Minister’s deal and remaining would load the question in a way that would be entirely wrong and entirely unacceptable, and I think that it would be a travesty of our democracy.
Let me explain why I originally backed remain. I did so because I thought that a big project like Brexit would be very difficult for Britain. If we could not manage a basic patient record system in the NHS, what hope did we have with a really huge project like Brexit? I feared that Members of Parliament would think that their constituents might have been very clever to elect them but were not so able to make a big decision like the decision to leave the European Union. I also feared that they might not accept that decision but fight it all the way. I worried that our civil society was not strong enough. I worried that our machinery of government would blow a fuse in trying to manage a project of this sort, and in that I have not been disappointed.
The vote having taken place, however, I thought that we must respect the result. I put my shoulder to the wheel and thought about how we could be ready on day one, deal or no deal. I thought about how we could make sure that this was a success. I thought about how we did not have to hand over all the money that the EU wanted, and the EU had no legal right to demand it. I thought about how to make the best negotiating case for our country. The worst negotiating case for our country is to rule out no deal. If the other side knows that you will not get up and walk away from the table, they know that they have got you, and if they have got you, they are going to give you a really rubbish deal, so the best way in which we can get a good deal is to be prepared and ready on day one not to do a deal.
Now, what have we seen? We have seen the people who do not want us to leave the European Union finance their campaign for a second referendum with foreign money. We have seen their spokesman from Davos telling us how we should lead our lives, and how we should not leave at all. They want a loaded question, and—this is what I think is really wrong—they try to frighten people by telling them that they will die of thirst because our water will be poisoned, that they will die of starvation because no food will arrive, that our pets will die in quarantine and that our planes will never take off. That kind of irresponsible talk is what makes people so angry. They say that the establishment should be working to solve those problems and to ensure that we are thoroughly ready—not trying to scare us, not trying to tell us how bad the economy will be, but trying to make this work and to make a success of it.
So often, these “Project Fear” stories lose credibility. In my constituency, people shake their heads and say, “This is not credible.” I do not think that “Project Fear” is right, and I think it irresponsible. However, I do not subscribe to “Project Pangloss”, according to which it will all be a walk in the park. I think that if we left without a deal, there would be bumps in the road and that some of those bumps could be quite jarring, and we should be honest and open about that. However, I do not think we should try to frighten people. I do not think we should try to tell people that they were stupid. I do not think we should try to tell them that they did not know what they were doing. I do not think we should try to tell them that they did not have informed consent, or that they were too stupid in 2016 to know which way to vote.
I think that people had made up their minds about the European Union over many years and that they knew exactly what they were concerned about. When the question was put to them, they made their decision, and I strongly suspect that if they were asked again, they would make the same decision. They would say, “The establishment are not listening to us, so we will tell them again”—and they would. Worse than that, they would say, “To reverse the decision and turn our country around by 180 degrees would make our country a laughing stock across the world.” That is why I think that in a second referendum people would vote to leave by an even greater majority.
The real travesty is this. Were we to hold a second referendum, we would have endless Brexit, endless uncertainty. The key message that my constituents convey to me every day is, “Look, deal or no deal, let us just get on with it, put it in place, move on to the other things that concern us—jobs, money, schools, hospitals, and how we can build a better Britain for the future—and stop banging on about Brexit.”
Question put (Standing Order No. 23) and agreed to. [Interruption.]
I wish the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) well in recovering from his indisposition.
That Dr Sarah Wollaston, Mr Kenneth Clarke, Hilary Benn, Joanna Cherry, Mr Dominic Grieve, Luciana Berger, Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna, Dr Philip Lee, Heidi Allen, Mr Ben Bradshaw and Guto Bebb present the Bill.
Dr Sarah Wollaston accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed (Bill 328).
Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill [Lords]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 1
Designation of international agreements for purposes of section 52 of Investigatory Powers Act 2016
‘(1) Section 52 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (interception of communications in accordance with overseas requests) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (3), at the end insert “(see further subsections (6) and (7))”.
(3) After subsection (5) insert—
“(6) Subsection (7) applies where an international agreement provides for requests for the interception of a communication to be made by the competent authorities of a country or territory, or of more than one country or territory, in which a person found guilty of a criminal offence may be sentenced to death for the offence under the general criminal law of the country or territory concerned.
Such an offence is referred to in subsection (7) as a “death penalty offence”.
(7) Where this subsection applies, the Secretary of State may not designate the agreement as a relevant international agreement unless the Secretary of State has sought, in respect of each country or territory referred to in subsection (6), a written assurance, or written assurances, relating to the non-use of information obtained by virtue of the agreement in connection with proceedings for a death penalty offence in the country or territory.’—(Mr Wallace.)
This new clause amends section 52 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 to set out the assurances that must be sought before the Secretary of State may designate, for the purposes of that section, an international agreement that provides for the making of interception requests by countries or territories which have the death penalty.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 19, at end insert—
‘(4A) The Secretary of State may not make regulations designating an international co-operation agreement providing for the use of—
(a) section 52 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (interception in accordance with overseas requests), or
(b) any other enactment which provides for the collection of electronic data,
unless the condition in subsection 4B is met.
(4B) The condition is that the states party to or participating in the international cooperation agreement have given assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed in any case in which or in whose preparation the intercepted communication or electronic data obtained under this Act has been used.’
This amendment would prohibit the Government from entering into a treaty for the provision of intercepted communication or electronic data without securing assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed in cases where that data is used.
Amendment 12, page 1, line 19, at end insert—
‘(4A) The Secretary of State may not make regulations designating a treaty as an international co-operation arrangement under subsection (5)(b) where that treaty provides for requests to be made by the competent authorities of a country or territory, or of more than one country or territory, in which a person found guilty of a criminal offence may be sentenced to death for the offence under the general criminal law of the country or territory concerned.
(4B) Subsection (4A) does not apply if the country or territory has, within the international co-operation arrangement, given assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed in any case in which or in whose preparation electronic data obtained under this Act has been used.’
