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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
01 April 2019
Volume 657

House of Commons

Monday 1 April 2019

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Leaving the EU: Recruitment

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1. What recent steps the Government have taken to ensure the effectiveness of the process for recruiting workers from EU and non-EU countries after the UK leaves the EU. [910125]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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York currently carries over 500 vacancies in our NHS and not just for nurses, so will the Home Secretary look at lifting the cap on tier 2 visas for all NHS professional staff?

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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.

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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?

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Marvellous.

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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 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.

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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?

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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.

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Despite the doom-mongering from Opposition Members, is my right hon. Friend aware that since the referendum almost three years ago, the number of EU staff working in our NHS has increased by 4,000?

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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

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2. What steps he is taking to support community organisations in countering extremist views. [910126]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

Right-wing Extremism

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3. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the increase in right-wing extremism. [910127]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Extremism in all its forms is often whipped up by social media. To what extent can the Home Office engage with social media to try to counter that?

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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.

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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?

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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

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4. What support he is providing to EU citizens applying to the EU settlement scheme. [910128]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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Of course, the hon. and learned Lady will know that an entire package of citizens’ rights for EU citizens is planned as part of the withdrawal agreement. That will provide the route, and her party might consider voting for it.

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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?

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I thought my response was quite clear. I reiterate to the hon. and learned Lady that the best way to ring-fence citizens’ rights is to vote for the deal.

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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?

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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

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5. When his Department plans to publish a response to its review of air weapons regulations. [910129]

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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.

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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)?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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May I ask the Minister for his help in encouraging Cash Exchange on London Road in Morden not to have firearms for sale right in its front window, which is encouraging the purchase of those weapons?

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I am more than happy to sit down with the hon. Lady and to talk through the specifics of that. Based on what I have heard, I am sure that we will be happy to work together on that.

Violent Crime: Young People

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6. What steps he is taking to divert young people away from violent crime. [910130]

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7. What steps he is taking to divert young people away from violent crime. [910131]

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16. What steps he is taking to divert young people away from violent crime. [910140]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Could more money be made available to excellent groups such as Youth of Walsall and its campaign Real Knives, Real Lives? The campaign seeks to educate those at risk of committing knife crime to understand the impact of their actions.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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15. A 15-minute response time to the recent fatality of a teenage boy in my constituency meant that an eight-year-old, a four-year-old and a tiny baby all witnessed a tragic event while barricaded behind a hairdresser’s door, therefore becoming victims of crime themselves. Is there a link between austerity and dreadful police response times? [910139]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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8. What discussions his Department has had with the Treasury on increasing police funding and provision for rural areas in the 2019 spending review. [910132]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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19. Cumbria saw a 27% increase in crime last year—the third biggest increase in the country. With only eight police officers covering most of my constituency—an area the size of Greater London—that is hardly surprising, but it is dangerous and unacceptable. Will the Minister intervene immediately and provide the police and crime commissioner with the resources needed to keep our police officers and communities safe? [910143]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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9. What recent assessment he has made of the capacity of police forces to investigate serious violent crime. [910133]

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13. What recent assessment he has made of the capacity of police forces to investigate serious violent crime. [910137]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Collaboration across force boundaries is clearly crucial in helping the police not only to investigate but to tackle serious violent crime head on. What steps are being taken to help to promote that agenda?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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If the hon. Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) were standing, I would call her, but she is not and so I will not—but she now does, so I call Colleen Fletcher.

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17. Thank you, Mr Speaker. A local officer recently told me that the police no longer have the resources available to provide the level of service most people rightfully expect and wanted me to tell the Government that without significant investment in policing this situation is unlikely to change. What does the Minister say to this dedicated officer, whose job is being made impossible due to savage budget cuts, and to the victims of crime, who are being let down so badly by this Government? [910141]

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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.

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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?

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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

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10. What steps he is taking to facilitate the recruitment of people from (a) EU and (b) non-EU countries to meet demand for NHS and careworkers after the UK leaves the EU. [910134]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Kettering General Hospital recruits doctors and nurses from the European Union and from non-EU countries. Will it be able to continue to do both once we have left the EU?

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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.

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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?

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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

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11. What recent assessment he has made of the capacity of fire inspectors to assess the fire risk of commercial and residential buildings. [910135]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Order. I hope the whole House will want to join me in congratulating the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on her wedding on Saturday. We wish her and her new husband a long, happy and healthy life together.

Counter-terrorism: Resources

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12. What steps he is taking to provide security and law enforcement organisations with adequate resources to counter terrorism.And thank you very much, Mr Speaker. [910136]

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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.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. How does he respond to the concerns raised by the security and defence chiefs about the danger posed by the withdrawal agreement to our security relationships with the US, NATO and the Five Eyes alliance?

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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.

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rose—

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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14. What steps he is taking to ensure that local authorities settle the status of the children of EU nationals in their care. [910138]

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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.

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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?

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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.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [910150]

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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.

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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?

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I have seen the letter to which my right hon. Friend refers. I found it totally unacceptable, and it is not in any way in accordance with policies at the Home Office. I have ordered an urgent investigation and not ruled out any further action.

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T2. The Home Secretary talked about the epidemic in knife crime, which has tragically affected my own constituency with young people being killed and injured. We heard from senior police officers in the Home Affairs Committee last week about the £100 million that has been provided; they said that it simply was not enough to tackle the scourge. By comparison, 10 times that amount has been provided for Brexit. There have also been huge cuts in youth services across the country. What will he do to provide the resources that our police and all our services need to keep our young people safe? [910151]

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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.

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T3. I am concerned that the Labour police and crime commissioner in the west midlands is maintaining large reserves to be spent in advance of the PCC elections next year. Is there anything the Government can do to stop this? [910152]

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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.

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T7. Can the Secretary of State guarantee effective steps to encourage EU nationals to come to, and stay in, the UK to meet demand for NHS and care sector workers post Brexit? Does he accept that those sectors are facing a recruitment and retention crisis, with about 104,000 current health and social care workers who now feel unwelcome and undervalued? [910156]

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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.

