House of Commons
Wednesday 27 March 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—
Government Policies: Implications for Scottish Economy
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has regular discussions with fellow Cabinet Ministers regarding all matters that are of importance to Scotland.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that direct engagement by UK Government Departments, such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury, in growth deals such as the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal is the best way to ensure that all economic objectives are met?
May I reassure my hon. Friend that discussions are held right across Whitehall Departments, including those to which he refers, to ensure that the city deal projects, including the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city deal, are as successful as possible? I also recognise the extraordinary amount of work, effort and drive that he has personally put into helping ensure that they are a success.
The Secretary of State and I had a conversation in the Tea Room on Monday, but given that he is not answering this question I will have to ask about something else. Brexit is obviously the biggest issue with regard to the impact on the Scottish economy, so can the Financial Secretary tell us how much the Scottish economy will shrink by if the Prime Minister’s deal is passed in this House?
The cross-Government analysis that we have already come forward with shows, as the hon. Gentleman will know, that, on the basis that we are leaving the European Union, by far the best outcome is to support the Prime Minister’s deal.
Under the Conservative Government, the Scottish budget has been cut by £2.6 billion in real terms over 10 years, and yet the confidence and supply deal with the Democratic Unionist party means that the Barnett formula has been broken to the tune of £3.4 billion. When is Scotland going to get that money?
The Barnett formula has been honoured. As the hon. Gentleman will know, there are Barnett consequentials where moneys are allocated to devolved matters within England. That is not the case in the recent additional amounts to support the Northern Ireland budget. It is also the case that in the recent autumn Budget the Chancellor announced changes that resulted in an additional £950 million for the Scottish Government.
The economy of rural Scotland would suffer serious damage if the Government’s proposals for tariffs on foodstuff were ever to be implemented. The National Farmers Union of Scotland has called for that to be rethought. Are the Government listening to it?
The Government are most certainly listening to all those who have concerns about the introduction of tariffs where they are not in existence, as is currently the case between ourselves and the EU27. Once again, that is why the deal that is before the House, which has been negotiated with the European Union, is so important—because that would mean that we would not run into those particular difficulties.
This question is specifically to the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland has three responsibilities: strengthening and sustaining the Union; acting as Scotland’s voice in Whitehall; and championing the UK Government in Scotland. Which one does he think he is doing best, and why?
I have no hesitation in answering on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, bound as I am to do so, given that I started this series of questions and convention dictates that I have to reply on his behalf. Those are all absolute priorities for my right hon. Friend, and he will continue to speak up for the people of Scotland.
I have to express the Opposition’s disappointment that the Secretary of State for Scotland is repeatedly not standing up and being accountable. Once again, this question is directly to the Secretary of State for Scotland, because it is he who holds the office, not the right hon. Gentleman sitting next to him.
I am afraid that I have to tell the Secretary of State that I disagree with the previous response. His record is abysmal. He has failed on the stronger towns fund; failed on Brexit funding for Scotland’s businesses; failed to stand up for Scotland’s shipbuilding communities through his non-action on the fleet solid support ships contract; and failed to respect the devolution settlement. He has even failed to follow through on his own resignation threats. Secretary of State, how bad does it need to get for the people of Scotland under this Tory Government before you do the right thing and actually resign?
I categorically do not accept the points the hon. Lady makes. My right hon. Friend does indeed stand up for Scotland, which is partly why—[Interruption.] The reason why he is not at the Dispatch Box, as the hon. Lady well knows, is to do with the way in which the conventions of the House operate in respect of the answering of questions. She knows that and it is a little unfair of her, if I may say, Mr Speaker, to try to make political capital out of that particular procedural element. My right hon. Friend has stood up for Scotland to the extent that there was £950 million additional budget for Scotland as a consequence of the last autumn Budget, with £1.3 billion going into city growth deals across Scotland. That is to support Scotland, the economy and the Scottish people.
Leaving the EU: Public Services
I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The best way to ensure that public services in Scotland and across the rest of the UK are protected is to ensure that we leave the EU with a deal.
May I share with the Secretary of State an email from one of my constituents, Ian? He says:
“As a doctor, I have already seen the adverse impact of Brexit on the NHS. Staff shortages are already hurting us…We cannot have Brexit and give the NHS resources it so badly needs. I know which people in our local community would prefer.”
Which does the Secretary of State think the people of Scotland would prefer: a decently funded NHS or Brexit?
I think everybody in Scotland wants to see a decently funded and supported NHS. I disagree with the hon. Lady on Brexit—her position is well known. If we want to encourage doctors like Ian to come to Scotland, what we should not be doing is taxing them £1,900 more than they would pay in the rest of the UK.
Is it not the case that what we have just heard is a complete scare story? The Government are making millions more extra available for the health service and all EU nationals who are currently here are welcome to stay. Surely, in the future, we will be able to have an immigration system that treats people equally regardless of where they come from in the world?
I agree with the points my hon. Friend makes. In the future, we have to make Scotland an attractive place to come to. If we want doctors and senior health service professionals to come to Scotland, we should not be taxing them significantly more than they would be paying in other parts of the UK.
The number of EU nurses applying to work in the UK has fallen by 87%, and more than 7,000 nurses and midwives from the European economic area have left the UK since the EU referendum. Can the Secretary of State say, with any honesty, that his Government’s pursuit of Brexit, and their hostile immigration policy, has not seriously harmed the NHS?
I could absolutely say that, because the Government are committed, as they have demonstrated across the UK for which they are responsible, to the additional funding of the NHS. We have set out an immigration White Paper, a route for engagement, to ensure that going forward we have EU and other citizens in our country to support the NHS and other services.
It is nice to get a chance to actually shadow the Secretary of State, instead of myriad other Departments that turn up from week to week, particularly as his own Government analysis shows that their plan for Brexit will result in a 4% drop in gross domestic product. If his party’s track record tells us anything, it will choose to impose austerity and poverty pay on public services and workers to make up for that decline. One of the worst consequences of austerity is rising food insecurity, resulting in food bank use rising faster in Scotland than across the rest of the UK. Given the pressure that the failed austerity agenda is putting on our public services, will the Secretary of State say how many food banks are currently operational in Scotland and does he predict that the number will go up or down under the current policies of this Government?
I thought the hon. Gentleman might have begun with an apology for his shameful remarks, when he said that people who did not agree with him in the Labour party leaving was “necessary cleansing”. I do not know if Labour Members are aware of those comments, but I believe that they are truly shameful. Of course, in relation to food banks, everybody regrets the need that people have in emergency situations to use food banks, but we are clear that the support that we are providing to people as we leave the EU will be sufficient to meet their needs.
Leaving the EU: Discussions with Scottish Government
I recently chaired the joint Scottish Business Growth Group and regularly meet the Scottish Government in a number of other forums, including the Joint Ministerial Committee, to discuss a range of matters related to EU exit.
I am sure that the Scottish people will be comforted by that fact. I am pretty certain that the Secretary of State has been able to have a look at the petition to revoke article 50. If he has not, I can tell him that nearly 10% of his constituents have now signed it. The Scottish people just want this chaotic Tory Brexit gone, but with the UK options quickly diminishing for Scotland to remain, surely he agrees that at some point, the Scottish people will have to decide whether they want to go down with this disastrous, isolating, ugly Brexit Britain or whether they should determine their own way in Europe as an independent nation.
I became aware that the hon. Gentleman did not support the First Minister’s policy of a people’s vote when I did not see any pictures of him cuddling Alastair Campbell at the weekend. At least the hon. Gentleman is honest—he wants to revoke article 50. I do not agree with him. That would not implement the outcome of the referendum. The best way for Scotland and the UK to proceed is to leave the EU with the Prime Minister’s deal.
We know that the Prime Minister, yet again, has had private discussions with the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, who is not a Member of this House and does not represent any Government. She represents only a minority view within one nation of these islands. When did the Prime Minister last speak to the First Ministers of Scotland or Wales? What has the Secretary of State done to ensure that such important discussions take place between now and 12 April?
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not aware that the First Minister of Scotland was invited to join a Cabinet committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, to discuss Brexit preparedness, as was the First Minister of Wales. Surprisingly, the First Minister of Wales has attended and the First Minister of Scotland never has.
I am surprised to hear the Secretary of State suggest that the best future for the people of Scotland is to leave the EU, because the UK Government’s modelling shows that any Brexit will mean that the people of Scotland are worse off as a result. Will he now do his job, stand up for the people of Scotland and vote against any Brexit?
I am presuming that the hon. Lady is part of the “Remain elite” that Alex Neil MSP and Jim Sillars referred to in their letter to the Scottish Daily Mail, when they encouraged all Scottish National party MPs in this House to back the Prime Minister’s deal as the best way forward for Scotland. They should listen to them.
Almost all future population growth in Scotland is predicted to come from inward migration, so a welcoming immigration policy and freedom of movement is critical for our public services and our rural communities. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary about meeting Scotland’s needs or devolving the power so that we can do it ourselves?
I was going to answer that I had regularly raised the issue at Cabinet, until the hon. Lady raised the last bit about devolving powers. I have been very clear at this Dispatch Box that the Government, in line with the Smith commission, does not support the devolving of immigration.
Sixty-two per cent. of people in Scotland voted to remain, so that is an elite that I am pretty happy to be part of. Some 7,500 of his constituents and 14,500 of mine have signed the petition to revoke article 50. The right hon. Gentleman is supposed to be the Secretary of State for Scotland and Scotland is against Brexit, so when is he going to do his job, stand up for Scotland and stand up to the Prime Minister, and stop Scotland being taken out of the European Union against its will?
Clearly the hon. Gentleman’s view is not shared by Alex Neil MSP and former deputy leader of the SNP, Jim Sillars, who I know commands great respect in Glasgow. The issue at the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s question is an unwillingness to accept the outcome of the 2014 referendum. We had a United Kingdom referendum, and the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave the EU.
Will the Secretary of State join me in commending the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) not only for threatening to resign over this Government’s ruinous Brexit policy, but for actually having the courage, honour and conviction to follow through, or is that an alien concept to this Secretary of State?
As we see repeatedly from SNP Members, they want a chaotic Brexit—and the chaos and disruption that no deal or no agreement would bring—because they believe that chaos and disruption are the best ways to advance their independence referendum agenda.
I am aware that the UK Government have provided the Scottish Government with millions of pounds for Brexit preparations. In the rest of the UK, that money has gone to local authorities. Can the Secretary of State tell me how much of that funding the SNP Scottish Government have given to Moray Council or any other council in Scotland?
I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating my hon. Friend and his wife Krystle on the birth of their son, Alistair, and on using the proxy voting system to reflect his views throughout his paternity leave.
The House might not be aware but the UK Government have provided nearly £100 million to the Scottish Government for Brexit preparations, but, at the weekend, the First Minister of Scotland was unable to identify a single penny that had been paid directly to Scottish local authorities.
Could the Secretary of State assist the people of Scotland by indicating how he intends to vote this afternoon?
I am awaiting your decision, Mr Speaker, on which amendments will be selected this afternoon.
From my right hon. Friend’s discussions with the Scottish Government, can he tell us what preparations they have made for a smooth exit from the EU and to take advantage of the benefits that will apply to Scotland?
I would commend the Scottish Government for their actions in relation to preparing for a no-deal outcome in the imminent future—that these preparations were being made was acknowledged by Mike Russell, their own Minister, in a TV interview at the weekend. The Governments are capable of working on that basis. That said, in response to the point of my hon. Friend’s question, no, the Scottish Government have not embraced Brexit or the opportunities it could bring to Scotland.
Twice the elected representatives of the British people have rejected the Government’s withdrawal agreement, and today we move on to consider alternatives. I know that the Secretary of State is conflicted on this matter, but I would like to give him an opportunity to be clear with the people of Scotland. Will he still rule out a no-deal Brexit, and if the only way to achieve that is by revoking article 50, will he support that?
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. I do not support a no-deal Brexit, but I do not support revoking article 50 either.
We can only interpret that to mean that there are circumstances in which the Secretary of State for Scotland would consent to a no-deal Brexit. In doing so, he stands against the views of the national Parliament of Scotland, of Scottish civil society and of the overwhelming majority of the Scottish people. Is it not time now to rename his post “Secretary of State against Scotland”?
I am sure that that line sounded better when the hon. Gentleman practised it in front of the mirror. He clearly misconstrued my response. The House has made very clear that it will not accept a no-deal Brexit, but we are committed to ensuring that we deliver on the referendum result. That means leaving with a deal, and that is why I continue to support the Prime Minister’s deal.
Borderlands Growth Deal
In his spring statement, the Chancellor announced the provision of up to £260 million for the borderlands growth deal, which will take the total investment to £345 million.
Extending the borders railway to Hawick, Newcastleton and on to Carlisle would bring economic prosperity and jobs to the Scottish borders and the wider borderlands area. Will the Minister join me in asking for some of that £260 million to be spent on a feasibility study?
I can certainly confirm that the Department for Transport will be considering a feasibility study on the extension of the borders railway.
Has the Minister looked at anything to do with local transport in Scotland? Has he looked at the shambles of ScotRail, and the shambles of local communities that have been left isolated?
We are totally committed to supporting infrastructure in Scotland. That is why we have announced £1.3 billion to support eight city growth deals that will promote economic growth, prosperity and jobs in Scotland.
Regeneration is of course a devolved matter, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government will be supporting Perth via a £150 million commitment to the Tay cities deal.
Elite-level Professional Tennis
I know that you, Mr Speaker, take a particular interest in this question.
Although my office does not routinely hold information on this matter, I acknowledge the great opportunity to build on the continuing legacy of Andy and Jamie Murray to develop tennis throughout Scotland.
If Scottish Office Ministers invested in access to the internet, they would discover that there are no elite-level events in Scotland, which is why many people feel that the Lawn Tennis Association is failing to take the opportunity to build on the legacy of Andy Murray’s success. Will the Secretary of State meet representatives of the LTA and the Scottish Government to see what more can be done to ensure that this huge opportunity is not missed once and for all?
