House of Commons
Wednesday 20 February 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—
Leaving the EU
I share the pleasure of the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) at seeing so many Members present on the Opposition Benches below the gangway. I have regular meetings with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and colleagues and have discussed the benefits of the withdrawal agreement and political deceleration for Scotland and the whole UK.
Does Secretary of State accept that no form of Brexit is better for Scotland than our current deal, which is membership? On that basis, will he take the opportunity now to rule out a no-deal, cliff-edge Brexit by extending article 50?
There is one sure and clear way to avoid a no-deal Brexit, and that is to vote for the Prime Minister’s deal; but on every occasion that SNP Members have had an opportunity to do so, they have declined. Indeed, they have sought to bring a no-deal Brexit closer to reality.
Instead of these weasel words and standard answer, will the Secretary of State answer the question? The Government agree that no deal would be a disaster. Does he agree with extending article 50 to rule out a no-deal scenario?
I agree that we should leave the EU with a deal. The SNP position is to contrive to bring about a no-deal Brexit, and the chaos and disruption that they know that would bring to Scotland.
It is just as well that the three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule does not apply here, or the Secretary of State would be one dodged question away from an early bath. On other occasions, the Secretary of State has been very keen to know what plan B was, so what has he told the Prime Minister his plan B is when—not if, but when—the Prime Minister’s rotten deal is rejected again? Is his plan B no deal or is it to extend article 50, and why is he so coy about telling us what it is?
First, I absolutely refute the hon. Gentleman’s description of the Prime Minister’s deal. The Prime Minister’s deal is a good deal. This House, by a majority, has set out changes it wants to that deal, and the Prime Minister is seeking that deal. But if SNP Members really do not want no deal, they should be backing a deal.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that, having spent months propping herself in front of every TV camera going, demanding a seat at the table, the First Minister of Scotland was extended an invitation to a series of key meetings by the Prime Minister, which she could not even be bothered to attend?
My hon. Friend is correct. For whatever reason, the First Minister has chosen not to attend the Cabinet Sub-Committee chaired by the Prime Minister on EU exit preparedness. What she has been prepared to do, however, is to go on television and say that she would not accept any deal; no matter what that deal contained, she would not accept a deal. To me, that is a most powerful advocate for a no-deal Brexit.
Her Majesty’s Government’s Agriculture Bill will give essential legal clarity for farm payments after 2020 and safeguard the UK frameworks as we leave the EU. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is in marked contrast to the SNP Scottish Government who, even at this late stage, have refused to be part of the Bill, leaving Scottish farmers in the dark and at risk?
My hon. Friend has become a powerful advocate for Scottish agriculture in this Parliament. He is correct. We have offered the Scottish Government the opportunity to join us in taking forward the UK Agriculture Bill and providing certainty for Scottish farmers. Instead, they prepare to play politics with Scottish farming and leave farmers with great uncertainty.
In line with the Prime Minister’s ongoing commitment to supporting the growth of the fisheries sector outside the common fisheries policy, may I ask my right hon. Friend what discussions he has had with the Prime Minister, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Treasury about future financial support for the sector, and how best to progress with that and invest in the industry in Scotland?
As my hon. Friend knows, both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have made very clear their support for the industry. Indeed, this afternoon I am meeting the Secretary of State, and that will be one issue on our agenda.
We have seen over the past few weeks the large number of businesses that have been warning about Brexit and the Government’s strategy on Brexit. I keep being told by the leave campaign, “Don’t worry; businesses will adapt.” Well, they are adapting. They are adapting by moving their holding companies and their brass plates to other European Union countries. What will the Secretary of State do in the Cabinet to try to sort this mess out before it is too late? While his party and the SNP fight over flags, some of us are going to have to fight for jobs in our constituencies.
I did anticipate that I would have a question from the hon. Gentleman, but I was not sure whether he would ask it from the Labour Benches. What he needs to do, if he is concerned about avoiding a no-deal Brexit and the disruption and chaos that that would bring to Scottish businesses, is back the Prime Minister’s deal.
Coming back to Brexit, the Secretary of State seems to be completely incapable of answering a simple question: given the choice between no deal and extending article 50 to avoid that scenario, would he choose the latter option? Leaving that to one side, the papers report that he and three colleagues went to see the Prime Minister on Monday this week to discuss this very matter. Did he request that the Prime Minister take no deal off the table, and what was her response?
I am very clear about the implications of no deal for Scotland and the United Kingdom, which is why I want the Prime Minister to achieve a deal. That is why any Member of the House who does not want a no-deal outcome should support a deal.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be incapable of answering a simple question. If he did indeed tell the Prime Minister to take no deal off the table, let me commend him, because for once—a rare occasion—he is in tune with public opinion in Scotland. He has threatened in the past to resign over matters of detail. When it comes to a matter of principle—having a deal or not—is he prepared to stay in the Cabinet and implement a no-deal scenario?
The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on the key question. It is about having a deal or not. When that question has been asked, the SNP has always been in the not column, contriving to bring about a no-deal Brexit for Scotland. I am in the deal column. I voted for the deal in the meaningful vote, and I will do so again
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is high time that Members in all parts of the House, in the words of the head of Make UK, set aside
“selfish political ideology ahead of the national interest and people’s livelihoods”,
and voted for an EU withdrawal agreement to prevent the catastrophic event of leaving the EU without a deal?
On the 12 October 2016, when questioned about the sweetheart deal that the UK Government struck with Nissan, the Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and told the House that whatever support is put in place for businesses in the south of England
“will apply to businesses in Scotland.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 287.]
In the light of the news that Nissan was offered a financial package worth up to £80 million to ensure that it would not be adversely affected by Brexit, can he detail the financial support that he has made available to Scottish businesses to ensure that, like Nissan, they are not adversely affected by Brexit?
I am pleased to see the hon. Lady on the Labour Benches, as it has been reported that she would be willing to give up her seat to the SNP so that there could be a Labour minority Government propped up by the SNP. I stand by what I said previously: we stand ready to support businesses in Scotland. A huge amount of Government support has gone into supporting businesses in Scotland since the Brexit vote, and that will continue to be the case.
May I gently say to Members on both sides of the House that the style is altogether too languid? A lot of people want to get in: short questions, short answers, and let us move on. I call Lesley Laird.
Let me reassure the Secretary of State that I am going nowhere—I am Labour through and through. [Interruption.] He should not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers.
Recently, Nissan, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Airbus, Sony, Panasonic, the Federation of Small Businesses, the CBI and many others have said that the Government’s incompetence over Brexit already means that jobs are being lost. Everyone here knows that the Prime Minister’s deal is dead, so is the Secretary of State going to let this circus continue or is he going to pull his head out of the sand and take no deal off the table, because that is what business wants, it is what Parliament wants, and it is what the country wants.
What the country wants is to have this sorted. They want to leave the EU with a deal, and the hon. Lady and her colleagues should support the Prime Minister in her endeavour.
The Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill will help us deliver the new single, skills-based immigration system we want, one that maximises the benefits of immigration and demonstrates that Scotland and the UK are open for business.
I have heard the Secretary of State’s answer, but what faith can the people of Scotland have in the new immigration Bill or his Government when even after the issue was raised with the Prime Minister, with a promised intervention from the Home Secretary, the Home Secretary’s office told me yesterday that it has lost the file on Denis Omondi, the serving British soldier in 3 Scots whose young daughter has been denied a visa? Will the Scottish Secretary now get personally involved in this travesty?
I am disappointed to hear what the hon. Gentleman has said, and yes of course I will.
Last week, the National Farmers Union Scotland told the Bill Committee that free movement works and should continue, that the Government’s seasonal workers pilot was not nearly enough and that post-Brexit immigration proposals do not make sense and are “very obstructive”. Given that the UK-wide system is not working for Scotland’s farmers, will the Secretary of State argue for different immigration rules to apply in Scotland?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman references the seasonal workers scheme, which my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) did so much to champion, but he is very selective in the evidence he cites. The clear view of businesses giving evidence to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs is that they do not want a separate Scottish immigration system.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the CBI has said that a UK-wide immigration policy is the correct route, including for businesses in Moray and across Scotland?
My hon. Friend is right: that is the position of the CBI and of business organisations in Scotland, because they want workers to be able to move around the United Kingdom. There is no justification for a separate Scottish immigration system.
I call Luke Graham.
A bout of shyness has afflicted the hon. Gentleman.
In both Scotland and Cornwall, many low-paid but skilled jobs are provided by immigrants to the UK. What assurance can the Secretary of State give that that will continue after Brexit?
The question is purely about Scotland.
In relation to Scotland, the immigration White Paper is a one-year consultation and businesses such as those referenced by my hon. Friend should take part in it and make the very point he has made.
It certainly feels different up here on these Benches today, that’s for sure. What does the Secretary of State have to say to the young people of Scotland—[Interruption.]
Order. There is something wrong with the microphone. It is very unusual. I have never been unable previously to hear the hon. Gentleman, but what I would say is blurt it out with vim, man!
I am, Mr Speaker. What does the Secretary of State have to say to the young people of Scotland who, because of his Tory Brexit, will be denied the rights and opportunities to live, work and love across the continent of Europe?
The hon. Gentleman gives a solid reason why he and his colleagues should support the Prime Minister’s deal, which sets out those very issues. Instead, he would far rather have no deal and set about the chaos and disruption that he believes would further the cause of independence.
I must say that, although my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) no longer sits on the Conservative Benches, she remains my hon. Friend.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the immigration Bill must not include provision for Scotland to join the Schengen area? That would undermine the common travel area and potentially result in a border with England.
There are those in this House who would, of course, like Scotland to have a border with England, but that is not true of this Government, who will never do anything that would bring that about.
Does the Secretary of State for Scotland agree with me that Scotland needs more immigrants and needs more workers? Will he therefore support lifting the ban on asylum seekers working when they come to this country?
Asylum seekers are a clear category and are dealt with under some very specific rules, but I do agree with the hon. Lady’s general proposition. That is why I encourage her and others to engage with the consultation set out in the immigration White Paper.
The immigration Bill and the immigration White Paper go hand in hand. The Bill ends freedom of movement and the White Paper sets out the proposed immigration criteria once free movement ends. But the Secretary of State surely should be championing the pressing demographic and skills needs of Scotland at the Cabinet table. My first job in the shipyards, after graduating, paid £24,000. Many of my colleagues from across the EU and further afield earn similar amounts, and they have brought great expertise to our industry. Indeed, given that the average salary in Scotland is about £23,000 and the average care worker in Scotland is paid £18,000, what is he going to do to ensure that this ridiculous, arbitrary salary cap is consigned to the bin, where it belongs?
The hon. Gentleman makes valid points, and I am sure they will all form part of the one-year consultation that is ongoing. I certainly will be advocating those sorts of points in that consultation.
Borderlands Growth Deal
Growth deals lie right at the heart of the UK Government’s support for Scotland, which is why we have committed £1.3 billion to support the existing seven city and region growth deals. We remain committed to the borderlands growth deal.
The borderlands deal is a wonderful opportunity to help economic growth across what we in the borders consider a completely invisible line and not a border at all for practical purposes and day-to-day living. Will the Minister assure me—it is lovely to have a Treasury Minister answering the question—that we will get full support from the Treasury to ensure that we have a really strong, well-built growth deal?
As a Treasury Minister, I can certainly reassure my hon. Friend that the Treasury remains firmly engaged with local partners in ensuring that we have the best possible deal for the borderlands, including her part of the UK.
Rural NHS Hospitals: Public Transport
Transport and healthcare policy both fall within the competence of the Scottish Government. Nevertheless, the UK Government remain open to discussing best practice with the devolved Administrations.
NHS car parking charges were scrapped in Scotland in 2008, saving patients, visitors and staff £35 million. Will my right hon. Friend work with the rest of the UK Government to scrap hospital car parking charges across the UK?
I am sure that my colleagues in the Cabinet with the relevant responsibilities will have heard my right hon. Friend’s plea. He has in the past been a very effective campaigner on such matters.
Foreign Direct Investment
The UK promotes UK FDI throughout the world. In 2017, 76,000 new jobs were created in the UK as a consequence. There are 141 FDI projects in Scotland, creating about 4,000 jobs in Scotland.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons behind record levels of foreign direct investment into Scotland is its place in the United Kingdom, the most successful political union in history?
I agree entirely with that. Scotland benefits enormously through being part of what is the world’s fifth largest economy and one of the most dynamic and successful economies in the world.
Does the Financial Secretary agree with me that the First Minister has an important role to play in bringing foreign investment to Scotland and that any criticisms, including those from his own colleagues in Holyrood, border on the provincial to the ridiculous, unless of course they believe that the office of First Minister is a stay-at-home job?
The First Minister of course has a critical role in ensuring that investment is channelled towards Scotland, but I do not believe that promoting Scottish independence is a way of attracting investment.
On the First Minister’s recent trip to Canada, it was reported that she did not mention Scotland’s proudest export, Scotch whisky, once. Does the Minister agree with me that the best way for the First Minister to secure more foreign direct investment into Scotland is to stop prancing around the world flogging independence, and do what she is supposed to be doing, which is to be back in the country she is supposed to be leading? She should be reducing taxes, bettering our public services and making Scotland a more lucrative place in which to do business?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Increasing investment in Scotland is not about promoting Scottish independence; it is about promoting Scottish products and business. We froze duty on whisky at the last Budget —whisky itself represents about 20% of all the food and drink sales from the United Kingdom. We will stand behind that and other Scottish exports.
As members of the ministerial covenant and veterans board, the Secretary of State for Defence and I have worked closely together and with the devolved Administrations on the ambitious UK-wide veterans strategy, encompassing devolved areas, including housing, education and mental health, to address the needs of veterans in all parts of the UK, including Scotland.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, sadly, some veterans may find themselves homeless. What engagement has he had with the Scottish Government and local authorities in Scotland to help resolve this matter?
My hon. Friend will be aware that housing is a devolved area and the responsibility of the Scottish Government. However, the UK Government support the veterans gateway, which, among other things, provides advice to veterans on housing and accommodation in Scotland and across the UK.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the first ever UK-wide veterans strategy is a fantastic example of the significant collaboration that occurs every day between the UK and the Scottish Government?
