House of Commons
Monday 1 April 2019
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Recruitment
The Government published our immigration White Paper on 19 December 2018, which set out our principles of the future immigration system. The future system will ensure that the process for recruiting and sponsoring migrant workers is straightforward for businesses and employers. We are committed to reducing the time that it takes to hire skilled migrants and to processing the vast number of visa applications within two to three weeks.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response. Recruitment from abroad is essential to ensure that we can deliver an effective NHS in Wales and across the UK. Following the scenes of far-right thuggery outside this place last Friday, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to reassure both EU and non-EU workers that the United Kingdom is a safe place to be, where their rights will be protected?
I very much agree with the words of the hon. Lady, and like her, I believe that our country has benefited hugely from immigration over many, many years. We have benefited in so many ways—our economy and our culture—and it is very important that we maintain that welcome. I believe that the new immigration system does that. She also rightly mentioned harassment and intimidation, and there will be no place for that ever in our society.
The national health service depends on nurses of course, and we must welcome the Government’s announcement of the removal of the £30,000 pay cap from nurses. That makes a great deal of sense, but does the Secretary of State also agree that the long-term care industry equally depends, to a very significant degree, on people from the European Union? Will he not consider, equally, removing the cap for long-term care workers?
I hope that my hon. Friend welcomes a change that we have already made to the tier 2 system for non-European economic area workers, when, last year, we exempted nurses and doctors from that cap. As far as the new system is concerned, he is right to raise this issue, and that is why, as we set out in the White Paper, there is a process of engagement over this year to make sure that we are listening, including to the care industry.
As I just referred to, we have already made a significant change in this area. We also operate a shortage occupation list, which can benefit both the NHS and other sectors where a shortage is identified. I believe that as we set out the new immigration system and through the process of engagement with the White Paper, we can make sure that we get this right.
You and I are big Arsenal fans, Mr Speaker, and we will be following Arsenal tonight as they thrash Newcastle. We will remember watching a 16-year-old Cesc Fàbregas. Will the Home Secretary ensure that under the rules after we leave the European Union, we can still make sure that we have the youngest talent from Europe playing in our premier league?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend on the issue of talent. The heart of the new immigration system, as we set out in the White Paper, is all about making sure that we are open to talent from across the world in all sectors and all industries and doing our best to make sure that it wants to come to Britain.
An effective system for the UK must mean immigration rules being tailored and differentiated for different parts of the UK. What plans does the Home Secretary have to put in place differentiated rules reflecting the particular needs and circumstances of Northern Ireland?
It is important that like the current system, the new immigration system is simple and straightforward for businesses and others to understand, so I want to avoid unnecessary complexity. The hon. Gentleman is right about making sure that it reflects the needs of different parts of the UK. That is why in the current system, we already have, for example, the shortage occupation list specifically for Scotland. I want to make sure that as we go forward, we keep looking at the needs of all the nations of the United Kingdom.
I would add to that—I think there are 5,200 on the latest figures, and I am sure that my hon. Friend would welcome that. What this shows is that the UK continues to attract the talent that we need from across the world, and we want to make sure that that happens with our new immigration system, when it is introduced.
Countering Extremist Views
The Government are committed to supporting community organisations to counter all forms of extremism. Through our £63 million Building a Stronger Britain Together programme, we are supporting over 230 civil society groups to stand up to extremism in all communities.
In the light of the recent terrorist atrocity in Christchurch, New Zealand, there is a renewed focus on the worrying increase in far-right-related terror in the UK. What role can community organisations play in identifying and preventing potentially vulnerable individuals from being radicalised into supporting these far-right acts?
I am sure the thoughts of the whole House are still with the victims of the terrible terrorist attack in Christchurch. I would like to reassure my hon. Friend that our Prevent programme works with a range of organisations, including many community groups, to safeguard individuals from radicalisation. Last year, almost one quarter of Prevent referrals were related to far-right extremism. I want to reassure her and the whole House that we will continue to do all we can to fight extremism in all its forms.
As the Home Secretary will be only too well aware, access to EU databases is vital to protecting our country, yet we could be just 11 days from a no-deal Brexit, which the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police has described as potentially putting people at risk. Is she right?
If we leave the EU with no deal, of course there will be a change to the tools we use with our European friends. For over two years now, but especially in the last six months, we have been working with them both bilaterally and using other tools, such as Interpol and the Council of Europe, which together will still keep us safe.
Extremist views take root more easily when the communities involved feel beleaguered or at odds with the rest of society—that is one reason I disagree with the Home Secretary on the Shamima Begum case. Has the Home Office researched the attitudes of the various communities in Britain to its own counter-terrorism policy, both legislative and operational?
My right hon. Friend raises an important issue. It is very important that the Home Office, in all its counter-extremism and counter-terrorism work, continues to engage with communities at all times and in various ways—I have met many community leaders; we have had recent roundtables with members of the Jewish community on antisemitism and with members of our Muslim community on anti-Muslim hate crime; and I have attended Prevent boards and panels to see the work they do—but we are always looking at what more we can do, because having the confidence of all these communities is essential.
In the aftermath of the appalling Christchurch attack, I met leaders of five mosques in my constituency yesterday, and they are understandably very worried about the possibility of further radical attacks, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan, when the community will be especially visible. They are very appreciative of the announcement of additional funding for security at places of worship, but they say that, with Ramadan imminent, it is important that that comes forward very quickly. Can the Home Secretary say what the plan is for doing that?
Again, that is such an important issue, after the Christchurch massacre. The hon. Lady will know that we have already doubled the funding available under the places of worship programme. I have allocated £5 million for a three-year training programme, and I have also started a consultation. In addition, we are meeting many members of that community and hon. Members to see what more we can do.
As Home Secretary, I have been clear that far-right extremism has no place in Britain. The Government take this issue very seriously, and it is routinely discussed by Ministers. Earlier this month, the inter-ministerial group on safe and integrated communities, which I chair along with the Communities Secretary, discussed the threat we faced from extremism, including the far right.
On Friday, outside many of our offices, on a specially erected stage, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon addressed crowds, while many parliamentary staff were trying to get home. Staff were told to leave but at times that put them directly into that crowd. At the rally, there were Generation Identity activists and organisations that had received money from the Christchurch killer and a convicted leader of the Ulster Defence Association, and the media were physically attacked. Will the Home Secretary urgently investigate with the Met police how a convicted far-right leader and such groups were allowed to whip up hate right outside Parliament?
Sadly, as the hon. Gentleman points to, there have been many instances of abuse and intimidation of Members, especially in recent weeks. All Members should be able to go about their business with complete confidence—[Hon. Members: “Staff.”] Of course, all staff as well—everyone who works in the cradle of our democracy. It is important that the police, both the Met police and local police forces, and the House authorities work together, which they are doing. I had a meeting just last week with police, officials and others to see what more we could do.
We are already engaging with social media companies, especially the US giants that dominate the sector. I have met their representatives both here and abroad to discuss, in particular, terrorists and terrorism-related extremist content. However, the Government recognise that more needs to be done, which is why we will shortly publish the online harms White Paper.