I should be happy to give that undertaking. Perhaps you will join us, Mr Speaker, given your passion for tennis and your attendance at major events in Scotland.
I entirely agree with the Secretary of State. We all commend the heroic successes of Andy and Jamie Murray and want to build on them this year and beyond. I think that we should also acknowledge and salute the extraordinary efforts of Judy Murray, one of the greatest women in the world of tennis.
Of course Scotland’s reputation in elite tennis extends beyond the Murray brothers to the likes of Gordon Reid, Jonny O’Mara and the late and much missed Elena Baltacha. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling on the Lawn Tennis Association to provide the money that will enable Tennis Scotland to take advantage of this golden opportunity to ensure that children, no matter where they live in Scotland, can take part in and enjoy the benefits of tennis?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I will do that. Perhaps he would like to join me, along with the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) and you, Mr Speaker, at the meeting with the LTA and other interested parties.
Spring Statement: Block Grant
The spring statement builds on the autumn budget, which resulted in an extra £950 million for the Scottish budget, and also at the spring statement my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a further £260 million commitment to the borderlands growth deal.
Scotland clearly receives a very fair share of funding, but the Scottish Government have decided to increase taxes. Does the Minister agree that becoming the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom risks undermining Scotland, particularly through investment and in its wider economy?
Substantial tax powers have been devolved to the Scottish Government, including those relating to the rates of income tax, but the UK Government are committed to bringing taxation down, first and foremost by increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 one year earlier than our manifesto commitment and reducing tax in total for over 32 million people throughout the UK.
I hope colleagues across the House will want to join me in extending a warm welcome today to the United States Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, Woody Johnson. Woody, welcome, it is a pleasure to have you here.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Mr Speaker, I join you in welcoming the United States ambassador to see our deliberations today in Prime Minister’s questions.
I recently announced at Prime Minister’s questions that I would be chairing a serious violence summit, and I can inform the House that this will take place next Monday. The summit will bring together Ministers, community leaders, agencies and experts to explore what more we can do as a whole society to tackle the root causes of serious violence, as well as intervening with those most at risk. Following the initial summit, Cabinet Ministers will be hosting a series of roundtable discussions with national leaders and those on the frontline. This will complement the recent announcement of a £100 million violence reduction fund targeted at hotspot areas, along with the £200 million youth endowment fund being established this week.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I wish the Prime Minister well with the serious violence discussions she is having. However, Brexit is already costing the UK around £1 billion a week in lost growth, and we know that 80%-plus of the public are unhappy with the way in which this has been handled. This is not the fault of Guy Verhofstadt, Michel Barnier, Donald Tusk or any MP in this House voting according to their conscience; that fault lies with the Prime Minister, who is the architect of the withdrawal deal. So can she finally concede to the House that she is liable, responsible, culpable for the chaos that is the Brexit debacle and say when she will be resigning?
The Brexit deal delivers on the result of the referendum. The hon. Gentleman has a different view from me: I know he does not want to deliver on the result of the referendum. He wants to try and keep the United Kingdom in the European Union; 17.4 million people voted to take us out of the European Union and that is what we are going to do.
I hope the message my hon. Friend takes back to his constituents is a very simple one: we can indeed guarantee delivering on Brexit; we can guarantee delivering on Brexit if this week he and others in this House support the deal.
This chaotic and incompetent Government have driven our country into chaos. We know the scale of the crisis when the TUC and the CBI are united in writing to the Prime Minister saying:
“A Plan B must be found—one that protects workers, the economy and an open Irish border”.
My question on Monday went unanswered, so will the Prime Minister now say what is her plan B?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are continuing to work to ensure that we can deliver Brexit for the British people and guarantee that we deliver Brexit for the British people. We have a deal that cancels our EU membership fee, stops the EU making our laws, gives us our own immigration policy, ends the common agricultural policy for good and ends the common fisheries policy for good. Other options do not do that. Other options would lead to delay and uncertainty, and risk never delivering Brexit.
The only problem with the Prime Minister’s answer is that her deal has been twice defeated in this House, in one case by the largest ever majority by which a Government have lost a vote in our recorded parliamentary history. Reports today suggest that a former Conservative Prime Minister is telling Conservative MPs that pursuing a customs union with the EU is the best way to get Brexit over the line. Does she agree with him, and will she be supporting any motions for a customs union this afternoon?
The Government’s deal that we have negotiated with the European Union delivers the benefits of a customs union, while enabling us to have an independent free trade policy and to negotiate free trade agreements in our interests and not rely on Brussels to negotiate them for us. The right hon. Gentleman used to stand up for an independent trade policy; now he wants to have a customs union and to throw away the idea of an independent trade policy and leave Brussels negotiating for us. We want to negotiate our trade in our interests and the interests of people across this country.
The Prime Minister knows perfectly well that our policy is for a customs union to protect jobs and society. She will also know that the TUC and the CBI have called for a customs union as part of a deal. In fact, the letter they wrote to all MPs yesterday said that
“a deal that delivers a customs union and strong alignment with the UK and the EU rules is the preferred outcome for the business community”.
It is a bit strange when a Conservative Prime Minister says she does not want what the business community wants. These are indeed strange times. Can she say why she will not include a customs union in the options that will be discussed today?
May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he does not just read the question that he had thought of previously but listens to the answer that I gave to his previous question? I will repeat it. He stood on a platform to enable us to do independent trade deals and have an independent trade policy and to deliver Brexit. His policy on a customs union breaks the first promise. He has never explained why he wants to abandon an independent trade policy, and his policy on a second referendum breaks his second promise. Whatever happened to straight-talking honest politics?
The Prime Minister does not seem to realise that she does not have a deal that has been supported by this House. Our proposals for a customs union give us alignment on workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental protections; they do not begin with a race to the bottom, which is what she and many of her Front Benchers actually want. Earlier this week, the Business Minister resigned from the Government saying that the Government’s approach to Brexit was
“playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country”.
Why is she prepared to carry on risking jobs and industry in another attempt to yet again run down the clock and try to blackmail the MPs behind her into supporting a deal that has already been twice rejected?
We have been negotiating to protect jobs. What the right hon. Gentleman says about a race to the bottom is wrong, as he well knows. We have been working across this House and it is absolutely clear in the political declaration that we agree to not falling back on workers’ rights. Also, we are Government who have enhanced workers’ rights—[Interruption.] This is the problem. The Labour party can never stand it when they are told that Conservatives have stood up for workers, but that is what the Conservative party does. We have enhanced workers’ rights. We stand up for workers with our tax cuts and our national minimum wage and with higher employment.
In answer to a straight question to the Prime Minister, she was unable to guarantee what is called dynamic alignment with European standards. She knows full well that Labour’s proposals are to use EU standards as a baseline from which we would improve them, including giving workers full rights at work from day one of their employment, ending zero-hours contracts and many other things.
In the former Business Minister’s resignation letter, he also said to the Prime Minister that he hoped that she would
“now act in the national interest and enable Parliament this week to find a consensus… negotiating position”.
If today or on Monday a consensus alternative plan emerges across the House, will the Prime Minister accept that decision of the House and accept it as the basis for the UK’s negotiating position with the EU henceforth?
The objective that we should all have is being able to guarantee delivering Brexit to the British people. The right hon. Gentleman stands there and raises workers’ rights. We have been very clear about non-regression on workers’ rights and environmental standards—[Interruption.] He shakes his head, but it is in black and white in the political declaration that has been agreed. He ends his question—[Interruption.] The shadow International Trade Secretary is shouting from a sedentary position about listening to Parliament. What we are going to do on workers’ right is say that, no, we will not simply automatically accept what the European Union does; we will listen to Parliament and give Parliament a say in that. I thought the Leader of the Opposition wanted Parliament to have a say in these things.
That sounds awfully like a recipe for regression away from those standards and for damaging workers’ rights.
After the two largest defeats in parliamentary history, surely the Prime Minister should be listening to Parliament. She did not answer my question about whether an agreement reached in this House would become the Government’s negotiating position. I think that the House and, perhaps more importantly, the whole country deserves to know the answer to that question.
This country is on hold while the Government are in complete paralysis. The vital issues facing our country, from the devastation of public services to homelessness and knife crime, have been neglected. The Prime Minister is failing to deliver Brexit because she cannot build a consensus and is unable to compromise and reunite the country. Instead, she is stoking further division and is unable to resolve the central issues facing Britain today. She is, frankly, unable to govern. The Prime Minister faces a clear choice—the one endorsed by the country and many in her party—which is either to listen and change course or to go. Which is it to be?
The right hon. Gentleman asks about the indicative votes tonight, but I actually answered that question in this House earlier this week. He might want to talk to his shadow Brexit Secretary, who made it clear that the Labour party will not commit to supporting the result of any of the indicative votes tonight. The Leader of the Opposition then talks about what is happening in this country, so let us just look at what is going to happen in this country next week: nearly £1 billion extra for the police, £1.4 billion more for local councils, £1.1 billion extra for our schools, another fuel duty freeze, another rise in the national living wage and another tax cut. That is happening under the Conservatives. What would Labour give us? He wants to scrap Trident and pull out of NATO. Labour would give us capital flight, a run on the pound and a drop in living standards. The biggest threat to our standing in the world, to our defence and to our economy is sitting on the Labour Front Bench.
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. Like the traditional paper petition system, we need to strike a balance in the e-petition system between allowing people to easily register their support for issues that are important to them while discouraging dishonesty. I have been assured that the Government Digital Service has been constantly monitoring signing patterns to check for fraudulent activity. I am sure she will understand that I cannot comment in more detail on the security measures that are taken, but petitions are subject to checks as part of due diligence.
I am sure the House will want to join me in welcoming the members of the 6th Royal Scots Reserves who are joining us in the Gallery today and in thanking them for their service.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the cost this Prime Minister will pay to force her disastrous deal through is the price of her departure. Yet again, another Tory Prime Minister is willing to ride off into the sunset and saddle us with a crisis in the UK and an extreme right-wing Brexiteer coming into Downing Street. Does she feel no sense of responsibility for what she is about to do?
My sense of responsibility and duty has meant that I have kept working to ensure that we deliver on the result and the will of the people.
Let me help the Prime Minister. She can still change course; it is not too late. On Saturday I joined Opposition leaders and 1 million people to demand a second EU referendum, and 6 million people have signed an online petition demanding that the Prime Minister rethinks her strategy. Today this House will give her a way out, a chance to prevent disaster. Will she finally respect the will of Parliament, or will she continue to allow Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom to be held hostage by the extreme right wing of the Tory party and the DUP?
I am interested that the right hon. Gentleman joined the march for a second referendum. Last week his policy was revoking article 50, and now his policy is having a second referendum. Let us look at what the Government are doing: the Government are delivering on the vote of the 2016 referendum. What the right hon. Gentleman wants to do is to stay in the EU. [Interruption.] All the Scottish nationalists nod their heads and say they want to stay in the EU, and what would that mean? It would mean staying in the common agricultural policy—not in the interests of Scottish farmers. It would mean staying in the common fisheries policy—not in the interests of Scottish fishermen. It is Scottish Conservatives who are standing up for the interests of Scotland’s farmers and fishermen.
May I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the Government’s record in helping more disabled people get into the workplace? We do want to tackle the injustices that face disabled people and, as he says, if we are to enable disabled people to go as far as their talents will take them, we need to ensure that they have access to work and are able to travel to work easily, conveniently and confidently, as everybody else does.
Our Access for All programme has an additional £300 million of funding to upgrade historical station infrastructure. I understand that Ledbury station is being considered for part of that funding, and we expect to make an announcement shortly.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that South Wales police are getting an increase in their budget in 2019-20. We have protected police funding since 2015, in direct contrast to a Labour party that suggested that it should be cut by 10%.
First, let me say to my hon. Friend that I congratulate Gunner Lopresti on, and commend him for, the service he is giving to our country. We have been clear, in looking at the issue of Northern Ireland and the legacy there, that the current system is not working well for anyone. On that specific matter, we recognise that about 3,500 people were killed in the troubles, the vast majority of whom were murdered by terrorists. Many of those cases do require further investigation, including those relating to the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces. That system does need to change, to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors of the troubles. But we are working on proposals across government to take those proposals forward and of course we are looking constantly to make sure that we can give maximum confidence to our brave servicemen and women, who, day in, day out put their lives on the line for us.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the nature of crime is changing—or we are seeing new types of crime being introduced. The police need to have the ability and resources to deal with those, and the understanding of how best to do so. I do not think we need a royal commission to do that; one of the things I did as Home Secretary was to set up the College of Policing, and one of the points of that college is to ensure that it is identifying new types of crime and identifying how best to deal with all types of crime, so that we have the confidence that our police are using the best tools available to them.
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue, and safety in aviation is absolutely paramount. I understand that she has raised this issue directly with the aviation Minister, who is looking at it carefully as a matter of urgency. We are hoping for a positive resolution for all parties involved. The Minister will be writing to my hon. Friend as soon as possible, but I also know that the CAA has been in contact with all parties involved. She is right to raise this important issue and urgent action is being taken.
The hon. Lady has raised an issue that I was not aware of previously. I am happy to look into it and to make sure that the responsible Ministers look into it, too.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the message that I consistently get from people throughout the country is that we want to deliver Brexit. There is a way to guarantee the delivery of Brexit, and that is supporting the deal.
I am a little disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not give me another invitation to come to a hotel in his constituency, but there we are. I thought perhaps I might have been able to look at the spaceport from the hotel windows. He raises an important point, and the development of this spaceport is significant. It will indeed be good for local business and local jobs—skilled jobs in an important area of employment—but as the hon. Gentleman says it will also give opportunities for the UK to offer services to other countries throughout Europe that are not able to provide those services for themselves. It is good for our economy, for the hon. Gentleman’s local economy, for his constituents and for the UK as a whole.
Unlike most professions, those in the armed forces do not get to choose where they are stationed, but those in Scotland are undoubtedly delighted to serve there. More than 7,000 of our armed forces personnel in Scotland are penalised by Nicola Sturgeon’s high-tax agenda. In my view, that is simply unfair. Will the Prime Minister commit to extend for another year the compensation that the UK Government paid last year to armed forces personnel based in Scotland? We need to send a clear signal that the Scottish Government are prepared to penalise those in our armed forces, while it is this Conservative UK Government who will always ensure that those who put their life on the line for our country will come first.
