House of Commons
Wednesday 3 April 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Discussions with First Minister of Wales
I have regular discussions with the First Minister on the implications and opportunities for Wales arising from EU exit, including the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration.
Given the new easy listening approach of the Prime Minister, will the Government give a commitment that they will discuss any new proposals that they make on withdrawal from the European Union with the First Minister of Wales and the Welsh Government prior to the meeting of the European Council?
The hon. Gentleman is well aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is keen to work with colleagues across the House to secure a deal to leave the European Union in a smooth and orderly way. My relationship with the Welsh Government, and specifically with the First Minister in Wales, is warm, positive and constructive. As the hon. Gentleman will be well aware, the First Minister or someone that he nominates attends the European Union exit committee, which focuses on preparedness in the event of a no deal.
If it is good enough for this House to be asked repeatedly to approve the Prime Minister’s deal, why is it not good enough to put it back to the people of Wales? If the Secretary of State is so confident in the merits of the Prime Minister’s deal, why is he so afraid to put a deal that has been rejected by the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly back to the people of Wales to decide?
The hon. Gentleman seems to forget that Wales voted to leave the European Union. Also, I underline that Wales voted to leave the European Union in higher numbers than the average across the rest of the United Kingdom. Of course we are keen to work with all political parties to secure a smooth and efficient exit from the European Union. Let us be frank: the Welsh public and the UK public want to draw a line under this chapter.
Is not the key problem that we are facing with the withdrawal agreement at the moment that there are just too many MPs from Wales and elsewhere—on the Opposition Benches and some on our side—who go to their constituencies at the weekend and tell their leave voters that they want to get on with Brexit, but who then come back here on a Monday and find every trick in the book and every excuse to vote against implementing Brexit?
My right hon. Friend has absolutely hit the nail on the head and I am grateful for his support. He is well aware that, last Friday, the Opposition voted against the withdrawal agreement, having previously said that they had no differences with the withdrawal agreement. That seems to demonstrate that they are seeking to create as much chaos as they can, rather than acting in the national interest.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, in discussing the withdrawal agreement with the Welsh First Minister, he has made clear the Government’s position, which is to rule out participation in the customs union?
My right hon. Friend is well aware that this House has not yet come to a conclusion as to whether it wishes to call on the Government to be part of the customs union or not. So far everything has been rejected and the Prime Minister is seeking to work across the House, and with colleagues in all parties, to come to an agreement on what the House actually wants.
With the actions that the Government are planning, I am optimistic about our prospects outside the European Union. Having travelled internationally—I was in Japan some weeks ago and in China at the end of last year—I am encouraged by the interest that has been shown in the UK economy, and I believe that Wales and the UK economy will be prosperous outside the European Union.
The Secretary of State told my colleague, the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), on the record in the Welsh Affairs Committee two days ago that he did not want to be “in a situation where there is no deal.” Could the Secretary of State explain to Welsh food producers and manufacturers why there are press reports after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting that he was for a short delay? That is, of course, shorthand for supporting no deal.
The right hon. Lady is seeking to draw me on private discussions within Cabinet meetings, but of course she knows that I would not be drawn on those. What I said on the record on Monday I will happily say on the record now: I do not want to be in a no-deal position and that is the reason that I voted for a deal. I hope that the Welsh food producers that she referred to also supported the Prime Minister’s deal, and I hope that she will explain to them why she refused to support it.
To lose one Wales Office Minister may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose four in little over a year looks like carelessness. Something must make their positions untenable, intolerable, dispensable, toxic. When will the Secretary of State admit that his office has also become dispensable and too toxic to serve the interests of Wales? When will he do the right thing and resign?
I do not think that a month passes without the right hon. Lady calling for me to take such action. However, it gives me an opportunity to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) for his efforts, including his work on the north Wales growth deal, for which the right hon. Lady has shown appreciation in the past. I wish that she would not be so churlish now.
As you know, Mr Speaker, the Newport West by-election will take place tomorrow, having been called after the sad passing of our wonderful colleague Paul Flynn. I wish Ruth Jones, our wonderful candidate, all the best for tomorrow. Let me also welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), to his place. Is he staying long, or is he just passing through?
On several occasions the House has refused to back leaving without a deal. So have the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly. The Prime Minister does not want that either, and she has at last reached out to our party, seeking a cross-party approach to resolve the Brexit impasse. Does the Secretary of State agree with his Prime Minister, or with his former junior Minister, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), who has just resigned?
Let me first wish Matthew Evans well in the by-election to which the hon. Lady has referred.
As I said a moment ago, I do not want to leave the European Union without a deal. That is exactly why I voted for the Prime Minister’s deal. Perhaps the hon. Lady will explain to her constituents why she voted to block Brexit.
I think it would be really helpful if the Secretary of State reiterated to the House today that he would rule out a no deal, which he knows would be disastrous for Wales. If he will not do so, he should follow his junior Minister and resign.
In the spirit in which the Prime Minister made her statement yesterday, when she said that she was keen to engage on an open and transparent basis, the Leader of the Opposition has said that there are no red lines, so I do not know why the hon. Lady is calling on me to draw some now.
UK Shared Prosperity Fund
I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues about a range of issues affecting Wales, including the UK shared prosperity fund. Leaving the European Union removes the geographical and fund-specific constraints that currently exist, and provides an opportunity to address the concerns of businesses, the voluntary sector and communities about excessive bureaucracy.
The Government committed themselves to creating a UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU funding that seeks to reduce inequalities across our communities between the four nations of the United Kingdom. Two years later, the fund still does not exist. Are the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Scotland advocating its introduction in the Cabinet, to ensure that Scotland and Wales secure the fairest deal and will not receive less funding than they currently receive, or than was promised by the leave campaign?
The simple fact is that the shared prosperity fund does not exist because we are still part of the European Union and receiving that EU funding. There is clearly plenty of space for development, and we will be consulting shortly. In respect of the share of funds received by Wales, I would compare my record positively with that of the Labour Administration. Having underfunded Wales for 13 years, we now have a new, enhanced settlement that is focused on need.
The worst inequality in any EU member state exists between London and Wales, and leaving the EU would make that worse. Can the Secretary of State confirm that he is working to ensure that the shared prosperity fund delivers for Wales—which can be done only if decisions are made in Wales—and that devolved Governments are not sidelined?
The hon. Lady raises an important point about the worst inequality, as she described it—that between London and Wales. The facts speak for themselves, but those inequalities have built up over some time. I would also point to the relative positive growth in Wales compared with other parts of the UK and the enhanced funding settlement that has been negotiated under the fiscal framework. So I am optimistic and excited about our future outside the EU.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK shared prosperity fund offers a cast-iron guarantee that Wales is not going to lose out financially as a result of Brexit, and will he consider ensuring that that money goes directly to local authorities so it is spent in the best possible way?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Like me, he was an Assembly Member in 1999 when the first form of European aid on this scale was discussed. It was described as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Sadly, we have qualified twice since and that is because of the relative failure of the existing programmes.
Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), will my right hon. Friend ensure that it is local authorities that can bid for this scheme, rather than it just being devolved to the Welsh Assembly to divide up the funds accordingly?
My hon. Friend makes an important point and that is the sort of innovation that the consultation will consider. He is tempting me to draw conclusions before we actually consult, but we have not been doing nothing on this policy area. Pre-consultation discussions have already been taking place in Wales and the Welsh Government jointly presented at the last St Asaph meeting in north Wales.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but of course he is tempting me to announce elements of the comprehensive spending review well before my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will do so later this year. However, communities have said that the £4 billion has not changed communities in the way they wanted it to, so this is an opportunity to introduce a much more innovative, proactive approach that responds to the private and voluntary sectors and local authorities in a much more local way.
I welcome the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) to his new ministerial position. May I too wish our Labour candidate Ruth Jones well in the Newport West by-election tomorrow?
There has been more than just the one meeting on the shared prosperity fund in Wales—there have been five meetings—but the consultation has not started. MPs were neither informed nor invited to those meetings, even if, as was the case with me, they were held in their own constituency. Does the right hon. Gentleman view MPs from all sides as stakeholders in the shared prosperity fund? Why were MPs not invited to these meetings and will he meet with stakeholder MPs to discuss the design of the fund?
First, I point out that these meetings were aimed at communities and the Welsh Government jointly presented at the last one. The hon. Gentleman has frequent opportunities to make direct representation here and it was only a little over a week ago that I met the all-party group for the UK shared prosperity fund to discuss the matter. I am sorry that he could not be present with some of his colleagues, but of course I will be happy to meet him or any other colleague who wishes to discuss the UK shared prosperity fund.
Foreign Direct Investment
Last year, over 3,000 jobs came to Wales through foreign direct investment, through 57 projects, of which 93% were supported by my Department and the Department for International Trade.
Given the recent showcasing of the Welsh investment portfolio at the MIPIM conference, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to try to lever further foreign direct investment into Wales, in what is undoubtedly a key nation in the global economy?
My hon. Friend is a strong advocate for foreign direct investment in his constituency and in all parts. He rightly points out that the Department for International Trade promoted a Wales capital investment programme at the MIPIM conference for the first time. That is a great demonstration of Whitehall Departments working closely with local authorities. There has been extremely positive feedback from both local authorities and investors, and we are working through those leads to see which projects can land.
Not only would no deal have an impact on foreign direct investment; it would also, on the Government’s own figures, leave the Welsh economy 8% smaller over 15 years. Can the Secretary of State clear up any ambiguity about his own attitude to no deal and say clearly today that there are no circumstances whatever in which he would back no deal?
The hon. Gentleman is quite selective in the quotes that he cites on foreign direct investment. He and the House will be well aware that the latest available figures show that the UK has the third highest stock of foreign direct investment in the world after the US and Hong Kong. Clearly, the UK’s record on FDI is strong, and I suggest that Wales’s record is stronger than most of the rest of the UK.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that every single UK trade delegation overseas sings the song loudly and proudly that Wales is, and will continue to be, open for business?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He is rightly aware of the great record that Wales has on attracting inward investment. There are more than 60 Japanese companies in Wales, for example, and that is why I was there some weeks ago talking not only about existing investments but about the potential for new investments for the UK outside the European Union.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the Irish Government have recently reopened their consulate in Cardiff. What more can the Government do to encourage other countries to do likewise, so as to boost Wales’s international presence and levels of inward investment?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which we discussed at the Welsh Affairs Committee on Monday. I pay tribute to him for his persistence on this matter. He rightly points out that the Irish Government have opened an office in Cardiff, and we would encourage other Governments to do that. I am happy to meet and to work with him to see which nations we should target to attract them to Wales and to Cardiff.
I have regular discussions with the Welsh Government’s Minister for Economy and Transport on a range of matters, including infrastructure in Wales. We are committed to creating a broad-based resilient economy through our own modern industrial strategy and the Welsh Government’s economic action plan.
The resilience of the major road network in north-east Wales is entirely dependent on the M56, just across the border in my constituency, which is now beyond capacity. Will the Secretary of State speak to Department for Transport Ministers to ensure that we get the upgrades we need in order to benefit north-east Wales as well?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, particularly when responsibilities are split between the Welsh Government and the UK Government. In seeking to address these sorts of issues, and cross-border infrastructure projects in particular, the strategic roads in Britain group has been established—of which the Welsh Government and the UK Government are part—to prioritise how we can best resolve these issues.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady for her work on seeking to clear up the phurnacite site. She has been working on this project for many years. I would perhaps enhance the comment she made about funding for Wales for environmental projects, because that is devolved and would be part of the Barnett block. I am keen to work with her to see how we can best influence the Welsh Government in this devolved area of policy so that we can bring benefit to her constituency.
Prince of Wales’s Investiture Regalia: Permanent Home
I commend my hon. Friend for his commitment to this issue. I would be delighted to see the return of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’s regalia to Wales. There are many fine residences in Wales that would be suitable to display what some consider to be the Welsh Crown jewels.
As you will know, Mr Speaker, the question on Welsh people’s lips at the moment is not Brexit but the royal regalia. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that there are many suitable locations, including Caernarfon castle or, perhaps even better, the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, which has a secure place to store them?
My hon. Friend is persistent, but that demonstrates the importance of the project and its potential to attract tourists to Wales. It is an interesting proposal, and my officials are happy to work with other organisations to see how we can make it a reality. There are security implications, but there are also significant potential benefits.
Investiture regalia is probably a controversial subject, but those who are keen on it would describe themselves as patriots. Will the Secretary of State for Wales describe himself as a real patriot by ruling out a disastrous no-deal Brexit, and will he show his commitment to that?
I am a passionate Welsh patriot, as I would hope that the hon. Lady would recognise. I want to leave the European Union with a deal, which is why I have voted for it, but I point to the hon. Lady’s record: she voted against the deal last Friday, rejecting the call, instruction and demand that came from the Welsh public in the referendum.
The Royal Collection contains a fantastically valuable sword made of Tain silver. Will the Secretary of State have a word with the Secretary of State for Scotland to see whether the sword could be lent to my home town of Tain in the highlands?
I will happily raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. This question highlights the great history, shared identity and common issues of this nation, and we can share such assets to attract tourists to every part of the United Kingdom.
I have been working closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy and with the Welsh Government to ensure that Wales benefits from the opportunities that our modern industrial strategy provides.
