House of Commons
Wednesday 28 November 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Legislative Consent Motions
As this is the last Scottish questions ahead of the 30th anniversary of the bombing of PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, I think it would be appropriate to place on record what I am sure all Members of the House will feel at the time; their thoughts and prayers will be with the families and friends of the 270 people who perished and every other person whose life has been affected by the events of that night.
The UK Government are fully committed to the Sewel convention and the related practices and procedures for seeking legislative consent.
I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments. The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill is vital for my constituents in ensuring continuity of healthcare in the European Union and for the 200,000 expats living in the EU. Will he do everything he can to urge the Scottish Government not to continue to play political games and to grant an LCM to this vital piece of legislation?
It was extremely disappointing that the Scottish Government announced that they would not grant LCMs in relation to a number of Bills without even seeing the details of those Bills. The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill is an important one for Scots living abroad, and it would be totally unacceptable to put their treatment at risk, so I hope that the comments that Mr Mike Russell made the other day are perhaps an indication that they will not proceed with this politicking approach.
The Fisheries Bill is one of the Bills that my right hon. Friend referred to; it lays the groundwork for the revival of fishing in Banff and Buchan and all along Scotland’s coastline, and what is more, it confers new powers on the ScottishGovernment. I know that the Scottish National party’s policy is to take us back into the common fisheries policy, but does he agree that they should show at least some respect for coastal Scotland by working constructively and supporting an LCM for the Fisheries Bill in Holyrood?
Recent events demonstrate that there are no limits to what legislation or whose interests the SNP will play politics with. As my hon. Friend said, both the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill are important pieces of legislation for Scotland and ones with which the Scottish Government should be fully engaged.
It is beginning to sound like this Government are only committed to the Sewel convention when it suits them. Is it not the case that the blatant disregard for the decisions and opinions of the Scottish Parliament throughout the Brexit process shows that this Government and Secretary of State are committed to undermining the devolution settlement, and that that is only going to be exacerbated when the Scottish Parliament votes against the Brexit withdrawal agreement?
What the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends do not like about the Sewel convention is that it is a convention of this United Kingdom Parliament. It is part of Scotland being part of the United Kingdom and that is something that they continue to oppose.
Two of the Secretary of State’s own loyal Back Benchers have specifically asked him what discussions he has had with the Scottish Government, and he has refused to answer. Are we to take it from that that he has had no such discussions and that he has no intention of having further discussions with the elected Government of Scotland?
I am afraid that that is not the correct interpretation. As the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends know, since they ask about it repeatedly, I engage fully in the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations), and there are extensive discussions about these issues and framework agreements in that forum and in many others.
Leaving the EU
I have regular meetings with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and colleagues. The deal is a deal for all parts of the UK and it will protect jobs, security and the integrity of our United Kingdom.
I see that the Prime Minister is in Glasgow today talking about Brexit and exports. Does the Secretary of State recognise the disruption and delays that are expected at UK ports as a result of the withdrawal agreement, which necessitates the development of Scottish ports as an alternative route for Scottish exporters? If he is pledging support for the Prime Minister for a poor deal for Scotland, will he also support the Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry, which would help our exporters to get their goods to market?
I would certainly be happy to discuss the specific issue of the Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry with the hon. Gentleman, but if he and his colleagues do not want to see disruption at ports and elsewhere, they should not, on 11 December, be voting for a no-deal Brexit.
Today, the Chancellor has confirmed that every single Brexit scenario will leave the economy worse off and can be justified only by what he described as political benefits. Given that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, surely the Secretary of State must now acknowledge that there are no political or economic benefits and that Brexit would be an all-round disaster for Scotland.
I will take no lessons from the hon. Gentleman on taking action to damage the Scottish economy. The SNP’s position is to take Scotland out of its biggest market—the UK market—and leave everyone in Scotland poorer.
To quote a tweet from @ScotTories:
“Let me be absolutely clear: As we leave the EU, we need complete control over UK fishing. #NonNegotiatable”.
So said one of the Secretary of State’s Scottish Tory colleagues. Can he credibly tell Scottish fishing communities that the Prime Minister’s deal meets those terms?
I absolutely can, and that is why I am today signing the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation pledge on delivering a Brexit for the fishing industry. I look forward to the 35 SNP MPs, who say they stand up for Scotland’s fishermen, doing likewise.
It struck me this week that the juxtaposition of the festive season with the Brexit negotiations could help the Secretary of State kill two proverbial birds with one stone. It comes to the House’s attention, via the Glasgow Herald, that his good friend and former chair of the Scottish Tory party is to be summoned imminently to give evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee about his dodgy donations during the Brexit referendum campaign. I was wondering whether the Secretary of State, being a parsimonious chap, was going to save money on postage and deliver his Christmas card to his former friend, Mr Cook, in person at Westminster.
I am afraid that that question is too convoluted for these purposes. It is a matter for Committees of this House who they take evidence from.
Yesterday, the Scottish Government produced analysis of the Prime Minister’s deal suggesting that the withdrawal agreement we are being asked to vote on would make all of us poorer, but the interim Scottish Conservative leader immediately dismissed it as an excuse for another referendum, even though the Chancellor said today it would make us poorer. Who of the two is right?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not wish to mislead the House, but the analysis produced by the Scottish Government is not an analysis of the deal the Prime Minister has negotiated; it is a rehashed version of a document produced in January that looked only at generic issues. The analysis that this Government will be producing will be focused on the deal that has actually been negotiated.
Leaving the most successful union in history after 311 years would bring economic chaos to Scotland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the effect of Scotland leaving the UK would be much worse than the effect of Brexit under any scenario?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. As we have discussed many times in the Chamber, Scotland trades four times as much with the rest of the UK as it does with the EU. I am sure that people in Scotland are starting to ask why the SNP is so keen on delivering a no-deal Brexit. It is because the SNP sees that it is the ideal backdrop for an independence referendum debate.
Nicola Sturgeon wants to drag Scotland into constitutional chaos by having a further two referendums, against the will of the Scottish people. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the First Minister’s stance?
I absolutely condemn Nicola Sturgeon’s desire to create division, chaos and uncertainty. All along she could have joined the Prime Minister and worked with the UK Government to get a deal for Scotland and the UK, but she chose to put her own interests and an independence referendum first.
Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the BP Clair Ridge project, which started up in November and will produce an estimated 640 billion barrels of oil? Does he agree that this is clear evidence of confidence in the Scottish economy as we leave the EU?
In his time in the House, my hon. Friend has established himself as a champion of the oil and gas industry. That news is indeed very welcome, and it demonstrates BP’s continuing confidence in our UK Government’s approach to the sector.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, from the off, our Prime Minister’s No. 1 priorities have been the protection of our economy, the national interest, and the protection of our UK internal market—in complete contrast to the Scottish National party, which only sows division, and would go out of its way to destroy that internal market, which is of prime importance to Scottish business?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The distinction between the leaders of the various parties is very clear: the Leader of the Opposition is focused on a general election, the leader of the Scottish National party is focused on an independence referendum, and Theresa May is focused on the national interest of this country.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State realises how ridiculous he has looked with his resignation-non- resignation business. He is like a demented Grand Old Duke of York. He has led his merry band of Scotch Tories halfway up resignation hill, and has forgotten whether he is going up or down. Scotland voted overwhelmingly against Brexit, and increasing numbers of Scots do not want anything to do with it. If the Secretary of State cannot represent the people of Scotland, will he just resign and get out of the way, for goodness’ sake?
Well, I suppose there is no greater expert in the House on being ridiculous than the hon. Gentleman, swinging one way and another on every issue of the day. I am quite clear. The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, and this Government will deliver that.
Order. We have four Front-Bench supplementary questions and we are pressed for time, so they need to be brief.
“We could not support any deal that…leads to Northern Ireland having a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK”.
Those are the words of the Secretary of State for Scotland. I put it to him that the backstop provides exactly that in the withdrawal agreement. Given that, how can he justify remaining in the Cabinet?
The hon. Gentleman has quoted selectively from what I said. I acknowledged that there were already significant differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, not least because of the Belfast agreement, and in relation to, for example, the single electricity market. However, I am clear about the fact that the greatest threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom is posed by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. That is why they want a no-deal Brexit.
Given the gravity of the situation, I think we should expect Ministers of the Crown to answer questions put to them. The Secretary of State has publicly refuted the differentiation on which the withdrawal agreement is based; he has threatened to resign on numerous occasions; and now he has nailed his colours to the Prime Minister’s mast, and invested what political capital he has left in this deal. I ask him this: if the withdrawal agreement is rejected by this Parliament, as it surely will be, will he at that point resign his position?
My position is quite clear. The integrity of the United Kingdom must be preserved. The SNP and Nicola Sturgeon see Brexit as an opportunity to break up the United Kingdom, so above all else I put that first.
May I begin by supporting the Secretary of State’s comments in relation to Lockerbie?
The Secretary of State drew red lines for his support for the Brexit deal on the integrity of the UK and on fishing. Unless those things were protected, he would resign. The Prime Minister has come back with a deal that creates a border in the Irish sea and sells out Scottish fishermen. May I ask what the right hon. Gentleman is still doing at the Dispatch Box?
What I am doing is standing up for the integrity of the United Kingdom. When I see Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon caballing about what they are going to do next, and no doubt agreeing that the keys of No. 10 Downing Street will be handed over to Labour for another independence referendum, I know I am doing the right thing.
Order. One respect in which the right hon. Gentleman is not doing the right thing is his referring to Members of the House by name. He knows better than that, and I hope he will improve his performance.
The right hon. Gentleman knows my views, but judging by the looks on the faces of those sitting beside him, I do not think he has quite got the mood of the room. The reality is that the Secretary of State’s so-called red lines were written in invisible ink; they disappeared when the Prime Minister came back from Brussels. Labour will vote against the Prime Minister’s deal; it is a bad deal for Scotland and it is a bad deal for working people. The Commons could unite behind Labour’s alternative: a comprehensive and permanent customs union with a British say in future trade deals, and a strong single market relationship to support British business. It is clear that this deal cannot command the support of the Commons. If the Secretary of State now thinks this deal is the best deal for the country, why does he not put that theory to the test and call for a general election and let the people decide?
The hon. Lady has just proved the point from my first answer, and now that she has taken an interest in the fishing industry, which I was not previously aware of, I hope she will sign the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation pledge on what should now happen in relation to the fishing industry. I did not know what Scottish Labour’s position was on this issue, and I do not expect many other people do, but it should not surprise us that ultimately it is being Nicola’s little helpers to vote for a no-deal Brexit.
Through city and growth deals the UK Government have already committed over £1 billion of investment to Scotland and are working on further growth deals for Borderlands, Ayrshire and Moray. The UK Government are committed to delivering a city and growth deal for every part of Scotland. City and growth deals show the benefits that are delivered to the economy when Scotland’s two Governments work together.
I thank the Minister for his answer and welcome him to his place. The UK Government have now invested over £1.1 billion in city deals across Scotland; does my hon. Friend agree that this is the Conservatives delivering for Scotland?
I thank my hon. Friend for his warm words of welcome and completely agree: the over-£1 billion of investment in Scotland’s cities shows that this Government have a clear role in delivering economic growth in Scotland. Just last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was in Perth announcing £150 million of investment as part of the Tay cities deal. My hon. Friends the Members for Angus (Kirstene Hair) and for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) were instrumental in securing investment not only for their constituencies, but for the whole region as part of the deal.
I am sorry to be unkind, but the Minister is taking too long; we have a lot to get through.
Given the recent news from Michelin that it will lose up to 850 jobs from Dundee, it is now more important than ever that all commitments on the Tay cities deal are met. The Scottish Government are committed to £200 million. Can the UK Government today give a guarantee that they will fully match that £200 million investment?
The hon. Gentleman rightly raises this issue, and I know how important it is to his constituency, but, as I said previously, £150 million is being committed to the region in a growth deal and we are working with the Scottish Government in the Michelin action group, which met on 12 November. With support from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy we have presented a number of potential areas for further exploration for repurposing the site either with Michelin or a third party, and I understand that the next action group meeting will be on 30 November.
Some £120 million was announced as part of the Edinburgh city deal to upgrade Sheriffhall roundabout, but the A720 city bypass that stems off the roundabout is chock-a-block, start to end every day, which will affect my constituents and those of the Secretary of State, but this seems to have slipped down the Scottish Government agenda. Those constituents would like to know what conversations the Secretary of State has had with Scottish Government Ministers.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The deal for Edinburgh was signed on 7 August. There is a £300 million investment from this Government, and I know how important this is for her constituency. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to follow up on her question so that she has more details.
Leaving the EU: Fishing Industry
Fishing is of totemic importance in Scotland, and I regularly meet representatives of the fishing industry in Scotland to discuss the opportunities for the sector when we leave the EU.
As we have already heard, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has launched a campaign calling on all parties to back its pledge for the UK to take back control of our waters after we leave the European Union. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has signed that pledge. I have signed it and Scottish Conservatives are signing it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that all parties in this House should sign that pledge?
I absolutely do agree. When people stand up and say that they are speaking up for the fishing industry, they need to back that up. This pledge does exactly that, and I look forward to all 59 of Scotland’s MPs signing it. [Interruption.]
