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Departure of Previous Home Secretary

Volume 720: debated on Thursday 20 October 2022

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) resigned yesterday, following a contravention of the ministerial code relating to a breach of Cabinet confidentiality and the rules relating to the security of Government business. The Prime Minister has made clear the importance of maintaining high standards in public life, and her expectation that Ministers should uphold those standards, as set out in the ministerial code. All Ministers are personally responsible for deciding how to act and conduct themselves in the light of the code, and for justifying their actions and conduct to Parliament and the public. However, Ministers remain in office only so long as they retain the confidence of the Prime Minister. She is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a Minister, and the appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards. My right hon. and learned Friend has explained her decision to resign, and to be clear, the information that was circulated was subject to Cabinet confidentiality and under live discussion within the Government. In the light of that, it would not be appropriate to discuss the specifics of the matter further in the House, but the Prime Minister is clear that the security of Government business is paramount, as is Cabinet responsibility.

The Prime Minister paid tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend’s service as Home Secretary, noting that her time in office was marked by a

“steadfast commitment to keeping the British people safe”

and overseeing the

“largest ever ceremonial policing operation, when thousands of officers were deployed from forces across the United Kingdom to ensure the safety of the royal family and all those who gathered in mourning for Her Late Majesty The Queen.”

The Prime Minister, having accepted my right hon. and learned Friend’s resignation, acted decisively to appoint my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) as Home Secretary yesterday afternoon. I hold the new Home Secretary in the highest regard and note that he is already getting on with the job, keeping the people of the country safe.

I notice that the Home Secretary is not in his place this morning, unless the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith), has been appointed Home Secretary in the last few hours. To be honest, nothing would surprise us at the moment, because this is total chaos. We have a third Home Secretary in seven weeks. The Cabinet was appointed only six weeks ago, but the Home Secretary was sacked, the Chancellor was sacked and the Chief Whip was sacked and then unsacked. We then had the unedifying scenes last night of Conservative MPs fighting like rats in a sack. This is a disgrace.

The former Home Secretary circulated a letter, and that seems to contradict what the Minister said. She said that the document was

“a draft Written Ministerial Statement…due for publication imminently”

that had already been briefed to MPs. Is that not true? Will he explain the answer to that? At what time did the former Home Secretary inform the Cabinet Secretary of the breach? Has a check been made of whether she sent other documents through personal emails, putting security at risk? Was there a 90-minute row about policy between the Prime Minister and the former Home Secretary? Given the huge disagreements we have seen in the last few weeks between the Prime Minister and the former Home Secretary on drugs policy, Rwanda, the India trade deal, seasonal agriculture, small boats—and with a bit of tofu thrown in over the lettuce for good measure—is anything about home affairs agreed on in the Cabinet?

What we know is that the former Home Secretary has been running her ongoing leadership campaign while the current one is too busy to come to the House because he is doing his spreadsheets on the numbers for whoever he is backing to come next. But who is taking decisions on our national security? It is not the Prime Minister, nor the past or current Home Secretaries. Borders, security and policing are too important for that instability, just as people’s livelihoods are too important for the economic instability that the Conservative party has created. It is not fair on people. To quote the former Home Secretary, this is indeed a total “coalition of chaos”. Why should the country have to put up with this for a single extra day?

I am sure that the right hon. Member is aware that breaches of the ministerial code are a matter for the Cabinet Office, not the Home Office, and that is why I, not the Home Secretary, am here to answer the urgent question. The Prime Minister took advice from the Cabinet Secretary, as we saw from her letter, and she is clear that it is important that the ministerial code is upheld and Cabinet responsibility is respected. The Prime Minister expects Ministers to uphold the highest standards. We have seen her act consistently in that regard.

These were breaches of the code. The Prime Minister expects her Ministers to uphold the ministerial code, as the public also rightly expect, and she took the requisite advice from the Cabinet Secretary before taking the decision.

I am mindful that it is not usual policy to comment in detail on such matters, but, if some background would be helpful—I appreciate that much of this is already in the public domain—the documents in question contained draft Government policy, which remained subject to Cabinet Committee agreement. Having such documents on a personal email account and sharing them outside of Government constituted clear breaches of the code—under sections 2.14 and 2.3, if that is helpful to look at. The Prime Minister is clear that the security of Government business is paramount, as is Cabinet responsibility, and Ministers must be held to the highest standards.

