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Commons Chamber

Volume 734: debated on Wednesday 21 June 2023

House of Commons

Wednesday 21 June 2023

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Early Learning and Childcare: Funding

1. If he will have discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on ensuring similar levels of funding for Northern Ireland to that announced for early learning and childcare in the spring Budget of 2023. (905481)

Today is a day of reflection in Northern Ireland. It marks an opportunity for people to think about the tragic and needless loss experienced by so many families during the troubles. It also allows us all as a society to reflect on how far Northern Ireland has come from the most difficult days of the troubles, and the further work required to ensure that we never again return to violence and that Northern Ireland is a truly peaceful, prosperous and reconciled society, which is something this Government are determined to deliver.

If I may, Mr Speaker, I would like to note that my permanent secretary since January 2020, Madeleine Alessandri, is leaving the Department next week for another role within Government. I would like to place on record my thanks to her for all the help and guidance she has given me and everyone else over the last 10 months.

In answer to the question, in his spring Budget the Chancellor stated that Northern Ireland would receive Barnett consequentials for 2023-24 and 2024-25 as a result of increased UK Government spending on childcare policy reform in England.

The Secretary of State may be aware that there is no childcare strategy in Northern Ireland and very little support, which is placing many families under extreme financial pressure because of growing costs, exacerbating inequality among children and forcing many, particularly women, to abandon their career for years. Research by the advocacy group Melted Parents demonstrates that families in Northern Ireland have been consistently failed on this issue. Does the Secretary of State agree that childcare must be recognised as a core part of the economic and societal fabric, as well as a tool to give kids a great start in life? Will he support the Department of Education and others to ensure that families in Northern Ireland can finally access the benefits promised in the Budget, promised in New Decade, New Approach and promised before that as well?

The Government recognised in the Budget, as I have just mentioned, how important childcare is for all the reasons the hon. Lady gave, and we do work with the Department of Education as much as we can. According to its figures, in the 2022-23 academic year there were 22,715 pupils in funded pre-school education in Northern Ireland, which is 91% of three-year-olds in the population. However, she makes a very valid point about how this needs to go further, as it will do across the other parts of the United Kingdom.


2. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the performance of the health service in Northern Ireland. (905482)

13. Whether he is taking steps with Cabinet colleagues to help reduce waiting times for healthcare in Northern Ireland. (905494)

We are acutely aware of the challenges facing the health service in Northern Ireland and, indeed, across the UK. That is why tackling waiting lists is one of the Prime Minister’s top five priorities. The performance of the NHS in Northern Ireland is not good enough, substantially because much-needed reforms have been avoided for years. Taking action to cut waiting lists and transform healthcare in Northern Ireland is the job of the devolved Government. For that reason, and many others, we urgently need the parties back in the Executive.

Over 500,000 people in Northern Ireland are waiting either to see a clinician or to have treatment, which represents one in four of the population. Does my hon. Friend agree that health services desperately need a working Executive to help address the huge problems they are facing?

Yes. Without an Executive, local leaders are not able to deliver reforms to transform public services, and that is now being felt in the most uncomfortable, undesirable and difficult of ways by people in Northern Ireland, especially by those on long waiting lists. Northern Ireland desperately needs a working Executive.

I share the expressed concerns about the lack of an Executive in Northern Ireland and about support for the NHS, which is struggling. However, as the Minister mentioned, we are seeing similar problems across the United Kingdom. If it is one of the Prime Minister’s priorities, could he not meet the leaders of the NHS in each of the devolved nations, and the leaders of those devolved nations, to discuss how they can learn from each other and perhaps tackle the problem on a wide scale across the board?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State just said to me that the British-Irish Council did not discuss health this time, but it has in the past. That would be a good forum for that discussion, but the hon. Member will realise that it is rather above my pay grade.

Power Sharing

3. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on restoring power sharing in Northern Ireland. (905483)

I regularly discuss Northern Ireland affairs with my extremely interested Cabinet colleagues and keep them fully abreast of the efforts being made to restore the power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive. My total focus is on the return of a devolved Government, and the Windsor framework is the basis on which to do that.

In the past, successful attempts to restore power sharing involved weeks of intensive talks between both Governments as well as the five main parties in Northern Ireland, but there is a vagueness about the current process. Can the Secretary of State confirm that he will try the previously tested methods over the coming summer?

I give an assurance to the hon. Lady that no stone will be left unturned in trying to get the Executive back up and running. The one thing that I did learn from the Windsor framework negotiations is that confidentiality in modern-day British politics and western politics is key in trying to get anything over the line.

The Windsor framework will make a significant difference to businesses and communities in Northern Ireland as they seek to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the Windsor framework agreement has an international dimension, in that it has improved the status of the UK around the world, allowing the Prime Minister and the President of the United States to agree the Atlantic declaration and other such agreements?

It is true, and I am slightly surprised by the element of pleasure that worldwide institutions—other Governments, the European Union and the United States Government, as my right hon. Friend says—have taken in seeing the Windsor framework come to fruition and, indeed, by how we are now talking about all sorts of important other things that seem to have been unlocked by the Windsor framework agreement.

Today is a day of reflection across Northern Ireland, and I share the Secretary of State’s support for those who are participating. The Secretary of State has said that the Government need to demonstrate that Northern Ireland remains a “strong and integral” part of the United Kingdom to restore power sharing. The problem for him is that his Department still plans to impose immunity for terrorists on Northern Ireland, against the wishes of all local parties and all victim groups there. Does he not see the damage that that could do to the Union?

This question is about the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which is currently on Report in the House of Lords. I disagree fundamentally with the principle behind what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Yes, none of the political parties in Northern Ireland is behind this particular Bill, but in great fairness to the Democratic Unionist party, it has never been behind any sort of amnesty. That has been a principled position on its part from the Belfast/Good Friday agreement onwards, which I completely understand. I do not think I will ever be able to win that argument with the DUP. However, we do need to address these issues. We have a question later on legacy and a family who need information to allow themselves to reconcile the death of a family member. The Bill that we will present, which will be article 2 compliant—I truly believe that—will get information for a whole host of families who have not had it for well over 25 years.

I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s detailed answer. There are ways forward that the DUP and other parties have supported, but the Government have chosen a different path. His Department cannot be fully focused on restoring power sharing while it is spending so much precious time on this Bill. Yesterday, even the Irish Government officially requested a pause in the Bill’s passage through Parliament. The Secretary of State says that the Bill will be a different beast after the Lords, so will he consider giving people the time to assess the changes before it returns to this House?

This Bill has had a long gestation. It had two days of consideration on the Floor of this House in its original form this time last year. It had one of the longest Committee stages ever in the House of Lords, taking nearly five months to complete. We laid a whole host of amendments as a Government at that point. It has its first day on Report today and another day next Wednesday. This House will have plenty of time to consider those amendments and others when the Bill returns to this place.

I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to his outgoing permanent secretary, Madeleine Alessandri, and we wish her well in her new position.

The Secretary of State will be aware that since New Decade, New Approach at the beginning of 2020, we have pressed for legislation that will protect Northern Ireland’s ability to trade within the internal market of the United Kingdom and respect our economic rights under article VI of the Acts of Union. Are the Government any closer to bringing forward such legislation?

I very much look forward to being in a space where, following further conversations with the right hon. Gentleman, I can bring forward legislation in this place that does exactly what he needs it to do for his party to be able to give me a date when it will go back into the Executive in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State will know that we want to see Stormont back up and running and fully functioning again, but it is critical for us that Northern Ireland’s ability to trade with its biggest market—which is, of course, the rest of the United Kingdom—is protected. We do have concerns about the practical outworking of proposals in the Windsor framework and what it means for the movement of goods in the non-EU lane. The Prime Minister has stated that there will be free movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and we need to see that reflected in the practical arrangements, which, I have to say, are not matched by what the EU is saying about the non-EU lane and its operation.

The right hon. Gentleman has detailed knowledge of this area, and I do enjoy our regular conversations on these points. He knows that in the Command Paper on the Windsor framework, which was published back in February, we detailed the British Government’s view of how we could bring in unfettered NI to GB trade as we move forward. We need to put more flesh on that bone—of that I am sure—but, as he knows, I constantly seek his guidance to ensure that I get this bit of my job completely right.

Electronic Travel Authorisation Scheme: Tourism

4. What recent discussions his Department has had with representatives of the tourism sector in Northern Ireland on the implementation of the electronic travel authorisation scheme. (905484)

I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that the Department most recently met with Northern Ireland tourism organisations alongside the Home Office for discussions on how to communicate the ETA requirement on 7 June. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also hosted a tourism roundtable with sector leaders at Hillsborough castle on 20 April. The Government will continue their engagement with the tourism sector, which we recognise plays a vital role in Northern Ireland’s economy.

I am grateful for that answer, but does my hon. Friend acknowledge that if an ETA exemption was granted for tourists—or, indeed, people claiming to be tourists—travelling from the Republic of Ireland, that would undermine the integrity of the whole scheme?

My hon. Friend is right, and that is the Government’s policy. We have engaged closely with not only the tourism sector but our friends in the Irish Government on this issue. I hope that we will be able to work together to ensure that there is a consistent and coherent communication strategy to ensure that tourists know they must register for an ETA and must continue to comply with the UK’s immigration requirements. I should say that whether one stays at Hillsborough castle, the Travelodge or any of the other great hotels in Northern Ireland, it is a wonderful place to visit.

Does the Minister recognise that Ireland is marketed internationally as a single entity with respect to tourism? Does he understand that treating movements on the island of Ireland the same as any entries into the UK from the rest of the world is not fair and does not recognise the specific circumstances that exist on the island?

I am most grateful to the hon. Member. We do recognise elements of what he said, and indeed we have had those conversations most recently with the Irish Government at the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. It is the Government’s position that we should not create a loophole through the ETA scheme, but we do need to ensure that we communicate clearly with everyone the need to register and comply with immigration requirements. He may know that we have created an exemption for third-country nationals who are ordinarily resident in Ireland, and of course the requirement does not apply to citizens of the UK or Ireland under the common travel area, which we will continue to honour.

Education Funding: Community Groups

5. What recent discussions he has had with community groups on the potential impact of changes in the level of funding for education in Northern Ireland. (905485)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are acutely aware of the challenges facing the education sector in Northern Ireland. He has met member organisations of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action to discuss these issues, and I have been engaging with stakeholders about the wider cost of division in education, which a report by researchers working independently at Ulster University recently estimated was an extraordinary £226 million per year. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it would be preferable for the Northern Ireland Executive to be restored so that they may make decisions on the issues that matter to the people of Northern Ireland, including the right level of funding for education.

The Department of Education in Northern Ireland has announced that it will not proceed with proposed cuts to early years, extended schools and youth service programmes, which is broadly welcomed by community groups. Will the Minister confirm whether the Northern Ireland Office took direct action and advised on how guidance should be interpreted?

We are always willing to work closely with the Northern Ireland civil service, but the hon. Gentleman knows that we have put in place an Act of Parliament to formalise arrangements by which decisions are taken by Northern Ireland civil servants during this governance gap. We will continue to work closely with civil servants, but if he would like to discuss a specific concern more closely with me, I will be glad to meet him. The answer to the problem is something that I think the whole House agrees on: it would be preferable to have locally accountable, devolved Government restored as soon as possible to take those decisions.

Our Prime Minister has described education as the

“closest thing to a silver bullet there is”.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has heard concerns about the fact that Northern Ireland’s education budget is going down as the budgets in the rest of the UK are going up. Will the Minister make the case for further investment in education in Northern Ireland and continue to pursue integration, which is crucial to the future success of education?

My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. Integration is central not only to the Government’s policy but to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. I am rather grateful that there has been some small controversy over the Ulster University report on the cost of division. We must have that conversation. If we are spending £600,000 a day on maintaining a system within which only 7% of children are educated in formal integrated schools and, overwhelmingly, children are educated separately as Catholics or Protestants, we should have a serious conversation about the cost of that system.

Universities recently wrote a joint letter to the Secretary of State warning that his budget will force them to cut student places and will have a “fundamental and dangerous impact” on the future of Northern Ireland. Will the Minister carry out an assessment of the effect that a loss of student placements would have on Northern Ireland’s economy, so that the House can be fully informed of the long-term impacts of the budget?

