House of Commons
Monday 9 September 2019
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Tertiary Education
Leaving the European Union with a deal remains the Government’s top priority. We will work in an energetic and determined manner to get the very best deal, and a better deal than has previously been put to this House. We are supporting the sector to manage the transition through Brexit, including providing reassurance on participation in EU-funded programmes, future migration arrangements and access to student support.
The right hon. Gentleman was always energetic and determined when he was the Government Chief Whip and we worked together. What reassurances can he provide to the University of Glasgow in my constituency, which is having to issue emergency advice in the event of a no deal? It is reminding research teams to conduct inventories of their materials in case it is not possible to pre-order perishable goods such as gases. It is reminding staff and students
“that, in the event of a no-deal withdrawal, EU countries may not admit individuals with passports which are due to expire within six months of the date of travel.”
This is the kind of debilitating effect it is having. Would it not be better to accept the inevitable, and rule out no deal and ask for the extension now?
We have worked and will continue to work closely with higher education institutions, including the University of Glasgow, to ensure, if we do leave without any deal with the European Union, that all mitigations are put in place. I very much look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman in this role as I did when we were both Chief Whips together.
Some 96% of EU students who study at Scottish universities enrol on courses that are longer than three years. Does the Secretary of State agree that Scottish universities cannot but be adversely impacted by the Home Office’s current temporary leave to remain scheme, which allows for students being here for three years, as in Scotland they would then need to apply for a tier 4 visa? Does he agree this is unfair?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I know this matter has been raised with me by a number of Scottish Conservative and Unionist MPs and it is certainly something I am looking at closely, but I thank him for taking the time to raise it in the House.
I think leaving the European Union with no deal would be one of the most anti-social mobility steps this country could have taken in many years. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that the left-behind communities that are so often talked about by Ministers will be the ones worst hit? Perhaps the only double whammy that could follow that would be to scrap the opportunity areas, which are at least helping some of them to improve education standards.
I have spoken to quite a number of colleagues about the really valuable work the opportunity areas are doing and the impact—the very positive impact—they are having on the communities in which they are operating. We are looking at how we can develop that in the future.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that as well as ensuring our great universities—such as Derby and Nottingham near my constituency—can continue to educate overseas students from the EU, he is working towards reciprocal agreements so that young people in my constituency of Erewash can continue to study in EU countries?
We are having such discussions with European member states, and we are making very good progress on this. It is very important that we ensure the United Kingdom remains a destination that EU students want to come to study in, and we have big ambitions to ensure we continue to deliver on that, but also that our students from our constituencies have the opportunity to study abroad.
There have been alarming reports that the Department for Education is considering an Erasmus+ replacement programme for England only, with potentially no consequential funding for the devolved Administrations. Will the Secretary of State admit that this would amount to a complete abandonment of students across the UK, and will he take this opportunity to confirm that an England-only scheme is not something this Government will consider?
We think that it is important for us to look at the interests of all students across the whole United Kingdom.
I am not sure that that was an answer. Last Thursday, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) asked the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union about the status of Erasmus students who are currently in Scotland, specifically if they go home, for example at Christmas, whether there is a guarantee that they can return in the event of a no-deal Brexit. In response to her question, the Minister stated, “Yes.” Will the Secretary of State detail how that process will work, given that those students are not applying for settled status?
I am very happy to write to the hon. Lady with more details and give her the reassurance that she seeks. We recognise how important it is for the UK as a whole to remain an attractive destination for people who wish to study, and that is vital in every component part of the United Kingdom, including Scotland.
Well, well, well. The Secretary of State has had quite a start. Rumour has it that he forgot to appoint a Skills Minister, and we are now waiting for our fifth Higher Education Minister in just two years. Will he tell us the fee status of European students after 2020, and will our universities still benefit from Horizon, Erasmus, and the European University Institute or not?
We continue our negotiations and discussions with the European Union to ensure that we have access to these schemes.
Well, I am sure that the Secretary of State would like me to shut up and go away, but I am not going to do that. He has to try harder with his answers. Will he publish officially his no-deal impact assessment and contingency plans, and tell us how much his Department is spending on no-deal preparations? Can he give us a clear guarantee that his no-deal plans do not include suspending or weakening food standards in our schools?
I can give the hon. Lady that assurance, yes.
Funding Educational Facilities: Dudley
Dudley will benefit from the substantial additional investment in education, including £14 billion for schools across England over the next three years, and £400 million for 16-to-19 education next year, on top of additional money provided to cover pension costs.
It is my job to stand up for Dudley, so I am absolutely delighted that our campaign for a new university-level technical skills and apprenticeship centre has paid off, with the announcement on Friday that we were getting £25 million from the stronger towns fund. Is this not exactly what is needed to bring good, new, well-paid jobs in high-tech industries such as advanced manufacturing, digital media, low carbon technologies, autonomous electric vehicles and healthcare to replace those that the Black Country has lost in traditional industries?
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) for all the work they have done in campaigning to deliver this for Dudley, and for the work they have done to deliver the institute of technology in Dudley as well. That will all go towards generating the right skills and the right educational outcomes not only for the whole town of Dudley but much more widely. I very much hope to visit Dudley. Hopefully, the hon. Gentleman will be able to join me to discuss how we can do more for Dudley and the surrounding area.
Following the deeply regrettable closure of Stourbridge College earlier this summer, will my right hon. Friend consider meeting the principals of all the Dudley colleges—Dudley College, Halesowen College and King Edward VI College—with a view to discussing their wish to continue to provide vocational skills training, particularly adult education, in my constituency of Stourbridge.
I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that in detail with those stakeholders.
Further and Higher Education: Quality and Choice
We are increasing the funding for 16-to-19 participation through T-levels, and providing support for college improvement. The Office for Students and Ofsted hold HE and FE providers to account for delivery quality and successful outcomes. The teaching excellence and student outcomes framework and new digital tools provide data support in student choice.
Last week, at the invitation of sixth-former Anna, I visited Cheadle Hulme High School to speak to students. I welcome the announcement that sixth forms across Cheadle will benefit from the £120 million increase in spending. How will the Secretary of State ensure that that funding will help students in Cheadle to access the widest variety of course, opening up opportunities in areas such as high tech, technology, construction, creative industries and so many others that will benefit the Greater Manchester economy?
As part of the funding increase for 16 to 19-year-olds, a key element is to ensure we are able to deliver those high-value courses that are sometimes more expensive to put on for students. A key element of the funding is preserved for that. I very much hope it will support my hon. Friend’s constituents. I look forward to continuing to work with her. She has campaigned long and hard to deliver this extra money for the colleges in her constituency.
Mr Speaker, I feel as though I have to make an apology to the House. Last time I was at the Dispatch Box, I forgot to mention that the hon. Gentleman had been the principal of a college. I said he was lecturing at a college, so I apologise for demoting him.
I am more than happy to continuously look at how we can give the maximum amount of support for our further education colleges and the 16-to-19 sector. We saw one of the largest increases in the base rate with the announcement last week. That is a good foundation on which to build.
The Secretary of State ought to be able to detect the hon. Gentleman’s status and his intellectual distinction from a radius of approximately 1,000 miles.
The extra money for post-16 providers is extremely welcome. It has been warmly welcomed by Havering Sixth Form College in my constituency. However, it appears to be a one-year funding deal, rather than the three-year settlement that five to 16 education providers received. Will the Secretary of State look at giving colleges more long-term certainty by delivering future increases in line with inflation and raising the overall rate for 16 to 18-year-olds?
My hon. Friend raises a very valuable point about the importance of long-term certainty for all parts of the education sector. That was very clearly explained in the report from the Select Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). We will continue to look at it. It was a one-year settlement for 16 to 19-year-olds. We made sure we gave as much certainty in the schools sector as possible. We continue to look at what more we can do to give confidence to the further education sector on how to invest in the future of our young people.
Another cerebral intellectual, Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods.
Will the Secretary of State tell the House what plans he has to implement the recommendations of the Augar post-18 education review?
We will be looking at updating the House later on this year on our response to the Augar review. I met Philip Augar just a few weeks ago to discuss it in some depth. We will continue to keep the House updated over the coming months.
What conversations has my right hon. Friend had with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, specifically to talk about continuing the process of devolving further education to our locally elected mayors?
This is something we are taking a lead on. We are already in the process of devolving many responsibilities to locally elected mayors. I will be having further discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on how we can make that work as efficiently and as well as possible to deliver the skills that are needed for our urban areas.
We have fundamentally changed what apprenticeships involve. We have new high-quality standards developed by industry for industry. Apprentices are now getting more off-the-job training, while endpoint assessment ensures they are fully competent. Our new quality strategy will ensure that all apprenticeships are of the highest quality both in design and delivery.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. Will he work with and support the New Anglia local enterprise partnership in setting up its levy pool, which will ensure that more SMEs in Suffolk and Norfolk obtain funding for training and apprenticeships?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We have already increased the amount of the levy being directed in that way from 10% to 25%. We will very much look at working closely across the whole region of East Anglia on how best we can support this important initiative that makes sure that young people who want the training and people who are retraining have the right skills to be competitive in the jobs market.
Last Friday, I met graduates of the Forging Futures scheme at Kirkstall Forge in my constituency. Those young people, who were previously not in education, employment or training, now have a bright future to look forward to, but because that is a pre-apprenticeship scheme it gets no Government funding. Will the Government look again at funding such schemes to give young people, such as those I met on Friday, a better future to look forward to?
I would be very happy to look at the details of the scheme that the hon. Lady outlines. It is important for everyone on both sides of the House that we do everything so that those who need the maximum amount of support always get it.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the apprenticeship programme has the year-on-year cash that it needs to continue to deliver the life-changing opportunities that it does to people of all ages, without restriction?
I take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for all the work that she has done for this sector. Much of the work that we have inherited is down to her close attention to detail in delivering for a sector that she is so passionate about. I also thank her for the work that she did as a Deputy Chief Whip, when she was slightly less friendly, but equally effective.
I will certainly look at how we ensure that we have the right funding for apprenticeships. Apprenticeships have been one of the greatest successes of the Government. We have achieved so much over the last nine years, encouraging so many young people to take up the opportunity to train in an apprenticeship and have the skills that they need to succeed in future. We will be determined to build on that success.
I think the Secretary of State is rehearsing for his conference oration. That has to be what it is—we are grateful to him.
This Government are making a complete hash of the apprenticeship levy in quality and quantity. It is running out of money, so the trainers who provide 70% of all apprenticeships cannot meet the demand from small businesses, such as the two I met recently in Blackpool that have had no money from the Department for Education. There was nothing new in the spending review for providers or for small businesses for apprentices. Starts for 16 to 18-year-olds are down 23% on the pre-levy numbers. There was nothing for the 800,000 young people who are stagnating in the NEET category, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) pointed out. There is not even a dedicated day-to-day Skills Minister to tell them, or us, why they are in this mess. Has anyone in this disappearing Government left the lights on?
We have seen a change in attitudes as to what apprenticeships are able to deliver. After a decade and more under the Labour party, when we saw apprenticeships devalued and reduced, we have seen a seismic change in what we are doing, driving up the quality and status of apprenticeships. I know that Government colleagues take great pride in what has been achieved, but we are always conscious that so much more needs to be done.
Funding Increases for Schools: Timetable
In August, the Prime Minister announced an extra £14 billion for schools in England over the next three years. That will bring the schools budget to £52.2 billion in 2022-23. This will allow funding increases for all schools. In particular, our pledge to level up pupil funding means that every secondary school will receive a minimum of at least £5,000 per pupil next year, with every primary school getting a minimum of at least £4,000 from 2021-22. This is the largest cash boost in a generation, and that has only been possible because of our balanced approach to public finances and careful stewardship of the economy since 2010.
The Department for Education is no doubt very illustrious, but it is not well versed in the application of the blue pencil.
The Chancellor’s promise to increase school funding is welcome, but he has given no extra money to schools for this year. School budgets are at breaking point, so will the Minister acknowledge that he is leaving schools on the brink?
What the hon. Gentleman says is not actually true. We have given extra money to fund employer pension contributions this year and to partially fund the pay grant over and above the 1%, and now the 2%, that is affordable, so we have provided schools with extra money this financial year.
We have got to hear the voice of Shipley. I call Mr Philip Davies.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I congratulate the Minister and the Secretary of State on securing the extra funding from the Chancellor in the spending review. As the Minister knows, I have been arguing for this for some time. Can I urge him to front-load this money, because we know that school costs have been outstripping their incomes? They need this money as soon as possible. And while he’s there, as the Secretary of State is Bradford educated, will the Minister encourage him to return to Bradford district in order to visit some schools in my constituency?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work and campaigning he has done to secure extra funding for schools in his constituency. He has been successful in ensuring we have the most generous schools settlement in a generation, and that is in part a tribute to his work, as well as that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has heard his request for a visit to Bradford and I am sure will comply.
Not that I would ever wish to appear ungrateful to the unmoveable Schools Minister, but he will be aware that there is a funding shortfall of £1.2 billion for children with special needs and disabilities. In Hull alone, the shortfall is £4 million. Will he please ensure that all our children can have their needs met by urgently addressing this funding shortfall?
We take this issue as seriously as the hon. Lady does, which is why we have announced within the £14 billion a £700 million increase for special needs. That is an 11% increase. We absolutely understand the pressures that local authorities have been under and we are addressing it.