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T4. With more arrivals by small boats across the English channel, will the Minister update the House on progress with aerial surveillance and gaining the agreement of France for migrants to be returned, to most effectively deter the people traffickers behind the migrant crisis? [910153]

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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.

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T8. Local authorities are formally responsible for applying to the EU settlement scheme on behalf of looked-after children, but it is not clear what support is available for vulnerable adults such as elderly people with dementia. With potentially just 11 days left until we leave the EU, will the Minister now confirm what support will be made available to help vulnerable adults secure their status before the UK leaves? [910157]

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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.

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T5. Does my right hon. Friend agree that while stop-and-search is a vital tool in the fight to tackle serious violence, to be truly effective, police need to be empowered to use it in an intelligence-led way? [910154]

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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.

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T10. What does the Minister say to the victims and survivors of historical sexual abuse in my constituency who were horrified by the recent comments of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) on spending by her Department on investigating such crimes? [910159]

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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.

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T6. I very much welcome the introduction of the pilot scheme for seasonal agricultural workers, but it is vital that it works for all parts of our agricultural sector. Will the Minister therefore look carefully at the scheme to ensure that it works for daffodil growers, whose picking season is different from that for other crops? [910155]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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T9. I would like to thank my right hon. Friend on behalf of my constituent, Janine Aldridge, for his work in looking into concerns about the retention of human tissue. On behalf of Ms Aldridge, I wrote to the Mayor of Greater Manchester on 17 July 2017 to raise concerns about the retention of her daughter’s tissue samples, which has led to the family holding three separate funerals. I was disappointed recently to receive a letter from the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, indicating that it has not undertaken a formal investigation into her complaint and was unaware that that was expected, despite Ms Aldridge meeting the Mayor and his deputy. Will my right hon. Friend urgently investigate this matter, so that the Aldridge family can have confidence that they have finally laid Leah to rest and to ensure that this never happens again? [910158]

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The hon. Gentleman could not be accused of excluding any consideration that he might think in any way relevant, anywhere at any time.

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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.

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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?

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When I met the right hon. Gentleman, I took this issue very seriously. I have asked my officials to review it. We had a further meeting to make some final decisions just last week, and I will be in touch with him shortly.

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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.

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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.

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The seasonal agricultural workers scheme presents a real risk of inadvertently creating slavery. What extra resources will the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority get to ensure that that does not happen?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will know how vital the work of the GLAA is to tackling modern slavery. I am working with my ministerial colleague to ensure that the situation he describes does not occur.

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For many victims of domestic violence, the mental and psychological abuse they are subject to has the biggest impact on their lives. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that that aspect of domestic abuse is tackled?

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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.

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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?

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The right hon. Gentleman raises a reasonable issue, and the Home Office has been working with the Ministry of Defence to see whether we can do more.

Points of Order

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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.]

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Order. [Interruption.] No. I signalled an acceptance of the hon. Gentleman’s wish to raise this matter, and he must be allowed to do so.

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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.]

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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.

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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?

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I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. I know that she was courteous enough to give me notice that she wished to raise the matter. I trust that she has also notified the Minister of her intention to do so.

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indicated assent.

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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.

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rose—

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He has regained it. I call David Davis.

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Following the comments from my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), my point of order is altogether too mundane to detain the House.

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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?

Bill Presented

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

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Would my hon. Friend feel the same way if my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) proposed to use Wednesday to legislate in favour of a no-deal Brexit?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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I agree with my right hon. Friend. I have some criticism of the way in which the Government have conducted their European policy, but they cannot be held responsible for decisions for which they did not vote or prove impossible to carry out.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. I noted that he described the procedure as “Game of Thrones”. That underlines how it is open to ridicule. No doubt he will continue his ridicule because he wants a nationalist Scotland.

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I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman’s last comments. He says that he wants the Government to be in charge of the process and negotiating Brexit, but how did he vote on the Government’s motion the last three times?

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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.

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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.

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I am deliberately not going to become involved in that argument, but my hon. Friend knows that I do not believe that the withdrawal agreement delivers Brexit.

What policy decisions would be eligible to be made through this procedure in the future? Why not decide taxation policy like this, or social security? I well remember my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, giving stinging rebukes to those who voted down his policy on increasing VAT on fuel. It is a bad thing for a Government to lose a vote on a taxation measure in a Budget, but just imagine handing over the entire Budget proposals to the House of Commons to be voted on in this way.

The vote to leave was in part to reverse the democratic deficit of the institutions of the European Union and to restore national democratic accountability. Whatever anyone’s view, that should be uncontroversial. The EU’s elected Parliament is blighted by low turnouts, and I doubt that anyone other than those who follow these issues most minutely could name with any certainty more than one or two of the candidates to be the next President of the European Commission, which is of course a legislative body. If we are to respond to the mandate expressed in the referendum, it cannot be right that we corrode our own system of parliamentary government by making it less accountable to voters in elections and rendering its process more inaccessible and confusing.

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Being something of a traditionalist in these matters, I have a good deal of sympathy with the points that the hon. Gentleman is making. I very much dislike the necessity, which has been forced on the House, to take control of the business from the Government because they are simply not doing their business. However, I would have much more sympathy for the complaint being made by him and some of his friends if they ever seemed to notice the constitutional innovation that has been practised many times by this Prime Minister when something has been voted on in this House and the result of that vote has simply been ignored.

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“Ignored” is the operative word that the right hon. Lady uses. Obviously, it is and should always be the practice of Governments to respect the will of the House as expressed in a motion. However, as Mr Speaker himself has confirmed, a motion is merely an expression of opinion, and it is up to the Government to decide how to respond to that opinion. This underlines how, in our system, a Government propose and Parliament disposes. Parliament does not take over the Government’s role, which is what is being proposed in this process.

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But the historical precedent is that when a Government lose their major policy—whether it is a financial policy, or in this case their most significant policy—they resign. They do not hang about for a vote of no confidence; they automatically resign. That is always been the historical precedent, and it is a bit of a surprise that they have not done it in this case.