We are in frequent conversation with the vice-chancellors. The hon. Gentleman will remember that we have taken a power to commission advice and to consult, and he will know that there is a need to look at revenue raising. All those things come together and point in a direction on which I hope, in the end, there will be consensus: to ensure that the excellent higher education sector in Northern Ireland continues to be a beacon of great education for the world.

Public Services: Budget

6. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the budget for public services in Northern Ireland. (905486)

8. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the budget for public services in Northern Ireland. (905489)

For many years, the UK Government have recognised the unique challenges that Northern Ireland faces. We have provided around £7 billion in additional funding to Northern Ireland since 2014, on top of the Barnett-based block grant. Northern Ireland Executive spending per person is around 20% higher than the equivalent UK Government spending in the rest of the United Kingdom.

A recent study has showed that 90% of people in Northern Ireland are having to cut back on their spending. The cost of living crisis means that a third are cutting back a lot on basics such as food, fuel and housing. Against that background, the Secretary of State’s Government are imposing real-terms budget cuts across almost the whole public sector in Northern Ireland. At the time of a cost of living crisis, are his budget cuts making the crisis better or worse?

The budget for Northern Ireland was set out in the spending review a couple of years and is unchanged. All UK Government Departments are being asked to absorb inflation and energy costs within their budgets; Northern Ireland’s Executive is no different. I am fully aware of what is going on with the cost of energy, food and other things in Northern Ireland, as I meet people regularly who tell me about it.

New research from Northern Ireland found that women were the shock absorbers of poverty, with 75% struggling to pay for food and 73% struggling to pay their electric bills, leading to mothers missing meals to feed their families. The saving efficiencies to the Northern Ireland budget include cuts to holiday hunger payments and, now, free school meals. Will the Minister explain why women and children are forced to starve to repair the chaos that the Tories caused to the economy?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in one aspect. The budget is fair and allows for the statutory things to be delivered. I meet with women’s groups very regularly—I met a whole group of them last week. I fully understand the implications of the budget. However, it should be for Northern Ireland Ministers to sort it out.

Beyond the cost of living crisis, there is a crisis facing public services across Northern Ireland. To give one very pertinent example, the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Simon Byrne, reported to the policing board last month that the force faced a budget gap of some £141 million. That is a gap that can only be met by cutting police numbers further. Given that police numbers are already at 6,500, which is 1,000 below the recommended establishment figure quoted by Chris Patten and the lowest number since 1978, that is clearly a poor situation. Given the severe terror threat, what will the UK Government do to ensure that Northern Ireland has a police force capable of meeting continued security challenges, as well as meeting the needs of the communities the police force is there to serve?

The police budget in Northern Ireland is devolved. It comes through the Department of Justice, which has to live within its means just like every other Department, but I regularly meet and talk to the chief constable. The UK Government also provide an extra £32 million a year for such security measures.

Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery

7. What recent progress his Department has made on establishing the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery. (905488)

I have identified the right hon. Sir Declan Morgan to be appointed chief commissioner designate of the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery. Hopefully, his appointment will come into effect when the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill receives Royal Assent.

I welcome the progress made towards establishing the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, but after 40 years of waiting—I have also been raising the case in the Chamber over the past three and a half years—Mr Vaughan-Jones and his family have never received a conclusive account of what happened to his brother Robert, 2 Para, at Warrenpoint in 1979. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss the case and progress?

My hon. Friend raises a critical point and I would be delighted to meet her to talk about it. As I said earlier, many families across Northern Ireland and Great Britain still do not have the answers they require about the acts of serious harm committed in the troubles. The system has not worked as it is, which is why we need to pass the Bill and establish the ICRIR as soon as possible.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. When it comes to recognising the need for reconciliation and information recovery, it can never, ever be a substitute for victims’ access to justice. Will he confirm that innocent victims will always be a priority for the Northern Ireland Office and this Government?

Promotion of Northern Ireland Businesses Overseas

11. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to promote Northern Ireland businesses overseas. (905492)

As a result of the Windsor framework, Northern Ireland will be in the unique position of being part of the UK internal market as of right, having privileged access to the EU market, being under UK services regulation, and having access to the free trade agreements to which we are acceding. In addition, I have led trade missions with Invest Northern Ireland to Canada and South Korea to promote brilliant Northern Ireland businesses overseas, and will take further similar steps.

What will be the benefit to businesses in Northern Ireland of working with the UK Export Academy?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the UK Export Academy, brought forward by the Department for Business and Trade. To illustrate its success, I would point to Lowden Guitars, which takes its products from its factory in County Down to customers in Australia. I encourage businesses across Northern Ireland, and indeed across the UK, to use the Export Academy, as he implicitly suggests.

How will the New Deal for Northern Ireland funding help to boost economic growth and increase Northern Ireland’s competitiveness overseas?

The £400 million in the new deal for Northern Ireland funding will underscore the UK’s commitment to supporting and protecting the interests of people and businesses in Northern Ireland. New deal funding has been invested in projects such as £15 million for the Skill Up project to improve skills, £11 million for a cyber-AI hub at Queen’s University Belfast, and a number of other projects, including £8 million for Invest NI to help to promote trade. It is a commitment of which we are very proud and I could speak at even greater length.

What is the Northern Ireland Office doing, and what is the Minister doing, to promote Northern Ireland businesses at COP28, which will provide a significant opportunity for those businesses to be marketed on the world stage, especially those involved in hydrogen technology? We have a hydrogen hub in my area.

I know that the hon. Gentleman has a personal interest in this subject, and I should be happy to meet him to discuss how we can do more. There are some excellent businesses in Northern Ireland, including Catagen, which has an incredible technology for converting wind power and water into hydrocarbon fuels, and other businesses which should have the opportunity to participate.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


This morning I opened the Ukraine recovery conference alongside President Zelensky. The aim of the conference is to secure a resilient economic future for Ukraine.

As we mark the 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush tomorrow, I am sure the whole House will celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation, who have done so much to build the Britain that we cherish today. In this Armed Forces Week, we also thank our armed forces for all that they do to keep our country safe.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Given that inflation continues to outstrip pay awards, and given that we expect to see the 13th consecutive rise in interest rates tomorrow, will the Prime Minister tell us by how much living standards have fallen during his eight months in office?

I have always been clear about the fact that inflation is putting pressure on family budgets. The UK Government have taken decisive action to support families through this difficult time, including households in Scotland, who are receiving considerable support—not just help with energy bills, but help for the most vulnerable as well.

Q2. On this side of the House we have a proud record of supporting the nuclear industry, which plays an essential part in the achievement of secure, low-carbon energy. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has given his backing to the next generation of nuclear reactors, including small modular reactors and larger projects. Will he now commit himself to ensuring that the fuel for these projects is manufactured in the UK, which will secure long-term, high-skilled employment at key sites in the north-west such as Springfields Fuels in my constituency, and a supply chain across the UK? (905567)

We are preserving and strengthening the UK’s nuclear fuel production capacity through our £75 million nuclear fuel fund, and I know that Springfields Fuels has benefited from £30 million of funding. My hon. Friend is right to say that our domestic nuclear fuel sector has a critical role to play in supporting the UK’s energy security and independence, and I know that he will continue to be a champion for the industry in the House.

I echo the Prime Minister’s comments about the Windrush generation, who have contributed so much to our country, and join him in paying tribute to the armed forces, in this week and all weeks.

Let me also say that Glenda Jackson’s passing leaves a space in our cultural and political life that can never be filled. She played many roles, with great distinction, passion and commitment: Academy award-winning actor, campaigning Labour MP, and an effective Government Minister. We will never see talent like hers again.

One of the Prime Minister’s own MPs says that Britain is facing a “mortgage catastrophe”. Does he agree with her?

Let me start by joining the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his tribute to Glenda Jackson.

It is right that we support those with mortgages, which is why halving inflation is absolutely the right economic priority. Inflation is what is driving interest rates up, and inflation is what erodes savings, pushes up prices, and ultimately makes people poorer. That is why, a long time before I had this job, I highlighted the importance of tackling inflation, and it is why I said that it was never easy to root out inflation but we would take the difficult and responsible decisions to do so. It is an approach that the International Monetary Fund has strongly endorsed, in its words, describing our actions as “decisive and responsible”.

I realise that the Prime Minister has spent all week saying that he does not want to influence anyone or anything, but he was certainly keeping to that in his answer. He knows very well the cause of the “mortgage catastrophe”: 13 years of economic failure, and a Tory kamikaze Budget which crashed the economy and put mortgages through the roof. Will the Prime Minister tell us how much the Tory mortgage penalty will cost the average homeowner?

As ever, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not aware of the global macroeconomic situation. Let me tell him and the House what we are doing to support those with mortgages. We have deliberately and proactively increased the generosity of our support for the mortgage interest scheme. We have also established a new Financial Conduct Authority consumer duty, which will protect people with mortgages—for example, moving them on to interest-only mortgages or lengthening mortgage terms. And we have spent tens of billions of pounds supporting people with the cost of living, particularly the most vulnerable. That is the difference between us: while he is always focused on the politics, we are getting on and doing the job.

Let’s test that. The question that the Prime Minister refuses to answer—he knows the answer: £2,900 extra—is the cost to the average family of the Tory mortgage penalty. He was warned by experts about this as long ago as autumn last year, but he either did not get it, did not believe it or did not care, because he certainly did not do anything. When I raised this a couple of months ago, he had the gall to stand at that Dispatch Box and say he was delivering for homeowners. How is an extra £2,900 a year on repayment delivering for homeowners?

Let’s just look at the facts. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about interest rates. Perhaps he could explain why interest rates are at similar levels in the United States, in Canada, in Australia and in New Zealand and why they are at the highest level in Europe that they have been for two decades. That is why it is important that we have a plan to reduce inflation. In contrast, what do we hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman? He wants to borrow an extra £28 billion a year. That would make the situation worse. He wants to ban new supplies of energy from the North sea. That would make the situation worse. And he wants to give in to unions’ unaffordable pay demands. That would make the situation worse. He does not have many policies, but the few that he does have all have the same thing in common: they are dangerous, inflationary and working people would pay the price. [Interruption.]

I appreciate that the Prime Minister has a keen interest in the mortgage market in California, but I am talking about mortgage holders here. Whilst his Government are consumed in lawbreaking, chaos and division, working people are paying the price. This morning, I spoke to James in Selby. He is a police officer, working hard to keep people safe every day. The Tory mortgage penalty is going to cost him and his family £400 more each and every month. That is nearly £5,000. He told me this morning—Conservative Members may not want to hear this—that they have decided to sell their house and to downsize, and he has just told his children they are going to have to start sharing bedrooms. Why should James and his family pay the cost of the Prime Minister’s failure?

I hope, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was talking to James, he explained that his economic policies would make James’s situation worse. It is not just me saying that. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies says that his policy of never-ending debt and borrowing would damage James because it would “increase inflation” and drive up interest rates, leaving James and everybody else in this country poorer. The International Monetary Fund has said that our plan prioritises not what is politically easy, but what is right for the British people. That is what responsible economic leadership looks like.

James and his family will have been listening to that, Prime Minister, and their plight should keep Conservative Members awake at night because, over the next few years, 7.5 million people are going to be in the same boat, all paying the Tory mortgage penalty month after month after month. The situation is so dire that repossessions are already up 50%—a total betrayal of the idea that if you work hard, you will get on. What is the Prime Minister going to do to make sure that more families do not lose their homes?

I know the right hon. and learned Gentleman is reading from his prepared script, but he failed to listen to the answer I gave. I spelled out in detail what we are doing. We have increased the generosity of support for the mortgage interest scheme, and we did that proactively in advance. We have also established a new Financial Conduct Authority consumer duty that will protect borrowers by, for example, allowing them to extend their mortgage term or switch to interest-only mortgages, and we have spent tens of billions of pounds supporting households with living costs. Those are the practical steps that we are taking to help James and other families who are facing these situations.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned mortgage arrears and repossessions, and I am pleased to say that today they are running at a level below when we entered the pandemic because of the actions we are taking. More importantly perhaps, they are also running three times lower than the level we inherited from the last Labour Government.