First, I pay particular tribute to everyone stationed at RM Condor in my hon. Friend’s constituency. She is absolutely right about those brave men and women across our armed forces who put their lives on the line for us. She is also right that both this year and next the SNP’s tax hike unfairly hits a majority of our brave and loyal service personnel based in Scotland. That leaves thousands of them out of pocket, and that is wrong, so we will again be providing financial mitigation payments to those negatively impacted for the tax year 2019-20 by these Scottish income-tax hikes that mean Scottish income tax is higher than the UK’s. A single financial mitigation payment will be made retrospectively in 2020. The Scottish Government may ignore our armed forces; we stand by them.
I was absolutely clear when I became Prime Minister that we want a country that works for everyone. Our modern industrial strategy is exactly aimed at ensuring that we are developing across parts of the country that need it and that perhaps feel that they have been left behind. The hon. Lady talked about investment in the north and the northern powerhouse. The northern powerhouse is not stalling. We have made significant investment into the northern powerhouse and into infrastructure in the north, and into the deals that we have negotiated across the north, to ensure that the benefits of the economic prosperity under this Government are felt across every part of our country.
A very large number of my constituents voted to remain in 2016, many voted to leave and some were not old enough to take part—they all have a view. They and their MP now overwhelmingly want to leave the EU with a deal, so that we exit in a safe way that protects our economy and their jobs and just lets us move on. In the long term, we want a deep and special relationship with the European Union, while embracing the opportunities of the 168 countries that are not part of it. Just so I am clear before I vote this evening, will the Prime Minister confirm—just between us, if she likes—that none of that is contrary to the manifesto that she and I stood on two years ago?
First, I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent work as a Minister. He was an exemplary Minister, and I am sorry that he felt it necessary to resign from the Government. We do indeed want a deep and special partnership with the European Union. We also, as he says, want to embrace the opportunities of the 168 countries that are not part of it, by having an independent trade policy. That is precisely what is delivered by the deal that the Government have negotiated with the European Union. We can guarantee our leaving the European Union with a deal and in a safe way by ensuring that the deal is supported, so that we leave the European Union, as set out by the EU Council, on 22 May.
If the hon. Lady wants to ensure that we are able to deliver on the overall vote of the referendum in a way that protects jobs, our Union and our security, and in a way that is orderly and guarantees Brexit for the British people—she said that she did not want a second referendum—I suggest that she gets behind the deal.
Two days ago, I asked the Prime Minister if, as absolutely required under the ministerial code and the Cabinet manual, she sought the Attorney General’s advice on her authorisation of the extension of the exit date, and whether she would publish that advice. She refused to answer. Distinguished lawyers and former judges are convinced that the so-called international agreement is unlawful; I sent her a letter about that yesterday. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has not yet considered the regulations at all. The motion to approve the regulations will come before the House this evening. The European Scrutiny Committee and the Joint Committee will need to see the advice of the Attorney General before the end of the day, when the motion will be received by the House. Where is the advice of the Attorney General? Will she produce it and withdraw the motion?
It is a matter of international law that the date of the UK’s exit has been changed. The purpose of the SI this evening is to reflect that change in domestic law. Should the SI not pass, there would be severe uncertainty for citizens and businesses, and contradictory provisions between EU rules and UK rules, but it would be clear that the date of our exit had changed. The House of Commons voted to seek an extension to article 50, and an agreement was reached with the European Council in relation to that. My hon. Friend has raised the question of the commencement order with me previously. The commencement order is due to come into effect on the date that we leave the European Union. I know that he wants to leave the European Union, and we can of course leave the European Union. Dare I suggest to my hon. Friend that, if he cares to back the deal, we could guarantee leaving?
The Conservative party has a complaints process that deals with complaints of Islamophobia and of any other sort against councillors or other members of the party. It is absolutely clear that discrimination or abuse of any kind is wrong. We take action where there are cases of discrimination or abuse. The hon. Gentleman says that we have not acted since he raised this issue in 2018. We have acted on cases. The party chairman takes very seriously any allegations that are brought before the party and we will continue to do so.
Most of us would prefer a good deal to no deal at all, but may I urge the Prime Minister to ignore the dire forecasts about what would happen should we leave on World Trade Organisation terms? It is the same people who predicted doom and gloom in 2016 if we voted to leave. Since then, we have had record low unemployment, record high investment and record manufacturing output. Those people were wrong then. They are wrong now. We could be leaving as per the legal default position of article 50, which is without a deal.
My hon. Friend references leaving on WTO terms. Of course, what I want—what I think is right and what the Government consider right for the United Kingdom—is for us to be able to negotiate trade agreements with countries around the world that give us a better operation with those countries, rather than just the WTO basis. But I also want us to be able to negotiate a good trade deal with the European Union. We want a good trade deal with our nearest trading neighbours, and opportunities for good free trade agreements around the rest of the world.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. He mentioned the number of his constituents who are living with dementia. Across all our constituencies, there are increasing numbers of people living with the condition. That is why we have committed to delivering our dementia 2020 challenge in full. The challenge supports research into dementia, which he specifically mentioned. The UK research community is playing a significant role in the global effort to find a cure or a major disease-modifying treatment by 2025. We have committed to double spending on dementia research by 2020—the equivalent of around £60 million per annum—and we are on track to meet that commitment. As he referenced, much of this investment is for research to better understand the nature of dementia, to inform the development of future treatments and to find ways to prevent the onset of the condition. Preventing the condition is of course the best route to take. Meanwhile, we look to provide better treatment for those with the condition.
Thirty years ago, Margaret Thatcher told the UN General Assembly that the threat from global warming needed an equivalent response from the whole world. What progress is being made on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute towards man-made climate change?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this very important issue. He has also reminded people that it was a Conservative Prime Minister who was one of the first world leaders to raise the issue of climate change and to put it on the international agenda. He asked about some of the changes that have taken place. Between 2010 and 2017, we reduced the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 23%; in 2018, nearly 50% of UK electricity came from low-carbon sources; and UK CO2 emissions have fallen for six years in a row. That is just a few of our achievements. That is our record as a Government. But of course we continue to work internationally to help to deal with this issue, and that is why we believe it is so important to adhere to and remain part of the Paris climate change agreement.
I am sure the Prime Minister will join me in welcoming the signing yesterday of the heads of terms—the agreement—on the Belfast city regional deal, the first city deal in Northern Ireland, which it is estimated will bring about 20,000 new jobs, £350 million of investment by the Government, and a lot of extra investment by local councils and the private sector. Will she confirm that she will do everything in her power, in the absence of devolved government—the civil service signed on behalf of Northern Ireland—to ensure that there will be no impediment to the good progress of that city deal, which has been welcomed right across the community in Northern Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman raises a very important point about the considerable benefits that these city deals can bring in bringing together provision by both government at all levels and the private sector. I absolutely take his point that in the absence of devolved government we need to make sure that there is no impediment to moving ahead with this city deal as fast as possible and commit to ensuring that that does indeed take place.
The Prime Minister knows of the huge improvements to the quality of clinical care brought about by the Getting It Right First Time programme authored by Professor Tim Briggs, who I brought to see her, and indeed to see Gordon Brown as well. Given the importance our constituents place on a good service from their local GP practice, will she ensure that the general practice roll-out of Getting It Right First Time is speeded up so that the excellent practice in places like Worksop, Whitstable and Peterborough can be made available to all our constituents?
I thank my hon. Friend not only for his question but for bringing Professor Tim Briggs to see me. When Professor Briggs came to see me, he did raise this issue of spreading the concept of getting it right first time beyond hospital consultants and into GP practices. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we should make sure that we do that. We want to make sure that absolutely the best practice is adopted by GP practices across the whole country—that is for the benefit of all our constituents.
Skin cancer is on the rise in the United Kingdom. As many Members know only too well, it can kill, though when detected very early, or early enough, the NHS is able to perform absolute miracles—thank God. Is it not time, though, in the UK in particular, that we had a major public health campaign to persuade people to check out their body to see whether they have any suspicious moles, to take those suspicious moles to the doctor, to avoid the sun in the midday heat, to cover their children with at least factor 30, and to make sure that we can save lives—because if people are in doubt, they should check it out, and if they do, we can save lives?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point, and he speaks on this issue from personal experience. He is absolutely right. We need to ensure that people are aware of the dangers, aware of the signs that they need to take notice of and aware that they need to take them to their doctor, because lives can be saved. The Health Secretary has heard the passionate case that the hon. Gentleman has made in relation to public health information on this, and I am sure that he will be happy to meet him to discuss this further.
I hope that the American ambassador is enjoying his visit here today as much as he enjoyed his visit to north-east Lincolnshire last Friday, when I was able to join him at Young’s Seafood in Grimsby, where we enjoyed some of the finest seafood possible. Does the Prime Minister agree that Brexit increases the opportunity to build on our existing trading relationship with the United States?
We hope the ambassador’s palate was satisfied. I dare say we will be hearing about it if it was not.
I assure my hon. Friend, having recently visited north-east Lincolnshire, that we all enjoy our visits there and seeing the many opportunities across the economy. He talked about seafood and fishing opportunities. He is absolutely right: ensuring that as we leave the European Union we have the ability to have our own independent trade policy means that we will be able to have free trade agreements around the world, including with the United States. As we have heard on many occasions, we are keen on both sides of the Atlantic to be able to pursue that free trade agreement.
One of the many tragedies associated with this Brexit chaos is the huge distraction it is from other key priorities such as the climate catastrophe. Just this week, we learned that global climate emissions have hit their highest ever level. In the Prime Minister’s answer to the hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood), she only gave half the story. The other half is that the UK is way off track to meet our long-term climate targets, and our consumption emissions are down just 4%. Will she support growing calls for a green new deal—a green transformation of our economy, creating hundreds of thousands of good-quality jobs in constituencies up and down this country?
First, the hon. Lady should do more to welcome the action that this Government have taken on that issue. Secondly, she will have noted that clean growth is one of the challenges we have set in our modern industrial strategy. For a long time, people used to say that it was not possible to deal with climate change and environmental issues without damaging the economy. That is absolutely wrong. Actually, clean growth is a very good opportunity for us to take economic benefits. When I visited north-east Lincolnshire, I went to Ørsted and saw the work it is doing on offshore wind farms, which is making a huge impact on renewable energy in the United Kingdom. I am pleased that this Government are looking at the opportunity of hosting COP 26 in the UK.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) made in Prime Minister’s questions some allegations about the petitions system. I point out that the petition to revoke article 50 had 96% of its signatures from the UK, and the Government Digital Service has in place both automated and manual systems to detect bots and other fraudulent activity. Can you do anything to ensure that, if Members wish to undermine the most successful parliamentary petitions system in the world, they do so on the basis of facts and find out those facts from the Committee before they raise it in this Chamber?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. I do not think it is for me to advise on the identification of facts, which I imagine would be an extremely lengthy, possibly painful and conceivably unproductive exercise. However, I do not treat her point with levity. I will not arbitrate between her and the hon. Member for Erewash, and no one would expect me to do so.
I would like, however, to acknowledge the outstanding work of the Petitions Committee under the august and respected chairmanship of the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) and to emphasise that the staff who support the Committee display exemplary professionalism. I do not imagine, to be fair, that the hon. Member for Erewash would cavil at that at all; I do not think that that was her point. I want to put on the record that they are dedicated, hard-working and extremely skilled staff discharging a public duty on behalf of Parliament in the public interest.
I will come to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), but first I call Vicky Ford.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In order to come into the House of Commons from the tube station today, one has to walk past a large poster saying “Death” and then, underneath it, the words “to democracy”. It is not clear how the protesters want to carry out their death wish—whether it is to democracy, to those of us who are elected as part of democracy, or to members of staff who work for us as democratically elected Members—but there can be no place in our public life for intimidation of Members of Parliament or their staff. While we respect the right to free protest, may we ask again if you can look at the right to freedom of speech versus the intimidation of those in public life and how we are protected around this Parliament?
The hon. Lady raises an important point, and I respect the force of her observation and the sincerity that underlies it. There is of course a delicate balance between freedom of speech on the one hand and a safe space for parliamentarians and for those who report our proceedings on the other. As the hon. Lady, who is an extremely assiduous participant in the Chamber, will attest, this matter has been raised before in the Chamber—there is no harm in its being raised again; there is considerable necessity, no doubt, for doing so—and I have made the point that we in this House have made representations to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and had regular contact with Cressida Dick and her senior officers in order to make the case for a more proactive policing approach of a character and on a scale that will protect people going about their daily business either as parliamentarians or as journalists, or indeed as members of the public who fall into neither of those categories.
I know the hon. Lady will understand when I say—I do not say it with an ounce of flippancy; I say it because I think it is right, and I do not think she would suggest otherwise—that I cannot be the poster policeman. It is not for me to police posters, and it is not for any Member of Parliament to police posters. I accept that there is an ambiguity about the poster to which she has referred, and I acknowledge that it may be regarded by some as intimidating. Moreover, many of the threats to people have in particular been threats to female colleagues and female journalists, and we need to take careful account of that. I will relay the hon. Lady’s remarks to Eric Hepburn, the Parliamentary Security Director, and, as necessary, will have further discussions with the police.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.
I will come to the hon. Gentleman, but I did promise the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), and it would seem unkind to deny him a moment longer.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Recently, the shadow Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), who is in his place, came and made a very welcome visit to the Shipley constituency. Unfortunately, he did not have the courtesy to let me know beforehand that he was coming. This follows hot on the heels of the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), coming to visit the Shipley constituency, who did not have the courtesy to tell me that he was coming to visit my constituency either. Do not get me wrong, Mr Speaker—they are very welcome to visit the Shipley constituency. Anything that draws attention to the fact that my Labour opponent is a hard-core Corbynista, who will be a loyalist to a Marxist Government in her ideal world, is very much to be welcomed, and I hope next time they will bring Owen Jones and Eddie Izzard with them as well. Would you not agree, however, that they should at least have the courtesy to let me know when they plan to make a political visit to my constituency?