Order. There is quite a lot of noise in the Chamber, but I want to be able to hear the ordinarily distinctive burr of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael).
Why did the Government ever think it would be a good idea to include fisheries in the transitional arrangements?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the transitional arrangements will involve a period in which things will remain as they are, in order to provide certainty, but there is a clear mechanism for fishing to leave those transitional arrangements and to be part of the Fisheries Council in December 2020, to plan ahead for 2021.
I recently visited Atlantic Canada on a trade visit, where I met Canadian fisheries and ocean tech companies that are invested in Scotland. They are enthusiastic to work more closely with the UK once we have left the common fisheries policy to ensure that we have better balanced and managed fisheries. Can my right hon. Friend give me a commitment that we will do just that?
I am certainly able to give my hon. Friend a commitment in both regards. We are looking to work with important partners such as Canada, and to leave the common fisheries policy.
The Minister claims that the Scottish fishermen should rest easy because he has signed the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s pledge. A month ago, he signed a letter to the Prime Minister saying that he would resign if Northern Ireland was treated differently from Scotland because of the threat to Scotland. If he has not lived up to his resignation promise, how can the Scottish fishermen ever believe that he will live up to the promise he has made in the fishermen’s pledge?
I respect the right hon. Gentleman’s point of view, but I believe that the biggest threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom comes from those on the SNP Benches and from people who are seeking to bring about a no-deal Brexit. A no-deal Brexit is the most certain way to see Scotland leave the United Kingdom, and I am not going to support anything that brings that about.
The Secretary of State claims that this deal is a good deal, but on fishing, that claim was blown out of the water by President Macron of France before the ink was dry on the political declaration. The reality is that the Secretary of State cannot guarantee that the UK will not be pushed into the backstop indefinitely if access to waters and quota shares are not agreed with the European Union. That is an undeniable breach of his red line. He promised to resign over that very issue, yet he is still here, desperately claiming the false choice between no deal and a bad deal. When did he realise that he cared more about his ministerial Merc than about a good deal for Scotland’s fishermen?
Again, I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s taking an interest in fishing for the first time. If he listened to the fishermen, he would know that Bertie Armstrong, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation had said that no red lines had been crossed. What I find even more concerning in all these debates on fishing is that Scottish Labour is lining up with President Macron to do down this country. Our Prime Minister is fighting for the best possible deal for our fishermen. [Interruption.]
Order. There is a lot of noise in the Chamber, but I want to hear the voice of Erewash. I call Maggie Throup.
Connectivity: Scotland and the rest of the UK
The UK Government are committed to constructive intergovernmental working and a joined-up approach to all matters that relate to cross-border transport connectivity. At a working level, much co-operation goes on between officials in the Department for Transport and Transport Scotland on these issues every day.
What discussions has my hon. Friend had with the Department for Transport specifically to ensure that HS2 is able to link up in a further extension with Scotland, to ensure that we get the connectivity between Scotland and the rest of the UK?
I know that this issue is very close to my hon. Friend’s heart, and the Department for Transport is working extremely closely with Transport Scotland and Network Rail to look at future options around HS2 that might have a good business case, working towards the UK and Scottish Governments’ shared ultimate ambition of a three-hour journey time between London and Scotland.
It is all very well talking about connectivity between Scotland and the rest of the UK, but in remote parts of my constituency, connectivity is rubbish: you would be better off with two tin cans and a length of string. Should we not sort out Scotland first?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. With his two cans reference, I think he was referring to the digital connectivity issues. I would politely remind him that £1.7 billion of public money is being invested to support vital improvements in broadband coverage, and this Government have invested £121.8 million in Scotland’s superfast broadband infrastructure. Per head, that is over twice the funding that England has received.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Baroness Trumpington, who sadly passed away yesterday. From her time at Bletchley Park as a codebreaker during the second world war, through to her time in government and public service, she led an extraordinary life. She will be sorely missed.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I am sure the whole House would want to be associated with the Prime Minister’s remarks.
The misery inflicted on my constituents by Northern rail continues unabated: long waits for already full trains; trains that do not arrive on time; whole-day cancellations; and even the cancellation of last trains, leaving people stranded. There can be no more excuses. This latest Northern rail fiasco began in May, with timetabling and communications issues. Is it not time to get the communications right, and timetable the end of the Northern franchise?
First of all, we are clear as a Government that the performance in the north and the disruption that was caused to rail passengers following the timetable changes that took place on 20 May were unacceptable. It is clear that we saw a combination of delayed Network Rail infrastructure works and reduced time to plan a modified timetable, which meant that the new timetable was finalised too late. We know that passengers are currently not getting the service they deserve, although there are more Northern rail services now than there were earlier this year; but much more needs to be done. We are working alongside Transport for the North, Northern, TransPennine Express and Network Rail on improving services and punctuality. We have asked Richard George to review the performance of the region’s rail network and to make recommendations to improve reliability, and where operators are found to be at fault, we will take action.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue of the fishing industry and our precious Union. I am a committed Unionist, as he is, and as indeed are all my colleagues on the Conservative Benches. Our deal in relation to fisheries means that we will become an independent coastal state. That means that we will be able to negotiate access to our waters. We will be ensuring that our fishing communities get a fairer share of our waters. We will be determining that issue of access to our waters, and we firmly rejected a link of access to our waters and access to markets.
I have to say also that we are very clear, as I made clear in my statement on Monday, that we will not be trading off a fisheries agreement against anything else in this future relationship; and I am confident that my hon. Friend will have seen the support for the deal, which has been recognised by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation.
I echo the Prime Minister’s words about Baroness Trumpington. We thank her for her service to this country throughout her life. We will also remember her as a great codebreaker, as a very demonstrative Member of the House of Lords with her physical symbols, and also for her wit on “Have I Got News For You”.
I also want to pay tribute to my friend Harry Leslie Smith. Harry passed away early this morning in Canada. Harry also served in the war, and he was an irrepressible campaigner for the rights of refugees, for the welfare state and for our national health service. He was passionate about the principle of healthcare for all as a human right. We thank Harry for his life and his work.
On Sunday, the Foreign Secretary said of their Brexit deal that it
“mitigates most of the negative impacts.”
Can the Prime Minister tell us which of the negative impacts it does not mitigate?
I am sure the whole House will also wish to pass on our condolences to the family and friends of Harry Leslie Smith.
What we see behind the analysis that we have published today, and indeed the Chancellor recognised it this morning, is that our deal is the best deal available for jobs and our economy that allows us to honour the referendum and realise the opportunities of Brexit. This analysis does not show that we will be poorer in the future than we are today. [Hon. Members: “Yes, it does.”] No, it does not. It shows that we will be better off with this deal. What would make us poorer, and what would have an impact on our economy for the future, are the policies of the right hon. Gentleman—more borrowing, higher taxes and fewer jobs. The biggest risk to our economy is the right hon. Gentleman and his shadow Chancellor.
On the same day that the Foreign Secretary made his statement, the Prime Minister said:
“This is the best possible deal. It is the only possible deal.”
Well, it is not hard to be the best deal if it is the only deal. By definition, it is also the worst deal.
The Government Economic Service forecasts published today are actually meaningless, because there is no actual deal to model, just a 26-page wishlist. The Chancellor, however, said that the Prime Minister’s deal will make people “worse off.” Does she agree? The Chancellor does not appear to be here to be consulted.
As I have just set out to the right hon. Gentleman, what the analysis shows is that the deal we have negotiated is the best deal for our jobs and our economy that delivers on the result of the referendum for the British people. I believe that we should be delivering on the result of the referendum.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the political declaration—he calls it a wishlist. What he is describing is a political declaration that has been agreed between the United Kingdom and the European Union and that sets out
“an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic cooperation, law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defence and wider areas of cooperation.”
What does Labour have to offer? Six bullet points. My weekend shopping list is longer than that.
After eight years of making our economy weaker through austerity, their botched Brexit threatens more of the same. Professor Alston said in his damning UN report into UK poverty:
“In my meetings with the government, it was clear to me that the impact of Brexit on people in poverty is an afterthought”.
In her Chequers plan, the Prime Minister promised frictionless trade with Europe after Brexit. Her future partnership guarantees no such thing. Does the Prime Minister understand why MPs are queuing up not to back her plan?
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman who is backing my plan: farmers in Wales, fishermen in Scotland and employers in Northern Ireland. When MPs consider the vote, they will need to look at the importance of our delivering on Brexit and ensuring that we deliver Brexit, and doing it in a way that protects jobs. On that subject, he referenced what had happened to the economy over the past eight years: we have seen the number of young people not in education, employment or training at record lows; we see borrowing this year at its lowest level for 13 years; we see more people in work than ever before, and the fastest regular wage growth for nearly a decade; and today we have seen the number of children living in workless households at a record low and the proportion of workless households at a record low. That is good, balanced management of the economy by the Conservatives.
If it is good, balanced management of the economy, why did Professor Alston say there are 14 million people in our country living in poverty? The Prime Minister claims support for her deal, but last week more than 200 chief executives and entrepreneurs described her Brexit deal as the worst of all worlds—[Interruption.]
Mr David Morris, calm yourself. Take some sort of soothing medicament if that is what is required, but, above all, calm yourself.
A private email that the CBI sent round says of the deal:
“no need to give credit to negotiators I think, because it’s not a good deal.”
All the Prime Minister can commit to is that we will be working for frictionless trade. She has gone from guaranteeing frictionless trade to offering friction and less trade. After these botched negotiations, the country has no faith in the next stage of even more complex negotiations being concluded in just two years. So what does the Prime Minister think is preferable: extending the transition with further vast payments to the European Union or falling into the backstop with no exit?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is an exit from the backstop—there is an alternative to the backstop, but we do not want the backstop to be invoked in the first place, and neither do the Government of the Republic of Ireland and neither does the European Union. He is referring again to this issue of the political declaration and the nature of the political declaration. He will know that the European Union cannot agree and sign legal texts on a trade arrangement with a country that is a member of the European Union, so it cannot do that until we have left the European Union. Let me just say this to him: the December joint report was 16 pages long and it took less than a year to turn it into 599 pages of legal text. The political declaration is 26 pages long. It is perfectly possible to turn that into the legal text within the nearly two years that is available. At every stage people have said that we could not do what we have done. They said we could not get agreement last December—we did. They said we would not get an implementation period—we did. They said we would not agree a withdrawal agreement and political declaration—we did. It takes hard work and a firm commitment to work in the national interest, and that is what this Government have.
That would explain why the Business Secretary does not have much faith in this either—he is already discussing the transition period being extended to 2022, apparently. Parliament voted for the Government to publish their “legal advice in full”. The Government today say they will ignore the sovereign will of Parliament. In 2007, the Prime Minister wrote to the then Prime Minister saying that the legal advice for the Iraq war should have been published in full to Cabinet and MPs. So why does the Prime Minister not practise what she preached?
Of course, there is a legitimate desire in Parliament to understand the legal implications of the deal. We have said and been clear that we will make available to Members a full, reasoned position statement laying out the Government’s legal position on the withdrawal agreement, and the Attorney General is willing to assist Parliament by making an oral statement and answering questions from Members. But as regards publication of the full legal advice, the advice that any client receives from their lawyer is privileged; that is the same for Government as it is for any member of the public.
The Chancellor said:
“What we are not going to do is publish the raw legal advice from the Attorney General”.
The Prime Minister herself wanted to see legal advice in the past, and MPs need to see the advice, warts and all, so that they can make their informed decision on this matter.
The Prime Minister insists that her Government will be able to negotiate every aspect of the UK’s future trade relationship with Europe within the space of two years. We have had two and a half years since the referendum; so far, 20 of her own Ministers have resigned. This is the most shambolic Government in living memory, and she is now asking Parliament to vote on the basis of a 26-page wish list without even seeing the full legal advice. It is now clear that Parliament will not back this plan, so is it not time for her to accept that reality and make way for an alternative plan that could work for the whole country?
I will take no lectures from the right hon. Gentleman, who has seen 100 resignations from his Front Bench. Today, we saw what really lies behind Labour’s approach. Last night, the shadow Chancellor told an audience in London that he wanted to seize upon a second referendum and vote remain. So now we have it: they want to cause chaos, frustrate Brexit and overturn the will of the British people. That would be a betrayal of the many by the few.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising what I think we should all, across the House, accept is an excellent campaign. I look forward to perhaps being able to visit some of the excellent shops that he just mentioned when I am in his neck of the woods. It is important that we help small businesses, which is why we are taking more than 655,000 small businesses out of paying any business rates at all. We want to change the system so that rates follow the lower level of inflation, which would mean a saving every year and would be worth more than £5 billion to businesses over the next five years, and we are providing £900 million to cut the bills of eligible small retailers by one third for two years. I congratulate Lindsay Grieve, Stems the florist and Archie Hume, and I look forward possibly to visiting them. I am sure that many Members of this House will be recognising the importance of small businesses on Small Business Saturday and championing the excellent contribution that they make to our economy.
May I take the opportunity to wish everyone in the House a happy St Andrew’s day for when it comes on Friday?