I welcome the extra £14 billion of school funding that the Government have committed to. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that some of that money goes to schools in my constituency, some of which have been historically underfunded? They are fantastic schools but could do even better with more money.
My hon. Friend has been a redoubtable campaigner for school funding in her constituency. Thanks to her efforts and the balanced approach we have taken to the public finances, the school funding settlement will mean that every school in her constituency will attract an increase in funding and that 75% of secondary schools there will benefit from our pledge to level up school funding to at least £5,000 per secondary school pupil.
Could I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it does not cost any money at all to save children’s lives in a measles epidemic by making every school see a certificate of MMR vaccination before they get to the school? Will he take on board another point? My schools tell me that after all these years of deprivation—since 2010—in schools it will take a long time to come back, even with the quick fix of the money he is now throwing at them.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that this funding represents a large increase in per pupil spending and reverses the reductions to real-terms per pupil funding for five to 16-year-olds. The hon. Gentleman is right about MMR. It is very important that parents vaccinate their children. There is a lot of information available about the safety of the MMR vaccine from the NHS, and we would encourage parents to look at that information before making a decision.
I warmly welcome the recent education financial settlement, which is good news for all schools across our country. Does the Minister agree that such resources will help to make schools and education provision even better so that all children across the country can benefit?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. This funding will mean that we can continue our education reforms and continue to drive up standards—standards of reading and maths in our primary schools and in the whole range of the curriculum in our secondary schools.
They say that faith is the substance of things hoped for over the evidence of things not seen. At the time of her resignation, the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) said “Judge a man by what he does, not what he says.” The Secretary of State has been part of a Government who have slashed £1.9 million from schools in his own constituency in the last four years. Codsall Community High School has lost £700,000, and Staffordshire has had to slash £60 million from its budget. The electoral promises are not worth the textbook that they are written on, are they?
I wish that the hon. Gentleman had cited the figures in my constituency, given that he is asking me the question although it was pre-prepared for the Secretary of State.
As I have said, the IFS has stated that this funding fully reverses cuts in funding for five-to-16-year-olds. We have only been able to deliver such a large increase in school funding because of the way in which we have managed the public finances since the banking crisis in 2008. That is why we can do this today, and why we have been able to announce the three-year spending package that all schools, including schools in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, have been seeking.
Children with Higher Needs: Stoke-on-Trent
Next year local authorities, including Stoke-on-Trent City Council, will share in an increase of more than £700 million in higher-needs funding. We will hold separate discussions with the authorities that have raised specific issues with us.
The Minister will be well aware that, as part of its higher-needs recovery plan, Stoke-on-Trent City Council proposes to plunder classroom budgets by £14.5 million over the next four years. The headteachers in the city are opposed to the plan, which will require a sign-off from the Department in order to go ahead. Will the Minister make a commitment today that rather than signing it off, she will convene a meeting of the headteachers in Stoke-on-Trent, so that alternative arrangements can be found that do not necessitate robbing Peter to pay Paul?
We are aware of the issues that have arisen in Stoke-on-Trent. The commissioner is due to submit a report to the Department today, and officials will review it and submit recommendations to me in due course. Once a decision has been made, the report will be published.
A number of children with higher needs in Stoke-on-Trent attend Horton Lodge Community Special School in my constituency, where there is great concern about the provision of funds for residential care and the possibility that the school will become unviable. Will the Minister meet me, and perhaps consider visiting Horton Lodge, to see what we can do to ensure that that wonderful, special place continues to operate for many years to come?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this case in her constituency. Yes, that is something that we should be able to do for her.
The Minister has just referred to a report which is currently under way, and which relates to children’s social services rather than the high-needs budget. The cuts proposed by Stoke-on-Trent City Council will cost every secondary school £100,000 and every primary school £50,000. That is money we cannot afford to spend. Will the Minister undertake to accept the request from my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell), and convene a meeting of headteachers before the Secretary of State signs off a deal?
We are aware that local authorities are facing significant pressures. That is why we are making an additional investment of more than £700 million, which will help them to manage those pressures next year. The Department has been looking at this matter, and we will be in touch with Stoke-on-Trent in due course to decide on the best possible actions to be taken in the future.
I welcome the new Minister to her post. As she will know, children with special needs rely on help with speech and language and on counselling support, but the Children’s Commissioner has published research showing that the severe underfunding of those services is seriously damaging children’s lives and futures. Even after the spending review and the additional funding to which the Minister has referred, we still face a £1 billion shortfall in special educational needs services by 2021. Given that the Government could so easily find £1 billion to bribe the Democratic Unionist party, will the Minister agree, here and now, to find the same amount to fully fund the services that the country’s most vulnerable children so desperately need?
I met the Children’s Commissioner last week, and discussed this issue among many others. We welcome her report. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government are spending £7 billion on special educational needs, and are adding an additional £700 million. That is part of the extra £14 billion that we are spending over three years, and I think that it is to be welcomed.[Official Report, 25 September 2019, Vol. 664, c. 7MC.]
School Admissions Code: Summer-born and Premature Children
The Government remain committed to making the necessary changes to allow children to start reception at age five where this is what parents want.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. He will know that it is four years since we had an Adjournment debate on this and two years since I last asked him a question on this. I am very pleased to hear his answer, but can he commit to laying out the timetable as to when the Government might be able to publish that and potentially have a meeting with me to discuss the unintended consequences?
My hon. Friend has been a formidable campaigner on this issue, and I pay tribute to him for his work in this area. He will be aware that since my letter to local authorities the evidence shows that school admission authorities are becoming more flexible when receiving requests for children to start reception at age five.
But of course this will not be right for all children; the majority will do well in reception at age four, and the Government are therefore giving careful consideration to how we will make these changes in a way that avoids unintended consequences.
Does the Minister not agree with me that the best way to get all students, even those who are summer-born, ready for school is proper investment in the early years, and will he therefore pledge today that the Government will do what they said they would do a few weeks ago and ensure our maintained nursery schools get the full funding they need to continue?
The hon. Lady will have been here last week when the spending round was announced and she will know that there is a £66 million increase in early-years funding.
Has there been any discussion with counterparts in the devolved Assemblies to bring in a UK-wide strategy? If no discussion has taken place, when will it take place with the Department of Health in Northern Ireland to ensure that this does happen?
I will be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss these issues further, but as he knows we on these Benches are responsible for the education system in England.
Specialist Maths Schools
In 2019 King’s College London mathematics school reports that 100% of its students achieved a grade A or A* in A-level maths and 90% achieved an A* in A-level maths. The school also reports that more than 25% of its students in 2019 have secured Oxbridge places. This school and Exeter mathematics school are spectacular examples of the success of this Government’s free school programme, a programme that the Labour party wants to abolish.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and commend the Government on what they are doing to level up funding, which I understand will mean another £2.9 million per year for schools in North East Hampshire, but will he expand that excellent specialist maths schools programme so that we can do even more for every child across this country?
Given the success of the two maths schools so far, we are committed to opening more maths schools as we continue to drive up academic standards and social mobility. There are four more in the pipeline, including the Surrey mathematics school, which should benefit young people in North East Hampshire. My hon. Friend will also be pleased to know that, due to the large increase in school funding announced last week, 100% of secondary schools in his constituency will benefit from the new minimum of at least £5,000 per pupil.
College Spending: Effect of VAT
We have announced a £400 million increase in 16-to-19 funding in 2020-21; this is the biggest year-on-year increase since 2010 and will have great benefits for FE and sixth-form colleges. Colleges are independent organisations and are responsible for managing their own financial sustainability, which includes their liability for VAT.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response, but does he believe, as I do, that no matter where a 16 to 19-year-old student studies they should have the same funding, resource and status, and if he does why do school sixth forms and 16-to-19 academies get their VAT refunded and the teacher pay grant but FE institutions, such as the brilliant Abingdon and Witney college in my constituency, do not?
I am very conscious that this has been a long-running issue, and I remember from when I was a governor at a further education college the impact that this has. We are always looking at how we can reduce the impact, and that is why we have the funding settlement that we have achieved this year of £400 million plus £100 million for pension liability costs.
These funding announcements are extremely welcome in my constituency, and I have lobbied hard at all levels for these funding increases. Does the Secretary of State share my concern, however, that the Labour party has threatened to vote down the Queen’s Speech, which would mean that all these funding improvements would fall by the wayside?
I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s campaigning to deliver better funding for schools and post-16 education in her constituency. Many of the actions of Labour Members and their reckless approach give me great concern as they seem unwilling to listen to the will of the British people.
Leaving the EU: Higher Education
Leaving the European Union with a deal remains the Government’s top priority. We are working energetically and determinedly to get the very best deal. We are supporting the sector’s transition through Brexit, and have provided reassurance for EU nationals on access to student support for 2020-21, and on migration arrangements for staff and students.
But what about Erasmus? The Government’s technical notice has confirmed that if we leave with no deal, we will lose membership of the Erasmus programme. Given the benefits that it provides to tens of thousands of students, what assurance can the Secretary of State give to students that those benefits and the support provided will be maintained, and how is he going to achieve that?
It goes without saying that we will always be looking to ensure that all students in the United Kingdom get the very best in terms of their education, and Erasmus has played an important part in that. If we were in a situation where we did not have access to it, we would look at successor schemes.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Israel, Canada, New Zealand and Australia are not in the EU but are members of the Erasmus programme?
My hon. Friend makes the important point that there is an ability to access such schemes outside the European Union. This has been demonstrated in the past, and I am sure that it can be done in the future.
Private Higher Education Providers: Financial Sustainability
To be registered under the new regulatory framework, all higher education providers must demonstrate that they are financially viable, sustainable and well-managed organisations that deliver high quality education. The Office for Students has currently registered more than 380 providers, which means that it has assessed those providers to be financially sustainable looking forward over a five-year period.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Greenwich School of Management is unlikely to be the last private higher education provider to go bust in a system where market forces are the ultimate determinant of success, but it is of course the students and staff who pay the price. Can he tell me how many of the 3,500 GSM students—who are overwhelmingly mature, on low incomes and from minority groups—have been found a place at a new institution to date and have the financial support to finish their courses?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important question. We have been working closely with GSM and the administrators to ensure that as many students as possible are transferred on to new courses if they are mid-course. At the moment, I do not have the data to answer his question, because how many accept this will come down to student choice, but as soon as we have the data I will of course write to him. The key focus has been to ensure that all those students get a place with an alternative provider.
Funding Allocation to Schools in Congleton
The Prime Minister has announced a £14 billion increase in investment for schools in England, including for schools in Congleton. This means that by 2022-23, core schools funding will increase by £4.6 billion more than a real-terms protection, and we will be announcing further school-level details in October.
I welcome this announcement, but what has concerned parents and teachers in my constituency and the wider Cheshire East area has been the historical underfunding of our local schools compared with those in other areas. So, to ensure truly fairer funding, will Ministers ensure that the Government’s schools budget boost specifically targets the biggest funding increases at schools in those areas that have been historically relatively underfunded?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, because it was as a result of her intervention that we introduced minimum per-pupil funding into the national funding formula. She and her constituents will be pleased to know that, as a result of last week’s funding announcement, all seven of the secondary schools in her constituency will benefit from our pledge to level up per-pupil funding to at least £5,000 per pupil, and that 16 primary schools in her constituency will benefit from the new level of at least £3,750 per pupil.
Disadvantaged Schools: Per Pupil Funding Increase
Minimum per pupil values benefit the historically lowest-funded schools. We recognise that schools with more disadvantaged pupils require additional resources, and the national funding formula and pupil premium allocate additional funding in relation to disadvantaged pupils, so that schools with a higher proportion of disadvantaged pupils are the highest funded.
Pupils in disadvantaged areas are significantly less likely to pass crucial GCSEs such as English and maths. School funding must reflect different needs in different places, but the Government’s recent funding announcement will do exactly the opposite and sees more money going into affluent schools in the south of England while many schools in Bradford South will continue to lose out. How can the Minister justify that disgraceful situation?
Under this settlement, all schools will receive more money, at least in line with inflation, and schools with the highest proportions of children from disadvantaged backgrounds will receive the highest level of funding. Since 2011, we have closed the attainment gap by 9.5% in secondary schools and by 13% in primary schools.[Official Report, 25 September 2019, Vol. 664, c. 8MC.]
I thank the Schools Minister for the particular attention he has given to raising educational attainment in Northamptonshire and welcome the increase in funding for all schools, in particular the 14 primary schools and 4 secondary schools in Kettering, which have been historically the most underfunded.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. It has been a pleasure working with him and other colleagues from Northamptonshire to raise standards of education in the area. I am sure that he and his constituents will be pleased about the funding settlement for schools in Northamptonshire.
Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, which gives me another opportunity to let everyone know that the Government have announced an additional £14 billion for schools over the next three years, including the £700 million of high-needs funding for special educational needs and disabilities that we have been discussing.
Pupils with SEND account for nearly half the 41 pupils excluded from schools every day, which is contributing to the increase in the number of pupils being home schooled. What support is being given to pupils with SEND who are being home-schooled?
We are going to be looking at that as part of a review into special educational needs and disabilities, and I refer the hon. Gentleman to the written ministerial statement that we laid before Parliament today.