I am sure that, from the vantage point of his helicopter, everything might look fine, but that is not the lived experience of those on the ground. After 13 years of economic failure, people across the country are paying the price of uncosted, reckless, damaging decisions by the Tory party. Even now, as mortgages go through the roof, the Prime Minister is planning to wave through honours and peerages for those who caused misery for millions. What does it say about this Government that, while working people are worrying about mortgage rates, paying the bills and even repossessions, the Tory party is rewarding those who are guilty of economic vandalism?

No amount of personal attacks and petty point-scoring can disguise the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not have a plan for this country. He comes here every week to make the same petty points. We are getting on and delivering for this country. Yes, inflation is a challenge, which is why we are on track to keep reducing it. We are reducing waiting lists and stopping the boats, all while he is focused on the past and focused on the politics. It is all talk. Whereas this Government and this Prime Minister deliver for the country. [Interruption.]

Q5. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.My constituents continue to be concerned about energy prices and energy security. Can the Prime Minister assure me that he will not cave in to the extremist bullies from Just Stop Oil and their patsies in the Labour leadership and will instead commit to developing new oil and gas production in the United Kingdom, which would be good for jobs, good for the economy and make us less dependent on foreign countries for our energy supply? (905570)

As ever, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Putin’s weaponisation of energy has amplified the need for greater energy security, which is why we deliberately launched a new licensing round for the North sea. Official forecasts suggest that a block on North sea oil and gas investment would mean that the UK’s dependence on imports rises substantially. The Labour party’s decision is one that puts ideology ahead of jobs, investment and Britain’s energy security.

In February, the Prime Minister told this House that

“borrowing costs are…back to where they should be”.—[Official Report, 8 February 2023; Vol. 727, c. 904.]

In March, he boasted

“we are on track to halve inflation by the end of this year.”—[Official Report, 22 March 2023; Vol. 730, c. 330.]

In May, he said that “economic optimism is increasing.” Given the dire economic reality of today, is it not now clear that he has taken his honesty lessons from Boris Johnson?

The hon. Gentleman also fails to mention that it is not just the Bank of England, not just the Office for Budget Responsibility and not just the OECD but the IMF that have all upgraded their growth outlook for the United Kingdom economy this year. While he and others were predicting that this country would enter a recession, the actions of this Government have meant that we have, so far, averted that. We continue to be on track to keep reducing inflation, because that is the right economic priority.

I want Members to be a little more cautious in what they say. These are questions to the present, serving Prime Minister. There is a danger that the way the question was put could mislead.

From listening to the Prime Minister’s answer, I do not think he quite grasps the reality of the economic situation facing households across these isles—how could he? But it does not need to be like this and it did not need to be like this. Because mortgage deals in Ireland are not sitting in excess of 6%—they are at about 4.5%. Inflation in the euro area is not sitting at 8.7%—it is sitting at closer to 6%. Britain is broke. Seven years after the Conservatives’ EU referendum, will he finally admit that it was Brexit that broke it?

Again, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was paying attention earlier; interest rates in this country are at similar levels to those in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The rise in inflation and interest rates is a global phenomenon. But that is why, early, I set out that bringing inflation down was the right economic priority to have. That is what this Government will do, but that requires difficult and responsible decisions. That is what leadership looks like—I do not think the SNP will ever do the same thing.

Q7. Wylfa, in my constituency, is recognised as the best site for small modular reactors and large-scale new nuclear in the UK. Given the UK Government’s commitment to nuclear and Wylfa, when can my constituents expect to hear the result of Great British Nuclear’s small modular reactor competition? Diolch yn fawr. (905572)

There will be no greater champion for this technology and her community than my hon. Friend. My understanding is that the first stage of market engagement is already under way. The expectation is that the down-selection process will be launched this summer, with an ambition to assess and decide on the leading technologies this autumn. The competition will be open, judicious, fair and robust, and I express all my confidence that we will select the best technology for the United Kingdom.

Four months after the welcome Windsor framework, there is still no restored Northern Ireland Executive or Assembly, and we are facing an unprecedented budget crisis. This situation is untenable, and it is getting worse every day. The Government’s approach seems to be to wait to see whether something happens, rather than to lead from the front. So will the Prime Minister confirm that he is willing to work with the Northern Ireland parties on a financial package for a restored Executive? Will he work more closely with the Irish Government to try to drive a process, including putting reform of the institutions on the agenda, so that those who want to govern Northern Ireland can do so?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his engagement with me and the Government during this process. I share his frustration, and our focus remains on delivering for the people of Northern Ireland, who expect and deserve their locally elected decision makers to address the issues that matter to them most. I thank him for his kind words about the Windsor framework and how it allows us to move forward. For many years, we have recognised the particular challenges facing Northern Ireland, which is why we have provided more than £7 billion of funding, on top of the Barnett block grant, since 2014. I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Northern Ireland Secretary remains in close contact with all the parties in Northern Ireland to clarify what more is needed, so that we can restore the conditions for Executive formation.

Q9.   Since 2016, cumulative growth has been 4% in Italy and 5.5% in Germany, whereas in the UK it has been 6.8%. In July last year, British exports to the European Union were the highest not just since Brexit, but since records began. The UK had the highest growth of any G7 country in both 2021 and 2022. The eurozone is currently in recession, but we are not. Is it not time that we heard more good news and talked Britain up? (905574)

My right hon. Friend is quite right to highlight the improvement in our economic outlook and the good, positive news showing the strength in the underlying economy. I know that he joins me in saying that our economic priority right now must be to continue to bear down on inflation, but while we do that, we are putting in place the conditions to grow the economy. As he said, unlike the Labour party, we will not talk Britain down; we will grow the country’s jobs.

Q3. Last night was another fantastic night at Hampden—it was a real tonic during tough times for the tartan army and Scotland more widely. However, whereas English and Welsh fans could watch their national teams for free on Channel 4 and S4C, only a small fraction of Scots could watch their match, with many unable to afford the subscription to Viaplay, particularly during this cost of living crisis. Does the Prime Minister agree that that is inherently unfair, and will he ask the Department for Culture, Media and Sport Secretary to meet me to discuss how to fix this situation? (905568)

I join the hon. Gentleman in his comments about the match. I know the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), is engaging with him and others on this particular topic, and I will make sure that she gets back to him.

Q10. In December last year, LINK conducted research about the acceptance of cash. It found that nearly half—45%—of people have been somewhere where cash has not been accepted or has been discouraged, and 49% of people said being unable or being discouraged to pay in cash was inconvenient. Will the Prime Minister look again at the Financial Services and Markets Bill, when it comes back from the other place, and ensure that any entity providing a public service directly to the public, involving payments or a charge, must accept cash? (905575)

We know that cash continues to be used by millions of people, particularly those in vulnerable groups. That is why the Financial Services and Markets Bill will, for the first ever time, protect people’s access to cash in UK law. The Bill also supports businesses that continue to accept cash by ensuring reasonable access to deposit facilities, but as technology and consumer behaviour changes, it is right that organisations themselves should be able to choose the forms of payment that they will accept.

As we discussed last week, Mr Speaker, there is a well-established process of vetting for all peerages and I, in keeping with the convention followed by Prime Ministers of both parties, have followed the same process.

Q11. Wiltshire leads the world in agritech—the farming processes that increase productivity and will feed the world’s growing population, without wrecking the environment. I welcome what the Government have done in this space, particularly in gene editing, which is only possible because of Brexit. Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the work of Wiltshire farmers and tech entrepreneurs, particularly James Dyson, although there are many more? Does he agree with me that this is one of the key opportunities for our country to become a high-wage, high-skill, high-tech economy? (905576)

When it comes to agritech, we are among the best in the world, with fantastic research bodies, businesses and pioneering farmers and growers. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to all of them. They are getting our support through the £270 million farming innovation programme and, as he rightly mentioned, we are seizing the opportunities from our exit from the EU, including through our plans to develop gene-edited crops that are resistant to drought and flooding more quickly. That will drive up growth and productivity, and create jobs.

Q6. Just to recap, during this Parliament we have had one Tory Prime Minister who turned out to be a proven liar, and a second Tory Prime Minister who was outlasted by a lettuce. After this week’s pathetic no-show by the Prime Minister, what one word would he use to describe himself? Might it be “weak”? (905571)

What is weak is those in the party opposite being unable to stand up to the people who fund them and stand behind hard-working families in this country.

Q14. I welcome the steps the Prime Minister is taking to stop illegal, dangerous and unnecessary small boast crossings, which are overwhelming our asylum system, but I have to raise significant concerns about a recent decision to stand up a third hotel in Burton, as well as increase capacity at another hotel by 64%. That will have a serious knock-on effect on our response to homelessness and rough sleeping, as well as causing challenges for wider public services in east Staffordshire. What further support can the Prime Minister provide local authorities in east Staffordshire to deal with these urgent concerns? (905579)

That is why we need to stop the boats so that we can relieve the unsustainable pressure on our asylum system and accommodation, which is costing British taxpayers over £3 billion a year. Our new Bill will ensure that anyone arriving illegally will be detained and swiftly removed, but in the meantime we will take action to address the unacceptable cost of housing migrants in hotels. We recognise the pressure this places on local areas. That is why the Government are providing further dispersal financial support, but I will ensure that my hon. Friend gets a meeting with the Immigration Minister to discuss her specific local concerns.

Q8.   Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust described the Government’s recent decision to delay the rebuilding of Charing Cross, Hammersmith and St Mary’s Hospitals as “hugely damaging for the health and healthcare of hundreds of thousands of people.” Will the Prime Minister keep the promise made to me by his predecessor one year ago from that Dispatch Box and guarantee completion of new hospitals on those sites by 2030? (905573)

The Government remain committed to two new hospital schemes for Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust at Hammersmith Hospital and Charing Cross Hospital, and for St Mary’s Hospital as part of the new hospital programme. We have expanded the programme, as the hon. Gentleman knows, to include buildings with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete and we need to address those as a priority for the safety of staff and patients. However, we still expect the majority of schemes in cohort 4 to be in construction before 2030. I know that the Department will continue to keep him updated on progress.

Q15. The United Kingdom sanctioned Iran for promoting terrorism, destabilising the middle east, supplying weapons to our enemies and, of course, the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Within the past few weeks, the journalist, David Rose, has reported in the Jewish Chronicle that British universities have been undertaking research in collaboration with Iranian researchers and universities into areas of potential military applications, including drone technology, fighter jets, battlefield armour and laser communication. Will the Prime Minister initiate an investigation into this and take action to stop the failure of our sanctions regime before it does any more harm to the national interest of the United Kingdom and our allies? (905580)

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this important topic. We take all allegations of breaches of export control seriously. My understanding is that officials in the Department for Business and Trade are currently investigating the allegations made in the recent press article cited. We will not accept collaborations that compromise our national security. That is why we have made our systems more robust, including expanding the scope of the Academic Technology Approval Scheme to protect UK research from ever-changing global threats, but my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that and he has my assurance that we will keep on it.

Q12. Could any of the material that the Prime Minister’s Government are trying to avoid giving to the covid inquiry cover his tenure as Chancellor and his eat out to help out policy? (905577)

As I have said previously, it is right that we learn the lessons from covid so that we can be better prepared for the future. That is why the Government have co-operated with the inquiry in a spirit of transparency and candour, handing over more than 55,000 documents so far. There is a very specific point of disagreement, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, and it is the subject now of legal proceedings, so I am not able to comment further.

Despite being world leaders in motorsport, the UK has not hosted a round of the World Rally Championship since 2019. We now have an opportunity to host a round in Northern Ireland next year to bring in in excess of £100 million to the economy, but to make that happen the promoters need Government underwriting of approximately £1 million. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this event simply must go ahead and will he instruct the relevant Departments to work with the motorsport all-party parliamentary group, Motorsport UK and the promoters to make it happen?

Northern Ireland is a fantastic place to host international events. I am delighted that my hon. Friend shares my enthusiasm for driving forward prosperity in Northern Ireland. However, with tourism being devolved in Northern Ireland, I suggest that he engages with Tourism NI on this potential event, and I look forward to hearing how he gets on.