Yes, indeed—I am very happy to confirm that. Although we see a lot of politicking in this Chamber and in Holyrood, the fact is that on a day-to-day basis the Scottish Government, the UK Government and indeed the Welsh Assembly Government can work productively together.
Santander Branch Closures
Bank branch closures are commercial decisions; they are not for the Government. However, we do recognise the difficulties that they bring. That is why we are committed, among other measures, to banking facilities within a Post Office network—[Interruption.]
Order. A lot of noisy, private conversations are taking place. That is unsound on two counts. First, it is rather a discourtesy to a senior member of the Government and, although he seems modest about it and unperturbed, I am not. Secondly, it means that the House is deprived of the joy of listening to the Minister’s mellifluous tones. The Minister is welcome to continue, at a suitable pace, with his answer.
Thank you very much indeed, Mr Speaker. I was concluding by saying that we are fully committed to the 11,500 post offices up and down the United Kingdom, most of which provide banking services.
Santander will be closing 15 branches across Scotland, including in Lanark in my constituency. People and businesses across Clydesdale depend on this service, which cannot be delivered by post offices. Will the Secretary of State call a halt to these closures?
As I have already outlined, these are commercial decisions to be taken by Santander and other banks. We have supported the access to banking protocol, which sets out clear measures that banks must take when they do close branches, to ensure that local customers are supported.
As my right hon. Friend said, some of these decisions are commercial ones, on which the Government cannot intervene. However, they can intervene more on the Post Office side. Will he meet me to discuss access to cash and the campaign that Which? is running, as well as how we can support the communities impacted by bank closures, such as Comrie and Alloa in my constituency?
I gently point out that the issue extends beyond the particular bank branches with which the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) is concerned. If, however, there is a sudden outbreak of unexpected shyness and reticence, the House will note that. It is a most unusual state of affairs: when previously there were significant numbers of Members bobbing up and down, with a view to taking part—
Ah! I call Mr David Linden.
Will the Minister, since he has been so generous in agreeing to meet hon. Members, agree to meet me to discuss protecting the Santander branch in Parkhead and telling the bank to save our Santander?
I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman.
We are grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) and to the Minister for his characteristically pithy reply. We are much obliged to him for it.
The Prime Minister was asked—
First of all, I am sure the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to our former colleague Paul Flynn. He was an outstanding parliamentarian and a tireless campaigner, and he championed his constituency of Newport West, and Wales, with energy and enthusiasm for over 30 years. Paul spent the vast majority of his career as a Back Bencher and wrote a helpful guide in his book “Commons Knowledge: How to be a Backbencher”, before being made shadow Leader of the House and shadow Secretary of State for Wales. But of course he will be remembered for one of the great parliamentary quotes. When he left Labour’s Front Bench in 2016, he said:
“Our glorious leader, in an act of pioneering diversity, courageously decided to give opportunities for geriatrics on the Front Bench and this was so successful that he decided to create opportunities for geriatrics on the Back Bench. I’m double blessed.”
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
May I add my tribute to the words of the Prime Minister for my former constituency neighbour, friend and Welsh Labour colleague Paul Flynn? He was a remarkable man. He will go down as one of the great parliamentarians of the past 40 years and was an inspiration to many of us. He once gave me a copy of that book when I was a teenager, so he must have seen something in me, Mr Speaker. I am rebellious, although maybe not quite as rebellious as him. He was a great man and he will be missed by all of us.
In the midst of political crisis, it is ever more important that we put our country first. With thousands of jobs at risk and our international reputation in question, will the Prime Minister now stop playing Russian roulette, rule out no deal, and put a deal back to the British people so they can have the final say?
First of all, the hon. Gentleman knows there are two ways in which it is possible to ensure that we do not see no deal. One is to stay in the European Union, which is not what the referendum result said, and the other is to agree a deal. What I am working on at the moment is taking the view of this House of Commons about the concerns on the backstop in the deal and working with Brussels to resolve that issue, such that this House will be able to agree a deal.
I think this is a very important issue that everybody in this House should take seriously. I never thought I would see the day when Jewish people in this country were concerned about their future in this country, and I never thought I would see the day when a once-proud Labour party was accused of institutional antisemitism by a former Member of that party. It is incumbent on all of us in this House to ensure that we act against antisemitism wherever and however it occurs. It is racism and we should act against it.
May I start, Mr Speaker, by joining what you said on Monday in paying tribute to my friend and yours, Paul Flynn? He served in this House for over 30 years as the Member for Newport West. He was courageous; he was warm; he was witty. As the Prime Minister pointed out, he served briefly on the shadow Front Bench. When he came to his first shadow Cabinet meeting, he welcomed my
“diversity project to promote octogenarians”
to the shadow Cabinet. His book on how to become an MP is absolutely a must-read. He was respected all across the House and I think we are all going to miss his contributions, his wit and his wisdom. Our deepest condolences to his wife Sam and all his family, and to his wider family across Newport and Wales. He was a truly wonderful man and a great and dear friend.
I also hope that the House will join me in paying tribute to Baroness Falkender, who died earlier this month, and send our condolences to her friends and family. When Marcia served with distinction as political secretary to Harold Wilson, she was subjected to a long campaign of misogynistic smear and innuendo. She suffered a great deal as a result, and we should remember the great work that she did as political secretary to Harold Wilson.
The Prime Minister just responded to a question on antisemitism. I simply say this: antisemitism has no place whatsoever in any of our political parties, in our life, in our society—[Interruption.]
Mr Ellis, be quiet now and for the rest of the session. You used to practise as a barrister. You did not make those sorts of harrumphing noises in the courts; or if you did, no wonder you no longer practise there.
As I was saying, antisemitism has no place whatsoever in our society or in any of our political parties, and my own political party takes the strongest action to deal with antisemitism wherever it rears its head.
Last week, an EU official said the UK Government were only “pretending to negotiate”, adding that there was
“nothing on the table from the British side,”,
so with just 37 days to go, can the Prime Minister be clear about what she will actually be proposing today when she travels to Brussels?
Of course there are a number of meetings taking place in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary and the Attorney General were in Brussels earlier this week and had a constructive and positive meeting with officials in the European Commission on the issue of alternative arrangements and work on alternative arrangements. The issue that I am taking to Brussels is the one I have been speaking to EU leaders about over the last few days—that is, the concern that was expressed in this House about ensuring that we could not find ourselves in the current backstop indefinitely. There a number of ways, as I have identified on a number of occasions at this Dispatch Box, to deal with that. I have referenced the work on alternative arrangements. There are also the options of an end-date or a unilateral exit mechanism and legal work—what matters in all of this are legally binding changes that ensure that we address the concern that has been raised by this House. That is what I will be discussing with the European Commission and will continue to discuss with it and European Union leaders.
It sounds like it might be quite confusing for the European Union to understand exactly what the Prime Minister is turning up with, actually. She has had three groups of Back Benchers working on three proposals: first, to remove the backstop; secondly, to make the backstop time-limited; and thirdly, to give the UK the right to exit unilaterally. Which of these proposals is the Prime Minister negotiating for today: one, two or three?
The right hon. Gentleman points out that, as I just said in my response to his question—he could have listened to that answer, but I am happy to repeat it—there are a number of ways in which it is possible to address the issue that has been raised by this House of Commons. Work is being undertaken on those various issues. On the alternative arrangements, for example, the Commission has raised questions, particularly about the extent to which derogation from European Union law would be necessary to put those in place, and there is concern about being able to achieve that if we are going to leave in time. Nevertheless, we have agreed that a workstream will go forward on those matters. We are also exploring the other issues, but the point is a very simple one. It is not just a question of saying to the European Union, “Actually, this is just the one thing.” It is a question of sitting down with the European Union and finding a solution that is going to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland, that is going to ensure that we deal with the concern that has been raised here in this House of Commons and that is going to enable a deal to be brought back to this House of Commons that it can support so that we leave on 29 March with a deal.
Last week, a Foreign Office Minister said categorically:
“We are not leaving without a deal”,
but sadly he does not speak for the Government. The Prime Minister’s Business Minister says he is
“very conscious of the damage that not ruling out a hard Brexit is having on business and industry”.
People’s jobs and livelihoods are in the Prime Minister’s hands. Will she stop playing games with people’s jobs and make it very clear that no deal is absolutely ruled out?
People’s jobs and futures are in the hands of every Member of this House. Once again, the right hon. Gentleman could have listened to an answer I gave earlier, to the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty). There are only two ways to take no deal off the table: one is to back a deal, the other is to revoke article 50 and stay in the EU. The right hon. Gentleman has refused to back a deal, so the obvious conclusion is that he must want to revoke article 50. He can stand up now and tell us what his policy is—is it to back the deal or to stay in the EU?
I did write the Prime Minister a very nice letter setting out our views. I am sure she received it and read it and I hope she will think on it.
It appears that the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) was right when he said last week that in the event that the Prime Minister’s deal does not succeed
“this Government…and this Prime Minister…would prefer to…head for the exit door without a deal”.—[Official Report, 14 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 1108.]
He went on to say that it was “a terrifying fact”. Thousands of car workers in Derby, Sunderland, Birmingham and Swindon are facing redundancy. Does that matter to the Prime Minister?
We have seen decisions taken by car manufacturers, and obviously Honda’s decision this week is deeply disappointing, but it has made it absolutely clear that this is not a Brexit-related decision, but a response to the change in the global car market. Of course jobs matter to the Government. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about jobs, perhaps he would like to change the habit of a lifetime and stand up at that Dispatch Box and welcome the excellent job figures we have seen this week under this Government.
The Prime Minister does not seem very interested in listening to those companies and industry bodies that are saying they need a customs union. When she talks about jobs, will she also talk about those doing two or three jobs to make ends meet, those on zero-hours contracts, those so low paid they have to access food banks just to survive and those suffering from in-work poverty—on her watch, under her Government?
Last year, investment in the car industry halved. Brexit uncertainty is already costing investment, and where investment is cut today, jobs are cut tomorrow. That uncertainty would not end even if the Prime Minister’s rejected deal somehow got through, because it promises only the certainty of a “spectrum” of possible outcomes. Will she see sense and offer business and workers the certainty of a customs union that could protect jobs and industry in this country?
What the right hon. Gentleman will also have heard from car manufacturers is their support for the deal the Government negotiated with the EU. If he wants to talk about jobs, I am very happy to talk about jobs, because what do we see in the latest figures? We see employment at a record high and unemployment at its lowest since the 1970s; we see that 96% of the increase in employment in the last year has come from full-time work; we see youth unemployment almost halved since 2010, and female employment is at a record high. [Interruption.] It is all very well shouting from the Front Bench, but let us look at Labour’s record in government. [Interruption.]
Order. Mr Lavery, calm yourself. You have applied to be a statesman, but there is an apprenticeship, and you have to undergo it, but it is not assisted by such sedentary ranting.
Let us look at Labour’s record in government on employment: unemployment rose by nearly half a million; female unemployment rose by 26%; youth unemployment rose by 44%; and the number of households where no one had ever worked nearly doubled. That is the record of a Labour Government under which working people pay the price of Labour.
Child poverty halved under the Labour Government. We invested in Sure Start—in children’s centres—and a future for young people. The Prime Minister should get out a bit more and hear the anger of so many young people around this country at what they are suffering under her Government and on her watch.
The chair of the manufacturers’ organisation Make UK said yesterday:
“I am saddened by the way that some of our politicians have put selfish political ideology ahead of the national interest and people’s livelihoods and left us facing the catastrophic prospect of leaving the EU next month with no deal”.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the Food and Drink Federation, the National Farmers Union and the CBI all want a disastrous no deal ruled out. Along with the TUC, many also support the UK being in a permanent customs union.
There is a little over a month to go and the Government have failed to put the country first. There is the crisis of jobs going and industries under threat, and the Prime Minister indulges in what her own Business Minister calls “fanciful nonsense”. When is she going to put the interests of the people of this country before the interests of the Conservative party?
The right hon. Gentleman has consistently put his party political interest ahead of the national interest. We can take no deal off the table by agreeing a deal, yet at every stage he has acted to frustrate a deal. He has acted to make no deal more likely, but that is not surprising from this Labour party. What do we see from his Labour party? Hamas and Hezbollah are friends, and Israel and the United States are enemies; Hatton a hero, and Churchill a villain. Attlee and Bevan will be spinning in their graves. That is what the right hon. Gentleman has done to a once-proud Labour party. We will never let him do it to our country.
My right hon. Friend will know from Shelter that many people in receipt of benefits are blocked from renting in the private sector. These people are often carers or have a disability. I know that No. 10 is working with Shelter to resolve this problem. Will the Prime Minister give all her officials her support to resolve this pressing issue?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. We are working with Shelter. I urge that work to go ahead to a fruitful conclusion. Stuart Carroll, one my local councillors, has raised this issue with me and has come in to work with No. 10. It is an important issue and we are working on it to find a satisfactory resolution soon.
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on the sad death of Paul Flynn? He will be missed by many, and thoughts and prayers are with Sam and his family. He was a unique and truly gifted parliamentarian. It was a pleasure to serve on a Committee with him and it was a pleasure to have known him.
Westminster is broken. We are in the middle of a constitutional crisis and on the brink of a Brexit disaster, yet this place is at war with itself. The Tories and the Labour party are imploding. Scotland deserves better. We need a way out. Time is running out. Will this House get to vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal next week, and if not, when?
Obviously, we are in discussions with the European Union and will bring a vote back when it is possible to bring a deal back that deals with the issue that the House of Commons has raised. We have listened to the House of Commons. We are working on the views of the House with the European Union, and we will bring a vote back when it is the right time to do so.
Quite simply, that is not good enough. Time is running out. Three and a half thousand jobs have been lost from Honda; the NFU says that a no-deal Brexit is the “stuff of nightmares”; and 100,000 jobs in Scotland are under threat. Prime Minister, you are bringing the UK economy to its knees. How many warnings, how many jobs and how many resignations will it take for the Prime Minister to stop this madness? If you do not act, Prime Minister, Scotland will.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we see debt down, the deficit down, jobs up, taxes down—oh, taxes down not in Scotland of course, where the SNP is putting taxes up. He says it is not good enough, but I will tell him what is not good enough: it is an SNP that wants to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom, knowing full well that being a member of the United Kingdom is worth £1,400 every year for each person in Scotland. He talks about damaging the economy; the only people who are going to damage the economy in Scotland are sitting on the SNP Benches.