The recent BEIS Committee report on the industrial strategy was particularly damning about how the steel sector has been failed by the Government. If Ruth Jones is elected tomorrow, she will be strong voice for the industry in Newport West, but what is the Secretary of State doing to push the sector deal negotiations and demand action on energy costs?
I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s point, but she is a strong supporter of the steel industry in her constituency, across Wales and elsewhere. The steel industry faced a challenging crisis just three years ago, and it is now in a much more positive position as a result of Government interventions such as reducing energy costs for energy-intensive industries.
I thank the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for meeting a delegation that I brought here a few months ago, but we now need action. Rehau is shedding jobs in my constituency, and this is an opportunity for the Department to put its money where its mouth is with the industrial strategy and help that company. Will the Secretary of State meet me to follow up on the meeting that the former Under-Secretary of State had with the company so that we can keep jobs and production in Amwlch in my constituency?
I am happy to respond positively to the hon. Gentleman, who is a champion for Anglesey. Since our meeting about Wylfa Newydd, I met the chairman of Hitachi to press the importance of the case and to stress the support that comes from the local authority, the Assembly Member and the Member of Parliament, which demonstrates the co-ordinated approach.
Universal Credit: Low-income Families
Universal credit is available in every jobcentre in Wales. Our welfare reforms are incentivising work and supporting working families. In the past 12 months alone, the employment rate in Wales has increased by 3.4 percentage points, the largest increase in any area of the UK.
Considering that pensioner poverty is higher in Wales than in any other country of the United Kingdom, what assessment has the Minister made of the change in the rules for mixed-age couples, who will lose up to £7,000 in pension credit?
It is not right that those of working age should be accessing pensioner benefits, but this Government have delivered the triple-lock pension support, which has given pensioners an extra £1,600 a year.
Will the Minister set out what discussions he is having with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on making it easier for private-rented sector tenants in Wales to have the housing element of universal credit paid directly to their private landlord?
I can confirm that I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on this subject, about which she is incredibly passionate. We are making it easier, particularly for those on legacy benefits who already have direct payments.
Has the Minister received an assurance from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that the social security freeze will not continue after 2020?
I can confirm that that is the default position. It was a four-year position, and this is the final year. We will continue to share the benefits of strong economic growth with the most vulnerable in society.
The Prime Minister was asked—
April marks 50 years since the launch of our longest sustained military operation, Operation Relentless, and the beginning of our continuous at sea deterrent. I am sure all Members on both sides of the House will want to join me in paying tribute to all the generations of Royal Navy submariners, their families, who sacrifice so much, and all those involved in protecting our nation.
Tomorrow marks 70 years since the founding of NATO. I assure the House that, under this Government, the United Kingdom will continue to play our leading role in NATO as it continues its mission of keeping nearly 1 billion people safe.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I assure the Prime Minister that I will not raise Brexit, which will be raised later. I want to raise another very important issue. Consultants and doctors at the university hospital in my constituency have raised the issue of the NHS pension scheme and the tapered annual allowance, the consequences of which are that doctors are retiring early and turning down additional shifts for fear of paying higher tax bills to the Government. That is resulting in longer waiting times for patients and a shortage of doctors and consultants. Will she raise this with the Chancellor as soon as possible and inform me of his answer?
I am aware of the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. In fact, the Chancellor and the Treasury are already in discussion with the Department of Health and Social Care on this very issue. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the Chancellor is on the Treasury Bench and has heard his point. I will make sure that we confirm to him what comes out of those discussions.
I should just congratulate my hon. Friend on so cleverly working in Southend’s claim to become a city. As he says, it is very important that we see that investment coming to our country. The benefits and opportunities, when we have got over this stage and delivered Brexit, for building that better Britain and building that better future, including in Southend-on-Sea, will be there. It is for all of us to ensure that we can get over this stage, get a deal through, get to Brexit, deliver on Brexit and build that better future, of which I am sure Southend will be a leading part.
I join the Prime Minister in wishing the people of Southend well, and I hope it does become a city. [Interruption.] Is that okay?
I welcome the Prime Minister’s offer of talks following the meetings I have held with Members across the House, and I look forward to meeting her later today. I welcome her willingness to compromise to resolve the Brexit deadlock.
When the Prime Minister began her premiership, she promised to resolve the burning injustices facing this country, so can she explain why, according to the Government’s own official figures, poverty has risen for all ages under her Administration?
No one in government wants to see poverty rising, and we take this very seriously indeed, but, as I have said previously to the right hon. Gentleman, the only sustainable way to tackle poverty is with a strong economy and a welfare system that helps people into work. That is why it is important that we have the lowest unemployment since the 1970s and that the number of homes where no one works is at a record low. But we also need to make sure that work pays. Let me just give the right hon. Gentleman some figures: in 2010, under a Labour Government, someone working full-time on the national minimum wage would have taken home £9,200 after tax and national insurance, whereas now, thanks to our tax cuts and the biggest increase in the national living wage, they will take home more than £13,700—that is £4,500 more under a Conservative Government.
Official figures show that since 2010 child poverty has increased by half a million, working age poverty has increased by 200,000 and pensioner poverty has increased by 400,000. Although the Prime Minister is right to mention the national minimum wage, whose introduction her party strongly opposed, we should just be aware of what the national minimum wage actually means: it is £8.21 for over-25s; for 21 to 24-year-olds it is only £7.70; and for apprentices it is just £3.90 an hour. These are poverty wages. There are now 8 million people in this country in work and in poverty. Many on middle incomes are struggling to make ends meet. Universal credit is failing. Will the Prime Minister today at least halt the roll-out of universal credit and agree to a thorough review of it?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, as we have been rolling out universal credit, we have been making changes to it. One of the early measures we took when I became Prime Minister was to change the taper rate. We have since abolished the seven-day wait. We have ensured that we have taken action to make it easier for those who are transferring on to UC in relation to their housing benefit. But, crucially, there is only one way to ensure that we sustainably deal with the issue of poverty—
A Labour Government.
No, and I will come on to that. It is to ensure that we have a strong economy that delivers jobs, and better jobs, and that people can keep more of the money that they earn. What do we know would happen? From behind the right hon. Gentleman, an hon. Member says, from a sedentary position, that the answer is a Labour Government. But a Labour Government would spend £1,000 billion more than has been proposed; a Labour Government would put up taxes; and the Labour party has opposed tax cut after tax cut. This is how you help working people: tax cuts which keep people in work; better jobs; and high employment. That is under the Conservatives.
From a Government that rolled out austerity and has caused such poverty across the country, the Prime Minister really ought to think for a moment about what she has just said. The last Labour Government halved child poverty; brought in children’s centres and Sure Start; and reduced poverty across the whole country. She seems to be ignoring the true impact of universal credit. The Trussell Trust says that in areas where universal credit has been rolled out, food bank use has increased by more than 50%. This week, we also learned that another 400,000 pensioners are in poverty compared with 2010. So why is the Prime Minister pressing ahead with cuts to pension credit for couples where one person is of pension age and the other is not?
Under a Conservative Government we have seen the triple lock on pensions, which has provided good increases for pensioners year after year, and under this Conservative Government we have seen the introduction of the new pension arrangements for individuals who are pensioners. Let us just remember what we saw under a Labour Government. It is not under a Conservative Government that we saw a 75p rise in pensions—it was under Labour.
The last Labour Government lifted 2 million pensioners out of poverty; this Government have put 400,000 more into poverty. Age UK, which I think knows a thing or two about this, says that this proposal by the Government is “a substantial stealth cut”. This year, 15,000 pensioner households could be up to £7,000 a year worse off as a result of this stealth cut.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister mentioned the triple lock, because at the last general election the Government alarmed older people by pledging to scrap the triple lock and the means-tested winter fuel allowance. Will the Prime Minister give an unequivocal commitment that this is no longer Government policy and will not be in the next Tory manifesto?
We have given our commitments to pensioners. We are clear: we are keeping those commitments to pensioners. What we have seen under Conservatives in government is the basic state pension rise by over £1,450 a year. That is in direct contrast to what a Labour Government did for our pensioners. We want people to be able to live in dignity in their old age, and that is what this Conservative Government are delivering.
I am sure that the whole generation of WASPI women will be pretty alarmed at the lack of action by this Government and the lack of justice for them. Additionally, over 1 million over-75s currently receive a free TV licence, a scheme established by the last Labour Government. This Government transferred the scheme to the BBC without guaranteeing its funding. Will the Government take responsibility and guarantee free TV licences for the over-75s?
We have been clear what we want the BBC to do and, frankly, I think that the BBC is in a position to be able to do that with the income that it receives.
The last Labour Government guaranteed free TV licences for the over-75s; this Government appear to be outsourcing that policy to the BBC. I think it should be an item of public policy and not be left to somebody else to administer on behalf of the Government.
The last Labour Government lifted 2 million pensioners out of poverty and 2 million children out of absolute poverty, and homelessness was cut in half. Contrast that with this Government, who have has put half a million more children and 400,000 more pensioners into poverty, and doubled homelessness. This, by this Government, is a political choice. There is nothing inevitable about rising poverty, homelessness and soaring food-bank use in the fifth richest country on earth. So yes, let us work to try to resolve the Brexit deadlock, but unless this Government tackle insecure work, low pay and rising pensioner poverty, the Prime Minister’s Government will be marked down for what they are—a failure in the eyes of the people of this country.
The right hon. Gentleman cited the last Labour Government—I did not realise that he was such a fan of the last Labour Government. He seemed to spend the entire time voting against them when he had a Labour Government.
Let us just talk about what is happening under this Government: a record rate of employment; wages growing at their fastest for a decade; debt falling; a long-term plan for the NHS, and the biggest cash boost in the NHS’s history; a skills-based immigration system; more money for police, local councils and schools; the biggest upgrade in workers’ rights for over 20 years; the freeing of councils to build more homes; world-class public services—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Russell-Moyle, you are behaving in a truly delinquent fashion. Calm yourself, young man. I had to have words with you yesterday. You are a bit over-eager. It is not the sort of thing that I would ever have done as a Back Bencher.
World-class public services; better jobs; more homes; and a stronger economy—Conservatives delivering on the things that matter.
As this week is World Autism Awareness Week, may I ask my right hon. Friend to encourage all Departments to follow the examples being set by the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health and Social Care, which are taking initiatives to improve their engagement with people who have autism in their families? I also ask her to endorse the autism awareness training course for Members of Parliament—offered through the all-party parliamentary group on autism and the National Autistic Society—which will be held in this House on 1 May. As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Autism Act 2009, it would be good to see every MP go through that training course to better help their constituents.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work that she did to bring in the Autism Act 2009. It was very important; it was groundbreaking. It was the first piece of parliamentary legislation to be linked to the condition of autism. I thank her and the members of the all-party parliamentary group on autism for their work on this important issue, including in highlighting the awareness week, and in ensuring that autism training is available for Members of Parliament. I hope, as she does, that Members from across the House take that up. We are reviewing our autism strategy to ensure that it remains fit for purpose, because we want to know what is working and where we need to push harder to transform our approach, so we will continue to look at the issue, which she rightly highlighted in her work on the Act. I welcome that, and congratulate her on the work that she continues to do on the issue.
It is well known that the SNP supports a people’s vote and has supported revocation, but all the way through this process, right back to 2016, the SNP and the Scottish Government have sought compromise. We have published document after document, including “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, which we know Michel Barnier has read; he says it is an interesting document. Why does the Prime Minister continue to ignore Scotland’s voices? Why has she restricted herself to inviting the Leader of the Opposition to formal talks? Why has she not invited the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government? Why is it that Scotland’s voices are being ignored by this Prime Minister and this Government?
I am meeting the First Minister of Scotland later today, and we will be talking to her about Scotland. [Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman asked a question, and the Prime Minister is answering it. Let us hear, fully and courteously, the answer.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As I say, I am meeting the First Minister of Scotland, and the First Minister of Wales, later today. The right hon. Gentleman asks why I offered to meet the Leader of the Opposition. I am happy to meet Members from across the House to discuss the Brexit issue, but I think I am right in saying that the Leader of the Opposition and I both want to ensure that we leave the European Union with a deal, whereas of course the right hon. Gentleman, as he has just said, has a policy of revoking article 50. That means not leaving the European Union at all.
I asked about formal talks. I am well aware that my friend and colleague is meeting the Prime Minister this afternoon. [Interruption.]
Order. Members are becoming very over-excited. The right hon. Gentleman has a right to be heard, and he will be heard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Let me make it clear that the voices of Scotland will not be shouted down by Conservatives in this House. The important factor here is that the Prime Minister is having formal talks with the Leader of the Opposition. Scotland will not accept a Tory or a Labour Brexit. Scotland voted to remain in the European Union, and we simply will not be dragged out against our will. Will the Prime Minister now engage in formal talks with the Scottish Government, the Scottish National party and other Opposition parties to make sure that our voices are heard, and that the desire to stay in the European Union—the best deal for all of us—is listened to and respected?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, because we have met to talk about these issues, just as I have met other party leaders from across the House, I am always happy to meet party leaders from across the House. I want to find a way forward that delivers on the referendum and delivers Brexit as soon as possible, but in a way that means that we do not have to fight the European parliamentary elections, and in an orderly way for this country. He talks about voices from Scotland; I can assure him that there are indeed strong voices for Scotland in this House—they sit on the Conservative Benches.