Yes. I quite understand Members’ desire to visit the constituency of the hon. Gentleman. I say that not merely in the abstract, but on the strength of my very agreeable personal experience. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I visited his constituency with him to speak to school students some time ago, and I positively salivated over the experience, so I can quite understand why others would want to visit Shipley.
Members should do each other the courtesy of prior notification. This matter is now regularly being raised by Members on both sides of the House, and I hope there will not be further recurrences of discourtesy.
Further to the point of order from the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), Mr Speaker—and I see that the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) wants to raise what I suspect will be the same point. As you know, Mr Speaker, following an incident involving the hon. Member for Chelmsford last week, we have had further incidents outside that entrance to the tube station. There are not simply posters, although that is bad enough; members of our staff are being intimidated in what is now a very much confined area. Further to that, a member of the Lobby told me that when she left this place at 11 o’clock on Monday night, she went past people who were injecting class A drugs. There was then an incident outside the entrance itself, where the gates are into the tube station.
In short, Mr Speaker, a number of us have done exactly what you have asked us to do. We have raised all of this with the senior police commander and directly with the gentleman whose name I have forgotten. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth did so in an email, as I know because I was copied in to it. Fine words—no action, and it is not acceptable. What is happening outside that entrance to this place is a serious threat to the safety of everybody who uses that entrance.
I think the fairest thing I can say to the right hon. Lady, whose extremely alarming personal experience lends weight to her observation, is that I might usefully convene a meeting with our advisers to be attended by those Members who are airing their concerns today. I think that is the fairest thing I can say, and the Leader of the House herself may wish to attend that meeting. I obviously cannot resolve the issue here and now, but so that we are all in one room and preferably, at the end of the conversation, in the same place, what better way but to have a meeting sooner rather than later? I hope the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) will accept that I cannot pursue it further now, but I hope that is a constructive approach.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker—
I am not sure how much “further” there is, but I call Stephen Doughty.
Mr Speaker, I just want to confirm to you that I in fact spoke to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner yesterday, after she appeared before the Home Affairs Committee, to raise these concerns directly with her. Unfortunately, this issue is not being dealt with to our satisfaction. We have now raised it with the Home Secretary as well, and with parliamentary security officials. Staff and Members are being threatened.
May I add, Mr Speaker, that the behaviour of some individuals, particularly on social media, with sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, antisemitic and Islamophobic language directed at Members of Parliament because of the ways that they vote and the opinions they hold, has to be dealt with. There is a huge responsibility on the social media companies to take action as well; it is not just the posters and physical threats of intimidation.
I accept that the abuse is wider and must be addressed—indeed, I do—and I thank the hon. Gentleman for saying what he has said.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask this question to seek your guidance, because I think what I am going to refer to is a novel thing. It has become clear that the Government have been buying Facebook ads to send out—to all of our constituents, presumably—the Prime Minister’s views in putting herself on the side of the people and setting the people against MPs. Clearly, Facebook has not been available as a way to do this until recently, but we now have Government money being spent so that the Executive can actually say controversial and potentially dangerous things about the legislature. Can you give me any guidance on how we might pursue this, because it seems to me to be a very alarming new trend?
If the hon. Lady had an allegation of contempt to make, it would have to be made in writing to me. More widely, and I am not insensitive to her concern, I think I would need to look at the specifics, and rather than shoot from the hip now and offer a response that may be ill informed and unsatisfactory, I would prefer to offer a well informed and satisfactory response. The route to that might be an exchange between us in writing, and I look forward to receipt of the hon. Lady’s letter.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Two weeks ago, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), resigned. To date, the Prime Minister has yet to appoint a new Minister to that post. The role has strategic importance and there is utter chaos in the Department for Work and Pensions—there are seven reviews into disabled people being wrongly denied social security, and the assessment framework for employment and support allowance and personal independence payment is in crisis. Those issues are important, and I seek your guidance on how I can go about holding the Government and the Department to account.
The short answer is by persistence: persist, persist, persist; pose questions; press the case; push the point of view that you wish to express. This is a very serious matter—I would not dream of treating it otherwise. The hon. Lady is speaking up—as, indeed, the Minister responsible for those matters would be expected to speak up—for the interests of disabled people. However, I hope that she will not take it amiss if I say that although I have a considerable number of matters on my plate, ministerial reshuffles are not among my responsibilities—thankfully so. I rather think the House would echo my saying that thankfully they are not matters for the Speaker.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House will shortly move on to discuss the business motion, which will, if it is passed, govern the conduct of the indicative votes this afternoon. It states:
“Members may record their votes on each question under arrangements made by”
you, Sir. So may I take it that at some point fairly soon, you will explain to the House what those arrangements are and how they will work? May I ask you specifically to scotch a rumour, which was circulating this morning and is probably inaccurate, that there will be some sort of secret ballot and that constituents will not know how their MPs have voted? Will you explain how—because presumably it will not be in Hansard—constituents will be able to tell how their Member of Parliament voted on each of the motions that you select?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I will indeed make a statement or an announcement to the House on that matter in a timely way. Of course, it is for the House to agree—or not, as the case may be—to a business motion. However, in so far as the right hon. Gentleman is perturbed by the prospect of secret—and thereafter to remain secret—votes, I think I can put his mind at rest. There is no such plan. I hope that reassures the right hon. Gentleman. He has a sunny countenance in the circumstances, and we should be grateful for that.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 20 February at Prime Minister’s questions, I highlighted the decision by the Tees Valley Mayor to spend £90 million of taxpayers’ money on buying the loss-making Durham Tees Valley airport when local people in most parts of the area cannot get a bus home after 6.30 pm. I asked whether the Prime Minister could help them out. She answered by claiming that the bus service had been considerably expanded across the midlands and the north, but according to a letter from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, outlining the statistics, that is most certainly not the case. The Prime Minister may therefore have inadvertently misled the House. Is there anything you can do to encourage a Minister to come to the Dispatch Box to correct the record and acknowledge that the vast increase in bus services that the Prime Minister suggested simply has not materialised?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me advance notice of that point of order. Responsibility for the veracity of what is said in the Chamber is that of each individual Member, including members of the Executive branch, up to the highest level. If a Minister reckons to have made a mistake, it is their responsibility to correct the record. I am not aware of any imminent intention on the part of the Prime Minister to correct the record, but knowing the hon. Gentleman’s perspicacity and tendency to focus his beady eye on the activities of Government, I feel sure that he will be looking out for what he thinks is the required correction. Whether he will look out to his advantage or whether he will be disappointed remains to be seen.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This point of order about today’s business is genuine, even though it may seem trivial to others. We are in unique circumstances. It is the first time since I have been a Member of Parliament that a business motion will not be moved by the Leader of the House at the Dispatch Box. I understand that the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) will move the business motion. He is allowed to be in that position only because he got hundreds of Opposition votes and 30 from the Conservative Benches. I sit on Her Majesty’s Government’s Benches, and I support Her Majesty’s Government—[Interruption.]—at least most of the time. [Interruption.]
Order. I was rather enjoying listening to the hon. Gentleman talking about his support for the Government. I thought that I ought to learn more and be educated about that.
The point is that I assume that the business motion will not be moved from the Dispatch Box, and I understand that. However, surely the right hon. Member for West Dorset should at least move the motion from the Opposition Benches, given that Opposition votes put him in a position to do it. That is a serious point. Otherwise, do I have to move to the Opposition Benches to speak against the motion?
The hon. Gentleman has raised his point with some force and insistence. However, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) is just that: the right hon. Member for West Dorset. That constituency is represented by a right hon. Member who, for the vast bulk of his career—we came into the House together—has voted with the Government. In recent times, somewhat to his chagrin or even distress, he has felt unable to do so. However, he is making his case today as a constituency Member of Parliament, and he sits on the Government Benches. If he were to perambulate to the other side, it would be regarded at the very least as deuced odd.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) made a point about the Prime Minister’s suggestion that there were 10,000 new bus routes in the midlands and the north. That was quite surprising to those of us who follow transport issues. I seek your guidance on how we could get on the record the actual figures from the Department for Transport. They are that 13,279 routes have been registered and 13,153 routes have been withdrawn, which means that there are actually only 126 new routes. I would grateful if you explained how that can be put on the record.
As the hon. Gentleman well knows, and he comes from a constituency that is very academic, rather highbrow, intellectual—
And he is one.
The hon. Lady observes from a sedentary position that “he is one”, meaning that the hon. Gentleman is highbrow, intellectual and academic. He has found his own salvation. He has got his point on the record. I feel sure that copies of the Official Report will be veritably winging their way to his Cambridge constituents ere long so they can note his prodigious efforts on their behalf.
If there are no further points of order, we come to the presentation of a Bill. The hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has been a most patient fellow.
House of Commons (Precedence of Government Business) (European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Sir William Cash, supported by Sir Bernard Jenkin, John Redwood, Mr Owen Paterson, Priti Patel, Mr David Jones, Mr Mark Francois, Mr Steve Baker, Mr Marcus Fysh, Suella Braverman, Michael Tomlinson and Richard Drax, presented a Bill to give precedence in the House of Commons to Government business in connection with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 until the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 April, and to be printed (Bill 367).
Sky Lanterns (Prohibition)
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 it an offence to use a sky lantern; and for connected purposes.
Last summer, when, after an unprecedented heatwave, a spate of wildfires was raging around the moorland of High Peak, I was shocked to discover that an American company called the Lights Fest was promoting a sky lantern festival at a venue on the moors above Buxton. A sky lantern comprises a paper lantern and a candle, and this company was selling tickets, at £20 or £30 each, for thousands of people to release naked flames across the tinder-dry moors. At the same time, our fire service in Derbyshire and hundreds of firefighters from Greater Manchester and further afield, as well as park rangers, farmers, gamekeepers and our military, were battling dozens of moorland fires, putting their own safety at risk. I pay tribute to them.
Although our fire service, local councils and the Peak District national park and I all objected to the sky lantern festival, we had no authority to prevent it from taking place as it was organised on private land. I wrote to Lights Fest to set out the local fire situation and to ask it to cancel the event, and Derbyshire fire service did the same, but neither the chief fire officer nor I received a response. In the meantime, local people set up an online petition, which quickly gathered almost 10,000 signatures. Fortunately, at that point the venue refused to host the event, so it was finally cancelled with just days to go. It cannot be right, however, that a company can organise such a dangerous event without us having any jurisdiction to prevent it from doing so.
It is not just on dry moorland that sky lanterns are a problem. They have caused significant fires in recent years, most notably at Smethwick in 2013 where more than 200 firefighters tackled a fire in a tyre depot that lasted for three days, caused £6 million-worth of damage and injured 16 firefighters, three of whom needed hospital treatment. Had it not been for CCTV capturing the sight of that sky lantern descending on those tyres, we would not have known that that was almost certainly the cause of the inferno.
Following that incident, in 2013 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Welsh Government produced a report that concluded that the
“fire risk associated with the use of sky lanterns is significant.”
In theory, sky lanterns should remain airborne for as long as they are filled with hot air and should fall back down only when the flame goes out. In practice, however, that is not always the case, and therefore sky lanterns can be a significant fire hazard.
A survey of fire and rescue services found that between 2008 and 2011 there had been eight wildfires in Dorset caused by lanterns and one in Northumberland that took 20 firefighters four hours to extinguish.
The DEFRA and Welsh Government report also found:
“When airborne, sky lanterns pose a safety risk to aviation due to possible ingestion into engines.”
The Civil Aviation Authority has said that 48 reported incidents between 2011 and 2012 were due to sky lanterns and helium balloons. The report also states that
“sky lanterns pose a significant risk to the proper and effective operation of coastal rescue services…particularly…red sky lanterns…being mistaken for distress flares.”
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the National Farmers Union are particularly concerned about the injuries caused to animals by sky lanterns, which can result in a long and painful death. The RSPCA has reported numerous incidents, including a foal that had to be put to sleep after his legs were so badly injured from bolting through a fence having been terrified by a lantern coming down, and a barn owl that died having become entangled in a lantern frame.
The RSPCA has said:
“Given our remit, the RSPCA’s focus regarding sky lanterns is the damage they can do to an animal’s welfare. Yet, a ban on their use would also have wider social benefits, chiefly enhancing community safety and reducing fire risk, whilst reducing potential problems faced by coastal rescue services and the aviation sector.”
The NFU has long called for a total ban on sky lanterns, which pose dangers and nuisance to farm animals and our countryside. Sky lanterns are a danger to livestock. Animals panic when confronted with an unusual sight such as a sky lantern. Poultry may smother together, leading to suffocation, and other animals may bolt, causing themselves injury. Sky lanterns often leave behind sharp objects such as the metal or bamboo fragment, which can injure livestock either by direct contact or through ingesting the debris. Sky lanterns also pose a significant fire risk to property, crops and livestock. They are a littering nuisance, particularly when there has been a mass release, resulting in a lot of debris for farmers to clear. For those reasons, the NFU wholeheartedly supports a total ban on their use.
More than 200,000 sky lanterns are sold each year in the UK. Following the Smethwick fire and the DEFRA report, an industry code of conduct said that sky lanterns should
“be of a design and construction to ensure that they only fall back to the ground when the fuel cell flame is extinguished and that, once the lantern has landed, any impact on animals or the environment is minimised.”
However, with a paper construction and a naked flame, no design can guarantee it will work as designed in any weather condition.
Each sky lantern should be accompanied by warnings and instructions for use, including:
“Launching a lantern in an inappropriate location or unsuitable weather conditions, or in any manner that results in damage to persons or property may make you liable for criminal charges or civil claims for damages”.
In spite of that guidance, however, problems are still being caused by sky lanterns, and the companies promoting them are seemingly heedless of the guidance.