It is an important message for us to give that we are very clear that we will take action against those who are involved in terrorism. Obviously, each Home Secretary deals with the question of deprivation on a number of occasions; I dealt with deprivation cases myself, and there is a very clear set of criteria on which the Home Secretary considers that matter. But the overall point my hon. Friend makes is absolutely right: how important it is for this Government and this country to make it very clear that we will take action against those who are involved in terrorism.
The hon. Lady has raised a particular case about Heidi, her constituent, and obviously I am sorry to hear that Heidi is in these circumstances. On the question of the drugs and treatments that are available, obviously we have a robust independent process through the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence reviews to look at new medicines that are possible, and this is the case with Spinraza. I am pleased that Biogen has, as I understand it, submitted a revised submission for the NICE appraisal committee to consider and a meeting has been arranged for 6 March when those recommendations will be considered.
All parliamentarians should be horrified that any human being would spend the night sleeping on a pavement. In that regard, will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity, following the visit from the relevant Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler), to acknowledge that Southend-on-Sea Borough Council together with its associated bodies has reduced rough sleeping by 85%, and that that is another reason why Southend should become a city? And will the Government do all they can to address issues of alcohol abuse and mental health?
First, well done to my hon. Friend for once again getting in his bid for Southend to be a city. He raises very important issues; we are addressing the issues of alcoholism and mental health, and of course these are often connected when people find themselves homeless or rough sleeping. I am happy to congratulate Southend council on the work it has done to reduce rough sleeping in its area. I am pleased to say that the rough sleeping initiative which the Government have introduced, where we are working with the local authorities with the highest levels of rough sleeping, has seen rough sleeping falling by 23% in those areas, so action is being taken and that is having an impact. Of course there is more to do, and we focus on those issues that underlie the problems that those who find themselves rough sleeping are experiencing.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has heard me respond to a similar issue before. We have repeatedly called on private building owners not to pass costs on to leaseholders, and as a result of our interventions, 216 owners have either started, completed or have commitments in place to remediate. Fifty are not co-operating, but we are maintaining pressure on them and we rule nothing out. We have established a taskforce to oversee the remediation of private sector buildings, and it is actively working to do just that.
Sometimes our public services fail to provide our military personnel, our veterans or their families with the support that they need, and they have nowhere to take their case for arbitration. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss my campaign to create an armed forces ombudsman, so that those who have served our country will know that they are valued?
First, I thank my hon. Friend for the way in which she has worked to champion the armed forces covenant and the interests of the armed forces. Of course we should all recognise the sacrifice and dedication of our armed forces and the work that they do for us, day in and day out. I would be very happy to meet her to discuss her proposal.
Of course the Government have taken action in relation to the issue of medicinal cannabis, but the important thing is that decisions are taken on the basis of clinical evidence by those who are best able to take those decisions, rather than by Ministers. A process has been put in place to ensure that, where there are cases, those cases are looked at very carefully and that decisions are properly taken by the clinicians who are best placed to do so.
The Home Secretary is to be congratulated on his swift and decisive action in removing British citizenship from Shamima Begum, but the fact remains that, of the 900 British nationals who have gone to support Daesh fighting against British armed forces in Iraq and Syria, only 40 have been prosecuted. With 400 of those individuals set to return to this country in the near future, will the Prime Minister revisit the provisions of the Treason Act to ensure that these appalling activities receive suitable and just punishment?
Obviously, our priority is to ensure safety and security here in the UK. We also recognise that anyone who has travelled to Syria not only puts themselves in considerable danger but potentially poses a serious national security risk. Any British citizen who returns from taking part in the conflict must be in no doubt that they will be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted. It is right that we follow that process, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will accept that one of the issues in looking at prosecution is ensuring that there is evidence to enable a prosecution to take place. Decisions on how people are dealt with are taken on a case-by-case basis, to ensure that the most appropriate action is taken. We are ensuring that, in every decision, we put the protection and safety of the public first.
If the right hon. Gentleman is so concerned about ensuring that we do not leave the European Union without a deal, he has a simple route through this, which is to back the deal that the Government bring back from the European Union.
Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to my late old friend Steve Dymond, a haemophiliac who was infected by contaminated blood? He fought for over 20 years, showing great bravery and resilience, and was supported throughout by his wife Su. He was grateful when the Langstaff inquiry was set up, so does the Prime Minister agree that it is vital that all the NHS documents and medical notes that the inquiry may need are made available so that it can be fully comprehensive?
I join my right hon. and learned Friend in paying tribute to Steve Dymond. The contaminated blood scandal was an appalling tragedy that should never have happened, and it is vital that the victims who have suffered so much and their families get the answers and justice they deserve, for which, as we all know, they have waited decades. I am assured by the Department of Health and Social Care that it has already sent thousands of documents to the inquiry and will send more when necessary, but we are committed to being open and transparent with the inquiry and have waived the usual legal privileges to assist the process. It is important that the inquiry is able to get to the truth.
This is a Government who are ensuring that we are working across the whole country and that we are delivering an economy for everyone across the whole country. The hon. Gentleman talks about billions of pounds in relation to the north, but he may just want to reflect on the £13 billion being put into transport in the north of this country.
Will the Prime Minister join me welcoming Councillor Anne Meadows, who has today left the Labour party in Brighton and Hove City Council, crossing the floor to join the Conservatives, who are now the largest group on the council? Councillor Meadows left the Labour party because of the rise of antisemitism and bullying that she and her colleagues have experienced from Momentum activists—so much so that only seven of the 23 councillors will be standing again in May. Does the Prime Minister agree that antisemitism is rife throughout the whole Labour party?
I agree with my hon. Friend. As she says, Anne Meadows, a long-serving Labour councillor on Brighton and Hove City Council, has today chosen to leave Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party and join the Conservatives, due to the bullying and antisemitism that she has received from Momentum and the hard left. That is the harsh reality that decent, moderate Labour councillors are having to face every day, due to Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to stand up to bullying and racism in his party. We welcome Councillor Meadows into the Conservative party with open arms, and I am sure that she will be an excellent Conservative councillor.
The hon. Lady will recognise that I am not able to respond to the individual details of the case at the Dispatch Box, but I will ensure that the Department for Work and Pensions and the relevant Minister look at the case and respond to her.
Improving mental healthcare has rightly become a priority for the Government, but are the Government doing anything to improve the mental health situation of hard-pressed NHS staff who deserve support?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Our dedicated NHS staff, day in and day out, are delivering an unwavering commitment in caring for us all, and obviously it is necessary that we ensure their mental health is looked after. We are setting up a dedicated mental health support service, which will offer NHS staff confidential advice and support 24 hours a day. It will be staffed by qualified professionals who have had training in situations that are unique to the NHS and will ensure that mental health referrals for NHS employees, from either a general practitioner or an occupational health clinician, are fast-tracked. It is right that mental and physical wellbeing is at the forefront of our health service, and it is right that we are taking this action to support our dedicated NHS staff.
I am sure the hon. Lady will look forward to working well with the largest group on Brighton and Hove City Council, which is now the Conservative group. She raises the issue of education funding, and she refers to answers I have given in the past. We have been putting more funding into education, and we have been doing it in a number of ways. We have announced extra support, as she says, for children with complex special educational needs, and that is building on the £6 billion in place for it this year—the highest level on record. She says it is not enough, but it is the highest level on record. We are also putting money into new school places and better facilities for children with special educational needs.
Communities across the country are installing defibrillators. The village of Brompton in my constituency has one in a former telephone box that is a stone’s throw away from the main road but is not directly visible from it. Does the Prime Minister think it is a good idea to have a nationally approved defibrillator road sign so that these lifesaving devices can be quickly accessed in the event of an emergency?
I commend the action being taken in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, and I see the same action being taken in my constituency, with people ensuring that defibrillators are available. He raises a very interesting point, and I will ask the Department for Transport to look at it seriously.
This issue is close to the heart of many Members, and it is particularly close to the heart of the hon. Gentleman. I know that he met Ministers to discuss this issue last year. Officials in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are undertaking a short, focused internal review of provision for parents of premature, sick and multiple babies to obtain an understanding of the barriers to participating in the labour market. They are working with organisations such as Bliss, the Smallest Things and the Twins and Multiple Births Association to better understand these issues, and they have held focus groups with a number of parents. They have offered to discuss their conclusions with those interested parties in due course, and I am sure that they will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this in taking it forward.
The Prime Minister will be aware that the British Army has engaged in a recruitment campaign in Commonwealth countries. However, only after soldiers have signed up for minimum four-year contracts do they find out that they are not allowed to bring their children to this country. Given that these brave women and men are prepared to put their lives on the line for us and our country, I hope that she will agree that this needs to be looked into urgently. Will she therefore kindly agree to meet me and others concerned to see how this matter can be progressed?
I am aware of the issue that my hon. Friend has raised. I am told by the Ministry of Defence that it does make sure that information is available to individuals about what their situation will be. This matter is not just of concern to the MOD; obviously, the issue of the immigration rules rests with the Home Office as well. I will certainly meet him to discuss this issue.
I recognise the importance of buses to our communities. We have been spending £250 million every year to keep fares down and maintain an extensive network. The hon. Gentleman might like to know that since 2010 we have seen 10,000 new routes across the north and midlands, and live local bus services registered have increased by 15% in just the past two years.
Paul Flynn was, in his time, a valued member of the United Kingdom delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and I know that colleagues on both sides of the House who serve on that body would like to join others in expressing our condolences to his family.
My armed forces constituents will be pleased to know that, with effect from the start of this year, ex-servicemen and women will receive ID cards. Will my right hon. Friend join me in expressing the hope that, in time, that card will become a passport to public recognition of some of the bravest and finest in our country?
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the ex-forces community and we are working hard, as my hon. Friend has indicated, to ensure that they receive the support they deserve. As he says, any personnel who have left the military since December 2018 will automatically be given one of these new ID cards, which will allow them to maintain a tangible link to their career in the forces. As the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who has responsibility for defence people and veterans, said:
“These new cards celebrate the great commitment and dedication of those who have served this country, and I hope they can provide a further link to ex-personnel and the incredible community around them.”
I hope that they will, as my hon. Friend says, be a sign of the incredible valour that those ex-servicemen and women have shown.
In 2017, during the election, we learned what the Prime Minister’s definition of “strong and stable” was. As our automotive industry disintegrates before our eyes, as investment is put on hold and as growth slows, are we now learning what the Prime Minister’s definition of “smooth and orderly Brexit” is?
I say to the hon. Lady, as I say to every Member of this House, that there will come a further point, in this Chamber, when every Member will have a decision to take on whether we want to ensure that we deliver on the vote of the referendum—most Members stood on a manifesto to do that—by leaving the EU with a deal. That will be a decision for all Members of this House. I know where I stand: I believe we should be leaving with a deal. I hope that the hon. Lady agrees.
Leaving the EU: Economic Impact of Proposed Deal
(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on the economic impact of her Government’s proposed deal for the UK exiting the EU.
At the end of November, the Government published our analysis that assessed the economic impact of leaving the European Union. It not only included an analysis of the Government’s negotiating position, as set out in the July 2018 White Paper, but went further still and considered three other scenarios: a free trade agreement, a European economic area-type relationship, and a no-deal scenario.
Specifically, the analysis showed that the outcomes for the proposed future UK-EU relationship would deliver significantly higher economic output—about seven percentage points higher—than the no-deal scenario, which would result in lower economic activity in all sector groups of the economy compared with the White Paper scenario. That is why we should pass the deal, to avoid no deal and support jobs and the UK economy.
In publishing the work, the Government delivered on their commitment to provide an appropriate level of analysis to Parliament. In addition, the House has had plenty of opportunity to debate both the analysis and the deal that is on the table. As the Prime Minister has said, we will bring a revised deal back to the House for a second meaningful vote as soon as we possibly can.
In the meantime, it is right that that the Government are afforded the flexibility and space to continue our negotiations. That is because the agreement of the political declaration will be followed by negotiations on the legal text. The UK and the EU recognise that that means there could be a spectrum of different outcomes. We need to approach the negotiations with as much strength as possible. The focus must now be on the future, planning and prioritising that which matters.
Let me remind the House that we will have an implementation period, a new close relationship with the EU and, crucially, the ability to strike trade deals around the world. We are bringing back control over our money, borders and laws to mould a prosperous and ambitious new path for our country, and on our terms. No matter what approach we take, the UK economy will continue to be strong and grow into the future.
With respect to the Minister, this was of course a question to the Prime Minister, and it is the Prime Minister who should be answering. This is a matter of the utmost importance, because this House is going to be asked to vote on the Prime Minister’s deal. The specific question I asked was about the economic analysis that the Government have done on their deal. It is quite clear from the Minister’s answer that the Government have done no analysis on this deal. On arguably the most important matter that this House has voted on since the second world war, we do not have an economic impact assessment from the Government. It is, once again, this Conservative Government treating this House and the United Kingdom with contempt. It is a disgrace that the Government have continued to duck and dive in respect of their responsibilities.
Economists are clear: the Prime Minister’s deal is set to hit GDP, the public finances and living standards. Analysis published by the London School of Economics estimates that
“the Brexit deal could reduce UK GDP per capita by between 1.9% and 5.5% in ten years’ time, compared to remaining in the EU.”
The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has warned that
“if the government’s proposed Brexit deal is implemented, then GDP in the longer term will be around 4 per cent lower than it would have been had the UK stayed in the EU.”
Bank of England analysis states the UK Government’s deal will raise unemployment by 4% and inflation by 2%. The Prime Minister is running feart of the truth, with her Government refusing to admit the damage that her deal will do.
The Government cannot claim that their November document covers their deal. Let us look at the facts. Page 17 of the Treasury analysis looks at the modelled average free trade agreement and states:
“As such, it does not seek to define or model a bespoke agreement.”
But the Prime Minister tells us she has a bespoke deal. The Treasury analysis continues:
“This scenario is not indicative of government policy, as it would not meet UK objectives including avoiding a hard border”
in Northern Ireland.
There we have it in black and white: the Treasury analysis conducted last year does not account for the Prime Minister’s deal. So, I say to the Government, where is the analysis? MPs continue to be expected to vote on the proposed deal without the Government explaining the economic consequences. That is the height of irresponsibility.