Can I urge my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, on behalf of all the people of Selby, to put her weight behind the campaign for step-free access for Selby railway station? [Interruption.] I am sorry to disappoint colleagues with my line of questioning, but this matter is very important for the people of Selby. In this day and age, it is totally unacceptable that those who are unable to walk up stairs—people with disabilities—are denied access to public transport. The people of Selby demand action.
First, I thank my hon. Friend for his service as a Government Minister since 2017. He has worked extremely hard, serving as both a Wales Office Minister and a Government Whip simultaneously, and I am sorry that he has resigned. I also thank him for raising the important issue of access to public transport, particularly access to stations for people with disabilities. He asked me to add my weight to the campaign, but I have to say that his considerable weight has been behind the campaign for a long time. [Laughter.] As a campaigner!
Order. The Prime Minister was referring to the hon. Gentleman’s qualities as a campaigner. That is what she was saying. She was not looking at the hon. Gentleman when she made that remark; she was saying it on the basis of her knowledge of him.
As I said, my hon. Friend has been campaigning hard on the issue for some time. I understand that the Department for Transport will announce tomorrow the stations that will benefit from funding for accessibility, if my hon. Friend can have just a little patience and wait for the announcement.
The purpose of meeting the Leader of the Opposition today is to look at the areas on which we agree. There are actually a number of areas on which we agree in relation to Brexit: we both want to deliver on leaving the EU with a deal; we both want to protect jobs; we both want to ensure that we end free movement; and we both recognise the importance of the withdrawal agreement. We want to find a way forward that can command the support of this House, to deliver on Brexit and the result of the referendum, and to ensure that people can continue to have trust in their politicians doing what they ask us to do.
Robert Small and David West were two young men from the Fareham area with their whole lives ahead of them. While suffering with mental health problems and under the care of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, they tragically took their own lives. Few can imagine the grief endured by their families, who have since been campaigning for a change at Southern Health, which has struggled with systemic issues and problems for some years. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the Government will work with me and other Hampshire MPs to secure vital changes at Southern Health so that such tragedies may be avoided?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. I extend my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the constituents she referred to. These incidents are very concerning. I understand that the local trust and the county council have pledged to work together more closely to resolve issues, but we remain absolutely committed to transforming mental health services around the country. We are providing record investment for these services, and we have an ambitious plan to increase the workforce and deal with the issues. I reassure my hon. Friend that action will be taken to ensure that we can prevent such incidents from happening in the future. They were terrible incidents, and our sympathies are with the family and friends of the victims.
As I believe I have said to the hon. Gentleman before, when any allegations of Islamo- phobia are made, against elected Conservatives or members of the Conservative party, we take them very seriously and action is taken in relation to those individuals. He referred to the attacks on mosques. I absolutely condemn any attacks against mosques, or indeed against any place of worship. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has increased the funding available to help protect places of worship against attacks. This has no place in our society and we should all be working to ensure that people can go to their place of worship and feel safe and secure in this country.
Does it remain the Prime Minister’s position that the Leader of the Opposition is not fit to govern?
Yes, I think my right hon. Friend will know, having heard my remarks about what I think a Labour Government would do to the economy, that I do not think the Labour party should be in government. It is the Conservatives who are delivering for people. The Leader of the Opposition and I have different opinions on a number of issues, and I will highlight just one. When this country suffered a chemical weapons attack on the streets of Salisbury, it was this Government, with me as Prime Minister, who stood up to the perpetrators. The right hon. Gentleman said that he preferred to believe Vladimir Putin than our own security agencies. That is not the position of someone who should be Prime Minister.
The hon. Gentleman should look at the funding that has been made available to Wales by this Westminster Government. He talks about the Government of Wales. There are indeed issues there that I think we should be focusing on, such as the national health service in Wales under a Labour Government. [Interruption.] Yes, Members may well point. That is what we see when Labour is in office: a national health service that has not met its A&E target for over a decade.
According to polling that has just been published, over 58% of the British public have expressed a wish to have a final say on the Brexit process. Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that, with the ongoing impasse here in Westminster, and despite her best endeavours to pass her deal, and indeed the ongoing endeavours of the House to find a compromise, the British public are right increasingly to think that they should have a final say before proceeding with Brexit?
I know how passionately my hon. Friend has campaigned on this issue for some time now. He refers to the deal that the Government have put forward being rejected. Of course, the Leader of the Opposition’s deal has also been rejected by this House, as has a second referendum. What I believe we should be doing is delivering on the result of the first referendum, which is why I will be sitting down with the Leader of the Opposition later today.
The hon. Lady again raises the important issue of autism. I am sure that, as constituency MPs, we all see cases where parents have found it very difficult to get support for their children who are on the autistic spectrum. It is important to ensure that there is the awareness and the ability to deal with this issue. As I said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), we are looking again at our autism strategy, because we want to ensure that we have in place all we need to support those with autism.
Last week in this Chamber, the Prime Minister said that the Leader of the Opposition is
“The biggest threat to our standing in the world, to our defence and to our economy”—[Official Report, 27 March 2019; Vol. 657, c. 313.]
In her judgment, what now qualifies him for involvement in Brexit?
Every Member of this House is involved in Brexit. I want to deliver Brexit. I want to deliver Brexit in an orderly way. I want to do it as soon as possible. I want to do it without us having to fight European parliamentary elections. To do that, we need to get an agreement through this House on the withdrawal agreement and a deal. The House has rejected every proposal that has gone before it so far, as well as a second referendum and revoking article 50. I believe that the public want us to work across the House to find a solution that delivers Brexit, delivers on the referendum and gives people faith that politicians have done what they asked and actually delivered for them.
Across this House, we all have a responsibility to ensure that we deliver Brexit and that we do it as soon as possible and in an orderly way. It is entirely right, and I think members of the public expect it, for us to reach out across the House to find a way through; they want a solution. The country needs a solution, and the country deserves a solution, and that is what I am working to find.
In the past fortnight there have been two incidents involving knife crime in my city of Chelmsford, and my constituents are extremely concerned. Can my right hon. Friend give us an update on this week’s knife crime summit?
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of her constituents. It was a very important summit that we held on Monday. I was pleased to bring together people from the police, across Government Departments, community groups, the judiciary, healthcare and a wide range of activities to recognise the importance of taking a holistic, collective approach to dealing with knife crime. We will be consulting on a statutory duty to deal with knife crime as a public health issue, which is important, to ensure that everybody plays their part.
After the summit I was able to meet a number of families who had lost children—I say children, because these were teenagers—as a result of serious violence involving knife crime and a shooting. The horror and devastation of these attacks is brought home when sitting down and listening to the families who have seen promising young lives cut short in this tragic way. We are committed as a Government to working not just across Government but with society as a whole to deal with the scourge of serious violence, which is taking so many young lives.
We remain committed to the safe, secure and cost-effective defuelling and dismantling of our nuclear submarines as soon as is practically possible. The MOD continues to act as a responsible nuclear operator by maintaining its decommissioned nuclear submarines to meet the necessary safety and security standards. I think its commitment is illustrated by the recent success in the initial dismantling of the submarine Swiftsure, which has been followed immediately by the initial dismantling of Resolution. The MOD will continue to work with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to achieve steady-state disposal of our laid-up submarines as soon as possible. We are working on this. The Labour Government had 13 years as well, and what work did they do during those 13 years on this decommissioning issue?
Why is a Conservative Prime Minister, who repeatedly told us that no deal is better than a bad deal, now approaching Labour MPs to block a WTO Brexit when most Conservative MPs want us to leave the European Union with a clean break in nine days’ time?
I say to my right hon. Friend that I was absolutely right: no deal is better than a bad deal, but we have got a good deal. We had a chance last Friday to ensure that we would leave the European Union on 22 May, and I am grateful to all colleagues who supported that motion, some of whom, I know, doing so with a very heavy heart. But I want to ensure that we deliver Brexit. I want to ensure that we do it in an orderly way, as soon as possible, without fighting European elections, but to do that we need to find a way of this House agreeing the withdrawal agreement and agreeing the way forward. It is on that basis that I have been sitting down with Members across the House and will continue to do so in order to ensure that we can find a way forward that this House can support.
I commend Grace for the work that she has been doing on this issue—sadly, coming out of her own personal experience. I think the hon. Gentleman has raised a very important issue. We want to make sure that people with invisible disabilities are able to access public toilets and can do so in a way that does not lead to the abuse that, sadly, Grace suffered. I fully recognise the campaign that she is fighting, and I think it is an excellent campaign.
The people of Sleaford and North Hykeham—like myself, like the country—voted for Brexit and want to see it delivered. I understand the Prime Minister’s saying that we have to look at the balance of risk. Indeed, I looked at the balance of risk myself and supported her deal, and I urge others in our party to do so. But if it comes to the point when we have to balance the risk of a no-deal Brexit versus the risk of letting down the country and ushering in a Marxist, antisemite-led Government, what does she think at that point is the lowest risk?
First, I thank my hon. Friend for the support she has shown for the Government’s deal and for the encouragement she is giving to others to support that deal. I want to see that we are able to deliver for her constituents and for others across the country and that we, as I say, deliver Brexit, and do it as soon as possible. In delivering Brexit, we need to ensure that we are delivering on the result of the referendum. That is what I said yesterday, and that is what we will be looking to do.
I am going to be in discussion with the Leader of the Opposition, but as I indicated earlier, I think the Leader of the Opposition and I both want to deliver leaving the EU and to deliver that with a deal. I think we both agree that the withdrawal agreement is a part of any deal. I think we both agree that we want to protect jobs and ensure high standards of workers’ rights. I think there are a number of areas on which we agree; the question is, can we come to an agreement that we can both support that would command the support of this House? That is what the talks will be about.
Seventy years after the founding of NATO, will the Prime Minister find time today to look at the situation facing Northern Ireland veterans, some of whom are being arrested and charged with murder, nearly 50 years after the alleged events and where there is no new evidence? What signal does that send to youngsters looking to join the armed forces? Will she try to make solving this part of her legacy?
I recognise the issue that my hon. Friend has raised, and obviously the concern has been shared by our hon. and right hon. Friends and others across the House. The current system for dealing with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past is not working well for anyone. As I have said previously in this Chamber, around 3,500 were killed in the troubles, and the vast majority were murdered by terrorists. Many of these cases require further investigation, including the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces. The system to investigate the past needs to change to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors of the troubles and to ensure that our armed forces and police officers are not unfairly treated. The Ministry of Defence is also looking at what more can be done to ensure that service personnel are not unfairly pursued through the courts in relation to service overseas, including considering legislation, and we continue to look at how best to move forward in relation to the issues of the legacy in Northern Ireland.
I understand that South Wales Police has been given extra funding in relation to dealing with knife crime. It is important that we deal with this issue. The hon. Gentleman raised Brexit, and it is also important that we deliver on the result of the referendum and do what is necessary to ensure that we are prepared for leaving the European Union, which is exactly what the Government are doing. However, we are focusing on the issue of serious violence, as witnessed by the knife crime summit that we held earlier this week.
In agreeing with the 14 members of the Cabinet who are happy for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union next week, can I ask my right hon. Friend whether she will set out her vision for the benefits that will come to the United Kingdom from no deal?
I say to my hon. Friend, first, that he should not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers; the Cabinet came to a collective decision yesterday. Secondly, I have always been clear that I think the opportunities for the United Kingdom outside the European Union are bright. I believe we can build that greater Britain and that brighter future for everybody. I believe we will do that better by leaving with a good deal. I believe we have a good deal, and that is why I have been working to ensure that we can leave, do so as soon as possible and in an orderly way, and build that brighter future.
As I said in response to the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), any allegations made in relation to the Conservative party are investigated carefully by the Conservative party and action is taken. This Government have been doing more to ensure that the police can deal with issues around hate crime. When I was Home Secretary, I required the police to ensure that they were properly recording incidents of hate crime, so that we could better identify Islamophobia. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friends the Communities Secretary and the Home Secretary recently chaired a roundtable on anti-Muslim hate crime. It is being taken seriously by the Conservative party and by the Government.
It is worth everyone in this place remembering that for people outside there is far, far more to life than Brexit, as illustrated by many of the questions today. In Loughborough, we are very proud of Loughborough University being the best university in the world for sports-related subjects. One group of athletes who have been much undersung in recent weeks are our Team GB athletes who took part in the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi. One hundred and twenty-seven athletes returned with 169 medals, over 60 gold. Will the Prime Minister congratulate them, and does she think it might be time for GB to host the next Special Olympics?
I will look very carefully at my right hon. Friend’s suggestion in relation to the Special Olympics. I am very happy to join her—I am sure everybody across the whole House will—in congratulating our GB team on the significant haul of medals they brought back from the Special Olympics. May I also say how much we value Loughborough University and the work it does on sports-related matters?
The hon. Lady knows that we are increasing the funding—£1.3 billion extra—available to schools. I am sure she will want to welcome, as I do, the fact that there are 22,500 more children in the Bristol local authority area in good and outstanding schools since 2010.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), I thank the Prime Minister for the invitation she extended to me to her knife crime summit on Monday. Does she agree that, while the numbers and powers of police officers are important, we need to send a message to people who would never wear a t-shirt made in a sweatshop and look carefully at the air miles of the food they buy, yet seem not to make the connection between the drug use they have in their personal lives and the damage done to young people on our streets? Will she send a message that it is not acceptable?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. If we look at the extent to which knife crime is gang and drug-related, many people across our society need to ask themselves what they are doing to ensure we deal with knife crime and not see drug-related gangs committing these crimes, so that we are able to rid our society of what I believe to be the curse of drugs. I believe they have those impacts. They are bad, and that is why it is important that, as a Government, we have a very clear drugs strategy to take people off drugs and ensure we deal with this issue. My hon. Friend makes a very important point: it is a matter not just for Government or police, but for all of us across our society to deal with these issues.