Q13. The UK Government and His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition refuse to face up to the bleak reality that Brexit is causing weaker growth and soaring inflation, according to the former Governor of the Bank of England. The LSE says that EU trade barriers have added, on average, £250 to household food bills, and Scots fishing chiefs are saying that they were sold down the river and scoff at the talk of treaty renegotiation as just spin. With such colossal failures stacking up and the former PM, who played a leading role in the leave campaign, finally exposed as a serial liar, will the current PM apologise to my constituents in Edinburgh North and Leith? (905578)

I just point out to the hon. Lady, as she is going on about the EU and us leaving it, that we have actually grown faster than France and Italy since we left the single market, our exports have grown by 25% just since covid and, as we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) earlier, every single international organisation has upgraded its forecast for UK economic growth. That is because we have the right priorities to drive growth, create jobs and spread opportunity in every part of our United Kingdom.

Hospices across the UK provide not only quality, but compassionate care to people at the end of their lives, including Mountbatten hospice in my constituency, which looked after my office manager Sue Hall when she passed away in March. That is why I and her son-in-law, Miles Rogers, will be skydiving to raise money on Saturday. We have raised £6,000 so far. The Prime Minister should feel free to donate to the campaign, but will he send his best wishes to all hospice workers across the United Kingdom?

I join my hon. Friend in wishing Miles good luck this weekend as he raises money, and in paying tribute to all our incredible hospice volunteers and workers across the country. They do a fantastic job in all our constituencies at a very difficult time in families’ lives, and we all owe them an enormous amount of thanks.

Half of us, sadly, will get cancer at some point during our lives and half of those with cancer will need radiotherapy treatment, yet 3.5 million people in this country live in radiotherapy deserts where they do not have close access to that treatment. That includes my constituency, where my constituents living in Westmorland have to take three-hour round trips every day to get lifesaving treatment. Will the Prime Minister back our proposal for a satellite radiotherapy unit at Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal, and support all the other Members living in radiotherapy deserts to bring radiotherapy close to their communities, too?

Like the hon. Gentleman, I know that access to healthcare in rural areas is particularly important, given the distances that our rural constituents have to drive. That is why we remain committed to expanding the range of diagnostic services that are available through our proposal to roll out community diagnostic centres. The record-breaking capital budget that we have in the NHS is delivering that. I look forward to the Department’s engaging with him on his plans for his local area.

The Bank of England is raising interest rates to try to stem spending and therefore preventing inflation from being baked into the economy. The same cannot be said for those with savings accounts. Would it not be good for people to be encouraged and incentivised to save more? Will my right hon. Friend and the Chancellor talk to the industry and encourage them or impel them to give a good deal to savers too?

My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. It is vital that savers are treated fairly and that markets function as competitively as we would expect them to. I am pleased to tell her that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is meeting the industry and the banks this Friday to discuss the matter she has raised, and will make sure that she and everyone else gets an update after that.

Point of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker, on 24 May, at Prime Minister’s questions, I asked the Prime Minister why he was forcing the British public to pay the legal bill for Boris Johnson for the Privileges Committee, which is a parliamentary Committee of this House. In his reply, the Prime Minister said there was a convention that former Ministers or Ministers would have the legal bill covered in scenarios requiring lawyers such as public inquiries—Iraq, the contaminated blood scandal and other such inquiries. What the Prime Minister did was to suggest that the precedent was already set. It is not. It transpires, following several questions to the Cabinet Office, that it cannot give me a single example of a Minister or former Minister having their legal bills covered for a parliamentary inquiry. He has effectively extended the precedent.

How do we get the Prime Minister to come back to the Dispatch Box, apologise and correct the record? One would have thought, given the events of recent days, that he would be keen to get back here to set the record straight.

May I say first that I am very grateful to the hon. Member for giving notice of his point of order? He will have heard me say before that, if Ministers and others have different interpretations of events, it is not for the Chair to determine which is correct. That said—and I stress this—if a mistake has been made by a Minister, they should, of course, correct the record. What I do know very well is that, although the hon. Member has raised it here, this is certainly not the end of it. He will continue to pursue different avenues. I am sure that he will use the good offices and advice of the Table Office until he gets an answer—it may not be what he wants, but I am sure that he will get an answer. He has put his concern on the record for us all to know.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Bill Presented

Higher Education (Duty of Care) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Tim Farron, supported by Munira Wilson, Wera Hobhouse and Debbie Abrahams, presented a Bill to provide that higher education institutions have a duty of care for their students; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 331).

Banking and Postal Services (Rural Areas)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to set minimum service standards for the provision of banking and postal services in rural areas, including for the provision of services through physical outlets; and for connected purposes.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss an issue that impacts on a significant portion of our population but too often falls by the wayside. I will shine a light on the unique challenges faced by our rural communities because of the withdrawal of vital services such as bank branches and post offices.

In a world hurtling towards digitalisation, we sometimes forget that not every part of our society can adapt to that transition equally. For some in rural communities, the cloud is more likely to provide rain than a platform for accessing essential services. For many in rural areas, banks and post offices offer more than just financial transactions or mail delivery points: they are lifelines and community hubs that connect individuals to the wider social and economic network. The withdrawal of those services is more than an inconvenience; it is a disruption that risks leaving our rural communities high and dry.

Rural communities form the bedrock of Scotland, and I am sure others will agree that it is the same for their countries, too. Such communities safeguard our natural resources, produce our food and contribute significantly to our cultural heritage, yet they face increasing marginalisation and neglect. The closure of bank branches and post offices owing to economic shifts and technological advancements has left our rural residents feeling overlooked and isolated. When they were needed to save the banks, they were told in countless adverts that the banks would support their communities, but village by village, town by town, those promises have vanished as corporate priorities have shifted. Similarly, the failure to pay postmasters properly, and the steady withdrawal of government services, has left many local post offices simply unsustainable and struggling. Let us not forget the damage that the Horizon scandal did to the post office network.

For our communities, this issue transcends financial and communication inconveniences. For our older citizens, those services might be their only way of managing finances or staying connected with loved ones. Local businesses rely on those outlets for transactions and receiving supplies. The digital alternatives, which are often considered commonplace in urban areas, are inaccessible because of inadequate internet connectivity or a lack of digital literacy. After all, if an Amazon customer in London cannot find a working Evri return point after trying four different locations, what chance do those living in rural areas have?

How do we address this problem? What can we do to ensure our march towards progress does not sideline these vital communities? The Bill proposes the implementation of legislation to safeguard these physical services in our rural areas. The legislation would mandate a minimum number of physical branches per population, ensuring rural communities have access to these crucial services. We must certainly invest in improving digital infrastructure and digital literacy programmes, but the physical presence of these services is indispensable. They provide a sense of community and reassurance that digital platforms simply cannot replicate.

Incentives for banks and institutions to maintain these services in rural areas could be introduced, such as tax breaks or shared service models where multiple providers share a facility to lower operational costs. Yet while banking hubs may offer a solution to some, progress on these is glacial at best. With no legislation to back a community right to back this up, there is no meaningful incentive to provide these everywhere that they are needed.

Of course, we should also consider innovative delivery models such as mobile bank branches or post office vans to ensure accessibility for all, particularly those who might find travel difficult, but these models should supplement, not replace, physical services, and they must be designed to foster rural resilience. Services for rural areas must be designed to succeed, not to fail. That is why rural communities require a legal obligation for these services. The ongoing withdrawal of essential services from our rural communities is not just an issue: it is a crisis.

We must ensure that our digital transition is inclusive, compassionate and considerate of all of our citizens regardless of their location. Progress should never come at the expense of leaving anyone behind. Our rural communities deserve the right to access the same services and facilities as urban communities, and legislation to protect these services gives voice to the needs and rights of our rural communities.

The role of rural communities in our nation is indispensable, preserving our environment, ensuring food security and maintaining cultural heritage, yet these communities are often sidelined, left grappling with dwindling essential services. Bank branches and post offices are not mere conveniences: they are essential lifelines connecting them to the broader social and economic network of our country.

The UK Government’s inaction in addressing these issues has left our rural communities floundering. The onus lies here in Westminster where the power has been retained. The UK Government are the only ones currently capable of taking action, yet concrete measures to halt the decline of these essential services have been sorely lacking. Without intervention, the digital divide will continue to widen and our rural communities will face increasing marginalisation. It is crucial that the UK Government take proactive steps to tackle this issue, or devolve the power to Scotland for us to do so ourselves.

In Scotland, especially after Brexit, our rural communities are experiencing population decline. Young people are leaving to seek new opportunities elsewhere without the new blood we previously had coming in, leaving behind an ageing population. This demographic shift poses its own challenges, from a dwindling workforce to added strains on services for the elderly. The very fabric of these communities—the traditions and practices preserved over generations—are consequently at threat.

Immigration can play a significant role here: by welcoming new Scots from overseas into these areas, we introduce new residents eager to contribute to the local economy and community, but we must also strive to create inclusive, welcoming communities that can support that necessary growth and sustainability of these towns and villages. With independence, we can do that ourselves, but action is needed now.

The survival and prosperity of our rural communities, particularly in Scotland, requires a multipronged approach. The protection of essential services, investment in infrastructure, and the creation of opportunities are all threads in this intricate tapestry. The fate of our rural communities is intrinsically linked with that of our nations. By ensuring their survival and growth, we create a resilient and diverse Scotland rich in tradition and culture and natural resources.

This could be true for the other nations of the UK as well. Let us not forget that progress is not solely about thriving cities and technological innovations; it is also about our villages, towns and farmland, and the people who call those places home. The strength of our nations lies in the unity and welfare of all our communities, both rural and urban. Let us ensure that we uphold that strength by safeguarding the services that our rural communities depend on.

Question put and agreed to.


That Drew Hendry, Brendan O’Hara, Ben Lake, Marion Fellows, Allan Dorans, Angus Brendan MacNeil, Richard Thomson, Patricia Gibson, David Linden, Dr Philippa Whitford, Owen Thomson and Alan Brown present the Bill.

Drew Hendry accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 332).

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Consideration of Lords message

I should inform the House that none of the Lords amendments engages Commons financial privilege.


Minimum service levels for certain strikes

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Lords amendment 4B, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendments 5B, 5C and 5D, and Government motion to disagree.

There are three motions before the House. I am grateful for the fact that both Houses have reached agreement on the appropriate territorial application of the Bill, but I regret that we have not yet reached agreement on some remaining issues. I must once again urge the House to disagree with the Lords amendments before us. Again, the Bill has been amended in ways that would delay implementation or seriously limit the operation of minimum service levels. That would mean that we could not provide the all-important balance between the ability of unions and their members to strike and the ability of the wider public to access, during periods of strike action, the key services that our country needs. I will briefly summarise for the House the reasons why the amendments remain unacceptable to the House.

First, through Lords amendment 2B, the noble Lords seek to introduce additional consultation requirements and new parliamentary scrutiny processes. We recognise the importance of ensuring that the public, employers, employees, trade unions and their members are all able to participate in setting minimum service levels. That is why we ran consultations on applying MSLs to ambulance, fire, and passenger rail services on that basis. The Government maintain that the Bill enables the appropriate consultation to take place, and we are confident that the affirmative procedure will allow Parliament to conduct proper scrutiny of secondary legislation.

Proposed new section 234F of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, inserted by the schedule, says,

“the Secretary of State must consult such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”

Does that not mean that there is no obligation to consult at all? The Secretary of State can decide that no one needs to be consulted. Does that not show the importance of the Lords amendment?

If there is anybody whom the hon. Gentleman thinks was not able to contribute to the consultation, I ask him to please let me know, but it was open to anybody to make a submission to the consultation, and all those submissions will be properly assessed by Ministers and officials.

I turn now to the Lords amendments that would restrict the ways in which we can ensure that minimum service levels are achieved, Lords amendment 4B still leaves employers powerless to manage instances of non-compliance when workers strike contrary to being named on a work notice.

As the hon. Lady may know, our initial consultations closed around the middle of May—9 May to 11 May. Those submissions will now be considered, and we will report back to the House accordingly.

To be absolutely clear, Lords amendment 2B addresses the concerns that many of us in this place have about the right to strike and how it will be protected. How are the Government going to ensure that these minimum service levels are fair and balanced and do not affect that right to strike?

We are very clear that we want to maintain the right to strike. Previous derogations, which we very much appreciate, have not interfered with people making their views known through industrial action. We do not expect that situation to change. As I say, the consultation ran for a good period of time, and the submissions are now being considered. Of course, we want to make sure that people have been properly consulted and that the regulations are fit for purpose.