The deal would be a disaster for Scotland, taking us out of the EU single market and customs union. We know that up to 100,000 jobs in Scotland are under threat. The Government are sticking their head in the sand. Everyone knows this Government are bringing our economy to its knees. We cannot allow the Tories to drive us off the cliff edge.
No Government can be allowed to bring forward a vote on such a significant matter without an economic assessment. It must be published. Shame on the Prime Minister if she fails to protect our economy; shame on those on the Government Benches if they allow businesses to collapse and jobs to be lost; and shame on any MP, including the Leader of the Opposition, if they march through the Lobby to deliver a deal that secures economic catastrophe.
No Member should believe that there is a binary choice; there is not. This is not a choice of no deal or this deal. Both are bad. Both will plunge our economy into an unmitigated disaster.
Order. Before I ask the Minister to apply, I very generously did not interrupt the flow of the right hon. Gentleman’s eloquence—or, indeed, for that matter the eloquence of his flow. However, by way of a public information notice, may I say to the House—this is not directed particularly at the right hon. Gentleman, as I have seen this burgeoning phenomenon in recent times—that an urgent question is supposed to be that, not an urgent oration? With whatever rhetorical force and insistence it is delivered, it is supposed to be a question and I have noticed over recent times an increasing tendency on the part of Members who have secured such an opportunity, through the courtesy of the Chair, to launch into a lengthy preamble, sometimes constituting the entirety of their remarks.
For future reference, because in future I will have to cut people off if they abuse the parameters, however inadvertently, it is supposed to be a question; a sentence of preamble is one thing, but thereafter a Member should put a series of inquiries to the Minister on the Treasury Bench. We will leave it there for now. The right hon. Gentleman has made his point, but I know that he will not misbehave again.
I thank the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) for his vociferous oration, but vociferous orations are no substitute for the facts. Let me remind him of some of the facts in respect of the points he made. He says that we have made no analysis of the impact of these arrangements on the United Kingdom economy, and that is simply not the case. The information we have come forward with is a robust analysis of the future outcomes of the four different scenarios that we consider in that analysis. He levels the charge that we are in some way treating the United Kingdom with contempt, and that is certainly not the case. The House has been very deeply preoccupied with matters of Brexit and the nature of how we might exit the European Union, and the Prime Minister has set out that there will be further debate this time next week to be followed, in the event that we do not pass a meaningful vote, with another amendable motion to be considered by the House.
The right hon. Gentleman also says that the deal, as he terms it, would have a negative impact on the UK economy. The analysis clearly shows that, under every single scenario it analyses, it is better to have this deal than no deal or any of the alternatives. Finally, he decried the fact that we had not put forward a bespoke deal for analysis within our analysis, and that illustrates his lack of understanding of what the future political declaration is all about, which is a range of possible outcomes. That is entirely what the analysis models.
It is perfectly obvious to all those involved in the negotiations, both the British negotiators and the EU negotiators, that if Britain were to leave the EU with no deal, it would be disastrous for the British economy in the medium to long term and extremely damaging to the economies of many EU countries, particularly those nearest the UK. Does the Minister accept that it is rather silly to think that it is useful in these negotiations to take up the simplistic view that we must pretend we are threatening to leave with no deal to improve our bargaining position? Will he reassure me that the negotiations are proceeding on the basis that both sides know that they do not want no deal and that they are therefore trying to limit the damaging consequences of risking that? What we should really pursue is retaining the benefits of the customs union and the single market and continued free trade with our largest customer in the world, as it will always be, as is being urged on us by every industrial leader in this country.
My right hon. and learned Friend is entirely right that no deal would be a very unsatisfactory outcome. Of course, what the House will appreciate is that the only way to avoid a no deal is to secure a deal. That is why the Prime Minister will shortly return to Brussels to have further discussions with the EU Commissioner, Jean-Claude Juncker, in pursuit of one.
For more than two years, businesses and trade unions have called for clarity about the Government’s Brexit deal, and for two years there has been nothing but delay and a total lack of clarity. What has been clear from the wide range of independent analyses that we have received is that the Government’s Brexit deal is not good news for our economy. Even the Government’s own modelling said that the economy would be nearly 4% smaller if the Government’s deal was agreed, equivalent to £83 billion if it happened today. It is no surprise that the Prime Minister’s deal has struggled to command any widespread support, leading to the largest ever defeat in the House of Commons.
The climate of uncertainty created by the Government’s Brexit blundering, particularly their refusal to take no deal of the table, led first to businesses delaying investment decisions. Now, decisions are being taken, but as a result of the uncertainty and insecurity created by the Government, those decisions are to cut investment and jobs. The result, as the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, told us this month, is that business investment in 2018 fell by 3.7% in year-on-year terms.
Let us go through some of those decisions. Jaguar Land Rover has cut 4,500 jobs, Ford cut 1,000 jobs in Bridgend and Honda’s Swindon closure, supposedly not related to Brexit, will mean that 3,500 will lose their employment. In financial services, HSBC has announced that it will move seven offices from London to Paris in 2019. Deutsche Bank has said that it is considering moving 75% of its balance sheet from London to Frankfurt.
This is not just about Brexit. It is about how the Government have failed to produce an economic plan that tackles our productivity crisis and increases investment for the long term. They are a Government putting our economy at risk through failed economic management and failing to secure a Brexit deal that would protect jobs and the economy.
May I ask the Financial Secretary first, what happened to the promise of frictionless trade? Secondly, where is the detail businesses need about the promised customs arrangements? Thirdly, can the Government tell us what mysterious technology will facilitate their proposed customs arrangements? Fourthly, why have the Government failed even to mention the issue of intellectual property protections in the future partnership agreement? Finally, will the Government confirm that there has been a dilution of protections from road hauliers and passenger transport operators since the earlier Chequers commitments?
It is the role of the Government’s Treasury team, above all others, to stand up to protect our economy. It is as though the Chancellor has simply gone missing. The Government have run out of time. We cannot wait any longer for the answers we need and the country cannot wait any longer for the answers it deserves.
The hon. Gentleman accuses Government Members of having a lack of clarity on the issues around Brexit. I find that slightly rich coming from the Labour Front Bench, given that the position of the Leader of the Opposition has flip-flopped as to whether to be in or out of the customs union, and whether or not to honour the pledge that he appeared to make at his party conference for a second referendum, which appears to have been parked now. It seems to me that the Opposition are trying to ride at least two horses on this issue, if not more, and we know what happens if you do that, Mr Speaker—it tends to get rather painful in the end, as we are perhaps seeing in more recent events.
The hon. Gentleman refers to the parliamentary defeat that the Government suffered more recently. He chose to overlook the fact that the House did unite around a particular way forward, and that is to seek changes to the backstop arrangements. That is now the main focus of the negotiations that are continuing in Brussels. He referred to various impacts of employers’ decisions and changes, and the impact on the economy and employment, which gives me a good opportunity to remind him of some facts. As a country, we have about the highest level of employment in our history; we have the lowest level of unemployment since the mid-1970s; and we have halved youth unemployment since 2010. Lest it be forgotten, every Labour Government in history have always left office with unemployment higher than it was when they entered office.
Will the Treasury issue a codicil or a clarification of its economic forecasts, looking at what happens if we leave in March under the managed World Trade Organisation model, when we spend the £39 billion-plus of the withdrawal agreement on boosting public services and boosting our economy at home? We are bound to be better off—is that not true?
It is important to recognise that the modelling is on the basis of the status quo, so the model would not take into account factors of the kind that my right hon. Friend has raised, or indeed changes in productivity or trade flows and other factors. It will be for individual Members to assess the specific issues that he raised, in that context.
Things have come to a pretty pass when here we are, 37 days from Brexit, and the House of Commons is actually discussing which of several options—all of them economically damaging—we should choose for the future of our country’s economy. Since it is the Government’s policy that they are planning for a no-deal Brexit, could the Minister explain to the House what possible justification there is for that? Given that their own economic assessment shows that it would have the most damaging impact on the British economy, how could such an act of economic self-harm ever be justified?
What the right hon. Gentleman overlooks is that whilst he is absolutely right that no deal, in essence, is something to be avoided, and indeed is not in the interests either of the United Kingdom or of the European Union, that is not the same thing as saying that we should be reckless and not make sure that we are prepared for it, should it happen. That is precisely what we are doing.
Will the Financial Secretary undertake to publish to the House, in good time for the meaningful vote, the decisions that he and his colleagues are currently taking on the tariffs that would apply in the event of no deal, including which industries would be protected, at what rate, and what the impact would be on prices?
Tariff policy in the event of no deal is clearly something that we are heavily engaged with. My right hon. Friend rightly identifies the aspects or elements of tariffs that relate to protecting domestic producers, and that of course will be a very important part of the considerations that we are undertaking at the moment. We will come to the House in due course with the details of those tariffs.
Brexit uncertainty is one of several factors contributing to the crisis in the car industry, which previous Governments—Conservative, Labour and coalition—did so much to promote. What assurances have the Government had from Toyota, BMW and Vauxhall that they are not going to follow the pattern of disinvestment that we are now seeing?
I think the right hon. Gentleman’s question would be most appropriately directed to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as to the specifics of the companies that he listed. Honda, a company that has already been mentioned in this respect, has made it clear that its decision to leave the United Kingdom is not a consequence of Brexit; it is more to do with international changes around cars and the position of diesel, and of course the deal that Japan has struck on zero tariffs in a few years’ time for exports from Japan to the European Union.
What would be the economic impact of membership of a customs union where access to our market was conceded to a third party without any reciprocal arrangement of our access to theirs?
My right hon. Friend asks a specific, interesting question, which prompts many other questions on exactly the form of the model that he is postulating. The important thing, when it comes to access to our markets in future, is that we have a tariff policy that protects domestic producers in our economy where they require protection, and ensures that our trade remedy regime is robust, so that we can prevent the dumping of products into the UK market, and also is sufficiently liberalised such that the cost savings that would accrue from liberalised tariffs are there for the benefit both of consumers and those who use those products in their production processes within the UK market.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) is not in her place to ask this question herself. Last week, she withdrew her amendment asking the Government to publish their papers on the impact of no deal. Will the Government still hold to their promise, even though she has defected from the Tory party?
The analysis that the hon. Lady refers to is contained in the cross-Government analysis that we are discussing as part of this urgent question.
As the Treasury’s forecasts before the referendum were woefully inaccurate, and the Office for Budget Responsibility was set up specifically to stop politicised reports coming out, would it not be better to consult a newspaper horoscope than Treasury forecasts?
I hate to disappoint my hon. Friend, ingenious and amusing though his question is, but I should point out just one fallacy in the premise of his question: these are not forecasts.
In the search for a withdrawal agreement that we can all support, can the Minister now confirm that the draft proposals have been put forward to Europe that would make a legally binding textual change to the withdrawal agreement?
We have made it clear that our ambition is to strike an amended deal with the European Union, so that we put beyond doubt the issue of how permanent or otherwise the backstop arrangements might be. I am not in a position to comment on the specifics of the ongoing negotiations because I am not intimately involved with them.
We know, of course, that the economic impact assessment on the Chequers deal showed that there would be no impact on growth in Scotland. However, does the Minister agree that nationalists have made it very clear that they will accept no deal that is put on the table, and—as I know, the Minister knows, my constituents know and businesses in Scotland know—this is all just to cause the ultimate chaos to pave the way for independence?
The analysis shows that in all the scenarios being considered, including no deal, a deal based on the 2018 White Paper will give a better result for our economy for every sector, for every region and for every country—including Scotland—of the United Kingdom.
As the Chairman of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union said, today is D minus 37, so in some five weeks from today we will have honoured the wishes of 17.4 million UK citizens and left the European Union. Military veterans living in Cyprus will also be affected by some of these changes, not least because we recently signed a double taxation treaty with the Cypriot Government. The Minister personally intervened in that negotiation, to allow a five-year transition period for military veterans receiving state pensions to have longer to adjust. He played a blinder and honoured the covenant, and on their behalf I thank him today for everything he did to look after them.
I sincerely thank my right hon. Friend for his extremely kind words. As ever, he is too modest. It was not my effort alone that secured the result that we achieved for those very important veterans in Cyprus—he raised the issue, brought it to my attention in Committee, and worked hard with me to make sure that we achieved the right, just and desired outcome.
Of course, the economic effects are already being felt. I have spoken to businesses in my constituency that have gone from profit to loss and others that have cut investment. This week I spoke to Cardiff University, which cited Brexit as a factor in the job losses that it has proposed. This is very serious, so does the Minister accept that we need to get serious? Ministers know that no deal would be a catastrophe. They know that every single Brexit would lead to a worse economic outcome for this country, so do they accept that the issue needs to go back to the people so that they can decide, based on the facts?
If I may summarise, the hon. Gentleman makes the point that uncertainty is not good for business. He is entirely right, and that is all the more reason why we should get behind the deal, and get it sorted. We would then have an implementation period in which nothing would change until the end of 2020. The businesses in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency to which he referred could then begin to increase employment and invest with confidence.
There are a great many voices in the international investor community that have made it clear that the underlying fundamentals of the British economy remain sound, but they warn that we are in a period in which investment decisions have been put on hold, and trade deals are in abeyance. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the single most important thing that we can do right now to unlock new investment in the economy is to pass the deal?
My right hon. Friend hits the nail firmly on the head. What we must do to move from uncertainty to a situation in which we can begin to concentrate on negotiating our future relationship with the European Union while everything remains stable and the same until the end of 2020 is to pass the deal as he suggests.
The fundamental problem with the British Government’s policy as it stands is that the deal offers certainty only for the duration of the transition period. Owing to the chaos in the Conservative party, is it not the case that all the deal does is move the cliff edge to the end of the transition phase?
No, not at all. The deal would, first, resolve the three critical issues on which the withdrawal agreement focuses: the Northern Ireland-Ireland border; the situation as it relates to EU and UK citizens; and the financial arrangements that we will enter into as we leave the European Union. Critically, it would give us time to put into effect the political declaration, which is the other part of what has been negotiated, until the end of 2020.
With the Scottish economy growing at half the rate of the rest of the United Kingdom, can my right hon. Friend offer any advice on economic growth to the Government north of the border?