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That takes me on to my next point, which is that it seems likely, so long as the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 endures, that minority Governments will continue to be vulnerable to this usurpation of power—or this paralysis, as the hon. Gentleman sees it—which will bring some in this House more influence while never being held accountable or responsible for what happens as a consequence of any decisions made in that way.

The risk is that this process of disapplying Standing Orders, casting aside the processes of the House of Commons, seizing control from the Government, threatening to pass legislation against the Government’s wishes and bending the Executive to the legislature’s will is being used to remove a Government from power but not from office. It seems that the House will strike but not kill, and this new kind of instability is already having dire consequences for our voters’ rapidly diminishing confidence in our nation’s democracy.

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Has the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) finished his oration?

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indicated assent.

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We are grateful to him. I call Mr Frank Field.

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I did want to speak, but I think can weave the 30 seconds into my speech later on, if you are mindful to call me.

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Well, what impressive self-restraint. That may be a model that others should follow. Who knows? I say that more in hope than expectation. I call Jacob Rees-Mogg.

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I am sorry not to be quite as brief as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), but I want to speak to the specifics of the motion. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) that this constitutional innovation is deeply unsatisfactory. The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) rightly said that it is an indication that the House no longer has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government. The whole point of the Government having control of the timetable is that that is an expression of confidence. I am even quite sympathetic to the point made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). It is the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 that has created an element of constitutional muddle, where we have a Government who obviously do not command official confidence but none the less carry on as if they did.

We need to get to a situation where the business of the House and the Government go together once more. This approach is deeply unsatisfactory because there is no means of holding anybody to account for it. The motions can be passed one way or another, and they then go off to Europe to be discussed—if they are to be discussed—by people who do not believe in or support them. Those people may come back having failed, and they may have done things in a way that the House might not have liked, but the people who proposed the motions do not go out to discuss them with Brussels because they are not the Government. Therefore, this approach leads ultimately to chaotic relationships between the legislature and the Executive.

This business of the House motion is itself unsatisfactory. Paragraph (1)(c) states that

“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”.

Mr Speaker, as you pointed out to us, that goes against the most ancient practice of the House dating back to 1604, but it is also a considerable discourtesy to you personally. On Thursday, you ruled that the Government could not bring forward a paving motion to allow them to bring forward their motion again—a decision that everybody in the House accepted and thought was reasonable. Therefore, to have slipped through under your nose in this motion something that allows a paving motion for motions that have already been determined is a discourtesy. If I had been as discourteous as that to you, I would not have the gall to move the motion standing in my name. Indeed, I would feel it necessary to make a public apology for such a shaming state of affairs.

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The hon. Gentleman’s real objection is not that Parliament is trying to balance control away from the Government, but that his power has been seriously weakened by Parliament asserting its own authority in trying to find a way forward.

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The shame is not that Parliament is trying to wrestle power from the Government, but that Parliament is wrestling power from the 17.4 million people who voted to leave. The shame is that people who stood on manifestos saying that they would respect the result of the referendum did so with forked tongues.

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On the subject of shame and public apologies, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman might seize this opportunity to apologise for quoting, apparently approvingly, the leader of Germany’s far-right AfD party this weekend.

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I think it is reasonable to quote speeches made in the German Parliament. It is not as great a Parliament as this one or as noble a House as this House of Commons but, none the less, it is the Chamber of a House of an important ally and friend. What was said was extremely interesting. Just referring people to what has been said is not necessarily an endorsement. As the hon. Gentleman may have noticed, I just quoted from the motion before us, not because I endorse it but because it is interesting and important, so perhaps he should not jump to weird conclusions.

The other problem with this motion is the time it allows for debate. We will have quite a number of motions to consider, as we did yesterday.

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Last week.

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The right hon. Lady, quite correctly, corrects me that it was at the end of last week.

We have motions (A) to (H) to debate, and the format of this business of the House motion leaves between 6 o’clock plus a Division, so 6.15 pm, and 8 o’clock for that debate to take place, which seems a very rushed approach to debating these important issues. When the Government were in control of the Order Paper, they allowed more days for debate than this motion allows hours.

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If the hon. Gentleman were to conclude his speech, and if others were to resist having a debate at this point, we could get to the meat of the issue.

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I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. Had he not decided to intervene, I might have finished my comments, but now he has given me inspiration to carry on against this appalling motion, which is fundamentally against the spirit of our constitution.

I appeal to those who support this type of motion to have the courage of their convictions. If they really have no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government, let them vote that way. Let them go to their constituents and see how far they get standing as independents. Let them see, as socialists, how many votes they get. Let them see, as independents, how many votes they get. They lack the courage of their convictions, and therefore they try to undermine the constitution by subterfuge.

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On the matter of the courage of our convictions, just a few months ago, the hon. Gentleman voted that he had no confidence in the Prime Minister as leader of his party. He subsequently voted that he has confidence in the Prime Minister, in whom he has no confidence to lead his party, to lead the country. What kind of courage of his convictions is that?

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The hon. Gentleman misses the rather obvious point. I have much more confidence in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, or indeed any Conservative Member, to lead the country than I have in the Leader of the Opposition. It seems to me a very straightforward choice, and of course I back a Tory against a socialist.

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The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point in talking about the courage of our convictions. Would he like to tell the House why he voted against the Government’s withdrawal agreement a few weeks ago but voted for it on Friday? Why is he entitled to change his mind in a vote but the people of this country are not allowed to change their mind and have a people’s vote?

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I am deeply grateful to the right hon. Lady for intervening, which is much appreciated because it allows me to point out to her that she is the foremost campaigner for a second referendum and she favours votes at every opportunity except, having stood as a Conservative, she does not reoffer herself to her constituents to decide whether they wish to have somebody who has turned their coat as their Member of Parliament.

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rose

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If the right hon. Lady wishes to apply for the Chiltern hundreds, I will of course give way.

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Order. We are in danger of straying somewhat from the narrow ambit of the business of the House motion, to which I hope we will return.

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I think it is important to record that, of course, the majority of people in Broxtowe did not vote Conservative and, like all hon. and right hon. Members, I seek to represent all my constituents. As we all should, I put them and our country before narrow, sectarian party interest.