I will make a little progress, but I will make sure that both the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) and the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) get a chance to make their points.

The Bill takes the same approach as to any other strike action that is not protected under existing legislation. Lords amendment 5B may suggest that the other place accepts that trade unions should have a role to play in ensuring that minimum service levels are met, but in reality under, that amendment, whether and how the unions encouraged their members to comply with work notices would be at their discretion. Unions would be able to induce people to strike as normal and take steps to undermine the achievement of minimum service levels. That is clearly directly counter to the objectives of the policy.

The Minister has said that the consultation has already closed, but the whole point of the Lords amendment is to oblige the Government to consult on draft regulations when they bring them forward and to publish impact assessments. If the consultation has already closed, that proves that there will be no transparency going forward, does it not?

Not at all. There will be further scrutiny of the minimum service levels when they are brought forward, in the usual way that legislation passes through this House. Those regulations will be considered by both Houses.

In response to the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), the Minister indicated that the Government agree with the right to strike and want to protect it. However, rejecting Lords amendment 4B does not do that, because the consequence would be that employers would have the right to dismiss a worker taking part in industrial action, with no recourse to a tribunal. How does that protect the right to strike action?

Because it requires people who are named in a work notice to turn up for work, which is common in other jurisdictions that use minimum service levels in order to ensure that the public can go about their daily lives and businesses continue to operate. It does not interfere with that ability.

The Minister is an honourable person, and I know that he understands the issues and where we are coming from. Decent, ordinary people vote to strike only when they feel voiceless and invisible to management. Government and big business can prevent strikes by listening and acting before that stage is reached, but the right to strike must always be a last-ditch possibility, and those people must reserve that right. Does the Minister understand that and agree with it?

As always, I entirely agree with all the points that the hon. Gentleman has made. Of course strikes should be a last resort, and workers should be able to take industrial action when they feel their voices are not being heard. I do not think there is anything in the Bill that cuts across that. Hon. Members may disagree, but that is our position, and it is a position we have maintained throughout the passage of the Bill.

No, I have given way twice to the hon. Gentleman.

The Government maintain that there must be a responsibility for unions to ensure that their members comply. Without that, and without any incentives for employees to attend work on a strike day when identified in a work notice, the effectiveness of the legislation will be severely undermined. Unfortunately, I do not consider that these amendments are a meaningful attempt to reach agreement. I fear that we are having a somewhat repetitive debate that is delaying us getting on with the important business of minimising disruption to the public during periods of strike action, and I encourage this elected House to disagree with the amendments.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Today, we consider a number of Lords amendments that will go some way towards making the Bill slightly less draconian than it currently is, but will not make it a Bill that we can ultimately support. I start by paying tribute to Members in the other place who have done their best to ameliorate the Bill with the sensible amendments that we are considering, and which we will be supporting. What those Members understand is that the Bill is the act of a weak Government who have lost the authority and the will to govern for everyone; a Government who prefer legislation to negotiation, diversion to resolution, and confrontation to consultation. How Ministers have the gall to come to the Dispatch Box and talk about the importance of minimum service levels when we have seen the decimation of our public services under this Government—with a record 7.4 million patients left on waiting lists, record teacher vacancies, and ever-increasing response times to calls to the police—is beyond me.

My hon. Friend is making excellent points. I have heard from doctors in Wirral West who firmly believe that the Bill represents an intrusion on legitimate trade union activities, undermines workers’ rights to representation, and would leave unions unable to effectively represent their members. Does my hon. Friend agree?

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and I do agree with those doctors. I will go on to explain why the Bill is an attack on basic freedoms and liberties that I thought this country held dear.

Turning first to Lords amendment 2B, as we know, the Bill presents the Secretary of State with huge, unchecked powers, throwing scrutiny and democracy out of the window. We think it is entirely reasonable that if a Secretary of State wants the power to set, impose and police minimum service levels, they should be accountable for the impact of those powers and able to demonstrate what their impact will be. Requiring them to conduct a proper impact assessment on the use of those powers and hold a consultation on any specific proposals they have could be helpful to a Secretary of State, because they cannot possibly know how every nook and cranny of any particular sector operates and what is needed to deliver a minimum service level—assuming they can define what one is.

If the Government think that it is such a wonderful idea to introduce minimum service levels in the sectors covered by the Bill, they should not fear scrutiny of their proposals, consultation with those directly affected, or challenges to their assumptions. My fear is that the Government fear all of those things. When the Regulatory Policy Committee described the Bill as “not fit for purpose”, one would have hoped that any sensible and rational Government would put a little bit of effort into talking to people to make sure that their own Bill had even a remote chance of working, but I suspect that—like so many things that we hear from this Government—they do not look beyond the easy headline and do not think through the consequences of their actions.

I will turn briefly to Lords amendment 5B, which attempts to deal with what is essentially a full-blown attack on the independence of trade unions and their members. I know that the Government have been raising the bar ever higher on the number of members required to vote in favour of industrial action. However, even they must see that putting a requirement on a trade union to take action to stop some of its members from participating in industrial action once they have voted in favour of it—as proposed new section 234E of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 would do—undermines the very essence of what a trade union stands for.

We have never had an adequate explanation of what reasonable steps a union is expected to take in those circumstances. The Minister previously told us that it would be a matter for the courts to determine, but that represents an abject failure by the Government to do their job. Are they really saying to trade unions that they can face damages of up to £1 million if they fail to comply with the Bill, but that they will have to wait for a court to decide what they need to do to avoid that liability? That is ludicrous, dangerous, and a potentially disastrous situation for any trade union to be in. This amendment removes Government interference in lawfully and democratically made decisions by an independent non-governmental organisation, and removes the completely disproportionate risk that trade unions face if they fail to adhere to the undemocratic, unspecified and unconscionable requirements of this provision.

I should refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the jurisdiction of trade unions. I have said this in the House before, but Government Members just do not seem to understand it. It is the members of the trade union who determine what happens within a trade union—it is not a general secretary or even an executive, but the members—so how are they, as individual members, going to instruct workers to attend work?

That is really a question for the Minister, and one that I think the Government have failed to answer adequately. I think the point my hon. Friend makes is a good one. When Conservative Members traduce the union barons, they actually traduce every single member of the trade union who has voted in support of industrial action, and I am afraid that that is no way for any Government to operate.

I would ask Conservative Members, not that there are many here, to consider what the Bill actually means. Representatives of trade unions will be required to encourage, cajole, advise, pressurise or even demand that their members cross a picket line. They will be asking trade unions to actively go against the very thing they were set up to do. I would say that it is a bit like asking a Conservative MP to vote in support of higher taxes, but I guess that, with the highest tax burden in over half a century, we may have to drop that particular analogy.

My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. I am a proud trade unionist, but I am also a former schoolteacher. I am concerned not only about the administrative burden that this requirement for employers to serve work notices on staff will create, but about the risk of damaging relationships within the workplace. He is talking about people being required to cross picket lines, and that would most definitely be a case in point. I am very concerned, because schools and hospitals in particular operate through staff collaborating with each other, and risking those relationships is a very dangerous thing to do.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why so many employer organisations are also against this Bill, because they understand what it will do for industrial relations: it will make them worse, not better. I would ask Conservative Members to think carefully about what they are asking trade unionists to do, which is to go against deeply held, genuine and sincere beliefs—

I intervene to give my hon. Friend a chance to get his throat in order. Does he agree with me that, first and foremost, the Prime Minister withdrew his Labour on Monday with the intention of not showing leadership, which is a remarkable feat on the part of a Prime Minister? Does my hon. Friend agree that these are the death throes of a Government who have really run out of steam? They are trying to blame everybody else for what is going wrong. They are going for a cheap headline and have created this piece of legislation, which is anti-trade union and anti-democratic, to try to throw the blame on to the trade unions and workers, and away from where it really lies—with this Government.

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention—I think my voice has returned, thankfully—and he is absolutely right. This Bill is counterproductive because ultimately it will not quell the concerns of many people in those sectors that have taken industrial action. Taking away the right to strike will not take away people’s concerns; it will just make them worse, and it will prolong anxiety, concern and discord.

Again, I ask Conservative Members to think about what they are asking trade unions to do—to go against deeply held, genuine and sincere beliefs. Whether or not they agree with the right to strike, do they really think in all conscience that this is something that sits comfortably with notions of dignity, respect and freedom? How would they feel if they were compelled to take actions in direct contravention of their own values?

Finally, I turn to Lords amendment 4B. It attempts to tackle the pernicious heart of this Bill, which seeks to destroy the basic freedoms that the trade union and Labour movement have fought to secure over the course of history. From the Chartists to the founding of the TUC, the trade unionists at Taff Vale and the formation of the Labour Representation Committee, the working people of this country have faced a long and arduous struggle to improve their working conditions, and fundamental to that struggle has been the right to withdraw labour. When Conservative Members inevitably vote down this amendment, they are saying to their constituents—the teachers, doctors, nurses, bus drivers and train drivers—that their voice does not matter and that, should they dare to withdraw their labour in search of better terms and conditions, they do so at their own risk.

The shadow Minister is being very generous in taking interventions. The heart of the Lords amendment is to protect workers who have been dismissed so that they have recourse to a tribunal. That is a fundamental human right, is it not?

One would have thought so, and that is probably why the Equality and Human Rights Commission has expressed great alarm at this Bill. If the Government want to give themselves the power to threaten every firefighter, every teaching assistant and every paramedic with the sack when they exercise their democratic right to withhold their labour, they should think very carefully about what they do with that power, because in a free society no Minister should hold that power—not that Ministers seem to understand what this Bill actually does, because the Minister said last time:

“The reality is that nobody will be sacked as a result of this legislation.”—[Official Report, 22 May 2023; Vol. 733, c. 103.]

I know that the Government chose to bypass the normal line-by-line consideration of this Bill, but one would have hoped that the Minister had read as far as the schedule, because it does actually contain the power to sack people for going on strike.

Even if the Government do not understand the powers they are giving themselves under the Bill, they ought to understand the principle of the withdrawal of labour in the event of a dispute. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) has mentioned, many Conservative Members withdrew their labour the other night. In fact, 200 of them had no difficulty in doing so. Indeed, former Prime Minister Johnson withdrew his labour after he disagreed with the report from the Privileges Committee. So they should understand that the principle of people withdrawing their labour is an important one. It is a basic and fundamental right that every one of our citizens should enjoy in a free and democratic society. We are not serfs required to provide toil to the lord of the manor or conscripts engaged in a war against an invading force; we are citizens of this country, and in a free country the right to withdraw labour should be protected and respected.

Even if Conservative Members believe that the requirement to send someone into work against their will is somehow consistent with a free and democratic society, they should at least consider the fact that the Bill as it stands means an employee can be sacked for failing to comply with a work notice, even if they say they have not received it. Yes, someone can be sacked for not complying with a work notice without any challenge to it legally, and they can also be sacked for not complying with it even if they have never seen it. How is that justice, how is that reasonable and how is that good industrial relations? It is a recipe for injustice, for toxicity and for abuse by employers who want to get rid of the most troublesome employees.

I will not list all the organisations that have condemned this Bill, but two of the main employers in the key rail and health sectors have called this out for what it is, because they know that rather than resolve industrial disputes, this Bill will prolong them. They know that the kind of restrictions this Bill places on people are anti-democratic and not in the best traditions of this country. It is no wonder that even members of the Cabinet have criticised this Bill. Indeed, this week we had the shameful news that the United Nations, through the International Labour Organisation, has called on the Government to respect international law, such is the threat that this Bill poses to it. No, we cannot accept this tawdry, vindictive, unworkable disgrace of a Bill. This Bill attacks the people who keep this country going, and the sooner the Government realise that the politics of division will not work, the better.

I want to start by simultaneously condemning and praising the Lords, because although I still disagree with the premise of unelected peers for life, I respect the work ethic of some of those who have been trying to improve this God-awful Bill. It also shows that, while the Tories can stuff the place with their cronies and donors, the issue with cronies and donors is that they cannot be bothered to turn up, do their work and vote accordingly, as in the case of Baroness Mone, who is absent after pocketing millions of pounds for selling dodgy personal protective equipment to the NHS. On the Lords as an institution, we have a perfect illustration of the Labour leader’s continued flip-flopping. Overnight he has gone from wanting to abolish the Lords to now planning to stuff it full of Labour peers when he gets into government. It is pretty shameful.