Last summer's event showed the need to prevent the use of sky lanterns. The chief fire officer for Derbyshire has said that last summer’s wildfires resulted in devastation to the natural landscape. Resources from across the UK fire and rescue service were deployed for several weeks, tackling those fires at great cost to the UK taxpayer. As a chief fire officer leading a service whose main aims are to protect our communities by preventing and responding to fires and other emergencies, he was surprised that appropriate legislation was not in place to prevent the proposed reckless release of sky lanterns in the heart of the Peak District at the height of summer. Our chief fire officer therefore supports the proposed prohibition of the use of sky lanterns in England, to protect our countryside, wildlife, the farming industry and beyond.
All Welsh councils have banned the release of sky lanterns on council-owned land, and 70 councils in England—from Plymouth to Carlisle—have done the same. However, they cannot protect our countryside, animals and people from lanterns released on private land. There have been calls from across this House to prohibit sky lanterns. I hope that the advent of the environment Bill will give the Government an opportunity to put in place this sorely needed legislation. In the meantime, I ask the House please to accept my proposed Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
That Ruth George, Kerry McCarthy, Sir David Amess, Sir Peter Bottomley, Jim Fitzpatrick, Sir Mike Penning, John Spellar, Richard Benyon, Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Julian Sturdy, Antoinette Sandbach and Angela Smith present the Bill.
Ruth George accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 April, and to be printed (Bill 368).
Business of the House
I inform the House that I have not selected any of the amendments.
I beg to move,
(1) That, at today’s sitting –
(a) any proceedings governed by the resolution of the House of 25 March (Section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) or this order may be proceeded with until any hour, though opposed and shall not be interrupted;
(b) the resolution of the House of 25 March shall apply as if, at the end of paragraph (b), there were inserted “and then to a motion in the name of a Minister of the Crown to approve the draft European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) Regulations 2019”;
(c) notwithstanding the practice of the House, any motion on matters that have been the subject of a prior decision of the House in the current Session may be the subject of a decision;
(d) the Speaker shall announce his decision on which motions have been selected for decision by recorded vote before calling a Member to move a motion under paragraph (f) of the resolution of 25 March;
(e) the first signatory of a motion so selected may inform the Speaker up to 4.00 pm that they do not wish a recorded vote to take place on that motion;
(f) having been so informed, the Speaker shall announce that information to the House and may announce a new decision on selection;
(g) the Speaker may not propose the question on any amendment to any motion subject to decision by recorded vote or on the previous question, and may not put any question under Standing Order No. 36 (Closure of debate) or Standing Order No. 163 (Motion to sit in private);
(h) debate on the motions having precedence under paragraph (f) of the resolution of 25 March may continue until 7.00 pm at which time the House shall proceed as if the question had been put on each motion selected by the Speaker for decision by recorded vote and the opinion of the Speaker as to the decision on each such question had been challenged;
(i) in respect of those questions –
(i) Members may record their votes on each question under arrangements made by the Speaker;
(ii) votes may be recorded for half an hour after the Speaker declares the period open and the Speaker shall suspend the House for that period;
(iii) the Speaker shall announce the results in the course of the sitting;
(j) immediately upon the conclusion of the voting period the Speaker shall call a Minister of the Crown to move to approve the draft European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply to that motion;
(k) during the period between 7.00 pm and the announcement of the results on the questions subject to recorded vote–
(i) no motion for the adjournment may be made;
(ii) the House shall not proceed to a division other than on the question referred to in sub-paragraph (j); and
(iii) the Speaker may suspend the sitting if any other business, including proceedings provided for in sub-paragraph (j) and in paragraph (g) of the resolution of 25 March, has been concluded.
(2) That, on Monday 1 April –
(a) Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that order) shall not apply;
(b) precedence shall be given to a motion relating to the Business of the House in connection with matters relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union other than any Business of the House motion relating to the consideration by the House of a motion under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and then to motions relating to that withdrawal and the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union other than any motion moved under section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018;
(c) if more than one motion relating to the Business of the House is tabled, the Speaker shall decide which motion shall have precedence;
(d) the Speaker shall interrupt proceedings on any business having precedence before the Business of the House motion at 5.00 pm and call a Member to move that motion;
(e) debate on that motion may continue until 6.00 pm at which time the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on that motion including the questions on amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved;
(f) when those proceedings have been concluded, the Speaker shall call a Member to move one of the other motions having precedence;
(g) any proceedings interrupted or superseded by this order may be resumed or (as the case may be) entered upon and proceeded with after the moment of interruption.
I am very grateful to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House authorities, for the organisation you have tentatively put in place for today. Of course that organisation can only operate if the House approves this business of the House motion.
I would like to begin by explaining, in as plain English as I can, the two paragraphs of which the motion consists, neither of which is in any way complicated, but both of which have been drafted very carefully to ensure that the business proceeds smoothly and in good order as we go through what will no doubt be a quite complicated and highly contentious set of discussions about the substantive motions that have been tabled, from which you, Mr Speaker, have not yet selected, but that will no doubt be announced as a series of selections after we have completed the discussion and votes on the business of the House motion.
Paragraph (1) is an effort to order today’s business in an orderly way, given that there may be a considerable number of substantive motions selected by Mr Speaker and that will therefore be debated, and, at 7 o’clock if the business of the House motion is accepted, to be voted on. I therefore draw the attention of hon. Members first to sub-paragraph (1)(i), which describes the method of voting. It is the intention that, to avoid taking too long voting on the substantive motions, we should retire into the two Lobbies. The Aye Lobby will be devoted to those whose names begin A to K, and the No Lobby will be devoted to those whose names begin L to Z. There will be, in those Lobbies, voting slips—I think of a different colour, but very similar in character to the deferred Division slips that we have used today and are quite used to using—which will be in a bundle and will relate to all those motions on the Order Paper today that have been selected by Mr Speaker for vote at the end of the day.
This is just a general point. I do not often follow tweets as being law and the way in which things will be, but I have just seen a tweet that says No. 10 will indicate that it will vote against the business motion in an attempt to thwart all the measures the right hon. Gentleman wishes to secure at 7 o’clock this evening. Does he agree that that would be a misuse of parliamentary time by the Government, given the will of the House as expressed only yesterday or the day before?
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is reading a tweet that is a Trumpian tweet or an accurate tweet. I have followed the practice of not paying any attention to tweets of any kind at any time, but it may be, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that the Government will decide to whip Government Members against the business of the House motion. That is, of course, a perfectly legitimate thing for the Government to do if they wish to do it. It is slightly sad, given that those of us who have prepared the business of the House motion took great care to negotiate with the Government a suitable way to include the statutory instrument, which is needed to alter exit day, at the end of our proceedings. That is provided for in orderly way in the business of the House motion and I had hoped that that degree of co-operation might induce the Government to look kindly on the motion. But I am as perfectly aware, as he is, that it was not the intention of the Government to promote the indicative votes in the way in which the motion does. Therefore, I understand that they may whip against it.
I hope that not only the right hon. Gentleman but those of my hon. Friends who voted for this process in the first place will again vote in a Division, if there is one, to sustain the business of the House motion and to allow us to continue the process that we inaugurated by voting by a narrow, but nevertheless significant, majority for amendment (a), which stood in my name a couple of days ago. I look forward to being in the same Lobby as the right hon. Gentleman as we do that.
My right hon. Friend said that a significant majority voted in favour of his amendment. It was 329 votes to 302, which was 52% to 48%.
I think my hon. Friend’s mathematics is perfect. I observe that he has attached quite significant emphasis to the vote on the referendum result. Therefore, I hope that he joins me in the view that the majority for amendment (a) was indeed significant. I would like to point out to him and to some of my other hon. Friends who share his general views on these matters, which I entirely respect, that I, unlike he, have voted consistently, and will continue to vote consistently, for the implementation of that referendum result through the means of the Prime Minister’s deal and through meaningful vote 3, 4, 5 and to infinity. I shall go on voting for the Prime Minister’s deal to fulfil the referendum mandate. I profoundly hope that he might change his mind and join me in the Lobby to do so when it is necessary.
If there is movement towards meaningful vote 3, and there is some indication that there is, will my right hon. Friend and his somewhat successful parliamentary insurgency work with the Government to ensure that there is time, presumably early next week if not this week, for a meaningful vote 3 to be back and presented to this House, either by way of a paving motion or directly?
My hon. Friend asks an entirely reasonable question to which there is an absolutely definitive answer. There has been no insurgency here—
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
No. I will in a moment, but I must answer this point first. It is more productive to answer one point at a time.
I am absolutely clear that this is not an insurgency at all. It is an adjustment of the Standing Orders for today, and, if this is agreed, for Monday. It does not affect tomorrow, and nor does it affect Friday, should the Government choose to make Friday a sitting day. Either tomorrow or Friday—personally, I would entirely welcome this—the Government may of course bring forward meaningful vote 3, for which I will vote. I hope my hon. Friends will vote for it. I give my hon. Friend a further piece of good news, of which he will be easily capable of verifying, which is that should meaningful vote 3 pass on Thursday or Friday, there would be no further need for the whole of this process. This process has come about as a result of the increasing concern that many of us have had across the House of Commons that we were heading not towards an approval of the Prime Minister’s deal, but, alas, towards a no-deal exit, which is something I pitted myself against for many months.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am very much enjoying the “Letwin People’s Parliament” already. It has much to commend it. I am sure he finds it as astonishing as I do that the Government intend to vote against this business motion. Surely he will agree with me that there was nothing to stop them bringing forward an amendment to his motion today and that there was nothing to stop them bringing an alternative business motion to the House today?
I promised myself throughout this process that I would be honest with the House and I cannot honestly say that I am astonished that the Government are voting against it. Although I regret it, I somewhat suspected that it might be the case—as I suspect, in fact, the hon. Gentleman did—but I do share his view that it is a pity that the Government did not do what would have remedied what the Government described as a constitutional oddity by endorsing amendment (a) and, indeed, at the right moment, by putting themselves on amendment (a) as signatories. Under parliamentary convention, which you, Mr Speaker, supervise, they would of course have immediately arrived at the top of the order and superseded any mere Back Benchers. It would have become a Government amendment and the ordinary order of the proceedings of the House would have been restored. That would have been the natural way to go. Alas, the Government decided not to do that and I understand that they had reasons for that.
Returning to the subject of how we will vote, will my right hon. Friend say, or might the Speaker be able to tell us, whether the voting papers will be available before we go into the Lobby to avoid a great big crowd and to avoid slowing down the voting procedure?
I am sure that Mr Speaker will want to say something about that at a later stage, but I believe that the House authorities, who have been extraordinarily assiduous in this and have gone way beyond their mere duty, will have not only provided for the relevant pieces of paper to be in the Lobbies at an early stage, but provided very large numbers of copies of the Order Paper, so that Members will be able very quickly to refer from the voting slips to the actual amendments and nobody has any confusion about what they are voting for or against.
The Speaker has ruled that no amendments will be taken with the motion and obviously, I would not challenge him on that. However, is not this business motion today different from what was agreed last week, because now the right hon. Gentleman is proposing Monday as well, and amendment (a), in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell), has not been selected by the Speaker? Surely we are now voting on something very different from what was agreed last week.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that paragraph (2), which I have not yet had time to talk about because of taking interventions, does indeed book a slot for Monday. The reason why is that I think there is quite a high chance that at the end of today’s votes, despite the best endeavours of the promoters of each of the motions that fall to be debated and voted on, they may not receive majority backing. Perhaps the hon. Lady was not present, but I said during the debate on my amendment (a), very specifically—this point was echoed by many of her hon. Friends in their remarks about amendment (a)—that we all recognise the fact that the first time round, it is very likely that there would not be a natural majority for one proposition or another and that we should therefore regard this as a process and not as a single point in time. I did also specifically say that I therefore anticipated that we would need a further day. In many discussions and interviews, many of us who have proposed the business of the House motion today and who were supporting amendment (a) have made that point. There is no novelty to it; it is simply carrying through what we said would be the case.
Further to the intervention from the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that given that the Government have spent over 1,000 days on getting to where we are now, it would not be unreasonable for the House to have one more day to try to resolve this matter?
I do rather agree with the right hon. Gentleman about that. This is not the main burden of what I want to say today, but I share what may be his regret that about two and a half years ago, the Government did not take steps to create a cross-party consensus on this matter. The Irish Taoiseach did exactly that and put himself in a much stronger position as a result. When all this is over and hopefully we have arrived at some sensible way to deal with the whole Brexit issue, I hope that the whole nation will learn that lesson and we will realise that when we have great national undertakings, it makes sense to try to get a cross-party consensus about how to take them forward.
Further to the point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), what assurances can we have that the business of the House motion that we will be asked to support on Monday will not also include another paragraph (2), which seeks to book a third day for indicative votes and a subsequent motion? I believe that the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) referred to it as “daisy-chaining” in a briefing. If that is the case, can the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) be up front about it? Also, what does he think is going to change between today and Monday? Every Member of this House has had the opportunity to table a motion with their thoughts on the way forward. Every Member of this House will have the chance to vote on it in an up and down straight vote, with no knock-out rounds. Will we not just repeat ourselves on Monday with the same potential options and the same votes, with the same arguments?
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman, who has played an important part throughout these proceedings, raises both of those points, because they are ones that I wanted to come to anyway. Let me come to them in response to him rather than taking them later.
On the first question of whether there may be later stages beyond Monday, I do not believe that there needs to be any further round of voting after Monday on motions or propositions. I want to be very clear that I have said this to the hon. Gentleman so that he cannot later complain that there was any concealment at all, which is not part of our intention: I believe that if a majority for a particular proposition does emerge on Monday, as I very much hope that it will for reasons that I am about to come to, and if the Government do not immediately signal that they are willing to implement the majority view of the House of Commons at that point and if the Government have not by then—as I hope they have, although others may not—achieved a vote in favour of MV3, I think it would make sense for the House to move to the position of beginning to legislate to mandate the implementation of that majority. I think that would be a reasonable proceeding at that stage. It is only possible if we reach a majority view, of course.