The Home Secretary will be aware of recent reports that right-wing extremists are gaining access to ISIS-related terrorist training materials. The House should be aware that just as there is a terrorist threat from supporters of grotesque organisations such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, there is also a growing threat from the far right, which includes the threat of acts of terrorism. It has been reported that senior Home Office officials, Scotland Yard and the security agencies have met senior representatives of both the Muslim and Jewish communities. Will the Home Secretary confirm that those meetings have taken place, and will he tell us what reassurances he was able to provide?
As my hon. Friends have said, there is grave concern in the Muslim community in the light of the Christchurch massacre and the subsequent attacks on mosques in Birmingham. Can the Home Secretary assure us that funds will be available for the security of mosques and other Muslim places of worship, in the same way as they are available through the Community Security Trust for the security of synagogues? Is he aware that there are many Muslim community centres like my own North London Muslim Community Centre, which is next door to the mosque and forms part of the same complex of buildings? The people there feel very threatened. Is the Home Secretary prepared to consider helping them with funds for their necessary security?
I share the concerns that the right hon. Lady has expressed. Everyone in the House will understand why there are heightened concerns in our British Muslim communities, and why we need to do more. Soon after the Christchurch massacre, I sent “Dear colleague” messages to all Members about the immediate action that we are taking in increasing the funding for places of worship.
The right hon. Lady rightly raised the issue of Muslim community centres. I want to work with Muslim community leaders and others and to listen to what they say about what needs to be done. I think that all Members are united in their wish to ensure that our Muslim community in Britain, whom we cherish, feel hugely valued and receive the protection that they deserve. No one should feel intimidated in any way whatsoever.
EU Settlement Scheme
The Government’s approach has been informed by extensive, regular engagement with external stakeholders representing the needs of a broad range of people, to ensure that the EU settlement scheme is accessible to all. The Home Office has introduced a range of support, including £9 million of grant funding for voluntary and community organisations, and support via the EU Settlement Scheme Resolution Centre.
I welcome the Government’s honest and transparent approach, which I know gives EU citizens living in my constituency the reassurance that they need. What steps is the Minister taking to give EU citizens as much reassurance as possible throughout the whole process?
The EU settlement scheme opened fully on Saturday, and we have worked with EU citizens to make it as simple and straightforward as possible. Last week, we launched a £3.75 million programme of communications that provides both information and the underlying message that EU citizens are our friends, our colleagues and our neighbours, and we want them to stay.
I have met the Minister to discuss this, but will she tell the House what assurances she can give those who are not citizens of the European economic area but are married to EEA citizens? Under the current system, they have to obtain the permission of those EEA citizens to secure their settled status, regardless of whether or not they are victims of domestic violence.
I thank the hon. Lady for that question. It is not correct that people have to get the permission of somebody who may well be a perpetrator of domestic violence, but it is important that, through our £9 million of grant funding, we work with groups and support the most vulnerable in the community so that they can help evidence their time in the UK and be granted status through the channels that we have put in place.
In the light of contact I have had with a constituent who is undergoing cancer treatment, may I urge the Minister to state in the clearest terms that EU nationals living in this country will continue to be entitled to NHS treatment?
That is absolutely correct. There will be no loss of entitlement to NHS services and treatment, and I thank my right hon. Friend for her assistance in conveying the message to her constituents that we want our EU friends and neighbours to be able to stay and access the services and benefits to which they are entitled. That is important.
As the Minister says, the EU settled status scheme opened at the weekend, but the Government have not introduced a right of appeal to a tribunal against a decision under it. So in the event of a dispute about whether a person qualifies, the only means of independent redress is judicial review, which can be expensive and time-consuming. Does the Minister agree that that is not satisfactory? Will she commit to introducing a proper right of appeal?
As always, the Minister does not answer the question. It seems to me that there is no intention of introducing an independent right of appeal. Perhaps she can answer this question: the Costa amendment required the Government to ring-fence what had already been agreed for EU citizens’ rights; what progress has been made on securing that ring-fencing? Will the Prime Minister raise the matter at the EU Council on 10 April?
As of 30 March, the EU settlement scheme is fully open. Efforts to promote the EU settled status scheme are too little, too late. No matter how well the Government advertise, there will be people who fail to apply before the deadline. Even if that is just a small percentage, hundreds of thousands of people will be stripped of their rights and subjected to the hostile environment. Will the Government accept proposals for a declaratory scheme—the only way to avoid a repeat of Windrush for EU citizens?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will of course know that the first three phases of the scheme were in testing mode, and it opened publicly for the first time on Saturday. That was designed to coincide with a widespread communications campaign, on which the Government are spending £3.75 million. He well knows that we debated the issues about a declaratory scheme in the Committee stage of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. We are very conscious of the fact that we want people to have status that they can evidence. That is why we put the scheme in place. They will have digital status, which will provide them with the ability to share just the information that is required for landlords and employers. I encourage all hon. Members to ensure that EU citizens living in their constituencies take part in the scheme.
Air Weapons Regulations
The misuse of air weapons has led to too much tragic loss of life. That is why I commissioned the review. We intend to publish our conclusions alongside a consultation on firearms safety issues, to which we committed during the passage of the Offensive Weapons Bill.
I am grateful for that answer, but the review was announced in October 2017 after my Adjournment debate. It closed in February 2018 and last July, the Minister told me that it would be published as soon as possible after the summer recess. We had more assurances in the Public Bill Committee, when I tabled further amendments, but we still have no answers to give the victims of those lethal weapons. What do the Government have to say to the families of those who have been killed and to those who have been injured, such as people in my constituency and in that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson)?
I am genuinely sorry that this is taking much longer than I would like, and I am more than happy to meet Mr and Mrs Studley and other victims. However, bearing in mind that we have some of the toughest regulation in the world, we have a range of issues to look at in relation to firearms safety—we have committed to consulting on them in the Offensive Weapons Bill—and we are determined to consider them in the round.
Does the Minister share my concern about the easy availability of air and imitation firearms? Given that there were 1,300 offences relating to imitation firearms last year, does he agree that it puts our police officers in a particularly difficult position if they do not know whether a weapon is real or an imitation?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but the broader point is that it is absolutely right to look again at the regulations on air weapons. They are already tight in terms of ownership and possession, but we have undertaken to look again particularly at what we can do to tighten up the safety regime, and that is exactly what we intend to do.
Violent Crime: Young People
Diverting young people from crime is at the heart of my approach to tackling serious violence. Factors such as domestic abuse and substance abuse can make an individual vulnerable to becoming a victim or a perpetrator. I understand these communities; I was raised alongside kids like these and I will not leave them behind. That is why we are investing record amounts in early intervention schemes to steer even more children and young people away from serious violence.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he also investigate changing the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to allow a recent conviction for carrying a knife or gun to be used as grounds by the police for carrying out a stop and search? Does he agree that this could divert larger numbers of people from crime?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting this issue, which has also been raised by the police. I have asked officials for further advice on the matter. He might also be interested to know that just yesterday we announced changes to stop and search that would make it easier for police to deploy “no suspicion” stop and search powers to combat serious violence.
How does my right hon. Friend expect the £100 million of funding, allocated in the spring statement for the purpose of keeping young people safe, to ease police pressures not only in large cities such as London but in towns and villages such as those in my constituency?