Today, the Chancellor said that the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal will leave the economy “slightly smaller”, and that “in pure economic terms” there will be a loss. That has now been confirmed by the Government’s own analysis, which shows that real wages will fall. Does the Prime Minister agree that her deal will leave people poorer than the status quo?
The analysis shows—[Interruption.] No, the analysis does not show that we will be poorer than the status quo today. What it shows—[Interruption.] No, it doesn’t. What the analysis shows is that this is a strong economy that will continue to grow and that the model that actually delivers best on delivering the vote of the British people, and for our jobs and our economy, is the model that the Government have put forward, the deal that the Government are proposing.
I wonder whether the Prime Minister has read her own analysis, because quite clearly, under any scenario of leaving the single market and the customs union, we will be poorer. The Prime Minister wants to take us back to the days of Thatcher and a belief that unemployment is a price worth paying. That is the reality. No Government should choose to weaken their economy and make their citizens poorer. That is what the Prime Minister is doing.
The Prime Minister will travel to Scotland today. People in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain. We voted for our rights to be respected—[Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to be heard and he will be heard, as every other Member of this House will be heard. It is a simple point. Please digest it.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister will travel to Scotland today. People in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain. We voted for our rights to be respected and we are not prepared to give up those rights. The Prime Minister must explain to the people of Scotland why her deal will rob them of their rights as EU citizens.
The right hon. Gentleman started with comments about the Government’s approach to unemployment. What do we see under this Government? Some 3.3 million jobs have been created since the Conservatives came into power and the OBR is forecasting a further 800,000 more jobs being created in our economy. The employment rate is at a near record high, employment is at a record high and the unemployment rate has almost halved since 2010. He talks about what the people of Scotland voted for. They voted to stay in the United Kingdom and they voted for 13 Conservative MPs.
May I say to my hon. Friend that what—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Lady’s question was heard, I want to hear the Prime Minister’s reply, and the Prime Minister is entitled to have it properly heard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Backing this Brexit deal means that we will control our borders, we will end free movement once and for all, we will protect jobs with a deal that is good for our economy, we will no longer send vast sums of money every year to the European Union—we can spend it on our priorities—and we will be able to strike free trade deals around the world, as well as taking back control of our laws and having a good security partnership. But if we reject this deal, we go back to square one, with damaging uncertainty that would threaten jobs, threaten our investment and the economy, lead to more division and mean that there was less time to focus on the issues that our constituents wish us to focus on. I think the choice is backing the deal in the national interest, so that we can build that brighter future, or going back to square one, if it is rejected.
May I first say how sorry I am to hear of the case of the hon. Lady’s constituent, Matthew, and the abuse that he suffered? Sadly, what has come out of this independent inquiry is that too much abuse was allowed to carry on for too long, and that too many people suffered as a result. It is not just the case that they suffered at the time when the abuse was taking place; that suffering remains with them to this day, and we should all recognise that.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of mandatory reporting, which we looked at very carefully when I was Home Secretary. There is actually mixed evidence on the impact of mandatory reporting. In fact, there is some evidence that it can lead to the genuine cases not being given the resources they require. I want the hon. Lady to be in no doubt about the seriousness with which I and this Government take the issue. We are doing our best to repair—I will not claim that we can fully repair—by giving some sense of justice to the people who suffered at the hands of too many institutions, including institutions of the state, for too long.
I recognise my right hon. Friend’s concerns, and reassure her that we have been protecting police funding since 2015. We have enabled police forces further to increase funding through the council tax precept. This year, including council tax, there is an additional £460 million available to the police. However, I recognise the issue that my right hon. Friend has raised, and we will continue to ensure that the police have the resources they need to cut crime and keep our communities safe. There is also a role for chief constables and police and crime commissioners—as operational leaders and elected local representatives—to decide how best to deploy resources in order to manage and respond to individual crimes and local crime priorities.
The hon. Gentleman will be well aware of the vote that took place in 2014 and the desire of the Scottish people to remain in the United Kingdom. We have been working with the devolved Administrations at every stage throughout the negotiations. Indeed, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been having regular meetings with the devolved Administrations, and officials have also been meeting them, so we have ensured that the voice of the devolved Administrations has been heard in our negotiations.
I thank my hon. Friend for again recognising the importance of small businesses, particularly in rural communities. We recognise that the widespread free access to cash remains extremely important in the day-to-day lives of many consumers and businesses throughout the UK. LINK—the UK’s cash machine network—is committed to maintaining free access to cash through its extensive footprint of ATMs. The Payment Systems Regulator, set up by the Government, regulates LINK and is ensuring that the UK payment system works in the interest of consumers. I assure my hon. Friend that the regulator is closely monitoring the situation and is holding LINK to account for its commitments to maintaining a broad geographic spread of ATMs across the United Kingdom.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue, which is obviously, through personal experience, very close to his heart, but I know it is of concern to other Members of this House. I understand that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is undertaking a review of the provisions for parents of premature babies, and also for those who experience multiple births, as it is the Department responsible for the parental leave legislation,. It is working with charities representing parents of premature babies—parents of babies who require neonatal care—to better understand the pressures and the issues that those parents have to face when their child is born prematurely or sick. It expects to be in a position to share the key findings of this review with interested parties in the new year. I will ensure that a relevant Minister from the Department meets the hon. Gentleman and the charity to hear that experience first hand.
My hon. Friend might not be surprised if I say that I do not quite share that analysis of the deal that we put forward. Look, this is a deal that does deliver on Brexit. I think this is important: it does deliver on Brexit but it does so in a way that protects our United Kingdom. That is an issue that I have set out in this House on many occasions, and it is one that we were very keen to ensure was dealt with in this deal. It is a deal that protects jobs, but it also delivers on the people’s vote to ensure that we leave the European Union and that we do so in a way that delivers no free movement, no jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and not sending those vast annual sums to the European Union every year. But I thank my hon. Friend for engaging with those young people in Durham and debating this matter with them. It is very important that we ensure that young people maintain that interest in politics.
First, I have already quoted—referenced—what the Chancellor said. The hon. Lady’s reference to the issue of Gibraltar goes absolutely contrary to what the Chief Minister of Gibraltar has said about the way in which the United Kingdom has absolutely stood by Gibraltar—and we will continue to stand by Gibraltar. She will have heard me say before that I believe, in terms of a second referendum, that it is important that we deliver on the vote of the British people. But I would also just ask her to consider this: it would not be possible to hold a referendum before 29 March next year. That would mean having to extend article 50—[Interruption.] She wants to extend article 50 —delaying Brexit or leaving with no deal. I believe that the best option for this country is to ensure that we deliver on the Brexit vote, that we leave the European Union next March, that we do not delay that point, and that we leave with a good deal that will protect jobs across the country.
Is the Prime Minister concerned about religious persecution in the Holy Land, and will she welcome the visit of the Patriarch of Jerusalem?
I thank my right hon. Friend. Of course, he will know that this weekend marks the start of Advent, which is a time of expectation and hope for Christians. Today is Red Wednesday—a day when landmark buildings, including these Houses of Parliament, will turn scarlet as an act of solidarity with persecuted Christians.
I certainly welcome the Patriarch of Jerusalem’s upcoming visit. I know that some Israelis can face additional structural challenges, particularly Christian and Muslim Arab Israelis, who experience higher rates of poverty and unemployment, and can face discrimination. We certainly encourage the Israeli Government to do all they can to uphold the values of equality for all enshrined in their laws. I give my right hon. Friend the assurance that I will continue to work with Governments, with the international community and with the United Nations to support the rights of minorities, including Christians.
The right hon. Gentleman, with his long years in this House, knows that we will on 11 December look at the deal that the Government have negotiated with the European Union. I believe there is a clear choice. I believe that backing that deal will provide people with certainty and ensure that we deliver on the vote of the British people in the best way for jobs and our economy. Failure to back that deal, I believe, would lead to chaos and uncertainty for people for the future, and the clear message I get around the country is that people do not want that chaos and uncertainty.
This country exports vast amounts of plastic to developing countries, under the guise of recycling. Could we incentivise recycling in this country and seek to ban the exporting of our rubbish to other countries, where it often ends up in landfill or the ocean?
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. I hope that she recognises the action the Government have taken in relation to plastic. I was very pleased yesterday, when I was at the winter fair at the Royal Welsh, to see a company that 29 years ago started recycling plastic and turning it into products that people could use, such as garden seats and tables. That was an innovative initiative 29 years ago, and it is slap bang what we all consider to be the right thing to do today.
May I first say to the hon. Gentleman that I realise what a worrying time this must be for the employees of Cammell Laird? Obviously, the Government do not have a role in the strategic direction or management of the company, but officials are in close contact with the company and are being kept informed. I hope there can be a dialogue between all sides, so that they can work together to come to a solution that is in the best interests of all involved. As I say, I recognise what a worrying time this must be for the employees of that company.
It has been widely reported that, fearing a backlash here in the UK, the Prime Minister personally intervened to stop the Government offering sanctuary to Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian mother who faces a very serious threat to her life. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to put the record straight and commit to doing everything this country can to offer sanctuary to that mother?
First—I might say this in answer to a number of questions—my hon. Friend should not necessarily believe everything he reads in the papers. The position that the Government take is very clear: our prime concern must be the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family, and we want to see a swift resolution of the situation. Obviously, there is a primary function for the courts and Government in Pakistan. The Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has publicly supported the Supreme Court and has promised to uphold the rule of law, while providing continued protection for Asia Bibi.
We could approach this in two ways. We could go out there and say something, just to show that the UK is doing that, or we could ask what is right for Asia Bibi. We are working with others in the international community and with the Pakistani Government to ensure that our prime aim—the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family—is provided for.
It sounds to me as if the hon. Lady has already raised her concerns in relation to this matter, with the debate in Westminster Hall, and we have—[Interruption.] Yes, we have been looking at the issue of fire authorities, and what we have seen over time is, actually, that sometimes plans are attempted to be put forward, on which money has been spent, which have not worked for fire authorities. It is important that we make sure that the level of protection and support that they provide is there, and obviously she has had a response from the Minister this morning.
The Prime Minister will be aware that, in recent weeks, an unprecedented number of migrants—more than 100 migrants—have crossed the English channel to enter the United Kingdom in small unseaworthy craft. Does she agree that it is very important that Britain and France work together to find the people traffickers behind this, put a stop to them, bring them to justice and ensure that we invest more in our border security?
My hon. Friend has raised a very important point, of which he is acutely aware as the Member for Dover. Back earlier in the year, in our discussions with the French Government, we agreed that we could set up a co-ordination centre, which would enable the French and UK Governments and authorities to work together on exactly these sorts of issues. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has ensured that that co-ordination centre has now been stood up—literally, in the last few days.
I am not aware of the details of the case that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and perhaps it would be better if I were to write to him in response to his question.
It is of great concern to my constituent Carol Law, a staunch Brexiteer, that her name has ended up on the database of anothereurope.org, the left-leaning remain campaign group. From this organisation, Carol this week received an unsolicited email, seemingly from the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), asking her to stop Brexit. Carol is a smart lady, however, and knows that our best years lie ahead outside the EU. Will the Prime Minister please take this opportunity to educate Opposition Members about general data protection regulation rules and ask them to remove Carol from any databases they are associated with?
I think that everybody needs to take care in relation to the names that they have on databases. The core point of what my hon. Friend was saying was to reveal the view, which a number of people have on the Labour Benches, that actually they should be trying to stop Brexit. I believe we should be delivering Brexit for the British people. As my hon. Friend believes—and, indeed, I concur with her—outside the European Union, there is a bright future ahead for this country. Our best days lie ahead of us.
My constituent Sarah Rushton’s brother has been missing for over two years. Yesterday, I met her and Peter Lawrence, the father of Claudia Lawrence, who expressed their frustration that the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 has yet to be implemented, despite receiving Royal Assent in April 2017, and is unlikely to take effect until July 2019. Will the Prime Minister assure me that there will be no further delays in the measures in the Act being fully implemented?
I will ensure that the Minister responsible will be in touch with the hon. Gentleman in relation to the enactment of those provisions.
The Lords European Union Committee has stated:
“On the basis of the legal opinions we have considered we conclude that, as a matter of EU law, Article 50…allows the UK to leave the EU without being liable for outstanding financial obligations”.
The Prime Minister told me in Prime Minister’s questions two weeks ago completely the opposite. Who is right: the Prime Minister or the Lords European Union Committee?
The Committee of the House of Lords that my hon. Friend has quoted—it was quoted by another hon. Friend after the statement I made on Monday—did indeed say that in its view there was no legal obligation. There is a different opinion on this, which is that there are legal obligations for this country when we leave the European Union in terms of financial payments. I believe, as I have said before, that this is a country that upholds its legal obligations.
I do not think that I have ever heard a Minister say that their Government’s plans would make our country poorer, as the Prime Minister’s Chancellor did this morning. Is that what she came into politics for?
Let me be very clear that what the Chancellor made clear this morning is that the Brexit deal that delivers best for our jobs and for our economy will continue to see our economy grow. It is not a case of the deal making us poorer than we are today. Our economy will continue to grow, and that is what is clear from the analysis and from the Chancellor.