This amendment would require that assurances be secured from the foreign country or territory concerned that the death penalty will not be applied in respect of any offence for which a defendant has been found guilty and in which the information provided from the United Kingdom contributed in any way to securing.
Amendment 18, page 2, line 3, at end insert—
‘(5A) The Secretary of State may only make regulations designating an international agreement under subsection (5) where that agreement—
(a) provides for safeguards and special procedures in respect of applications by competent authorities of a country or territory other than the United Kingdom for orders in respect of journalistic data and confidential journalistic data that are equivalent to those in this Act, and
(b) provides for at least as much protection for freedom of expression and the protection of journalists’ rights sources as Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and section 10 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.’
This would amendment would seek to ensure that the terms on which other states may access electronic data held in the UK mirror the UK’s own safeguards for press freedom.
Amendment 10, in clause 3, page 3, line 40, at end insert “, or
(c) confidential journalistic data (within meaning of section 12(4)).”
This amendment would bring confidential journalistic data within the definition of “excepted electronic data”.
Amendment 14, in clause 4, page 4, line 39, leave out “(6)” and insert “(6A)”
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 13.
Government amendment 2.
Amendment 13, page 5, line 26, at end insert—
‘(6A) Where an application for an order includes or consists of journalistic data, the judge must also be satisfied—
(a) that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the specified data is likely to be relevant evidence;
(b) that accessing the data is in the public interest, having regard—
(i) to the benefit likely to accrue to the investigation if the data is obtained; and
(ii) to the circumstances under which the person is possession of the data holds it,
(c) that other methods of obtaining the data have been tried without success or have not been tried because it appeared that they were bound to fail.’
This amendment would require a judge to be satisfied that journalistic data which is the subject of an application for an order constitutes relevant evidence.
Government amendment 3.
Amendment 15, page 6, line 9, after “section” insert—
‘“relevant evidence”, in relation to an offence, means anything that would be admissible in evidence at a trial for the offence.’
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 13.
Government amendments 4 to 6 and 19.
Amendment 16, in clause 12, page 10, line 11, leave out
“that is confidential journalistic data”
This amendment would require notice to be given of an application for an overseas production order for electronic data which is believed to contain any journalistic data, not just confidential journalistic data.
Amendment 17, page 10, line 12, at end insert—
‘(1A) Where an application is for journalistic data, the court must not determine such an application in the absence of the journalist affected, unless—
(a) the journalist has had at least two business days in which to make representations; or
(b) the court is satisfied that—
(i) the applicant cannot identify or contact the journalist,
(ii) it would prejudice the investigation if the journalist were present,
(iii) it would prejudice the investigation to adjourn or postpone the application so as to allow the journalist to attend, or
(iv) the journalist has waived the opportunity to attend.’
This amendment would give a journalist opportunities to make representations in relation to any application for data which he or she may hold.
Government amendment 20.
Amendment 9, page 10, line 20, leave out subsection (4) and insert—
‘(4) Confidential journalistic data” means data—
(a) that a journalist holds that is subject to such an undertaking, restriction or obligation; and
(b) that has been continuously held (by one or more persons) subject to such an undertaking, restriction or obligation since it was first acquired or created for the purposes of journalism.’
This amendment would redefine confidential journalistic data for the purposes of the Bill.
Amendment 11, page 10, line 20, leave out subsection (4) and insert—
‘(4) Journalistic data is “confidential journalistic data” if—
(a) it is acquired or created by a person or persons in their capacity as a journalist and is held in confidence, or
(b) it is communications data of a person acting in their capacity as a journalist, or
(c) it is held subject to a restriction on disclosure, or an obligation of secrecy, contained in any enactment (whenever passed or made).’
This amendment would amend the definition of confidential journalistic data.
Government amendments 21 to 23, 7 and 8.
May I begin by making a slight apology to the House? As the amendments have been grouped together, my speech will be in a single block, so I ask Members to be patient.
Let me begin by addressing amendments 12, 1 and 24. I recognise that amendment 24 has not been selected, but I am happy to deal with it, because it was tabled.
Throughout the progress of this Bill, as with others that I have piloted through the House, I have been keen to reach a consensus. Labour Front Benchers, as well as members of the Scottish National party, will know that I have often been open to their ideas, and that in the case of a number of Bills—such as the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill and indeed this Bill—I have taken their ideas on board and put them into law. I have done so not only because I truly care about keeping our citizens safe, but because I know that our laws work best when they do what they set out to do and are supported by the broadest consensus of the public.
The House of Commons cannot ignore the times in which we live. In the last decade, we have become more and more dependent on the internet and smartphones. In fact, 78% of people and 95% of 16 to 24-year-olds now possess a smartphone. Such technology can be a force for good, but it has also become an accelerant to those who wish us harm. Whether we are talking about county lines, terrorism or child abuse, smartphones have opened up a whole world of encrypted communications which I believe presents the biggest single challenge to our police and to law enforcement.
As Security Minister, I recall many occasions on which I was woken to deal with security issues. I remember being woken on the night of the Manchester Arena bombing, and I remember hearing the chilling news that a nerve agent had been used on the streets of Salisbury. But the day that I remember above all from the last two and a half years was the day of my visit to a regional and organised crime unit, where I had to listen, via an online chatroom, to a paedophile plot to kidnap, rape and kill a seven-year-old girl, about the same age as my daughter. If that was not sickening enough, I could sense the frustration of detectives who needed data from overseas to stop the abuse being committed, because in case after case timing is everything in these investigations.
So when the US Government, supported by Senators in the House of Congress, offered to help to solve this problem we grabbed at the chance. The House should recognise what they have offered: they have offered to remove legal barriers in the US to enable compliance with UK court orders. The Americans recognised, as we do, that the vast majority of data that we need for our investigations reside on the other side of the Atlantic—Google, Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, to name but a few. In fact, 99% of data that we need for child abuse investigations resides overseas and only 1% resides here.
These stark figures say two things to me. First, the reality is that we need the US data far more than they need ours. That was true before Donald Trump and it will be true after Donald Trump. Secondly, in this case, the US is doing us a favour. The Bill before us is the legislation required to give effect to a future US treaty and any other treaty we may make with another country in future, for example, Canada, so we can access that data much more quickly than we do now. These treaties will come before us separately, to this House and the peers House, at a different time, and Members will be able to scrutinise and challenge them at that point.