I am disappointed that the Lords did not hold out on an amendment to restrict the Bill’s extent to England only, which would recognise the position of the devolved Governments.

I commend the Lords in their consistency on other matters pertaining to the Bill. Lords amendment 2B would require the Government first to publish draft regulations, and then to undertake impact assessments on their effects and to consult with representatives of trade unions and employees. That is hardly an onerous request—in fact, it is just putting in place basic transparency. Throughout the Bill’s passage, the Tories have been eager to tell us that it is about health and safety, minimum service levels and allowing the public to get to work. If that is the Bill’s real intent, and it is not a draconian attack on the rights of workers to strike, surely the Government should be willing to comply with the requirements of Lords amendment 2B.

Paragraph (c) of the amendment perfectly encapsulates the rhetoric of the Tory Government about balancing the impact of regulations on the general public with complying with workers’ rights to strike. Given all the quotes and speeches from Tory Ministers and Back Benchers, surely they should be content with the amendment and be confident that they can comply with it and set out the aims of any draft legislation, allowing the public to understand its intent and impact. If the Government were true to their stated aims, the amendment could mean them backing trade unions into a corner with transparency. At a stroke, the amendment would take away claim and counter-claim on the impacts of any regulations, as the impact assessments and consultations would be crystal clear to everyone involved. What is it that the Government are objecting to, because the Minister certainly did not make that clear earlier? The Minister said that the consultation is already closed, which means there is no transparency going forward.

In voting to disagree with the previous Lords amendments, the Government said that it was because the Bill already contains adequate consultation requirements. I have already illustrated that the Government are completely at it with that statement. If we look at proposed new section 234F of the 1992 Act, the Secretary of State is required only to consult such persons that he or she considers “appropriate”. That clearly leaves the door open to consult nobody at all.

Subsection (5) of proposed new section 234F advocates that any consultation requirements can be satisfied before the passing of the Bill. How is that even logical? According to the Government, adequate provision takes the form of consulting who they decide they want to consult, and in the absence of any doubt, any past consultation, past Government rhetoric or past announcements will count as satisfying these non-consult requirements. That is certainly a much easier pathway for the Government than having to bother to undertake impact assessments, proper consultation and parliamentary scrutiny in the form of a Joint Committee to review these impact assessments. The reality is that, with Lords amendment 2B, Parliament has a choice to take control or to cede unlimited powers to a Secretary of State.

Turning to Lords amendment 4B, I refer to the Government’s response to Lords amendment 4, which shows their real intent. They have said that the reason for objecting to Lords amendment 4 is

“in order for the legislation to be effective, it is necessary for there to be consequences for an employee who fails to comply with a work notice.”

The Government rationale is clear that the legislation is intended to be the “sack the workers, sack the nurses, sack the doctors and sack the train drivers Bill”, plain and simple. Forget the pretence that this legislation brings the UK into line with other countries that the Government keep telling us have minimum service levels legislation on the right to strike, because this legislation brings the UK into line not with other democracies, but with Russia and Hungary.

Lords amendment 4B provides some protection for workers—protection from malicious employers and protection for individual workers and, in particular, union representatives to stop them being targeted by employers. Surely the Government must agree with proposed new subsection (1) under Lords amendment 4B that a person is not subject to a work notice if they have not received it. This Government demand that people prove who they are before they can exercise their right to vote, but at the same time they seem to believe that a worker can be sacked for not complying with a work notice they have not actually received. It is preposterous. Proposed new subsection (2) confirms that the employer has to prove that the work order was served and received in compliance with subsection (1). Any decent employer would do that anyway, but it makes sense for an employer to have to prove that to ensure no unfair dismissal claims. Otherwise, I return to the point that the sacking of workers is clearly a key outcome and sanction that this Government intend.

No longer is there any need for illegal secret blacklisting, because all employers now have to do is the sack awkward squads for not complying with notices they did not receive. That is how open to abuse the legislation is in its current form, and it is outrageous that the Government are moving against Lords amendment 4B. They are bringing in legislation to make it easier to sack workers when we do not have enough workers to fill vacancies. It is truly perverse that the Government are sticking with such draconian legislation to make it easier to sack key workers.

Lords amendments 5B, 5C and 5D attempt to provide some protection for the unions. It is crystal clear that the Government are trying to break the unions by making them agents of employers to make employees comply with work notices. It is utterly bizarre and outrageous. Unions are formed by worker members and are intended to work on behalf of those members. They cannot and should not be forced to work against the wishes of their own members. Amendment 5B is a much slimmed-down version of Lords amendments 5 to 7, which the Government rejected because they want the legislation to have maximum impact in attacking workers and union rights.

Lords amendment 5B also removes the outrageous aspects of proposed new section 234E of the 1992 Act, which allows employers to recover losses from a union, even if the union has taken the reasonable steps under proposed new subsection (1). Thinking about that subsection alone, unions can be forced to pressure workers to comply with work notices, which is an infringement of the aims of a union. Even if a union caves in and takes reasonable steps, the employer can still sue the union for losses. How can that be right if the union is complying with the legislation?

In summary, the Lords amendments are intended to protect workers from being targeted by work notices; to ensure that an employer serves and proves receipt of a work notice so that workers cannot be sacked for non-compliance with a notice they have not actually received; to make sure that workers are not sacked for non-compliance full stop, which is in line with international norms; and, finally, to prevent unions from being forced to undermine their agreed action on behalf of members. The Government’s intent is clear, so I hope that the Lords stick to these simple, basic protections. Yet again, this Government are going to dismiss basic rights and freedoms out of hand. To call themselves a party of workers is a complete and utter shambles.

I will briefly touch on the reasons why I think it is important that this elected Chamber does the right thing and rejects the Government’s opposition to the message from the other place. I will focus on two amendments—Lords amendments 4B and 5B—that go to the heart of this matter and the heart of this pernicious Bill. They relate to the protection of employees and protections for unions.

The context for this Bill, as have said before, is that we have a Government who are increasingly desperate, draconian and authoritarian. We have seen that in the restrictions on the right to peaceful protest and on people’s ability to cast a vote at elections, and now we see it with this draconian attack on trade unions. How can anybody in this place believe that it is in any way acceptable for workers to be sacked if they fail to cross a picket line in a strike that has been lawfully called and conducted, even under the restrictive and onerous requirements we have in this country? How can that be viewed as acceptable in any way?

I will conclude on the protection for unions. I do not want to detain the House for long, because a few people want to speak and there is limited time. Lords amendment 5B is fundamentally necessary because the Bill is an unprecedented attack on the role of trade unions in our society and our democracy. The Minister should not need to have it explained to him that trade unions in our society are independent bodies representing workers. Trade unions in our democracy are not meant to be agents of a Government. They are not meant to be agents of an employer. They are not there to ensure that the bidding of a Conservative Government or a big corporation is done. Unless Lords amendment 5B is backed, unions will be required to take steps to persuade their members to cross picket lines and go to work during lawful disputes, or they will face gargantuan fines.

That is truly chilling. It changes the role of trade unions in our society. That is no small matter; it goes to the very core of what the trade union movement in this country has been about for hundreds of years. Failure to support Lords amendment 5B is a failure to stand up for a basic democratic principle. Conservative Members can snigger about it, but there was a time when even Conservative MPs understood the independence of trade unions.

Let us be clear: the Bill allows the Secretary of State or an employer to set minimum service levels and to issue work notices requiring workers to break a picket line and go into work, and unless we back Lords amendment 5B, the Bill will require trade unions to help the Government and the bosses to achieve that aim. It is draconian and anti-democratic. It should be opposed by everybody in the House, whether or not they are a socialist, a trade unionist, a Conservative Member, a Labour Member or a Member of whatever party. It should be opposed by anybody who believes that trade unions in our democracy are there to represent the will of the workers and their members, not that of the Conservative Government or the boss of a company. It is basic democratic stuff that takes us back hundreds of years. The legislation needs to be resisted if we in this place have any respect whatsoever for our democracy and the democratic role of our independent trade unions, which are there to support the workers, not to support the Government or bosses against their will.

All I can say about legislation like this is that the Government should be careful what they wish for. This is possibly the most significant piece of trade union legislation introduced in this country for a century—right back to Taff Vale—because it strikes at the basic human right to strike. Because it is so significant, wise people in the House of Lords—I rarely say that—have tabled Lords amendment 2B. All they are saying to the Government is, “This is such a significant piece of legislation that you really do need to consult on its detail and implementation.” Without that detailed consultation, I think that a whole range of problems will be exhibited.

I will give one example from my constituency, which I have raised before. How can there be a minimum level of service for air traffic controllers? It does not exist. Therefore, in effect, the legislation means that constituents who are air traffic controllers will not have the right to strike any more. If that is what the Government want, they should be honest and explicit about that.

Again, the Government should be careful what they wish for. Individuals who are trade unionists will see the Bill as the withdrawal of their right to strike, because at any time an employer will be able to say to that individual, “You have got to work.” If that individual says, “Well, I want to go on strike,” they could be sacked, and they would have no protections left in law. That is an attack on the basic right to strike. What will those individuals do? Large numbers of them will not comply. Then what happens? It will escalate into an even more significant dispute.

The legislation also says to a trade union, completely contrary to three centuries of history, “You will be required to discipline your members for not working.” That basically means that the Government will cause conflict within that particular union, or across the trade union movement overall. Maybe that is what the Government are all about.

When the legislation was brought forward, I thought that the motivation for it was one of two things. The first possibility was that the Government were panicking because of the scale of industrial action taking place, not realising that the vast majority of those industrial disputes would, as always, be settled by negotiation. That is what has happened with most of them. If it was not panic, it was something more sinister. It was Ministers thinking, “Why waste this opportunity? Why not bring forward the legislation that we have wanted for generations to undermine the right to strike?”. If that was the Government’s motivation, I tell them that they cannot implement legislation, no matter how hard they try, if it goes against the grain of our history, which is to respect workers’ rights, because those have been fought for over generations.

The Bill will exacerbate the industrial relations climate in this country. The Government should at least accept the Lords amendments, because they go some way towards establishing a piece of legislation that may be seen as implementable through consultation and through the protection of rights. If they go ahead like this, I can see nothing but further conflict. That will undermine the commitment across the House to try to develop a growth economy again, rather than one held back by disputes, some of which have been engineered in recent times because of the cost of living crisis.

I, too, refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. In opening the debate, the Minister skirted round amendment 4B and just said that the Government were opposed to it. A number of us intervened at the time, but I really do think that he needs to consider the Government’s position carefully, particularly on that amendment, because it gets to the heart of the Bill and why so many of us are expressing concerns about the attacks on natural justice and on human rights.

Lords amendment 4B asks that employees receive a work notice in good time. It seems fairly uncontroversial that a work notice should be issued to a worker in good time if they are to attend their work. If we do not accept the amendment, we will end up with a scenario where someone returns to work after a day of industrial action and is told they are being dismissed with no evidence whatsoever that they have been given a work notice. Of course, the Government do not want to give the responsibility for the work notice to the employer, so the employer will have no obligation at all to serve an employee with a work notice, but they could dismiss them the very next day after industrial action.

Let me emphasise that the employee would have no recourse to an employment tribunal. Surely it is a fundamental human right, and fundamental to natural justice, that if a worker is dismissed, they have recourse to a tribunal to challenge that decision. That, to me, seems fairly self-evident and obvious, but the Government are allowing a situation where rogue employers will be able to dismiss a worker for taking part in industrial action with no recourse to a tribunal, and they will not need to evidence the fact that that worker was served with a work notice.

The Government find themselves in a preposterous situation by opposing Lords amendment 4B, so I hope that the Minister will be able to answer some of these questions. Is it really the Government’s position, as I have outlined, that it is okay for an employer to dismiss those on strike and that they will not need to provide evidence that the employee was obliged to go into work? It is ludicrous.

While the Government clearly do not want workers to have access to justice through the employment tribunal, of course those workers’ human rights will have been infringed, so will they not have access to other courts to challenge this egregious legislation?

Hopefully the Minister will answer that question.