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What was it the late Earl of Beaconsfield said of Mr Gladstone, “A prolix rhetorician inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity”? I would not dream of saying such a thing about the right hon. Lady.

Let me return to the motion in hand, which is discourteous to you, Mr Speaker, does not allow sufficient time for debate—

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rose

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I will not give way again, because others wish to speak—apologies. The motion is discourteous to you, Mr Speaker, limits time for debate and is fundamentally against the constitution.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) would like to correct the record, because it is clear from the tweet from the AfD that he retweeted that he was endorsing the statement that had been made by that member of a far-right party in the German Parliament.

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The answer to that is that every Member is responsible for the truth of what he or she says in the Chamber. If a Member feels that he or she has inadvertently erred, it is incumbent on the Member to correct the record. The hon. Gentleman will have heard what the right hon. Gentleman has said and will make his own judgment as to its merit.

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I have grave concerns about the way we are dealing now with our business in this motion. I accept that we voted last week to have further discussion and indicative votes today, but the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) would have given the House a chance to decide whether we wanted to continue this process, which the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) continues to undertake. I do not think we can continue to have a business motion that puts another day in and then not have a chance to have that vote.

I am concerned about that, but I also have another concern. I know that all my Labour colleagues, particularly those on the Front Bench, aspire to be in government and they should just remember that this process may well be used when we are in government. Would we like to see that happening?

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Will the hon. Lady give way?

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I will give way to the Chair of my Select Committee—

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Does the hon. Lady agree that one problem with these indicative votes is that when they are attached, as they are intended to be, by all accounts, to a Bill that will then follow and be put through the House of Commons in one day—[Interruption.] Perhaps it will have one day in the House of Lords as well, for all I know. The bottom line is: we do not know yet what any such Bill will contain. It is inconceivable, is it not, that we should be presented with Bills that will be rammed through the House of Commons on matters of such incredible importance without even seeing them?

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That just further adds to my view that we should be able to vote on whether we want another day or not after today’s business. We have to remember here, as do people watching, that Parliament abrogated its responsibility to take this decision—we have to say that over and over again—and asked the people. It said, “We will listen to whatever you say.” I do not care what anyone says, the dictionary definition of what “leave” means is very simple. All these motions today, with the exception of the one tabled by the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), are designed, in some way or another, to not allow us to leave in the way that people thought they were voting for when they voted on 23 June 2016. It was made very clear—I do not want to go into the details—and we all knew that leave meant leaving all the institutions of the European Union. So I would never question it, but I am disappointed that we will not have a vote on the amendment, as that would have been sensible. I hope that today people remember that the biggest majority in this House for anything to do with the European Union was when 498 votes said we would leave, with or without a deal.

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I need only 30 seconds, to make two points, Mr Speaker. First, it is extraordinary that we are going to have less than three and a half hours to debate incredibly important matters: whether we are going to enter into a customs union, be in the single market, have a second referendum or opt for revocation. I find this extremely unsatisfactory, but I will not eat further into the time that is left.

Secondly, I think people will be puzzled when they look at the Order Paper—notwithstanding the selection that you make, Mr Speaker—because, for example, motion (C) on a customs union, which is before us today, is precisely the same, word for word, as the previous motion (J), which was rejected by this House only three sitting days ago. Members of the public will be baffled as to how a 585-page Government agreement is unable to come back for a further vote, yet a word-for-word motion that was rejected only three days ago might be deemed suitable for debate today.

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I had not intended to speak in this debate, but I wish to do so briefly because I am astonished and not a little outraged at what is happening. Members of the public who are watching our proceedings will be incredibly exasperated, not only at the fact that a hard-right faction in Parliament is using lengthy speeches about procedure to try to prevent us from getting on to the debate, but because the Government are acting with extreme bad faith towards Parliament.

Let us remind ourselves why we took control of the Standing Orders that give the Government the right to set the agenda: because the Government are incapable of using that right to move this process forward. They have done one of two things: they have either brought a proposition that has manifestly failed to get a majority back to the House completely unchanged, in the vain hope that the passage of time will allow them to browbeat their opponents into submission; or, even worse, they have filled our agenda with stuff that we do not need to discuss as a matter of urgency, leading to the embarrassing situation in which, in a moment of national crisis, this House has finished its business early and we have been sent home with nothing to discuss. That is an outrage and that is why Parliament is taking control of the agenda so that we can move the process forward. I believe we will do that if we get the chance to get at the matter today. I therefore hope we can take the vote, agree to take control into our own hands and then make better use of it than the Government are able to.

Question put.

Division 396

1 April 2019

The House divided:

Ayes: 322
Noes: 277

Question accordingly agreed to.

View Details

Resolved,

(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.

EU: Withdrawal and Future Relationship (Motions)

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We now come to the motions relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from and future relationship with the European Union. I inform the House that I have selected the following motions for decision by recorded vote: motion (C), in the name of Mr Kenneth Clarke; motion (D), in the name of Mr Nick Boles; motion (E), in the name of Mr Peter Kyle; and motion (G) in the name of Joanna Cherry.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you perhaps clarify why you have selected for debate motion (C), in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), when exactly the same motion with exactly the same words was debated and rejected by this House only three sitting days ago? For the benefit of those watching, could you perhaps explain why this can be brought back three days later, but the 585-page withdrawal agreement cannot?