Let me deal directly with the Labour amendments. During the Bill’s passage in the Lords the Labour party attached to this Bill an amendment that would prevent the UK from making the necessary treaty with the US unless it got assurances that data sent across the Atlantic would not lead to the death penalty. This Bill allows enforcement agencies to access content directly from communications service providers based overseas using an overseas production order. These orders can only work when a relevant international agreement, such as a treaty, is in place between the UK and another country and as the majority of the CSPs, as I said, are based in America we expect the first such agreement to be with the United States. Both amendments 1 and 12 attempt to amend the Bill and reinsert the Lords amendments.
First, and bearing in mind how little data we hold here, having looked back over 20 years, we have not been able to find a single case whatsoever where only the data that the Bill deals with would have led to a death penalty overseas. Secondly, this is about data, not people. Extradition from the UK is dealt with by separate legislation and Her Majesty’s Government are already prevented from handing over someone without death penalty assurances. Thirdly, this Bill is about our data requests overseas in order to bring data back here for investigations and when I last looked we do not have the death penalty in this country. So to try to use the Bill as a vehicle to deal with a treaty as yet not concluded is simply wrong.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, I have been clear that the US has been generous in its offer. I have also admitted on the record that on this subject we do not have equality of arms with the US. This is not about a fantasy that we are bowing to the US. I noticed the allegations that the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) made in her column in the Daily Mirror recently saying that this was all about cosying up to Donald Trump, that the Labour party amendment
“simply blocks data sharing co-operation with all countries if the death penalty is a risk”,
and that the
“reason Ministers seem to be so keen to tear up our laws and ignore our human rights is because they are in a terrible mess in refusing to rule out a No Deal Brexit.”
Of course, nowhere does her op-ed address the central allegation that her blocking data will mean child abusers will be free to continue abuse of children for longer because we simply will not be able to get the data that we wish. And perhaps I could put her mind at rest: the US offer on this treaty was initiated not under President Donald Trump, but under President Obama. This is about the reality and the decisions we need to make to put our citizens’ safety first. Members should understand that the current drawn-out methods of getting data can take months and years.
As the Security Minister well knows, we have been working constructively on this Bill and I will not be opposing it on Third Reading irrespective of the outcome of various votes, but it is correct to say that, in the case in the summer in respect of which the High Court has just issued its judgment, the American embassy told the Government, when they failed incidentally to seek assurances at all, that if they asked:
“At worst, they will wind the president up to complain to the P.M.”—
the Prime Minister—
“and, potentially, to hold a grudge.”
The Foreign Office’s strong advice was to seek a death penalty assurance, so why on earth did they not do so if it was not for fear of the American President’s reaction?
The hon. Gentleman offers an incredibly selective quote from the ruling in the High Court by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales that found in favour of the Government on that case on all five counts. Every single count and every single challenge by Liberty and its glitterati up in the House of Lords failed at that test. The hon. Gentleman has also not answered the central charge, which is that to jeopardise this legislation and the treaty puts at risk children, because our law enforcement officers will not get the data in a timely fashion. Is he happy to accept that that delay should be maintained for the sake of a theoretical, never-happened occasion in the future?
I am in favour of speeding up the data exchange. Under the mutual legal assistance treaty, since 1994 the seeking and securing of assurances has been commonplace. I take this from the High Court judgment. Ministers did not even bother to ask for assurances in the summer, so I am not confident that they have been as robust as they should be in their negotiations with the United States. There is no point in saying there is not equality of arms in this treaty. What if the Minister says that about a trade deal with the US—are we going to be allowing, then, US companies to come and take our NHS? The Minister should stand up for this principle.
I am going to stand up for the security of our citizens and a responsible Government have to balance abstract, theoretical, minute probabilities with keeping our constituents safe. Perhaps I should remind the hon. Gentleman of what we found in one of the cases. It is not related to this data, As I have clearly said, this Bill produces not a single example in the last 20 years, but under the MLAT process in the past no assurances have been sought and indeed the Government of the day indicated there was potentially a death penalty. It was a Labour Government who did not seek the assurances and did transfer the data. What does that mean? It means a responsible Government know the balance between keeping our citizens safe and making sure they comply with our international obligations. Members on the Opposition Benches have managed to do that in the past and I hope they do it again.
I have been absolutely clear. The hon. Gentleman may say he would do a better job in the negotiations if Labour was in power but, as I pointed out, we do not have equality of arms. Our negotiating position is this: there is 1% of data here versus about 90% of data there, which means our leverage is minuscule when it comes to demanding strings attached of the United States.
Does the Minister agree that this should not be a point of political division in this House? It is the overwhelming priority of Parliament to protect children who are being raped, abused and exploited, and data sharing is very important. One of the barriers to protecting children has been getting data to identify people who are doing this. We want to prevent the exploitation of children and to do that we need to identify those who would exploit them. Does the Minister agree that this should be the issue, not views about Donald Trump or otherwise?
I totally agree. The hon. Lady will have heard the example I had to listen to. That was a sobering and scary experience. It is an experience that our law enforcement officers hear every single day and it is our duty to find a balance. I wish we had our own Google. I wish that all my constituents’ data were held in the United Kingdom so we would have more control over it. But the fact is we live in the world we do. That is the tragedy and it makes us have to make deals that might not always be, as we would wish, perfect. But in this case, I am concerned, like her, that what must come first is the children’s needs and dealing with terrorists, illicit finance and all the oligarchs we worry about—and Labour Front Benchers also worry about—and how we are going to get them. Until we can crack that data map, this is something that is important.
The Minister is making an important case for the provisions in the Bill, and I agree that we have to have this data sharing. We have to speed this up and get on with it. His new clause 1 looks like a pretty reasonable compromise to provide the necessary reassurances. It looks fairly complete to me, and I can see no reason why the House would not unanimously agree to it.