It will certainly help to ease pressures. The £100 million will help police with their immediate response to the rise in serious knife crime, and it will also help to support the violence reduction units. That £100 million is alongside the almost £1 billion increase in total police funding this year.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this, because the work of Real Knives, Real Lives and of other groups doing similar work is really helping young people to move away from involvement in what could become a life of crime. We have provided significant funding to similar organisations through the early intervention youth fund, and now the new youth endowment fund will also support similar community organisations.
I welcome the public health approach and the knife crime summit, but the evidence presented to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into serious violence suggests that the Home Secretary’s claim to be putting record amounts of funding into prevention is simply not credible. We were told by West Midlands police that they now have no police officers based in schools working on crime prevention because of the scale of the cuts. There has also been a one third reduction in youth service funding over the past few years and, crucially, there are now 50,000 fewer people working on community safety and crime prevention. Children’s lives are being lost and it is crucial that investment in prevention should take place.
First, the right hon. Lady will be aware that we have had the biggest cash increase in police resources—almost £1 billion—since 2010. That is going to lead to the recruitment of more than 3,000 officers. I absolutely agree with her that early intervention should be a priority, and just last week we confirmed that a record £200 million is going into the youth endowment fund. That will help many community organisations to help young people to turn away from crime.
First, I am very sorry to hear about that incident, which must have been shocking for everyone involved. We need to ensure that the police are properly resourced, which is why this record increase in funding since 2010 is hugely welcome. However, when it comes to other types of crime that require more focus, the additional £100 million to tackle serious violence that the Chancellor announced in the spring statement will also help.
For months, I have been raising the need for the Home Secretary to get a move on and get a grip on this national emergency. We welcome the measures that he has announced to tackle youth and violent crime, but will he commit today to come to this House of Commons every single week to let us know how everything is working, how it is reducing serious violence and whether it is having any impact at all? We will then start to believe him.
We absolutely should regularly update the House, whether by coming to the House, through “Dear colleague,” letters or by holding meetings with hon. Members who request them. However, it is important, on many of these measures, that we are united as a House. The public health approach, which seems to have united hon. Members, is an example of what we can do if we work together.
Right across the country, vulnerable children are being coerced and threatened into joining gangs that run drug operations. There are instances where vulnerable and isolated children are groomed, exploited and filmed while being sexually abused and subsequently blackmailed into selling drugs. What assurances can the Home Secretary offer the House about the specific action being taken to tackle the county lines operations properly to ensure that children are not caught up in violent gangs?
First, the new public health approach, the consultation on which was launched today, will certainly help to safeguard many more young people. Secondly, the work of the National County Lines Coordination Centre, which began in September, has already seen startling results. For example, just one week of intensification led to 600 arrests and 1,000 young people being safeguarded.
Police Funding: Rural Areas
Public investment in policing is set to rise by over £1 billion next year, including an additional £22.7 million for Devon and Cornwall police.
I thank the Minister for that response. I receive a large number of emails and a lot of casework from constituents who are concerned about parity between rural and urban areas. We understand the challenges facing areas such as London, Manchester and Birmingham, but county lines operations mean that those challenges are also present in rural areas. I urge the Minister to speak to the Treasury about looking after rural policing in the spending review.
I receive representations from colleagues across the House who represent rural seats pointing out the specific challenges of policing a rural area. They also point out, as the evidence shows, that satisfaction with local police forces is lower in rural areas than in other areas. We are increasing police funding, and the Home Secretary has made it clear that it will be a priority in the spending review. In that context, I have also undertaken to reconsider how resources are allocated across the system to ensure that no one feels left behind.
More money is going into policing, including in Cumbria, and more police officers are being recruited, including in Cumbria. Cumbria constabulary is rated good for efficiency, effectiveness and legitimacy, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in congratulating its hard-working officers on achieving that.
While welcoming the increased officer numbers and police funding that were announced recently, does the Minister share my concern that towns such as Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard have far fewer officers than they had many years ago? This needs to be urgently addressed in the spending review, as it is the first duty of a Government to keep their citizens safe.
It is the first duty of a Government to keep the public safe and the Home Secretary and I could not have made it clearer that our priority going into the spending review is police funding. More money has gone into Bedfordshire police and we intend to take police funding as a priority into the next spending review.
The North Wales police precept has risen by 8% at a time when, over the past few years, the reduction in central Government funding has been £31 million. Will the Minister indicate how much the North Wales police precept would have to rise to compensate for central Government cuts?
I hope the right hon. Gentleman would welcome the additional public investment in North Wales police, as seems to be the case. That is part of a trend, which I hope he would welcome, of increased public investment in policing. If we want more to go into policing, we have to pay as taxpayers. Whether it comes from central Government or local government is not the point. He will know that most funding for local policing comes from the taxpayer through the centre. I will take no lectures on precepts from the Labour party, which doubled council tax when it was in power.
Serious Violent Crime: Police Investigation
As the House has heard, the Government attach high priority to bearing down on the cycle of serious violence and have recently committed an additional £100 million to support police services in that effort.
Last Wednesday another life was tragically lost to serious violence in my constituency when a young man was shot at close range in West Norwood in the middle of the afternoon, leaving another family devastated and another community traumatised. The Government committed last October to a public health approach to serious violence, but they have taken until today to hold a meeting about it. When will the public health approach be implemented in full, and when will the killings stop?
I have a great deal of sympathy for the hon. Lady and the situation in her constituency—I, too, have suffered a recent murder in my constituency—but it is a misrepresentation of the Government’s position to say that we have just embarked on a journey of underpinning our strategy through a public health approach. What we have announced today is the launch of a consultation on a statutory duty to co-operate.
In addition to our need for police officers, public interface, intelligence gathering, evidence processing and so on depend on police staff. Does the Minister accept that the 30% cut in Suffolk police staff and the 72% cut in police community support officers since 2010 have reduced the capacity to investigate serious crime?
I have candidly recognised in the House that our police system has been under pressure, which is why we have increased public investment. As a result, police and crime commissioners across the country are recruiting, at the last count, around 3,000 officers, plus additional staff. I am mystified as to why the hon. Gentleman voted against it.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising a fundamental point that goes to the heart of how crime and the demands on policing are changing and are increasingly not respecting borders. Specifically on county lines, we have supported the police with a multimillion pound investment in a new co-ordination centre that is already resulting in increased arrests and increased numbers of safeguarded children.
Does the Minister agree that what we need is more capacity building in the police to tackle gangs? Whether it is gangs of traffickers at Calais or county lines gangs in Kent, we need a war on crime and a war on gangs to make sure we combat drugs and properly secure our borders.
I recently visited Kent police, who are an outstanding example of an excellent force that is using the additional resources from the public to increase its capacity, with an additional 450 officers in recent years, and to take a very tough approach to knife crime, which is bearing fruit. I congratulate Kent officers on their hard work.
What I say to that officer is what I say to every officer who makes exactly the same point, which is a valid one: the Government understand that police officers are feeling very stretched and under pressure at the moment, which is exactly why we have increased investment in our police. It is exactly why we are investing more than £1 billion more in our police system. He may wonder why the hon. Lady voted against it.
It is unclear how the long delayed public health duty consultation announced today will make any difference, given that the agencies referenced already have those safeguarding responsibilities under crime and disorder partnerships. If today’s summit is to be anything more than another talking shop, we need to see urgent action on school exclusions, long-term police funding, mental health services, and youth services and diversion for young people. These systemic changes require a Government with the capability and the will to act. When can this House be assured that this Government have either?