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The short answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that the House has agreed to the process that has unfolded, and therefore it is entirely procedurally proper for the judgment I have made to be made, and that is the judgment that I have made. The right hon. Gentleman will have noted the view expressed in the debates last week, and let me say in terms that are very clear—he may not approve of them, but they are clear—that the purpose of this discrete exercise, as I think is understood by colleagues across the House, is to try to identify whether there is potential consensus among Members for an approach to the departure from and the future relationship with the European Union. It is in that spirit and in the knowledge that it is wholly impossible, colleagues, to satisfy everybody, that I have sought conscientiously to discharge my obligations to the House by making a judicious selection. That is what I have done, that I readily defend to the House and that I will continue to proclaim to be the right and prudent course in circumstances that were not of my choosing, but with which, as Chair, I am confronted.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You know me not to be one to play games in this place. With respect, may I ask you to reconsider when it comes to motions (A) and (B)? The reason why I ask—we live in unusual times, so I do not apologise for making this request—is that motion (A) is new, in the sense that it reflects the withdrawal agreement as amended by the backstop. I suggest to you that it is the one vote we have had in this place, on the back of the Brady amendment, that actually achieved a majority. It is a new motion that has previously achieved a majority, and with respect—and I mean that—I think it worthy for consideration. May I also suggest, if only for future reference, that motion (B) is actually the legal default position from our triggering article 50? I do think it is incumbent on us to consider that in this particular debate, when we are trying to find some sort of consensus.

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I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for the very reasonable tones in which, as usual, he expresses it. He and I have known each other for a long time, and I have the highest regard for the integrity of the hon. Gentleman. I am happy, although not obliged, to provide an answer to each of his two points. I say I am not obliged not in my interests, but because the House has long understood and asserted the obligation of the Chair to make these judgments and expected that the Chair would not provide an explanation, but that the House—having vested in the Chair the responsibility—would accept the judgment. However, I am happy in this case to respond to his two points.

First, in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s motion appertaining to the backstop, he makes his own point in his own way. I have to make a judgment about what I think is reasonable going forward. In this debate, colleagues, we are not acting alone; we are acting in a negotiation with the European Union. The point that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about is expressed in this motion for the first time, but it has been aired repeatedly—I do not say that critically, but as a matter of fact—since the publication in November of the withdrawal agreement. Repeated commitments have been made to seek a re-examination of that point by the Union, and it has become clear over a period of months that that re-examination is not offered by the Union. It may or may not feature in the future, but in terms of trying to broker progress now I did not think it would be the most sensible motion to choose at this time. I put it no more strongly than that.

Secondly, in relation to the so-called no-deal motion, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me—and, frankly, even if he will not—I am going to replay to him his own point in my support rather than his. Somewhat exasperated—well, quizzical—that I had not selected his motion, he said, “But Mr Speaker, leaving without a deal on 12 April is the legal default.” He is right: it is precisely because it is the default position in law that having it on the Order Paper is, in my view, a rhetorical assertion. It is a statement of fact, and it does not in my judgment require debate. The second point on that motion is that in looking at it—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) can chunter from a sedentary position in evident disapproval of the thrust of the argument that I am developing if he so wishes, but it does not detract from the fact that I am making the point I am making. He does not like it: I do, and we will have to leave it there.

The simple fact of the matter is that that motion, voted on last week, as the beady eye of the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) testifies he realises, was rejected by 400 votes to 160. A significant number of Members did not vote, but even if every Member who did not vote on that motion last week were to vote in favour of it this week, it still would not pass. I see my duty as being to try to advance matters. Whatever people think about this issue and whatever side of the argument they sit, they all think, “Can we not make some progress?” It is in pursuit of progress that I have made the disinterested—I use that old-fashioned but valid term—judgment that I have made to try to serve the House.

I totally understand that it will not please everyone, but it happens to be my view, it is an honest one, and it is my best judgment.

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I will happily take points of order indefinitely: I have good knee muscles and plenty of energy. I am not sure that it will greatly advance matters, but if hon. Members wish to raise points of order they are most welcome to do so.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I have always found you very patient in hearing the concerns of any colleague in the House, and always passionate about the rulings that you make.

If I may remind you, the other day you made a ruling on meaningful vote 3, and you said that you wanted to make it clear that you expected the test of change to be met and that the Government

“should not seek to circumvent my ruling by means of tabling either a ‘notwithstanding’ motion or a paving motion. The Table Office has been instructed that no such motions will be accepted.”—[Official Report, 27 March 2019; Vol. 657, c. 370.]

What, then, is motion (C), which seems to be exactly that?

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Forgive me if I was not sufficiently clear. I thought I had been. My apologies to the hon. Gentleman if my reply was too opaque. I thought I had indicated in an earlier reply that the House, in the motion that it had supported, had endorsed the approach to indicative votes that we are now taking. It is a discrete process separate from and different to the processes that have been adopted thus far.

All sorts of arguments and explanations have been given as to why we are in this process, with the House taking control of the process, and I do not need to revisit those, but I have answered that point already. I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman, whom I like and respect very much as he knows, but I fear I have to say to him that it is not that I have not answered his point. I have answered his point already in response to an earlier point of order, but the simple fact is that the hon. Gentleman does not like my answer, and I am afraid I cannot do anything about that.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Tonight, we will be debating motion (E) on a confirmatory public vote, but this House voted on a confirmatory public vote, and I believe it gathered only 85 votes at the time. I am just wondering, Mr Speaker, why that motion, which was so roundly rejected by this House—it was not even supported by those on the Labour Benches—is worthy of another debate. Perhaps it should be kicked out.

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I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me. I may have misheard her, but I thought she said something about 85 votes. From memory—I do not have it in front of me, although I can easily find it; it would not be very difficult—I think I am right in saying that the vote for the confirmatory public vote, for a confirmatory referendum, received 268 votes and was defeated—

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indicated dissent.

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The hon. Lady is shaking her head, but I am trying to answer the point. I think it received 268 votes and was opposed by 295, so it was defeated. But again, if the hon. Lady will forgive me, and even if she won’t, I repeat the point that this is part of a process for which the House voted. Colleagues did so in the knowledge that a result might not be achieved on day one or even necessarily on day two, but the House wanted that process to take place. It may be—I have not looked at the Division list and it is absolutely her right—that the hon. Lady voted against this process altogether, and I completely respect her autonomy in making that judgment, but the House chose to adopt the process. What I have done and am doing is entirely in keeping with the spirit of that process.

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rose—

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Is it is further to that point of order? I am not sure there is a further to.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The 85 votes I am referring to relate to the motion brought before the House by the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston).