The hon. Gentleman is right. Further amendments that we have tabled provide for concessions to protect journalistic data. I have taken on board these points from Members on both sides of the House. Throughout the Bill, I have met many Opposition colleagues, including my shadow, the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), on numerous occasions, and we have offered concessions that have never been offered before. One of them will put in primary legislation a mandate for the Secretary of State to seek assurances. In my view, we cannot go beyond that and force them to get those assurances, because a responsible Government might not have the upper hand at the time or have the leverage to do that, but the necessity for security is important.
This will be the first time that that has been put in primary legislation. It will put in place a policy that existed in loose form under the last Labour Government, when, in exceptional circumstances, Ministers were allowed not to seek assurances. The overseas security and justice assistance—OSJA—guidance was published in 2010 by the coalition Government, of which I think the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) was a member. That put in writing part 9. There are occasions on which we might be allowed not to seek a death penalty assurance, but I do not want that to become the dominant force. As I have said, we have not found a single example in the past 20 years that produced this challenge or quandary for a Minister. This is simply about comms content data; that is all it is about.
I hope the Minister recognises that all Members on both sides of the House want to find ways of sharing data so that we can go after these wicked people who abuse children. Will he therefore tell us what efforts have been made, in discussions with our American friends, to find a treaty that deals with those crimes and others but stops short of those crimes that could result in the death penalty? What efforts have been made to carve out those crimes so that they could be dealt with in a second treaty?
I have personally asked them to look at carve-outs in that area, and I know that officials are still working on the drafts. This is my point: the treaty will come before the House when it is still in its draft stage. I have not read the draft as it stands; it is too early. This is not going to appear next Tuesday as a treaty. We will try to maintain as much as we can in the treaty, but we must recognise the leverage that we have, the generosity of the Obama Administration’s original offer and the need of our law enforcement agencies to get on with these investigations as soon as possible.
I will press on, because I want to give the House an example. An operation commenced in August 2017 in which there were indications that a UK male suspect was using Facebook, Instagram, Gmail and Snapchat for the purpose of committing child sex offences. On the male suspect’s Facebook profile, he purports to be a teenage girl requesting friendship with teenage boys. He then engages them in sexual communication, asking them to send indecent images and/or videos of themselves committing sexual acts. The suspect sent indecent images of females sourced from the internet as bait to lure his victims into believing that they were communicating with and sharing indecent images with a teenage girl. The investigation has identified several individual Facebook accounts where indecent images of children have been sent to the user of the suspect Facebook account. Those individual accounts all belong to children.
The value of data evidence is apparent, because in that operation, the data has helped to identify in excess of 150 vulnerable child victims and enabled law enforcement to safeguard the children. However, the law enforcement agencies are still awaiting the authorisation from a judge in a US court to release the content that would enable us to prosecute and put away the individual who is doing this. Consequently, that individual is still at large. We have safeguarded the victims we know of, but our ability to charge and prosecute that person is being frustrated. We should not forget that a great deal of data is held for only 12 months, and some of the MLAT cases go on for two years or more. Not taking up the US’s offer would mean shutting the door on our police’s ability to stop abuse more quickly and to detect terror plots before they reach fruition.
I repeat that the case the Minister is making is supported on both sides of the House. I very much doubt that there will be a Division on Third Reading—certainly we on these Benches will be supporting the Bill at that time—so he does not need to make this case, because we all support him. The issue of this debate on new clause 1 and other alternatives is whether we can achieve the goals on which we all agree while also finding a way to implement existing Government policy on death penalty assurances. The Minister is recognised for working across the House—that is why he is held in such high regard—but it is our right to scrutinise legislation in this place, and in this debate we want to tease out whether we can find a way, through the treaties or through the Bill, to get those death penalty assurances that I am sure he also wants.
I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, and I do not question his heartfelt desire to ensure that we keep people safe, but actions have consequences. He does not have to believe me when I say this, but the United States has indicated to the Government that if we attach strings to the treaty in the way that the Lords amendment would, the treaty will not progress. He does not have to believe me; he does not have to believe the United States; he can decide whether he thinks the United States will change its position or not, but let me tell him my reading of it. I have met representatives from the US Department of Justice, along with my officials and representatives from our embassy, and looked at the political situation in the Senate—I live in the real world; that is not necessarily how I would vote—and I am living with the challenge of balancing those realities, as any hon. Member would do. If these amendments, including that of the right hon. Gentleman, go through, they will jeopardise the treaty. I have set out clearly what the consequence would be if the treaty were jeopardised, and no amount of “I wish it wasn’t” will change that simple fact.
Are we not in danger of believing that there is a false choice between upholding the UK’s international obligations and taking action to secure this treaty? Will the UK not be obliged to follow its treaty obligations, including those under protocol 12 of the European convention on human rights, without needing to follow one of the wrecking amendments tabled by the Opposition parties and making the treaty that we apparently all want impossible to achieve?
Yes, and in answer to the amendment that was tabled but not selected, Ministers are obliged to act in accordance with our ECHR obligations. Throughout this process, we have a legal duty under the Human Rights Act 1998 to act compatibly with convention rights, including article 1 of the 13th protocol, which was incorporated in schedule 1 to the Human Rights Acts 1998 through the Human Rights Act (Amendment) Order 2004. Were Ministers to act unlawfully in making subordinate legislation under subsection 5(b) which was incompatible with the convention rights, it would be open to the courts to strike down that legislation by applying ordinary public law principles.
First, I want to confirm what my right hon. Friend has said. This treaty being negotiated with United States has taken a long time to achieve. I remember being connected with it when I was Attorney General, and raising the matter subsequently on visits to the United States when I was Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. It is quite apparent that the treaty is essential to prevent crime in this country. It is equally clear that attaching the proposed strings to it would destroy it; I have no doubt about that at all. I also endorse the point that the European convention on human rights has to govern everything that we do. In my view, in regard to the sort of data we are seeking to access and share for the purpose of fighting crime, the issue of whether the death penalty might result from an eventual criminal proceeding, which would be speculative at that stage, is entirely irrelevant.