Order. May I say to the hon. Lady, who is perched, poised and about to pounce with a point of order, that ordinarily points of order come after urgent questions and statements? If there is some peculiarly compelling reason why the matter should be aired now, because it somehow flows from proceedings, I am happy to hear it, on the assumption that it is brief.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you been made aware of why the Chancellor is unable to respond to the urgent question? This is an incredibly important issue about the future of our country. He has found plenty of time to visit the television and radio studios this morning. He should be in this Chamber right now.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, and I recognise that she chairs an important Select Committee of the House, but the short answer for her, and for the benefit of the House and others attending to our proceedings, is that who the Government field to respond to an urgent question that I have granted is exclusively a matter for the Government. I think that the hon. Lady knows that—I take her puckish grin as testimony that she is aware of the fact—but she has registered her disapproval with the force and alacrity that we have come to associate with her. Meanwhile, however, we will hear the urgent question and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will reply.
Leaving the EU: Economic Analysis
(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the Government’s publication of the economic and fiscal analysis of various Brexit scenarios.
Today the Government published the analysis of the economic and fiscal effects of leaving the European Union, honouring the commitment we made to the House. It is important to recognise that the analysis is not an economic forecast for the UK economy; it only considers potential economic impacts specific to EU exit, and it does not prejudge all future policy or wider economic developments. The analysis sets out how different scenarios affect GDP and the sectors and regions of the economy against today’s arrangements with the European Union. Four different scenarios have been considered: a scenario based upon the July White Paper; a no-deal scenario; an average free trade area scenario; and a European economic area-type scenario. Given the spectrum of different outcomes, and ahead of the detailed negotiations on the legal text of the deal, the analysis builds in sensitivity with effectively the White Paper at one end and a hypothetical FTA at the other.
The analysis shows that the outcomes for the proposed future UK-EU relationship would deliver significantly higher economic output, about seven percentage points higher, than the no-deal scenario. The analysis shows that a no-deal scenario would result in lower economic activity in all sector groups of the economy compared to the White Paper scenario. The analysis also shows that in the no-deal scenario all nations and regions of the United Kingdom would have lower economic activity in the long run compared to the White Paper scenario, with Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland all being subject to a significant economic impact.
What the Government have published today shows that the deal on the table is the best deal. It honours the referendum and realises the opportunities of Brexit. [Interruption.] It is a deal that takes back control of our borders, our laws and our money. [Interruption.] Let me be very clear to the House and to those who say that the economic benefits of staying in the EU mean that we should overturn the result of the referendum: to do so would open up the country to even further division and turbulence, and undermine the trust placed by the British people in our democracy. What this House and our country face today is the opportunity presented by the deal: a deal that honours the result of the referendum and safeguards our economic future; or the alternative, the risk of no deal or indeed of no Brexit at all. [Interruption.]
Order. Somebody said something about “dishonest”. No Member should accuse another Member of being dishonest in this Chamber. I am not quite sure who I heard, but that must not be repeated. This is a disagreement between right hon. and hon. Members, and colleagues must remember that.
The Chancellor promised us that the House would have a detailed economic analysis of the options ahead of the meaningful vote on Brexit. The least we could expect is that, instead of touring the broadcast studios, the Chancellor would be here himself to present an oral statement on the information.
Let us be clear. We are now in the ludicrous position of seeing an analysis produced today on the economic implications of Brexit, which is in fact largely an assessment of the Chequers proposals abandoned months ago. What the analysis produced by the Treasury today shows us is that if a no-deal scenario with no net EEA migration comes to pass—something the Government have recklessly, if incredibly, been threatening—we could see GDP almost 11% lower compared to today’s arrangements. Under the hard Brexit some Government Back Benchers have been promoting, it would be 7% smaller. Only a Chancellor who talks about “little extras” for schools would talk about this kind of effect as being “a little smaller”.
Can the Minister confirm that no deal is not an option the Government will allow to happen? Does the Minister agree that the one thing this document shows is that the deal on the table is even worse than the abandoned Chequers deal? Have the Government done any analysis whatsoever of the actual proposed backstop arrangements and will they be published in advance of the vote in a few days’ time? What fiscal assumptions is the Department making about extending the transition period, given that there may be no limit to what the European Union could ask for in return for such an extension? To be frank, if the Minister’s Government are not prepared to put jobs and the economy first in their Brexit negotiations, is it not time that they stepped aside and allowed Labour to negotiate that deal?
Let me deal first with the point the right hon. Gentleman made about the Chancellor. The Chancellor is of course accountable to this House. He will be appearing before the Treasury Committee on Wednesday to give full account of the arrangements we are discussing today. Indeed, the Prime Minister herself will be appearing before the Liaison Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the Chequers deal and the fact that analysis is being based around that in this paperwork. That is entirely appropriate given that, as he will know, the political declaration suggests a spectrum of possible outcomes for the arrangements. That is why we not only analyse the Chequers proposal, but have a sensitivity analysis around that proposal as well.
The right hon. Gentleman raises the issue of a no-deal scenario. It is the Labour party that is pushing us more in the direction of a potential no-deal scenario by—I have to say it—deciding for its own political reasons to object to the deal we have put forward. To be clear, that deal is good for safeguarding the economic future of our country and it delivers on the 2016 referendum, giving us control of our borders, our money, our laws and ensuring we protect the integrity of the United Kingdom, while allowing us to go out and make future trade deals. This Government are totally committed to achieving that.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is not possible to leave a free trade area with our largest and most important wealthy customers and introduce tariff barriers, custom delays, regulatory divergences and delays at borders without making this country poorer than it otherwise would be? It is difficult to see how anybody who follows economic policy can argue the contrary while keeping a straight face. Can he reassure me that the withdrawal agreement that is being put before the House enables no change at all to be made to our economic and trading arrangements through March next year until we go into a transition period that can be extended as long as is necessary to introduce practically any economic arrangement for the future that we want? It is obvious to me that we should stay in the single market and the customs union. Can he reassure me that that is still a perfectly reasonable possibility?
My right hon. and learned Friend raises a number of points. The paper does not duck the question of the economic impact of the proposed deal compared to the status quo—the relationship with the European Union as it persists today. It makes it very clear that it will be detrimental in the economic sense. That is extremely clear. But I would put it to him that the deal is the best for the economy going forward as part of a deal that also delivers on several other things, some of which are entirely non-economic, such as control of our borders and free movement.
Before and after the EU referendum, the Scottish National party said that leaving the EU would damage our economy. In December 2016, almost two years ago, the Scottish Government produced “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, our compromise position that makes it clear that, second only to staying in the EU, remaining in the single market and the customs union would be the best thing for Scotland’s economy and for the economy of the UK as a whole. The Prime Minister’s deal will cost every person in Scotland £1,600 compared to staying in the EU. The economy will grow more slowly. The agri-food sector will be particularly affected across all scenarios. Trade deals that we might strike will only increase GDP by a potential 0.2%. Public sector net borrowing will be higher. In what alternative reality is this a good deal?
The hon. Lady is arguing to remain in the European Union. That would not respect the will of the British people as expressed in the referendum, the largest turnout in any electoral event in this country’s history. She talks about the imposition of trade barriers and the impact on the economy. There would be few impacts worse, I suggest, than Scotland becoming independent and having a customs barrier between ourselves and Scotland.
Will the Treasury publish the average 25-year growth rate in the last 25 years before we joined the European Economic Community and the average 25-year growth rate since 1992, when we have been in the full single market? In Treasury terms, this will show a massive loss of income and output as a result of belonging to those things, so the sooner we get out, the better.
My right hon. Friend seems to have already availed himself of precisely that information to make his point. What I can assure him is that Stephen Nickell, formerly of the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, will, at the behest of the Treasury Committee, be looking at all the facts and figures and the model that we have employed in this respect. He will be given access to officials across all Departments to assist him in doing just that.
I inadvertently neglected to congratulate the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on an important birthday on Monday, but I belatedly express the hope that he enjoyed himself, being fêted by family, friends and, as appropriate, his Select Committee—I call Mr Hilary Benn.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. There was nowhere I would rather have spent my birthday than in the House of Commons questioning the Prime Minister on the Brexit deal, and I am sure that the same is true of the Prime Minister. On today’s urgent question, the Government are of course unable to analyse the political declaration because no one has the faintest idea about what kind of economic relationship will result from it, so instead, they have chosen to model the Chequers plan—the facilitated customs arrangements and the common rulebook—which has already been explicitly rejected by the European Union, which is why we have ended up with a vague political declaration. What is the purpose of trying to rest the Government’s case about minimising economic damage to the country on an option that the EU has already told us that it will not agree to?
I echo your congratulations, Mr Speaker, to the right hon. Gentleman on his very special day. In the case of the political declaration, the right hon. Gentleman will know that it does not give a specific outcome because that is to be negotiated as we go forward, as was always going to be the case. However, while the analysis that we are presenting today is anchored on the Chequers arrangements and the July White Paper, it of course provides a sensitivity analysis around that to reflect the fact that there is a spectrum of potential outcomes.
The Treasury, the OBR and the Bank of England between them produce numerous forecasts every year. When was the last time that any of them got one right?
I suspect that in the history of highly detailed, complicated economic forecasts with myriad variables, there is probably not one in the entire history of the planet that has been entirely right in every respect. However, that is not an argument that my right hon. Friend can deploy not to go out and do an honest, sensible appraisal of what the likely outcomes are going to mean, both fiscally and in terms of GDP, as we go forward.
The Government have confirmed this morning what the independent National Institute for Economic and Social Research set out yesterday: relative to continued membership of the European Union, the country will be substantially poorer, with no Brexit dividend for the budget relative to the position now. Is it not also the case that the Government’s relatively optimistic forecasts are based on the assumption of a smooth and rapid transition to a trade deal, or an indefinite period in a transitional arrangement, and that the likely outcomes and scenarios are potentially a great deal worse?
No. The right hon. Gentleman raised specifically the issue of a Brexit dividend, and the Chancellor has rightly always been very clear on that. There is uncertainty in the economy at the moment and this is one of the key reasons why, if we can agree a deal, get that deal to stick and get rid of that uncertainty, a huge level of investment will come to our shores and this will be a huge shot in the arm to the British economy.
Let me start by saying that this economic analysis has been published at the behest of the Treasury Committee, but none of the three men called before me so far from the Government side is on that Select Committee. I say to the Minister that I was very clear in the letter that I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 27 June, which is available on the parliament.uk website for any interested parties. I said:
“The long-term analysis should consider the economic and fiscal impact of… implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and the terms of the future framework”.
It is clear, sadly, that that is not what has been published today. It may be the case that it is not possible, as we have heard, to model particularly those agreements and the future framework, but that should then be explained to the House out of respect for the House. This is only the first part of the economic analysis to be published. We will have the Bank of England’s economic analysis at 4.30 pm and that of the Financial Conduct Authority, and then there will be various relevant witnesses, including the Chancellor, giving evidence to my Committee in the course of next week. So I say to hon. Members that, rather than leaping to conclusions about what is on the printed page today, we should all take the time to read it in detail—all 90 pages, and the technical amendment of over 70 pages—and the Bank of England’s analysis, and we should listen to the evidence given next week, then listen to the debate, and then we will make our judgments on 11 December.
Order. Before the Financial Secretary responds, and I note what the right hon. Lady said, I just say to the House that by contrast with the experience of earlier periods, during and indeed throughout my tenure, it has been my overwhelming and almost invariable practice—[Interruption.]—as the sedentary nod of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) testifies, to call everybody in urgent questions and statements. That did not use to happen. It almost always happens with me, so if people would just be a little bit patient, rather than everybody thinking, “I am more important than the other person,” everybody will get in. I called the Father of the House and two Secretaries of State of some standing. [Interruption.] And the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) was a Secretary of State, but the Chair decides who to call and when, and I will always ensure that everybody gets a fair opportunity. It has to be that way. I have always treated the right hon. Lady with the very greatest of respect and I will always do so. I will also try to equalise the gender balance, but I hope that people will understand when I say that there are limits to what the Chair can do. The Chair also depends on who is present and who is standing. I am doing my best and I always will.
I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) is entirely right in her exhortation to the House about the importance of making sure that we fully digest the two documents that are being brought forward—and indeed, as she suggests, the announcement that will be made by the Bank of England at 4.30 this afternoon—and that we in turn review very closely the evidence that the Chancellor and others give to the Treasury Committee. We do not want to make the kind of mistake that the Leader of the Opposition made when he dismissed our deal without even having read a word of it.
I cannot help feeling sorry for Government economists today, because not only have they had people in the House disparaging their work, but what is more, they seem to have been asked by the Government to do what appears to be a spin job. May I ask the Minister whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer even asked the Government Economic Service what model could appropriately be produced based on the political declaration about the future that we are going to have to vote on?
What I can tell the hon. Lady is that this analysis has been carried out, for example, not solely by the Chancellor or the Treasury, but right across Whitehall. Every Government Department has been involved in that. No direction as to the detail or what the outcome of the analysis should be has been made by Ministers, and it is important that I go on the record in this urgent question to defend those officials who are not able to speak for themselves in these circumstances and say that the Government have absolute confidence in them and their integrity.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend recalls the wild inaccuracy of the Treasury’s forecasts before the referendum—of a punishment Brexit and an increase in unemployment of 800,000—but is there not a major flaw in the document we have before us? Global trends have not been modelled, yet it is thought that 90% of future global economic growth will come from outside the European Union. Without thinking about that, this forecast is worthless.