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I am sorry. I did not realise that was what the hon. Lady was saying. Okay, but my point about the discrete process we are undertaking and the level of support for that particular motion stands. What I have tried to do—I say this not least so that our proceedings are intelligible to those who are not Members of the House but are watching—is identify those propositions that appear to command substantial support, preferably of a cross-party nature. That is what I have done. It does seem to me, if I may say so, that although it cannot please everybody it is quite a reasonable approach, as opposed to, for example, identifying a series of propositions that have minimal support and thinking that it would be a frightfully good sport instead to submit them to a verdict of the House again. That would not seem to me a particularly constructive way in which to proceed. I am for a constructive approach and I hope most of the House will agree with me that that is how we should operate.

Can we now move to the main debate? I call the Father of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), he who owns motion (C) on the customs union, to address the House.

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I beg to move motion (C),

That this House instructs the Government to:

(1) ensure that any Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration negotiated with the EU must include, as a minimum, a commitment to negotiate a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU;

(2) enshrine this objective in primary legislation.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following motions:

Motion (D)—Common Market 2.0—

That this House –

(1) directs Her Majesty’s Government to –

(i) renegotiate the framework for the future relationship laid before the House on Monday 11 March 2019 with the title ‘Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom’ to provide that, on the conclusion of the Implementation Period and no later than 31 December 2020, the United Kingdom shall –

(a) accede to the European Free Trade Association (Efta) having negotiated a derogation from Article 56(3) of the Efta Agreement to allow UK participation in a comprehensive customs arrangement with the European Union,

(b) enter the Efta Pillar of the European Economic Area (EEA) and thereby render operational the United Kingdom’s continuing status as a party to the EEA Agreement and continuing participation in the Single Market,

(c) agree relevant protocols relating to frictionless agri-food trade across the UK/EU border,

(d) enter a comprehensive customs arrangement including a common external tariff, alignment with the Union Customs Code and an agreement on commercial policy, and which includes a UK say on future EU trade deals, at least until alternative arrangements that maintain frictionless trade with the European Union and no hard border on the island of Ireland have been agreed with the European Union,

(ii) negotiate with the EU a legally binding Joint Instrument that confirms that, in accordance with Article 2 of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland of the Withdrawal Agreement, the implementation of all the provisions of paragraph 1 (i) of this motion would cause the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland to be superseded in full;

(2) resolves to make support for the forthcoming European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill conditional upon the inclusion of provisions for a Political Declaration revised in accordance with the provisions of this motion to be the legally binding negotiating mandate for Her Majesty’s Government in the forthcoming negotiation of the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Motion (E)—Confirmatory public vote—

That this House will not allow in this Parliament the implementation and ratification of any withdrawal agreement and any framework for the future relationship unless and until they have been approved by the people of the United Kingdom in a confirmatory public vote.

Motion (G)—Parliamentary Supremacy—

That—

(1) If, at midday on the second last Day before exit day, the condition specified in section 13(1)(d) of the Act (the passing of legislation approving a withdrawal agreement) is not satisfied, Her Majesty’s Government must immediately seek the agreement of the European Council under Article 50(3) of the Treaty to extend the date upon which the Treaties shall cease to apply to the United Kingdom;

(2) If, at midday on the last Day before exit day, no agreement has been reached (pursuant to (1) above) to extend the date upon which the Treaties shall cease to apply to the United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Government must immediately put a motion to the House of Commons asking it to approve ‘No Deal’;

(3) If the House does not approve the motion at (2) above, Her Majesty’s Government must immediately ensure that the notice given to the European Council under Article 50 of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union is revoked in accordance with United Kingdom and European law;

(4) If the United Kingdom’s notice under Article 50 is revoked pursuant to (3) above a Minister of Her Majesty’s Government shall cause an inquiry to be held under the Inquiries Act 2005 into the question whether a model of a future relationship with the European Union likely to be acceptable to the European Union is likely to have majority support in the United Kingdom;

(5) If there is a referendum it shall be held on the question whether to trigger Article 50 and renegotiate that model;

(6) The Inquiry under paragraph (4) shall start within three months of the revocation; and

(7) References in this Motion to “Days” are to House of Commons sitting days; references to “exit day” are references to exit day as defined in the Act; references to the Act are to The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018; and references to the Treaty are to the Treaty on European Union.

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May I first of all say that I hope, for the reputation of this House and the reputation of the political institutions of this country, that we will achieve a majority for at least a couple of these motions this afternoon in order to reassure the public that we do know what we are doing, or we are beginning to know what we are doing, and that we are capable of delivering responsible government and looking after the national interest in the present crisis? I think most right hon. and hon. Members must have appreciated at the weekend how little respect the public as a whole have for their political institutions at the moment, and how very low is the regard in which they hold what is going on in this House.

The House has blocked the Government’s policy. It will not vote for the withdrawal agreement, and last week in a rather curious mixture of votes it voted against the propositions before it. If we are to avoid ludicrous deadlock, today is the day when the House has to indicate that there is a majority and a consensus in favour of something positive that will give some guidance on where we are going.

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Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

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I might do so when I have got going, but the filibustering on the business motion means that we have very little time for debate, so I am going to make an effort to keep my speech short. With respect to my hon. Friend, who is an old friend, I will not give way.

What happened last week was understandable. People plumped for what they wanted, and we spread so widely over eight motions that nothing actually got a majority. Today, I trust that people will vote for more than one motion if they can live with more than one, because if we just keep plumping for our one and only solution, we will find that we are broken up. That is what my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) had in mind when he introduced this process.

I voted for, I think, five of the motions last week, and, as I shall argue, I do not think that they are incompatible with each other. Some are larger than others, and they swallow one within the other. Some are on separate subsets of the problem. What we are all asking ourselves, in this deadlock, is, what compromise would each and every Member be prepared to accept in the national interest?

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Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

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With apologies to my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), I will give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset once, because this is his process.

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I am enormously grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend, and I agree with every word he has spoken. Does he agree that the reason why we are holding this debate and following this unusual process is not that we are interested in some zany constitutional theory, but that our country faces the prospect, on Thursday week, of leaving without a deal if this House does not come together and find some way forward?