My right hon. and learned Friend, whom I have known a long time, is the straightest politician in this House and always has the best motives. He is also the lawyer that one would want at one’s side in government, because he tells it how it is, not how one wants it to be. I thank him for his point. He knows how far back this effort goes. This Bill is not a political charge or an ideological step. In fact, without this amendment, it is probably one of the most boring Bills that we have taken through the House, but it is not a playground for ideological posturing on a theoretical issue.
There is a clear choice here: take up the offer from the United States, reject the amendment and help to keep our constituents safe, or agree with the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington who believes that this matter is a problem even though there are no examples from the past 20 years. She believes that we should say no to the US offer and put the whole thing at risk because our tiny amount of data could be combined with a criminal investigation overseas, when the crime is a capital offence and the offender is in a country or US state that has the death penalty, and our data alone could be the crucial piece of evidence that leads to a conviction. If ever there was an example of politics getting in the way for the most bizarre and abstract reason, it is here.
I will come to the right hon. Gentleman. All the amendments are grouped, so we have plenty of time.
Having said that, I have to apologise to the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and to the Leader of the Opposition. In her column, the right hon. Lady said that I attacked her personally by criticising what was going on. I apologise that I did so, but I did so because I meant it. That is not the Labour party that I know. I have family in the Labour party. I have a relation who was a Labour MP in the 1930s and, if I remember correctly, the first socialist Lord Advocate in Scotland. The Labour party that I know would not play this type of politics with our constituents. A Labour party led by pretty much any other Labour Member would never have indulged in this type of nonsense.
The Labour party that I know in Lancashire, in the north of England and in Scotland keeps people safe and recognises the responsibility that goes with governing and that there is a balance. It is a truly difficult balance, which people of the best motives make every single day, between upholding values and keeping people safe. That is why I apologise that I had to make that attack, but I made it all the same. It is incredibly important that a Government in waiting should be led by people who recognise that their duty in government will be to make difficult decisions and to reflect the reality of the 21st century, not some abstract theoretical nonsense that panders to a few.
I regret the Minister’s tone in places, because it is clear that we have worked together on this Bill and that the Opposition are in favour of it. Let me be clear about the difference here. The Minister is essentially saying that he is happy to be mandated to secure death penalty assurances. Labour’s amendment simply sets out that in the event that assurances are sought but not obtained, the data should not be handed over. As he says, the change will affect a tiny amount of cases, but nobody is disputing the need to speed up the MLAT process to obtain the data. That is exactly what the difference is.
No. The Labour Front-Bench team are saying that if we do not get what they want, we should block the treaty. The condition from the United States or any other country could be, “Look, I’m terribly sorry, but we have 90% of the data and you have 1%, so here’s our offer and this is the reality of it.” Labour is saying, “If they do not give us the assurances we want”—they go beyond the OSJA guidance and beyond the public policy of this Government and the previous Government—“the treaty will not be completed.” I am here to say that the treaty will not be concluded if those strings are attached in that way. That is the simple reality.
The consequences of that, as I have pointed out, will be felt in our constituencies up and down the country and will also be felt should the Labour Front-Bench team become the Government in a few years’ time. The people could be facing an existential threat to their security, and that Labour Government would have to make these same difficult decisions. We have worked incredibly well together on this Bill, but this issue cannot be removed into some abstract debate when this is about giving our law enforcement agencies the tools to do their job on a day-to-day basis.
The Minister is being generous in giving way. I repeat that, as he knows, both sides of the House want exactly what he has just described. However, this House’s job is to scrutinise and ensure that legislation is being done in the right way so that other parts of Government policy are also upheld. He said in response to the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), a former Attorney General, that we should not worry about this because ECHR obligations, which he read out in some detail, would prevent Ministers from not complying with this policy. Will the Minister elaborate on that for the benefit the House? When the Home Secretary recently did not seek death penalty assurances, was that decision in line with our convention obligations?
I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the rulings by the High Court and the Lord Chief Justice. On five of the grounds for challenge from the plaintiff—if that is the right word in a civil challenge—the rulings found in favour of the Government. I am happy to have a conversation with him about that further if he reads the whole judgment, but it was certainly the case that the OSJA guidance and other things were not found to be in conflict with our ECHR obligations or any other obligation. If my memory serves me right, it was also found that we were not breaking our own Government policy on the matter. I caution the House that we do not know whether that judgment will be appealed, but a hearing related to it is ongoing. The case does not relate to data; it is about broader evidence that would remain through the MLAT process. As I pointed out earlier, extradition is a separate process. This legislation is about the data predominantly held by Facebook and Google and everything else, and it is so much part of the 21st century that we cannot escape the impact that it has on us.
Turning to amendment 18, I recall the hon. Member for Torfaen tabling something similar in Committee, and I am afraid that I am going to make the same arguments in response. Amendment 18 seeks to ensure that terms on which other states may access electronic data held in the UK mirror the UK’s own safeguards for press freedom. Forgive me, because I know that I have made this point countless times, but this amendment relates to incoming requests for UK-held data when this Bill is only about the UK’s outgoing requests for electronic data held overseas.
I completely accept the point that this Bill cannot work without a reciprocal international agreement in place, but amendment 18 directly relates to international agreements, as opposed to what our Bill provides for. This Bill is simply not the right place to mandate what is a right and laudable protection for journalists and their data. We cannot impose such conditions in advance of the negotiations of an international agreement. It is not a constructive proposition to tie our hands. I say to Opposition Members that I hear the case for change and that the United States’ first amendment is probably one of the strongest journalistic protections, so that would no doubt be reflected in a treaty. Of course, the UK would never agree to share data with a country with insufficient safeguards, but to mandate that on the face of this Bill is neither helpful nor necessary. Amendment 18 seeks to control the UK Government’s negotiating position, which would not prove desirable to any Government of the day.
Another point that I make repeatedly is to remind hon. Members that they will get ample opportunity to scrutinise any international agreement when the agreement is brought before Parliament, before it can be ratified under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 process, and then again when secondary legislation is laid before Parliament designating the agreement for the purposes of clause 1 and under section 52 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. The Government amended the Bill in the other place to make it clear that only agreements to which the CRAG process applies may be designated under the Bill, so that scrutiny process must be followed in every case. Members will get the opportunity to scrutinise all international agreements related to this Bill properly before they are ratified.