Can the Minister assure us that the resignation was entirely due to a technical breach of the rules and that there was no policy disagreement between the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary? Many of us had great confidence in the former Home Secretary’s determination to ensure that we meet our manifesto commitments and that we should not replace mass migration from Europe with mass migration from the rest of the world. Can the Minister assure us that the policy remains exactly the same as it was under the previous Home Secretary and that we will stop mass migration? [Interruption.]

Order. We cannot have conversations between Back Benchers and officials in the Box. [Interruption.] I know but, please, it is very distracting. Can we just make sure that it does not happen?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I can reassure him that this Government stand firm in tackling illegal immigration. Again, this is not my policy area, but I am sure the new Home Secretary will highlight that. I also reassure my right hon. Friend that he will have seen the resignation letter from the former Home Secretary where she outlines her reasons and that this was for a breach of the ministerial code, which is why she took the decision to resign.

Let us be clear: the idea that this Conservative Government are suddenly avid followers of the ministerial code is for the birds. What was the real reason for the Home Secretary’s abrupt departure? Was it the case that she refused to implement immigration policies that were aimed at hitting high growth targets due to her dogmatic views? Speaking of dogmatic views, she and her predecessor, the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), both supported the dangerous and immoral Rwanda policy, flying in the face of their own officials’ advice about the human rights implications. Will the Minister confirm that the old Home Secretary’s departure marks the end of that abhorrent policy? Will it be consigned to the scrap heap where it belongs? I will just end by quoting Colin Yeo, a prominent immigration lawyer noted for his comprehensive analysis of home affairs matters. Today, he posted an assessment called “Braverman’s legacy as Home Secretary”. It simply says:

“Suella Braverman was Home Secretary for 43 days.”

Does the Minister have anything to add to that?

I will not pre-empt Government policy. Work on looking at immigration as part of the growth plan is ongoing, but it would not be right for me to speculate on private discussions. That is a matter for decision by the Cabinet. We are here to discuss breaches of the ministerial code and the reasons for the Home Secretary’s resignation.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), makes a really good point: my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith) would make an excellent Home Secretary. [Laughter.] But that is another conversation. I am sad to see the previous Home Secretary leave. We had a conversation last week about small boats, the European Court of Human Rights and the excellent Rwanda scheme. But I am not convinced, so please convince me Minister, that the Cabinet, the Government and No. 10 were totally behind the previous Home Secretary.

I thank my hon. Friend, who is ever the champion of secure borders and will no doubt continue to push that case. The Government have shown that we are committed to tackling illegal immigration and the criminal acts going on in the channel. Again, while I would not want to pre-empt the policies of the new Home Secretary, I am sure that when he next comes to the House, he will be able to give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks.

No Home Secretary, no Chief Whip, no Deputy Chief Whip—this truly is a hokey-cokey Cabinet, isn’t it? In and out! What I want to ask the Minister directly is this: there is a world of difference between security and embarrassment for the Government, so can he tell us the security classification of the documents he is referring to? And can he tell us whether any other Ministers are using personal email accounts to conduct Government business?

That is not information I am privy to and nor should it necessarily be in the public domain. It has been made very clear, from the statement at the start, that we are dealing with sensitive Government matters. It is important that sensitive Government documents are kept sensitive, and that is the reason the Home Secretary tendered her resignation. She recognises that the ministerial code was breached and that is why, as outlined in her letter, she resigned.

For the avoidance of doubt, will the Minister outline the Government’s current policy on immigration, and will he tell the House whether it is under review at the moment?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I refer him to the previous answers given. Again, it is not for me to discuss policy today as much as it is to discuss the reasons for the resignation of the Home Secretary. However, I am sure that the new Home Secretary will come to the House at a future date to discuss that in line with the growth plan and our commitments to tackle immigration.

The fact that someone who defended Dominic Cummings and expressed her intent to break international law ever became our Home Secretary shows how broken the Government are under the Tories, but having a new Home Secretary does not solve the problem. This Government are gridlocked, endlessly U-turning and completely failing the public. Is it not clear that it is only through a general election that we can again bring stability and security to our country?

Again, I remind the hon. Lady that we do not live in a presidential system and, of course, that it is up to the Government to command the confidence of the House, which is the case. It has been made very clear that we will not be having a general election, but that is not the business for the House this morning. We are here to discuss the resignation of the Home Secretary, and I think we should stick to that, Mr Speaker, rather than trying to diverge into other areas.