We want to ensure we have a migration system that enables us to welcome people into this country on the basis of the skills they will bring and the contribution they will make to this country, not of the country they happen to come from. When people voted to leave the European Union in 2016, they sent a clear message that they wanted things to change. One of the things they wanted to change was to bring an end to free movement and to ensure that it is the UK Government who are able to make decisions about who can come to this country.
As the Prime Minister seeks to get her short extension upon the short extension, will she make it absolutely clear to the European Union that if they turn around and say that it has to be a long extension and that we will have to fight the European Union elections, she will say no, no, no?
We had the opportunity on Friday to cement that extension to 22 May and ensure that we left on 22 May. As I said earlier, I am grateful to all who supported that motion. Some did so with some difficulty, and with a very heavy heart. I now want us to find a position where we can, across the House, support the withdrawal agreement and a deal that enables us to leave on 22 May without having to hold European parliamentary elections. We can only do that if we come together and find a way forward that this House is willing to support.
We are looking seriously at issues around Yorkshire devolution. I know that it has caused some concern and there are different opinions about how it should be taken forward. The hon. Gentleman references Geoffrey Boycott, and one thing that I have always admired about Geoffrey Boycott is that he stayed at the crease, kept going and got his century in the end.
Further to the last question, once the Prime Minister has dealt with the rather tricky issue that is Brexit, as I am sure she will, will she move on to the much more difficult problem of devolution in Yorkshire? Now that the Secretary of State has ruled out devolution to the whole of Yorkshire, will the Prime Minister consider a devolution deal to the York city region, to include the city of York and the glorious county of North Yorkshire?
We recognise that there is in Yorkshire, as I have just said, enthusiasm for and dedication to the concept of devolution, and its potential to release and harness local people’s sense of identity with Yorkshire and be of ongoing benefit to the people of Yorkshire. We need to find the right proposals that will suit the area, and I believe that my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary has met the Yorkshire leaders. Discussions are continuing with them about a localist approach to devolution in Yorkshire different from the One Yorkshire proposal, which did not meet our criteria.
Reports from the Cabinet yesterday suggest that two proposals were put forward for cross-party co-operation to solve the Brexit crisis. One of them was to work with the Leader of the Opposition to deliver a Labour Brexit. The other was to work with the 280 MPs across the House who will support the Prime Minister’s deal subject to a confirmatory referendum. Why does she trust the Leader of the Opposition more than the people?
I want to ensure that we find a resolution that the House can support, such that we can deliver Brexit in a timely fashion. I believe it is important to do that as soon as possible, and I want us to do it without having to fight the European elections. I believe it is absolutely right, and the public would expect us, to be willing to work across the Chamber to find a resolution to this issue.
Conservative-led Redditch Borough Council has recently submitted its bid for the future high streets fund. Will the Prime Minister add her support to that bid, because the people of Redditch deserve to have our town unlocked? Does she agree that it is only with Conservatives in our town hall that we can continue to unlock Redditch after years of Labour neglect?
I commend Conservative-led Redditch council for the work that it is doing to unlock the town and to unlock the high street. My hon. Friend tempts me to support one bid over others, but there will be other of our hon. and right hon. Friends who wish me to support bids from their towns. It is important that we have made this money available, and I congratulate Redditch council, under the Conservatives, for all that it is doing to ensure the vitality of the town.
I find myself in a slightly curious position, sandwiched between the Liberal Democrats and the Welsh nationalists. I reassure my constituents and hon. Members that I remain a progressive Conservative while I am, sadly, independent in this House.
The Prime Minister’s late conversion to compromise is welcome, but I am sure she will understand the scepticism of those of us who have been working on a cross-party compromise for many months. Can she reassure me that she will enter discussions with the Leader of the Opposition and other parties without the red lines that have bedevilled the Brexit negotiations so far?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s indication that he remains a progressive Conservative in his thinking on various issues. I approach the discussions in a constructive spirit, because I want to find a resolution of this issue. I want to ensure that we can do what people told us we should do, which is to deliver Brexit in an orderly way that is good for this country.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Liaison Committee, which consists of all the Select Committee Chairs, is the only Committee that can call the Prime Minister. She has said on several occasions this afternoon that she is willing to sit down with Members from across the House, but I regret to say that, despite repeated requests, the Liaison Committee has been unable to secure a date for a hearing with the Prime Minister. Could I please seek your advice, Sir?
The hon. Lady can do and has done. I thank the hon. Lady, the Chair of the Liaison Committee, for giving notice that she intended to raise this matter on a point of order with me. I appreciate that the Prime Minister’s diary will have been even busier than usual recently, but I am sure the Prime Minister recognises that her regular appearances before the Liaison Committee form an important part of her accountability to Parliament.
The hon. Lady asks how she can persuade the Prime Minister to confirm a date. I suggest that by raising the matter today, the hon. Lady may have helped to achieve that objective. If she is not immediately successful, I have no doubt that she will—following, perhaps, my repeated advice to colleagues—persist, persist and, if necessary, persist again until she accomplishes her objective. Those sessions matter. They are part of respect for, and the proper functioning of, the legislature.
I will come to other colleagues. We do not have a lot of time, because we have to move on to other business, but I will do my best.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for taking this point of order at this stage in our proceedings. My concern is the accountability of Network Rail to Parliament. You may recall that twice in the last month I have raised the issue of the closure of Suggitts Lane level crossing in my constituency. Yesterday, Network Rail moved in and put up security barriers to close that crossing, despite objections from me and from North East Lincolnshire Council, a petition signed by 4,000 residents and a request from the Rail Minister to review the decision. In view of that, can you offer guidance about how I, or indeed Parliament, can hold Network Rail accountable for this action?
My advice to the hon. Gentleman is that he should obtain a copy of the Official Report—the transcript of today’s proceedings—as soon as it becomes available. He should send it with a robust—Lincolnshire robust—covering letter to Network Rail in the hope that Network Rail will respect the force as well as the sincerity of what he has said, and that it will, in the process, take due note of what the Rail Minister has said.
If that effort is unavailing again, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, as I did to the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), that he should make the short journey to the Table Office to table questions, he should appear at business questions tomorrow and he should, in all appearances before the Chamber, persist.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I crave your indulgence? With only sentencing left, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and every single Member of this House for the kindness they have shown me over the last two difficult years. I would also like to thank Robbie Mullen and Hope not Hate, because without their actions I might not be here. I thank the parliamentary authorities, the Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team, Lancashire and Merseyside police, and my new family friends, the national and Lancashire counter-terrorism units. I thank them all for continuing to protect me.
Beyond thanking so many kind people, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a serious point. I was to be murdered to send a message to the state, and to send a message to this place. Members of this House are regularly abused and attacked. Our freedoms, our way of life, our democracy is under threat, and we must do our utmost to defend it. While the Home Secretary is in his place, perhaps I might ask him to consider the Diplock process for terrorist trials. [Applause.]
I think the spontaneous reaction on both sides of the Chamber, joined in by the Leader of the House and other colleagues, speaks volumes. I hope that I speak on behalf of the House in saying that we have the most enormous respect and admiration for the hon. Lady. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] She has displayed courage and fortitude of which many people, and probably most of us, can only dream. In the most harrowing of circumstances, faced with an explicit and very real threat to her life from neo-Nazis, she has not wilted for a second. She has defended her own rights, she has defended the rights of her constituents, she has defended the rights of all her colleagues, and she has defended the rights of Parliament as an institution.
By this sort of poisonous, fascistic bile we will not be cowed, and the sooner the purveyors of hate, of fascism, of Nazism, of a death cult realise that, the better. I salute the hon. Lady, and I know that others will do so too—
Led, I think, by the Leader of the House.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. On behalf of those on the Government Benches, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) for her courage in facing this down. We all absolutely stand with her.
I warmly thank the Leader of the House for what she has said. I think that she speaks for us all.
The Home Secretary is indicating a willingness to take part.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May I take this opportunity to thank the hon. Member for West Lancashire for what she has said? She has the support of the whole House and beyond, and we all absolutely stand with every word that she has just shared with the House.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire for the brilliant statement that she has made today, and for the incredible fortitude with which she has stood up against this appalling threat. I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for your clear declaration. We will not tolerate fascism and Nazism in our society. We will stand up for the pluralistic, multicultural, multi-ethnic Britain of which we are all, I believe, very proud.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you could guide me on how I can place on record the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) has become the first black, Asian or minority ethnic Member to be elected to the NATO Assembly from this Parliament.
I do apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I cannot listen to two people at once, but I should have been listening to him. Would he care to put the point again, very briefly?
I wonder whether you could guide me, Mr Speaker, on how I can place on record the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough has become the first black, Asian or minority ethnic Member to be elected to the NATO Assembly from this Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman has achieved his objective with me only once—[Interruption] As the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) indicates from a sedentary position—[Interruption.] Well, I am trying to get the pronunciation of his constituency right. I will have lessons from him later.
As far as the House is concerned, however, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) has achieved his objective twice, and I join in those congratulations. As the House will know, I have often referred approvingly to President Moon—the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), who is president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. To be able to record our admiration for the hon. Member for Slough for what is a first is a privilege, and I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr for giving me the chance to do so.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Do you share my alarm and dismay at the footage that appeared on social media today depicting members of the Parachute Regiment firing weapons at an image of the Leader of the Opposition? The situation is alarming, because Parliament is supreme in our democracy and the armed forces serve at the pleasure of Parliament as per the Bill of Rights. Let me say, as a former reservist as well as a Member of Parliament, that this flies in the face of all the values and standards that members of the British Army should uphold. Should the House not express its deep dismay and disgust at the conduct of those soldiers?
It should, and I believe that the hon. Gentleman has done so on behalf of colleagues across the House. My understanding is that the matter is being investigated—I believe I am right in saying that the Ministry of Defence has signalled that an investigation will take place—and that seems to me to be absolutely right. What he has said is 100% correct. I would be horrified if our service personnel were to behave in such a way in relation to any Member of the House, or the representative of any political point of view embodied in a democratic political party. It is simply an unconscionable way in which to behave.
I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman has just said. I have no wish to raise the temperature, but rather, in the most solemn way, to underscore the importance and utter validity of what he has said.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Hillsborough trial has ended without the jury’s reaching a conclusion. Have you had any indication from the Government yet as to their willingness or desire to make a statement on what will happen now to honour the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy and ensure that those responsible are actually held to account?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because the matter is of intense interest across the House, not to mention in very large parts of the country. The short answer is no, I have received no indication of an intention on the part of a Minister to make a statement on the matter to the House. However, Ministers on the Treasury Bench, and the Patronage Secretary, will have heard—or will very soon hear—what the hon. Gentleman has said. If the matter is as he has described it—and I have no reason to doubt what he has said—I should be very surprised if a Minister were not shortly to offer to come to the House to make a statement. The hon. Gentleman is well familiar with what I might call the backstop option, which he could deploy if he were concerned that a statement might not be forthcoming. I will leave it at that.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you received any notice of a statement from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, given the appalling news this morning that the Government of Brunei are intending to introduce the stoning to death of members of the LGBT community? Given our close links with that Government—not least our military and business links, and our links through the Commonwealth —do you not agree that such a statement would be very useful to the House?
I agree. Such a statement would indeed be very useful. I have had no indication that the Foreign Secretary or one of his colleagues is minded to come to the House for that purpose, but the hon. Gentleman is an assiduous contributor to our proceedings, and I am sure he will have noted that the matter was aired in the Chamber yesterday during questions to the Foreign Secretary. I sensed that there was very much, as one would expect, a cross-party feeling on the subject, and I very much hope that it will be possible for it to be aired further in the Chamber.
I do not mind telling the hon. Gentleman that there was an application for an urgent question on the matter earlier in the week. As I knew that Foreign Office questions were coming and we were very heavily consumed by other business, I declined it at that time. However, many people would judge that the matter remains urgent, and the opportunities exist for colleagues—perhaps I may use this analogy again—to deploy the backstop option in order to ensure that there is a ministerial presence in the Chamber, and to focus on the matter very soon.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Am I right in thinking that it would not be possible to have a statement after 2 o’clock today when Parliament has sort of been taken over by the alternative Government? Is that not one of the problems with doing statements at the moment?
That is indeed a valid observation. The hon. Gentleman is right as far as today is concerned. To be fair, I do not think I was—and I do not think the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) would suggest this—signalling that the matter could be aired by the mechanism either of an urgent question or a statement today, but of course there is always the possibility of subsequent days.
Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) in relation to Hillsborough, Mr Speaker. May I put it on record that the gentleman in question is one of my constituents, and this will be the second occasion on which he has faced a long trial that has not resulted in any verdict and has resulted in the jury being discharged? I hope that will be taken into account if anybody thinks it reasonable for such a person to be put through a third trial.
I rather imagine the point the hon. Gentleman has made on behalf of his constituent will be heard in the appropriate quarters. If he is concerned that it might not be, it is always possible for him to send the Official Report to those whom he believes need to read his words in it. I think we will leave it there for now, but I thank him; he has raised a serious point of a legal character, and he is representing his constituent, and I respect that.