The Minister did say in answer to my intervention that it happens in other countries. Yes, it happens in Russia and Hungary. Are Government Members really going to justify the Bill by saying, “It happens in other countries like Hungary and Russia”? Is that the Government’s example? Let me name another country—Italy, where workers can be disciplined but short of dismissal. But the Government do not want to follow the Italian model; they want to be in line with Hungary and Russia. It is incredible that the Government have found themselves in that position.

I hope that the Lords hold firm if the amendments are rejected. Amendment 4B is a fundamental principle of natural justice, and I hope the Minister will explain why he is against that principle for workers in this country.

I thank Members for their contributions. It is fair to say that we will have to agree to disagree. We believe that this legislation is a proportionate response that gives the Government the power to ensure a safe level of service in areas such as health, transport and border security, so that people’s lives are not put at risk and they can work, access healthcare and safely go about their daily lives.

I will touch on one or two points raised by right hon. and hon. Members. I have a great deal of time for the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), though perhaps we do not agree so much in this debate. He asked who we govern on behalf of, and he listed very important people in our society—our nurses, train drivers and border security officers. But is he properly representing the many other stakeholders in this debate, such as pub landlords, restauranteurs, hoteliers and people seeking urgent medical treatment or trying to get to work or to see family? There have been 600,000 cancelled appointments as a result of the strikes of recent months and £3.2 billion of economic detriment—much of that to our restaurateurs, hoteliers and pub owners. It is important that their voices are heard, too.

I hear what the Minister is saying, but that is an argument to ban strikes altogether. Is that not what he is doing?

We have been clear that there is a balance between people being able to seek industrial action and being able to go about their daily lives. That is the balance that we are trying to strike. He asked if we fear scrutiny; not at all. What we fear is delay. That is what the Opposition parties are trying to bring about: delay in wrecking amendments.

Will the Minister expand on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and give us a list of the people whom he thinks should be able to go on strike? Who are the ones he approves of?

Any person who is legislated for in these measures should be able to go on strike, subject to minimum service levels. It is quite clear, and we have been consistent all the way through.

In response to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), our objection to the amendments is the delay that they will cause. We want to ensure that people can go about their daily lives. The right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) raised some points about reasonable steps. Unions will not somehow have to compel people to go to work; we are asking them to undertake reasonable steps to ensure that people comply with a work notice. In fact, we were willing to set out in the Bill what those reasonable steps would be, but the right hon. Gentleman’s counterparts in the other place rejected such measures.

The hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) talked about the independence of unions; of course we respect that. It is true that if a union fails to take reasonable steps, the strike would be unprotected, as it would if the trade union failed to meet other existing requirements in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, such as balancing requirements. This is not a departure from the existing position.

The Minister keeps talking about wrecking amendments, but how is obliging an employer to ensure that an employee has received a work notice a wrecking amendment?

I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to other points in Lords amendment 4B: proposed new section 234CA(4) of the 1992 Act is a wrecking amendment because it says there is no contractual obligation for someone to comply with a work notice. That drives a coach and horses through the Bill.

The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) talked about how other jurisdictions deal with requiring people to go to work under a work notice. He may be aware that in France, people can be subject to criminal charges if they do not comply with a work notice. These are proportionate measures. We must make the view of the elected House as clear as possible, and avoid any further delay to fulfilling our duty to protect the lives and livelihoods of those we represent.

Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 2B.

Lords amendment 2B disagreed to.

More than one hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings onthe Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, 22 May).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).

Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 4B.—(Kevin Hollinrake.)

Lords amendment 4B disagreed to.

Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendments 5B, 5C and 5D.—(Kevin Hollinrake.)

Lords amendments 5B, 5C and 5D disagreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H(2)), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing with their amendment 2B, 4B and 5B, 5C and 5D.

That Kevin Hollinrake, Mike Wood, Alexander Stafford, Jane Stevenson, Justin Madders, Navendu Mishra and Alan Brown be members of the Committee;

That Kevin Hollinrake be the Chair of the Committee;

That three be the quorum of the Committee.

That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Ruth Edwards.)

Question agreed to.

Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

Consideration of Lords message

After Clause 16

Environmental protection

This House has been asked these questions before and twice this House has said no, with an overwhelming majority. We are asked to consider, for a third time, two amendments, neither of which is radically different from the amendments we have already rejected. It will come as no surprise to anyone in this Chamber that I invite the House, once again, to disagree with the Lords amendments.

I congratulate the Solicitor General on his consistency at the Dispatch Box, which was lacking throughout most of the rest of the Bill’s progress, as the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), the Labour Front Bencher, said last time we were here. The selection list says:

“Environmental protection; Parliamentary scrutiny

Govt motion to disagree…Govt motion to disagree”.

That sums it up, doesn’t it? The Government disagree with enhanced environmental protection and they disagree with enhanced parliamentary scrutiny. That was the whole point of Brexit for the Government, wasn’t it?

I am delighted to have given way to the hon. Gentleman, not least because I like him a lot and because of his smile, but also because of his warm welcome for the Government’s position. I entirely disagree with him; he is wrong. On the last occasion he intervened, he did not hear the whole debate. I invite him to do so this time because, when he does, he will see precisely what the Government’s position is.

I make it clear that we are not rejecting these amendments out of hand. As I stressed in our last debate on the Bill, and as acknowledged by Baroness Chapman in the other place, we have listened to their lordships’ views. We have worked collaboratively on a number of issues and made fundamental changes to the Bill. There has also been significant collegiate working on the reporting requirements that will provide robust scrutiny. Parliament will be able to examine the Government’s plans for reform up to six months ahead of the legislation being tabled, thanks to the regular reporting brought in by that amendment.

Lords amendment 42D is based on the process contained in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, which is a very different beast from a very different Bill designed for a completely incomparable power. A legislative reform order is capable of operating on any statute, including Acts of Parliament, whereas the relevant regulation-making power here is limited to secondary retained EU law, which is not primary legislation.

Further, I respectfully disagree with the noble Lord Hope when, in the other place, he described the process in his amendment as “light touch”, not least because of the fundamental issue of time, which is crucial when we consider how long parliamentary processes can take. Lords amendment 42D envisages up to 60 sitting days for Parliament to consider and debate proposals for statutory instruments, and potentially time after that for further scrutiny before an SI can be made. By adding such significant time for additional scrutiny, this amendment would place in doubt the effective use of the repeal and replace powers before they expire.

Perhaps that is the intention. This is the additional friction that was so neatly alighted upon by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright) during one of our previous debates. Additional, deliberate friction, as my noble Friend Lord Callanan said in the other place

“is not about additional parliamentary scrutiny; this is actually about stopping Parliament acting in this area.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 June 2023; Vol. 831, c. 117.]

It is perhaps worth noting that, since 2008, only 35 LROs have been brought forward.

My hon. and learned Friend is making some excellent points. He has just referred to Parliament as a whole but, in this particular context, a difficulty arises in subsections (6) to (8), which confer a power on the House of Lords to, let us be honest, effectively block proposals if it decides so to do. That is an inherent objection.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Knowing him, he will develop those points in due course. He agrees with what my noble Friend Lord Callanan said in the other place, that this is not about additional scrutiny so much as about preventing Parliament from acting.

It is right to say that Lords amendment 42D has been given serious consideration, as were other iterations previously before this House. It is disappointing and hardly conducive to constructive conversation or detailed debate to resort to insulting hon. and right hon. Members, as unfortunately happened in their lordships’ House yesterday. Apart from my noble Friend Lord Callanan, their lordships have not grappled with the provisions already in the Bill for a sifting committee, the detail of which is found in schedule 5, and which will result in significantly more scrutiny than EU law had when it was first introduced into our law.

On Lords amendment 15D, I have little to add to what has been said many times. We have repeatedly made commitments, at every stage of parliamentary passage, that we will not lower environmental protections. Our environmental standards are first class: the Agriculture Act 2020, the Fisheries Act 2020 and the landmark and world-leading Environment Act 2021.

The Labour party has a choice, both in this House and in the other place. Will it choose to frustrate this necessary post-Brexit legislation, this natural next step that was always going to have to happen? Will it continue to delay the delivery of the significant opportunities that await us? The Government want to get on with the job. Enough is enough.

We are back once again, and maybe it will be third time lucky, although it does not sound like it will be. The House will no doubt be familiar with our position, that the Bill, as originally drafted, was reckless, unnecessary and undemocratic. The Government talked about a bonfire of regulations when the Bill first came before the House, but I would instead describe it as a scorched earth policy that made for a good headline but completely failed to grasp the scale and complexity of the task before us. That the approach has been at least partially reversed is of course welcome, but concerns remain. The Lords amendments before us will deal to some extent with some of the outstanding issues, and we therefore intend to support them.

I turn, first, to Lords amendment 15D. I pay tribute to Lord Krebs for showing maximum flexibility in trying to find something that will gain Government support. I fear that it sounds as though his efforts will be in vain, because although he has taken the approach that the Government’s problem with his previous amendment was its wording rather than its substance—on the basis of the Government’s claim not to want to water down environmental protections—I think he was hoping that reasoned argument and compromise might see a resolution to this endless game of ping-pong. The sad reality is that he has been looking for reason where none exists.

My hon. Friend is making an important point. A number of constituents have written to me in recent weeks to set out their concerns and point out that we are in a climate emergency. They believe it is essential that the current level of protection for the environment is not weakened. In addition, they are concerned as we have a responsibility to not just ourselves, but future generations. Does he agree on that?

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. I agree with it, which is why we are continuing to support the Lords on this amendment.

The Minister has referred to the conditions of previous iterations of this amendment as both “burdensome” and “unnecessary”. It is of course complete nonsense that something can be both of those things at the same time. A burden would be an additional requirement, but the Government also consider such amendments unnecessary. That implies that these are things they intend to do in any case, yet in their eyes they somehow remain a burden. I am sorry to say that I have yet to alight on any rational explanation for that stance, and poor Lord Krebs has stripped away his amendment to the bare minimum now in the futile search for common ground. His new version of the amendment has just two elements, instead of the four in the previous version. The remaining ones are non-regression on environmental protections and consultation with relevant experts; he has dropped the requirements for compliance with international obligations and transparency in reporting on expert advice. I would have thought that the two dropped conditions ought not to have been considered too troublesome for a Government committed to maintaining environmental protections, but we are where we are.

The Lords amendment therefore simply puts in the Bill what the Government say they intend to do in any event, yet the objections remain. We should be mindful of what the Government’s own watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, said in its evidence on this Bill, which was that it

“does not offer any safety net, there is no requirement to maintain existing levels of environmental protection.”

I find myself both bemused and alarmed by the Government’s intransigence on this issue. When they are not listening to their own watchdog and instead present arguments that disintegrate on the barest of examinations, it is right that we should continue to press for this amendment. If everything that was said at the Dispatch Box became law, we would not need legislation, but I am afraid the longer this goes on and the more unreasonable the objections become, the stronger the case becomes for putting in the Bill the protections the Government say they want to see.

The confidence that the public have in this place has been severely tested in recent years. If our democracy is to work, and if we want people to engage and participate in the democratic process, what a Government say has to be honoured and has to be seen through, otherwise we risk forever losing trust in the political process. Once that trust has died, it cannot be brought back to life by magic or by good intentions. So I say to Conservative Members: think very carefully about how you vote on this Lords amendment. If they trust the Government to keep their word and can find a way to reconcile that blind faith with the Government’s refusal to put those promises in law, they should vote down the amendment. But if that word is broken, they should not ever expect anyone to trust the Conservative party to stick to its promises on the environment or any other matter, ever again.

Lords Amendment 42D tackles one of the most controversial clauses in the Bill, clause 15, which the Hansard Society called the

“‘do anything we want’ powers for Ministers.”

I remind Members that the Hansard Society is a body whose opinion ought to mean something. It describes clause 15 as that because, as has been extensively covered previously, it empowers Ministers to revoke regulations and not replace them; replace them with another measure that they consider

“appropriate…to achieve the same or similar objectives”;

or to “make such alternative provision” as they consider “appropriate”. Those are extremely broad powers covering broad areas of policy.

If this Bill has taught us anything, it is that the reach of EU regulations permeates every aspect of life and covers many important issues that most people would expect Parliament to have a say over: consumer rights; public health; the environment; and, of course, employment rights. These regulations cover many things that many people would want to see protected, and many more things that nobody said would be removed or watered down back in 2016.