I would make two points to my hon. Friend. First, this is not a Treasury report, as such, but as I have just outlined, it has involved discussions right across the whole of the Government. Secondly, on future trade deals, he will find buried within the detail that in fact assumptions have been made about future trade deals with countries such as the United States, China and India.
The analysis published by the Government today, while not entirely clear in its picture, does highlight the specific impact that a bad Brexit would have on the north-east region. Today’s figures provide the modelling for the north-east against a Chequers deal and an average free trade arrangement, but uses no deal as a base for that analysis. Can the Minister confirm today the impact on the economy of the north-east of a no deal and the Government’s intended deal as compared with the status quo—remaining in the EU?
As I identified earlier, a no deal, as compared to the Chequers deal and the sensitivity analysis around that, would see every region, country and sector of the UK economy disadvantaged as a consequence. As the hon. Lady will see from the analysis presented, the impact of a no deal would be particularly felt in the north-east. That is the case also with the west midlands and the east midlands, where manufacturing is particularly prevalent. The model also showed potential impacts on agriculture, with a strong impact in areas such as Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
As you know, Mr Speaker, the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) and I tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill calling for the publication of precise modelling based on the status quo but to include the Government’s political declaration. The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick)—he is my friend, and I am not by any means saying he has done anything dishonest—gave the following assurance at the Dispatch Box to this House, and as a result, the amendment was not pushed to the vote. Had it been, it would have been passed. Hansard records that my hon. Friend gave the following assurance to the House:
“The analysis will consider a modelled no-deal scenario, or World Trade Organisation terms; a modelled analysis of an FTA scenario; and a modelled analysis of the Government’s proposed deal.”—[Official Report, 19 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 661.]
At that time, it was the “proposed” deal, because it was before last weekend, when it became the political declaration. It is not the fault of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, but it is somebody’s fault, because a promise was made at the Dispatch Box and in private that led to a course of action that meant that an amendment was not put to the vote that would have been put to the vote and agreed. I would like to know, please, why that solemn promise has been broken.
I have huge respect for my right hon. Friend, whom I count as a friend, but I gently say to her that I do not believe that any promises have been broken. We have come forward with an analysis of the deal, and that analysis, of necessity, is a spectrum of possible outcomes. The political declaration very clearly does not identify a specific end point, so the choice we are left with is taking a position on a particular set of circumstances—in this case, the Chequers deal, as set out in the July White Paper—and then doing a sensitivity analysis so that we capture the different scenarios in which the final deal could land, although that, as we know, is currently unknown because it is subject to detailed negotiation.
The Minister has blown apart the Prime Minister’s entire claim by admitting that he cannot do any kind of assessment of the political declaration of the deal because, as he said and as it says in paragraph 28 of the political declaration, there is a spectrum of outcomes and controls. The trouble is that his assessment of that spectrum includes a huge range of possible outcomes for the growth of the economy, ranging from a 1% drop to a 7% drop. That is a substantial range. He is asking us to vote for this deal blindfolded, with no idea, and undermining our negotiating strategy in the process. Will he confirm that that is what he has just done?
I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Lady, but I will not confirm that, because, as I said in my last answer, the deal, as set out and elaborated upon in the political declaration, does indeed set out a spectrum of potential outcomes, so it is logical that it is that spectrum of potential outcomes that we should be modelling, and that is precisely what we have done.
A few minutes ago, the Prime Minister twice regaled the House with a catalogue of the economic successes that this country is currently enjoying. That success is all the more remarkable when one recalls that prior to the referendum the Treasury solemnly warned that in the event of a leave vote the country would immediately enter recession. Given the historical shakiness of Treasury forecasting, is my right hon. Friend prepared to make not only the modelling but the working assumptions applied by the Treasury available to responsible third parties, such as economists of free trade, so that they may review them and see whether they agree?
I can reassure my right hon. Friend that, as I outlined earlier, Stephen Nickell, formerly of the OBR—an independent body—will at the behest of the Treasury Select Committee have full access to all the information, data and methodology used to produce these impact estimates, and I can assure him that officials will co-operate fully.
In 13 days, we in this House will vote on the future of our country, and yet the Government rushed into triggering article 50 and went recklessly into a general election without any timetabled plan for getting to 29 March, which is now the date. Will any information be made properly available to the House in the next 13 days to enable us to make a decision without being blindsided?
I am slightly surprised by the hon. Lady’s question, because that is the very purpose of the information we are discussing. That information has been set out in great detail. As my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee has exhorted, it is incumbent on us all, given the magnitude and importance of the decisions we are about to take, to go away and digest that information in great detail.
The recession under the last Labour Government was the worst since the second world war and saw GDP fall by 7% and unemployment increase by 1 million. How would the effect of moving from a deal-based Brexit to a no-deal Brexit compare with that terrible outcome under the last Labour Government? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, because modelling future differences in regulation are involved, the process of modelling Brexit is a fundamentally uncertain one and that we should be very cautious and understand that there will be inevitable uncertainty in any forecast?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in his latter point about uncertainty. Of course, this is simply a set of estimated outcomes, and everybody in the House will look at it closely and form their own opinion upon it. The impacts of a no-deal Brexit are estimated within the papers, but he is absolutely right that what we inherited in 2010—the largest peacetime deficit in our history—is a very frightening comparison to contend with.
The Government, like a third-rate conjurer, hope that if they produce a range of examples for scenarios that are not going to happen, such as no deal or Chequers, somehow we will be taken in by it. Is it not about time the Government do what the House asks them to do, whether on legal advice publication or giving us the facts to make the decision, so that this House can take back control on behalf of the British people?
We have done precisely what the House required us to do in setting out the estimated impacts of the deal, of an average free trade agreement, of an EEA-style scenario and, indeed, of a no deal. As for the hon. Lady’s point about the legal advice, I know that the Attorney General will be making a statement to the House in due course.
Is not the truth that the range of economic forecasts published today show the importance of trying to secure the withdrawal agreement? When I look at my constituents, I see the small to medium-sized enterprise manufacturing base that employs so many people who feed into the supply chain to the big companies that export frictionlessly into the European Union. It is important that we honour the result of the referendum, but that we also do everything possible to ensure that we do not fall off the cliff edge. The figures published today show that that would be catastrophic. We can argue about the size of those figures, but one thing is clear: if we do not allow a proper withdrawal agreement to take place, there will be a catastrophic economic impact, and it is the responsibility of us in the House to make sure we do everything possible to avoid that.
My hon. Friend’s assertions lie at the heart of what we are all considering: the future of our country and the expressed will of the British people at the time of the referendum. What this deal—as opposed to no deal—will do is safeguard our economy and the jobs that we have created as a Government, ensure that we deliver on our pledge to take control of our borders, our money and our laws in order to protect the integrity of the United Kingdom, and enable us to go out as a globally facing nation and do deals with other countries around the world.
The Government are treating both Parliament and the people with contempt. The economic analysis published today is essentially worthless, because it does not model the Prime Minister’s blindfold Brexit. We have just heard why that is: because there are not enough facts in there, and it is just a leap into the dark. Does the Minister accept that the British public deserve better than this? Does he accept that they deserve facts, and that they also deserve a say on those facts?
I assume that the hon. Lady is referring to the suggested second referendum. As I said in my opening remarks, I think that that would be entirely the wrong route. The British people took a decision in 2016. At that time the hon. Lady and I were on the same side of the argument, but the difference between us is that I respect that democratic decision. It would not be appropriate to go back with what would be a politician’s vote to seek a different outcome.
There is no point in sugar-coating it: there is clearly a cost to Brexit. However, there would also be a democratic cost were we to ignore the will of the people as expressed in the referendum. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the House were to turn its back on a deal that minimises that cost and respects the will of the British people, we would plunge our economy into a period of great uncertainty, which would have huge costs and at the end of which the options would still be exactly the same?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The choice before the House is to go for a deal that will safeguard our economy for the future and deliver on the aspirations and the messages that we saw at the time of the referendum. To go into uncharted territory beyond this deal—which could potentially end in a no deal—would not, I suggest, be in the best interests of any of our constituents.
The Chancellor said, very sensibly, on the radio this morning that if, or rather when, the Government’s proposals were voted down by the House, the Government would have to consider all other options. If one of those options is the so-called pivot to Norway, may I say to the Minister, as someone who has voted for that in the past, that the ship has sailed? The only option left available to get us out of this mess is a people’s vote.
The right hon. Gentleman will have heard my response to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) in respect of a people’s vote. As for the so-called Norway option, that of course comes with single market membership, and would require us not to relinquish and absolve ourselves from free movement, which I believe is one of the essential things on which the electorate voted in 2016.
When taking part in the debate on Scottish independence, I often saw how economic forecasts could be used to muddle the debate, and also to confuse constituents. Although I welcome the analysis—[Interruption.] Hang on; will Members just let me finish? I welcome the analysis that has been released today, but may I ask my right hon. Friend to release, as the tool in the analysis prescribes, further sensitivities that would allow us not only to see the difference between the assumptions in the Chequers deal and those in the political declaration—as assumptions can be clearly stated—but to see, in the context of what is said by many on the leave side of the argument, what potential upside, if any, we could gain from other trade deals with the United States, Australia or indeed China? That would help to inform our decision making.
My hon. Friend has invited me to go into some of the technical detail of what has been put before the House this afternoon. Let me direct him to my earlier remarks about the work that Stephen Nickell will be doing. It will be very detailed and very forensic, and will deal with all the assumptions, including the trading assumptions to which my hon. Friend has referred. Of course, that information will in time—in a short time—be available to the House.
However people vote, they expect the Government to put our national interest first. The deal on which we will vote in 13 days’ time clearly does not do that, and we are now confronted with circumstances in which the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are expecting us to vote for a deal that they know—and we all know—means that our economy will grow more slowly, and we will have a smaller economy with fewer jobs and less investment. No one voted for that in the referendum in June 2016, so can the Minister understand why so few MPs are going to vote for this deal in 13 days’ time?
What the British people voted for in 2016 was this. They voted for a responsible Government to enter into robust negotiations with the European Union on behalf of the British people and secure a deal which safeguards our economy, the jobs and the economic future of all our constituents, but which also—critically— delivers on several other issues including an end to free movement, an end to the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy, control of our borders, not sending vast sums of money to the European Union, maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom, and ensuring that we are able to go out and strike trade deals around the world as a global country. That is what we are delivering on.
I spluttered over my cornflakes this morning when I heard the Chancellor spinning away on television and radio about something that had not yet been announced to the House. May I gently say to the Minister that it would have been proper for the Chancellor to make a statement to the House, rather than the Minister’s being dragged here by an urgent question?
The Government’s forecasts before the referendum told us that after the referendum there would be massive unemployment, a recession and an emergency Budget. That was proved to be totally wrong, so why should anyone believe a Government forecast for years and years in advance? Is this not just another Project Fear?
My hon. Friend’s question is predicated on the erroneous assumption that this is a Treasury forecast. It is not actually a forecast. It is a set of impact assessments, and it is not a Treasury document, but one that has been brought together through intensive work across Government.
The hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) has a particularly beguiling approach to seeking to be called, which is to show that she has a bigger and more enthusiastic smile than any other Member of the House.
We can all do beguiling.
We can all do beguiling, but—well, we will leave it there. Lucy Powell.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I always thought that my teeth were one of my better features.
That’s why you take them out so often. [Laughter.]
I suspect that the fairly candid approach today has actually hardened opinion on both sides of the debate. Given that, and given that the only really clear piece of advice that we get from this analysis is the catastrophic impact of a no deal, what action are the Government taking, legally and in terms of parliamentary procedure, to ensure that there will not be a no deal?
The Government have taken a large number of actions, over thousands of hours of negotiation with the EU, to ensure that we do not have a no deal. The history of these negotiations is clear. We were told many months ago that we could not possibly arrive at a point at which we agreed the phase 1 issues, and we did just that. We were told that we were never going to agree an implementation period, and we did just that. We were also told that we would never agree a deal with the EU that we could bring back to the House, and we have done just that. The mission of this Government is to work tirelessly, day in day out, to ensure that we have the right deal for our people.
As a member of the Treasury Committee, may I put on record, Mr Speaker, that you do indeed get in every colleague in an urgent question and statement, and that, in the Chair, you have, in my experience, been more committed to fairness, the rule of law and natural justice than some other Members of this House?
The Treasury Committee will look at the backstop and the risks of entering the backstop, but I cannot see the modelling for the backstop in this document. Can the Financial Secretary tell me where it is, and if it is not in this document, can it be provided before the Chancellor appears before the Treasury Committee so we can fully assess this deal and the risks—and economic risks—of the backstop?
As my hon. Friend will know, our position on the backstop is extremely clear: we do not envisage requiring the backstop. We anticipate a deal by the end of 2020, which is the end of the implementation period. There are alternatives to the backstop, as he will know, including a short-term extension to the implementation period, and of course in the event of our actually ending up in the backstop there is a mechanism through the Joint Committee and independent arbitration to pursue an exit from it. But we do not anticipate using the backstop.