I remind the House that under the Order of the House of 1 April I must interrupt any proceedings at 2 pm, when I will call a Member to move the business of the House motion. I therefore intend to bring proceedings on the statement to a close at approximately 1.45 pm to allow time for the presentation of the Bill and the ten-minute rule motion.
Windrush Compensation Scheme
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Windrush compensation scheme. Copies of the response to the consultation are available from the Vote Office.
The United Kingdom has a proud history of welcoming arrivals from around the world. We have long held open the door to those who want to come and help build a better country, including my parents, for example, or indeed the parents of the shadow Home Secretary, and we have all benefited as a result, with the UK emerging as a stronger, broader, more vibrant and successful nation. We would not be the country we are today without the men and women who crossed oceans to come here legally, to make their homes, to work hard, to pay taxes and to raise their families, and we all know it, which is why the whole country was shocked by the unacceptable treatment experienced by some members of the Windrush generation. People who have built their lives in this country, people who have done so much for this country, people who have every right to be in this country were told they were not welcome. It was a terrible mistake and it should never have happened, and that it did is a matter of profound regret to me, to my Department and to the Government.
That is why just under a year ago one of my first acts as Home Secretary was to stand at this Dispatch Box and say sorry on behalf of successive Governments: sorry to the parents and grandparents who suffered the trauma of being incorrectly ordered to leave the country they love; sorry to those who had paid taxes here for decades only to be denied the NHS care to which they were perfectly entitled; sorry to hard-working men and women who were unfairly refused the right to work, and even refused the dignity of a roof over their head. However, I know that words alone are not enough, which is why, 11 months ago, I did not just say sorry to members of the Windrush generation; I also vowed to right the wrongs that had been done to them. I sincerely hope that the compensation scheme being unveiled today goes some way to doing that. It has taken longer than I would have liked, but if we are to deliver justice for the Windrush generation and their families it is vital that we get this right.
Today’s scheme is the product of many months of work with affected individuals and their representatives, including well over 2,000 responses to our call for evidence and the consultation. We are also indebted to Martin Forde QC, who has provided us with invaluable independent advice and met with a great many of the individuals who were directly affected. His findings have contributed hugely to the final design of the scheme and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Martin for his work.
As a result of this meticulous approach, I am confident that the proposals for the scheme are closely aligned with what affected communities wanted to see: namely, that it is simple, accessible and, above all, fair. Full information is now available online and via a free telephone hotline number. Guidance is being provided to help people to understand what compensation they might be entitled to and how to submit a claim, and the application process itself is as simple and clear as possible.
It is also important to note that the scheme is open not only to those of Caribbean origin. The Government propose broadly to align eligibility with the Commonwealth citizens taskforce. This means that Commonwealth citizens settled in the UK before 1973, along with certain children and grandchildren of theirs, are eligible to apply if they have losses to claim for. Other eligible groups include those of any nationality who have a right of abode or settled status or are now British citizens who arrived to live in the UK before 31 December 1988.
Of course the historical nature of the wrongs done means that some of those who have been affected throughout the years are, sadly, not alive to see justice being done. Where this is the case we propose to accept claims from the estates of individuals who would themselves have been eligible had they not passed away and from close family members of an eligible person.
However, justice will not be done if people do not know about the scheme, or for any reason are afraid to engage with it. So in addition to today’s media coverage we will launch an extensive programme of events with key stakeholders, community groups and faith organisations so that people across the country and overseas know about the compensation they can apply for.
On 22 June, we will be marking the second annual Windrush Day, a celebration of everything that the Windrush generation and their descendants have contributed to the UK, and later this evening I will be welcoming community group leaders to Parliament, alongside some of those who have suffered and their families. It will be an opportunity to reflect not only on the mistakes of successive Governments that brought us to this point but on what we as a country can do to ensure such mistakes are never repeated.
Wendy Williams’ review will explore how members of the Windrush generation came to be treated like illegal migrants, and I look forward to receiving her recommendations, but there is no doubt that the roots lie in a historical policy that saw people given settled status without also being given the ability to prove it. Nothing we say or do will ever wipe away the hurt, the trauma and the loss that should never have been suffered by the men and women of the Windrush generation, but together we can begin to right the wrongs of Windrush. We can begin to turn the page on this sad chapter in our history and we can do justice by people who have contributed immeasurably to our country.
When the UK called out for help, thousands of people from the Caribbean and across the Commonwealth stepped up to help to get us back on our feet. Now it is time for us to step up and do what is right by those whom we have failed. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of his statement. I also wish to place on record our gratitude to Martin Forde QC and his colleagues for the advice he has provided. I would like to say at this point that none of the delays in this process is attributable to him.
We have to remember in this House how much pride the Windrush generation took in being British. We have to remember that they came here in good faith under passports which indicated to them that they were indeed British. There are all the material challenges they faced as part of the Windrush scandal but, above all, having to spoken to numbers of these people, there was the humiliation of being told year on year by the British state that somehow they were not British, they were not worthy, they were not deserving and services they had paid into for years and years were not available to them.
The reality is that this is a scandal that should never have happened. It is a scandal to which the Government were initially slow to react and it is a scandal in which some Members of Parliament deliberately muddied the waters with talk of illegal immigrants, when, by definition, none of the Windrush victims is here illegally. It is a scandal that is set to continue unless and until the Government end their hostile environment. It is also a scandal that is set to multiply with the 3 million EU citizens because of the Government’s refusal to guarantee all their existing rights and, I am sorry to say, because of the lack of preparedness at the Home Office.
The Prime Minister told us that she would fight “burning injustices”. Well, the Windrush scandal was a burning injustice and it took place on her watch, first as Home Secretary and then as Prime Minister. Her successor as Home Secretary was obliged to relinquish her post because she incorrectly told the House that there were no numerical deportation targets. We have since learned that the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) had written to the Prime Minister promising to increase deportations by 10%. We also know that deportation numbers were a key performance indicator when she presided over home affairs, and that Home Office officials received bonuses relating to the numbers of deportees. It is hard not to imagine that these targets, performance indicators and bonuses did not affect the lack of care with which the Windrush generation were treated. The current Home Secretary told the House in April last year:
“I will do whatever it takes to put it right”.
He also said:
“We have made it clear that a Commonwealth citizen who has remained in the UK since 1973 will be eligible to get the legal status that they deserve: British citizenship.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2018; Vol. 640, c. 35.]
And yet here we are. We know that many citizens from the Commonwealth who have been here since 1973 have still not been granted British citizenship and are still not treated as British citizens.
On this side of the House, we welcome the fact that the compensation scheme will be open to the estates of deceased Windrush generation persons and also to their relatives. They were an ageing cohort, and it is only fair that their relatives should be able to claim. We also welcome the fact that the Home Secretary accepts that this is not just about persons from the Caribbean. The Windrush generation is so called because of that emblematic symbol, the Empire Windrush, but it actually involves anyone from a Commonwealth country who came to this country between 1948 and 1972. I believe that many more persons will need to come forward if we are really going to clear up this scandal.
Will the Home Secretary say a little about the hardship fund, which was set up in response to pressure from my hon. Friends to deal with the immediate issues faced by the Windrush generation? How much is available to the hardship fund as a whole? Is it true that thus far only two people have had payments from the fund? We are glad to have further details of the compensation scheme itself, but I believe that it still falls short of what is expected, what is required and what is fair. Is the Home Secretary able to tell the House how much is available for the compensation scheme as a whole? Is he willing to comment on the fact that the scheme will not compensate those who may have gone back to the Caribbean or elsewhere in the Commonwealth for a holiday or a funeral and who were not allowed to get back on the plane? The document states that it is difficult to ascertain
“whether inability to return to the UK is a loss”.
Of course it is a loss. That is an extraordinary thing to say. We know that people were wrongly prevented from returning to their home here. The Home Secretary admits that. One of the reasons was that they were unable to provide documentary proof of their status. Now the Home Secretary proposes to exclude them from compensation. These people were British citizens, yet they were unable to return to their home here and in some cases they were separated from their families. This is not ending the scandal; it continues it.
The Home Secretary and the Government propose to make a contribution towards legal fees only up to a fixed amount and will not reimburse for fees higher than that amount. This is despite the fact that these legal costs, which are easily documented, were incurred in challenging wrongful loss of jobs, deprivation of public services including the NHS, loss of home, wrongful detention and wrongful deportation. We also note that there will be no compensation for private healthcare for persons living in this country who were unable to access the NHS care they were entitled to.
The remedies provided by the scheme will include an apology and ex gratia payments. The Government will make these compensation payments voluntarily, without necessarily establishing a formal legal obligation. Surely there must be a formal legal obligation. I do not think we can rely—
Order. I say very gently to the shadow Home Secretary that this is going to be talked out, as things stand, because we have only until 1.45 and about 20 colleagues want to take part.
I am grateful to the Speaker.
Let me say finally that there are some in this House who are the children of the Windrush generation. Whether we are on the Front Benches or the Back Benches, and whether we are in opposition or in government, we will not rest until that generation, one of the bravest generations, gets the justice to which it is entitled.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments and also for what she said about Martin Forde QC and the work he has done to make this scheme a reality. She started by saying that this should never have happened. I absolutely agree with her and always have. I think the whole House agrees on that. Of course none of the people who were caught up were here illegally; they had every right to be here.
The right hon. Lady has referred to the compliant environment. Sadly, she talks about it as though it were an environment that had been put in place since 2010. However, she knows that the right to check whether someone is here illegally and a number of other rules and regulations were put in under the previous Labour Government. She talks about how people were affected, and we are all trying to deal with this issue and to provide justice, but it is worth reminding the House that when the historical review was done and it was determined that 164 people were the most likely to have suffered detriment, almost half of them had suffered detriment under the previous Labour Government. It is worth keeping it in mind that successive Governments have in effect caused this problem, and it is no good trying to point the finger at one particular Government.
The right hon. Lady talked about the EU settlement scheme. It is precisely because of the lessons of Windrush that we need a scheme that cannot just be declaratory in approach. We need to ensure that our EU friends who are here in this country are properly documented. The abiding lesson from Windrush is the lack of proper documentation. She has rightly talked about those who want to have UK citizenship, and she knows that we have set up a special route for that. Approximately 4,000 people have taken advantage of that, at no cost to themselves. She is also right to say that the scheme is not just open to people of Caribbean origin, and I am glad we agree on that. She asked about the urgent exceptional payments fund. This is not just another compensation scheme; it is supposed to deal just with urgent exceptional payments. It is not capped, and I understand that nine payments have been made so far.
The right hon. Lady also asked about the compensation scheme, and how much it was likely to cost. There is no cap on the scheme, so no one knows what the eventual cost will be. It will be based on people’s needs and the claims that are made by eligible people, but the baseline estimate from my Department is that it will be approximately £200 million. She also referred to legal fees and private healthcare costs. I can tell her that in both those cases, although there is a tariff structure, both allow for actuals being paid in certain circumstances where proof is provided.
My parents came to the UK in the late 1960s from Mauritius and Kenya, both of which are Commonwealth countries. They came with no one and with nothing except a desire to make their lives in Britain and to serve our country, like the parents of many in this room. They could have been caught up in this episode, so I welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment and action and his statement today. Does he agree that the compensation scheme represents real progress towards securing justice for the Windrush generation and that the independent Wendy Williams lessons learned review is the vital next step in the process?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I want to take this opportunity to thank her parents and the parents of millions of others for their contributions to this country. I agree with her about the importance of Wendy Williams’s work, which will be a vital step to ensuring that we right the wrongs.
I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of his statement. Of course, it is imperative that the victims of the Windrush scandal are compensated justly for their outrageous and disgraceful treatment. If the scheme delivers some sort of justice, that will be welcome, but we need more information before we can finalise our judgment. I welcome what the Home Secretary says about there being no cap on the scheme, because the needs of victims, not the choices of the Treasury, must drive the total amount of compensation.
Will the Home Secretary explain exactly what the Home Office will be compensating? Is it only financial losses, or will the devastating impact on health, wellbeing, family relationships and other aspects of life that so many have suffered also be considered? Can he tell us whether claiming compensation will preclude victims from seeking other forms of redress from the Home Office, including through the courts, and will the nine people who have been able to claim from the hardship fund also be able to claim under the compensation scheme? It is welcome that the compensation scheme is not restricted to Caribbean countries, but why is the Department not undertaking work to find victims of the scandal from all Commonwealth countries, rather than restricting case reviews just to Caribbean countries? The Home Office has ruined the lives of citizens from all around the Commonwealth, so it should be taking steps to fix and compensate all those cases.
Finally, the Home Secretary referred to the shock felt by the whole country in response to Windrush, but it should not have been a shock to the then Home Secretary, now the Prime Minister, or her Department because the Department had been repeatedly warned that it was an inevitable consequence of the hostile environment. We still need to know why the Home Office ignored its own warnings and pressed ahead with the hostile environment regardless. When will the lessons learned review be published, and when will the Home Secretary start rolling back on hostile environment policies such as the right to rent?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I reiterate again that, for all the right reasons, there is no cap on this scheme. He asked whether only financial losses will be considered, but if other detriment has been suffered—people may have been wrongly detained, for example—the scheme will consider that. He also asked whether people who have used the urgent payment fund will be eligible to apply under scheme. Absolutely, if they meet the eligibility criteria, and depending on the claim, there is no link between the two schemes.