I have two other brief points. First, the initial international agreement will be with the United States, as the majority of overseas CSPs are currently based there. As hon. Members will know, the US places a high regard on protecting freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Indeed, it is enshrined in the first amendment to their constitution.
Secondly, any additional international agreement that the UK enters into in future will, of course, be based on trust, mutual respect and each country’s adherence to principles that include the rule of law, due process and judicial oversight for obtaining and handling electronic evidence with regards to serious crime. No rational Government of the day would do a deal with a country that lacked regard for the rule of law or that failed to maintain press freedom. If a CSP moved to a country with insufficient legal safeguards, I would not push the Government of the day in any way to negotiate such an agreement, and I highly doubt that Parliament would ratify such a treaty.
This Bill is not the right place for the proposals raised by amendment 18. The amendment is not necessary for the reasons I have outlined, and therefore the Government will not support it. I ask the hon. Member for Torfaen not to press it.
Amendment 10 seeks to make confidential journalistic data an excepted category of material for overseas production orders, meaning that it cannot be sought using the Bill’s powers. Amendments 9 and 11 seek to define confidential journalistic data for the purposes of the Bill. Members have previously raised concerns about confidential journalistic data under the Bill, and I do not want to pre-empt our debate on other protections for journalists, which will come later, but the Government’s concessions in this area are appropriate and proportionate. I do not think it is right that confidential journalistic data should be entirely outside the reach of law enforcement agencies.
As with the amendment tabled in Committee, amendment 10 goes further than what is currently provided for under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Although confidential journalistic material is excluded under PACE, it is accessible if certain access conditions are met.
I repeat the point I made previously. The Bill has not been drafted to mirror PACE exactly. It also takes into account provisions of the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The whole point of the Bill is to speed up the unnecessarily long, drawn out process that law enforcement agencies currently endure to get access to material to help keep our constituents safe. Of course, this in no way undermines the stringent tests that must be passed for an order to be granted in a court by a judge. The substantial value test and the public interest test will both have to be satisfied, and I will shortly come on to the further inclusion of a relevant evidence test.
Amendment 11 would carve out journalists’ communications data so that it cannot be accessed under the powers of the Bill. Such an amendment is not necessary, because clause 3(4) already precludes the possibility of obtaining communications data via an overseas production order. Where an overseas production order is sought against a telecommunications operator, the Bill will apply as if references to excepted electronic data included communications data.
The Bill has been deliberately drafted so as to avoid overlap with the existing regime for communications data under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. Should law enforcement agencies wish to obtain any form of communications data, journalistic or otherwise, they will need to proceed using existing legislation to obtain it. To be clear, this Bill does not allow for the acquisition of communications data.
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that journalists play a fundamental role in our society, but amendments 9 to 11 are not appropriate. This Bill will ensure that all journalists are part of the process of applying for an overseas production order when the material sought relates to them from the outset. Uniquely, they will be able to make representations to the court. I am confident that journalists will continue to be able to make a robust defence if they believe that is relevant.
Indeed, when working with the BBC on this legislation, one lawyer told my officials that not once in 10 years could he recall a court having overruled such representations. It is important that legislation drafted in the 21st century reflects the context of the day. The nature of journalism is evolving, and law enforcement officers must be able to adapt to those changes. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman not to press amendments 9 to 11.
In Committee, colleagues including the hon. Members for Torfaen and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) expressed concern that the tests in clause 4 do not fully replicate the tests under schedule 1 of PACE, under which there is a relevant evidence test as well as a substantial value test and a public interest test, whereas the Bill currently includes only the substantial value and public interest tests. The Bill does not contain the relevant evidence test. As I explained in Committee, the Bill replicates the production orders not only under PACE but under POCA and the Terrorism Act. Neither POCA nor the Terrorism Act requires the relevant evidence test when seeking evidence in relation to the proceeds of crime, as our law enforcement agencies will do with overseas production orders. Nevertheless, I promise to go away and consider the issues.
My officials have discussed the issues with operational partners, and their feedback is that a relevant evidence test would have neither a preventive effect nor a negative effect on their operation. I will therefore include a relevant evidence test in the Bill, and Government amendments 2 and 3 are sufficient in that respect and render amendments 13 to 15 unnecessary. I trust that introducing a relevant evidence test will satisfy the concerns of hon. Members.
Amendments 4 to 7 will ensure that the Bill is subject to and consistent with the existing data protection framework. I am sure hon. Members will welcome that clarification. It is also the Government’s intention to ensure that the provisions of the Bill involving the use of personal data be read in conjunction with and remain subject to our existing data protection framework. These amendments will therefore avoid any confusion in how those measures are interpreted.
Under amendment 7, clause 17 will make it clear that references to data protection legislation have the same meaning as the definition in section 3 of the Data Protection Act 2018, which includes the general data protection regulation, the 2018 Act and any regulations made under it. Members may recall that part 3 of the 2018 Act includes specific rules for the processing of data for criminal law enforcement purposes and implements the law enforcement directive.
In practice, the amendments to clause 6 clarify that a communications service provider against whom an overseas production order is made is under no obligation—taking into account the existence of the order—to comply in any way that would contravene the requirements of the data protection legislation, as defined in the 2018 Act. The amendments also clarify that, where UK law enforcement agencies receive electronic data from a communications service provider following a court-approved order, they must process the data in accordance with part 3 of the 2018 Act. That responds to important questions about clause 10 raised by peers during the Bill’s passage in the other place. I hope my clarification of those points will be welcomed by hon. Members and will reassure peers. I therefore ask hon. Members to accept and support these clarifying amendments.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle for his contributions in Committee on the protection of journalists under the Bill. He performs an important role as chair of the all-party BBC group, and in that capacity he has played a valuable role in discussions on the provisions relating to journalistic data. I listened carefully to his arguments and to the arguments of other hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I agree that the Bill should include appropriate safeguards for legitimate journalism, and I have listened carefully to the arguments as to what form those safeguards should take, while preventing those who might falsely pose as a journalist from hiding behind protections to which they are not entitled. The Government therefore tabled amendments 19 to 23, which my hon. Friend suggested, to ensure that, when journalistic data is sought, the journalist is notified of the application. This will give journalists and media outlets the opportunity, should they want to, to make representations to the court about whether an application for an overseas production order should be granted. That was always the Government’s intention, but our proposal was that the process be provided for in the criminal procedure rules—the relevant rules of court for production orders. Amendments 19 to 23 will now make these notice requirements explicit in the Bill so that there can be no doubt about the requirement to notify journalists of a relevant application.