Around 100 children in Harlow are without an education today as the Aspire Academy, run by TBAP, has closed yet again. Despite numerous meetings with Ministers and the academies commissioner, no action has yet been taken. Will my right hon. Friend commit to the re-brokering of this school, so that a new academy can take it over and allow the children to return to their learning and the teachers to teaching? Mismanagement by the TBAP academy chain has gone on long enough.
An Ofsted inspection of the Aspire Academy in June 2019 rated the academy as inadequate and requiring special measures. The regional schools commissioner for east of England and north-east London issued a termination warning notice letter to TBAP, but a decision is yet to be made about the Aspire Academy and whether it will remain in the trust.
As the independent inspectorate, Ofsted plays a vital role in providing a rounded assessment of school and college performance, and that role has helped to raise standards in our schools. Ofsted’s latest statement on its performance was set out in its annual report and accounts presented to Parliament in July, which reported solid operating performance across all areas of work.
Two secondary schools in my constituency have had recent inspections, and both headteachers, whom I respect greatly, are appalled at how those inspections have been handled. We complained to Ofsted, and we had one side of A4 on the investigation into those complaints. Can we have a system in which Ofsted does not effectively mark its own homework?
I know the hon. Gentleman has been concerned about those inspections, and he met Ofsted’s north-west regional director. Ofsted is directly accountable to Parliament, and the vast majority of inspections go without incident. Ofsted has a quality assurance process and a complaints procedure to deal with those rare instances where it does not go according to plan.
At the last Ofsted inspection, Red Hill Field Primary School was marked as good. The school is celebrating its 35-year anniversary this Friday. What message does the Minister have for that excellent school, for Mr Snelson, the headteacher, and for all the staff on their excellent work over 35 years?
I congratulate Mr Snelson, the head of Red Hill Field Primary School, on achieving a good grading in the Ofsted inspection, and I pay tribute to him and all the staff for the excellent education they are providing to pupils.
We recently announced a £14.4 billion investment in primary and secondary education between now and 2022-23. This is in addition to the £4.5 billion we will continue to provide to fund additional pension costs for teachers over the next three years. I will be working with schools to ensure this money delivers on our priorities to recruit and retain the best teachers, to continue boosting school standards and to tackle poor classroom behaviour. We are also investing an extra £400 million in 16-to-19 education next year, demonstrating our commitment to teaching our young people the skills needed for well-paid jobs in the modern economy.[Official Report, 25 September 2019, Vol. 664, c. 8MC.]
Universities are desperately keen to see a proper two-year post-study work visa restored, and it looked as if the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill would be the vehicle for that. If that Bill falls because of tonight’s Prorogation outrage, can the Secretary of State say when and how a proper two-year post-study work visa will be restored?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will keep the House updated on the progress on this, and we are continually looking and working across government on the matter.
I promise my right hon. Friend that we will bring plenty of vim and vigour to this, and I will be looking at it closely.
At long last, after years of calls from the Labour party, settings, academics and even Select Committees, last week the Government finally offered some new funding for the 30-hour childcare policy. Sadly, predictions say it is only 10% of what is required to plug the funding black hole.
May I push the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, whom I very much welcome to her place, on how this funding will be spent? Will it be targeted to support outstanding providers that are struggling, to increase the amount of high-quality provision in disadvantaged areas and to reverse the disturbing trend of experienced staff leaving the sector?
Members on both sides of the House care very much about this area. The Government continue to support families with their childcare costs, and we are now spending more than £3.6 billion on support to 2021.
I assure my hon. Friend that we will be writing to him in due course with full details of the national funding formula—we hope this will be in early October—and the impact this will have on individual schools .
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. There are 50,000 more pupils eligible for free school meals at the moment. There is much that this Government are doing, and we will continue to look at ways in which we can improve circumstances for disadvantaged children.
The announcement we made just the other week goes a long way towards rectifying the issue that my hon. Friend has highlighted. The national funding formula will ensure that all schools start to really benefit from the increases in funding, wherever they are in the country. This is making sure that the needs of pupils are the focus, as against where they happen to be in the country. May I pay tribute to him for the campaigning he has done for the schools in his constituency to secure the settlement?
We are spending £3.6 billion on early educational entitlement, and the Government have provided free childcare for children aged three to four years. I am not sure that I heard the right hon. Gentleman’s question properly, but I think that if he writes to me, I will be able to provide him with a more comprehensive response.
I thank my hon. Friend for such a kind invite. I know that he has campaigned hard and vigorously to get a better settlement for schools in his constituency and right around the country. I would be more than delighted to join him in his constituency, and I hope to make the figures available for all schools in the coming weeks.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware, from the funding settlement, that we are increasing funding for high needs—for special needs—by £700 million. That is an 11% increase, and it is because we absolutely recognise the cost pressures that schools and local authorities have been under when it comes to special needs. We hope that the funding announcement made last week by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will go some way to addressing those concerns.
I thank the education team for giving £5.5 million for upgrades in secondary schools in my area. Recently, however, there has been a disturbing turn of events. Skerton Community High School was closed down by the Labour county council, but it is being hypocritically targeted for an erroneous campaign to reopen it by the Labour party. The school has been closed for five years. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State write to me to tell me what is going to happen to this school in the future and whether it could be used for an academy?
May I take the opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the campaigning he always undertakes to deliver the very best for all the schools in his constituency and the campaigning he has done to get the increase in school funding we announced just the other week? I would be more than happy to write to him and to meet with him to discuss this important issue for his constituency.
I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that that is very much the case. It is very important that we teach children about the Britain we live in today.
I welcome the additional revenue funding for schools in Staffordshire. Will the Secretary of State outline the plans for capital funding, of which there is an urgent need in Staffordshire and in many other schools across the country?
I always recall that when my hon. Friend and I were first elected to the House we, as constituency neighbours, campaigned very hard to get a better funding settlement for Staffordshire, but also for all schools across the country. We are working on the capital settlement, and we will be working with the Treasury to bring forward announcements in the not-too-distant future.
For pupils on free school meals, buying water at lunchtime can cost up to 80p of their allowance, which is often more than the fruit juices and milkshakes available. Does the Secretary of State agree that free water should be available, with cups and bottles, for all pupils in all our schools?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. No child should ever be expected to pay for water, and no school should ever deny a child access to fresh water. It is a legal requirement for all schools to make water available. If she would be kind enough to forward details of where water is not available, we will be sure to follow it up.
May I thank the Minister for listening to all our lobbying about the need for North Devon schools to have their funding equalised fairly? That investment will make a huge difference. Will he now come back to North Devon to see what a difference it will make, and to thank staff and students for all their hard work?
My hon. Friend is always campaigning for his constituents, whether to save Royal Marine bases or to get more money for his schools. I would be delighted to join him in visiting the schools in his constituency that will receive the extra money that he has campaigned for and delivered.
In the summer of 2019, Wandsworth food bank handed out 1,024 emergency food parcels to families, which was a 40% increase on last year. It has reported to me that families are having to choose between buying food and buying school uniforms. Will the Minister now publish the estimated figures for the number of children who have gone hungry this summer?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question. We do not collect that information, but the Department has other schemes that are seeking to address the issue, including our holiday activities and food programme, which has supported children from disadvantaged families over the past two summers.
Female students at Priory School in Lewes were excluded on Friday simply for wearing skirts, which goes against the school’s new uniform policy. They are excluded today and will continue to be excluded until they wear trousers. What support can the Minister give to the families and pupils affected?
Decisions about school uniform are made at school level by headteachers and governing bodies. In formulating a uniform policy, a school must consider its obligations not to discriminate unlawfully. I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss her work to try to resolve the issue locally.
I am sure that if I did not call a retired headteacher, I would be subject to the most condign punishment imaginable. I call Thelma Walker.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—10 out of 10.
I recently spoke on BBC Radio Leeds about the number of young people who suffer trauma and bereavement just before sitting exams and who often do not get the appropriate support and bereavement counselling. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss adequate counselling provision for those going through such a difficult time?
Yes. The awarding organisations have protocols in place for such issues, but I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the case that she is concerned about.
I really welcome the extra money for special educational needs. Will my right hon. Friend look closely at improving school transport for 16 to 19-year-olds with special needs so that we can further improve conditions for the most needy children?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is important that we allow opportunities to be widely available to children and to young people, regardless of their special needs. Bursaries are available for particular children, and that funding can be used for transport. I would be very happy to meet him so that we can take this issue forward together.
A quarter of people in my constituency are now reported to be living in in-work poverty, so is it no wonder that I know of desperate families unable to pay for their children’s school uniforms? Will the Minister consider introducing a statutory duty for schools to prioritise cost considerations and value for money for parents when deciding uniform policy and a ban on compulsory branding if this means families incurring additional costs?
The Department’s current guidance on school uniform does place an extra emphasis on the need for schools to give the highest priority to cost consideration. No school uniform should be so expensive as to leave pupils or their families feeling unable to apply for or to attend a school of their choice due to the cost of the school uniform. If the hon. Lady has examples of schools that are not abiding by that guidance, I would be very grateful if she let me know.
I have called a distinguished headteacher to speak, so I must call a distinguished nurse. I call Anne Milton.
The correlation between good education and good health has long been known, not least by Professor Sir Michael Marmot in his 2010 report. With that in mind, surely it is now the time to give further education the long-term funding that it needs.
I know that my right hon. Friend is passionate about this matter and has campaigned on it. By setting out a three-year deal for schools, I appreciate that that has raised everyone’s expectation right across the education sector for three-year deals for everyone. It is something that we continue to look at. It was vital that we got the extra £400 million for 16 to 19-year-olds, and we continue to have discussions about how we can set out a longer-term future for all sectors in the education market.
Order. I shall come to points of order in due time and I shall bear all those hon. Members in mind.
Colleagues, I would like to make a personal statement to the House.
At the 2017 election, I promised my wife and children that it would be my last. This is a pledge that I intend to keep. If the House votes tonight for an early general election, my tenure as Speaker and MP will end when this Parliament ends. If the House does not so vote, I have concluded that the least disruptive and most democratic course of action would be for me to stand down at the close of business on Thursday 31 October. [Applause.] The least disruptive, because that date will fall shortly after the votes on the Queen’s Speech, expected on 21 and 22 October. The week or so after that may be quite lively, and it would be best to have an experienced figure in the Chair for that short period. The most democratic, because it will mean that a ballot is held when all Members have some knowledge of the candidates. This is far preferable to a contest at the beginning of a Parliament, when new MPs will not be similarly informed and may find themselves vulnerable to undue institutional influence. We would not want anyone to be whipped senseless, would we?
Throughout my time as Speaker I have sought to increase the relative authority of this legislature, for which I will make absolutely no apology to anyone, anywhere, at any time. To deploy a perhaps dangerous phrase, I have also sought to be the Back Benchers’ backstop. I could not do so without the support of a small but superb team in Speaker’s House; the wider House staff; my Buckingham constituents; and, above all, my wife Sally and our three children, Oliver, Freddie and Jemima. [Applause.] From the bottom of my heart, I thank them all profusely.
I could also not have served without the repeated support of this House and its Members, past and present. This is a wonderful place, filled overwhelmingly by people who are motivated by their notion of the national interest, by their perception of the public good and by their duty—not as delegates, but as representatives—to do what they believe is right for our country. We degrade this Parliament at our peril.
I have served as a Member of Parliament for 22 years, and for the last 10 years as Speaker. This has been—let me put it explicitly—the greatest privilege and honour of my professional life, for which I will be eternally grateful. I wish my successor in the Chair the very best fortune in standing up for the rights of hon. and right hon. Members individually, and for Parliament institutionally, as the Speaker of the House of Commons. Thank you. [Applause.]
You really are a very, very, very generous bunch of people indeed. Thank you, on both sides of the House, for the expressions of support, which I richly appreciate. I love this place, you love this place, and we look forward to the future with interest, anticipation and enthusiasm.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to put on record my thanks to you for being a superb Speaker of this House, my thanks to you as a colleague in Parliament, and my thanks to your family for the way in which they have supported you through often very difficult times when many of the media have been very unfair on you. Your two sons are getting good at football. I did some kicks with them in Speaker’s Court the other day and I was very impressed, actually; they are coming on well. And I know you support the same club as me.
In your role as Speaker, you have totally changed the way in which the job has been done. You have reached out to people across the whole country. You have visited schools, you have visited factories, you have visited offices; you have talked to people about the role of Parliament and democracy. I have never forgotten you coming to City and Islington College in my constituency and spending the morning with me talking to a group of students, all of whom had learning difficulties, and we discussed with them the roles of democracy and Parliament.
You have taken absolutely on board the words of Speaker Lenthall that you are there to be guided by and act on behalf of our Parliament. This Parliament is the stronger for your being Speaker. Our democracy is the stronger for your being the Speaker. Whatever you do when you finally step down from Parliament, you do so with the thanks of a very large number of people, and as one who has made the role of Speaker in the House more powerful, not less powerful. I welcome that. As somebody who aspires to hold Executive office, I like the idea of a powerful Parliament holding the Executive to account; it is something I have spent the last 35 years doing myself.
So, Mr Speaker, enjoy the last short period in your office, but it is going to be one of the most dramatic there has been. I think your choice of timing and date is incomparable and will be recorded in the history books of parliamentary democracy. Mr Speaker, on behalf of the Labour party I thank you for your work in promoting democracy and this House. Thank you.