The hon. Gentleman welcomed the fact that the scheme is not limited to Commonwealth citizens of Caribbean origin; it is broader than that. It is right that we have focused on those whom all the evidence suggested are more likely to have suffered detriment, but it is also right that the scheme is not limited to Commonwealth citizens of Caribbean origin. He rightly referred to the Wendy Williams’s review, which will be vital to ensure that we get everything right.
Order. Traditionally, there is slightly greater latitude for the Chair of a Select Committee, but in view of the time constraints it would be appreciated if colleagues could confine themselves to a single-sentence question without preamble. Otherwise, lots of people will be prevented from speaking.
My constituent was unable to work for a considerable period of time, but that situation was resolved thanks to Government action. However, he is now struggling financially again because his wife is suffering from cancer, so how soon will he be able to claim? The links on gov.uk are not completely clear, so how easy is it to find the website? How soon might my constituent be able to get some money in his bank account to help him?
I am very sorry to hear about my hon. Friend’s constituent’s situation. The claims can begin from today, and the information has just gone up online. We have also set up a freephone helpline, and a number of people in the Home Office will be dedicated to the scheme. We want to process the claims and make payments as soon as possible.
The Home Office took six months to agree to the urgent hardship scheme, nine months to set out the policy for it and, within 12 months of the Windrush scandal, it had helped only two of the 48 people who had applied. I understand that the number is now up to nine even though there were serious, urgent cases in which help was needed. What will the Home Secretary do to ensure that we do not see the same delays with this compensation scheme, which will provide the welcome support that people need?
It was important to get the scheme right, so we wanted to ensure that we consulted as many people as possible, which is why we had the call for evidence first. Indeed, Martin Forde, the independent assessor of the scheme, asked for extra time to meet more community leaders and more people who were affected. I believe that we have got it right now, and I am committed to ensuring that those who are eligible receive their compensation as quickly as possible.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and the work that his Department has done on the scheme. When he responded to the Home Affairs Committee report on 24 July last year, noting the end of the consultation on 11 October, he said he wanted this scheme to be implemented
“quickly and carefully after that.”
Will he explain the length of time between the consultation closing and this announcement, because some are concerned that it has taken six months? Was it correct to take that time to get things right?
We received some 1,400 responses to the consultation, which is high for any consultation, and we wanted to ensure that they were all considered carefully. We worked closely with Martin Forde and others and wanted to ensure that the systems were in place from day one when the compensation scheme went live. Now that it is live, we will be able to process claims quickly.
Will the Home Secretary undertake to publicise the scheme as widely as the EU settlement scheme? Will he ensure that there is no use of non-disclosure agreements around how much compensation people get? Many people were driven into poverty and therefore crime as a consequence of the scandal, so will he say whether people with criminal convictions will still be entitled to use the scheme?
We will absolute publicise the scheme widely. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman, who is committed to providing justice for the Windrush generation, can help me by using his Twitter feed, and there are other ways of helping more people to know about this scheme. There will be no non-disclosure agreements under this scheme, and people with criminal convictions are entitled to use it. The details state that if individuals with serious convictions apply, the Government reserve the right to change the amount of compensation or not pay it altogether, but generally no one is barred owing to a criminal conviction.
I heard the dignified evidence given to the Joint Committee on Human Rights by some of the Windrush generation. I was astonished that some were still put into this position despite providing huge amounts of documentation. What support is being given to those in the Windrush generation, or indeed anybody else, who have been dismissed despite having all this evidence in front of them?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that. I remember looking at cases in which such outcomes should not have happened. We have made the compensation scheme as simple and as straightforward as possible. For example, some payments have both a tariff structure and an actual structure, because we are trying to provide as much choice as possible.
I represent the Windrush borough of Lambeth, where many residents have been directly affected by the scandal. The Home Secretary’s officials actually came down to help implement some of the measures introduced by his Department, but I have to say that his processes have been anything but simple and accessible. What confidence can he give us that this scheme will be any different?
We have looked carefully at how the scheme is going to be implemented. For example, that is why, along with the online information, there is guidance on how the applications work and how to make them easier, and there is also this freephone number. There will also be dedicated staff in the Home Office working on the scheme. The scheme will be open for at least two years, and I commit to consider any issues and whether improvements can be made. If hon. Members make any suggestions, we will absolutely look at them.
Victims of the Windrush scandal need to be compensated for all their losses. Can the Home Secretary assure me that that will include any trauma that has been experienced?
In our publication today, we set out carefully what type of eligibility and what type of losses can be covered. I believe that, with the consultation process and with the support of Martin Forde, it is a very fair process.
Given that the hostile environment is clearly one cause of the Windrush scandal, have the Government accepted the recent High Court judgment against right-to-rent checks?
The right hon. Gentleman may know that we are appealing that judgment.
Will the Home Secretary look at the case of my constituent who has been refused an exceptional hardship payment, which she wants so she can visit her 95-year-old mother with dementia and her father’s grave in Grenada? She was told by the Department to save up for it.
I would be happy to take a look.
Will the Home Secretary extend the compensation scheme to highly skilled migrants wronged by the Home Office? Can he explain why the cases I have raised in the press have been resolved and those I have not raised in the press have not been resolved?
The eligibility for the scheme is very wide. I set it out earlier in my statement, and it will almost certainly include many highly skilled migrants.
As well as the publicity drive that the Home Secretary has talked about, will his officials be going through, with their fingertips, every case of other Commonwealth citizens who are caught up in this?
We want to make sure that no one is left out. We have, for reasons I have previously explained in the House, focused on those of Caribbean origin, but that process of trying to find those who may have been wronged continues.
Will the compensation scheme cover the huge distress caused to those such as my constituent Paulette Wilson? She was detained at Yarl’s Wood and then Heathrow detention centre, and she was very nearly deported back to a country she had not been to since the age of 10.
One category we have also included in the compensation is a discretionary category, because we are well aware that, although we can identify some of the most likely detriments to compensate, there may be some exceptional cases, and I want to make sure that nothing is left out by the compensation scheme.
Will the Home Secretary look into the case of my constituent Mr Espedy Alvester Thomas? He has once again applied for a passport, this time under the Windrush scheme, and he still has not had a decision. Will the Home Secretary assure me that he will take every action to make sure similar delays do not happen with this compensation scheme?
I would be happy to look into that case.
Will the Home Secretary publish a comprehensive breakdown of all those wrongfully detained or deported by his Department as a result of the hostile environment, on top of the Windrush victims?
The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that we regularly supply a letter to the Select Committee containing much information on the scheme, and I will take his suggestion into account.
Many, many victims of this tragedy will be pulling together complex cases involving heads of loss across many areas. Will legal aid be available to those who need it?
We are looking carefully into what kind of support is needed, because some cases will be less complex. In the kind of complex case suggested by the hon. Lady, we want to make sure that people have help, if they need it, to put their case together. We want to make sure that no one is denied justice and that people can make a proper claim.
Will the Home Secretary acknowledge that reassurances so far have not been enough for some people who are too afraid to admit that they have no status here? I know that from my constituency. Will he do more to reassure people to come forward?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point. We want to make sure everyone feels they can, first, come forward to the Windrush scheme itself, in terms of documentation, passports and the work of the taskforce, and, secondly, make claims for compensation. For example, no information relating to those who come forward to the compensation scheme will be supplied to immigration enforcement, or in respect of any other issues and concerns that people might have.
Will a fixed address or a bank account be required to claim compensation? Some people will have been denied access to these under the hostile environment.
It would certainly be helpful if a claimant for compensation has a bank account, but we have set out to make sure that justice is done in the fairest way possible. If there are exceptional circumstances in how we pay compensation, we will of course take that into account.
Will the Home Office fund independent legal advice for those Windrush citizens who may not be able to navigate the Home Office website system or who may feel entirely unable directly to approach a Department that has so comprehensively breached their trust?
As I mentioned earlier, we have tried to make it as simple as we can to navigate, with guidance and a free phone number. If anyone finds themselves in that circumstance, I suggest that the first thing they do is call the free phone number.
Sixty-six of the immigrants carried on HMT Empire Windrush were, in fact, Polish nationals, mostly relatives of those who had fought for the allies from El Alamein to Monte Cassino and beyond. Have they, or their descendants, been involved or consulted in any way during this process?
I do not have a list of everyone who responded to the consultation—there were some 1,400 respondents—but the consultation was wide-ranging and we had responses from many different nationalities.
Is there a risk of a further Windrush, as hundreds of thousands of EU citizens who are applying for their rights risk missing the deadline? Will the Home Secretary accept the cross-party calls to enshrine their rights in law to avoid this situation?
It is precisely because we want to avoid another Windrush situation that it cannot be sufficient just to enshrine rights in law. What is needed with the EU settlement scheme is a proper process of documentation from day one.
Employment Rights (Shared Parental Leave and Flexible Working) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Jo Swinson presented a Bill to entitle employees to request shared parental leave and flexible working on the first day of employment; to make provision for self-employed persons to take shared parental leave; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 April, and to be printed (Bill 374).
Animals (Recognition of Sentience)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to impose a duty on public bodies in relation to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings.
Back in November 2017, I added my name to an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). New clause 30 called for the EU protocol on animal sentience, as set out in the Lisbon treaty, to be recognised in domestic law post-Brexit. As every Member knows, animal welfare issues are always popular with constituents, and this was no exception. There was a mass email campaign and vocal support from non-governmental organisations. It was clear that the public wanted the reassurance of including it in the Bill.
The Government, for reasons best known to themselves, were less enthused and tried to argue that the concept of animals as sentient beings was already enshrined in English law, but the backlash was fierce. There was a lot of press coverage suggesting that Government Members had voted in the belief that animals cannot feel pain, which was slightly unfair, but the public were clearly unhappy.
Forced to act, the Government tabled the three-clause draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill in December 2017. This was the Government promising the House that they would legislate. Indeed, the Prime Minister also said that. The Government were promising that they would legislate before Brexit day, which we thought at the time would be 29 March 2019.
The consultation on the draft Bill closed on 31 January 2018, and the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on which I sit, carried out pre-legislative scrutiny and recommended splitting the Bill so that the largely uncontroversial sentencing provision could be dealt with separately. I am not focusing on the sentencing provision today, but I genuinely do not understand why the Government have not been able to act in the intervening period to increase maximum jail sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years—it would take a day of parliamentary time and it has public support. The Government purport to support it, too, so why not treat animal cruelty with the severity under law that it deserves?
It was not until August 2018 that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs got round to publishing the outcome of the consultation on the draft Bill, having apparently been overwhelmed by the public response, with over 9,000 direct submissions and another 64,000 from 38 Degrees members.
DEFRA took on board the Select Committee’s recommendation to split the Bill, but since then we have had nothing. Just warm words and a lukewarm promise to legislate. In October 2018, the Secretary of State told the Tory conference:
“Animals are our fellow sentient beings. They show loyalty and devotion, and they know pleasure and pain.”
In February, at the “A Better Deal for Animals” parliamentary reception, which brought together 36 of the UK’s largest and most effective animal protection organisations, he said:
“Animals are sentient beings who feel pain and suffering, so it is absolutely right that we recognise this in UK law after we leave the EU”.
Just last week, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), who has responsibility for animal welfare and I am glad to see in his place, told the EFRA Committee that the Government were committed to legislating “as soon as possible” and were “looking for a vehicle” to bring this forward. Today, I am providing that vehicle for the Government, and if the Minister wants to take over from me in the driving seat, I would be more than happy for him to do so.
Turning to the detail of what I am proposing, the Bill recognises animal sentience and ensures that all vertebrates, cephalopods and decapods, including crustaceans, octopuses and squid, are legally defined as sentient beings. It also includes a mechanism for the list to be expanded in the future, based on the latest science. Aristotle once described the octopus as a “stupid creature”, but we now know that that is far from the case—indeed, sometimes I think it is far more intelligent than quite a lot of us. To be clear, recognising sentience is about recognising that animals are capable of experiencing pain and suffering, that they have welfare needs and that Government policies should, to the greatest possible extent, and taking into account other policy needs, result in a good life for the animals concerned.
My Bill creates a framework for a mandatory process by which the Government and public bodies will implement and report against the sentience duty. Specifically, it will establish an independent animal welfare advisory committee; provide a mechanism for informed assessment of animal welfare impact risk, taking into consideration the specific welfare needs of the species affected, weighed against other public policy needs; provide animal welfare guidance to Departments, as well as a triage process to allow Departments to prioritise resources for risk assessments on those policies with the potential to cause the greatest harm to the greatest number of animals; require full transparency from the Government, in real time, on assessments undertaken, policy options considered and reasons for the choice of the final policy option and so on; and provide a mechanism for public consultation. There is more in the Bill on reporting and reviews that I will not go into now.
The creation of an animal welfare advisory committee is fundamental, as it would issue guidance on how the animal sentience principles should be interpreted and applied, and ensure that the duty is discharged. It is clear to me that no existing body could undertake this role effectively or adequately replace the current advice of EU institutions. To perform this function, the committee will need: to have an open, transparent recruitment process; to include independent members with appropriately wide-ranging specialist perspectives and expertise, in both animal welfare and ethical review; to be able to co-opt additional expertise as required; to be able to liaise with stakeholders and respect their views; to be transparent in its advice; and to include a mechanism to take representations, including concerns and complaints, from the public.