I thank the Minister for listening to those representations. As he says, I declare an interest as chairman of the all-party BBC group.
The representations from the BBC show that the amendments will make the Bill completely consistent with the provisions under PACE and will help the administration of justice, as they may mean that many applications do not need to be spoken against. I am incredibly grateful to the Minister for listening to us, for working very closely with all of us and for filtering in our ideas.
I am incredibly grateful to my hon. Friend for that. I am not a journalist by background; I think he is—
I’m a lawyer.
All Members have raised the importance of protecting journalistic freedom, and I think we have struck the right balance between not excluding their material entirely—because I do not believe that anyone should be above the law, no matter what their profession—and giving them notice that other people would not be given, to allow them to make representations. All the way through this process, even in considering the controversial part of the Bill, we should not forget that this is done before a judge. It is not done between officials in two Administrations: these orders will be applied for in front of a court and granted by a judge. It will be for the law enforcement agencies to satisfy the range of tests and for journalists to make their representations. That will safeguard the process while at the same ensuring that we get data if it is needed to keep us safe.
I should point out that unlike the Opposition amendment—I think the shadow Front-Bench team largely supported the same change—the amendment that I tabled was realistic about the point that if the journalist could not be contacted, that would not mean that we would end the process. Ultimately, what is important is the protection of victims of appalling offences. My amendment will make sure that we strike that balance between the protection of journalists and the protection of victims, which is at the core of this excellent Bill.
Yes, my hon. Friend makes a true point. We have put in a carve-out for some very urgent situations, including if there is a threat to life or, indeed, if the journalist is impossible to track down and may in fact be a front for a foreign state, for example, in a fake news scenario or something else. All Members have had genuine views and made their points well. I am happy to accept my hon. Friend’s amendment, but there were many good parts of the amendments tabled by the Labour party, too. This is not a party political point. The exemptions get the right balance and we will be able to protect journalists, so I hope I will have the support of the whole House in asking that the relevant amendments not be pressed.
Before I finish, I should apologise for the length of my opening address. There were originally two groups of amendments, but that was changed to one group, so I needed to deal with everyone’s amendments in one go.
I think we have struck the right balance. The Bill reflects some of the day-to-day challenges that we face in keeping us safe. I urge Members not to support amendments 12 and 18, and some of the others tabled by the Opposition Front-Bench team. As I indicated at the start, throughout the passage of this Bill and other Bills, I have accepted a number of amendments from Government and Opposition Members. That is the spirit in which I have tried to conclude the passage of this Bill, and in which I hope to do so.
Order. Before we continue with the debate, the House has the exciting prospect of the results of the deferred Divisions.
In respect of the question relating to consumer protection, the Ayes were 309 and the Noes were 268, so the Ayes have it.
In respect of the question relating to financial services and markets, the Ayes were 309 and the Noes were 261, so the Ayes have it.
In respect of the question relating to floods and water, the Ayes were 310 and the Noes were 267, so the Ayes have it.
In respect of the question relating to radioactive substances, the Ayes were 309 and the Noes were 265, so the Ayes have it.
[The Division lists are published at the end of today’s debates.]
The first thing I should point out is that everyone in the House wants to see a way in which the mutual legal assistance treaty system is speeded. I do not think there is any issue with that in any part of this House. The issues to which I shall come in a moment in essence fall into two categories: first, the issue of death penalty assurances; and secondly, protections for journalistic data.
In respect of the intervention from the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), he has tabled an amendment that is essentially the same as the one that I pursued in Committee. I do not accept in any sense the difference that he suggests there is between the two. I am pleased that his amendment has been accepted and adopted by the Government.
I apologise if I have got this wrong, but my understanding is that the hon. Gentleman’s amendment would not have included circumstances in which the journalist could not be traced, whereas the amendment I have tabled takes that into account, meaning that it would not be a blocker. It is in that limited aspect that our amendments differ.
All I will say is that I had discussions about that amendment and others with the Minister, and they were things on which we were able to compromise. I am trying to assure the hon. Gentleman that the idea that I was trying to do something to scupper the treaty is completely wrong. I am sure he would accept that that was the case, whatever the differences between us on the detail.
I absolutely accept that. The hon. Gentleman will know that he and I worked closely throughout the Committee proceedings to make sure that the intent behind what we have now was in the Bill. I pay credit to him for that assistance.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging that.
Let me turn to the issue of death penalty assurances, which has clearly aroused a great deal of controversy, and explain our position. I should say to the Security Minister that I totally accept that new clause 1 is an improvement. The position the Opposition have ended up in today is a procedural one: unfortunately, because new clause 1 is the lead provision in the group and is therefore at the head of the list to be voted on, the only way that the Opposition can secure a vote on our own amendment is by voting against new clause 1. That is just the procedural position we have ended up in, but accept that it is a step forward and make that entirely clear from the Dispatch Box at the outset.
Just to be clear on the procedure, my hon. Friend’s direction to Labour MPs will be to vote against new clause 1, although he accepts it to be an improvement; were he successful in stripping out new clause 1 and unsuccessful in passing his own amendment, would that not put us back to a worse position?
I accept that there is always a danger that when we vote on a number of new clauses and amendments in a row, the order matters and what happens on them matters, as we have seen in recent days. Let me reassure my hon. Friend: what I am trying to say is that although I do accept that new clause 1, with its duty to seek assurances, is certainly an improvement on the case we had in the summer, when no assurances were sought at all, it does not match the position of the Labour Front-Bench team, which is that if there are circumstances—they will be rare—in which assurances are sought but not given, the data should not be handed over. That is the difference between myself and the Minister. The Minister accepts that we should be getting assurances. That is the difference: new clause 1 is an improvement, but it does not match our position.