Ah, yes, the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie); he is a patient and laid-back fellow.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—I think.
On reflection, it was probably quite wise of the Chancellor not to come here to give this statement. He definitely owes the junior Minister a stiff drink afterwards, because he is not waving, but drowning, especially as in this dodgy prospectus he has essentially admitted that we will not know on what free trade agreement the country is being asked to vote on 11 December. Does he not realise that the reason so many Members will not buy the dodgy sales pitch he is peddling today is that nobody is convinced about this Brexit lottery and just being told “Have faith, keep your fingers crossed, go with us in this giant leap in the dark”?
It is not a giant leap in the dark to have a political declaration that makes clear that the deal that both sides will pursue in good faith will have at its heart a deep free trade agreement between ourselves and the EU27 with no tariffs, no quotas, no additional charges and so on, and will give us an end to free movement, end our sending vast sums of money to the EU and see us free to go out and do deals with other countries around the world.
We can trade predictions until we are either blue or red in the face, but the common-sense folk in the country know that as we leave the EU there are bound to be issues that need to be mitigated. On behalf of my constituents, I just seek this one, hopefully simple, assurance: that the Treasury has the resolve, the agility and the flexibility to address those issues as, when, or if they occur.
I think I can keep my answer fairly short and say to my hon. Friend that we do indeed have precisely the resolve that he seeks.
The Chancellor said this morning:
“There will be a cost to leaving the European Union, because it makes our trade less fluid and it cuts us from an important export market. It creates some level of barriers.”
In another interview, the Chancellor agreed with the interviewer’s analysis that every scenario under which we leave will be detrimental to our country’s GDP. Constituents of mine have already been in touch this morning appalled by these admissions from Government. Why does the Minister believe democracy was suspended two and a half years ago, and why will he not ask the country if this is actually what people really want?
I gave my reasons earlier on the question of the second referendum: the country took a decision in June 2016, in the highest turnout of any electoral event in our history, and they decided that we should leave the EU. It was then incumbent upon us as a responsible Government to deliver on that decision; to us, that has meant that we should safeguard our economy—and this deal does that—but critically also deliver on a number of the other issues, which I have outlined at length in this urgent question, to make sure we deliver all those things for the British people.
The Minister says that the report will draw a comparison between current arrangements and various unspecified alternatives. Current arrangements in Liverpool have turned Liverpool’s fortunes around and the EU has been pivotal in Liverpool’s regeneration. We simply do not know what the Government proposals in the long term actually mean; we do not know what they are as they are merely speculative. So how will the Government make an assessment of the impact of Brexit on Liverpool? How far will this undermine its current success?
Within the papers we have produced today there are regional impact assessments, including for the hon. Lady’s part of the country, of the various possible outcomes. The direction of travel that this Government are taking is to make sure we have as frictionless arrangements as possible with the EU27 going forward so that just-in-time delivery exports and imports can flow freely; indeed, that was at the heart of the July White Paper model. The hon. Lady will also know that at the heart of the political declaration is a no tariff, no quota, free trade arrangement. All those things will be important to ensuring we protect the jobs of her constituents.
This is totally unacceptable. Had amendment 14 to the Finance (No. 3) Bill been put to the vote last week, it would have passed and it would have required the Government to provide a model with remain as the baseline against their proposed withdrawal agreement. On the basis of promises made at the Dispatch Box, we did not press it to a vote. The Minister has denied that those assurances were given, and I do not want to do this but I am going to read what the Exchequer Secretary said to me and the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry): “I will explain at the Dispatch Box that we will look at three scenarios: WTO, FTA and the Government’s proposed deal.” There is no doubt about the promise that was made to us, in return for which we agreed not to press amendment 14 to a vote. Can the Financial Secretary tell me why I should not think that the right hon. Member for Broxtowe and I have not been misled, and does this analysis not prove the overriding point that the best deal on offer is the one we have now, which is why we need a people’s vote on this issue to settle it?
What the Exchequer Secretary said at the Dispatch Box was right, and these reports deliver on exactly what he said. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman gives me a moment, I will try to explain the answer to his charge. First, he sought a comparison with the baseline, as he termed it. The baseline comparison is there: it is the status quo—it is our arrangement with the EU27 that we have at the moment as a member of the EU. He then suggests that we did not make a comparison of the deal with that, but many Labour Members have said, “We don’t know exactly what the deal is and we want to know what it is now.” We do not know what the deal is because the political declaration—understandably, given that we have a negotiation now to go through—sets out the parameters and the spectrum of potential outcomes. Therefore, in order to fulfil the obligation the Exchequer Secretary made at this Dispatch Box, we have made just that comparison—a comparison of the Chequers arrangement, with a sensitivity around that, with the base case. That is exactly what the Exchequer Secretary said we would come forward with.
It is probably a gross understatement to say that economic forecasts have a very poor record. Since the referendum, all the forecasts have indicated that we should now be in the midst of a deep economic recession, yet the Government are boasting—and have real-time evidence—that we are riding the crest of the economic wave. In the Minister’s initial response, he said that this document was only about the potential fiscal impacts. He also said that it did not anticipate future policies, that it was based on a hypothetical free trade arrangement, and that some of the effects would be felt only in the long run, which of course is very uncertain. Can he understand why many of us in the House do not believe that it is worth the paper it is written on? This is certainly not the basis on which we should make a judgment on whether to vote for a flawed and deeply damaging deal.
These papers put forward an honest appraisal of the estimated impacts of the different scenarios that we have been discussing this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman makes a more general point about the inexactitude of economic forecasting, and he is right. We have a whole slew of variables, and we are looking at casting 15 years beyond the end of the implementation period—in other words, to 2034-35—which is quite a challenge. However, that is not the same as saying that we have not taken an honest and robust approach to this task. We have done that, and we have gone further. At the behest of the Treasury Committee, we have said that we will have an expert to go through all the details of the analysis, with access to all the officials across all the Departments involved, and that that information will in turn be made available.
The Government’s conduct in this matter has been appalling. There is only one clear message that the public should hear from this: Brexit makes you poorer. Every scenario, including the European Economic Area scenario that many of us put forward as the least worst option, will make people poorer. Even though the Treasury—or the Government, or whoever the Minister is trying to claim it is—has not modelled this scenario, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research has modelled the Government’s deal, and that modelling also shows that we will be poorer. So why will the Government not simply agree to take this back to the people and let them make the choice in a people’s vote?
Given that this is about the fifth time that I have been asked that specific question, I hope you will forgive me, Mr Speaker, if I refer the hon. Gentleman to my previous answers.
If the Prime Minister will not rule out no deal for sound economic reasons, will the Minister do so for vital health reasons? Is he aware that, according to specialist cancer charities, patients are already scaling back on their doses and stockpiling medicines because of fears over the prospect of no deal? Why will the Government not deal with their concerns and rule out the prospect of no deal now so that those patients can have the reassurance they need?
It will be for Parliament ultimately to decide whether the Government’s deal prevails. I think that the right hon. Gentleman and I are on the same side here, because I believe that the prospect of a no deal is deeply unattractive—notwithstanding the fact that we are making extensive preparations for no deal—partly for the reasons he has identified. We want a deal. We want this deal. We want a deal that is good for our country, and we want to avoid the very situations that he has elaborated on.
I don’t know about you, Mr Speaker, but I remember this Government lecturing Labour Members for years about the problems of saddling future generations with borrowing and debt. The Brexit deal that the Minister proposes is modelled in this bogus paper. Will he confirm that it states on page 76 that we will be borrowing an extra £37.5 billion by 2035 as a result of this deal?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are figures of that nature in this report, because it is an honest and open report about the implications of all the possible outcomes. However, we have to compare that with no deal, or with the EEA or an average FTA deal. We have negotiated with the European Union and we have to deal with politics not just as perpetual opposition but as the art of the possible and the art of doing a deal that will be good for this country, safeguard our economy and deliver on those things that the referendum result told us in 2016.
The trouble with the Government being in denial is that they just keep on denying that they are in denial until they go blue in the face. What we have learned today is that this Minister cannot read the writing on the wall, even when he has written it himself. The truth of the matter, when we boil this all down, is that the country will have to pay a price if Brexit goes ahead, and the people who will have to pay the most are the poorest in the land—my constituents. Should they not have the right to a final say on this?
This is now the sixth or seventh time that I have been asked whether we should have a second referendum. I shall just reiterate what I have said on each previous occasion. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we had a vote in 2016 and it had the largest turnout of any electoral event in this country’s history—[Interruption.] He rolls his eyes, but I think that fact is significant. It would be a betrayal of the will of the British people to now go out and say, “We didn’t actually like the answer you gave the first time, so how about a different answer this time?”
The Chancellor said on the radio this morning that the Prime Minister’s deal—he said the Prime Minister’s deal, not Chequers—would lead to a smaller economy than at present. Will the Government therefore commit to publishing the economic analysis behind what the Chancellor said this morning? Does the Minister not think it odd and wrong for the Government to ask us to vote for a deal that will make the economy smaller and people worse off?
This deal protects the economy over and above the other options and possible outcomes, which is what this House wanted us to assess. We have done that, and this deal is clearly the best option on the table economically. It also delivers on the other elements, including the non-economic ones, that are important to people up and down the country, including intra-EU migration.
It is clear that Brexit makes people poorer. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability, I have been inundated by correspondence from concerned people with disabilities up and down the country. What will the impact be for people with disabilities? Will an equalities impact assessment be undertaken? Given that many of those people are already living on a shoestring and could become poorer, what safeguards will the Government put in place?
The hon. Lady asks specifically about those with disabilities. This Government have an outstanding record in that respect. We spend £50 billion—[Interruption.] We spend £50 billion on those with disabilities and long-term health conditions. The critical point here is that the only reason we can provide that support is because of our effective, responsible stewardship of the economy. The responsible thing to do for the economy now, in order to protect just the constituents to whom she refers, is to ensure that this deal prevails, that we get economic certainty behind us and that we see the economy safeguarded, improving and growing into the future.
The 90-page economic analysis repeatedly cites the importance of trade to the north-east, and the significant negative impact of no deal. Will the Minister confirm that, because of our manufacturing strengths, our exports and our integrated pan-European supply chain—which, regardless of claims by the European Research Group, cannot be replaced by deals with Australia, America or China—the only deal that could possibly work for jobs in the north-east is permanent membership of a European customs union?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to identify and characterise the businesses in her constituency in that way. They are deeply connected through supply chains to the European continent. That lies right at the heart of the political declaration and of our commitment to having the most frictionless trade possible and having no barriers, quotas or additional charges involved in that aspect of the relationship. I would say to her, respectfully, that she cannot view this deal in a vacuum. She has to consider it in the context of the alternatives. There is a danger, as she will recognise, that if we end up in no-deal territory, all the very things she fears may come to pass. It is really important for all of us across the House who have manufacturing businesses in our constituencies to stand up for them and support this deal.
The Minister has been at pains to make it clear that he is speaking to a Government-wide document, so may I ask him about an aspect of Government policy that will be material to the economic outcome of whatever deal the Government bring forward—that is, policy in relation to migration? Despite promises of an immigration White Paper, last year through to this summer, it is still not in front of us. Will the Minister guarantee that we will have that White Paper, clarity about the Government’s immigration policy choices and a proper economic analysis of their impact, in time for the vote on 11 December?
We will of course come forward with further information about the policies that we intend to pursue in the area that the hon. Lady raises, but I point her to the fact that within the analysis being presented today, there is of course an analysis on both a “no net migration” basis between ourselves and those based in the European economic area, compared with the free movement that we have today. So that is actually factored into the analysis that we are reviewing now.
The Chancellor admitted this morning that any Brexit deal will make the British economy and the British people worse off. Does the Minister agree with him?
What matters now is that we support this deal, to support the economy. The analysis clearly shows that compared with the other options, particularly no deal, it is by far preferable, in terms of the economics and the impact on the economy, to support this deal.
Every assessment that the Government have published this morning shows Wales being worse off. I will not burden the Minister with yet another question about a people’s vote, but can he confirm from the Dispatch Box that in the entirely hypothetical case that we were to stay in the European Union, Wales would be not worse off but better off?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman’s question is predicated on a train that has left the station, because we are leaving the European Union on 29 March—we are going to honour the will of the British people as expressed in June 2016—but I can reassure him that of the various scenarios that these papers review, this Government’s hard-won deal with the European Union is by far the best of all the alternatives for his constituents.
I should say, with a background in local government, that had our cabinet been expected to make such an important decision without any financial information and without the legal advice being made available to the decision makers, the council would be in special measures by now. Let me just put the Government on warning: Members of this House will not accept this as fulfilling their responsibility when casting such important decisions. Does the Treasury accept that part of the reason why the economic shock will be felt in our regions is the chronic under-investment and the stubbornness, through austerity, in hitting those economies right at the heart of their communities?
No. If the House agrees to this deal, and we proceed to get a deal with the European Union that does all the things that I have many times in response to this urgent question outlined to Members, it will provide confidence. It will provide further investment. It will support jobs. It will seek growth. It will see unemployment, which is already at a 45-year low, nice and low, where we want it to be. So I would urge the hon. Gentleman to support the deal and to do so on behalf of his constituents.