We are already acting, and all the issues the hon. Lady mentioned were part of the discussion that I took part in, alongside the Prime Minister and other Ministers, with a range of experts today, where all were agreeing about the approach the Government are taking, underpinned by a public health approach. The hon. Lady was dismissive of the statutory duty to co-operate, but that has been welcomed by both the Mayor of London and the commissioner of police.
Leaving the EU: NHS and Careworkers
The White Paper, published in December, proposes a route for skilled workers of any nationality coming to do jobs at RQF—regulated qualifications framework—level 3 and above. It will be uncapped, allowing all those meeting the requirements to come here. The right hon. Gentleman will of course recall that the Home Secretary lifted the tier 2 cap for NHS workers last July.
Freedom of movement has allowed 20,000 nurses to be recruited to the NHS. Some 5,000 have left since the referendum and there are 41,000 vacancies, with many more in other occupations, such as careworker. While the Government are consulting on the salary cap level, can the Minister guarantee that there will be sufficient flexibility to allow these relatively low-paid but scarce occupations to be fully recruited and filled?
The right hon. Gentleman will have heard earlier that, as at December 2018, we had over 5,200 more EU nationals working in the NHS in England than we did at the time of the referendum in 2016. He makes an important point about careworkers. During the engagement going on as part of the White Paper, this issue has been raised with me and the Government are certainly listening carefully. I am working closely with the Minister for social care and later this week we will be attending a roundtable on exactly this subject.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The answer is: absolutely. The proposals we have put forward in the White Paper will ensure that there is absolutely no discrimination in respect of those seeking to come here from EU countries and from non-EU countries.
In Northern Ireland, social care is fully integrated within the Department of Health. Many of the jobs that supply vital services to older people, both in care homes and across the community, are filled by EU mainland nationals. What conversations has the Department had with the Department of Health in Northern Ireland to ensure this vital flow of employment and workers can continue post Brexit?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question. It is important to note that just last week I held a roundtable with representatives from the Scottish and Welsh Governments, and civil servants from Northern Ireland. It is important that we make sure we have a future immigration system that works for the whole of the UK, and we are determined to do so.
Fire Risk: Commercial and Residential Buildings
As the hon. Lady knows, each fire and rescue authority is required to have an integrated risk-management plan and risk-based inspection programme, and the adequacy and effectiveness of those arrangements are now subject to independent inspection.
Following the Grenfell Tower fire, the London fire brigade implemented a more rigorous and detailed building inspection programme, which has brought up additional issues that need enforcement action. That inevitably takes up a great deal of time and limits the brigade’s ability to assess premises. Will the Minister agree to review funding, to improve the recruitment and retention of the suitably qualified officers we need to ensure that people are safe in their beds?
I understand the hon. Lady’s point. Core spending for the Greater London Authority has increased by 6.3% in 2019-20. We are reviewing the funding arrangements for the fire service as part of the spending review, and I will note the hon. Lady’s intervention in that context.
Not only are the Government failing to deal with dangerous cladding wrapped around buildings, but they are responsible for cutting one in four fire inspectors since 2010. They cannot cut red tape and fire inspectors and expect there to be no ticking time bombs like Grenfell. Cuts have consequences. The fire service must be funded to seek out risk, not just to respond to it. I add my voice to those asking the Minister whether he will undertake a serious review of fire service funding, with a view to implementing a robust national standard framework to set expectations of fire inspector numbers and competency.
I can certainly assure the hon. Lady, as I have before, that as it prepares for the spending review the Home Office is extremely serious about assessing the demand on the police and the fire service. In the latest forces reviews by the independent inspectorate, 10 out of the 14 forces were rated “good” for effectiveness. I hope the hon. Lady would join me in welcoming that.
I add my good wishes to my hon. Friend and wish her all the best for the future.
Our security and intelligence agencies are currently conducting more than 700 live investigations, so it is crucial that they have the resources needed to keep our citizens safe. In 2015, the Government increased counter-terrorism funding by 30%, from £11.7 billion to more than £15 billion, for the spending review period.
I read with interest the article and the letters sent by the former Chief of the Defence Staff and Secret Intelligence Service—in fact, I served with the former Chief of the Defence Staff. I regret to say to my hon. Friend that I think they are completely wrong. Nothing in the withdrawal agreement or the political declaration cuts across NATO, our defence and intelligence relationships with the EU or the US, or the Five Eyes alliance. The withdrawal agreement guarantees that it is the United Kingdom’s sovereign choice to co-operate with the EU on foreign policy and intelligence matters, while protecting the UK’s national security safeguards.
It would be a very odd and almost irregular parliamentary day if the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) did not leap to his feet to pose an inquiry to the Executive branch, and I am delighted that he has done so. In particular, I am pleased that he has not been unduly dispirited by Huddersfield’s relegation.
Thank you for your condolences, Mr Speaker. We live to fight another day.
There are some thoughtful people on the Government Front Bench, but listening to today’s questions I get the feeling that they live in a silo, where they are comfortable but do not join up with other Departments. I hear from senior police officers up and down the country, but particularly in West Yorkshire and Huddersfield, that there is inadequate supply of the special skills needed to combat terrorism on the internet.
I am afraid that is simply not the case. I speak regularly to all the leaders of the regional counter-terrorism response and the serious organised crime response. The part of policing that currently gets increased funding around that speciality is organised crime and counter-terrorism. I am happy to visit with the hon. Gentleman the counter-terrorist unit in his part of the country, which does a first-class job. The problem is not access to that speciality but making sure that we cut off the future demand and threats. I urge him to come with me to visit his local unit, and we can discuss the Prevent programme together.
May I add the congratulations of Members on the Opposition Benches to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray)?
The Minister has spoken about having more money for counter-terrorism, but when an appalling terrorist attack occurs it draws in officers and resources from mainstream policing as well as specialist counter-terror officers. Surely he must accept that cutting more than 21,000 police officers since 2010 has diminished the Government’s capacity to keep people safe.
The hon. Gentleman will know that when police forces come under pressure—such as when they respond to a terrorist incident, to an incident such as Salisbury or, indeed, as in my constituency, to a process such as fracking—there is an extra grant for those police forces. We have refunded extra money to police forces in Dorset, London and Manchester, and we will continue to do so. That is why we have this pot in the Home Office: to make sure that we can flex as something happens. Police respond, and they then get back the money that they need.
Local Authorities: Children of EU Nationals
The Home Office’s comprehensive vulnerability strategy ensures that the EU settlement scheme is accessible for all, including children in care. The Home Office is engaged with the Department for Education, the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services to assess the needs of this group and ensure that they are met. I have welcomed their ongoing contribution to the development of the scheme.
The Home Office’s testing of the EU settlement scheme has highlighted real challenges for this group of vulnerable children. Across five authorities, only 16 children have secured settled status. Does she agree that, as corporate parents to these vulnerable children, we should be giving automatic settled status, and that those eligible for citizenship should have their fee waived to avoid any risk of them becoming undocumented and causing a second Windrush scandal?