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My right hon. Friend and I are in complete agreement. As he quite rightly says, we must avoid no deal occurring by default in a fortnight’s time simply because the House of Commons could not agree on anything. In fact, 400 Members of the House of Commons have voted against no deal, and it would be calamitous just to collapse into it because we cannot reach any compromise among ourselves about what we actually wish to put forward.

I am trying to illustrate that my motion, which is for a permanent customs union, is perfectly compatible with a wider look at the subject but sets a basic agenda. I think it will help to minimise what I regard as the damaging consequences of leaving the European Union, and enable us to reassure the business and other interests in this country—some of them are absolutely panic-stricken—who view the great unknown and the end of the common market with great concern. I hope that the public, who are as polarised as this House in their opinions, will begin to be reassured. I hope that people will be reconciled to a compromise of leaving the political European Union but staying in the common market, to use the language of Eurosceptics over the years.

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Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

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No, I will not give way. As I have said, we have just had two hours of filibustering, and I do not want my speech to be spun out.

Let me illustrate why I think motion (C) does not conflict with the body of opinion in most of the political parties in this House, starting with the Conservative party. My motion does not conflict with the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement. Indeed, it slightly complements it, and it deals with a different subject. Motion (C) deals with the political arrangements—the non-binding political declaration and the nature of the later negotiations that will have to take place to determine our long-term future.

As I said last week, the motion answers the concerns of the Labour party, which has supported it. The Labour party says that it will not vote for the withdrawal agreement, not because of its contents, but because it represents a blind Brexit in which we have absolutely no idea what the Government are going to do. To approve the withdrawal agreement would be to give the Government a blank sheet of paper and allow them to carry on arguing inside the Cabinet about what objectives to seek in the negotiations that would follow. What this motion suggests is that the House mandates the Government—whatever shape they take and whatever the Government—to make a permanent customs union one of their foundations in the negotiations. I will come back to the only reason that they have ever given for being against the customs union, which is the only basis for voting against it.

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Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

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No, I am not going to give way. It would be unfair to other Members who have had this whole debate crammed into three hours. In 1972, we used to have all-night sittings on much smaller issues than this. I do not recommend going back to that, but I object to listening to my colleagues having to speak on three-minute time limits because chaps want to get to dinner and will not sit after 7 o’clock in the evening in the middle of the week, which is where this rather pathetic Parliament has got itself recently. That is my last digression from my theme. [Interruption.]

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As I have said, the motion does not conflict with the Government’s withdrawal agreement. If the motion is passed or if it is subsumed by common market 2.0, which I will also vote for—that motion would subsume this one if it is carried—the easiest way of proceeding is for the Government to proceed with their withdrawal agreement tomorrow and for the Labour party to abstain because it is no longer such a blind Brexit, and then we can get on to the serious negotiations, which this country has not even started yet, with its 27 partner nations.

Motion (C) does not conflict with the case that is being made by many Members for a further referendum—either a confirmatory referendum or a people’s vote. It is not on the same subject. The referendum is about whether the public have changed their mind and whether we are firmly committed to the EU now that we know what is happening. That is a process—a very important one—that we are arguing about. I have been abstaining on that; I am not very fond of referendums, but there we are.

Motion (C) is concerned with a quite different subject: the substance of the negotiations if we get beyond 12 April. It begins to set out what the Government have a majority for and what they are being given a mandate for when they start those negotiations. The separate issue of whether, at any relevant stage, a referendum is called for can be debated and voted on quite separately. Advocates of a people’s vote are not serving any particular interest if they vote for a people’s vote and somehow vote against this motion to make sure that that somehow gets a bigger majority. Both can be accommodated.

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Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

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I shall be accused of bias if I give way to my right hon. and learned Friend.

I urge the Liberals to proceed on that basis, and similarly, the Scottish nationalists. I agree with them—I would much prefer to stay in the European Union—but I am afraid that in trying to give this country good and stable governance by giving steers to the House of Commons, I have compromised on that, because a huge majority seems to me to have condemned us to leaving the European Union. I have tabled motions with the Scottish nationalists and have voted with them to revoke article 50 if the dread problem of no deal seems to be looming towards us by accident, and I will again. I cannot understand why the Scottish nationalists will not at least contemplate, if they cannot get their way and stay in the European Union, voting for a permanent customs union, which will benefit business and the economy in Scotland just as much as here and is not remotely incompatible with pursuing their wider aims.

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Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

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As I have mentioned the Scottish nationalists, I will of course give the hon. and learned Lady the right to reply.

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I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. The reason that the Scottish National party cannot support his motion today is that freedom of movement is vital for the Scottish economy and we do not get freedom of movement without the single market—that is the reason we cannot support his motion.

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I will vote for the single market, if it is presented in a proper way, and I would have voted for the motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) last week, had he not at the end added a gratuitous sentence ruling out a customs union. If we can get a majority for the single market, I will vote for it again.

I accept that if we pass a motion for the single market, or the motion for common market 2.0, which no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) will move later, my motion will be subsumed, but I am not confident we will pass a motion for the single market, because although the Scot nats are attracted by freedom of movement, many of my right hon. and hon. Friends are provoked into voting against it for that very reason. Similarly, common market 2.0, which I would settle for, is probably too ambitious. Mine, then, is the fall-back position.

I hope that my hon. Friend votes for my motion, but I cannot understand the Scottish nationalists. Voting for my motion is no threat to their position; indeed, it is an insurance policy—this goes back to how I started—to make sure that we move forward and that the House of Commons gives the Government a mandate that we can then ensure they have to follow in mapping out this nation’s future. In the long negotiations over the next two or three years, questions of regulatory alignment and freedom of movement will start coming into the negotiations again; that we have committed ourselves to a permanent customs union will not compromise any of those discussions.

I have not the faintest idea why Members of the Democratic Unionist party are not supporting motion (C). If we pass motion (C), it will mean we have no tariffs or certificates of origin and that the Irish border question is pretty well solved—we will be 90-odd% of the way to maintaining the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. It would be of huge benefit to the Irish economy and Irish security and mean that the DUP’s objection to the Irish backstop—that Northern Ireland is being treated differently from the rest of the UK—vanished Pass motion (C) and it applies to the entire United Kingdom.