My advice, although I doubt very much that the Scottish National party will take much advice from me, is, first, get behind the deal and let us get certainty and increase investment; and secondly, accept the result of the 2014 referendum, stay with the United Kingdom and do not end up in a situation that creates a border between the country of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
In response to the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, the Minister said that it would be reckless of the Government not to plan for no deal. However, the detailed work of the Public Accounts Committee has clearly shown that the Government are not prepared for no deal and are woefully prepared for a deal. Would not the responsible thing be to delay any exit or extend the transition period and take stock, and make sure that the D-minus-37 uncertainty that is hanging over our country is resolved? It is too late just to pass the deal—uncertainty is now built in.
I do not accept that we are not adequately prepared or are not deeply preparing for the possibility of no deal. This work has been going on for many months, and in far greater depth than many people appreciate. In my area of ministerial responsibility, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and borders, we have staffed up, and we have 4,500 more personnel ready for this work. There will be over 5,000 in place by 29 March. We have engaged with stakeholders across the piece by making sure that we have the most facilitated possible customs arrangements in place, particularly in respect of the short straits crossing—Dover and Calais—and so on. An immense amount of work has been carried out.
In considering the economic impact of the proposed deal, has the Minister reflected on the key drivers of economic performance and the policies that we decide domestically—on productivity, business structure and tax structure? We need only look at what the SNP is doing in Scotland to realise where we could go wrong.
I will not be drawn into the Scottish National party again, but I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right—fundamentally, the way in which we manage the economy is one of the most important things that we do as a Government, which is why we have record levels of employment and the lowest level of unemployment since 1975. It is why we have halved youth unemployment since 2010, reduced the debt and have reduced the deficit by 80%, and it is why the economy is moving in the right direction.
As many of my hon. Friends have said, all credible economic analysis shows that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for the economy. The draft withdrawal agreement would be only slightly less disastrous for the economy. Given that the report published by the Resolution Foundation today predicts an increase in child poverty of 6% by 2023—that is equivalent to an additional 1 million children living in poverty since 2016—what are the Minister’s estimates of the additional effect on child poverty of no deal or the draft withdrawal agreement?
Absolute poverty is at a record low. The Government have an enviable record of helping those who require work to get into work, and I have outlined at length our success in that area. We have made sure that work pays with the benefit system and our roll-out of universal credit. Underpinning the hon. Lady’s question is a denial of the result of the 2016 referendum. The country made a decision to leave, and on that basis the decision has to be whether we have a sensible deal, as we have negotiated, or whether perhaps we end up with no deal, which I think the vast majority of Members in the House would not want to happen.
My right hon. Friend knows, and the people of Scotland know, that the SNP Government, by their refusal to contemplate any form of withdrawal agreement whatsoever, are deliberately dragging Scotland to a no-deal situation—a crisis of their making—which they would use as a platform to demand independence. What possible excuse, to the best of my right hon. Friend’s knowledge, does the First Minister of Scotland have for not attending the Prime Minister’s Brexit cabinets?
It is for the First Minister of Scotland to answer on the reasons why she attends functions and to deal with the points that my hon. Friend made. There is no doubt that this is a matter that affects the entire United Kingdom, including Scotland. I believe that the vast majority of us in the House wish to avoid a no-deal Brexit. The Scottish National party could play a pivotal role in helping us to do so by supporting the negotiated deal.
It is no secret that the Government’s deal will hit people’s livelihoods and jobs, along with economic growth. All credible economic analysis says that a no-deal Brexit would have a devastating effect. With just 37 days to go, does the Minister agree that we need to get serious and that we need to consider extending article 50?
The hon. Lady urges us to get serious. We have been extremely serious in negotiating a deal with the European Union for a considerable amount of time, and we continue to engage in that endeavour. She is absolutely right to say that most of us in this House wish to avoid no deal, but the way to do that is by Opposition and Government Members uniting and making sure that we avoid no deal and have a good deal for our country.
We know that the Government have done no economic impact analysis of the proposed deal, but has the Minister done an economic analysis of the failure of the Secretary of State for International Trade to secure the 40 roll-over trade deals the he promised would be signed one minute after 11 o’clock on 29 March?
The right hon. Gentleman says that we have done no analysis of the deal, as he refers to it, but as he knows, the deal is actually the political declaration, which inherently will include a range of particular possible outcomes for that deal. That is modelled in the sensitivity analysis that we have brought forward to Parliament. [Interruption.]
Order. Mr Seely, sit down young man. It is very discourteous. The Father of the House comes in—[Interruption.] Order. Do not sit there looking at your phone, man. I am speaking to you. Show some respect and manners in the Chamber.
No, I do not need the hon. Gentleman to get up. Remain seated and behave with courtesy. What on earth has got into you?
As the Minister will know, 23% of all the European funding that comes to the UK goes to Wales. He said that discussions on the shared prosperity fund would start before Christmas; I wonder whether he has played any part in that. Leave campaigners said that Wales would not be a penny worse off if we left the European Union, so will the Minister set out how the fund will work and who will make decisions to ensure that the Welsh economy does not tank if we are to have this botched Brexit deal?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we will set out those details in due course.
I am sorry, Mr Speaker.
It is not really a matter of order but very poor taste, and I expect somebody as culturally sophisticated as the hon. Gentleman to behave better than that.
The Scotch Whisky Association recently reported that the value of Scotch whisky exports to Mexico last year was £131.5 million—which is up 18.5% on 2017—and that Mexico is the fourth largest export market by volume for Scotch whisky. However, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) has confirmed by letter to the Procedure Committee that the Government
“do not…expect to replicate the existing Mexico spirits agreement in time for 29 March”.
What assessment has the Financial Secretary made of the impact that will have on geographic indicators for Scotch whisky and on the wider Scottish economy?
This Government totally understand and get the significant importance—not just to Scotland but to the entire United Kingdom—of Scotch whisky exports, which account for some 20% of all exports of food and drink from our country. That was also signalled in our recent Budget, which once again froze duty on Scotch whisky. The hon. Lady can rest assured that we will make sure that we do the right thing by Scotland’s most important export.
The Department’s assessment is that any form of Brexit will leave us worse off than if we stayed in the European Union. Will the Minister simply confirm that that is his Department’s view?
The analysis, quite rightly, does not assess staying in the European Union, and there is an obvious reason for that, which is that in June 2016 the country took the decision—17.4 million people voted—to leave the European Union, and that is an outcome that this Government will respect.
Will Operation Stack have to be replicated across all major ports in the event of no deal?
The hon. Lady can rest assured that an extensive amount of contingency planning has gone on, and will continue to go on, in terms of the arrangements that we may have to bring into force at our ports to make sure that goods keep flowing.
We have heard the usual nonsense of “SNP bad” from Conservative Members because we do not support this Government’s so-called deal. If the deal is so good, why are the UK Government not brave enough to take control and publish evidence on the financial impact? Has the Minister seen the Bank of England analysis that his deal will raise unemployment by 4% and inflation by 2%? If the UK Government do not agree with that analysis, why do they not disprove it by publishing their own evidence?
The hon. Gentleman says that we have not had the courage to produce an analysis of the deal, as he terms it, but we have done precisely that, as was required by this House, with a range of potential landing points for the deal set out in broad terms in the future political declaration. The Government have done just that.
The Father of the House knows better than others that Margaret Thatcher was instrumental in creating the single market and in encouraging Japanese companies to come here to platform into it. Given that the EU now has a free trade agreement with Japan and the Government intend to Brexit, is not the loss of Japanese investment and associated jobs painfully predictable? Is it not now incumbent on the Government to give business and the people, including Honda workers and others, the final say on whether this botched deal is really what they want, or whether they want to stay in the EU to secure future jobs?
The hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that the trade deal with Japan has been struck at a time when we are members of the EU. There will be an impact on car producers, and we see that as part of the reason why Honda has taken its decision. The most important thing is that we enter into an arrangement with the EU where we minimise the frictions at our borders, have a free trade agreement with the EU27 and make sure that trade continues to flow. The best way to do that is to support the deal we are negotiating with the European Union.
The Government’s letter to Nissan promised that its ability to export to and from the EU would not be adversely affected by Brexit. How on earth can that possibly be reconciled with the Prime Minister’s red lines?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has a clear commitment to entering into a future trading relationship with the European Union based on the political declaration, which has at its heart a free trade area—tariff-free trade—and to making sure that we have the customs facilitations in place to ensure that that trade flows as freely as possible.
In spite of Conservative Members shouting, “SNP bad,” the UK Treasury analysis does not cover the PM’s deal; it covers no deal, a free trade agreement, the European economic area without a customs union and the Prime Minister’s failed Chequers plan. Does that mean that the Prime Minister plans to ditch her plan for one of those or to proceed without knowing the consequences?
The analysis needs to model the future political declaration, upon which the negotiations will rest. Of course, that is a relatively broad document with a number of potential outcomes. The analysis has quite rightly taken a range of possible outcomes to make that assessment and most accurately reflect the range of outcomes of where the deal itself may land.
Unlike the EEA or single market model, the PM’s deal assumes that regulatory checks will be essential to the proper functioning of separate EU and UK markets. Does not the Minister agree that we need to understand the impact of such trade barriers now?
That is precisely what the analysis is setting out—a series of potential outcomes and the economic impacts thereof. Some Members are suggesting that we should analyse where we are at the moment, but that would not be appropriate given that we are leaving the European Union. At the same time, it has to be recognised that we have not yet fully concluded the new trading relationship with the European Union—the EU27—and therefore the analysis sets out a range of possible landing points for those negotiations.
My sense is that the Minister is actually starting to admit that there is no analysis of the withdrawal agreement, so I just want to press him. The withdrawal agreement was laid before the House on 26 November, so on what specific date did the Government publish their specific economic analysis on that withdrawal agreement, and what title or Command Paper number should I ask for in the Vote Office or the Library to see the analysis?
The analysis, as demanded by the House, sets out the different possible outcomes, including modelling a range of options between those contained in the White Paper of June last year and an FTA, as well as a point somewhere between the two of them, to allow an informed look at the likely impact of the various outcomes implicit in the future declaration. The hon. Gentleman will know that that is, of necessity, the way in which this analysis has to be conducted, given that we have a period during which we will be negotiating a precise exit arrangement with the European Union.
This is Schrödinger’s analysis—even the Minister does not know whether or not it exists at this moment in time. Will he answer a simple question: does he believe that the UK would be better off if it were to leave the EU with the Prime Minister’s deal or if it were to stay in the EU?
I have been asked this question a couple of times, and the reality is that it is entirely hypothetical. To end up staying within the European Union would be to fly in the face of the result of the June 2016 referendum —the referendum had a higher turnout than any other electoral event in our country’s history—and this Government are going to respect the outcome of that referendum.
This urgent question was aimed at the Prime Minister, so I can only assume that the Minister is undergoing an audition as the future leader of the Conservative party. On that basis, if he were Prime Minister, would he take cognisance of the analysis published by the London School of Economics that shows a 5.5% hit on GDP due to the incumbent’s plan, or would he, like her, simply ignore it?
What we must do is to make sure that we conclude a good deal for our country; what we must do is to make sure that we avoid a no-deal scenario; and what we must do is to make sure that we respect the result of the June 2016 referendum. That is the mission of this country and of this Government. We are negotiating the final elements of that, and as, I hope, the Prime Minister comes back with changes to that deal in relation to the backstop, if we are to do the right thing and the best thing for the whole United Kingdom, we should support it.
I am stunningly impressed by the Minister’s performance at the Dispatch Box. We can tell a big Downing Street lollipop is on its way when that intellectual heavyweight, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), has nodded in agreement with everything the Minister has said for the last three quarters of an hour.
Let me ask the Minister this: the deal ends freedom of movement—one of the reasons why I will not support it—but where can I find the economic analysis of the impact of ending freedom of movement on Scotland and on the city of Glasgow? Following his answer to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), will the Minister also tell me, as well as the discussions he has had with HMRC, whether Revenue Scotland has been consulted?
On the impact of immigration, if the hon. Gentleman looks closely at the analysis, he will see that the various scenarios I have outlined during this urgent question are analysed both in terms of the current free movement arrangements and in terms of more restrictive arrangements that would be expected to follow on from the further negotiations we will have with the European Union.
May I just make one very important point on immigration? There will have been a multitude of reasons why 17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union in 2016. There is little doubt in my mind that immigration was one of them, and it is absolutely vital that this Government stick, as we will, to our commitment to ensure that we put an end to free movement and gain control of our borders.
There’s a big lollipop coming your way.
Order. The hon. Gentleman continues to chunter from a sedentary position about the merits or otherwise of lollipops, but when his appetite has been satisfied, and perhaps even if it has not been, we will move to the next urgent question.
Deprivation of Citizenship Status
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on his use of the power to deprive a person of citizenship status.
To keep this country safe, we must be prepared to make tough decisions. As I told the House on Monday, there must be consequences for those who back terror. More than 900 people travelled from the UK to engage with the conflict in Syria and Iraq, At least 20% have been killed in the region. About 40% have returned. They have all been investigated, and I can reassure this House that the majority have been assessed to pose no or a low security risk.
Those who stayed include some of the most dangerous, including many who supported terrorism, not least those who chose to fight or to raise families in the so-called caliphate. They turned their back on this country to support a group that butchered and beheaded innocent civilians, including British citizens; tied the arms of homosexuals and threw them off the top of buildings; and raped countless young girls, boys and women.
I have been resolute that, where those people pose any threat to this country, I will do everything in my power to prevent their return. This includes stripping dangerous individuals of their British citizenship. This power is used only in extreme circumstances, where conducive to the public good. Since 2010, it has been used about 150 times for people linked to terrorism or serious crimes.
We of course follow international law. An individual can be deprived of British citizenship only where it will not leave that individual stateless, where they are a dual national or, in some limited circumstances, where they have the right to citizenship elsewhere.
It would not be right to comment on any individual case, but I can say that each one is carefully considered on its own merits, regardless of gender, age or family status. Children should not suffer, so if a parent does lose their British citizenship, that does not affect the rights of their child.
Deprivation is a powerful tool that can be used only to keep the most dangerous individuals out of this country, and we do not use it lightly. However, when someone turns their back on fundamental values and supports terror, they do not have an automatic right to return to the UK. We must put the safety and the security of our country first, and I will not hesitate to act to protect it.