Thank you. I just say to the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, that he is very much more experienced and senior than I, but I think that as Back Benchers in our respective parties we did have quite a lot in common. Certainly, speaking for myself, as a Back Bencher, and frequently as an Opposition Front Bencher, I found that I had a relationship with my Whips characterised by trust and understanding—I didn’t trust them and they didn’t understand me.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like, perhaps for the first time, to associate myself wholeheartedly with the comments of the Leader of the Opposition. Since you entered the House of Commons in 1997, it has been clear to everyone who has seen you work as a diligent constituency MP, an effective Back Bencher, and also a tenacious Front Bencher in your time, that you love this House of Commons, you love our democracy, and your commitment to your principles and your constituents is unwavering and an example to others.
This evening I shall vote with many of my colleagues for an early general election. I hope you will not take that personally, Mr Speaker, because I have no wish to prematurely truncate your time in the Chair. However controversial the role of a backstop may be in other areas, your role as the Back Benchers’ backstop has certainly been appreciated by individuals across this House. I have spent much, though not all, of the last 10 years as a member of the Executive, but I have also been a Back Bencher in this House, and I have personally appreciated the way in which you have always sought to ensure that the Executive answer for their actions. History will record the way in which you have used the urgent question procedure and other procedures to hold the Executive to account and have restored life and vigour to Parliament, and in so doing, you have been in the very best tradition of Speakers.
From time to time, those of us on the Government Benches might have bridled at some of the judgments you have made, but I have never been in any doubt that you have operated on the basis that the Executive must be answerable to this House in the same way as this House is answerable to the people. You have done everything in your power to ensure not just the continued but the underlined relevance of this place. Your love of democracy is transparent in everything that you say and do, and as such, I want, on behalf of myself as an individual and on behalf of the Conservative party, to thank you. As a fellow parent of pupils at a distinguished west London comprehensive, may I also say how important it is that discipline is maintained in this House? Your energetic efforts to do so are appreciated even by those of us who may not always be the best behaved in class.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. That was characteristically generous and gracious of him. At the risk of inflicting some damage upon his otherwise flourishing political career, I have on more than one occasion paid public tribute to the quality of the right hon. Gentleman. One of the reasons why he does not complain about urgent questions being granted, to which he has at short notice to answer, is that he is quick enough, bright enough, sharp enough, fair-minded enough, articulate enough and dextrous enough to be able to cope with whatever is thrown at him. I do not want this to become a mutual admiration society, because I am not sure whether it would be more damaging to him or me, but I thank him for what he said, for the way in which he said it and for the spirit that his remarks embody.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would not seek for a minute to challenge your decision, not least because you would rule me out of order, but I have to say that I regret it and respect it. I say that for this reason. When the history books come to be written, you will be described as one of the great reforming Speakers of the House of Commons. You have indeed been the Back Benchers’ friend and supporter, but in every decision you have made, you have put one consideration above everything else: your wish to enable the House of Commons to discuss matters and to express a view.
There have been occasions when some in the House have taken umbrage at decisions that you have reached, but you have stood by your beliefs and principles, and many Members of this House are eternally grateful to you for having stood up for our rights, enabling us to debate and then to vote on something. The fact that the Speaker decides that something should be debated is not the Speaker saying that the House should agree it; it is the Speaker saying that we should be able to cast our vote. That is why we will regard you in that light for many, many years to come. Thank you very much indeed.
I call my very loyal and brilliant next-door neighbour of over 20 years in constituency terms, Mr David Lidington.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May I—as an elector in the Buckingham constituency, not least—offer an expression of thanks to you for your work as a constituency Member of Parliament over the past 22 years? Talking to neighbours and acquaintances in all parts of the Buckingham constituency over the years that you have represented it, I have been struck by the fact that men and women of very different political persuasions, and indeed those of no particular party affiliation, are united in their appreciation of the fact that you have never allowed your considerable duties as Speaker of the House to detract from your responsibility to represent their interests in Buckingham and to respond to the concerns that they raise with you. Colleagues in all parts of the House will speak about your record as Speaker, but those of us in Buckinghamshire will know how you have continued to speak on and champion local interests and local issues.
I know, too, that you will be missed among the somewhat eclectic team of right hon. and hon. Members representing the county of Buckinghamshire. It is perhaps a good measure of the fact that in this place, despite frequent clashes and disagreements, we can still manage to get on. Those Buckinghamshire parliamentary meetings bring together not just you and me but my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) and both my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) in a spirit of harmony, at least on county matters.
I thank you for what you have done for us locally and, if I may say so as a former Leader of the House, for what you have done to communicate more to people, particularly to schoolchildren and students around the country, about how this place works and the constitutional significance of Parliament in defending the liberties and debating the interests of the next generation.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I want to observe—others will bear testimony to this, in the light of what he has just said— that the right hon. Gentleman was, frankly, an outstanding Leader of the House of Commons. He is one of the most co-operative and collaborative colleagues whom one could hope to meet. He gets things done, he is extremely personable, and I think it is fair to say that he works based on periodic political difference but continuing personal amiability. If others of us were able to model ourselves on the way in which he has gone about his work over the last 27 years as a Member of Parliament, we would probably be doing better. I thank him for what he has said.
We must proceed before too long, but I do apologise very sincerely to the right hon. Gentleman—the leader of the third party in this House—for failing to see him at an earlier point, which I should have done.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. On behalf of those of us on the SNP Benches, may I say that we will be sad to see you leave office at the end of October? It is fair to say that you have shown considerable grace and purpose—not just to us, but to Members across this House. We are eternally grateful for the way in which you have conducted yourself, particularly over these last few months—at a time, let us be honest, of constitutional crisis for all of us—and for the way you have facilitated Back Benchers, in particular, in being able to hold the Executive to account and, indeed, in making sure that those of us whom people send to this place are able to do our job to the best of our endeavours in representing their interests.
Like the Leader of the Opposition, we are grateful that you will be with us until the end of October, and we look forward to the guidance and supervision you will give to our affairs over the coming weeks. You have been a great friend to many of us in this House. We wish every good wish to you and your family for the coming period. You will always get a friendly welcome in Scotland, and indeed we would love to see you up in Ross, Skye and Lochaber. Mr Speaker, thank you very much on behalf of all of us.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, at the beginning of this Parliament, you asked me if I would propose you for the Chair, and I was very pleased to do so. I made the immortal statement:
“I think he annoys Members on all the Front Benches from time to time, which is probably testament to his even-handedness.”—[Official Report, 13 June 2017; Vol. 626, c. 4.]
I think there was not a dry eye in the House, because that was true.
I have to add my voice to that of my Buckinghamshire colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), for the simple reason that, as a colleague in Buckinghamshire, you have been absolutely superb. Speaking as the only female representative of a constituency in Buckinghamshire, I sometimes find it necessary to keep some of you boys under control, because you do not always quite see eye to eye—with me.
I rise to my feet to say a big thank you to you for something else you have done in your time as Speaker. You have hosted events for more than 1,000 charities in Speaker’s House. You have been a true champion of people with autism. Today, as the all-party parliamentary group publishes a report on the 10 years since the Autism Act 2009, I pay tribute to everything you have done, particularly for charitable works, but also for people and families with autism.
I have one great regret, knowing that you are going to stand down. I will lose a great champion in my fight against HS2, and I very much hope that when you retire from the House, whatever you do, you will continue to join me in the fight against HS2 and continue, most importantly, to champion those people with autism and their families.
I thank the right hon. Lady for what she said, and for all the good fellowship that she and I have enjoyed over the 22 years I have been in the House with her.
It is as matter of seniority as well as a magnificent tie. I call Mr Barry Sheerman.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I remember that when I first met you I went home to my wife and said, “I’ve met this really bumptious, self-opinionated, right-wing, objectionable character.” I could say that you haven’t changed, but the fact of the matter is that you have been an exemplary Speaker. You have been Parliament’s Speaker. I have been here quite a long time, so I have seen people organising the Speaker’s election—usually the Whips. You broke that tradition—we broke that tradition, cross-party. We wanted you, and we denied the Whips their choice, and we got you. Those of us who have been around this place for some time do not regret for a moment that we got Parliament’s Speaker. You have proved that we were right in our choice.
You have been magnificent in the way you have gone around the country. I remember the occasion—we planned it well in advance—when you chose to come to Huddersfield for the whole day. Unfortunately, it was the day after the referendum. It was quite an interesting atmosphere. I remember you getting to Huddersfield and saying, “This is an awfully long way, isn’t it, Barry?” However, you did get about, and you saw how constituents worked. You came to the University of Huddersfield, and you did the job well.
You also, as Speaker, have been the champion of the Back Bencher. The people on the Front Benches—the Whips—love to have their own way. You were determined to let people like me—a Back Bencher—and other Back Benchers have their say. There has been a renaissance of Parliament under your speakership. I hope only that we get someone half as good as you when we single-mindedly, happily, diversely, and democratically choose your successor. Thank you for everything you have done for parliamentary democracy.
Bless you, Barry, for what you have said. [Interruption.] Will hon. Members will forgive me? I call Mr Dominic Grieve.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. As another Buckinghamshire MP, I could not fail to rise to say words of thanks to you for what you have done.
You may recall—it is perhaps worth recalling—that when you were first elected Speaker I think I was the only person in the Chamber who did not stand to applaud you. That was for two reasons. First, I rather disapprove of these displays and, secondly, my preferences lay elsewhere. I think I also indicated to you subsequently that I would do my very best to support you. As the years have gone by, I have come to appreciate that in the extraordinary times in which we live, your leadership of this House has been, in my judgment, exemplary in standing up for the rights of Back Benchers. You will undoubtedly go down as such, setting a benchmark that , built on by future Speakers, will enable the House to operate very much better.
As for Buckinghamshire, Mr Speaker, you will undoubtedly be missed. I sometimes think in the troubled times in which we live, it is time to return to those 17th-century practices of setting up county associations and deciding to keep the rest of the world out, because we would then find that we agree with each other 100%.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he said. I regard him as a quite exceptional parliamentarian, so to receive a tribute from him means a great deal to me, and I think he knows that.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am one of those who originally supported you when you stood, in quite troubled times and unexpectedly, to be the Speaker. I did so because you had already demonstrated to me and to others that you were open-minded enough to have gone on a journey. People have not expressed this particular part of you yet in these points of order, but your commitment to equality, women, LGBT people and the disabled, to ensure proper inclusion for everyone in our country and in our politics, is perhaps the thing that has most impressed me.
We worked together behind the scenes when I was shadow Leader of the House. I know how committed, in very difficult times, and wrestling with a rather conservative and hidebound institution, you have been. For that reason alone—for your determination, your judgment, your confidence in your judgment, your deep understanding of the way our Parliament works and your willingness to stand up for the rights of Back Benchers against some of the most ferocious behaviour by Government—you will be remembered as one of the great reforming Speakers.
I hope that, as you get your evenings back, and as you will be able to make a choice about which chair you sit in and for how long—
And go to the toilet! [Laughter.]
Well, Mr Speaker, I was not going to mention your bladder, and I am still not.
I hope that as you look back and reflect on all these tumultuous times you will look back with satisfaction on the role you have played, because you deserve to do so. You have been an outstanding Speaker and I wish to add my thanks to the spontaneous tributes we are hearing now. Thank you.
I thank the hon. Lady. Put simply, I have been very lucky. If you do for a living something that causes you to jump out of bed in the morning looking forward to the day ahead, then frankly you are blessed.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You have been an extraordinary Speaker—an outstanding Speaker. Over the past few weeks, I have very much disagreed with your interpretation of certain Standing Orders, but for the 14 years I have been here you have transformed this place. You used to sit behind me on the Opposition Benches heckling the Government like mad—and then I hear the nerve, Sir, of you telling us off for heckling! I hope, when we forget the Brexit period, you will be remembered for completely transforming this place and allowing Back Benchers to do their job, and for allowing new Members the opportunity to fulfil a career as a Back Bencher while not necessarily wanting to be a Minister.
The hon. Gentleman speaks from personal experience as a parliamentarian who is always ready to speak truth to power. I identify with him. What he says, not least in the light of some of his recent disagreements with me, is big of him.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to associate myself with everything that has been said so far, except perhaps the remarks about HS2.
May I just add a couple of points that have not been mentioned? First, without your family-friendly reforms to this place, particularly the opening of the nursery, your willingness to introduce proxy voting, and allowing babies and young children into the Lobby, I and many others in this place, mothers and fathers alike, would not have been able to carry out our duties and to carry on being Members of Parliament. I thank you enormously for those changes and reforms.
In your time as Speaker, probably the most difficult event was the murder of our friend, Jo Cox. You gave leadership to this whole place, to our collective grief and to the grief of her community and her family, visiting her constituency the day after her terrible murder. I know her family would want me to thank you from the bottom of their hearts for your leadership at that very, very difficult time for this House.
Thank you. As everybody here knows, Jo was very special, and she will remain in our hearts for as long as we live.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. As a Buckinghamshire colleague, it has been a huge pleasure and privilege to work alongside you to further the interests of our constituents—I say “our constituents” because I fondly remember occasions on which I have needed to speak in this place on your behalf, and it has been my privilege and pleasure to do so. It would be graceless of me, of course, to refer to anything where I might possibly have disagreed with you, but I just say that it is perfectly plain to me that you love this place and this Parliament, and I am grateful for all your service.