The reality is that if we do not legislate for this now, there is a risk: that imports of lower-welfare animal products could be permitted under new trade deals; that developers may not have to consider the impact of new roads, housing or major infrastructure projects on wildlife in the area; that the UK could, through its overseas aid or trade programmes, invest in the kind of intensive farming systems that are not allowed in the UK because of animal welfare concerns; and that it would be more difficult to take action against inhumane wildlife management practices and wildlife crime. Those are just a few examples.
As the Minister knows, there is widespread support for enshrining sentience in UK law. Since February alone, almost 70,000 people have signed the parliamentary petition to recognise it in law, and 101 Members from across this House have signed early-day motion 2070. I want to thank organisations such as Wildlife and Countryside Link, World Animal Protection, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Humane Society International, Compassion in World Farming and the splendidly named Crustacean Compassion for their support and assistance with this Bill and their campaigning.
We pride ourselves in this country on our strong record on animal welfare, and we are right to do so, but we should never be complacent. There are many examples where we could and should do better. There are pressures on us, economic and global, that could lead us to backslide. We should always be vigilant and guard against that. I know that some, a minority, still question whether this Bill is needed. Some people want greater licence to ignore animal welfare concerns, whether that be so that they can cram animals into ever-more intensive and industrialised farming systems, or so that they can pursue so-called “country sports”. The fact is that this Government promised this legislation. Indeed, they staved off a major Commons defeat—and no doubt there would have also been defeat in the Lords—with that promise. That was back in November 2017. It is now time for the Government to keep their promise to this House and to the British people, and to back my Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
That Kerry McCarthy, Darren Jones, Daniel Zeichner, Alex Cunningham, Henry Smith, Sir Roger Gale, Bob Blackman, Caroline Lucas, Ben Lake, Mr Alistair Carmichael and Dr Lisa Cameron present the Bill.
Kerry McCarthy accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 April, and to be printed (Bill 375 .)
Business of the House
I must inform the House that I have selected amendment (a) in the name of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), and that he will be called to move that amendment at the end of the debate.
I beg to move,
(1) At today’s sitting-
(a) the order of the House of 1 April (Business of the House) shall apply as if, at the end of paragraph (2)(a), there were inserted “and then to proceedings on the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill”;
(b) any proceedings governed by that order as amended or this order may be proceeded with until any hour, though opposed, and shall not be interrupted;
(c) immediately upon the conclusion of proceedings under the order of 1 April, the Speaker shall call a Member to move the motion that the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.5) Bill be now read a second time;
(d) the Speaker may not propose the question 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);
(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.
(2) In respect of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill, notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.
(3) The provisions of this order shall apply to and in connection with the proceedings on the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill.
Timetable for the Bill today
(4) (a) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be taken at the sitting today in accordance with this Order.
(b) Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) at 7.00 pm.
(c) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) at 10.00 pm.
Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put today
(5) When the Bill has been read a second time:
(a) it shall, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills not subject to a programme order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put;
(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.
(6) (a) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee of the whole House, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
(b) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.
(7) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (4), the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply–
(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;
(c) the Question on any amendment, new clause or new schedule selected by the Chair or Speaker for separate decision;
(d) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a designated Member;
(e) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded; and shall not put any other Questions, other than the Question on any motion described in paragraph (16) of this Order.
(8) On a Motion made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
Consideration of Lords Amendments and Messages on a subsequent day
(9) If any message on the Bill (other than a message that the House of Lords agrees with the Bill without amendment or agrees with any message from this House) is expected from the House of Lords on any future sitting day, the House shall not adjourn until that message has been received and any proceedings under paragraph (10) have been concluded.
(10) On any day on which such a message is received, if a designated Member indicates to the Speaker an intention to proceed to consider that message—
(a) notwithstanding Standing Order No. 14(1) (which provides that government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that order), any Lords Amendments to the Bill or any further Message from the Lords on the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly;
(b) proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under subparagraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed;
(c) the Speaker may not propose the question 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).
(11) Paragraphs (2) to (7) of Standing Order No. 83F (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments to a conclusion as if:
(a) any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member;
(b) after paragraph (4)(a) there is inserted –
“(aa) the question on any amendment or motion selected by the Speaker for separate decision;”.
(12) Paragraphs (2) to (5) of Standing Order No. 83G (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on further messages from the Lords) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings on consideration of a Lords Message to a conclusion as if:
(a) any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member;
(b) in paragraph (5), the words “subject to paragraphs (6) and (7)” were omitted.
(13) Paragraphs (2) to (6) of Standing Order No. 83H (Programme orders: reasons committee) apply in relation to any committee to be appointed to draw up reasons after proceedings have been brought to a conclusion in accordance with this Order as if any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member.
(14) Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings on the Bill to which this Order applies.
(15) No Motion shall be made, except by a designated Member, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken, to recommit the Bill or to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order.
(16) (a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings on the Bill to which this Order applies except by a designated Member.
(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(17) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
(18) No private business may be considered at any sitting to which the provisions of this order apply.
(19) In this Order, “a designated Member” means –
(a) the Member in charge of the Bill; and
(b) any other Member backing the Bill and acting on behalf of that Member.
For the avoidance of doubt, I should begin by saying that it is the feeling of both the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and me that we should accept amendment (a), which provides for the possibility of indicative votes on Monday, should that be necessary in the light of discussions between those on the Front Benches between now and then, which I strongly welcome.
This House has debated a number of measures in the past few weeks about the Order Paper and Standing Orders, and who controls them. I am sure that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, some of whom have made learned and important speeches about the subject already, will wish to raise those issues again. Of course, I am happy to respond to any points made in the course of my remarks about that matter, but I do not intend to dwell on it all over again, because I have more or less said what I had to say about that subject. I just want to refer to the substance of the business of the House motion.
The first question that needs to be addressed is: why bother with this business of the House motion and, therefore, why bother at this point to consider the Bill that stands in the name of the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, of which I and others are backers, given that the Government have already said they are going to seek an extension, which, again, is an enormously welcome development? I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that it is not that I have any doubt that the Government will now wish to seek an extension and avoid the cliff edge of a no-deal exit on 12 April, but rather that there is concern that there should be a transparent and orderly statutory process or framework within which the House has an opportunity to consider the length of the extension that is asked for and to provide the Prime Minister with backing for her request to the EU in an unequivocal and transparent way. That is the purpose of ensuring that we consider the Bill that follows this business of this House motion, and therefore the main purpose of the business of the House motion is simply to provide for the proceedings on that Bill.
The second question I wish to address is that of the speed with which we are considering the Bill. I would much prefer to have had considerably longer set out in the business of the House motion for consideration of the implications of the Bill, because, as right hon. and hon. Members will see when it is debated, although the Bill is short, it is nevertheless significant and there are significant details associated with it. It would have been nice to have a considerable time in which to debate and consider it over a number of days, as is normal. Unfortunately, there is no point in legislating if that which we are legislating about has occurred before the time when the legislation would be relevant.
I am listening very carefully. My right hon. Friend said that the emergency legislation process is necessary but, as the whole House knows, the reality is that the Prime Minister has already said that she is minded to seek an article 50 extension. I fail to see what the emergency he is claiming is, considering that his Bill is completely and utterly unnecessary.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remark that he was listening carefully to what I said. In the preceding section of what I was saying, I explained the reason for the Bill, which is to provide a transparent means of ensuring that the precise details of the extension that the Government seek are brought before the House. That would have been necessary anyway. My view is that it would be a good proceeding for our Parliament to have the opportunity to scrutinise and debate the extension proposed by the Government. I am now explaining not why it is an emergency but why it is a quick process. The reason for it being a quick process is that, if we believe it to be a necessary one, it would obviously be redundant if done after the event to which it refers.
As my right hon. Friend will be aware, the Prime Minister has already sought an article 50 extension. She came to this House to explain it and, to my mind, I cannot see how she has not been transparent already. What extra transparency does he think is necessary that she did not provide with the extension that she has already sought?
That is an instructive example. The last time around, when as my hon. Friend rightly says the Prime Minister sought an extension, in point of fact, she sought a double extension in a sense, because she then brought before the House a statutory instrument which, although not much considered, provided both for 12 April and a later date to be included in the adjusted domestic law, in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. There was, however, no direct discussion in this House of the validity or otherwise of the period for which she sought the extension. I do not complain about that because, as things then stood and as they stand today before the passage of this business of the House motion and the Bill, if they do pass this House, the Prime Minister has an absolute right to seek those extensions—without consulting anyone, actually. There is absolutely no need for her to do so, because it is a prerogative power. She might feel it necessary to mention something to Her Majesty, but otherwise there is no reason for the Prime Minister to tell anyone.
The Bill will provide for a transparent process not for consultation but for approval by the House of the application that the Prime Minister makes to the EU. I believe, as do others who support the Bill, that that is appropriate. Of course, one can have an argument about that—my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) might well disagree—but that is the purpose of the Bill, so I do not think one can deny that, from my point of view or that of someone who shares it, the Bill is therefore necessary.
My right hon. Friend made an assertion just now about the law relating to the prerogative. He may recall the Gina Miller case and the great deal of powerful evidence to suggest that he is fundamentally wrong on that very question. Will he accept the fact that there are those who have a very different view?
The idea that after all these years of many charming conversations with my hon. Friend that I would not accept that he might often have a very different view from mine is of course fanciful. I entirely accept that he might have a very different view from mine—he very probably would do.
On this particular point, I do not think that the Gina Miller case is relevant, because the decision by the Supreme Court in that case was in essence based on the question of individual rights. The argument, whether right or wrong, was that in invoking article 50 there was an attempt to use the prerogative power in a way that the Supreme Court believed would arguably deprive individuals of rights. No one can argue that seeking an extension of the existing position, which is that we are in the EU, deprives anyone of their rights. I therefore very much doubt that the Gina Miller case could be used as a means of injuncting the Government to seek parliamentary approval.
In this case, in any event, we have empirical proof. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dover pointed out, the Prime Minister has already sought an extension, and she did that quite properly without asking the approval of the House of Commons. Therefore, she and the Government lawyers on this occasion obviously agree with me. I accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) might well be right and the Government lawyers wrong, but at least I have some backing on the matter.
I am worried about the process we are debating. My right hon. Friend knows that I concern myself with process and, indeed many times in government I fought his corner on process, unbeknown to him. The last time that we took such a controversial Bill through the House so quickly was actually on the day when he became the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill went through almost equally quickly with equally strong, powerful arguments. The hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), now the deputy leader of the Labour party, and I spent nearly a year and a half in court challenging the quality of the decision on that Bill. We won and in effect had it struck down. Does my right hon. Friend not worry about the quality of what he is doing today?
In a word, no. That piece of legislation was a serious one with effects on a wide range of our citizens so, good or bad, my right hon. Friend did indeed conduct an enormously impressive campaign at a time when he was an outrider of the sort that I have found myself, in an unaccustomed way, forced into being in the past few months. He was highly successful at it. This is a very different kind of Bill, because all it does—as the House will see when we come to consider it—is to enjoin Ministers to put propositions to Parliament. I do not think that that can possibly be regarded as a very dangerous or controversial activity. It might be one that some of my hon. Friends do not wish to see happen—a perfectly legitimate political dispute—but it is not a case in which in the interstices of the law lie questions of freedom.
I will of course give way in all cases, but I will start in good order with my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main).
I share the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) about the speed with which this has come about and the lack of scrutiny. In particular, I am concerned about something that was part of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) just now—I will raise it in my amendment, if I am allowed to move it tonight. The Bill that he is trying to rush through the House simply asks the Prime Minister to seek an extension; it does not ask her to bring an extension back or to agree an extension, and it does not require her to refuse an extension. I am concerned that deals done behind closed doors in the EU might not come back before this House, which might be a result that my right hon. Friend does not anticipate. I believe that the flaw in the Bill that he is trying to put through is that it sends off a Prime Minister who has the absolute right of her office to decide to do things, but it does not mandate her to bring back to this House anything that she is offered. I cannot think that that is what he intends.
Mr Speaker, you will rule if I move out of order, of course, but the point that my hon. Friend is making is about the Bill. In section 1(6) and (7) of the Bill, if I recall that correctly, there is a requirement for the Government to bring back what the EU asks it to do, but that matter is probably better debated as part of the debate on the Bill, because it is not a question of the business of the House motion. In response to her, however, I want to repeat that the lack of scrutiny of which she complains arises from the fact that, unfortunately, in the absence of an extension request, this country leaves the EU on Thursday next—a point that she and others of my hon. Friends have often made, and rightly. We do not have the choice between a long look at the Bill and no look at the Bill; we only have the choice between a short look at the Bill and no look at the Bill. She prefers no look; I prefer a short look. Those are the only two options.
My worry about expending this time today is that the only proper thing that the House can debate and influence is whether we ask for an extension. We know that the Prime Minister wishes to ask for one. He, however, indicated that he would want the Bill to be amended or developed so that the House may express its view on what the length of the extension had to be. We know that last time the Prime Minister asked for an extension to 30 June, but she got one to 12 April. Once we have asked for an extension, it is the EU’s decision. This House, for all its mighty powers, has no ability to legislate for what the EU should do.