I thank the Home Secretary for his reply. On the legal grounds to remove citizenship because it would be
“conducive to the public good”,
can he set out the criteria he must use to make such judgments on the public good?
As the Home Secretary knows, the law prevents him from making someone who is British by birth stateless. In November, the Home Secretary lost a case before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission on a similar decision made by his predecessor to strip two terror suspects of their British citizenship. Then, as now, the Home Office contended that the two had Bangladeshi citizenship by descent, but the court ruled that that was not the case and that stripping them of British citizenship was therefore unlawful. Will the Home Secretary tell the House what changes have been made to the decision-making process since that case to give him confidence that he is acting lawfully now?
In removing British citizenship, the Home Secretary is essentially saying, “She’s somebody else’s problem,” but in the words of the former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne:
“Which other country is supposed to look after her on our behalf?… Can you imagine the fury here if we took a French or Italian citizen who joined Islamic State?”
Surely a British citizen, born in Britain, is a British responsibility. The Home Secretary mentioned national security in his answer. Can he explain what evidence he used to conclude that this 19-year-old mother and her new-born baby would be a threat to national security? Will he confirm that the evidence required to prosecute Ms Begum for supporting terrorism is readily available from the media? Will he explain why he is so unwilling to bring her to justice?
Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman please tell the House what he expects to happen to Ms Begum’s new-born baby boy? This child is an innocent British citizen, and we have a clear responsibility to ensure his wellbeing. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to uphold that important responsibility?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions, which I want to go through. But let me say to him and the House that these decisions are never taken lightly, and I am not just speaking for myself.
The power has been in place for more than 100 years. It was set out properly in the British Nationality Act 1981, since when it has been used by successive Home Secretaries. Although I will not know every decision that every Home Secretary made in the past, I can be certain that none would have taken decisions on deprivation of British citizenship lightly. There are a number of things to weigh up: national security, moral issues and legal issues all need to be carefully taken into account. No decision of this type—as serious as this—can be taken lightly.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the grounds for a citizenship decision. As I have said, I cannot talk about an individual case, although I am happy to try to answer his questions. Almost all these decisions, depending on how far back one goes, are made on what is called the “conducive test”: conducive to the public good. The test can apply to a number of issues—to the case prominent in the papers now, but also to many recent cases, including the ones that he mentioned, to do with terrorism and national security. In each of those cases, I would look at the evidence put in front of me: some of that would be secret intelligence and some would be more publicly available information. That would be used to determine the threat that the individual might pose to the country. Alongside that, officials from the Home Office, working with other partners and partner agencies, would put together a case, including a legal case, to look at a number of issues but of course absolutely to make sure that if we went ahead and took the decision to deprive someone of their British nationality, that person would not be left stateless.
In every decision that I am aware of—I cannot think that any of my predecessors would have taken a different decision—that has been applied, every single time. Our lawyers are expert in this field and would look carefully at judgments in previous cases—the right hon. Gentleman referred to those—if they have been challenged, to see whether there are lessons to be learned. Those would be taken into account. When a decision then has to be made, I have to be, in every case, absolutely confident that it is not only conducive to the public good, but legally proper and correct, and compliant with both international and any relevant domestic law.
The right hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that Lord Carlile, an individual whom he will know well, has already made a public comment—I can refer to public comment—about the case in the press at the moment and other such cases that he has been familiar with. He is worth listening to on how this practice has taken place in the past.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about minors. Again, I cannot talk about any particular individual or case, but in the case of a minor, clearly even more care must absolutely be taken. It is absolutely paramount in all cases to take into account the welfare of minors. I cannot refer to any particular case, but that is also in domestic legislation: in any immigration decision, including about deprivation, the welfare of a child is taken into account where that is relevant.
Finally, I say gently to the right hon. Gentleman that he was a senior member of the previous Government. He was not only in the Cabinet: for almost three years, if I remember correctly, he was a member of the National Security Council. He would have discussed counter-terrorism issues in that council on countless occasions, and it would be hard to think that the issue of deprivation never came up. Not only was he a member of a Government who made decisions on deprivation, many on terrorism grounds, but he even voted for the Immigration Act 2014, which extended the powers of deprivation. Now he stands here pretending that he knows nothing of that and trying to play politics with such an important issue. He should reflect on that.
When I was Home Secretary, I did not deprive anyone of their citizenship, and although the power is necessary, it is being used with ever increasing frequency. Every patriotic British citizen has to accept that we have fellow citizens who are extremely unpleasant and have very unpleasant and dangerous ideas. We deal with them through the rule of law—international law and domestic law. Some people are mass murderers, but we have given up transportation or exile as a response to such cases.
As this woman is only one, but several hundred have already come back and hundreds of various western nationalities are now stranded in Syria, is it not right that we should begin at least from the position that we should accept back the people who are obviously British, by every ordinary test of the word, and that others have to accept back everybody who is obviously a national of their state? Somehow leaving these people to disperse through Syria seems to me quite a serious threat to future security. We can use the full force of the criminal law —we must—and the full resources of the intelligence services once these people have got back here. That is how my right hon. Friend is going to be able to protect the British public.
First, I should say that I always listen carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend, who is very distinguished in the House and served as a distinguished Home Secretary as well as in many other positions of responsibility. As usual, he has made an important point. All I would say is that each case should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. That is exactly what happens in the Home Office: I look at each case very carefully against what tools are available that will help protect our national security and citizens here at home and in regard to what can be done to help bring people to justice.
My right hon. and learned Friend is right to point out that many hundreds of people from the UK—more than 900, we believe—have gone in recent years to Iraq or Syria to join terrorist organisations. There are many more from other European countries and countries such as the US and Australia. We work closely with our allies. I hope he welcomes the fact that we are trying to work even more closely with them following the recent news that Daesh is being defeated in the region, in the expectation that more people may want to come back to the UK or other European countries. We must work with our allies and see how we can co-ordinate and have a more unified approach.
On the general question of returning foreign fighters and ISIS supporters, the President of the United States said:
“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial.”
Does the Home Secretary accept that what the security services have been calling for is a very specialised programme of questioning, interrogation, de-radicalisation and quite possibly putting these people on trial, fashioned for this group of foreign fighters and their supporters? What is not helpful is to strip them of their nationality, which on the face of what he has said appears to be on a wholly arbitrary basis.
On the particular issue of Shamima Begum, there is no question but that she has said some very reprehensible things in the media, particularly about the Manchester bombings. However, the Home Secretary knows that the Home Office lost two cases where it attempted to strip people of their nationality on the basis of Bangladeshi nationality by descent, so why is he going forward with the same strategy now? Let me remind the Home Secretary of article 15 of the universal declaration of human rights:
“(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality”.
Can the Home Secretary explain how his actions are not in breach of the articles of the declaration?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her questions. She will know—I have said this at the Dispatch Box before—that we estimate about 900 people of national security interest left the UK at some point to join terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. We estimate that about 40% have returned and approximately 20% have died in the region. Of those who have returned, in every case we know of they have been investigated. Where there is enough evidence, they have been prosecuted for their actions.
The right hon. Lady will also understand that the part of the world they are in is a very lawless and dangerous place, so it is not always possible—in fact, it is incredibly difficult—to gather evidence of their activities that could be used to try to have a successful prosecution, either in the UK or in the other countries with which we work closely. If we have evidence, we can help to bring about prosecutions either at home or with our allies. In each case, we work carefully with them. It is always the case that the preferred outcome is always one of justice, where there is evidence and we can be sure that there can be proper legal proceedings and proper hearings. Our preference in many of cases is to see if more people can be tried in the region. As I mentioned earlier to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), we are working with a number of other countries to see if more work can be done together. Sadly, this challenge is not unique to the UK but is shared across many countries including our European friends.
The right hon. Lady referred to other cases, as did the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey). She knows that at any time any decision made by any Minister can rightfully be challenged by anyone in court. That is their right. But it would be wrong to take one particular case that may have been in the courts and apply it to all other potential cases that follow. It is worth repeating that where legal cases may have an impact, our own legal advisers, who are incredibly experienced and take these issues very seriously, would of course take them into account.
The right hon. Lady referred to the UN declaration of human rights. We absolutely abide by that and it is incredibly important that all Governments abide by it. She quoted the declaration by saying that no one should be made stateless. That is absolutely correct. No one should ever be made stateless and that is not something we would ever do. We would never take a deprivation decision if someone, as a British national, has only one nationality. We would not do that. We would not leave anyone stateless. She also suggested that these decisions are somehow arbitrary. As I said to the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey), each decision is taken incredibly seriously. The facts are weighed on a case-by-case basis. It is anything but arbitrary.
May I draw the attention of the Home Secretary and the House to an important article just published online in The Independent by the self-described liberal journalist Ahmed Aboudouh, who says that Egypt paid a terrible price in taking back jihadists who begged to be allowed home after the Afghan and Chechen campaigns? He points out that in November 1997, 58 western tourists were slaughtered in Luxor by returned jihadists who only a year earlier had been begging to come back. Clearly, there is a danger in letting radicalised people come back. However, given that not everyone can have their citizenship withdrawn and not everyone who has been out there can be successfully prosecuted because of the lack of evidence of what goes on in a place like that, does the solution not have to be a change in the law so that the act of giving support, aid and comfort to terrorist groups is itself a prosecutable offence?
I thank my right hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to that case in Egypt and for his question. He outlines that in cases—again, I am not talking about any particular case—where the only opportunity to keep out a dangerous individual is through deprivation, thereby preventing re-entry into the UK, then any Home Secretary would weigh that option very carefully. Ultimately, my No. 1 responsibility is to do everything I can to keep everyone who lives in Britain safe. The last thing anyone would want to see—he cited the example of Egypt—is a situation where someone returns who could not be kept out and goes on to kill, murder and destroy lives. The duty to keep their constituents safe should be paramount in the mind of every hon. Member. That is why the House has supported successive Acts of Parliament that allow deprivation. As I said, the Immigration Act 2014—not that long ago—actually extended powers of deprivation. That was the will of the House. My right hon. Friend referred to changes in the law. I know he welcomes the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, which became an Act just last week. That also gives the Government further powers to prosecute terrorists.
Let there be no question: everyone in this House deplores Daesh and this young woman’s choices in going to join them, and of course there are security issues that must be addressed. However, the young woman we are talking about is British. She was radicalised in Britain. Daesh is a worldwide phenomenon, but she is our problem. Why is the Home Secretary not bringing her home to put her on trial here to be judged by a jury of her peers? Apart from anything else, she may have valuable intelligence and insights into how she was radicalised. Why is he washing his hands of this problem? He cited what Lord Carlile had to say, but if he, like me, was listening to the “Today” programme this morning, he will have heard Baron Anderson of Ipswich, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation from 2011 to 2017, suggest that we ought to be dealing with our own problems here.
I respectfully say that there is nothing that the Father of the House said with which I would disagree. The rule of law is fundamental to our democracy and if the Home Secretary thinks he can overlook the results of previous decisions, I would very gently suggest to him that he might want to seek a lecture about the doctrine of precedent from the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who is sitting beside him on the Treasury Bench. Unless this young woman holds dual citizenship, he may be found to have acted in breach of UK and international law by rendering her stateless. My question is this: is that a risk he is willing to take? Is he more interested in playing to the populist gallery than respecting the rule of law?
Let me say a couple of things to the hon. and learned Lady; again, I cannot talk about an individual case, but I will try to answer her questions. Every decision on deprivation—I think I speak for all former Home Secretaries who, under successive Governments, have made decisions on deprivation—are weighed up very carefully. The Government and officials in the Government—these decisions have been made over a number of years under successive Governments—will be looking at legal cases individually, on a case-by-case basis. Of course, that would take into account any judgments in court that may be relevant. I am not proclaiming to be an expert on the law in this matter, and a decision like this would not be taken—certainly not by me—without my officials, who are the experts in the law. I know that the hon. and learned Lady is a distinguished lawyer, but I do not think that she is an expert on this particular issue, and it is important to listen to experts on this.
I also gently say to the hon. and learned Lady that it was in July, not that long ago, when another case was considered in an urgent question—the Kotey/Elsheikh case, again, related to foreign fighters—and in a similar way to now, she accused the Government of “departing from” Government policy. That was her language at the time. She went on to talk about how we were ignoring
“our long-standing policy on the death penalty”.—[Official Report, 23 July 2018; Vol. 645, c. 728.]
That was her accusation at the time. She will know that many months later, that case was looked at by the courts, quite properly—as is their job—and they ruled in the Government’s favour on all five counts, so if anyone is trying to play politics with this judgment, I think it is the hon. and learned Lady.
Disgraceful. Ad hominem remarks with no basis whatsoever.
Order. Criticism by one right hon. or hon. Member of another is not a novel phenomenon. I have heard what the hon. and learned Lady said, but she has other colleagues who can pursue these matters in questioning and I am sure that she will take that opportunity. It would not be right for me to intercede at this point, other than to request that the House hears from Sir Desmond Swayne.
The Home Secretary’s power to deprive is open to challenge and, in most cases, will not exist at all. I urge him once again to arm himself with powers of Executive detention so that people can be sufficiently quarantined before they are allowed back.
In cases where terrorists or suspected terrorists are returning to the UK, a number of powers are available, including, for example, temporary exclusion orders, which have been used and can place a number of restrictions on someone, including the port of entry and reporting requirements, as well as other restrictions. We would always look first at what existing powers we can use, and if we feel that they are not sufficient, we would always look at what more might need to be brought to the House.
The Home Secretary is right to want to prosecute anyone who has been involved in terrorist activity here or abroad and we should support him in doing so. However, on the citizenship issue, he said that he will never make anyone stateless, but it appears in this case that he is relying legally on this young woman’s potential right to citizenship in the Netherlands or Bangladesh and presumably on the expectation that one of those countries will accept her, even though she has not lived there and was radicalised here. Does that mean that he accepts that the same principle would apply to other people who might be citizens of Bangladesh or the Netherlands, who might either have potential citizenship in the UK or actual dual citizenship rights, and that if those countries removed their citizenship first—even though this was somebody who had committed crimes in that country who had never lived here—we would somehow be expected to accept those citizens?