As a children’s doctor, I have looked after a number of children who have been sexually abused, and they have sometimes horrific physical injuries and, as we know, physical and mental scars. The mental scars in particular can last a lifetime. The House is united in wanting to be able to prevent that. Am I misunderstanding the hon. Gentleman when he says that seeking assurances is not adequate, and that if faced with a real situation in which a child is in imminent danger and those assurances cannot be got, that child should remain in danger and in a situation in which he or she is being abused, to avoid the theoretical risk of something that has not happened in 20 years?
I just do not accept that conception of how this works or, indeed, how the MLAT treaty would work. I am afraid it would not work in the way the hon. Lady suggests. The point I am making is about cases in which assurances were not secured. By the way, I totally agree with the Minister that the United States looms into view because of this treaty, but this is a framework for other treaties with countries all around the world, and the Opposition are simply saying that we should be embedding into it the idea that, in the event that those assurances are not forthcoming from whichever country it is—rare though those circumstances are—the data should not be handed over. It is as simple as that. By the way, that has been the position for decades.
I will give once more, but then I need to make some progress.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that, in this situation, which is not perfect, what he is having to do is weigh up the risk of an actual child on whom abuse can clearly be seen to be happening or at risk of happening, with a theoretical possibility, which the Minister has said has not happened in 20 years, and that such evidence can potentially, theoretically, possibly, at some point in the future, be used to convict somebody in a way that may or may not ultimately end in the death penalty? Meanwhile that real child will end up being further abused while this data is waited for.
I do not accept that at all. The hon. Lady talks about theoretical possibilities, but these will be actual cases—actual cases, not theoretical cases.
I will give way once more.
I am grateful to the shadow Minister for giving way. Despite the fact that this is about not extradition, but data exchange and that it is heinous crimes that will incorporate this provision, does he accept that the threshold for the death penalty, both at state and federal level, is actually far higher—the bar is higher?
Yes, it is significantly higher, and the cases will be extraordinarily rare. That is what everybody who has looked at this says.
This is genuinely the last time that I give way.
I am very grateful. The hon. Gentleman is being more than generous. On the issue of assurances, does he also accept—I know that he thinks logically—that if those assurances were given and were not actually fulfilled, future assurances would obviously not carry the same weight as previous assurances that were carried through?
I honestly cannot imagine a situation where a country that gave those assurances did not stand by them. That would undermine the whole system if that were the case. I do need to make some progress now. I hope that the House will realise that I have been generous in giving way to Government Members.
We absolutely agree, as I have said, with speeding up the mechanism, but we believe that in this framework, which will be a framework which many reciprocal treaties will be plugged into in the years to come, we should make clear our opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances. The Security Minister has spoken about the United States. I appreciate that that is where much data is held. I also appreciate that that is the treaty that is being negotiated at the moment. First, let us look at what the practice is at the moment. It is obvious that the United States would expect us to require full death penalty assurances prior to sharing this information. It routinely complies with that requirement. It has long been the case, under the 1944 Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters that now exists, that the seeking and securing of assurances is commonplace. What the Opposition are trying to put into law is what has been the norm for decades.
The Minister makes the point about his judgment as to whether or not the US would wish to conclude a treaty in those circumstances—in the circumstances that the House passed the amendment that the Opposition have proposed. I just want to examine this because the recent High Court judgment in El Gizouli, which has been published in recent days, is instructive in this regard. It is very rare that we see Government papers in the public domain so soon after a particular decision is taken. That is because in July last year the House became aware of correspondence between the Home Secretary and the then United States Attorney General that the Government had not sought death penalty assurances at all. Let me be clear that we on these Benches absolutely condemn the actions of the so-called foreign fighters, which is why I have worked with the Minister to put the designated areas offence onto the statute book—it is not quite on our statute book yet, but it will be in due course. I made various suggestions about that matter, as the Minister knows, that were eventually incorporated into the Bill. We supported that principle and it will be on the statute book. However, the fact is that that matter did lead to a court case, which is instructive about Minister’s decision making.
I go back to one of the earlier interventions. This is not about naked partisan politics. These are very serious issues on which Members from all parts of the House have very strongly held opinions, and I respect whatever those perspectives are. A number of things came forward from that case in the summer. The UK embassy in Washington was asked what was the likely response from the US Administration if the UK were to seek full or partial assurances on the death penalty. The response was that
“parts of the US machinery—notably career DOJ officials—would not be surprised if we asked for death penalty assurances. It is what they expect of us.”
That, I suggest, is what I said a moment or two ago. It then added:
“But that doesn’t go for the senior political levels of this administration...At best they will think we have tin ears. At worst, they will wind the President up to complain to the PM and, potentially, to hold a grudge.”
That is worrying to see, and it would not be a way to run any negotiation. It is no surprise really that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office gave strong advice to seek an assurance. This was cited as the Government’s consistent policy over many years, which has been maintained without exception—I appreciate the one point that was made in an intervention by the Minister that there may be an exception to that. I accept that, but this is what the advice says—and without difficulty in co-operating with allies such as the US. It agreed that a sole exception would undermine the UK’s consistent and total opposition. This is what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said about this in the summer:
“Her Majesty’s Government seeks a comprehensive assurance that the suspects will not be subject to the death penalty. This is critical to the consistency with which we apply HMG’s policy on Overseas Security and Justice Assistance…Were we not to apply this practice to this case, it could undermine all future efforts to secure effective written death penalty assurances from the US authorities for future UK security and justice assistance. The exception made for the US in this case could also undermine future attempts to secure similar assurances from other countries with which we have a security relationship... particularly if it seems likely that there is litigation which leads to the disclosure of the level of assurance. It could leave HMG open to accusations of western hypocrisy and double standards which would undermine HMG’s Death Penalty Policy globally, including in the US.”
Let me finish this point and then I