As the hon. Lady knows, five local authorities took part in the private test phase, making applications on behalf of children for whom they had full parental responsibility. They reported that the process was quick and easy for them to use. As I have said previously, we have a comprehensive vulnerability strategy and are working hard to make sure that the scheme is accessible and handles all those who are marginalised or at risk with the sensitivity that is required.
My deepest sympathies go out to all those affected by the terrorist massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand. To help protect our faith institutions, we are increasing next year’s places of worship fund for protective security to £1.6 million, investing £5 million in security training and consulting communities in what more can be done. Tragically, we are still seeing an epidemic of knife crime on our streets, so today we have launched a consultation on a new legal duty to support our public health multi-agency approach.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the case of the Iranian Christian whose asylum application was turned down by the Home Office because—I quote a Home Office official—“violent passages” in the Bible contradicted his claim that Christianity is a “peaceful” religion. Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that some of his officials may be so worried about being accused of Islamophobia or antisemitism that they overcompensate by becoming Christian-critical and do not understand that Christianity is the cornerstone of all our freedoms?
Of course resources are very important in fighting knife crime. Alongside the £100 million that the Chancellor announced in his spring statement, which all the forces have told us will make a big difference, we should consider the almost £1 billion increase this year in the entire police system because of the financial settlement.
The west midlands police and crime commissioner is one of many PCCs who were asking for more public money while, at the same time, putting public money aside to increase their reserves. We have increased the funding to west midlands police, and I hope my hon. Friend will welcome that. However, we also require police and crime commissioners to publish transparent strategies of how they intend to use their reserves. It is public money given by the public for investment in policing.
The hon. Lady will have heard me say earlier that we are working very hard with the social care sector and listening to organisations such as the Local Government Association. A couple of weeks ago, I met not just the LGA but the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to talk about the importance of the social care sector and to make sure that our future immigration system is able to recruit people with the skills and the talents that we need to come to the whole of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is right to emphasise that it absolutely is people traffickers and organised crime gangs who are encouraging people to make this extremely perilous crossing. We deploy aerial surveillance, but the House will appreciate that I will not be able to discuss our covert assets in detail. He is right to emphasise that we are working with a number of member states, including France, to facilitate returns. About 20 individuals who have crossed via small boat have been returned to date, and further returns are in progress.
The Government have made available £9 million of grant funding to charities and other organisations to support vulnerable people, including vulnerable adults in the care sector, through this process. We have already, through the test phase, been working closely with a number of local authorities, and there has been an extensive engagement process with the LGA and other local government bodies to make sure that we get this right.
Yes, I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The simple truth is that stop-and-search saves lives. Of course it should always be targeted and intelligence-led, with proper engagement with the community, but it saves lives. There are people alive today because of stop-and-search.
I share completely the views of, I think, most Members of this House that the victims of child sexual abuse, whether current or historical, deserve justice, deserve fairness, and deserve our support. Our use of language in this arena is vital, and the priority of this Government will always be to support those victims.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend welcomes the introduction of the pilot scheme. I listened carefully to what he said. The scheme will be evaluated very carefully—I can give him that assurance. We want to make sure that it works for all parts of our agricultural sector.
Over a third of my constituents do not earn enough to sponsor a visa for a family member from outside the EEA. Will the Minister consider revising the minimum income requirement, to provide a pathway for minimum wage employees to be reunited with family members?
The minimum income threshold was set after consideration of advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee. The Supreme Court has endorsed the lawfulness of that approach and agrees that the minimum income requirement strikes a fair balance between the interests of UK citizens wishing to sponsor a non-EEA spouse and of the community in general.
Mr Speaker, my hon. Friend was raising the tragic case of a family who had to organise three separate funerals for a child. I understand that the deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester has written to Ms Aldridge informing her that Greater Manchester police will commence a formal investigation upon receipt of further details of the complaint. As promised, I have written to all chief constables in England and Wales requesting that their human tissue retention policy be submitted to my Department for scrutiny.
When the Home Secretary launched the immigration White Paper, I asked him about the overseas students falsely accused of cheating in the test of English for international communication. He said he was taking the matter very seriously. Can he update the House, and will he meet the officers of the new TOEIC all-party parliamentary group to discuss progress?
Can we do more to help victims of car theft? My constituent Linford Haggie faced an extraordinary situation where his car was stolen, and the police told him he could retrieve it, but because the car had been kept to gather evidence and forensics, he had to pay a £150 release charge plus £20 a day for storage. Surely we should not be penalising victims of crime in that way.
I understand the point that my right hon. Friend makes. We are concerned about the increase in vehicle crime. That is why I have convened a taskforce to bring everyone together to look at it. There are costs that need to be recouped, but he raises a serious point, and we have agreed to look at that again.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point; often, the emotional and mental effects of domestic abuse can be just as harmful as the physical effects. That is why we are including those forms of abuse in the statutory definition of domestic abuse in the draft Domestic Abuse Bill. In addition, we are ensuring that the coercive and controlling behaviour offence, which we introduced in 2015, is still appropriate in this day and age.
Members of the British armed forces from foreign and Commonwealth countries are rightly allowed to settle here in the UK with their families after their service. Why must they pay £2,389 per person—nearly £10,000 for a family—to be able to exercise that right? Will the Home Secretary scrap those fees for veterans of the British Army?
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As I have advised you, I should be grateful if you would allow me to make a personal statement.
I do not feel that I have misled the House, but I do feel that I have not been true to myself. Although doing what I believed to be in the country’s best interest at that moment in time, I quickly realised that I should not have voted with the Government on Friday afternoon. We have to weigh up the balance of risk and make an almost impossible choice: it seemed to be either the Prime Minister’s deal or a long delay, European elections, a softer Brexit and more political uncertainty. What I should have done, and did not do, was to trust my instincts and those of the British people. I made the wrong call on Friday, and let me very briefly explain why. First—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker. First, I have consistently voted against the withdrawal agreement because it is flawed. Secondly, I believe I have let down good friends here in the House, and my friends and colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party. I served on three operational tours in Northern Ireland, playing a small part in protecting the innocent and combating terrorism, so I say sorry to DUP Members and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) for voting for a deal that could risk the integrity of our country. For that reason, and for that reason alone, the withdrawal agreement, as it stands, must never ever see the light of day again.
Finally, if the Prime Minister cannot commit to taking us out of the EU on 12 April, she must resign immediately. This is no longer about leave or remain—that was decided in 2016—but about the future of our great country, and about faith and trust in our democracy. Spring is here: time for a new start for us all. Let us take our country back in 11 days’ time, and fulfil our honourable duty. [Interruption.]
Order. I do not need any advice from the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp). I have the highest regard for the hon. Gentleman, who is a very keen, committed and assiduous new Member, but I hope he will accept it when I say, on the strength of nearly 22 years in the House and nine and three quarter years as the occupant of the Chair, that I do not feel in immediate need of assistance from someone who entered the House in May 2015. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his views, but it might be prudent if he had the good courtesy to keep them to himself on this occasion.