I thank the hon. Gentleman; he is a conviction politician, and that deserves respect.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I express thanks from those on the Liberal Democrat Benches for your decade of service in the Chair.
Very often, to those outside, Parliament can appear stuffy and out of touch. Some of the initiatives that have come in on your watch, including the Wright reforms, with topical questions, and your willingness to grant urgent questions have meant that when people talk about issues outside this place we can discuss them in a timely way in the House, and that has been important.
I was very moved by your tribute to your wife and children, because the families of all of us in this place put up with a lot for us to do the jobs that we do. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) about the reforms that you have made possible, including the parliamentary nursery, babies being able to be in voting Lobbies—indeed, your forbearance in not asking me to leave when I brought baby Gabriel into this House—and the proxy voting reforms, which have already made such a difference for Members with small babies during these rather intense few months of parliamentary debate. Those reforms have been truly important and you have been a truly modernising Speaker. As I am sure you would agree, there is much more to do, and I hope that whoever is your successor will continue in that tradition.
Finally, you have been an absolutely unstinting guardian of parliamentary democracy at a time when people feel the need to take to the streets to argue to defend our democracy. I think back to my first term in this place, between 2005 and 2010. If you had asked me at the time to pinpoint the most important vote that I cast in those five years, I am not convinced that I would have chosen that vote in 2009, but choosing you to be Speaker of this House was arguably the most important vote cast for the future of our country and our parliamentary democracy. I am very glad that I and others in this House made that choice.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. So far, we have mainly heard from distinguished Members on the two Front Benches or immediately prior Members, but I speak on behalf of the permanent, or semi-permanent, Back Benchers, who either by their own wish, or in my case because nobody has ever asked me, have not joined the Front Bench team in recent years. Although I have not followed you in your political journey and on many occasions you have absolutely infuriated me, I have to say, on behalf of Back Benchers, that there is one thing that nobody can ever take away from you: you have been determined to give a voice to those people in this place who want to ask real questions of the Executive. For this, we will always be grateful.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He was, of course, a talented Minister but I have always thought, because I know that his career came to a premature end, that he suffered from the notable disadvantage, as a member of the Government, of not only holding opinions, but feeling inclined, with notable frequency—whether wanted or not—to express them. That seemed to me why he was removed from the Government, but the Executive’s loss was Parliament’s gain.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to add our party’s thanks to you. You have always been the Back Bencher’s champion. You have called me as often as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). You often chastise me gently for saying “you”, but can I say that you have done excellently for Back Benchers? I will try hard not to use that word on other occasions. You have called me to order a few times, but gently, with your humour, kindness and good will, have enabled me to learn the protocols of this House in a way that I hope will stay with me for some time to come. Even with my Ulster Scots and my accent, you always seem to understand me.
You mentioned Sally and your children. The most important thing for us all in the House is the sanity we get when we go back to our families. They are incredibly important. As you know, I turn up for the Adjournment debate every night, and you are always here as well. I will miss you when you are not here. Whatever you do in this world, I know that you will do it well. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Godspeed and God bless.
Colleagues, I hope you will forgive me if I say this very publicly to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I bet others have noticed it—I certainly have, ever since he came into the House and we got to know each other. The hon. Gentleman is a person of strong religious faith. As it happens, I am not. I have always been proud of my Jewish roots and my Jewish identity, but I am not a practising religious person. What I admire about the hon. Gentleman—and it makes him a most lovable figure in the House of Commons—is that he radiates warmth, empathy and compassion. He is one of those people of faith who do not spend time preaching it but live it.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Such is the length of our relationship and our friendship, which has been long suspected and about which I think we can now come clean, that I rushed here from Lincolnshire when I heard the news of your imminent departure. In an age of technocratic turgidity and mechanistic mediocrity, you have brought colour and style to this place. No one could deny your eloquence or your extraordinary, encyclopaedic grasp of facts, of which we are all envious. I do not know how you manage to remember not only facts about our constituencies but our birthdays, wedding anniversaries, children’s names—what don’t you remember, Mr Speaker?
You have given life to this place in a way that few could ever have managed and few of your predecessors achieved. You have made this place far more interesting than it would have been without you. But there is something else that is rarely said about you, and it is this. I fully recognise your sensitivity and humanity. There are countless acts of kindness that you have shown Members of this House that are never publicised—because they would not be by their nature—and to which it is only fair now to draw attention. When Members have had difficulties of one sort or another—the trials and tribulations which are the inevitable consequences of life here—you have always been there for them. That work as our Speaker needs to be recorded and celebrated, and acknowledged today. I will miss you not only for your indulgence, of which I have been a frequent beneficiary, as you well know, but for your character and style, and that will last long after you leave the Chair, as I hope our friendship will.
Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that our friendship will endure for a long time to come. Among other things that we have in common, we share a passion for, and a slightly obsessive preoccupation with, historical statistics relating to tennis.
By the way, I have never lost any sleep over a work-related matter, because it is not worth doing. The nights without sleep that I have tended to experience over the years, and doubtless will do so in the future, have ordinarily been during either the US Open or the Australian Open, when, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, my normal practice is to forgo sleep if the alternative is the opportunity to watch my all-time sporting hero, Roger Federer.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You and I first came across each other well over 40 years ago, when we were both members of the Conservative party as students. I could not possibly repeat the language of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), but I do endorse the “right-wing” bit. I, of course, was what was known then as a proud wet, and was certainly on the pink liberal wing of the Conservative party. Although our journey and our route have been somewhat different, I rather suspect that we are back together in our new place, and that will be interesting, as will all that follows. But I remember that when you were a student, you had a huge passion for politics and for Parliament, and, of course, you were hugely eloquent even then. All those things have served you well for many years, in your role as a Member of Parliament but also in your role as Speaker, but, most important, they have served this place hugely well.
I will not repeat, but will just endorse, all the fine tributes about the great reforms that you have made to this place, especially on behalf of women, but also on behalf of all the young people in my constituency and the children who have come to this place in a way that previous generations certainly did not, who have learned so much and who have felt engaged.
Finally, I want to apologise on behalf of the small group of us who, by virtue of our appalling behaviour, found ourselves founder members of the “Three Bs”. When I come back, as I think I will at some stage—[Interruption]—yes, that is right, if we have any such general election—I will bring you the little badge that I have with the three Bs, which stand for “Bollocked By Bercow”. I am very proud of my membership of that club. But, on behalf of my merry band—and, indeed, all of us—I thank you for everything that you have done, and the great service that you have given to this place.
Bless you, and thank you.
We are running out of time—
We have got until October.
As the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position, we have got until October, but first of all we must hear from Mr David Lammy.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Much has been said, obviously, by Members of Parliament in this place, but I want to put on record what I suspect are deep thanks in huge parts of the country, and to echo absolutely what has been said by, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle).
I was in the House after the riots of 2011, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for helping to recall the House to debate that very important subject. I also thank you for, most recently, after a scandal that involved people with Caribbean backgrounds, granting my urgent question that allowed the revelation of that scandal. So many issues concerning minorities in this country could so easily have remained on the fringes, as has been the case during previous decades in our country—thank you for putting them at the centre of the action in this Parliament.
Thank you, also, for appointing Rose Hudson-Wilkin as the Chaplain when the establishment might have preferred a different choice. Yes, the role of Speaker is to be part of the establishment, but it takes a giant—and, of course, you are not a giant—to stand up to that establishment and never be cowed. The next Speaker will have very, very big shoes to fill.
That is extraordinarily eloquent and generous. I do not want to comment on anything the right hon. Gentleman has said about me but I want instead to endorse in triplicate what he has just said about the Right Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, a great servant to Parliament, in her place in the Under Gallery now, a source of comfort and inspiration to me for the last nine years. There has not been a single day when I have not felt delighted and reinforced in my insistence, and it was my insistence, that Rose should be appointed to that role. There is always scope for legitimate difference of opinion, but there were people—part of what I have to say outside of this place I will call the bigot faction—who volunteered their views as to what an inapposite appointment I had made with all the force and insistence at their disposal, which sadly from their point of view were in inverse proportion to their knowledge of the subject matter under discussion. They had not met Rose, they did not know her, they could not form a view; they had a stupid, dim-witted, atavistic, racist and rancid opposition to the Rev. Rose. I was right, they were wrong: the House loves her. [Applause.]
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to say a huge thank you for all that you have done for Back Benchers and for democracy, especially throughout this time as we discuss Brexit. I also want to thank you for all the firsts you have done in the House. In the Stonewall list of LGBT+ employers, Parliament has moved up now to 23rd; I think we were down in the 70s and 80s before. Parliament has been ranked as one of the best 100 employers at the race equality awards; that is because of your guidance and leadership, Mr Speaker. And thank you for appointing Rev. Rose; I think she is in the corner crying, with the rest of us. Thank you so much, Mr Speaker; she has been amazing, as have you.
We have also had the first Muslim Serjeant at Arms and the first female Clerk Assistant of the House, and young people being allowed to debate in this Chamber has come under you, Mr Speaker. There are also all the charity events that you have held in Speaker’s House—such as for British sign language and the Windrush—and being able to raise the flag for International Women’s Day outside Parliament for the first time, and Black History Month. I could go on about all that you have done to modernise this place, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mr Speaker.
I hope you can just bear with me, Mr Speaker, because equality is a theme that you have championed. Following last week’s resignation, I am deeply concerned that the position that I shadow, Minister for Women and Equalities, remains vacant, and that, with more than half of the current Cabinet opposed to equal marriage, this brief has been undermined deliberately to roll back the hard fought-for rights and protections. Mr Speaker, being a bit of a “girly swot”, I have calculated that when the next person is appointed they will be the 10th to be appointed to the brief since 2010. The post has moved Departments four times, and a new Minister would be the fifth I will have shadowed in just two years. [Interruption.] Government Members may groan, but they do not feel even half the pain that we feel on this side of the House.
Trump recently described Boris Johnson as Britain’s Trump and he was grinning like a Cheshire cat. In the United States we have seen what can happen when a racist and sexist is placed in charge of a country: implementing a Muslim ban on people arriving and leaving the country, banning trans people from serving in the military, pushing to allow businesses to turn LGBT customers away and making it easier for LGBT people to be sacked, or telling “the squad”, a group of four elected Congresswomen of colour, to go back to their countries. Our Prime Minister is modelling his campaign on his mate Trump. This is proven by the fact that No. 10 recently carried out a so-called culture war on polling on trans people. It is a disgrace to equalities, and is so obvious that the Tories do not care about this brief. Women have suffered 87% of the cuts, and we have seen a 375% rise in hate crime. We cannot allow this kind of hateful and divisive politics to continue to infect the UK. If any Government is in need of a Minister to fight against racism, sexism and homophobia, it is this one.
Mr Speaker, with your commitment to equality, I wonder if you can shed some light on this. Do you know when the Prime Minister will stop passing this vitally important brief around like an inconvenience, and when he will start treating the Women and Equalities brief with the respect that it deserves and appoint a full-time Secretary of State to the brief, and a Department, just as Labour has pledged to do?
The hon. Lady has said what she thought; it is on the record and people can make their own assessment of it. Let me just say that I do regard the portfolio as a matter of the utmost importance, and one of the encouraging phenomena of recent years has been the emergence of an apparent consensus across the House as to the importance of this set of issues. That is precious, and it should be cherished. It would be perilous if it were lost or put at risk. I very much hope that in the very difficult circumstances that we now face, there will be a replacement Minister soon. This is not a matter for me, but I feel very confident that an appointment will be made before very long.
These issues have to be focused on with a relentless tenacity. You cannot just take them for granted or think, “Job done.” Sadly, all too often, we observe people in very, very, very senior positions around the world who do not appear to be adequately conscious—if conscious at all—of the scale of their responsibilities. With power comes responsibility. For example, we do not want to hear and we utterly deprecate the use of language such as “Go back” as a political tool. The Government rightly criticised this; it is unacceptable and it should not be ignored. It has to be called out. We need a focus for these issues, and the existence of a Minister is a part of that focus, mirrored by the Select Committee that scrutinises the Minister’s work. We have an excellent Women and Equalities Committee—it is to the great credit of the Government that they established it—and it is important that it should have a Minister to scrutinise.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am thankful to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on our Front Bench for slightly changing the tone, because I have an actual point of order. I too wish to associate myself with all the comments that have been made. I have been called over the years to criticise you and also to defend you. Had I known what I have found out today about HS2, the latter would have been harder to do. I had no idea that you were against HS2, which will obviously revolutionise the place where I live. Anyway, that is not my point of order.
Mr Speaker, I know because of everything that has been said today that you encourage people like me to stand up and say when we think things are wrong and when we think things can be improved in Parliament. I love Parliament just as you do, and I wish for it to be in its healthiest form so that people can once again trust us, because there is a lack of trust in the country of this place at the moment. I wonder if you could help me to understand, in cases where Members of this House are found, and proven, to have committed what I would call, in certain cases, violence against women and girls —regardless of whether they do it on Parliamentary time or not—or where a Member of this House is in court for crimes that are violent or abusive, what protections we put in place for the vulnerable people who go to see them in their surgeries? When I worked in the voluntary sector, or if I was a teacher, a doctor or a police officer, I would not have been allowed to see the public during a period in which an investigation was ongoing into me and the potential abuse of vulnerable people. I have deep concerns about the safeguarding of the people of our country and about how the laws around vulnerable people do not apply to this place.