I come now to the hon. Gentleman’s second point, which was the question of why Monday will be any different from today. The difference lies in two facts. This will be the first opportunity after a very long time—the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) made this point—for the House of Commons, in an orderly way, to have the opportunity to express the views of Members in votes on specific propositions and for us all to see the lie of the land. When politicians do that, they very often discover that there is a basis for compromise and further informal, offline discussion that can lead to the crystallisation of majorities. In addition, it may be possible to structure the following Monday in a way that precipitates a majority, which it has not been the intention to do today. Today is purely indicative votes, and this is put today in a plain, vanilla way, so that everyone simply votes for all the things that they want to vote for and against all the things that they want to vote against, and we will see what the numbers are. This is purely a first set of indications.
I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), because he made such a splendid case against me earlier.
I was trying to compliment my right hon. Friend—I was just suggesting he should be sitting on the Opposition Benches. He is making a very interesting and well-thought-out speech, as he always does, and he is being exceptionally honest with the House, saying that on Monday he will again be taking over the Order Paper and that that would then possibly lead to a legislative programme and a Bill to implement whatever comes out as the most likely thing to succeed. Will he give the House an estimate of how many days he is going to have to take over between now and 12 April so that we can have a guide and at least the Government can have a guide to when they might get some of their business done?
The coda in my hon. Friend’s remark was, I think, an amusement, in the sense that I do not discern a vast pile of other Government business of the first order of importance currently being transacted in this House. The Government are rightly focused, as we all are, on the question of Brexit. We are approaching 12 April, as my hon. Friend and I both know and as he mentioned. Of course, he has a very different view of what would happen to our nation if on the 12th we left without a deal, and I respect that view. It is not my view and I do not believe that it is the majority view of the House of Commons, as expressed in a series of votes. Those of us who are determined to follow that majority view—as conscientiously as he believes that it is a good thing to leave without a deal, we believe conscientiously that it is not a good thing for our country to leave without a deal—want to prevent that eventuality. The only way we can do that is by crystallising an alternative majority and trying to carry it forward. That is what we will do, but there is an easy route to preventing that, which is for him and his like-minded colleagues, whose positions I understand, to compromise—as many of the rest of us have compromised—and to vote for MV3. Were that to happen, none of this would be necessary.
What about the number of days?
I am sorry—I have not mentioned any more days than the days I have mentioned already because I do not think it will be necessary to have any more, although, of course, if there were legislation, there would be have to be a day or days for that in the House of Lords.
I apologise for asking, but I am trying to find out about this process, as I suspect are millions of people throughout the country. I am asking about MV3 next week because, if my right hon. Friend has taken over the Order Paper on Monday, and if, based on the opinion of the House today and on Monday, we legislate for a customs union on Tuesday or Wednesday, MV3 becomes redundant. Is he assuming that the only day for a third meaningful vote on the Government’s withdrawal agreement is this Thursday or Friday, or can he envisage a time next week when there may be space for MV3 to come back—for example, before a day of customs union legislation on the Wednesday?
Again, that is a perfectly reasonable set of questions with a definitive set of answers. On a third meaningful vote this Thursday or Friday, that timetable has been set by the EU—it is not the making of any Member of the House or the Government. The EU made it clear in its legal decision that the withdrawal agreement had to be agreed by the House by 11 pm, I think, but in any event late at night, on Friday in order for 12 April not to be activated and to move us to 22 May. That would be necessary for the Government to pass the withdrawal and implementation Bill, which is in turn necessary for their meaningful vote to be meaningful—without the Bill it is a nothing, as both my hon. Friend and others on both sides of the House who study this very well understand. The fact is that the Thursday/Friday schedule this week has been set by the EU, not any of us, and there is nothing that I or anybody else here can do about it. It is very important therefore—for those of us who want to make sure we do not drop out without a deal on the 12th—to ensure that, if my hon. Friends do not support those of us who would be in the Lobbies voting for MV3 by Friday night, there is an alternative, and this is the only way we can do that.
If the House voted for a particular outcome for negotiation with Europe that the Government thought either not desirable or not negotiable, who would do the negotiating, given that it is normal for only the Government to be a recognised negotiator?
My right hon. Friend, who is one of the two or three most distinguished and long-serving Members of Parliament and had a distinguished record in government, knows as well as I do that he is absolutely right: only the Government of the United Kingdom can negotiate with foreign powers. That is obviously true. It is also true, however, that the Government, like the rest of us, are governed by the law. Just as much as any private individual, Ministers are governed by the law. It frequently happens that, when Ministers bring legislation before the House of Commons and that legislation is amended in a way that they did not wish, they are still compelled to implement the law that the House and the House of Lords have passed as it is written. That is a justiciable matter and they are subject to judicial review if they do not do so. Now, I have said frequently that I do not think the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy has been ideally suited to the task, but I have never met an hon. Member of this House, or any other living human being, who is more law abiding than the Prime Minister, so I am certain that she would follow not just the letter but the spirit of the law were there a law that flowed from a majority view of the House of Commons.
When, as is normal, the Government have control of the Order Paper, if the House amends legislation in a way the Government do not like, the Government need not bring that law into effect or go through the remaining proceedings necessary to make it a law.
As one would expect, my right hon. Friend is right, but actually the Government often choose not to do that; they often allow legislation that contains things they do not quite like to go forward because they have some greater objective. The truth is, therefore, that Ministers often do—he and I as Ministers had this experience—find themselves implementing legislation with which they are not wholly in accord, but they know how to do that, and the civil service knows how to support them in doing that, and that is of course what would happen in these circumstances.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is actually a very novel proposition that the House should have to pass a law to effect Government policy in this way? Can he think of any example in his experience—I cannot think of one, and my experience is longer than his—of the Government pursuing a policy on such a vital national matter knowing that they did not have the support of the House of Commons for the way they were going about it and simply defying the majority that had voted for another approach?
As my right hon. and learned Friend is not just a former Chancellor, Lord Chancellor and almost everything else, but is also the Father of the House, he will certainly have more experience of this than most of the rest of us put together, and if he cannot think of such a case, I will certainly not be able to. I do not know of such a case. Indeed, simply because of the possibility that people would raise this issue, I did some research to try to find out whether there was any such case recorded by historians, who have longer virtual memories than we have actual memories, and I could not find one.
That suggests that there is a pretty strong precedent that if the House of Commons, in a matter of extreme significance to the nation, passed a resolution expressing a clear view of how to proceed, it would be not unlawful—so far as I know, though that would be a matter for the Attorney General to rule on, not me—but nevertheless very constitutionally unusual for the Government not to accede to that resolution and to proceed in the way that the House of Commons had requested them to. I profoundly hope that if on Monday we find a majority view in favour of a particular proposition, the Government will say, as they ought to say, that they will carry that forward. I am merely protecting against the possibility that they take the view that it is not a binding utterance by the House of Commons. Under those circumstances, we have methods, through legislation, of compelling—undoubtedly by law—an action that otherwise might not occur.
My right hon. Friend may recall that the Maastricht treaty caused a little difficulty, on a cross-party basis, in the House. Had the Government been defeated by a motion disapproving of the treaty, would he and others then concerned about the treaty have been content had the Government then proceeded with their declared policy on the basis that they had stood on it at the election?
The answer is no, obviously, as my right hon. and learned Friend intends. He and I were on opposite sides—bizarrely—on that issue. I actually believe that the whole of this imbroglio is largely due to the fact that the wretched Maastricht treaty was approved by the House in the first place. Had there not been qualified majority voting, the British people would probably never have come to disapprove of the EU in the way that they did and we would have been spared all this, but that is ancient history. He and I have a long record of agreements and disagreements at different times. This afternoon, we are agreed.
In response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), my right hon. Friend said that for the Government to ignore a motion of this House would be constitutionally very unusual, but it has to be said that the process this afternoon is constitutionally deeply irregular.
I am particularly glad that my very distinguished hon. Friend has participated in this part of our proceedings. He has not, though he is an assiduous attender of debates, ever had the horror of having to listen to me on this subject because he has not been present when I have been speaking about it, but I have tried to say to those who have been present on each occasion that the proposition he has just advanced is manifestly false, and the reason is this: the Order Paper of the House of Commons—this is the most ancient principle of our constitution as a matter of fact—is governed by the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and those are the property of the House of Commons and nobody else. They are the property not of the Executive but of the House of Commons. The courts recognise that in the principle of comity and never interfere in the proceedings of our House. That principle goes back not to 1906 when the Government—in my view, improperly—instituted Standing Order 14 in its current form, but way back into the origins of Parliament. From the very beginning, Parliament sought to establish its right, through the Speaker and otherwise, to control its own proceedings, which is a very proper thing for Parliament to do. We have been driven to this only in an extreme emergency—that is how some of us see it, though I know that he takes a rather different view—and we are doing it in a perfectly proper way through the amendment of Standing Orders, which it lies open to this House to do.
I cannot entirely agree with the constitutional proposition that my right hon. Friend is advancing. He will recall that, in the Tudor House of Commons, it was Privy Counsellors who guided the business. It is a principle of the greatest antiquity that the business of the House is guided by those representing the sovereign in Parliament. That principle is being eroded by today’s proceedings.
I little imagined that we would find ourselves debating the sequence of our constitutional history, but because my hon. Friend is genuinely learned in the matter and this may be my only opportunity ever to have this debate with him in the House of Commons before—thank goodness—I leave it, I want to explain to him that the succeeding history of our country was virtually focused on a debate about that very matter. It was because the House of Commons refused to be dominated by Privy Counsellors that all the things that happened in the later 16th and 17th centuries happened. I am on the side of those in the House whom I actually thought that, on the whole, my hon. Friend was on the side of, who wish to assert, over and against the Executive, that, ultimately, sovereignty lies here and not in Whitehall.
I am not entirely at one with the right hon. Gentleman, although I have some sympathy with the point that is being made. Surely, however, what we should recognise is that the House has been driven to these unusual proceedings today because the Government have failed to do their job.
We have a stellar constellation here today. The right hon. Lady is another very distinguished Member of the House who has held almost every post imaginable. She tempts me to do what I shall not do, which is to observe that the failure to reach cross-party consensus on this matter had two sides, and it would have been better if the two sides had worked together. That did not happen, and it is because it did not happen that we were at the mercy of the votes of some of my hon. Friends, and that is why we are where we are. I think the right hon. Lady will agree that what matters now is none of that history; what matters now is the fact that we are where we are, and we need to find a solution. That is what this is all about.
May I bring the right hon. Gentleman back to the business motion? His proposal today is that we should have indicative votes and, depending on where a consensus appears to emerge, the House will have an opportunity to consider these matters again on Monday, and there will be a further business motion for Monday setting out in more detail than paragraph (2) the way in which we will proceed then. I just wonder if he could undertake, as he did before, to share the business motion with the House before the deadline for tabling motions and amendments, so that all Members will be able to make the most of the opportunity on Monday.
The hon. Lady has raised a very serious and important point. I think we should make that commitment, because people need an opportunity to see what rules of play will obtain on Monday and an opportunity to table amendments, and to consider, in the light of that, how to proceed. I believe that, if we are talking about tomorrow, Thursday—because the House is not currently due to sit on Friday—the sitting will be curtailed at approximately 5.30 pm, after the Adjournment debate. I therefore think—assuming that the House does not sit on Friday—that we should make a commitment to lay the Business of the House motion for Monday by 3.30 pm tomorrow, so that people have two hours in which to look at it and table amendments if they see fit.
Incidentally, I agree with the hon. Lady—it was part of the burden of what I was saying to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke)—that there is ample scope for thinking now, and in the succeeding hours, including tomorrow morning, about possible methods of voting on Monday to encourage, or even to ensure, some further convergence to reach a majority in favour of some alternative.
Colleagues argue that there is no precedent for events of this kind. There will in future be precedents for such events. That is the way in which parliamentary rules have developed over many centuries.
Will my right hon. Friend now address the point that we do not yet know and will not know for another hour and six minutes: exactly what motions will we be voting on? We are expected to vote on them at 7 o’clock. Will he ensure that in future the House is given a proper choice, rather than the choice that is put by the Chair?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his observation about precedents. As a former Chief Whip, he knows very well how these things happen. It is indeed the case that our constitution has evolved through a series of adjustments, and there will be a precedent in this instance. I hope, incidentally—because I am not actually a revolutionary—that it will not be taken as a precedent for events like this to take place every day of the week. I profoundly hope that our successors in the House will not for many decades face an emergency of the kind that we are currently facing, because this is not a way of proceeding that I think any of us would like our country to face in the future.
As for my right hon. Friend’s point about the motions, I am much more confident than his question suggested that you, Mr Speaker, will select a full range of motions representing a full range of views, and that there will be ample opportunity for people, genuinely and openly, to support the positions that they wish to support and object to the positions to which they object. I think we shall see that when you make your selection, Mr Speaker, because I know that your intention has been—as has mine, and, I think, that of the House as a whole—to use this as a genuine opportunity for people to come together on the basis of looking at a full range of options and having every sensible choice available to them.
Is the right hon. Gentleman surprised—does he, indeed, find it incredible—that the Government apparently do not have an opinion on the motions that we will debate later today—apparently the Cabinet will abstain and there will be a free vote for his colleagues—but do have an opinion about denying the House the opportunity to have the debate on indicative votes because they are going to vote against the motion that he is proposing?
I am in a very odd position, in that, as it happens, I know, roughly speaking, what the official machine has been saying about the whole of these proceedings. I know that it has been raising very serious concerns about the idea of Parliament acting in this way. In fact, it has even been reported to me that one very senior official described the situation as one in which it was necessary for Whitehall to save Parliament from itself—not in a formal meeting, but outside one.
I understand that because, as a Cabinet Minister for six years, I observed the way in which, in trying to govern the country appropriately, Whitehall necessarily takes the view that the Houses of Parliament as a whole are quite an encumbrance. It tries to govern the country in a way that will, so to speak, tolerate and obey the democratic necessities of a legislature that is sometimes annoying. But, so far as is possible, it governs the process. It is very difficult for the official mind to absorb the fact that, ultimately, that is not how our constitution works. Ultimately, how our constitution works is that Governments depend on confidence in the House of Commons, and the House of Commons—or, at any rate, the Houses of Parliament—is the sovereign body: the Crown in Parliament is the sovereign body.