I thank the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) for his point of order. I did not know what its content was to be, and I had not seen the text. The hon. Gentleman speaks for himself. I know him well enough to know that he speaks not merely from the head, but from the heart. He is a person of integrity and a man of principle. I respect what he said, and I think it stands for others to judge, but I appreciate his saying so candidly what he wanted to say.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is not Brexit-related, but it is important to my constituents. On 31 January, I wrote to the Minister for Employment about an urgent matter involving a severely disabled constituent of mine who, through natural migration on to universal credit, has been made £98 a week worse off than when on working tax credit, after she was mis-advised by officials. I did receive a response—shockingly, eight weeks later—not with a solution, but asking for more information. My constituent has been in severe hardship the whole time. Given that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said earlier this month that people in this situation would be fully compensated and given the huge loss to this woman—this is no criticism of the workforce—what can we do in the face of such a dysfunctional Department and a Minister lackadaisical in the face of such distress?
It is clearly important, colleagues, that Members receive timely responses from Ministers on important constituency matters. This is an observation I have had many times to make from the Chair. It should not be necessary to do so again, but, sadly, it has been. The hon. Lady has made her concern clear. It will have been noted by those on the Treasury Bench, including the Leader of the House, who I am sure, in common with her predecessors, takes very seriously the responsibility to chase Ministers to serve the House efficiently and in a timely fashion. We will leave it there for now.
Are there no further points of order? The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) was thirsting a moment ago, but he appears to have lost his appetite.
I do not think that “mundane” and the right hon. Gentleman ordinarily go together, so it would have been an exceptional state of affairs. Nevertheless, if he wishes to apply a self-denying ordinance on this occasion, who am I to prevent him?
Prime Minister (Confidence)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Tom Brake, supported by Jo Swinson, Sir Edward Davey, Layla Moran, Tim Farron, Wera Hobhouse and Christine Jardine, presented a Bill to require a Prime Minister to tender their resignation to Her Majesty if the House of Commons passes a motion of no confidence in them; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 April, and to be printed (Bill 370)
Business of the House
I inform the House that I have not selected any of the amendments.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
(1) That, at today’s sitting –
(a) any proceedings governed by the order of the House of 27 March (Business of the House) or this order may be proceeded with until any hour, though opposed, and shall not be interrupted;
(b) the order of 27 March shall apply as if, at the end of paragraph 2(b), there were inserted “and then to motions in the name of a Minister of the Crown relating to statutory instruments”;
(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 2(f) of the order of 27 March;
(e) 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);
(f) debate on the motions having precedence under paragraph 2(f) of the order of 27 March may continue until 8.00 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;
(g) 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;
(h) during the period between 8.00 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 Speaker may suspend the sitting if any other business, including proceedings provided for in paragraph 1(b) of this order and paragraph 2(g) of the order of 27 March, has been concluded.
(2) That, on Wednesday 3 April –
(a) notwithstanding Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that Government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that order), precedence shall first be given to a motion relating to the Business of the House in connection with the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union
(b) if more than one motion relating to the Business of the House is tabled, the Speaker shall decide which motion shall have such precedence;
(c) the Speaker shall interrupt proceedings on any business having precedence before the Business of the House motion at 2.00 pm and call a Member to move that motion;
(d) debate on that motion may continue until 5.00 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;
(e) 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.—(Sir Oliver Letwin.)
I think we are all very much looking forward to today’s proceedings, as they were such an overwhelming success last week. The whole House has to congratulate the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). We have been looking forward to this as much as the general public have been looking forward to the last series of “Game of Thrones”, such is the excitement in this place.
We can see that this is very much a British parliamentary coup, one conducted with points of order and copies of “Erskine May” rather than through military means, so all power to the right hon. Gentleman. He has managed to achieve more in five days than the Government have in the past three years. We have made more progress in that short time than we have in the course of those three years. He has seen a Government defeat and a possible general election. More than anything else, he has demonstrated that when the House takes back control and speaks with authority, it can do something that no Government have done on this issue of Brexit.
I look forward to today’s proceedings, as I am sure the rest of the House does.
I will keep my remarks brief as today is another opportunity for hon. Members to set out their thoughts on the way forward. However, I wish to reiterate my concerns about this approach that I set out last week.
The Government have consistently said that we do not support the unprecedented removal of Government control of the Order Paper, no matter the circumstances. For many years, the convention has been that it is for the Government, as elected by the people and with the confidence of the House, to set out the business. It is for Parliament to scrutinise, amend and reject or approve. The Government will listen carefully to Parliament today, but, as I have explained, the approach to today’s business sets an extremely concerning precedent for our democracy, and we will therefore oppose the business motion.
The Leader of the House has just said that the Government will oppose the business motion. The Attorney General said on Friday:
“There is no desire on the part of this Government to interfere with the process that the House is currently undergoing”.—[Official Report, 29 March 2019; Vol. 657, c. 697.]
Can she explain how that statement squares with the Government’s opposition to the business motion today?
The right hon. Gentleman quotes selectively from the Attorney General’s comments. All I can say is that the Government have concerns about the precedent that this sets, and they are legitimate concerns. Opposition Members may one day be in a position to be concerned about parliamentary conventions and dangerous precedents.
When the Leader of the House last made this point, I pointed out that the Prime Minister promised that if her deal was not passed, she would find time and make arrangements for the House to have indicative votes. Had the Government done that, the procedural point that the Leader of the House raises would never have arisen. Having got where we are, and given the situation the country is in, will the Leader of the House reconsider indicating that the Government still intend to resist anything that the House passes that they do not approve of? The whole thing could have been sorted out if the Government’s promise to put their own arrangements for indicative votes in place had been honoured.
My right hon. and learned Friend has a slightly different recollection from my own. Indeed, the Prime Minister did say that she would seek the views of this House, but my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) came forward with his motion prior to the Government being able to do so. The Government respect that, but are concerned about the precedent.
Last week, the House considered a variety of options as a way forward and will do so again today. What was clearly demonstrated last week is that there is no agreed way forward, but urgent action is needed. I continue to believe that the deal the Government have negotiated is a good compromise that delivers on the referendum, while protecting jobs and our security partnership with our EU friends and neighbours.
I disagree with the right hon. Lady on the withdrawal agreement being a good compromise, but does she agree, first, that any vote in this House today is indicative; and, secondly, that it would be totally unreasonable to expect any Government to negotiate an arrangement totally at odds with the programme they set out, the manifesto commitments they made, and the arrangements that the people of the United Kingdom would accept?
I think the right hon. Gentleman was reading my mind. I was literally just about to say that any alternative solution that the House votes for would need to be deliverable, would need to be negotiable with the European Union, and would need to deliver on the vote of the referendum.
I do not want to give way any further, because this is a day for Parliament. I do apologise.
Members of Parliament should also be in no doubt that any alternative solution requiring a further extension would mean the UK participating in European Parliament elections. It is now nearly three years since the referendum, and I believe that position would be unacceptable to the people of the United Kingdom. The Government will continue to call for an agreement that delivers on the 2016 referendum, and maintains a deep and special partnership with the European Union. I look forward to hearing the contributions made in today’s debate, and to working with the House to agree a negotiable and deliverable way forward that respects the result of the referendum.
I had not intended to speak, but I think it is important, in the light of the comments the Leader of the House has made, that at least somebody gets up and points out that our debate today has come about simply because Parliament has tried to do something that the Prime Minister ought to have been doing three years ago when the referendum happened: namely, to try to make some sense of what was a completely undefined way of trying to leave the European Union, which had divided our country. What we should have been seeing, and what today’s business motion allows us to do—albeit at the very last minute—is to try to reach out and see if we can come together ourselves across Parliament and begin to think about ways that might be able to heal our deeply divided country. It has been divided by a Prime Minister who insisted on dealing solely with her own extreme right-wingers to try to define what Brexit should be, rather than reaching across the aisle in this House to try to bring about a compromise that could have taken more of the country with it.