I take very seriously what the hon. Lady has said, which bears solemn reflection. Rather than giving some ill-judged response on the hoof, I would prefer to discuss the matter privately with the hon. Lady, which I make the genuine offer in the near future to do.
We do a lot of things much better than we did, but as the leader of the Liberal Democrats pointed out—I nodded vigorously as she made the observation—there is still a lot more to do. I like to view—I say this not least to those are observing our proceedings—the cup as half full, rather than half empty, but there is a fine line between being proud of what has been achieved and being satisfied. Being proud of what has been achieved is very often justified, and we should not rubbish ourselves. Being satisfied is usually a very, very bad idea, because it is the shortest possible route to complacency, for which there is no justification. We need to do better.
I have come to know the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) over the past four years, and I have learned a lot from her. She is one of the most authentic politicians and best communicators that one could hope to meet. Apart from anything else—I hope I carry my colleagues with me in making this observation—she has got guts and character to burn.
The hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) was the loudest, and she also has the biggest smile.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. So many things have been said about you that I hope you will accept that I will make my tributes to you in private. I hope that we can continue to be friends, even though I am a Whip and you have said some rather interesting things about Whips.
I actually wish to make a point of order, which is that I asked the Leader of the House last week to apologise for comparing a whistleblower who felt that it was in the national interest for him to reveal details about the possible impact of a no-deal Brexit on very ill people—I am so sorry for not giving you advance notice of this—with a disgraced former doctor who made up evidence about the MMR immunisation, but he refused to do so. As a result of a decrease in MMR immunisations, herd immunity to measles—a deadly disease—has gone down in this country. The Leader of the House has since apologised in public, but that is of course not on the record. In making my point of order, I hope to put it on record that the Leader of the House has apologised, but I seek your guidance on whether he can be asked to come to this House to put on the record, with equal measure, his apology for what he said about a distinguished man to whom we should be grateful.
The hon. Lady has made her point with vigour and alacrity, and it is on the record. If she wants to obtain, almost in real time, an electronic copy of what she said and to deliver it to the office of the Leader of the House, she may well elicit a response. The Leader of the House of Commons, the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), is somebody I have known for a very long time. I have sometimes agreed with him and sometimes not, but I have found that the right hon. Gentleman, though he has delivered some extremely waspish and widely objected to comments on this occasion, has invariably been widely regarded as courteous. He is a polite man and a gracious person, and his characteristic generosity of spirit could serve him well here. He has apologised outside the House—that is my understanding from the media—and it is perfectly open to him to do so in the Chamber. It is not for the Speaker to instruct him to do so. It is incumbent upon a Member who has erred in this House to correct the record.
This is a matter of opinion, rather than of fact, but if he has apologised outside the House and can be cajoled, exhorted, charmed or persuaded by the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) and me to beetle along to the Chamber to give us a sample of his contrition and humility, who knows? He may well be widely praised.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am very saddened, on behalf of Plaid Cymru, to make this address to you today. We are eternally grateful to you for making a point of ensuring that the various and multifarious voices of this House are heard. There is such a variety, and earlier you mentioned the importance of Members of Parliament and their role. We need to remember in this place that every Member of Parliament is returned in exactly the same way by their constituents. Whichever party we stand and speak for, we are all here equally. I only hope that your successor will follow in your footsteps, because it has meant much to us. Rydan ni’n ddiolchgar i chi o waelod ein calonnau. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you. That was a very beautiful tribute, and I appreciate what the right hon. Lady has said.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It would be remiss of me not to say, on behalf of all the Unionist Members of this House, a huge and hearty Ulster thank you for the work you have done in this House, both in chairing these proceedings and, of course, in your 22 years as a Member of Parliament.
We thank you for your kindness outside the Chamber, as well as inside the Chamber. You have called one Member from Northern Ireland more than anyone else in the whole House—he obviously catches your eye better than the rest of us—and I know my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has already thanked you.
Will you pass on a huge thank you to your staff? You have opened up the facilities of this House to Members of Parliament for charitable groups and for other activities, and your staff have been very obliging in assisting to ensure that issues of importance to them are properly advocated in this House.
Your comments were very Burkean in that you said it is not for us just to give of our industry but of our judgment. Each of us has different judgments on all sorts of matters. You, sir, have been able to respect those judgments, even though, at times, they are very different from the views you hold and, indeed, very different from the views held by other Members of this House.
I know that nationalist Members from Northern Ireland who sat in this House would also like to be recorded publicly as thanking you. Even though nationalists no longer take their seats here, which is a shame, I know those nationalist Members who previously represented their constituents in this House would also like to say a word of thank you for the work you have done as Chairman of these proceedings.
From your many visits to Northern Ireland, I know you have a soft spot for Belfast and for the people there. I am sure you will receive a rousing reception in some places and a less rousing reception in other places, but you will be welcomed back in Belfast.
The one thing that will probably disappoint you most is that you are not the Speaker who will oversee the restoration and renewal of this building. I know that is a personal passion of yours, but maybe as we enter into a new dispensation, free from Europe, we will have a fresh, new Parliament to sit in.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he says but, above all, I am enormously appreciative of his remarks about the team in the Speaker’s Office, to whom I referred. They have been steadfast, unwavering, efficient and magnificent, all of them, and I have worked with many of them for several years in succession—a point of absolutely no interest to the bigoted faction who form their view and do not want any facts to get in the way. They will not write about it. They will scribble their bigoted drivel, because that is what they do. When their grandchildren ask, “What did you do for a living?”, they will say, “Well, I scribbled my bigoted drivel for some downmarket apology for a newspaper.”
Calling it a newspaper is probably a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act, but they will not mind—they are probably very proud. Trashy articles by trashy journalists for trashy newspapers. It goes with the turf. It is downmarket, substandard and low grade. There is no intellectual weight to it, but that is what they do. It will always be about ad hominem attacks, because that is what makes their world go round.
But the fact is that the people who work in my office have been outstanding. I know their worth. We know the strength of our relationship, and the person standing on my left is one of several who have worked with me for many, many years and has worked with me throughout the 10 years I have been in post as Speaker. He was in the office for a decade before. He was educated at the university of life. There is not a pompous bone in his body. He would not know the meaning of the word “snobbery” if it hit him over the head, but he is absolutely brilliant, and I am grateful to him—Peter Barratt.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for being one of the great reforming Speakers; it is you who is trying to take back control for this Parliament, and others should learn from your example. You have also been a great champion of Select Committees, and, as Chair of the Liaison Committee, I would like to thank you for that. You have also been a champion of allowing Back Benchers to hold the powerful to account. That is what my point of order is about now, and it is further to a previous point of order. Not only are NHS staff entitled to raise genuinely held concerns about patient safety, but they have a duty to do so, and they must be able to do this without fear of intimidation or bullying from people in positions of power, including Members of this House. Last week, the Leader of the House made highly offensive comments about Dr David Nicholl. I reiterate: unless the Leader of the House comes to this place to make an apology from the Floor of the House, what message does that send to NHS whistleblowers and what does it mean for patient safety?
I thank the hon. Lady for what she has said. She is an extremely distinguished denizen of the House, both in respect of her constituency work and of her chairing of very important Committees—the Health and Social Care Committee and the Liaison Committee. She speaks with considerable authority and gravitas by virtue of those roles and the reputation she has garnered. I do not want to pick an argument with the Leader of the House—he and I get on extremely well—but points have been made and the hon. Lady has underlined them. If she is dissatisfied, my advice to her is the advice I regularly give to Members wanting to know how they can take a matter forward—the word begins with “p” and ends in “t. My advice is: persist, persist, persist. There is nothing to prevent her from returning to the matter when we come back after the conference recess. On the Conservative Benches, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who is not in this place—I believe he is chairing various Committees this afternoon or attending Committee meetings—taught me decades ago that in politics quantity, persistence and, above all, repetition are at least as important as the quality of your argument. It is not good enough to have a good point and make it once—you have to keep going. If I may say so, at the risk of causing some disquiet on grounds of courtesies, I would suggest to the hon. Lady that she should follow the Churchill adage in pursuit of her cause: KBO—keep buggering on—at all times.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I, of course, associate myself with all the remarks we have heard about your stepping down. I shall not embarrass you by throwing more compliments at you. May I reinforce the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) and the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston, have made? Last week, the Leader of the House was disgraceful and irresponsible in his comments about Dr Nicholl, and he should come to this Chamber to apologise from the Dispatch Box. That would be the courteous thing to do. More importantly, do you agree that if the Government are confident that they have a system to ensure our constituents and patients will get timely access to medicines, they should publish the analysis now, so that we can scrutinise it in this House of Commons in the time we have left?
I feel sure that we will return to both issues erelong, if the hon. Gentleman’s legendary indefatigability does not desert him in the weeks and months ahead—it will not, and therefore we will hear more on those subjects.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Most Members have served under you for a lot longer than I have, but it would be remiss of me not to thank you now for supporting me at a time when my life was in danger. I will not go into the details, but I wanted to thank you for providing me with a lot of protection during a very dark hour in my life. While we are talking about life and death, I also want to thank you for supporting my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe by giving her case a lot of priority in the House, by granting urgent questions and allowing debates to come forward. Most importantly, you went to see Richard Ratcliffe when he was on hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy, and you also saved his life at the time. Throughout your career you have looked after Parliament and democracy, but along the way you have also saved lots of lives, which people might not know about.
I appreciate what the hon. Lady has said. I had not met Richard Ratcliffe before. Visiting him and spending a little time with him was an honour, as anyone who has met him will know. He is a quite remarkable human being. The sooner that Nazanin is freed so that she can be reunited with her daughter, husband and wider family, so much the better. It is intolerable beyond words that she has been denied her freedom by an act of dictatorial barbarity. We will go on and on about this for as long as it takes for humanity to prevail over barbarism. It would be good if this message was repeated much more widely, and not just in this place by conscientious politicians but in parts of the media that, frankly, are not terribly interested—it is about time, if they have any sort of moral compass, that they took an interest.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I thank you for all that you have done to give us the opportunity to hold to account not only our own Government but other Governments, in respect to human rights violations and standing up for democracy? One example is when you agreed, at the request of the then Leader of the House and mother of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), to host the Women MPs of the World conference in this House. We heard incredibly moving contributions from women who have risked their lives and lost family members in order to stand up as parliamentarians in their countries. The power of this House to do good, and not only in this country but around the world, remains undimmed, despite and notwithstanding our current difficulties. It is important that we remember that this House, at its best, is a source of inspiration around the world, and that is in no small part thanks to all that you have done. Thank you, Mr Speaker. We will miss you, and we wish you the warmest regards for the future.
I think that the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) has done huge and invaluable work on this front. She knows the issues and she feels them. She is, of course, as the hon. Lady knows, a stellar progressive change maker, and she has charted that course since she entered the House on 28 October 1982—she came into the House as a very young woman indeed, and she will mark 37 years in the House next month. If I know the right hon. and learned Lady, she will keep pursuing these issues, in whatever capacity, because they reflect her humanity and her attachment to principle, the rights of the underdog and the cause of equality. She, like the hon. Lady, came into politics for all the right reasons.
I know that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) will be very proud of what I have just said about his wife, and he is looking even happier than he otherwise would. I will come to him, but it would be a pity to squander him at too early a stage of our proceedings when we have only been going for an hour and a quarter or so, so I will come to him momentarily.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for breaking one of your own rules—perhaps not a written one—as I have only just come into the Chamber, as you noticed. I want to apologise and explain that I was off the parliamentary estate. I had not known that you were about to make a statement, but as soon as I heard, I came back as fast as I could.
I want to thank you very seriously for your incredibly strong sense of fairness. As an MP from a party of just one in this place, it is very easy to feel somewhat marginalised from time to time, and I have so much gratitude for you that you have always included the Green party, recognising that I may be only one in here, but I represent a party out there. I thank you for your incredibly strong sense of fairness and justice and thank you for your reforming zeal in this place. We still have a long way to go, but thanks to you, we are a long way down that path.
The hon. Lady may recall that she once asked me if it would be all right if she included on the dust jacket of a book she was about to publish a tribute that I had paid her. I said to her that I was more than delighted for her to use that tribute on the dust jacket. My rationale was very simple: I had said what I said in public. I said it because I meant it, and I meant it so I said it, and, having meant it and said it, I was more than happy for it to be reproduced. I rather trust that that will continue to be at the hon. Lady’s pleasure. She is a superb parliamentarian and I think that that is recognised across the House. Without a vast infrastructure to support her, she is indefatigable, irrepressible and astonishing in her productivity and in the sheer range of her political interests. She is a fine parliamentarian. Also, because she is the only member of her party at the moment in this House, she is in the happy position of being leader and Chief Whip of her own party and, I think, of invariably agreeing with herself.
I thank colleagues. I know that we have taken a long time, but finally, we have time—frankly, we would have more time if we were not disappearing for a rather excessive period—for Jack Dromey.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I echo the tributes that have been paid to you? You are one of history’s finest Speakers with a lasting legacy, and dare I say that, in addition to everything else that has been said, you are one plain, decent man of immense integrity?