It is actually a very important point that we are making here about how the country is ultimately governed. In that sense, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) that this is a precedent. It is a precedent for Whitehall to recognise that, in an emergency, the House of Commons is capable of controlling its own business in such a way as to find a solution with which the vast majesties of Whitehall and Government have been unable to provide us. If they were able to provide us with that solution, and if my hon. Friends were willing to vote for the proposition which the Government have conscientiously negotiated over a very long time—and, in my view, have rather admirably succeeded in negotiating—we would not be having this discussion. It is because Whitehall has failed, not owing to the inadequacies of any individual but owing to the basic difficulty of the situation, that the Commons is taking these steps, and I think that in those circumstances we are right to do so.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He is being very generous.
Our hon. Friends are concerned about losing control of the Order Paper. Is not the answer, therefore, that if the Leader of the House confirms that we will have a meaningful vote on Thursday or Friday, when they go into the Lobbies, they have one motto in mind: “Vote deal, take back control”?
That is a neat way of expressing my hon. Friend’s view, with which, as it happens, I agree.
I am listening very carefully to my right hon. Friend and I think the thrust of what he is saying is that, if meaningful vote 3 were to be approved, none of this would be necessary to go forward. Will he therefore reiterate his call for those on all sides of this argument to support the withdrawal agreement? It may not be perfect for either side, but it is the best thing we have on offer and now is the time to get behind it.
As my hon. Friend knows, that is my view and has been throughout, which is why I have voted for it throughout and will continue to do so.
To come back to the business motion and in particular paragraph (1)(i), could the right hon. Gentleman elucidate what he feels success would be for a motion that we are voting on this afternoon? There is an Aye and a No in the vote, so what will success look like for an individual motion, or is this about a cumulative image created from all the votes for all the motions that Mr Speaker no doubt will choose in due course?
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman brings me back to the business of the House motion, because it is traditional in these circumstances for people who are speaking to say they would like to make some progress and I certainly have not made very much yet. My view is that this is not about the precise number of votes cast for one motion or another, or indeed against one motion or another. It is about whether, when we look at the results as a whole and when we act in the way that I think politicians across the parties acting in the national interest can act, which is to seek a consensus, we get enough data to enable us to have sensible conversations about where we can go next. That is what I think would constitute a success here. I do not know any way to do that other than to have the kind of process we are going through, which is why I suggested we should go through it and so did others.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that the last time we went through something remotely like this was in 2009 in relation to Jack Straw’s well-meaning but ultimately doomed attempt to get a sense of where we should be going with House of Lords reform? I fear that today’s proceedings will end up very much in the same place.
But my hon. Friend needs to attend to the point that those of us who are proposing this have exactly recognised that precedent. What went wrong on that occasion above all was that it was a single point in time, it did not produce a single answer and therefore it was declared a failure. We are not seeking a single point in time here; we are seeking a process. We are using the first stage of that process as an act of discovery. We are then having a number of days in which politicians can talk to one another and try to achieve a consensus. That can be reflected in a further vote or set of votes. That is a very different process. I think that had that process been applied in the case of the House of Lords we might by now have had a sensibly restructured House of Lords, which alas we do not. But that is another piece of history that I am sure I must not deal with.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case for giving the House the chance today to express its views. Further to the point just raised by the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), the truth is that we do not know what this will produce. It is called indicative votes for a reason: it is intended to give an indication of what the House thinks. But is not the most powerful point that the uncertainty is not an argument for not trying, bearing in mind that we are potentially 16 days away from leaving with no agreement, if the Prime Minister’s deal does not pass and if the EU were, heaven forbid, to refuse us a further extension? We should really get on with it.
I completely agree with every word of that. The point the right hon. Gentleman makes is exactly the reason why we are proceeding in this way. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to him and his right hon. and hon. Friends with whom we have been co-operating on this. Actually it has been a pleasure and the reason it has been a pleasure is because we share a fundamental concern with the interests of our country to have a way forward that is orderly and does not leave us with a disaster by mistake. We may differ on many things, but on that we are entirely joined, and that is the very purpose of this exercise.
Mr Speaker, although I have not myself said very much of what I was going to say, I think I have now gone on for much too long—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.] It has been in response to quite a lot of interventions. I discern that there are not any more around, so I think it falls to me to resume my seat.
Mr Speaker, I rise briefly to respond on behalf of the Government. First, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), who has sought to ensure that the Government’s business for today, a very important statutory instrument that regularises the legal position vis-à-vis our exit day from the European Union, is able to be addressed.
The Government are disappointed that the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend and others was agreed by the House on Monday. A clear commitment had been made by the Government to provide time for the House to find a majority for a way forward. I take my role as Leader of the House very seriously. I have always been very clear that the Government will listen carefully to Parliament, but today’s motion is an extremely concerning precedent for our democracy.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I will not take any interventions, because this is a Back-Bench day in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset.
For many years the convention has been that it is for the Government, as elected by the people, and with the confidence of this House, to set out the business. It is for Parliament to scrutinise, to amend, to reject and to approve. What today does is effectively turn that precedent on its head: those who are not in Government are deciding the business, and there are inevitable—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend just claimed that the people elect the Government; is it not the case that the people elect Members of Parliament who, by majority, decide whether they can form, and support and have confidence in a Government?
The hon. Gentleman is constitutionally correct. He has made his own point in his own way with his customary fluency, but the Leader of the House now has the Floor again.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
What today does is effectively turn that precedent on its head: those who are not in Government are deciding the business, and there are inevitable ramifications to that.
I work constantly to represent Parliament’s voice in Government, and today I am genuinely concerned that the decisions we are being obliged to make could result in Parliament being extremely frustrated. It is highly likely that we could be in a position where the preferences of the House simply cannot be achieved. Whatever the House decides needs to be both deliverable and negotiable, and, very specifically, the European Union has been clear in all circumstances that changing the withdrawal agreement is simply not an option.
This Government want to deliver on the referendum of 2016 in a way that maintains a deep and special partnership with the European Union. Urgent action is needed; businesses and people cannot be left in limbo any longer. There are two sides to this negotiation, so I repeat that what the House decides needs to be deliverable and negotiable and also needs to deliver on the referendum.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
I will not.
The Council conclusions agreed last week set out that the withdrawal agreement in all circumstances must be adopted by the United Kingdom, so I urge colleagues to accept that approving the withdrawal agreement—which is complex and which covers wide-ranging areas from citizens’ rights to farming, from overseas territories to security and financial services—has to be the first step. The EU has said that the withdrawal agreement will not be changed, and Parliament needs to accept that before we can look to the future partnership, which is what much of today’s debate will focus on.
Notwithstanding the fact that no amendments have been selected, in particular I hope that should the debate today proceed in accordance with the business of the House motion, it will allow for all motions to be fully considered, rather than just a select few. This would enable Parliament to establish what it does want, rather than what the selection would permit. Mr Speaker, the Government have consistently said that we do not support the approach the House has taken to remove Government control of the Order Paper, no matter the circumstances. For that reason, we will oppose today’s business of the House motion. While it is now up to Parliament to set out the next steps in respect of today’s business, the Government will continue to call for realism in the debate ahead. Any options considered must be deliverable in negotiations with the European Union.
I thank the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) for the business of the House motion, and I hear what the Leader of the House has said. We are living in unprecedented times, and that is why this business of the House motion has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman. It saddens me to look around the Conservative Benches and see some of the most wonderful, fantastic former Ministers, who have now left the Government because they are frustrated and do not see a way forward.
We on this side of the House are going to support the motion. We know that these are unusual circumstances. The House has decided that it wants to proceed in this way, and all hon. Members that I have spoken to today have made this decision. They are Members who have been working here for a long time, including a former Attorney General, the Chairs of Select Committees, the right hon. Member for West Dorset—who has written manifestos for the Conservative party and played a vital role in it—and a former vice-chair of the Tory party. They are excellent people, and they all agree that something has to be done. Mr Speaker, it is you who have to control the business of the House. I am not talking about personalities; I am talking about the office of the Speaker.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for giving way. The Leader of the House claimed at the Dispatch Box that she spoke for this House in Government. How can we possibly take that at face value when she would not take a single intervention, even though the House has made it clear that the business today was to be decided by the House? And this is where it becomes jaw-droppingly hypocritical, when she says—
Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not make a personal charge that impugned the integrity of the Leader of the House. Members can make a wider political charge, but not a personal charge.
Out of respect for you, Mr Speaker, and for the rules of the House, I will certainly withdraw the word “hypocritical”. However, it was pretty jaw-dropping to hear the Leader of the House claiming that it was the Speaker’s responsibility to select every amendment when she herself believes that we should not vote on a single amendment today and when she will not be casting a vote one way or another on any of them. Is this not just a complete farce?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Hon. Members have mentioned that the House is listening and that the Prime Minister is listening. The Prime Minister has met hon. Members, but she has not listened to them. The fact is that we are in unusual times. This is a hung Parliament, and the Government are governing on the basis of a confidence and supply agreement and nothing else.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for giving way. I am sure that she will give way to the Father of the House as well, unlike the Leader of the House, who sadly did not do so. Does the hon. Lady share my concern at the assertion that the withdrawal agreement cannot be renegotiated, when we were told in no uncertain terms by the Government that the so-called Malthouse compromise, which would fundamentally change the withdrawal agreement, was to be commended and worked on? In fact, I think that public money was spent on advancing it.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her intervention. On the question of whether the withdrawal agreement can be amended, I have sitting beside me the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), who has been in discussions with the European Union. We have been in the European Union for more than 40 years, and we know that it would be open to any discussions, such as those that it has held with my right hon. and learned Friend, if that was what was decided. We cannot ignore what our constituents—people of all generations—said to us when they took time out last weekend to tell Parliament exactly what was going on.
The hon. Lady will recall that the Prime Minister tried to dissuade the House from taking control of the business today by saying that if we did not do this, the Government would allow time for indicative votes to be taken. However, we were never given any details, any clear commitment, or any undertaking that any notice would be taken of those motions. Today, we have an alleged constitutional crisis because the House is setting the business, but if the Government had tabled a motion, an amendment, setting out their own clear proposals for taking the views of the House and discovering what the favoured option was, this whole argument about the process could have been avoided as an irrelevance and we could have resumed the serious business of ensuring that a majority in this House was in support of the Government’s policy being pursued.
I cannot follow that, other than to say that I have always admired the right hon. and learned Gentleman, even before I came to this place. I have always been totally in awe of him, and I absolutely agree with what he says.
I thank the shadow Leader of the House for giving way. I will support the motion today, just as, with great sadness, I supported a similar motion on Monday to get us here. I will do so because we are living in extraordinary times and because this House of Commons is at an impasse. We, the House of Commons, have to solve this, and this is the last roll of the dice. Otherwise, all the other options, however unpalatable, are on the table. Does she agree, given that the view of this House from out there is not at its highest point right now, that this is an opportunity for the House of Commons to surprise the British public in a good way?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, with which I agree, and for his work as an extraordinary Minister. He has been absolutely fantastic. I have seen him over the past few weeks, and I know how difficult his decision to resign was. I thank him for being such a good Minister. The key thing is that Members have tried to tell the Prime Minister exactly what the House wants and what it has decided on.
If we simply relied on precedent, Mr Speaker, I do not think that either you or I would be standing here as Members of Parliament today. We would have had to have wealth and property, and for women, we might have had to have something else, if that is not too rude.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, and for the points she has made about precedent and about what we do. Does she agree that, even though we have an unwritten constitution in this country, it is constitutional invention that has got us through in times of national emergency? We had a national Government during the two world wars and a full-blown coalition to solve the financial crisis in 2010. Given that the Government do not have a majority and that it is not clear whether there will be a majority for any of the Brexit options, does she agree that what was needed right from the start was that kind of constitutional invention, and that the lack of it has not really helped with the passage of the Government’s withdrawal Bill? We should actually be thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) for doing this. We would rather not be here, but we are, and invention is what is needed at this time.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, another excellent former Minister, and I agree with him. I was sorry to see him leave his position as well; he has been absolutely fantastic.
The point about precedent is really important. None of our rules or procedures is set in aspic. In my working life as a lawyer, I have seen the civil procedure rules turned over. We move forward; we do not look back. With the greatest respect to the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), even “Erskine May” is updated.
Further to the discussion during earlier points of order about whether this is a constitutional outrage, does the hon. Lady agree that since the civil war, this House is always controlled its own time, and that the only reason that the business of the House is normally controlled by the Government is that they have the consent of the majority that they carry and the confidence of the Members who support them? Today, the House is asserting its primacy in controlling the business of the House as it always has done and always will do.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The House is only responding today to what it agreed on Monday. Let us face it: we would not have had the first meaningful vote if the House had not agreed to it, and we had to struggle to get it. Speaking of the meaningful votes, the first was lost by 68% to 32% and the second by 62% to 38%.
Returning to the business under consideration, there has clearly been a change in the Labour party position. Up until today, we had always thought that if the Labour party did not support the Government’s position and did not think that the House supported the Government position, it would move a motion of no confidence, which is the normal way to proceed. Instead, there is this establishment of an alternative Government. Does that mean that the Labour party will no longer table motions of no confidence?
I think the correct term—I am sure that you will correct the hon. Gentleman, Mr Speaker—is that we are Her Majesty’s Opposition. We are responsible, and we want to try to find a way through, which is what hon. Members on both sides are trying to do.
As we have heard this afternoon, the constitutional implications of what is happening today are profound, and the House will in the not-too-distant future need some mechanism to consider those constitutional implications. However, that should not take away from the fact that we are concerned about the immediate crisis before us. In the interests of pragmatic democracy, it is essential to find a way forward, but we must bear it in mind that we will have to return to these big issues.
I cannot add anything to my hon. Friend’s excellent intervention.
I will support the motion today. I thank the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), and I am proud to have worked with them on how to try and move forward. My concern when I first drafted one of the original meaningful vote amendments in December 2017 was that, should the House not agree to a deal, we would need some sort of process or roadmap by which we would then have some chance of moving forward in an orderly fashion. Indeed, the position we are in today is down to a profound lack of leadership from the Prime Minister. She did not involve the House early enough or build a consensus on how to move forward. Instead of the disappointment expressed by the Leader of the House, I am surprised that we did not hear some profound regret that the Prime Minister and the Government had not engaged the House considerably earlier on the negotiating objectives. Instead, they have continued down a track that was clearly going to lead to the same place: defeat every single time.