I understand why the right hon. Lady referred to a particular case and I will not comment on that, but on her broader question, it is worth reminding the House that every time such a decision is made, it is done on a case-by-case basis. By definition, each case is going to have a different set of facts—sometimes completely different—and we will take all those into account. In every single situation, there is no question of making anyone stateless under any circumstances. Not only would making someone stateless be unlawful, it would be morally wrong, and that is not something that we would do. In any case, and certainly with any decision that I have made, I am perfectly comfortable that the analysis is done properly by expert legal advisers. I would not make such a decision unless I was absolutely confident on the statelessness issue.
The right hon. Lady also referred to citizenship of other countries and how that may or may not work. She will know, as the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, that the citizenship rules can be very complex. They are complex in our country and have similar complexity in many other countries. However, we make sure that we work with lawyers, sometimes including foreign lawyers, if necessary, to make sure that our interpretation of how citizenship laws work is correct.
As somebody who served in the ISIS campaign, I am very aware of the difficulty of extraditing and prosecuting returning UK ISIS fighters. Does the Home Secretary agree that the priority is monitoring those 400-plus fighters who are back in the UK? Is he aware of how many of them were actually fighters? How many of those people are likely to be prosecuted, and if he cannot supply the information now, would he be able to give it to me or the House in some form at a later date? Does he agree now that there is also a case for an updated and renewed treason Bill or Act to cope with these sorts of incidents in future?
I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for his question. As I mentioned a moment ago, we estimate that of the 900 or so people who left the UK to join terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, approximately 40% have returned. He asks how many have been prosecuted. Each one is investigated—that does not necessarily lead to a prosecution, but anyone who returns should absolutely expect to be questioned and investigated, and prosecuted where possible. I believe that around 40 have been successfully prosecuted. Some have received very significant sentences. I am aware of at least one case in which I believe a sentence of more than 10 years on terrorism-related charges was given by the courts. I will also see whether I can provide any more information to my hon. and gallant Friend.
As the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), noted, in Greater Manchester we have particular reason to find the conduct and utterances of Ms Begum abhorrent. We also want to understand why and how she apparently became radicalised in this country, as indeed, have young people from my constituency who have also tragically gone to Syria to fight with the jihadis. How can the Home Secretary assure us that we are taking every possible step to understand how that home-grown radicalisation occurs and what we can do to prevent it in future if we are not able to bring back our own citizens and interrogate, investigate and, if appropriate, prosecute them?
The hon. Lady raises a really important point. We have been talking about cases that hon. Members have raised in the House involving people who sadly went on to join terrorist organisations, but how we prevent that from happening in the first place is just as important.
The hon. Lady will know that intensive work is being done across Departments, including through programmes led by the Home Office. We are doing our best. There are many people, especially young people, who seem vulnerable and are preyed upon by extremists. The first thing is to find out who they are—that is what we try to do with the Prevent programme, particularly through the Prevent duty—and then to develop bespoke programmes working around those individuals. Each case will be different. In the most intense cases, people move into the Channel programme. Last year, 7,000 people were referred to Prevent and of them about 400 went into the Channel programme. Many of those referrals were to do with Islamist terrorism, but almost half of the Channel referrals last year were to do with right-wing terrorism and extremism. We want to fight all types of extremism, and we work throughout the country, including in Greater Manchester, to do so. Just a few months ago, I went to Bethnal Green and looked carefully at the programme there, and I am very happy with what I have seen so far.
This country is admired around the world for its sense of decency, fair play and the rule of law, which is why I am concerned about this case. I realise the Home Secretary cannot talk about this specific case, but can he tell us how many other people have had their nationality withdrawn, be it British or dual?
It is worth pointing out again—it cannot be said often enough—that nationality will be withdrawn only where the Home Secretary is satisfied that it is conducive to the public good and that such action will not leave the individual stateless. As I said at the start of the urgent question, this power has been used more than 150 times since 2010. I do not have the number for before 2010, but it was used by successive Home Secretaries under successive Governments prior to 2010.
I am sure that many of us recall the attack in Manchester, and I am sure I speak for everyone in saying that security in relation to such attacks is a priority. That goes without saying. That said, how can the Home Secretary defend the dangerous concept of what is now in effect a two-tier citizenship system and invoke the name of national security in doing so? Surely—I am thinking how people might perceive this outside—this plays to the sense of injustice and the brainwashing narrative of those seeking to radicalise young people in communities across the United Kingdom. How does he anticipate remedying the underlying causes of radicalisation when he opts to act unilaterally instead of making use of a rigorous justice system? It is through justice that we achieve what we want, which is a sense of fairness in society, and if we are unfair in society, he loses the moral high ground. I beg him to consider how he uses justice to best effect.
The hon. Lady lays down a fair challenge in asking that in such cases we—whether me or Ministers more generally—think very carefully about fairness and the impact of our decisions. I understand why she raised the issue of people who would look for excuses to try to radicalise populations and communities. That should weigh heavily in any decision on deprivation as against the Government’s responsibility to keep their citizens safe. It is worth keeping something else in mind. Let us imagine a hypothetical case where there is the possibility to keep a terrorist out of the country, but the Home Secretary decides not to, for some reason, and that that individual returns, continues to preach extremism and radicalise others, and potentially even carries out terrorist attacks. It is worth thinking about the impact of that on communities and how it could radicalise people.
Earlier today, several Labour MPs said that removing British citizenship from dual nationals accused of terror offences and acts against the British state could harm dual nationals residing abroad who get themselves into serious trouble. Is it not the case that, typically, countries deport back to this country British citizens convicted of serious crimes in those countries?
My hon. Friend asks me about deportations. In the case of deportations from the UK, we are talking about individuals who, for one reason or another, if they have broken laws, we would seek to deport. The best example in the UK is probably the deportation of serious foreign national offenders once they have served their sentence in a British prison. We take a case-by-case approach, but where appropriate we would look to deport. As he pointed out, many countries seek to deport back to the UK British citizens abroad who have committed offences once they have completed their sentence.
I have been tackling radicalisation and terrorism since 9/11. What sets us apart from those radicalisers and terrorists and their barbaric ideology is the rule of law. We need to tackle them with the rule of law, not kneejerk reactions to tabloid headlines. The Government could have done something about this in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, but there is no mention of it in that Act. You have the terrorism prevention and investigation measures. How many of the people you are looking at in terms of radicalisation are currently on a TPIM? You have no records of people—
Order. I am not looking at anything. I have no record of anything. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House long enough to know that debate goes through the Chair. He should not say “you” because “you” does not refer to the Minister; it refers to me, and I am an innocent in this matter.
My apologies, Mr Speaker.
The Home Secretary has no idea what is going on with TPIMs. How many people who have been radicalised are having no action taken against them in relation to their capability to strike terrorism and radicalisation in this country? Will he give me some figures on TPIMs, and what control does he have over those?
I have seen for myself some of the work the hon. Gentleman has done, particularly in the west midlands, to help with deradicalisation, and I commend him for it. It is important that he and others continue such work and continue working with local authorities and other partners in doing so.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about deprivations generally and talked about the rule of law. Of course we operate according to the law, as does any Government, and that law is set by this House. I referred earlier to the British Nationality Act 1981 and the Immigration Act 2014. Both talk about deprivation. The 2014 Act extended the provisions for how deprivations can be done. He was a Member of the House in 2014. I am not suggesting he voted for the Act—I do not know; the point is it was debated and is now the law. This is the rule of law. As well as that, we are signed up, quite rightly, to a number of international conventions that we care deeply about. The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) mentioned the UN universal declaration of human rights. There is also the convention on the rights of the child, which is relevant in some cases. Those are all hugely important, and we absolutely abide by them.
I cannot stress enough that we would not make a decision that had not been looked at carefully by Government lawyers—experienced lawyers who have worked for many Governments—and which we did not feel to be absolutely lawful. I do not pretend for a second that Governments do not get decisions wrong and that decision are not sometimes declared unlawful if challenged—that has happened under many Governments, and when it does happen, Governments have to listen—but we strive every time to make a completely lawful decision. We have in the past published transparency reports in the House on deprivations—the last one, which was published in May, I think, gives year-by-year numbers—and we will continue to be transparent. The hon. Gentleman also asked about TPIMs. I do not have the exact numbers, but I will write to him.
In fighting Daesh, we faced a new phenomenon. People through their own actions decided to join and embrace a new foul and warped state. It was a matter for them to choose. May I therefore commend my right hon. Friend for the bold action he has taken, which I am sure is supported across the country? Will he reassure me that our position on these difficult issues will be rooted in British values and proper judicial processes?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. He is right to talk about the threat from Daesh. It is not the first and will not be the last terrorist organisation that we have to confront, but the number of people who left Britain to join that vile terrorist organisation, and to commit the most horrific crimes either themselves or by supporting what it wanted to achieve, was unprecedented. I do not think that any country that has faced a similar problem—citizens leaving to join such organisations—has a perfect answer to deal with it, which is why it is important that we work with other countries, which we will do. I assure my hon. Friend absolutely that we must always uphold our values. As I said in answer to the previous question, we must ensure every single time that we act properly and at all times within the law.
The actions and words of Shamima Begum are reprehensible and almost undoubtedly illegal, but we are not to know because the Secretary of State has rejected due process and the law that it is his duty to uphold, and has instead chosen to treat British citizenship as a privilege accorded to those with whom he agrees. He is also abandoning our responsibility to pursue and prevent terrorists made in Britain, and in the process ceding the moral high ground to President Trump. Do the Secretary of State’s actions do justice to Britain or to his political ambitions?
I have had some dealings with the hon. Lady in the past. She is a wonderful woman, and she is a lot better than that question. Perhaps it is a Whip’s handout—that is not her. Much of her question has already been answered in this urgent question, but I am happy to say it again. We must ensure that at all times we are fair, that we are acting morally and also lawfully. As I have said, such important a decisions cannot be taken lightly. The facts must be weighed very carefully, and decision taken only when all alternatives have properly been taken into account.
The Home Secretary has an incredibly difficult job. The interests of the public in this country are paramount and he must keep them safe. We have a fine tradition in this country of not exporting our problems around the world, but of trying to solve problems around the world. Does he consider that we have sufficient powers to ensure that people coming from abroad who may pose a risk are contained? If so, does he also consider that it may be worse for humankind if individuals with problems are exported to parts of the world where there are not such safe containment laws as ours?
My hon. Friend asks whether we have sufficient powers. It is right that we keep our powers under review at all times. If we feel that things need to change, and if that change can be brought about, we would bring it to the House, as we did very recently with the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019.
It is worth saying that no matter what powers we have, any prosecution would require sufficient evidence because of our absolute commitment to due process. That is incredibly difficult when people have gone abroad, joined terrorist organisations and carried out the most horrific attacks. It can be incredibly difficult to achieve justice by obtaining evidence that we can present in a court of law under whatever power we have. That is why, as Home Secretary, I must look carefully at all the powers at my disposal. In some cases—and only in some cases—when it is deemed that the best way to keep this country safe is through deprivation of citizenship for someone who has more than one nationality, that should be taken as a serious option.
May I bring the Home Secretary back to the answer he gave to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who is no longer in her place? He referred to the Prevent programme. It clearly does very valuable work, but, as far as I am aware, it is a UK-based programme, so the question remains: in what way can he find out why or how a young woman was radicalised when she was a child if she is in a camp in Syria? What assessment has he made of the risks of a large number of people remaining in a camp in Syria and developing networks there that provide us with a risk here at home?
The right hon. Gentleman rightly brings to the attention of the House the fact that these are tough decisions that have to be made after weighing a number of factors. I will not refer to an individual case, but he talks about people in camps abroad who are members of terrorist organisations. We might have limited evidence of what they have done as members of those organisations, but we know that they have joined. I hope he accepts that there are risks of their staying in the region and of returning to the UK—there are risks both ways, which is why each case should be looked at individually and judged on its own facts. I do not pretend for a second that these are easy decisions. Any Home Secretary must take all factors into account and everything should be balanced out, but ultimately it is my responsibility to keep our citizens safe. That must be paramount in my mind when making decisions.
I strongly welcome the action taken by the Home Secretary. There has been a lot of use of the word “arbitrary”, but surely the key point is that the young lady chose voluntarily to go out and join and live among a terrible regime that has behaved in a barbaric fashion. Has he reflected on whether she wants to come back because she has regret and feels remorse, or whether she wants to come back because the caliphate is being defeated? My constituents would ask why someone can choose to go and join an organisation while it destroys, but be welcomed back as if nothing has changed once it finds its downfall.
My hon. Friend will understand if I do not talk about a particular case. As I said earlier from the Dispatch Box, we believe that more than 900 people have gone to Syria and Iraq to join terrorist organisations, many of whom have promoted that fact. As I said a moment ago, it is hard to gather evidence on what they may or may not have done, but we know the cause with which they have aligned. We know what those terrorist organisations stand for, their objectives and the kind of things that they do.
It is worth recalling that Daesh is a lot weaker than it was even a year ago, but certainly a lot weaker than it was when many people went out and joined it two or three years ago. It is not surprising that those who are there and who seem to be being pushed out of the region want to come home. They might have that thought, but we must know about each individual. It is our duty and our right to think carefully about the best interests of this country and how best to protect our citizens.
I have listened for the last while to many people from the Father of the House to honourable, right honourable, learned and gallant Members, and I have listened carefully to the Home Secretary’s responses to each and every one of them, but I still cannot get over the fact that the case that he will not refer to, as is proper, but that everyone else is referring to and the press are referring to, concerns a 15-year-old girl who was radicalised, went to Syria, has lost two children and is now a lactating mother—and she requires that her citizenship be rescinded? The Home Secretary keeps talking about security; can he explain to me in what regard she will affect the security of this country if she is allowed back in?
Again, I hope the hon. Lady will understand that I cannot talk about an individual case; I hope she recognises that. But if individuals have voluntarily left this country, joined a terrorist organisation and have for a number of years been supporting that terrorist organisation, it is self-evident that individual is a risk by dint of the fact that they have joined a terrorist organisation. As I said a moment ago, some of the acts of this organisation are there for us to see. I therefore hope that the hon. Lady can understand why such individuals could be a threat to this country if they returned, and that if I have a proper reason, based on the facts put in front of me in each case—this should be done on a case-by-case basis—that the best way to protect our national interest, and in particular the security of people living in the UK, is to exclude someone from re-entering the UK, that surely has to be the right decision.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
We have not got to points of order yet, but if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to pose an inquiry, having consulted his scholarly cranium, he is welcome to do so.