I understand the points made by the Leader of the House about the constitutional novelty of the situation we are in, but I disagree with her hard-line view of Parliament’s role, especially since the 2017 general election deprived her party of a majority in this House, and taking into account this Government’s record in riding roughshod over constitutional understandings by ignoring Opposition votes, by refusing to vote on Opposition motions, and by defining the parliamentary Session in two years, thereby taking away the opportunity for Opposition days and halving their number.
It was announced over the weekend that none of last week’s indicative votes got anywhere near what the Prime Minister’s deal got. Given that the Government abstained on last week’s votes, is it not correct to say that the numbers were clearly going to be smaller because the payroll was not involved?
Yes, and although the payroll is in constant contention against itself, it has grown over time. If the payroll does not vote, by definition anything that this House votes on today will involve lesser numbers. I think we are close to reaching some conclusions, but it is almost as though the Leader of the House does not want the House to reach conclusions so that she can have another go in meaningful vote 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or, God forgive us, even 10.
My hon. Friend makes very strong points. I, too, am backing the business of the House motion, because I think Parliament made remarkable progress the other day in a few hours, compared with the Government, who have had two years to sort this out. Does she agree that it is important that we vote the motion through to give us not only the opportunity to make further progress tonight, but, if necessary, a small amount of time on Wednesday to get to where we need to be, so that Parliament can take control and we can move forward together as a House?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, listening to those who campaigned to leave in the referendum, I thought it was all about Parliament taking back control. Right from the beginning, the Prime Minister attempted to exclude Parliament from any part in the decision-making process, and she had to be dragged kicking and screaming by the Supreme Court to give Parliament the role that is its right. It is about time we demonstrated to this dysfunctional Government that there is a way forward. I hope that in our deliberations we will do so.
Finally, I am concerned that the Government are going around saying that they will not listen to the results of indicative votes. That is why it is important, albeit very difficult, for Parliament to take even more time from the Government so that we can begin to legislate if there is a result tonight. Given that the Government have tried to keep power to themselves and to exclude Parliament completely from any say in the decisions made post referendum, we have to keep doing constitutionally novel things to try to save our country from the disaster of a catastrophic no-deal crash-out.
In some ways, this business motion might be seen as the most interesting and important part of the day, because procedure is now everything. The fact that, on this historic day, the Government have lost control of the Order Paper is vital to the debate and how we proceed. Although we will have an interesting debate in the coming hours, I doubt whether a single vote will be changed by what anybody says, what blogs are written or what tweets are posted. Most people have made up their minds, and they have a settled view on what they want—whether it is the customs union, no deal or whatever.
My few remarks are almost by way of questions to the Leader of the House and to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). Like many people, I want to know what will happen under the current procedure. It seems to me that tonight we will probably whittle matters down to one option that has the most support in the House, and we all know that that is likely to be permanent membership of the customs union. On Wednesday, the alternative Government—not the Labour party, but my right hon. Friend—will take control of the agenda. As I understand it, he will then produce a Bill to implement what is decided, which will probably be permanent membership of the customs union.
I put it to the Government that we Conservative MPs will then have a choice: we will have to have permanent membership of the customs union because the Order Paper will have been taken over by Parliament; or we have a general election; or we prorogue Parliament. I say to my right hon. Friend that I think it would be a dereliction of duty on the part of the House if we were to abdicate our responsibility and have a general election. The people asked us to make this choice and to do this job. If we cannot agree on what we do not want, we should agree on what we do want. Therefore, the Government have to move forward with their meaningful vote, if necessary in a run-off with this customs union, and if necessary in a vote tomorrow.
I do not believe that it is in the interests of the nation to have a general election, which would solve nothing: people do not vote on the issue—they vote on who the leader of the party is, who they like or who their local MP is. We all know that every single general election gets out of control. We ourselves have to decide this issue. We have to make the choice. We have to decide what we want, not what we do not want.
No, I am going to finish in a moment. The other thing that we surely cannot do—I say this to my friends who, like me, voted for Brexit—is duck the issue by proroguing Parliament. We cannot act like Charles I. We voted leave because we wanted to give control back to Parliament; it would be like someone throwing the football out of the stadium because they are losing the football match.
There is a simple choice for my colleagues now. The Government are on the cusp of losing control and we are on the cusp of facing permanent membership of the customs union, which runs contrary to our manifesto. We have to get real, dear friends: we have to make that choice. My personal choice is that I would rather vote for the Prime Minister’s deal, which at least delivers some sort of Brexit.
Order. I very gently say to colleagues that although there is time scheduled for this debate, some of the points being made could perfectly well be made in the debate itself, rather than in the debate on the business of the House motion. I would have thought that colleagues could speak extremely briefly, as will be brilliantly exemplified now by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell).
I will do my best, Mr Speaker. I wish to touch on my amendment that was not selected. Of course, I pay ultimate deference to your decision, Mr Speaker, but I wonder whether, at some point before we vote on the motion, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) could help me. When we discussed the business of the House motion last week, I asked him about the daisy-chaining process that he was involved in—the process of attaching another day to the business of the day we were discussing. We now have a motion that we passed on the 25th to have a debate on the 27th. The motion on the 27th gave us the 1st and the motion on the 1st would give us the 3rd. I have no issue with the House doing what it sees as necessary to find a way through this Brexit impasse, but I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman, if he has a plan, can tell us what that is going forward.
There is a rumour that on Wednesday we may be asked to legislate for the outcome of this evening. I presume that on Wednesday’s business of the House motion, there will be another paragraph (2) to commandeer a day of the week after. If that is the case, I wonder whether a plan—if it exists somewhere—of how many days and what the days are to be used for can be shared with the House. That is not because I wish to impede the House from doing this. However, on Friday I was asked to vote against the withdrawal agreement on the basis of a blind Brexit, and I am now being asked to hand over days of parliamentary business with no idea of what will be tabled and discussed on those days. [Interruption.] As much as I thank Government Members for their support, I do not really want it. [Interruption.] I will take it, but I do not want it.
I mean to try to be helpful to the right hon. Member for West Dorset. If he has a plan of how many days and what those days are to be used for, could he share it with us? If we as a House are going to be asked to hand over day after day, we should know what we will be asked to vote on during those days.
A few days ago, I brought in the House of Commons (Precedence of Government Business) (European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) Bill, to which I gave a great deal of thought and that I discussed with many other Members. It is due to be debated on 5 April. The position is this. I did it because of my grave concern about the procedure being employed under this motion in particular, for the following reasons, which I will give briefly.
First, it is well said in our constitutional authorities that justice is to be found in the interstices of procedure. What that means is that through procedure we can ensure that things are done that should be done, based on conventions such as the reason for the rule, which is a fundamental basis of our constitutional arrangements.