I rise on another matter: the truly right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) is leaving this House, because she has suffered shameful harassment and intimidation, including threats against her personal safety and the safety of her staff. Yet, Mr Speaker, there seems to be in this House those who are oblivious to the consequences of their actions. They use language that scars the public discourse—toxic talk of “traitors”, “collaborators”, “conspirators” and “surrender”—that demeans democracy, that fans the flames of hate and hate crime and that puts the public and Members of this House at risk. Women in particular often suffer shameful treatment. Is it in order in our great Parliament for language—hateful language—ever to be used that can then have tragic consequences, as recent history has told us?
There is a fine balance that has to be observed. Free speech is important, and one does not want to suppress the right of Members to hold and express, with considerable force and sometimes ill judgment, opinions very sincerely believed. But each and every one of us has in this place to weigh his or her words and to understand that we are in leadership positions. Words count. Words matter. Words make a difference. Words can cause great personal hurt and also be the trigger for actions by others.
I have become increasingly conscious in recent times—from Members on both sides of the House—of the escalation in hostile communications to Members and sometimes to their families. I underline that we have to call out unacceptable behaviour, including the issue of language that can induce threats or that constitutes a threat in its own right. We have to recognise also that there are some people who are so deprived of a moral compass that they think that, because they believe a particular thing strongly about a Member, that somehow justifies them subjecting that Member and his or her family to vituperation, abuse, intimidation or worse. It does not. It cannot. It will not.
I remember being shocked when the Leader of the House of Commons was faced by aggressive demonstrations outside his home, with people saying to his family, “A lot of people disapprove of your dad.” That could have been deeply frightening to family members and young children. Other Members, on both sides of the House, have also highlighted their experiences or the experiences of their family, or of their constituency or parliamentary staff; and up with this we cannot put. We simply have to say that it is wrong as a matter of principle and that if we need to do more and better, including the investment of greater resources and an improved mindset within the police service and the House authorities, we will do that. I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) will forgive me if I say that I have done my best but not enough and that more will need to be done in the period ahead. Some of the responsibility for leadership on that front will lie with the next Speaker.
It would be a good thing also if those who constantly prate about their rights to free speech—to publish or be damned, and say exactly what they think—were to ask themselves, “Is what we are about to produce likely to spark intimidation, harassment or violence?” and if those who put up pictures of parliamentarians on the front pages as though they are somehow public enemies because they have dared to hold and express a view that differs from that of the newspaper concerned started to realise just how desperately dangerous that is and to exercise a modicum of responsibility. Those people have got to learn to operate at the level of events. Thank you, colleagues.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Kew Gardens (Leases) Act 2019
European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019.
Prorogation (Disclosure of Communications)
Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
I know that the House will join me in empathising with and showering congratulations for his forbearance upon the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who has been so patiently waiting for his opportunity. I now call the right hon. and learned Gentleman to make an application for leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration under the terms of Standing Order No. 24. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has up to three minutes in which to make his application.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I hope I may be briefer than that.
The House is about to be prorogued for five weeks. Two weeks after we return is the anticipated date on which we are going to leave the European Union. There is much that is left undebated. In particular, we will not have an opportunity to ask necessary questions of the Government in relation to their own prepared documents under Yellowhammer, which they have prepared for their own use in relation to the risks of a no deal. In addition to that, we will not have the opportunity to ask what I think are the necessary and, unfortunately, searching questions about the Government’s motives in proroguing this House and the potential difference between what they have said in public in this matter and what the evidence suggests is the reality.
For those reasons, I would ask for the opportunity, along with my right hon. and hon. Friends and other Members, to debate this matter under Standing Order No. 24 in the terms set out—I will not read it out here because everybody can have a copy—which include both an opportunity of debate and an Humble Address to enable us to get the documents that otherwise we will have no prospect of seeing before the anticipated date of our departure from the EU. I hope to take the opportunity in a few minutes, if the House agrees, to explain in detail why I think this is necessary. I want to emphasise that in having done an SO24 linked to an Humble Address, I have not taken this matter lightly and certainly not in a partisan way. I will explain exactly why when I have the opportunity of developing those arguments. I think they are very serious issues to which this House must give the closest consideration.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks me to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration under the terms of Standing Order No. 24, namely the matter of prorogation with the imminence of an exit from the European Union. I have received the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s written application. I have listened carefully to what he has said on the Floor of the House. I am satisfied that the matter raised is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman the leave of the House?
Application agreed to (not fewer than 40 Members standing in support).
A very large number of Members are standing in support of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I note that the very, very loud expression of opposition from the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is testament to the existence of more than enough support. Can I just say—well, whether I can or not, I am going to—that I do know what I am doing in these matters. I do know the Standing Orders, and I do listen to the advice? Sometimes you get these pop-up characters who think they understand these matters on the basis of minimal familiarity with the said Standing Orders and presume to say that the rules have been broken. They are entitled to their opinions, but they suffer from the notable disadvantage of being completely wrong. I know what the rules are and what they allow, and this is absolutely in keeping with the Standing Orders. If there are people who do not like the subject matter and would prefer it not to be aired and judge that it is inconvenient, they are perfectly entitled to their view, but it has nothing to do with the procedural propriety—[Interruption.] Do not tell me, young man, from a sedentary position what I can and cannot say. If the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade is not interested, he can leave the Chamber. I am not remotely interested in your pettifogging objection chuntered inelegantly from a sedentary position. The position is as I have described it, and quite frankly, young man, you can like it or lump it. People will understand that, as far as the Speaker is concerned, his job is to stand up for the rights of the legislature. I never have been, am not and never will be in the business of being bossed around by some footling member of the Executive branch.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has obtained the leave of the House. The debate will be held now, as the first item of public business. The debate will last for two hours, and it will arise on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter set out in his application.
European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 (Rule of Law)
Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
Before we come to the debate proposed by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), I call the Leader of the Opposition to make an application for leave to propose a debate on another specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration under the terms of Standing Order No. 24. The right hon. Gentleman has up to three minutes in which to make such an application.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will be brief, because the whole House wants to get on to the important debate that you have just agreed to. I want to ask for a very urgent debate on what I consider to be a matter of overriding importance and seriousness. The motion reads:
“That this House has considered the welcome completion of all parliamentary stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act and has considered the matter of the importance of the rule of law and Ministers’ obligation to comply with the law.”
I welcome the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act, which has just received Royal Assent. However, there is deep concern not just across the House but across the whole country at the Government’s commitment to abide by the obligations set out in that Act and the outright statements in some quarters that they will disregard or seek to evade the law that has just received Royal Assent and therefore is an Act of Parliament. I am therefore asking you to grant an urgent debate under Standing Order No. 24, on behalf of the people of this country who want to live in a democratic society where the Government abide by the rule of law, on whether the Prime Minister will obey the law that this House has just passed into law.
The right hon. Gentleman asks for leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration: the welcome completion of all parliamentary stages of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill—sometimes colloquially known, probably in the pubs and clubs of the United Kingdom, as the Benn-Letwin Bill—and has considered the matter of the importance of the rule of law and Ministers’ obligation to comply with the law.
I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman’s application. Adherence to the law—goodness! Yes, I am satisfied that the matter raised on the last day before the Prorogation of this Parliament is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. Has the right hon. Gentleman the leave of the House?
Application agreed to (not fewer than 40 Members standing in support).
I thank colleagues on both sides of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has obtained the leave of the House. I advise the Leader of the Opposition, his colleagues and the House that the debate will be held today as the second item of public business, immediately after the first SO24 debate in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield. The Leader of the Opposition’s debate will last for up to 90 minutes and will arise on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter set out in his application.
Prorogation (Disclosure of Communications)
Emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
We now come to the motion in the name of Mr Dominic Grieve and others, to be moved under Standing Order No. 24. I remind the House that a paper with the terms of the motion has been distributed.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of prorogation with the imminence of an exit from the European Union and accordingly resolves—
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that she will be graciously pleased to direct Ministers to lay before this House, not later than 11.00pm Wednesday 11 September, all correspondence and other communications (whether formal or informal, in both written and electronic form, including but not limited to messaging services including WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, Facebook messenger, private email accounts both encrypted and unencrypted, text messaging and iMessage and the use of both official and personal mobile phones) to, from or within the present administration, since 23 July 2019 relating to the prorogation of Parliament sent or received by one or more of the following individuals: Hugh Bennett, Simon Burton, Dominic Cummings, Nikki da Costa, Tom Irven, Sir Roy Stone, Christopher James, Lee Cain or Beatrice Timpson; and that Ministers be further directed to lay before this House no later than 11.00pm Wednesday 11 September all the documents prepared within Her Majesty's Government since 23 July 2019 relating to operation Yellowhammer and submitted to the Cabinet or a Cabinet Committee.
I am sorry to have to move this motion, because it ought not to be necessary to do so.
When I was Attorney General, a lot of the work I had to do involved advising on law, but from time to time quite a lot of it was to do with propriety in government. We are very blessed in this country that, as well as obeying the rule of law, there is within government a deep understanding that if our constitution, which is largely unwritten, is to function, there has to be a high level of trust between different parts of government—whether it be Parliament or the Administration—in how our affairs are conducted. I am glad to say that, in my experience, if and when I ever had to step in as Attorney General to point out that I thought propriety might be in danger of being infringed, I always had a positive response from my colleagues in government about the necessity at all times to be seen to be acting with clean hands.
On that point, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman is successful and the Government are obliged to supply these papers, is he confident that the current Prime Minister and the Executive will do so?
Seeing that this would be a Humble Address to Her Majesty the Queen for the documents, I very much hope that there could be no question other than that they will be provided, because it is the custom and practice and the convention that such Humble Addresses are responded to positively by the Government.
The reason why we have these rules is to manage difference. They provide a framework for our debates that—because, as I say, there is a high level of trust— enables us to manage sometimes serious difference, such as we undoubtedly have at the moment, in a moderate fashion. We are able sometimes to say strong words to each other, but to come together afterwards with a high level of appreciation of the other’s point of view and an absolute certainty that one side is not trying to trick the other. My concern is that there is now increasing and compelling evidence that this trust is breaking down and, indeed, that there is cause to be concerned that the conventions are not being maintained.
This of course arises particularly because of the decision to prorogue this House. I do not think I need to go into too much history to point out that, in recent years, the power of Prorogation has been used for only two reasons. The first is to have the short interval, usually of no more than seven or eight days, between one Session and the next, so that a Queen’s Speech may take place. It has also been used at times to extend time for a general election in order to maintain a power by which this House could be recalled in an emergency before it is finally dissolved. The use being made of it by the Government in proroguing this House until 14 October is, in current times, unprecedented. It is a long period, and all the more startling because it takes place against the background of what is without doubt—it is a bit difficult to gainsay it—a growing national crisis.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that what makes this particularly important is that it was open to the Government to move a periodic Adjournment—or, as we normally call it, a sittings motion—which could have been approved by the House to achieve the same effect? However, the Government chose to use the prerogative power, which in effect enables the Prime Minister to advise the Queen to remove Parliament from the scene of action. It is therefore obviously of the greatest possible importance what the Government’s motive in so doing was, and the papers he describes will reveal that motive in a way nothing else can.
My right hon. Friend is right on both points, and I shall move on in a moment to develop in a bit more detail the issue of the documents.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
I will if the hon. Lady will wait just one moment.
The justification that the Government have given for this length of Prorogation is that we were due to adjourn for the purposes of party conferences and to return shortly before the date the Government have chosen, but everybody in this House knows that the nature of the crisis that has been engulfing us in the last two months meant that it was clear the House would not consent to be adjourned because it regarded its continuing sitting as being absolutely essential. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister knew this very well. Furthermore, it appeared—certainly at the time when he stood for the leadership of the Conservative party and was about to become Prime Minister—that although suggestions had been made about proroguing the House to facilitate achieving a no-deal Brexit, he apparently did not approve of them. Indeed, he said publicly during his leadership bid:
“I’m not attracted to archaic devices like proroguing.”
That is where the trust comes in. As news emerged of the decision to prorogue, it rapidly became clear that the Government did not appear to be giving a consistent account of their reasons. As the act of proroguing has led to litigation, it has then followed that some, but not all, of the motives for Prorogation began to emerge. We have seen that although on 23 August this year No. 10 Downing Street and the Prime Minister denied considering the idea of proroguing at all, in fact, internal Government documents reveal that this matter was under consideration some 10 days before. Indeed, there is a rather remarkable memorandum from the Prime Minister himself in which he expresses total contentment with this because he finds the September sitting to be an unnecessary and rather contemptible activity. It is perhaps rather typical of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that he gets something wrong—as we now know, he suggests that the September sitting is the product of the work of one of his predecessors, Mr David Cameron, whereas it was Mr Tony Blair who introduced it. It is rather noteworthy that when we found what was under the redaction, it turned out he had condemned Mr David Cameron, for his belief in having a September sitting, as a “girly swot”, which I supposed was meant to be contrasted with his manly idleness. That seems to be his established practice when it comes to confronting the crisis that threatens to engulf us on 31 October if he cannot get the deal that he promises he is going to achieve, but which it now appears from the resignation statement of the previous Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that he has done absolutely no work even to commence negotiating.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way to this girly swot. Does he agree that democracy requires a certain commitment to the truth; that to date there has been a reasonable expectation that when asked questions the Government will not actively lie and will tell the truth; and that the loosening of the current Administration’s moorings from a commitment to tell the truth is a direct threat to democracy?