I agree with everything my hon. Friend says.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we are in this situation only because we have a Government unable to govern and a Prime Minister unable to listen to the House despite two resounding defeats? Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the 30 brave Conservative Members who voted to enable this debate to take place—all under pressure from their Conservative associations—particularly the three Ministers who sacrificed their careers on a point of principle to allow us to have these options today?
I agree. People on both sides who have taken a bold stance have suffered abuse and have been threatened with deselection by their parties, and that is absolutely the wrong way to deal with this.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Order. Before the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) intervenes, which he should of course have the opportunity to do, we will take a point of order from the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil).
Given that there are 16 motions to deal with this afternoon, if a Member was to get up now and ask that question be now put, so that we could increase the time for the motions, how might the Chair react to that question?
There is no need to move the closure because this is a time-limited debate, and the time limit will be well known to the hon. Gentleman. If he can just contain his impatience, there will be salvation at hand in due course.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You know that I do not want to try your patience, and I apologise, but given that colleagues will be entirely unfamiliar with the voting process that is going to happen this evening, it would have been useful if the Procedure Committee at least could have had a dummy copy of what was going to be used. We could have been reassured that this was going to be something with which the House could get to grips.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He is not merely a distinguished ornament of the Procedure Committee but its illustrious Chair. That is a fact well known to all Members of the House, but it ought to have wider public recognition. The point of order is not a matter for me. However, insofar as there is any concern, the process will be explained at the material time by me from the Chair and, I hope, in a way that will inform and assist all Members.
Will the shadow Leader of the House confirm that she is giving way?
I thank the shadow Leader of the House for accepting my intervention and for your patience, Mr Speaker. Before the point of order, it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) that people such as me who had disobeyed the Whip and resigned may have faced undue pressure from the Whips or our Conservative associations. I did not experience that myself, but some commentators and, indeed, Members of this House have said that voting for the amendment on Monday and supporting this business motion today marks a dangerous revolution or sets a constitutional position of terrible magnitude that could put the country’s future at stake. However, I do not accept that one of my constituents will criticise me for reversing the Order Paper for one, two or three days so that Government business does not have precedence. I refute that assertion and ask the shadow Leader of the House for her views on the subject.
These are unusual times. Nobody asked the then Prime Minister to resign after the referendum vote, but he did nevertheless and a new one had to be found. We are in difficult and unusual times. This is one of the biggest issues of the day, and it will not affect the majority of hon. Members here, but it will affect our children and our grandchildren and future generations.
Let us face it: Europe kept the peace in Europe, where some terrible things had happened. I keep saying that the reason why we have the Human Rights Act is because single human right was breached during the last war. Europe has moved on from that sort of forum into one whereby we trade with our biggest and nearest partners, and that is why we have a Union that more states want to join. For the sake of future generations, we need to think carefully about what we do today. This is about the will of the House. The House decided that there was a vacuum and the House filled that vacuum. Hon. Members from all sides wanted to move forward constructively, and that why we are in this position today.
Does my hon. Friend share my puzzlement at the remarks of the Leader of the House, who gave the impression that, somehow, this has been sprung on the Government when they are only too willing to make provision for indicative votes? I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the Brexit Committee’s recommendation published on 16 January, after the Government’s deal was first defeated by 230 votes:
“It is vital that the House of Commons is now given the opportunity to identify an option that might secure a majority. We recommend that this is done by holding a series of indicative votes on the options we have set out above as soon as possible.”
Here we are on 27 March, which is going some when it comes to “as soon as possible.” Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government could perfectly easily have acted earlier?
I pay tribute to the work my right hon. Friend has done on a cross-party basis to bring this issue forward. As I say, these are unprecedented times, which is why the House is in this position. We are pleased that the right hon. Member for West Dorset, along with other hon. Members on both sides of the House, has had the courage to table this motion and put us in this position.
We have had to learn from a certain social media platform that there may be a vote on Thursday, or maybe Friday. Is that the way to conduct responsible government? The Opposition would say no. No one from the Government has had the courtesy to come here—I do not know whether they have informed you, Mr Speaker, but they certainly have not informed us—to say what is going to happen with business on Thursday and Friday, yet people outside do know.
I associate myself with my hon. Friend’s comments on the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin).
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point about how future generations will look back at this time, and they are going to judge us by events such as we are seeing in this House today. It is important to remember that the House was pushed and pushed before it decided to take these almost unique steps, and it does so with trepidation, but this is a time when something must happen to remove the logjam of a dysfunctional Government.
I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the question I asked the right hon. Member for West Dorset. What would look like success in the votes this afternoon? He made a very good point that today is about seeing a larger picture of where the opinion of this House lies. Does my hon. Friend agree that today is about finding that overall picture, and that steps taken on Monday may draw it down to a closer point? That is why I support the business motion.
We are trying to help the Government, which is why we need to support these indicative votes today. We are trying to help the Government find out exactly what hon. Members want and do not want. The Opposition support the motion, and we want to find a way forward.
I oppose this motion because I think that it is constitutionally ill thought through. Our country does not have a codified constitution, but it works on conventions, and those conventions are precious to those in government and to those not in government, for the tables may be turned at some point and the Labour party may find it has a minority Government and cannot keep the business of the House as it would expect.
Why do the Government need this primacy on the business of the House? As my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) says, it is absolutely right that the Standing Orders are the property of this House and are not challengeable outside this House, and our governmental system works through the Queen in Parliament. The Queen, in this sense, is represented by the Executive, and there is a separation between the Executive and the legislature that we all know about. That separation requires that the proposition of events comes from the Government and that the amendment, review and redress in relation to those events comes from this House.
One of the conventions that has lasted for a very long time is that a parliamentary Session lasts for a year unless a general election intervenes and makes it more sensible for a Session to be 15 months, or something like that. In a parliamentary Session, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Standing Orders provide that there should be so many days set aside as Opposition days. That has been completely broken in this Session, which has gone on for nearly two years. We have not had an Opposition day since November, the longest period in living memory.
I agree that it is important to observe the conventions, because the conventions protect the interests of everybody. If the hon. Gentleman is calling for a Prorogation so we may reset and have Opposition days, I would not be opposed to that. It may well be time for a Prorogation.
Another convention that has been broken is that the Government should vote on Opposition days and take notice of motions passed on Opposition days. That convention has been widely disregarded by the Government, who are now refusing to take part in Opposition day votes and are completely ignoring anything but motions that demand to be put into effect. Does the hon. Gentleman agree this is yet another example of an established convention, which I always thought would be properly observed by the Government, being discarded?
The issue is that Opposition days have become much more precise and have used the Humble Address procedure to ensure they are taken notice of by using a correct constitutional approach that is actually better than mere motions on generally otiose opinions.
I call on my hon. Friend’s constitutional expertise. Is it an established convention or a novel convention for a Minister to propose a motion at the Dispatch Box and then to vote against it? Is it not the case that, in a hung Parliament, we tend to invent new conventions to cope with our novel situation?
No. I am sorry to say that my right hon. Friend is wrong. There is a very strong history of Ministers proposing motions to aid the House, which was certainly done by Jack Straw during the last Labour Government and by the Government headed by David Cameron. When we reach the end of proceedings and the ability to propose a motion rests only with a Minister, the Minister often proposes it to facilitate the House coming to a judgment. That is quite a commonplace thing, as Mr Speaker will know.
I will not give way to everyone because there are only 22 and a half minutes to go, and the spokesman for the SNP, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), will want to speak. I must be conscious of the rights of minority parties—another important convention in this House.
Coming to the nub of the issue, taking control of the business away from the Government is a bad precedent because the House is not willing to come to the logical conclusion that today’s proceedings are heading towards. The Government control business as long as, and only if, this House of Commons has confidence in them. My hon. Friends—not the Opposition, who are perfectly reasonable in this regard—should think very carefully about what they are doing, because what they are in fact saying is that they do not have confidence in Her Majesty’s Government. If that is what they think, they should vote accordingly. Our great constitutional convention is that these decisions, if they cannot be decided by this House and by the Government who are legitimately installed, go back to the electorate. The reason my right hon. and hon. Friends are not willing to reach that conclusion is that they are going against the electorate’s will, as expressed in our greatest ever referendum.
I always learn from my hon. Friend, but I must disagree with him on this. I am quite capable of distinguishing between my general confidence in the Government, their measures, their Cabinet and their Prime Minister, and their specific conduct on this issue. Furthermore, I point out to him that on that great referendum, which voted to leave the European Union, I have been consistently voting with the Government, in whom I have confidence, and with the Prime Minister, in whom I have confidence, to give effect to that decision, whereas he has been voting against.
My hon. Friend makes a characteristically Wykehamist point: highly intelligent but fundamentally wrong. I must confess that I have sometimes thought my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) was more a Wykehamist than of my own school, but we will leave that to one side. The expression of confidence in the Government is through their control of business, not on any individual item of business. That is why confidence and control of business come together. This has been taken away in the past, and my right hon. Friend referred to the assertion of parliamentary authority in the civil war—well, we know how that ended. It ended with Pride’s purge and with people being prevented from voting. The Government, the Executive and the legislature are clean different things. That separation of powers is essential, the conventions of our constitution are essential and it is important that we observe them properly, because the sovereignty of Parliament is not the sovereignty of us, however brilliant we may be, or of the Mace; it is the sovereignty of the British people. They have told us what to do, and we must do it.
As always, it is an absolute pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). If an example of “taking back control” in a parliamentary party is a spat between him and the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) on Tudor history, I say we cannot get enough of this.
The Environment Secretary, from a sedentary position, invites me to consider the Stuarts. If he would like to go down that route and find a period in history where the Scots had precedence in terms of how this country was governed, he could not give a better example—I am sure the hon. Member for North East Somerset would agree with that fully.
I like this innovation. It a good, creative way to be looking at how we do our business. It is an example, at last, of this House taking back control. What surprises me more than anything else is that those who called the loudest and gave the biggest clarion calls for this place to take back control are those who have the biggest problem with the House doing that very thing. It is strange to see these Conservative Members—I see them all in their places—getting ready to try to make sure that this motion is defeated and things are once again returned to the hands of the Executive.
I am familiar with the speech made by the hon. Member for North East Somerset, as I have heard it before; he talks about the authority of the Executive over the legislature. In terms of the constitution of this place, he is absolutely right, but we are in totally uncharted territory, and in a hung Parliament, we have to look for these constitutional novelties. This motion should be congratulated. The way that it has been engineered and designed by the right hon. Member for West Dorset is almost elegant in defining its purpose. We have this opportunity to do this. It is one the Government could have given us, but they chose not to and so to complain about the fact that it has been made up to the House to do this is churlish.
Talking of churlishness, I have to say to the Leader of the House that I found her speech in response to this petulant and irritable. She was totally ungracious about the way this House has decided to do its business—it is what the House has decided. I find it astonishing that this Government are going to vote against this business motion, as they had an opportunity to table an amendment. I cannot understand why they chose not to do so.
My hon. Friend says that it is great that the House is doing this now, but should it not have been done about two years ago, after the Prime Minister said she would consult across the House and across the UK to agree a plan before going to Europe? She did exactly the opposite.
My hon. Friend is entirely right about that, and of course what she says is the case. The Government had the opportunities to reach out to try to determine how this House wanted to progress this whole issue of Brexit, but they chose not to do that. They have spent the past two years talking to themselves, trying to persuade recalcitrant Back Benchers to back a deal that they no longer favour. They are talking to the Democratic Unionist party, at great expense, to ensure that they can secure that party’s support. We have had two wasted years, and it is therefore right that this House does take back control and presents the motion before us today.
I understand the concerns that some colleagues have raised about the precedent here, with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) asking what would happen if the tables were turned. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the genie is out of the bottle and so that is not a reason not to pursue this course of action by voting for this business motion?
The tables being turned does not really concern Scottish National party Members, as it is unlikely that we will ever have the opportunity to have this done to us. The hon. Gentleman is right in one respect: this Parliament has changed the way we have done our business. The last change to the Standing Orders—I am sure I am right on this, but the hon. Member for North East Somerset will correct me if I am wrong—was when we introduced English votes for English laws. That is the last time the Standing Orders of this House were changed, much to the detriment of Scottish Members, who all of a sudden found themselves being a different class of Member of this House from other Members across the House. So the Standing Orders are within the gift of Parliament and if it decides to change them, that will be a matter for us. We will determine that in a motion presented to this House.
The discussion about precedent is one we may look back on in due course and ask whether we could have done anything differently. Is it not true that on this issue, which is of such national importance, and where the divisions and the unities go across party boundaries, we are dealing with an unprecedented way in which the country, which has also been kept out of this debate over the past two or three years, is now calling out for Parliament to find a way forward? Is it not also true that the Government ceded control on Monday when they still had an opportunity to bring forward a pathway and process by which the voice of this House could be heard?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the sequence of events, as this was determined and decided on Monday night. She is right in another respect. I am sure that she, like me, has been having lots of new constituents getting in touch with her, totally aghast at what we are doing in this House and at the fact that such a mess has been made of all this. They are looking at us today, as we take control of this House, to see whether we can do a better job. We cannot do a worse job than this Government have done, that is for sure.
The right hon. Member for West Dorset is not just a putative Prime Minister; he is almost a one-man Government. I was enjoying his contribution until about the 20th to 25th minute of it. I suggest that if we are going to progress this and develop it as an idea, we would do this a bit differently, perhaps with a little more style and panache than we have seen from the Government. I hope that that will be the case.
I am surprised that there has not been more objection to the other innovation taking place, which is that we are going to cast our votes using bits of paper. Some might want to use vellum or quill and ink. If Mr Speaker were to choose all the amendments, that could result in about four hours of voting. So perhaps the real innovation that comes from today is a modernisation of our voting systems, too.