My constituents were informed yesterday that 200 economic migrants will be accommodated in a hotel in Ipswich town centre, at great cost to the taxpayer, putting pressure on local public services and also putting local jobs at risk. Will the Minister confirm to me that the new Home Secretary will prioritise the unsustainable practice of accommodating illegal immigrants in hotels and throw support behind things like the Rwanda scheme, which the Labour party opposes? That is potentially the only way that we can nip this problem in the bud.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. In terms of reassurance, we have seen the Prime Minister acting swiftly to get a new Home Secretary in place yesterday afternoon. That is because the Government are committed to pushing ahead with our agenda and important issues that need attention, such as those that my hon. Friend highlighted. That is why it is so important that we have that stability and why the Prime Minister took the action that she did.

It is surely obvious that the Home Secretary resigned because it is now understood in Government that their immigration policy is a major block to economic growth. If that is the case, I welcome the change and the new Home Secretary, as we will if he ever graces the Chamber with his presence. When the Minister reports back to the Home Office, will he remind the Home Secretary that, when looking at immigration policy in relation to economic growth, we need urgent change in the law on visas for non-European economic area nationals seeking to work in our fishing industry?

Once again, I think it has been made clear that we should not respond to speculation. Private discussions are exactly that and we have come here today to deal with the facts. The facts are that the Home Secretary tendered her resignation for a breach of the ministerial code and that policy issues are something for another time.

I was very disappointed to see the previous Home Secretary leave her role. She is a tremendous loss to those of us who hope that one day—just one day—this Government might finally get a grip on the small boats crisis. It would be a huge mistake if, upon her departure, the Government were to soften their tough line on preventing illegal immigrants entering this country. Will the Minister confirm that the Government’s policy remains unchanged?

Although I may have already said that I cannot speak on behalf of other Ministers, I think my hon. Friend will have seen the Prime Minister’s letter to the Home Secretary in which she was thanked for her work. As well as the huge policing operation for Her late Majesty, there is the other work that she has been doing, such as clamping down on illegal immigration and keeping the British people safe, and I am sure that that work will continue.

It has been widely reported that a member of the Cabinet was involved in a fracas during the vote last night. Was there a breach of the ministerial code? Will it be investigated?

If the hon. Gentleman believes that such a breach has occurred, there is a set process for referring it, but I do not think that we should be commenting on speculation. As we saw in the press this morning, there are many stories about the Lobby last night. I was in the Lobby and certainly did not see what I believe other people have been saying they saw. Rather than commenting on speculation, I think we should stick to facts—and the facts are why we are here today.

There seem to be as many theories about the real reason for the departure of the former Home Secretary as there are stories about what on earth went on—we all saw it—in the fiasco over which the Government presided last night. Can we have a bit more clarity about what has really gone on and what exactly is happening?

I have noticed that the Minister is being somewhat selective in whose questions about immigration he answers. I think it is quite important that he gives us some clarity, here and now, on whether he is seriously defending the abhorrent policies of the former Home Secretary.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but—once again—we are not here today to discuss specific policies, we are not here to discuss gossip, we are not here to discuss rumours and we are not here to discuss what people think did or did not go on yesterday.

This is a completely different issue: we are here to discuss the resignation of the Home Secretary for a breach of the ministerial code. The Prime Minister has been very clear that she expects the highest standards in the Government and that all Ministers are expected to adhere to the ministerial code. When they have not done so—when they have breached it—they are expected to resign. That is what the former Home Secretary has done, as she outlined in her letter.

The Minister will have heard right hon. and hon. Members talking about the former Home Secretary’s comments about seeing refugees fly away. For a Member to talk in that way about people who are seeking refuge and fleeing war and persecution is deeply beneath this House. It is beneath the standards that we should have. The current Chancellor, who as we all know is probably the Prime Minister, has said that he wants to see a more compassionate conservatism. Will the new Home Secretary be outlining that compassion in dealing with and talking about people seeking asylum and refuge in our country?

Although I cannot discuss policy, I will that this Government have shown compassion. I point not just to the aid that we give abroad, but to the Homes for Ukraine scheme and to what we did before that with Syria and with Afghanistan. This country has a proud history of welcoming refugees. That will continue. The Government have been committed to it and will continue to be committed to it. I am certainly committed to it.

Appointing a Home Secretary who lasted for 43 days and a Chancellor who lasted for 38 is unprecedented and farcical. What does it say about the Prime Minister’s judgment and fitness for office? She no longer has any support anywhere in this House. Should she not follow her former colleagues to the Back Benches, pausing only to ask for a Dissolution of Parliament?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that appointments are a matter for the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has outlined what she expects from the conduct of Ministers, and when she has changed her appointments she has done so swiftly. She has been very clear that she expects us to work together towards our growth plan to deliver for the people of this country. That is why she has taken the actions she has taken.