The hon. Lady is right. That is what concerns me so much, and I think the House collectively ought to pause and consider it this evening. She will be aware that the next thing that emerged—I shall come back to the issue of it being just rumour—in the litigation that was brought against the Government was a desire to set out the reasons why Prorogation was being pursued. When the Treasury Solicitor’s Department, as it would properly do in conducting litigation, sought to find a public official willing to depose in affidavit as to why the Government had decided to prorogue—and I might add, asked Her Majesty the Queen to prorogue Parliament, one must assume—no such official willing to swear the affidavit could be found. As a consequence, a number of documents were simply exhibited by the Treasury Solicitor for the Government’s case.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall any instance, when he was Attorney General, of being unable to find public officials willing to swear affidavits about the Government’s case?
No, I can think of no such event. Indeed, it is the Treasury Solicitor’s Department and the Law Officers’ job to make sure that anything the Government say in litigation fulfils their duty of candour and is not misleading.
Then a most remarkable thing happened, Mr Speaker, and this is where it becomes more difficult for me. In the course of the days that followed I started to be given information from public officials informing me that they believed the handling of this matter smacked of scandal—there is no other way to describe it. Of course, that places me in a difficulty, because it is simply the information that I have been given. I want to make absolutely clear that I am not in a position—any more, I think, than any Member of this House—to be able to ascertain whether that information is mistaken. I can only say that I believe those sources to be reliable. Also, in my experience it is extraordinarily unusual that I should get such approaches, with individuals expressing their disquiet about the handling of a matter and some of the underlying issues to which it could give rise.
It is as a consequence of that that I have drafted, along with right hon. and hon. Friends and other Members, the Humble Address concerning the Prorogation documents. I want to emphasise at the outset that in doing so and identifying named individuals, whether they be special advisers, who make up the vast majority, or one in case a civil servant, I am making absolutely no imputation against any single one of them whatever. It would be disgraceful to do so, because I do not have the evidence on which to do it.
My right hon. and learned Friend and I have worked together, originally as master and pupil and then as Attorney General and civil servant. We have a great deal of history in this matter. Does he agree that there are civil service mechanisms and systems for guiding the behaviour of civil servants, and that these matters are ideally best not discussed in the manner in which we are discussing them this afternoon?
My hon. Friend is right about our long association. She is also right, of course, having worked in the Treasury Solicitor’s Department, where I am quite sure she maintained at all times the highest standards of integrity. The difficulty, however, is this: 31 October is looming. We are, as a House, about to be prorogued and rendered entirely ineffective until 14 October. This is the choice of the Government. The routes I might have wished to have taken to see this matter properly investigated simply do not match the time available for us to take them. As trust has progressively broken down, I am afraid I have become increasingly concerned that if one were simply to ask polite questions, the Government may not respond in the manner they should.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House whether he intends to put on the record any of the details of the information he says he received? The worry is that if he does not and the Government simply ignore his Humble Address, we will never know its contents. The implication of what he is saying is really very serious—that the Queen was misled by the Prime Minister as to his reasons for wanting a Prorogation.
The right hon. Gentleman raises some very difficult points. The best thing I can do is simply to state openly the generality of it. He is, I think, correct in what he says: far from this Prorogation being a desire to reset the Government for the purposes of holding a Queen’s Speech, and nothing else, there is available plenty of evidence that what actually happened was a concerted get-together within Government to try to ensure that this House would be prevented from taking action to stop a no-deal Brexit, and that the origins of that long predated the first time the Government mentioned Prorogation. That is, in a nutshell, what we are talking about.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, I have been in this House for 40 years. I have never heard of a more serious allegation against a Government: misleading this House and stopping it functioning. Would he agree?
I would, but I also emphasise—and that is why I emphasise it—that these are allegations, and in an ideal world, I would have preferred not to make allegations, even within the context of the privilege that this House provides. However, in the circumstances, and with the time available before 31 October and the fact that we are proroguing, there really is no alternative.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?
No, I will make a bit of progress.
What I have attempted to do, distilling the information that has been made available, is to identify people where I think the information may be available. I repeat what I said: I make no imputation whatsoever against individuals. We could have tried to be much broader, but had we been much broader, it might have looked a bit like a fishing expedition throughout Government. It seems only right to ask the questions where we have been directed —by the information that I and others have received—that the answers may be found, hence the list of individuals I have named. I say again that there is not a single imputation against any of them. What is necessary is to establish the information that they possess.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way; we have been friends for his entire time in this House. Having been a Minister himself, is he not worried about the collateral damage that this Humble Address is creating? It is important that civil servants have space—a safe space—to speak truth to power, and I think that by his actions today, he is damaging the civil service’s ability to communicate and discuss matters freely with Ministers. Does he not see the damage that he is doing?
I understand my right hon. Friend’s point. That was a matter that exercised me very much before I decided to table this motion, but against that, we have to face up to another fact: those necessary protections for civil servants cannot and must not be used as a device to hoodwink this House and the public as to the way the Government conduct their business. The Government have a duty. They can sometimes have a duty not to say something, but they certainly do not have a right to mislead, and this is such a fundamental matter that I think we are right to pursue the issue. Of course, if it turns out that the information I was given was mistaken, well, in those circumstances, I shall be the happiest person of the lot, but I have to say that I think it is sufficiently serious in its nature and content that I would be failing in my duty as a Member of Parliament if we were not to seek to ascertain whether it was correct.
Surely all that matters is what was in the Prime Minister’s mind—his reasons for making the decision—and we cannot work that out from the personal testimonies of lots of officials, some of whom met the Prime Minister about this and some of whom did not. The question is what was in the Prime Minister’s mind, and the House has had ample opportunity, which it has already used, to cross-examine him and to satisfy itself as to his true motive. I do not see how knowing what some officials thought helps at all.
If I may say to my right hon. Friend, last week, at Prime Minister’s questions, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Gauke) and I asked questions of the Prime Minister seeking to elicit an answer about his motive and state of knowledge, and I was rather struck by the fact that he avoided answering both questions completely. He made not a single attempt—my right hon. Friend should look at Hansard—to answer the question. I am afraid I do not have much confidence that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has the capacity—frankly—to answer questions of this kind, because he does not appear to understand how serious they are and appears to treat them with a high level of flippancy.
Prorogation this evening will deny the Liaison Committee a three-hour session with the Prime Minister this Wednesday—a session the Prime Minister agreed to on 14 August.
Yes, indeed, and of course that might have provided another opportunity to ask questions.
I appreciate that this House can sometimes be difficult and irksome to Prime Ministers and Governments, but that is our job. We are here precisely to provide scrutiny and to hold to account. For those reasons, I do not think it would be unreasonable of us to proceed to ask for these documents. I believe and hope that this has been drafted in a way that is sufficiently focused that we can come swiftly to a conclusion by Wednesday as to whether there is anything that should be causing the public disquiet.
My right hon. and learned Friend has named nine individuals. He could have asked for the Cabinet Secretary and permanent secretaries, but these names appear very arbitrary. I know one of them and I think she was appointed only a week or 10 days ago. What were his criteria for choosing these nine individuals?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. There was a time at the end of last week when the list was rather long and included—I will say this openly—senior civil servants, but I was reticent about that and felt as a result of inquiries I made that the list could best be narrowed. It was made quite clear from the information I gleaned that the origins of the story of how Prorogation came about lay not with public officials but with the special advisers to Ministers. For that reason, the list is as well directed as I believe it can be.
That is the issue surrounding Prorogation. In addition, we have the papers surrounding Yellowhammer. The House will remember that the Government sought to suggest when the Yellowhammer papers first started to emerge—some of them—that this was material prepared for a previous Administration, but that turns out to be incorrect and to be another of those little inaccuracies that now seem to creep out of No. 10 Downing Street. It was material prepared for the current Administration and Cabinet committees so that they could understand the risks involved in a no-deal Brexit.
We will be prevented over the coming weeks from debating those issues, and when we return we will have almost no time. I fear very much that by the time the Queen’s Speech debate is over we will be mired in a great crisis that I would much rather see avoided. It seems entirely reasonable, therefore, to ask the Government to disclose these documents, both so the House can understand the risks involved and so that these can in due course be communicated more widely to the public. Of course, if the documents suggest that no risks are involved, that too will be in need of communication.
There are few in the House who have the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s knowledge of its conventions and protocols, except, perhaps, you, Mr Speaker. Certainly, my constituents do not follow the differences between Prorogation, recess, Queen’s Speech requirements and so forth. However, they do know that my title is “Member of Parliament”, which implies where I should be—in Parliament. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that at this time of constitutional crisis my constituents expect us to be sitting in Parliament, and expect it not to be shut down? Does he agree that the question of why we are being prorogued goes to the heart of the credibility of me as a Member of Parliament and the credibility of the House in its entirety, and does he agree that, for that reason, the public interest is absolutely involved?
I agree wholeheartedly, and I do worry, because this prorogation is, to my mind, a most regrettable event. It will prevent the House from giving proper scrutiny to what is, as I have said, an evolving situation that has critical importance to the future of our country.
I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend has had a chance to look at the transcript of the evidence that I supplied to the Exiting the European Union Committee last week. In my evidence I gave some undertakings about publications related to Yellowhammer. If carried out, would those assurances be sufficient for my right hon. and learned Friend?
I rather hope that the assurances and the terms of the motion would prove to be entirely identical. I see no reason why not, and such documents that have been revealed so far do not suggest to me that they contain any material that touches on essential issues of national security. It is entirely about the day-to-day life of this country in the immediate aftermath of departure. Of course, if there were national security implications, I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be able to raise them and they could be dealt with.
I hope that before this debate concludes my right hon. and learned Friend will have an opportunity to look at the evidence submitted to the Select Committee, and I hope that, on that basis, he will be able to take those assurances as appropriate. I should be very grateful for his indication that he would do so.
If I may say this to my right hon. Friend, I think not. I think that the terms of the motion cannot be abandoned unless the House wishes to abandon them. I cannot believe, on the basis of what he so graciously said to the House a moment ago, that the terms of the motion will be significantly dissimilar. In those circumstances, I very much hope that we will get the documentation relating to Yellowhammer, in the way in which it was presented to him and his colleagues, on the basis of which they are taking the decisions that they are taking, which are of great importance to the future of our country, its wellbeing, and the wellbeing of every citizen.
May I pursue the point about the evidence presented by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to the Select Committee last Thursday? I did indeed ask him whether he would publish the report on Operation Yellowhammer. For the benefit of the House, this is what he said in response:
“What I hope to do is more than that. What I would like to do is to make sure that we have Yellowhammer, once we have done the proper revision and the kicking of the tyres, alongside a publication that details the actions that the Government has taken to inform people of the consequences and allows people to see the mitigations that we have put in place, so people can make a proper judgment about the changes they need to make”.
That, I think, is a full quotation. On that basis, it would seem to me that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would have no difficulty whatsoever with that part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s Standing Order 24 motion.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If I may say so, had the House more time I would not have tabled that part of the motion. We could have waited, sensibly, to see that the House will be gone by midnight tonight—or shortly thereafter, depending on how long our proceedings continue—and we will not be back until 14 October. At that stage, because of the way in which the House starts a new Session, the opportunities will not necessarily be there in quite the same way, and I suggest to the House that 14 October is far too close to 31 October for us to be able to accept that. Of course, if we do not vote for this motion in this form we will have no leverage over the Government should, for example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) suddenly find that he is overridden by No. 10 advisers and the Prime Minister, who decide that they want to delay a little bit and that these papers might come later on. As I have said, the great difficulty that we now have in this House—and, I must say with great regret, that I have—is this terrible, compelling sense that trust is eroding.
That brings me to my final remark—
I wish to conclude. Unless a Member has something very special to say, I would like to get this done.
I give way.
I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He has had all sorts of emollient assurances from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but the Daily Mail is reporting right now that:
“Downing Street not in any mood to bow to Grieve’s demands…No. 10 source: ‘Under no circumstances will No. 10 staff comply with Grieve’s demands regardless of any votes in Parliament.’”
If the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster intervenes on the right hon. and learned Gentleman again he can be pressed to assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he will not see Parliament treated with such contempt.
I am afraid this classically illustrates the problem that we now have: these extraordinary utterances —pronouncements—from No. 10 Downing Street that bear absolutely no relationship with the operation and conventions of our constitution. It is impossible to know whether they are froth, whether they are Mr Cummings’s thoughts, or whether in fact they represent some settled policy view of Government, in which case this country is facing, frankly, a revolutionary situation in which this House has to exercise the utmost vigilance to ensure that our rights and privileges are not simply trampled upon.
I am very mindful of the fact that in this current crisis we are a divided country and a divided House, which pains me very much. I would like to work, even with those with whom I disagree such as some of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, to try to get this matter resolved in a way that is compatible with healing some of the divisions in our country, but that simply is not going to happen if the atmosphere of confrontation keeps being ratcheted up, slowly undermining the institutions that are the only props of legitimacy—that is the truth, for all of us—and in which everybody is happy to go into greenhouses and chuck bricks all over the place but expect the structure to provide some shelter afterwards.
I have been listening with great care to my right hon. and learned Friend’s observations and part of his draft Humble Address troubles me. What legal right do the Government have to require their employees to give up private email accounts and personal mobile numbers? If there is no legal right—I imagine he would contend that there is not—how on earth would the Government enforce the Humble Address if they desired to do so?