Today, I am absolutely incandescent, because it is insulting to my constituents that that piece of paper that the Minister has produced today is going to make them poorer. The Minister has not had the decency to compare the current situation with what it would be like to remain in the EU. Welsh farming unions are being told that they have to accept the deal because otherwise there will be no deal. That is scaremongering—absolute scaremongering. I am fed up with people coming to me and telling me to back the withdrawal agreement. I will not back something that makes my constituents, my family and everybody else poorer. I am an unapologetic people’s campaigner; I want a people’s vote. This spin—what the Minister is saying and what the Government are saying to the people—is absolutely wrong. The Government are misleading them, and I am angry. Everybody is angry. We want a people’s vote.
A second referendum would be deeply divisive for our country. It would send a signal—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady has had her say. She and I campaigned on the same side in the referendum. I wanted us to stay in the European Union, but the difference between us is that I am a democrat, and I believe that when we have a referendum, which was widely debated over a long period, and a result is given, on the highest turnout of any electoral contest in our country, that result must be respected.
UK Government analysis in 2014 said that Scottish independence would cost the economy 0.4% to 1%, but HM Treasury analysis today says it will hit the UK economy by 3.9%. With apologies to my former colleague Callum McCaig, the previous Member for Aberdeen South, does the Financial Secretary to the Treasury honestly believe that the UK can afford to be independent?
Yes is the answer. We have a bright future ahead of us. We have the opportunity, with this deal, to go out and do other deals around the world with other countries. The report makes specific reference, for example, to the United States, China, India and other important trading nations. We know that those parts of the world outside the European Union are growing far more strongly than countries within the bloc of the EU27, so I am optimistic about the future of my country.
I am not going to draw any conclusions, Mr Speaker, on your assessment of how big or beguiling any of my attributes might be, because they obviously have not been enough to catch your eye until now. I draw the Minister’s attention to footnote 42 of the analysis, which states:
“For the purposes of EU exit modelling, the UK is assumed to pursue successful trade negotiations with the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Brunei, China, India…Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay…Uruguay”,
United Arab Emirates,
“Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain”.
In the real universe, in which none of those deals is fully in place by the end of the transition period, how much worse than the Government’s own grim forecasts will the economic impact of Brexit really be?
The hon. Gentleman is questioning some of the assumptions within a very complicated model, and as he has identified, the assumptions include that free trade agreements will be entered into with a variety of other countries. It is incumbent on him, if that is an area of the model that he wishes to stress-test particularly forensically, to look further into it, to look at the work that I have already outlined to the House will be carried out independently on behalf of the Treasury Committee, to question Ministers on that specific issue as he sees fit and to proceed in that manner.
Points of Order
I will come to the hon. Lady, but I think I will take the Opposition Front Bencher first.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your advice? The Financial Secretary to the Treasury failed to answer adequately the questions and assertions from the right hon. Members for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), among others, specifically on a missing scenario based on Britain’s current deal. How can I get clarity, therefore, on the content of footnote 1 on page 4 of the executive summary, which says:
“The four scenarios, and the policy assumptions underpinning them, were approved by ministers”?
In that respect, were other scenarios, including, for example, the scenario on the current deal, specifically ruled out by Ministers notwithstanding the advice of Treasury advisers and advisers from other Departments, as the Minister put it, for the sake of comprehensibility?
I always seek to be helpful to Members with points of order, although I hope the hon. Gentleman will not take offence if I say that his intervention just now had many distinguishing features, but that of being a point of order was unfortunately not one of them. He seems to me to be raising a question that he would have liked to ask if he had had the opportunity to do so and that could have been raised by the shadow Chancellor if he had chosen to do so, but he did not. [Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor is signalling that it is a response to what has since been said, which is not an unreasonable point. I do not think that I can procure an answer for him now if a Minister does not wish to rise to his feet and stand at the Dispatch Box.
If the Financial Secretary wants to be helpful and courteous to the House, as he ordinarily is, by leaping to his feet to seek to respond to the point, he is welcome to do so. I am grateful to him for his co-operation.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect to the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), and I do respect him, in my responses to the various questions I was asked this afternoon, I made it very clear that with the report we have, indeed, responded in the way that was required. We have benchmarked the deal—expressed as a potential range of different outcomes, which he will know is exactly how the deal is expressed within the political declaration—against the status quo, our current relationship with the EU27.
We are grateful to the Minister for that. What I would say to the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) is that it is perfectly possible for this matter to be further aired in correspondence, and I have a hunch that it might well be—[Interruption]—as we speak. Moreover, it is even possible for the matter to be aired by the alternative route of questions, and I have a physical image in my mind now of one or other of the two relevant parties on the Opposition Front Bench beetling towards the Table Office to table the said questions. Those routes—correspondence and written questions—are not mutually exclusive. I hope that is helpful.
I am saving up the hon. Lady. It would be a pity to squander her at too early a stage of our proceedings.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 13 November, this House unanimously passed a motion on an Humble Address concerning the legal advice provided by the Attorney General to Cabinet on the terms of the draft withdrawal agreement. I made it clear in that debate that the motion requires
“the publication of the final”—
“advice provided by the Attorney General to the Cabinet concerning the terms of any withdrawal agreement…this to be made available to all MPs…it should be made available after any withdrawal agreement is reached with the EU, but in good time to allow proper consideration before MPs are asked to vote on the deal.”—[Official Report, 13 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 192.]
It was on those terms that the motion was passed, unopposed by the Government.
Upon your advice being sought at the end of that debate, Mr Speaker, you said that
“the motion is effective—I have been advised thus. It is not just an expression of the opinion of the House; it is an expression of the will of the House that certain documents should be provided to it.”—[Official Report, 13 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 236.]
I understand from today’s written ministerial statement that an oral statement will be made to the House on 3 December by the Attorney General, but I am deeply concerned by the comments from the Chancellor this morning and from the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House that the Government do not intend to comply with this motion in full and will, instead, publish only a position paper summarising the Attorney General’s advice. I am now seeking your advice, Mr Speaker, on what further steps I can take to ensure the Government comply with the motion approved by this House and provide this advice in full and in time to inform the meaningful vote.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise this point of order. He raises a very important matter, and I understand from the written ministerial statement that a document setting out “the Government’s legal position” will be published on Monday—described by the Prime Minister as a “full, reasoned position statement”.
I must be careful not to prejudge, but if the right hon. and learned Gentleman believes that he already knows enough to be sure that Ministers are not complying with the Humble Address, he is free to write to me, as early as he likes, to suggest that the House has seen, or is about to be subject to, a contempt and to seek precedence for a motion to deal with it. It will be for me to decide, and I will not linger, whether there is an arguable case that a contempt has been committed, and therefore whether an appropriate motion should be put urgently before the House.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I concur entirely with what has been said by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). The view he has expressed is, I think, felt widely across all parties in this House, and I really do hope that the motion that was passed will be delivered in full, because on the day of that debate we made it very clear where we stand, and we expect the Government to respond in full to the will of the House.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said to me and to the House. To what he has said there is really nothing substantive that I need to add. All I would say to him is that, on the basis of what he has said, it is open to him also to write to me on this matter.
I apologise for holding the hon. Lady back, but I had a sense that those points of order were going to relate to each other. Her point of order is on a different and unrelated matter, and I look forward to hearing it.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier today, the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) named both the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and me in her question to the Prime Minister, claiming that we were somehow complicit with the group Another Europe is Possible in terms of its misuse of data. I ask the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood, through you, to correct the parliamentary record. Another Europe is Possible is 100% compliant with the general data protection regulation. It turns out that her constituent took action via the group’s website, and the communication she has had subsequently has been in line with the opt-in preferences that she actively expressed on that website.
Further, Mr Speaker, will you indicate what action could be taken if it were to be found that the Prime Minister inadvertently misled the House during Prime Minister’s questions when she replied to the Leader of the Opposition, “This analysis does not show that we will be poorer in the future than we are today… No, it does not. It shows that we will be better off with this deal.”? I think the ministerial code suggests that, if it were the case that she inadvertently misled the House, she should be able to come back to the Chamber to make a statement.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, and I thank her for it. I think, however, that she may be seeking to continue the argument. All I would say is that the content of an hon. Member’s remarks is a matter for that hon. Member. I note what the hon. Lady has said, and it will now be reproduced in the Official Report, about the circumstances, and Members and others will form their own judgment of that.
In the event that anybody has inadvertently misled the House, it is incumbent on that Member, whoever he or she is, to take the opportunity to correct the record. I can assure the hon. Lady that she will have plenty of opportunity to pursue these matters in the days ahead.
I would like to leave it there at present. I am responding almost on the hoof to what the hon. Lady has said. [Interruption.] She is looking slightly quizzical and, because I am in a generous mood, and I think it is right to be generous—[Interruption.] The Clerk is implying that I should not be generous. [Laughter.] He is a very generous-spirited person, but he is implying perhaps that I should not be generous. If the hon. Lady wishes to raise a further point of order, I will hear it, although I offer no guarantee that I will reply to it to her satisfaction.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for your generosity. I simply express my confusion, because I genuinely thought that is what the ministerial code suggests. Were the Prime Minister to be demonstrably shown to have inadvertently misled the House by claiming something that is not the case—we know it is not the case—I am surprised there is not some way to ask her to come back to the Chamber to formally make that correction, rather than simply allowing it to sit on the parliamentary record.
The difficulty is that the ministerial code is the code under which, if I understand this correctly, the hon. Lady is seeking redress or correction. I am not the arbiter of the ministerial code—as she will know, the Prime Minister is its arbiter. In these circumstances, it is very difficult for me to say anything beyond what I have said. If the hon. Lady feels genuinely strongly that an effective injustice, albeit inadvertent, has been committed, I strongly advise her to raise this matter in correspondence with the Prime Minister in such a fashion as she sees fit. The hon. Lady can raise it in private correspondence or she can publicise the correspondence if she so wishes and seek to extract the outcome that she thinks is appropriate in this case. I repeat that if an error has been made, an error should be corrected. It is in that sense as simple and incontestable as that, but I hope people will understand when I say that it is not for the Chair to judge whether an error has or has not been made. I have set out what the circumstances are or what situations should apply in the event of an inadvertently misleading statement. I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and for her patience.
Fire Safety (Leasehold Properties)
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 require freeholders of certain properties that have failed fire safety tests to carry out remedial work; to make provision for sanctions for such freeholders who fail to carry out such work; to ensure that leaseholders are not held liable for the costs of such work; to make provision for a loan scheme to assist freeholders in carrying out such work; and for connected purposes.
Few rights are as basic or as essential as the right to a decent and safe home. Everyone should be able to go to sleep at night knowing that they and their families are safe, but in June 2017 we saw the shocking consequences of what happens when that right is not guaranteed. The Grenfell Tower disaster showed beyond all doubt that there can be no complacency on fire safety. The tragedy is not simply that this was recognised only after the fire, but that there had been warnings. The inquest into the 2009 Lakanal House fire warned that proper fire safety checks could have saved lives, but the action that was needed was not taken.
The Hackitt review of building regulations and fire safety, launched after the Grenfell Tower fire, found that the regulatory system was “unfit for purpose”. It found that there is no clarity about responsibilities and a lack of competence at assessing fire risk. It found that there is inadequate means of compliance assurance, and inadequate deterrence or redress for non-compliance. Crucially, it found that residents’ concerns about fire safety risks are not properly heard. It spoke to the neglect of fire safety concerns by successive Governments. Instead of rigorous processes and high standards, a system had developed where corners were cut, costs were reduced and self-regulation was assumed.
Although it is now recognised how wrong this approach is, its consequences are not all behind us. As of last month, 457 residential blocks and public buildings over 18 metres in height have been found to have ACM— aluminium composite material—cladding, the type of cladding that was applied to Grenfell Tower. Of these, 410 are unlikely to meet building regulations, with as many as eight of those being in my constituency of Battersea. It is now widely recognised that this is not good enough and that fire safety remedial work is needed. Although the Government have created a fund for social landlords to carry out fire safety remedial work, the question of costs at private leasehold blocks has been left unanswered. With nearly 300 private residential blocks across the country, this is a major issue.
The costs involved are great, with fire safety remedial work at some blocks expected to cost as much as £40 million, meaning costs per apartment of as high as £40,000. Leaseholders have been told that they may be expected to pay these eye-watering costs. That is the situation facing leaseholders in Sesame Apartments, a block in my constituency. Residents of the block contacted me last year because they were concerned not just that their block was not fire safe, but that they may be held liable for costs of remedial work. They had discovered that their building has ACM cladding, after a fire in the block revealed that compartmentalisation had failed. A “waking-watch” system was put in place, at the cost of thousands of pounds per week—to date, the cost has been nearly £1 million, while replacing the cladding is expected to cost £2 million. In total, the costs per flat approximate to between £30,000 and £40,000.