Standing Order No. 14 is quite clear: it gives precedence to Government business. As a result of this procedure, we are impugning that rule and substituting for it a completely different arrangement—one that I have described as a constitutional revolution. It is not a novelty, as it was described just now, or, as the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) said the other day, a technical innovation. The problem goes back to the reason for the rule and the Standing Order. Government business takes precedence for one simple reason: the Government are the Government of this country and are given that opportunity by virtue of the decisions taken by the public and the wishes of members of the public, as voters in general elections. That is the basis of our democracy. Likewise, decisions in referendums are taken by members of the public as voters.
It is utterly perverse for us to vote by such a significant majority—I will not go into that, because we know it is the case—and then overturn and invert the business of the House rules as we are doing under this business motion and as happened the other day. Government business takes precedence because of democracy. It is a fundamental question. Parliament decided in the European Union Referendum Act 2015 to give the decision to the British people, not to this House. I have said repeatedly—and it is true—that we operate on the basis of parliamentary government, not government by Parliament. If, by a sovereign Act of Parliament, we confer upon the British people the right to make that choice in a referendum, there is not, in terms of that Act, for which the House voted six to one, an opportunity then to take back control in this context.
It is a very simple question, and, to my knowledge, it has happened only once before. You mentioned the other day, Mr Speaker, or somebody raised with you, a precedent going back to 1604. As it happens, there is another precedent, from the 1650s, when the House became completely anarchic, and different factions started making decisions without reference to any Government policy—and look at the mess we are in now and the anarchy now prevailing, with these indicative votes and everybody making different decisions for no good purpose. Oliver Cromwell came down to this House and said, “You have been here too long for anything useful you may have done. Depart, I say, and in the name of God, go.” He then brought in the Barebone’s Parliament; that collapsed as well, and we ended up with a military dictatorship.
Members of Parliament voted for the referendum Act by six to one, for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 and then for the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. As I say quite often, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) himself voted for the Third Reading of the withdrawal Act. These indicative votes are just a means of trying to unravel the decision taken—that is the bottom line. I believe that it is undemocratic and in defiance of our constitution, our procedures and the reason for the rule. As far as I am concerned, these indicative votes are like a parliamentary bag of liquorice allsorts—or rather humbugs.
It is because the Government have lost the confidence of the House that this business motion is before us. After 1,012 days of trying to find a solution, they have completely failed to do so. This is day 2 of Parliament’s attempt to find a cross-party solution to the Brexit dilemma. I hope that we shall be successful on day 2, but if we are not, and if we pass the business motion—as I hope we will—we shall also have day 3 on which to resolve this matter, and I hope that we shall be successful then.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) on one point: the present situation has obviously arisen because the Government have lost the confidence of the House on this issue. I shall return to that question later in my speech, but let me first return to the questions posed to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), very courteously and politely, by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell). I think that they were perfectly reasonable questions, for which the hon. Gentleman was having some difficulty in holding my right hon. Friend accountable.
I am reminded of the words that we heard from my right hon. Friend on 14 February, when he said:
“The process of which we are now at the start will require the fundamental realignment of the relationship between the civil service, Government and Parliament…for a period, for this purpose, we will have to take on the government of our country.”—[Official Report, 14 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 1110.]
But this “Government”—those sitting on my left, including my right hon. Friend—are not accountable to the hon. Gentleman who was asking the questions. It is not possible to table a question to this “Government”, and it is not possible to ask this “Government” to come and make a business statement, because, of course, they are not a Government; they are merely pretending to take over the role of a Government.
I do not wish to discuss Brexit in my speech. I want to place on record some concerns that I have and that I think many right hon. and hon. Members, on reflection, should have about the consequences of starting to run our country in this fashion. Passing the business motion will confirm that, for the first time in more than 100 years, the Government have lost explicit control over legislative business.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which I chair, held an evidence session that underlined what an extraordinary state of affairs this is. Conservative Members of Parliament who only two months ago voted for confidence in Her Majesty’s Government do not appear to have confidence in that Government’s legitimate authority over the control of the timetable of the House, and that raises profound problems with this new procedure. Some people seem to believe that it is a long overdue modernisation of an antiquated system of parliamentary government. In fact, it is turning our system on its head in a dramatic reversal of roles for Government and Parliament. The procedure may be well intentioned, and I do not doubt for a moment the sincerity of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, but it has been invented on the hoof, bypassing every means of reviewing the practices and procedures of the House. The Procedure Committee has not been consulted in any fashion.
Some of us who are members of the Procedure Committee have sought to have further discussions about how to deal with these problems and have met with some resistance. The hon. Gentleman seems to want to limit the role of Parliament to that of the legislature. I do not understand why he wants to import an American doctrine into our constitution, with a sharp division between the role of Parliament and the role of the Executive. That is just not the way in which the British Parliament is run, or has been run.
It is a question of who imported whose model. Montesquieu actually thought that he was copying the British system when he created a United States constitution that gives the President a legislative veto and requires a two-thirds majority of Congress to overrule it.
Very droll. My hon. Friend rather misses the point of my opening remarks that I do not wish to discuss Brexit. I simply point out that he voted for the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which legislated for us to leave the EU with or without a withdrawal agreement. He put that on the statute book with me, so in that respect, parliamentary democracy has been served.
My hon. Friend keeps referring to me, yet I voted for the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement three times. I accept that the House, by a large majority, is settled on a course, which I deeply regret, to leave the EU, and therefore I am trying to make some progress on what the House can agree about the form of that leaving. The Government are not prepared to give the House time to express an opinion or reach an agreement on that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) implied a moment ago, I strongly suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) would take a different view if the Government were excluding no deal, which had, by some chance, the support of the majority of the House—though 400 people voted against it the last time it was raised.
I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that the problem with the process of indicative votes is that MPs are free to pick and choose whatever policies they like, without any responsibility for what happens afterwards. There is an obvious flaw in that process—I look particularly at Opposition Members. Especially in a hung Parliament such as this, it is not unreasonable to suspect that individual Members might have ulterior motives for supporting or opposing particular measures, rather than voting just on their merits. After all, the House of Commons is a theatre, within which different political parties compete for power, either by trying to avoid a general election or trying to get one by collapsing the Government. Amid that chaos, who is to be held accountable for what is decided?
Is that not particularly the case when Parliament is trying to issue instructions to the Government about an international negotiation, but only the Government can negotiate on behalf of the United Kingdom? We cannot have little groups of MPs who fancy their chances turning up in Brussels, purporting to represent the UK. It makes it a difficult exercise when Members are trying to influence a negotiation that only the Government can handle.
I do not think that that is a secret. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not looked it up. The problem is that last week’s indicative votes have already discredited Parliament because no single proposal was adopted by a majority. Sustained use of the procedure is already undermining trust, increasing alienation and destroying the credibility of institutions that have historically worked tolerably well. It is apparent that the long-term effects of this constitutional upheaval are not a consideration for those who are forcing it upon us. There is no electoral mandate for such a dramatic constitutional upheaval. In what circumstances would this experiment be repeated in the future, perhaps when a majority Government did not have a majority on a particular issue? It is one thing for a minority of the governing party to help to vote down a Government proposal; it is something else, and quite extraordinary, to combine forces with Her Majesty’s official Opposition to impose an entirely Government different policy that the Government were not elected to implement.
These constitutional perambulations are very interesting, and I accept everything that my hon. Friend says about the nature of these indicative votes, but if he and his Friends had voted with the Government on the past three occasions, we would have Brexit by now.