My right hon. Friend tempts me to stray into the particulars of the Bill, but I was not suggesting that it should be developed to have the effect that he describes; it already has that effect. The Bill provides for the House, upon the Prime Minister putting forward a motion about the length of the extension, to determine whether it wishes to amend that length, and then provides for her to seek the approval of the House for whatever she comes back with from the EU. There are issues about whether this is the best drafting, but they can be considered in the Lords stages of the Bill if the Government so wish. We had productive discussions with the Government this very morning about their views on whether more flexibility should be built in. We are very open to that—I think I can speak for my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford on that—but at the moment, the Bill does exactly what I described, and not what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) described.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman and Labour colleagues for their work on the Bill. Given our proximity to crashing out with a no-deal Brexit, which could have devastating consequences for our industry, and particularly manufacturing industry, does he agree that the Bill reassures business and underlines to it that we have the maximum possible process for preventing that?
As the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) will have heard, some of my hon. Friends are saying no. My answer is, on the contrary, yes; I agree with him about that.
I am grateful to my neighbour for giving way. If I might quote him, he has just said that the problem is that if his Bill does not get through tonight, “we leave the EU in a few days’ time.” Is that not what 17.4 million people in this country instructed us to do, and expect us to do? The Bill does nothing but prevent that.
I know that my hon. Friend and neighbour, who is an admirable constituency MP, holds that very strong view. As he knows, I do not share it. Those 17.4 million people mandated us to leave the EU, and I am entirely aligned with the Prime Minister in believing that we have a solemn duty to fulfil that mandate. My hon. Friend interprets that mandate as meaning that we should leave with no deal just over a week from now. I do not, and I do not believe that a large proportion of the 17.4 million people do, either—or would do, once they saw the results. However, that is a matter of dispute between us that does not have anything to do with the business of the House motion, to which I shall return.
I have in the past shared platforms with the right hon. Gentleman on issues that had nothing to do with the EU; they had to do with playing fields. He is a very experienced Member. Does he not have any genuine concern about the speed with which the Bill is going through Parliament, and does he not think that people watching our proceedings, many of whom know that this is a remain Parliament, will see the Bill, and particularly the speed with which it is being pushed through Parliament, as just another little legal way of trying to delay or stop Brexit?
I promised myself at the very beginning of this process—going right back to the referendum campaign and beyond—never to deny the truth about these things, even when it was inconvenient. If the hon. Lady has asked, as I think she has, whether some people see things in that light, I have to answer that some do, and that is a misfortune. If she also asks, as I think she does, whether I regret that this is being done at high speed, the only honest answer is yes; I do regret that. Unfortunately, it can only be done at high speed, because there is no time left. I also very much regret that.
In fact, on the subject of the chain of regrets that I have to admit to the hon. Lady, who I think is my constituency MP in London, I have to say that my biggest regret is that my right hon. Friend for—[Interruption.] Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford; thank you, Mr Speaker—and I decided some weeks ago not to pursue an admirable previous Bill, the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 4) Bill, if I remember correctly, which would have had the same effect but could have been considered at more length. Perhaps I was more responsible for that decision than she was. That was, I think, an error on my part. It arose from the intention and hope that we could work entirely with the Government, who made a series of offers to us about the votes that would be held, and which were indeed held. I felt—I think we joined in feeling this, partly because I persuaded my right hon. Friend to join me in this—that it was sensible in the circumstances not to pursue that Bill. That is not an error that I will make again, and that is why I have moved the business of the House motion.
I will give way to the leader of the Green party, and then perhaps I should make some progress.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and thank him for his work on the Bill. If ever there was a time to justify looking at a Bill swiftly, surely this is it, when we are on a cliff edge, about to fall out of the EU, which is not what 17.4 million people voted for. Does he agree that, as Bills go, this is pretty straightforward? It is not complex. It is a vital insurance policy that is needed just in case all these other processes, not least the discussions going on between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, fail.
The hon. Lady puts it very well indeed. I agree with her about all of that. She is right that the business of the House motion describes a process for a Bill that is, to all intents and purposes, one clause long, aside from some interpretive provisions. It is not a complicated Bill; everyone in the House, on reading it, would understand it in a matter of seconds. Essentially, it is a binary decision as to whether we accept it or not. Of course amendments may be proposed; we will have plenty of time to vote on those. I do not see that there is any mischief in getting the Bill through Parliament quickly. It is always better, if one has the time, to consider things at greater length, but we do not have the time.
May I draw the right hon. Gentleman back to the business motion, and progress it? I seek his confirmation that the purpose of paragraph (1)(d) is to avoid any attempt at making today’s business be heard in private, so that all that is happening can be shared with those who want to watch and read it later.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing us back to the business of the House motion, which has not had much of an airing yet. The paragraph to which he refers is one of a large number of provisions in the motion that are collectively designed to ensure that the short time at our disposal is not ill used on procedural devices and dilatory actions, and to ensure that we can spend the time talking about the Bill, rather than whether we should talk about the Bill, whether we should have talked about some other Bill, whether we should talk about it on some other day, whether we should sit in private, whether we should adjourn, or any other matter of not the slightest significance that might be raised to delay our talking about the Bill—by, incidentally, those who may also complain that we do not have enough time to talk about the Bill. I think it is legitimate to close off those things.
I pay enormous tribute to the brilliance and incredible hard work of the Clerks, on which those of us engaged in this have called repeatedly. The quality of their advice, and their sustained effort, is beyond compare. It is a really remarkable performance by the highest class of professional.
I shall mention briefly the other features of the motion. As well as provisions on timing, which take us up to paragraph (8), the motion provides for the House of Lords to bring back messages, should it seek to amend the Bill. In fact, unless the Government choose to move amendments today on the detail, in order to increase the Government’s flexibility, we will need, I think, to accept some amendments from the House of Lords—a punctilious House that will, I am sure, want to tighten the Bill. Paragraphs (9) to (12) allow that to happen in an expeditious way, and are otherwise uncontroversial, as is paragraph (13).
The whole House can see that my right hon. Friend has given himself the style, if not the title, of leader of this House in his actions today, but what is his plan for making sure that his Bill, should it pass through this House, is discussed in the House of Lords, and that any messages are further debated in that House?
The proceedings of the House of Lords are of course a matter for the House of Lords and not for the House of Commons, and vice versa. It would therefore be an impertinence for me or any other hon. Member to seek to determine how the House of Lords goes about its proceedings. My hon. Friend can rest assured—although this may not be of any comfort to him—that those of us who are promoting this course of action have taken the trouble to identify Members of the House of Lords who are well able to carry the Bill forward in the House of Lords.
My hon. Friend may also wish to know, although I fear that it will also be of no comfort to him, that there is overwhelming support in the House of Lords for this measure, and that we therefore anticipate that it will, in all probability—although obviously nothing can be guaranteed—pass through the House of Lords very rapidly. To that end, the House of Lords has in fact already passed a motion that provides for the expeditious consideration of exactly this form of Bill.
I think that my right hon. Friend said earlier that the British people were against a WTO arrangement, but the latest opinion polls that I have seen—certainly in my constituency—say that more British people are actually in favour of a WTO exit. What is his message to those millions of Britons who do believe in a WTO Brexit?
Order. That is an extraordinarily interesting point from the hon. Gentleman, but it suffers from the disadvantage that it does not in any way relate to the business of the House motion on which we are now focusing.
I therefore will not dilate on the subject, but let me just say that I did not say anything about a WTO exit. There could well be circumstances under which people were in favour of a WTO exit. What we are discussing is the question whether it would be appropriate for the UK to leave the EU next Thursday without a deal, which is a wholly different matter.
Paragraphs (14) to (18) of the motion simply prevent the mischief of the Bill being hijacked by anyone other than its promoter. Again, these paragraphs are standard fare in any business of the House motion of this kind, except that they add further provisions against dilatory motions. Some of my hon. Friends—in particular, one right at the end of the Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg)—are great experts at dilatory motions and are really quite brilliant at them. I hope and expect that, notwithstanding their brilliance, they have in this case been prevented from exercising it.
I am intrigued by the word that my right hon. Friend used. Will he be a little more honest with the House? When he says “hijacked”, does he mean that other colleagues might seek to use the same parliamentary practice that he has done today?
The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) is never anything but completely honest. I know that the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) used the words loosely and I am sure that he would not for one moment suggest otherwise, because that would be quite wrong. He said, “a little more honest”. The right hon. Member for West Dorset is always impeccably 100% honest, as is every right hon. and hon. Member in the Chamber.
One of the things of which I am absolutely certain is that my right hon. Friend will be able to answer my question. Let me use the word “straightforward”, rather than “honest.”
The right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales has clarified his thinking and has used slightly more felicitous language, and I think that the right hon. Member for West Dorset—I do not mean this unkindly—is more than able to cope.
I would never take offence from my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin), who is a very old friend and colleague. We have been through many things together in Cabinets and shadow Cabinets over many years, and although we disagree about this particular constitutional issue, we agree about much else.
It is of course the case that the Standing Orders of the House of Commons are the possession of the House of Commons. It is therefore the case that, as in all other matters pertaining to the House of Commons, a majority may alter them. If my right hon. Friend is asking me the only question that he can logically ask me under those circumstances—that is, whether a majority of Members of the House of Commons can alter the Standing Orders of the House of Commons at any given time should they wish to do so—the only answer I can give him is the only answer that he could give me as a former Chief Whip, which is yes.
Normally, the Government Chief Whip commands a majority sufficient at all times to ensure that the Executive are able, in effect, to change the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, but this is a very unusual provision of our Parliament. In the United States Congress and many other legislatures, it would be regarded as quite intolerable for the Executive to be able to change the procedures of the House using that kind of whipping, to which we are entirely accustomed. However, it is our method, and if the Government of the day have a sufficient majority to be able to do so, they will be able to exercise that method. On this occasion—not in general, but in relation to this particular set of issues—the Government do not command a majority in all cases, as has been frequently remarked by Members on both sides of the House. They may do tonight or they may not; they have not on some other occasions. Where they do not command a majority, it is open to Members of the House of Commons in the majority to alter the Standing Orders.
There is a danger in the comparative analysis of different constitutions, because of course the United States constitution has a very different method of the separation of powers. As I pointed out in the debate we had on Monday, the President has a legislative veto unless Congress has a two-thirds majority. In any system of government, there is usually an opportunity for the Executive to veto legislation, and that is what our Standing Order No. 14 effectively provides for, with money resolutions, Queen’s consent and that sort of thing. All that is being bypassed in this procedure, which has no mandate or democratic legitimacy from the voters. This is therefore a very questionable process, which is undermining the accountability of how laws are made in this country.
Alas, I think that Brexit will leave behind it a trail of many difficulties for our nation, as we seek to heal the divisions and so on. But I suspect that one of the good things about it is that it will have provoked between my hon. Friend and myself many years of interesting discussion about the evolution of our constitution. My own view is that our constitution is not very well constructed, and does not contain proper checks and balances in a written form in the way in which some better constitutions do. Interestingly, that includes the Basic Law, which we ourselves wrote for the Germans and which is a much better organised constitution; there is not the veto to which my hon. Friend refers, but there are checks and balances through which it would certainly be impossible for the Government to engage in the sort of things that have become usual since 1902—I mistakenly referred to 1906 on a previous occasion—and that have given the Executive too much control over the proceedings of the House of Commons.
Interestingly, some of my hon. and right hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), have for a very long time argued that the Executive have too much control over the House of Commons. It is just that, on this particular occasion, he would like the Executive to have more control—or would have liked the Executive to have more control before yesterday, in any case. I rather think that people’s views on this constitutional matter are currently being overly influenced by their view of what the desirable result is, and I admit entirely that mine are too.
I do not think that this is a minor constitutional wrangle. We could go on happily having this discussion for some years, and ought to in a proper way. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), the Chair of the Procedure Committee, will want to inaugurate proper discussions of these things at much greater length. At the moment, this nation faces a very serious issue by anybody’s reckoning—those who are in favour of stepping out on Thursday week and those who are against it. We all agree that it is a very important step. The business of the House motion provides for a Bill that has the effect of making it not possible for a Prime Minister to take that step without coming to the House, proposing an extension and trying to obtain an extension approved by the House from the EU. That is the importance of it, and I think that it is actually very important.
I am desperately fond of my right hon. Friend and I apologise to him for what I am about to say. He is a previous member of this Executive and a fixer for the Government over a long period, and has on many occasions taken advantage of the fact that there were not necessarily all the checks and balances that he needed to be in place in order to move legislation that he wanted to move in the House. Is there therefore not a slight whiff of hypocrisy that he is now lamenting the lack of those checks and balances? And is not this tiny emergency Bill, without time for proper scrutiny, just here to thwart the process of Brexit?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is the phrase “slight whiff of hypocrisy”, when it is implied that it is coming from the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), in order? I am sure that you will be able to advise me.
I was diverted by a former Deputy Leader of the House, who was perfectly legitimately whispering into my ear, as colleagues often do when there is a matter of great moment in their minds, and therefore I did not hear it. I am not disputing what the hon. Gentleman has said—
I am happy to repeat it.
No, there is no requirement for repetition by the hon. Lady. I think that she was making what I would call a political charge. I find it unimaginable that she would make an accusation of personal dishonour against the right hon. Member for West Dorset. If she were to make such a charge, I feel sure that she would be in a minority of one.
The hon. Lady shakes her head, and that satisfies me. I think that we will leave it there.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The order of the day is brevity. I say that very gently to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), who has now been speaking for 35 minutes.