I wanted to raise a point of order, Mr Speaker, but I am very happy to wait until you feel it is the right time to do so. I seek your advice, Mr Speaker: now or later?
No, no, what I was saying to the right hon. Gentleman, I thought clearly in terms that brooked no misunderstanding, especially by one of his perspicacious intelligence, was that now was not the time for a point of order, but if he wanted to put a question he could. If he wants to wait for his point of order, we will all wait with bated breath, beads of sweat on our brows and eager anticipation. Meanwhile I call Rehman Chishti.
Having previously successfully pushed the Government to accept the correct terminology, Daesh, to defeat the idea, the ideology and the appeal that is sucking in hundreds of individuals from the UK to Syria and Iraq to fight for this poisoned ideology and entity, may I ask the Home Secretary the following? Peter Neumann, one of the world’s best experts, based at King’s College London, has said the presumption must be for host countries to take back their foreign fighters. Unlike France, which is taking back 120 of its foreign fighters straight away in one lump, will the United Kingdom be looking at taking them back in a gradual way, for example taking back first those who assist the UK by giving evidence against those they have been fighting with and excluding them until they do that? Linked to that, on the issue of revoking the citizenship of individuals with dual citizenship rights, can the Secretary of State explain the following? Before the Government do that, do our Government speak to country x or y where these individuals may have originally come from to see if they will take them back? If not, they will become stateless, and that would not be what the Government want.
The hon. Gentleman has now acquired the dubious distinction of being known in the House, I think for ever after, as among other things a cheeky chappie, as he somewhat abused my generosity in asking a question of that length. But never mind, he has done it now, and he can repent at leisure.
Each case is looked at individually, on a case-by-case basis. My hon. Friend mentioned France, and the UK and France have probably had the most people go from their countries to Syria or Iraq as foreign fighters, so we work closely with our French counterparts, and other European friends, on whether there can be a more co-ordinated approach to this challenge that we face. Cases involving individuals who may have the nationality of other countries as well are again dealt with on a case-by-case basis. As I have said, we would need to satisfy ourselves that they do genuinely have the nationality of another country before they can be deprived of their British nationality.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I am saving the hon. Gentleman; it would be a pity to squander him at too early a stage of our proceedings. We will come to him in due course, but I think the House is in a state of great animation at the point of order that is going to be forthcoming from the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes).
On a much trailed and therefore much anticipated point of order, Mr Speaker. Last April, the Prime Minister announced a children’s funeral fund to give support and solace to those who have loved and lost. Despite the fact that the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), I and others have raised this matter subsequently in this Chamber, nothing more has been heard. Have you had notice, Mr Speaker, of a statement from Ministers, and if you have not, what further steps might I take to ensure that this pledge is honest and honoured, because no one should break promises to the broken-hearted?
Indeed not, and the right hon. Gentleman expresses himself with his customary eloquence. The short answer is that a number of recourses are available to him. If he believes the matter warrants the urgent attention of the House, he could seek to use the mechanism that would secure, with my agreement, the presence of a Minister in the Chamber to answer his question on the matter; the earliest he could possibly do that would be tomorrow, and it is open to him to do that. Alternatively, it may be that the right hon. Gentleman will take his customary seat in the Chamber for his usual participation in the business question tomorrow morning. We have become accustomed over a substantial period to hearing the eloquent and often very poetic inquiries from the right hon. Gentleman, often infused with some philosophical reflections and even references to his favourite authors as well, and that is a treat that I think might lie in store for the House.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last week at Prime Minister’s questions, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition chose to mention my constituency of South Thanet, whereupon graciously, Sir, you allowed me the very last PMQ. I will quote what the right hon. Gentleman said:
“The Secretary of State’s decision to award the contract to Seaborne has increased the budget deficit of Thanet Council, the owners of Ramsgate port, by nearly £2 million.”—[Official Report, 13 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 877.]
That figure was clearly incorrect, as in a period of just 51 days that would amount on an annualised basis to £14.6 million, which represents some 70% to 80% of the entire revenue of the council.
As a courtesy to the right hon. Gentleman, I alerted him to my concern that he might have misled the House, and I did that within an hour of him making that statement. I also alerted you, Mr Speaker, to my concerns on this matter. A week later, I have heard nothing from the right hon. Gentleman, nor has he, upon my request, pointed me to the figures on which he has relied to make a statement to the House from the Dispatch Box.
On that same day, the right hon. Gentleman also highlighted the fact—at least from his point of view—that £800,000 had been spent with appropriate professionals on due diligence for the Seaborne contract. That is again factually incorrect; that money was spent to do due diligence across the three contracts of over £100 million, not just on the very small Seaborne contract.
I alerted the right hon. Gentleman to my concerns both last week and this morning by hand-delivered letter, and I also delivered the same letter to you, Mr Speaker. I note that the right hon. Gentleman, having been alerted to my concerns, is not in his place to redress the issue at hand, and I now seek your guidance on how the error can be addressed in this place and what other measures I might take at your leisure.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his intention to raise this point of order. That was typically courteous of him. I also note that he had informed the Leader of the Opposition of his intention to raise the matter. Moreover, I am conscious—[Interruption.] It would be helpful if I were able to communicate this point to the hon. Gentleman without the background hubbub coming from the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), who is conducting what is no doubt an absolutely fascinating conversation, but which can wait. I am conscious that the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) has written to the Leader of the Opposition because I have received the copy that he sent to me.
The short answer is that if the Leader of the Opposition believes that he has inadvertently misled the House, it is open to him to correct the record. Each and every Member takes responsibility for the veracity of what he or she says in this place. I simply make the point—I am not trying to argue the toss with the hon. Gentleman; that is not for me to do—that the Leader of the Opposition might have a different view of this matter and that his exegesis of the facts might differ from that of the hon. Gentleman. After all, that is very much in the nature of political discourse and argument. This is a subject of dispute, and perhaps of continued scrutiny.
All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that it is perfectly open to him to continue to write letters to the Leader of the Opposition if he feels that that would be a productive exercise or if he finds it therapeutic. It is alternatively open to him to take the short journey from here to the Table Office to put down some written questions. That is something that I once did myself on quite a substantial scale, so I would certainly not cavil at him doing it; it is absolutely his right. Meanwhile, he has put his concerns and his view of the facts on the record with his customary force.
Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work) (No. 2)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for certain asylum seekers to be granted permission to work; and for connected purposes.
Prior to my election as an MP, I worked for a number of years with refugees and asylum seekers who had fled violence and genocide in the former Yugoslavia. Those people left behind their homes, their friends and in most cases their wider families as they searched for safety upon our shores and, crucially, a chance to rebuild their lives. In my own constituency, we have a long history of welcoming refugees. At a meeting in Muswell Hill led by Lord Alf Dubs—himself a refugee from Czechoslovakia who was brought to the UK in 1939 by the Quaker-led Kindertransport train—the audience was asked who among them had a family connection with refugees. Nearly everyone raised their hand.
A group of my constituents runs Haringey Welcomes Refugees to provide a warm welcome for Syrian refugee families and to help with practical support and friendship. As we marked Holocaust Memorial Day in Haringey last month, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and I gathered with our communities to hear the personal stories of survivors of totalitarianism. We also heard the stories of survivors of the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia, and of many others who have found sanctuary here in the UK. As I remember and reflect on the stories of those families, I am immensely proud that my first ever ten-minute rule Bill seeks to support asylum seekers by empowering them to rebuild their lives by allowing them to work and contribute to society.
I am pleased to have cross-party support for the Bill. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), who has been making the case to lift the work ban for some time, as well as to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for his work, most notably on the Syrian refugee crisis, and of course to the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), who presented her Bill on asylum seekers’ work rights on 10 January. I also pay tribute to the excellent work of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, under the fantastic chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), who leads a great coalition of supporters, as well as to the many charities and stakeholders who have really pushed on this issue.
Under the current rules, asylum seekers are able to apply for the right to work only after they have been waiting for a decision on their claim for over a year. Even then, the few people who are granted such permission are rarely able to work in practice because their employment is restricted to the narrow list of highly skilled professions included on the Government’s shortage occupation list. We have an effective ban on asylum seekers working. I am sure that all hon. Members present today will have their own experiences of people attending their advice surgeries to express their deep frustration at this reality. Just before Christmas, an old gentleman attended my surgery who had been waiting for a decision on his asylum application for over 12 years. He is desperate to work, but he has now been referred to mental health services to be treated for depression. He is in utter despair at a system that has forced him out of employment and into poverty for so many years.
Comparatively, the UK receives far fewer asylum applications than our European neighbours. We know that the total number of UK applicants represents a very small fraction of our national population—just 0.03% of the current UK labour force. In lieu of the right to work, asylum seekers can access a support payment of £5.39 per day. That allowance needs to cover clothing, transport, food, personal hygiene and often the cost of their asylum application. It is inhumane to force people who are seeking safety from persecution into poverty. It also reduces the chances of smooth economic and social integration and, in doing so, causes longer-term problems.
The OECD has found that legal barriers to employment create the risk of people resorting to informal and sometimes illegal work, which can manifest itself in the form of modern slavery. A change in the law would help to strengthen the Government’s strategy on tackling modern slavery. It is our duty to ensure that our asylum system is morally sound. Whether an asylum application is successful or whether it is ultimately rejected, we must remember throughout the process that the applicants are human beings with needs. There is strong public support for a change that provides refugees with the human dignity of being able to provide for themselves and their families.
Beyond the strong moral case, there is an equally compelling economic argument. Currently, we have around 11,000 adults who have waited more than six months for a decision on their asylum application. The average annual cost of supporting one such person is approximately £5,563, including support payments and accommodation costs. In a scenario in which we extended the right to work to this relatively small group of people, the financial picture would be quite different. Assuming that an individual worked full time on the national minimum wage, they would pay a total tax and national insurance contribution of £1,400 into the Treasury.
In reality, we know that many asylum seekers are highly educated, with university degrees in the fields of law, pharmacy and optometry to name but a few, but those associated professions often fall outside the occupation shortage lists. Lifting the ban would provide an opportunity for the Government to generate larger tax revenues, given that the average UK earner pays £5,745 in tax and national insurance into the Treasury. Estimates indicate an annual economic gain of £42.4 million for the Government as a result of benefit savings and additional tax revenues. This concept has fiscal and moral merit.
I now appeal directly to Government Front Benchers as I quote the words of the then Secretary of State at the former Department for Communities and Local Government—now the Home Secretary—from his “Integrated Communities Strategy” Green Paper. He stated that it was the Government’s ambition
“to build strong integrated communities where people—whatever their background—live, work, learn and socialise together, based on shared rights, responsibilities and opportunities.”
That is an important statement of intent, which we can all agree to. The Home Secretary also indicated his desire to review asylum policy when he responded to my oral question in December 2018, and I hope that the Government will take forward my Bill’s proposal at the earliest opportunity.
Before concluding, as I still have a tiny bit of time on the clock and as it is half term, even though one would not think this was supposed to be a recess week with all the goings on, I thought that I would briefly read from a poem called “Changed” by Miss Grace Barry, a student at Our Lady of Muswell Hill Catholic Primary School, from the “Welcome to Haringey! Poems from our schools” competition. She wrote:
“I watch her step off the bus on the 1st of May,
A permanent scowl etched on her face,
Eyes of coldness looking around,
Knotted, rough hard and a worn-out suitcase…
I watched her step off the bus on the 1st of September,
A permanent grin etched on her face,
Eyes of warmth looking around,
Brushed, silky hair and a brand new suitcase,
Her healthy figure prancing towards me,
As she laughs and jokes, ‘What are you looking at?’
Her accent light and her tone friendly,
Her light footsteps skipping away,
With friends by her side,
Changed by a Haringey welcome.”
I hope that we can all go forward with the spirit of Miss Grace Barry from the constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green and be hopeful and positive. Instead of bigotry being emboldened, perhaps we can be positive about the newly arrived in our communities and think about making this Bill law.
Question put and agreed to.
That Catherine West, Mr Andrew Mitchell, Dame Caroline Spelman, Anna Soubry, Christine Jardine, Kate Green, Mr David Lammy, Alex Sobel, Deidre Brock, Alex Cunningham, Janet Daby and Caroline Lucas present the Bill.
Catherine West accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 22 March, and to be presented (Bill 338).
Estimates (Liaison Committee Recommendation)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 145(3)),
That this House agrees with the Report of the Liaison Committee of 19 February 2019: That a day not later than 18 March 2019 be allotted for the consideration of the following Estimates for financial year 2018-19: Department for Education, and Department for Work and Pensions.—(Amanda Milling.)
Question agreed to.
Exiting the European Union (Aquaculture)
[Relevant document: Tenth Report of the European Statutory Instruments Committee, HC 1794]
I beg to move,
That the draft Aquatic Animal Health and Alien Species in Aquaculture (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 15 January, be approved.
This instrument extends to Northern Ireland only. The island of Ireland has only 10 native species of fish—40 fewer than in Great Britain and 80 fewer than continental Europe. With fewer species, it has fewer aquatic pests and diseases and, consequently, has a higher aquatic health status. We must ensure that that situation is maintained. We also acknowledge the vulnerability of the aquatic environment and the aquaculture industry to the introduction of diseases and alien species.
In Northern Ireland, aquaculture is a small but valuable market. In 2017, aquaculture production accounted for 1,248 tonnes of finfish at a value of over £6.5 million on 36 active licensed sites and 5,831 tonnes of shellfish, mainly mussels and oysters, at a value of over £9 million on 43 active aquaculture sites. The sector employs 93 full- time and 33 part-time staff.
Disease freedom underpins international regulations on the trade in live animals and their products. Northern Ireland enjoys a higher health status than the rest of the UK, as it is free from many of the most serious aquatic animal diseases. The maintenance and protection of Northern Ireland’s aquatic health status safeguards the interest of the aquaculture sector, as well as the public, who derive health and wellbeing benefits from angling and other recreational activities.
This statutory instrumen