I pay tribute to Lord Hope for trying to find a compromise that the Government can accept. I fear that, as with Lord Krebs, his efforts will be in vain. In short, this latest amendment would see a Committee of this place sift regulations made under the clause, following an explanation by the relevant Minister as to why that particular regulation is required or desirable. It should be noted that Lord Hope made it clear in the other place that this Committee would be a Commons one only; how ironic that an unelected Lord is the one pushing an amendment to give the elected Commons more say in how our laws are decided, and that the Commons is resisting this move. Perhaps he, at least, understands what taking back control was meant to be about.

The Lords amendment further provides that once the Committee has considered the Minister’s explanation, it can, if it wishes—it is not required to—draw special attention to the regulations in question, following which the Minister must arrange for them to be debated on the Floor of each House. The Minister must then have regard to any resolution of either House and may, but is not required to, amend their proposal in the light of what has been resolved. The Committee can also recommend that the proposal should not be proceeded with, but, in the true spirit of taking back control, this House will get the final say on that. Is this not what the true spirit of Brexit was really about: the democratically elected Members of this House asserting influence and passing our laws?

I am sure that we will hear, once again, the fallacious arguments that because these laws were passed in the first place without proper democratic involvement, that means, by some twisted logic, that it is fine now to hand all the power over these laws to Ministers, without any reference to Parliament. Those arguments do not wash because they come from a place that says that anything that originates from the EU is bad and we therefore do not need it. Tell that to the millions of people enjoying paid holidays for the first time, to the disabled passengers who were given priority on transport for the first time and to the millions of people who have kept their job because of TUPE protections. I do not believe anyone who voted to leave the EU voted to dispense with those rights. If it is the Government’s intention to change any of those protections, or the thousands of others that our citizens enjoy, it is only right that this place has a say in that.

I am afraid the lack of transparency that this Bill represents, and the sidelining of genuine scrutiny, show up all those arguments that were made back in 2016 about sovereignty for what they are: a fig leaf for a select few to shape and determine the future of this country without reference to Parliament, and certainly without reference to the people they are supposed to represent. Democracy in the 21st century does not die in one swift act, but erodes over time, bit by bit. This Bill is another example of that, and until this Government restore basic democratic principles, we will do all we can to oppose it.

I have read with great interest the record of the proceedings yesterday in the House of Lords, noting some extremely wise and democratically well judged comments by those such as Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and Lord Hamilton of Epsom. I note, however, that Lord Clarke of Nottingham, with whom I have crossed swords a few times in the past, to say the least, was conspicuous in his support of Lordusb Hope of Craighead’s amendment, as were a number of others I do not have time to mention, although their appearance in the Division list was entirely predictable.

I wish to add that the wise words of the Lord Hodgson and Lord Hamilton reflect not only a question of parliamentary sovereignty in relation to the elected House, but the elected will of the people, both in the referendum in 2016, the anniversary of which is almost upon us, and in the general election of December 2019, where there was a massive majority to get Brexit done. It is therefore also a manifesto commitment, clear and unequivocal, which invokes the Salisbury doctrine. The Government have stood firm in these proceedings; I was extremely glad to hear my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General yet again showing the degree of diligence and determination that is necessary, and I know he will continue to do so in this matter of retained EU law. I also speak as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, whose report was unequivocal on the subject. I am glad to say that the Government supported the amendment I proposed, which is part of this exchange between the Lords and the Commons.

Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Pannick are on the same page with regard to what they term a “constitutional principle”. I note the judicial and legal enthusiasm for the amendment they have put forward, which demonstrates the issue of parliamentary sovereignty. Indeed, Lord Hodgson rightly referred to “parliamentary sovereignty” when he read out what I had said in the House of Commons on the subject the other day, about the Lords’ “intransigence” in this matter. The amendment is a matter of democracy, as well as constitutional principle, because it involves the elected House and its majority view.

Coincidentally, it is also a matter that, at bottom, is about judicial difference of opinion at the very highest level. That was expressed by one of the greatest jurists of modern times, namely Lord Bingham of Cornhill, in his magisterial essay, “The Rule of Law and the Sovereignty of Parliament”, in his book, “The Rule of Law”. In fact, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts glanced at that point in his remarks and—it is more than merely interesting to note, most unusually, but driven by deep frustration—he criticised Lord Hope of Craighead by name, I am sure with the greatest respect, along with Baroness Hale of Richmond, for their views on the issue of parliamentary sovereignty and the courts. I note the clause we are debating is entitled “Parliamentary scrutiny”, which involves parliamentary sovereignty and the overriding role of the elected House of Commons in particular, as regards subsections (6), (7) and (8).

The essay is well worth reading. In a pertinent passage, Lord Bingham describes what is at stake and why he, for his part, could not accept, I am sure respectfully, the views of Lord Hope of Craighead as being correct. It is a very much a question of attitude of mind, which is a parallel and intertwined issue, regarding the sovereignty of the House of Commons as the elected House, by contrast to the unelected constitutional position of the House of Lords, not to mention the judiciary. The Bill demonstrates an intransigence, with a failure to appreciate the importance of the role of the elected House.

Lord Bingham invokes the words of Professor Goldsworthy, whom he regards as the magisterial authority on matters relating to parliamentary sovereignty and its derivation from democratic decision making by the electors. What Professor Goldsworthy says, and which Lord Bingham says he agrees with, is:

“What is at stake is the location of the ultimate decision-making authority—the right to the final word.”

In the case of the Bill, the final word must be with the House of Commons as the ultimate decision-making authority, particularly in the context of ping-pong.

At that point, Professor Goldsworthy is referring to related matters, but he might as well be referring to ping-pong between the Lords and the Commons. He identified the importance of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty as ultimately belonging to the House of Commons, in respect of that final word, and he emphasises the fact that on the attitude and view of some judges, it would be their word, other than Parliament’s, that would be final.

Goldsworthy goes on to say:

“this would amount to a massive transfer of political power from parliaments to judges”.

I would argue it could equally apply to a transfer of political power of the same order to the House of Lords. Moreover, he states:

“it would be a transfer of power initiated by the judges to protect rights chosen by them rather than one brought about democratically by parliamentary enactment or popular referendum.”

He adds:

"it is no wonder that the elected branches of government regard that prospect with apprehension”.

Personally, I could not agree more and it is significant that Professor Goldsworthy’s words echo down the decades on this subject, as well as Lord Bingham’s agreement with them. Ultimately, it is about the same question and it is specifically related to the very words he chooses, namely legislation

“brought about democratically by parliamentary enactment”,

therefore by the House of Commons, rather than the House of Lords.

The words he chooses are “democratically” and “popular referendum”. In this context—now, in the present day—they refer to the outcome of the popular referendum of Brexit, the anniversary of which we will celebrate in two days’ time. This is the constitutional principle that must prevail, and the manifesto that goes with it from the general election. The final word on ping-pong should be determined by that principle.

Here we are again—plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. I always remember that nobody ever criticised a speech for being too short, and I think I can excel myself this afternoon.

Our position, like the Government’s, has not changed in relation to the Bill. We think the Bill is unnecessary. Retained EU law became law when we left the European Union. The special status that we have heard so much about does not, I believe, stand any sort of academic analysis. It is open to the Government to retain, repeal or change any measure on the statute book without this provision. We think this provision augments the powers of the Executive in relation to this body of law, not on the basis of what the law does, how effective it is or how up to date it is, but on the basis of where it came from. That is a poor premise.

I find myself in the strange position of backing the Lords amendments. The SNP does not send Members to the House of Lords because we have issues with the democratic legitimacy of the place, but I am glad of their work on this. Where I say this is a bad Bill, and where I fear it will be bad law, I would also put on record my appreciation of the very hard-working Clerks and others who have got it to where it is today. I disagree with the politics of this, not their work.

On amendments 15D and 42D, the environmental non-regression clause, that is taking Ministers at face value. If Ministers do not want to regress, then let us put that on the face of the Bill, which would reassure an awful lot of people.

Scrutiny measures are foreseen within the Bill. We acknowledge that, but we do not think they are enough. This is a new set of powers for the Government and I think it needs a new set of scrutiny powers for this place and for the House of Lords, to make sure that there are brakes on what they might do with those powers so given.

The legislative consent motions have been denied by the Holyrood Parliament and the Welsh Senedd. That should give any Unionist in this place cause for concern about the Bill, both in the way it is being taken forward and the attitude that it shows to the devolved settlement. So we are against the Bill and we are backing the Lords amendments to make the Bill a little less bad. I am weary of our entrenched position and a dialogue of the death, so I draw my remarks to a close.

In another attempt to recreate complete déjà vu, I follow the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) again, as I did some weeks ago. I will not repeat the point I made to him about his remarks on devolution, in an otherwise beautifully constructed speech, with which I respectfully completely disagree.

We are left with two issues. The first issue can be dealt with fairly swiftly. I do not see the need to put on the face of primary legislation a non-regression clause. The Government have been crystal clear about their approach to environmental standards and I know from my own inbox experiences, and from those of many other right hon. and hon. Members, that the British public just will not have a regression from high environmental or food safety standards. They are the sort of standards where we have led global opinion about regulation. With respect to Lord Krebs, I do not see the need for that amendment.

However, I will press the Solicitor General, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), on amendment 42D. While I accept that in its detail there might be some further work, I think 60 days is a long time. In effect, that would mean 60 working days, so if one started in late July, the matter may not be resolved until October or November. I can see that is an issue, but I pray in aid what the noble Lords said about the need to disaggregate this issue from the issue of Brexit. It does not matter about the source of the law or where it comes from; this is a question of the ability of this place—Parliament—to scrutinise the operations and decisions of the Executive.

I am always interested to listen to the careful words of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). I thought that his exposition of Lord Hope’s position on parliamentary sovereignty was a fair one. He and I actually agree quite strongly about parliamentary sovereignty and the need to avoid the trend in the noughties—before the current Supreme Court—to downplay the role of parliamentary sovereignty to suggest that, somehow, we have moved on from the age of Dicey, and the role is no longer unqualified. I think he and I agree on that—we are both defenders of sovereignty—but to pray in aid an argument about ceding powers of the judiciary is rather odd bearing in mind the context of the amendment. The amendment is all about giving more power to this place and, indirectly, I accept, to the other place.

I made a very careful distinction. I appreciate the point that my right hon. and learned Friend is trying to make, and accept, of course, that Lord Hope of Craighead is a very distinguished judge and a member of the Supreme Court. I thought that it might just be relevant to draw attention to the fact that, in the context of parliamentary sovereignty, Lord Bingham used some quite trenchant words with regard to the judgments that he had observed both from Lady Hale and from Lord Hope. That was all.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s analysis. I think that we are on the same side on this. I have always been extremely vigilant in observing, scrutinising, criticising and making my own comments in lectures outside this place about the dangers of going down that road and of not understanding that, far from being mutually contradictory, the rule of law and parliamentary sovereignty are both sides of the same coin. If we do not have strong parliamentary sovereignty, the rule of law itself is undermined. The rule of law is a political concept rather than the law itself, and, I think, that that is sometimes misunderstood. It is the duty of Conservatives, from my hon. Friend right through to me, to remind this place and other places about the importance of these principles. We agree on that, but that is not the precise context of this amendment. The amendment is legitimately and properly seeking to make sure that this place has a role in the scrutiny of the revocation of legislation.

I do not accept the arguments that there is an attempt, certainly by the mover of this amendment or of some of the others who spoke in the debate, to try to frustrate the purpose of this important Bill, which I support. We are at a stage now where, with the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, we should not concern ourselves with the Salisbury Acts, because the Lords have given us a Second and Third Reading, and that convention relates to the commanding heights of a Bill, but we are now down to the dirty detail, and that is what we are talking about. Therefore, it is important that we lean into this process in as sensible a way as possible to see whether there is a potential compromise—either by a reduction in the number of days, which I would agree with, or, indeed, by looking again at the precise role of the other place with regard to the approval or otherwise of any regulation. That is what I would be seeking to do if I were in my hon. Friend’s place, because I detect that there is, if not a head of steam, a determination by the noble Lords to press the Government on this particular issue.

As I have said before, if we start to take the “B” word out of this issue and look at it on the basis of parliamentary scrutiny, then perhaps we can take the heat out of the debate and have something far more considered and reasonable.