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rose

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As I am referring to the DUP, I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, but I am a Unionist. He thinks the Irish backstop is not a Unionist proposition. Motion (C) is a Unionist proposition and does no harm to the DUP’s position.

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I am glad to hear that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is a Unionist, though in supporting the withdrawal agreement three times he has shown that he does not respect the views of the people of Northern Ireland who believe it puts the Union in jeopardy.

The customs union alone does not resolve the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic in the terms in which the EU has expressed it. The single market rules are equally important in its argument that there would need to be regulatory checks—though of course we know, from its no-deal preparations, that it does not matter whether we are in a customs union or a single market, or neither, because it does not intend to put checks on the border anyway.

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I agree that to have an open border—unless we invent these magic X-ray cameras whose discovery some of my hon. Friends think is imminent—we will need to be in a customs union and have some degree of regulatory alignment. In the case of the Irish border—and, I think, of Dover—a customs union gets us 90% of the way. As I say, it is not the customs union that is inconsistent with the right hon. Gentleman’s aim and mine, which is a totally free-moving, frictionless—to use the Prime Minister’s phrase—border at the channel in England and in Ireland, with the same arrangements applying to both. He cites the fact that unfortunately the withdrawal agreement has the Irish backstop in it. Motion (C) makes the Irish backstop irrelevant and superfluous. It will never feature if we pass my motion (C).

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rose

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No, I am sorry; I will go back to being strict, though when I refer to parties or people, I feel it is courteous to let them respond.

Let me now deal, finally and very briefly, with the only substantial argument that has been raised in the House against the customs union from the beginning to the end of our debates. That argument is that it will stop us having our own customs arrangements with third party countries, and it is repeated by Ministers over and over again.

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Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

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No, I will not, in the interests of other Members who wish to speak.

First, that argument is not actually accurate. It is true that trade agreements with other countries would mean that we would not be able to make changes in external tariffs. Of course, we would have the benefit of no tariffs at all: totally tariff-free entry into the rest of the EU. What we would be able to have trade agreements on is the service economy, service industries, which constitute the vast majority of this country’s GDP.

I have been involved in trade negotiations quite a lot over the years. It is not vanity, but simply my longevity, which leads me to say that I have probably had more experience of trade arrangements and dealings than any other Member. In every Department that I have occupied, I have led trade delegations to somewhere or other. During my spell at the Department of Trade and Industry and my spell at the Treasury, I became heavily involved in trade deals, particularly with the Americans, China, and large parts of Latin America. I led for the last Government—the coalition Government—on the EU-US TTIP negotiations. Although the Commission conducts the negotiations on a mandate that it has been given by the 28 member states, certain of the bigger ones—such as Britain—remain a constant presence, and go backwards and forwards to try to ensure that the process is going smoothly. So I have been involved in many attempts to secure trade deals, some successful and some not. Opening up the Chinese market is a very slow business: I could have told President Trump that.

Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends ascribe great weight to an American deal. TTIP failed. It was given that strange title—the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership—because Obama’s officials said that it would not be possible to get anything called a free trade agreement past America, which is quite a protectionist country. Certainly Congress is protectionist, and that was under Obama. The problem with the Americans was, first of all, that we wanted to open up access to services. Tariffs do not matter much in European-American trade. They are vestigial. All the Europeans, including the British, are quite content to abandon tariffs in both directions, because they are fairly small. The auto industry, on both sides of the Atlantic, did not really want tariffs. It is regulatory differences, and getting regulatory equivalence, or convergence, that stand in the way.

We wanted the Americans to open up public procurement, which they would not do—and, anyway, it is a state-by-state process, which makes it more difficult—and to open up the service sector, particularly financial services. The lobbies in Congress are too strong for that to make much progress. The present President has given no indication that he would open up any market to us. The approach that he has taken to trade negotiations, when he talks about a trade agreement and takes on the Mexicans, the Canadians and the Chinese, is that he wants America to export more to them and wants them to export less to America. We have a large trade surplus with America, and that is what he has in mind. It is perfectly plain. His obsession is with food and agricultural products, and that means giving up our standards of animal welfare and food quality—which, owing to British lobbying, are very high in Europe—and accepting America’s lower standards involving hormone-treated beef and chicken.

If any Members think we can influence that—if they think that with such a trade agreement we can somehow start tightening up American food standards and animal welfare—I can only tell them that the agriculture lobby in Congress is extremely powerful, and would not take the slightest notice of British interests in such matters. The Australians would probably agree to a deal, but we would have to face the problem of hormone-treated beef, because that is what they want to export to us. The New Zealanders would want a deal as long as the quotas were lifted from their tariff-free exports of lamb. I am sure that they would be happy if we could think of anything that we wished to sell to New Zealand that we do not sell at the moment. But those negotiations will not compensate for the loss of our European markets if we stay outside the customs union and the single market and erect great barriers in our way.

I have made a modest case—it is modest compared with my own views; nobody in this House is a greater supporter of the European project than I am and nobody in this House wants Britain to remain in the EU more than I do, if that were in the realm of the possible. To reject motion (C) again would run the risk of the adverse reaction outside that we got when—as I think we all anticipated—there were minorities for every motion last week. Now is the time for hon. Members to get behind motion (C). If they wish to get behind common market 2.0, they should feel free to do so, and those who want to reinforce the revocation argument if otherwise we would crash out with no deal should vote for that.

So far, the process has been a shambles. The public hold their political parties and politicians and the institutions of Government almost in contempt. Today, we must start to bring that to an end. All I propose is a modest step compared with most others on the Order Paper. It is perfectly compatible with the wider ambitions of a large majority of this House. It is fitting that I should open the debate because my motion is the basic, obvious beginning. If the House wishes to add more, I shall probably vote with it.

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Order. I am keen to accommodate all those whose motions have been selected before calling others. I am not imposing a formal time limit at this stage, but there is a premium on parliamentary time and therefore on brevity.

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