The former Home Secretary got her jotters because she was on manoeuvres. The Cabinet at large is on manoeuvres to find out who will replace the Prime Minister, but the de facto Prime Minister—the Chancellor—did not want anybody else’s manoeuvres competing with his own. Is that not the truth? It is nothing to do with a breach of the code.

The proof is in the resignation letter of the former Home Secretary. She herself outlined the reasons why she resigned from her position. She has been very clear about the ministerial code and about which areas of it she has breached. As we have said, other matters are to be treated separately. Once again, we are here today to discuss why the former Home Secretary resigned; we are not here to discuss other matters that involve internal party politics.

The Minister may not want to discuss immigration policy today, but I hope he will share my deep concern at the written answer that I received from the Home Office on Tuesday, which revealed that nearly 900 asylum-seeking children under 16 had been accommodated in hotels. According to a report published this week by the chief inspector of borders and immigration, some of the hotel staff do not even have Disclosure and Barring Service clearance. Will the Minister go back to the Home Office immediately after this session and urge it to take action to get those children out of those hotels and into a place of safety?

I am happy to pass that question on to those at the Home Office so that they can provide the hon. Lady with the information she seeks. Of course, we remain committed to safeguarding children, whether they are in this country or those that this country has received.

The Minister has referred to the former Home Secretary’s letter of resignation. In that letter, she said:

“the document was a draft Written Ministerial Statement...due for publication imminently. Much of it had already been briefed to MPs.”

Can the Minister confirm that that is the case? I suspect that it is the case, and if so, we all know full well what the real reason for her resignation was, do we not?

I think I covered this earlier, but I am happy to repeat what I said for the hon. Gentleman’s benefit. Having this information in a personal email account and then sharing it outside Government does constitute a clear breach of the code. Members may wish to look at sections 2.14 and 2.3 if that would be helpful, but the Prime Minister has been clear that the security of Government business is paramount. That is why we hold Ministers to the highest standards, and that is why the Home Secretary tendered her resignation.

This is a mess. I appreciate that the Minister is having a really bad time having to defend it, but may I ask whether he has asked other Cabinet Members whether they have shared sensitive documents in their personal emails? Have they been asked that question? Has this been extended to other platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram or Signal? Will there be a full check of the former Home Secretary’s phone to ensure that not just personal email but other social networks and communication apps may have been used?

At the moment, the Minister is not reassuring the House or the public that the safety of our sensitive national security is being properly looked at by the Government. Can he give us that reassurance, and if he does not know the facts, will he come back to the House with a full disclosure of what apps were used, what documents were shared, and whether every single member of the Government has been checked?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important for documents to be kept secure. That is why such material is kept separate from personal emails and so on. This is something that Ministers—including me, as a new Minister—are always reminded of: we are given a big thick rulebook that we have to read.

We have made it clear that when there are breaches, there is a method for reporting them. We will of course take advice from the Cabinet Secretary regarding that, and I am sure that if there are further breaches, Members will be made aware of them in future.

The dogs in the street can see the chaos at the heart of this Government, and the departure of the former Home Secretary—the full truth of which we still do not know, even after what has been said today—is not even the latest example of that chaos. As we face huge economic challenges and a “cost of Tory” crisis, we have probably not needed stronger and more decisive leadership this much since world war two. Does the Minister think that the UK has the strong and decisive leadership that it needs?

I absolutely do have that strong and decisive leadership, and it was strong and decisive leadership that received the resignation of the former Home Secretary and then appointed another Home Secretary on the same afternoon.

As the Prime Minister has made very clear, she wants to move forward. She wants to move quickly to deliver for the people of this country. That is why appointments have been made, and given the breadth of the talent on the Back Benches that we currently have, there is a wide pool of talent from which to choose. I am glad that we are in that position, rather than having to send our Front Benchers on training courses as the Opposition have had to do recently.

Increased immigration would tackle labour shortages and increase the tax take and ending the hostile environment would vastly improve Government efficiency. Given that growing the economy and cutting Government spending are supposed to be Government priorities, when will we hear from the new Home Secretary about how Home Office policy is going to align with the Prime Minister’s stated aims?

If increased immigration is the SNP’s policy, that is for them. In our policies, we have been clear that we want to attract the brightest and best talent to this country while making sure that we have a firm but fair immigration system. Today is not a day for policy, but I am pleased that we have replaced the Home Secretary swiftly and that we are able to continue the good work that we are currently doing in these areas.