I have met residents on multiple occasions, in constituency surgeries and in Parliament. I have written to Secretaries of State and Housing Ministers, but still, after a year, residents are living in fear that these colossal costs will be passed on to them, and that is having a serious impact on their lives. One resident has told me of the “heart-break” of money they had saved for IVF treatment now needing to be set aside in case these costs are passed on to them. Another young woman told me that her pride at getting a foot on the housing ladder was dashed when she found out that her 25% shared ownership may make her liable for 100% of the costs. Others tell me that they cannot move because the property value has plummeted because of the risks of these costs.
A similar situation confronts leaseholders across the country. Each case has its differences, but we see an unmistakeable pattern: residents look on while a group of opaque freeholders, managing agents, developers and insurers fight over the question of liability, all determined to protect their interests and all using their considerable financial resources to argue their case. Developers argue that they built properties to building standards, so they cannot be liable. Insurers argue that the fire safety failures do not break warranty claims, so they cannot be liable. Freeholders point to “sweeping-up” clauses, that can allow them to pass on costs to leaseholders, so they cannot be liable either. Unlike leaseholders, these people each have teams of lawyers to make their case. Against that, leaseholders, who are ordinary people—teachers, nurses, lawyers, doctors—face the prospect of their lives being burdened with tens of thousands of pounds of costs. These are costs that many could not ever imagine affording. In this fight, they must do it themselves, using their spare time to defend their futures. Whereas freeholders, developers and insurers argue their case, one party is unambiguous in their innocence—the leaseholders, who are in no way responsible for fire safety failures and who have only suffered because of them. While they argue their case, leaseholders tell me how powerless they feel, and how they feel like David, confronted by Goliath. As these arguments rage on, month after month, leaseholders know that the costs are piling up, and that their homes remain unsafe and their blocks remain wrapped in unsafe cladding.
We know that in some cases developers have stepped in to pay the costs, for example, at Citiscape in Croydon. In other cases, such as that of New Capital Quay in Greenwich, the insurers have accepted liability. But leaseholders in hundreds of other blocks have not been so lucky. They remain at risk of devastating costs and uncertainty. When they are being let down by the system, when they are being asked to pay huge costs they are not responsible for, it is the Government’s duty to remedy these ills and to right this wrong. From the beginning, the Government have said that leaseholders should not be held liable for these costs and that “morally” the freeholders should pick up the tab. Just recently, in response to a parliamentary question, the Minister for Housing went so far as to say that the private sector must,
“fund the measures necessary to ensure the safety of residents and must do all they can to protect leaseholders from additional costs.”
But leaseholders need more than just words; they need action.
The Bill would give the Government the opportunity to do what is right. It would end uncertainty and the fear of ongoing fire-safety failures by requiring freeholders to carry out fire-safety remedial work. It would enforce the requirement through sanctions for freeholders who fail to act. It would create a loan scheme to assist freeholders in the carrying out of the work, which would ensure that costs would not be passed on to leaseholders. The Bill would end the year-long nightmare that many leaseholders have suffered. It would end their fear of living in unsafe buildings and ensure that those who are in no way at fault for these failures are not held liable for them. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Marsha De Cordova, Janet Daby, Emma Dent Coad, Preet Kaur Gill, Karen Lee, Thelma Walker, Rosie Duffield, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Eleanor Smith, Hugh Gaffney, Anneliese Dodds and Chris Williamson present the Bill.
Marsha De Cordova accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January, and to be printed (Bill 298).
Offensive Weapons Bill (Programme) (No. 2)
That the Order of 27 June 2018 (Offensive Weapons Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:
(1) Paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Order shall be omitted.
(2) Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading shall be taken in one day in accordance with the following provisions of the Order.
(3) Proceedings on Consideration—
(a) shall be take in the order shown in the first column of the following Table, and
(b) shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.
Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to air weapons, firearms or ammunition 3.30 pm Remaining proceedings on Consideration 6.00 pm
Time for conclusion of proceedings
New Clauses, new Schedules and amendments relating to air weapons, firearms or ammunition
Remaining proceedings on Consideration
(4) Proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 6.00 pm.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 pm.—(Gareth Johnson.)
Offensive Weapons Bill
Consideration of the Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 2
Report on the use of air weapons
“(1) The Secretary of State must, within 6 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, lay a report before Parliament on the safe use of air weapons.
(2) The report under subsection 1 must consider, but is not limited to—
(a) whether existing legislation on the use of air weapons is sufficient;
(b) whether current guidelines on the safe storage of air weapons needs revising; and
(c) whether the current age restrictions surrounding the possession and use of air weapons are sufficient.”—(Karin Smyth.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 3—Controls on miniature rifles and ammunition—
“(1) The Firearms Act 1968 is amended as follows.
(2) Omit subsection (4) of section 11 (Sports, athletics and other approved activities).”
This new clause would amend the Firearms Act 1968 to remove the exemption on miniature rifle ranges, preventing individuals without a firearms certificate from being able to acquire and possess semi-automatic rifles without a check by the police.
New clause 4—Possession of component parts of ammunition with intent to manufacture—
“(1) Section 1 of the Firearms Act 1988 is amended as follows—
(2) After subsection 4A insert—
‘(4B) A person other than a person permitted to manufacture ammunition by virtue of being a registered firearms dealer or holder of a firearm certificate authorising the type of ammunition being manufactured commits an offence if—
(a) The person has in his or her possession or under his or her control the component parts of ammunition and,
(b) The person intends to use such articles to manufacture the component parts into ammunition.
(4C) A person guilty of an offence under subsection 4b is liable—
(a) On summary conviction—
(i) In England and Wales to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months (or in relation to offences committed before Section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 comes into force 6 months) or to a fine or both.
(ii) In Scotland to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both.
(b) On conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years to a fine, or to both.’”
This new clause would create a specific offence for the possession of component parts of ammunition with the intent to manufacture, for all persons other than those registered as firearms dealer or holders of a firearms certificate authorising the type of ammunition being manufactured.
New clause 18—Offence of failure to store an air weapon in a locked cabinet—
“(1) A person commits an offence if they fail to store an air weapon in their possession in a locked cabinet.
(2) The offence in subsection (1) has not been committed if the person has the firearm with them for the purpose of cleaning, repairing or testing it or for some other purpose connected with its use, transfer or sale, or the air weapon is in transit to or from a place in connection with its use or any such purpose.
(3) For the purposes of this section, ‘air weapon’ has the same meaning as in section 1(3)(b) of the Firearms Act 1968.
(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.”
New clause 19—Sale of an air weapon without a trigger guard—
“(1) A person commits an offence if, by way of trade or business, they sell an air weapon that is not fitted with a trigger guard.
(2) For the purposes of this section, ‘air weapon’ has the same meaning as in section 1(3)(b) of the Firearms Act 1968.
(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations define ‘trigger guard’ for the purposes of this section.
(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.”
Government amendment 26.
Amendment 23, in clause 30, page 30, line 9, leave out from “rifle” to end of paragraph and insert
“, other than a rifle which is chambered for rim fire cartridges, which ejects an empty cartridge case using energy which comes (directly or indirectly) from propellant gas and subsequently chambers a cartridge by mechanical means through the operation of the firing trigger mechanism alone.”
Government amendments 27 to 33.
Amendment 24, in clause 31, page 31, line 9, leave out from “rifle” to end of paragraph and insert
“, other than a rifle which is chambered for rim fire cartridges, which ejects an empty cartridge case using energy which comes (directly or indirectly) from propellant gas and subsequently chambers a cartridge by mechanical means through the operation of the firing trigger mechanism alone.”
Government amendments 34 to 55.
I hope that this is third time lucky. I understand the difficulties that the Government are in, but our constituents, on whose behalf we speak, watch these proceedings with great interest and concern, often because it is their loved ones who have lost their lives or been injured. The postponement of this debate on Report has been unacceptable for them.
Having said that, I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline the importance of new clause 2, with which I simply seek to establish in law the requirement for the Department to publish a report on the safety of air weapons. Such a report is necessary because the statistics on air weapons offences are not routinely recorded and official data is difficult to find. The report would require the Department to assess the strength of existing legislation on the use of air weapons. An important aspect of the debate is licensing, to which I shall return in a moment. The report would also require consideration of the existing guidelines on safe storage, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) will speak in more detail later. I thank him for his support and for the work that he has done on this issue previously.
The report would also force an assessment on the current age limits for the possession and use of air weapons, which we discussed in Committee. This is important, because young people are disproportionately victims of air weapons offences. I managed to obtain via the Library information that shows that a disproportionate number of 10 to 19-year-olds were victims of air weapons offences in 2017, considering their share of the population, but we need more detail.
The subject of licensing has come up in a number of debates over the years, including in this place and in Select Committee hearings, but there seems to have been a reluctance to push collectively for real change. The dangers posed by air weapons cannot be ignored: their misuse is a matter of public safety. That was the argument put forward by Members of the Scottish Parliament in 2015, when they voted to license air weapons. While others were perhaps doing other things during the conference recess, I went to the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood to hear the arguments for and against licensing and about the experience of it.
The logic for the system in Scotland seems straightforward: as a matter of public safety, only those who have good reason for using, acquiring, purchasing or possessing an air weapon ought legally to be able to obtain one. The Scottish police believe that the scheme has been a success thus far, with more than 21,000 weapons having been surrendered by owners. Some 24,000 licences were issued up to February this year. There is a cost of £72 per licence to cover the administration fee. The Scottish Government's position is clear: those who have a legitimate use for an air weapon—including for sports and pest control—are not prevented from obtaining one. That gives important clarity to a subject that can be confusing. It sends a clear message that these weapons are not toys and capable of causing serious injury or even death. I simply ask the Minister whether he can demonstrate to me that my constituents in Bristol South are as safe from the misuse of air weapons as people in Scotland, where the guns are licensed.
I do not disagree with anything that the hon. Lady has said, but for the record, has the information from Scotland shown that there has been a decrease in the misuse of air weapons since the change to the law?
I cannot answer that question directly, but one issue in Scotland relates to the collection of data from the stable point and into the future. That is important to consider. If the police there see that one of these weapons is in the house when they go to a domestic abuse incident, for example, they can legitimately ask whether there is a licence for it. They have reported anecdotally—I am happy to get more figures—that they certainly feel that that has been helpful in such circumstances.
The Minister previously said that the Department’s response to the air weapons review will answer everything, but I am wondering whether the review that we have been seeking will ever see the light of day. The review closed more than nine months ago and, despite numerous assurances to many Members, we are still awaiting its conclusions. We owe it to the victims of air weapons, and their families, to stop the Government kicking the issue into the long grass. It took the Scottish Government just a few months to consider the responses to their consultation on air weapons. We must now demand the same single-mindedness of our Government. I have here the documents, all the way from Scotland, should the Government wish to use them to make progress on the review and look seriously at licensing.
I declare an interest: as set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, I am chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council, the umbrella body for British shooting organisations. I rise to speak to Government amendment 26 on .50 calibre rifles but, on behalf of British sports shooting people, I thank the Government for having listened and acted on this matter, and confirm the BSSC’s wish fully to engage with the Government on getting the law right in this policy area. Having just listened to the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) talk about air rifles, I hope that the Government will learn from the debate on .50 calibre rifles. I agree that there are issues in respect of air rifles that need attention and clarification, but we should deal in a cautious and proper manner with the 3 million or so owners of such guns.
The proposal in the Bill to ban firearms with a muzzle velocity of more than 13,600 J, including .50 calibre guns, was not, under any interpretation of the facts, going to help the fight against crime. The guns are very expensive, costing around £20,000 each. There are therefore very few in number, with only 150 or so in private hands. They are extremely bulky, heavy at 30 lb and slow to load, with large, hand-loaded ammunition. In fact, one could hardly find a firearm less likely to be used in a crime. They are simply too big. That is probably why they have never been used in a crime in this jurisdiction.
That needs to be considered against the wider perspective of the very small chance of people being murdered with legally owned guns. In 2017, for example, just nine people were killed by someone in legal possession of the murder weapon. That is nine people too many, of course, but it is a very small figure compared with deaths by illegal weapons. There has been a lot of confusing evidence about .50 calibres potentially being used as military-style “materiel destruction” rifles—for instance, by terrorists to shoot car engines. However, that would be possible only when used with armour-piercing or incendiary ammunition, both of which are already barred for civilian use. Not only is there no evidence of such firearms being used for criminal purposes in this jurisdiction, as recognised by the National Crime Agency, but to imply that the provision would make the public any safer from gun crime is, I believe, unrealistic.
I am trying to remember, but I think that .50 calibre weapons were used by terrorists in Northern Ireland, although I stand to be corrected.
I believe that they have been, but I advisedly used “in this jurisdiction” for that purpose.
If we are to start banning things just because of the use to which they might be put, logic could dictate that all firearms should be used, as well as all knives. That is not my idea of a free society.
Just to correct what our hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) said, the weapons used in Northern Ireland were illegally imported into this country.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important clarification.
The National Crime Agency position brief was received by the Library and heavily commented on by shooting experts across the board. The following points are based on their feedback. The NCA brief states that .50 calibre rifles
“are built around enormously powerful cartridges originally designed for military use on the battlefield and to have devastating effect”.
That is true, but it is also true of one of the most common target rifles ever used, the .303 Lee Enfield rifle and one of the most common hunting rifles, the .308, which is also based on a military round. The current full bore civilian target shooting round, at 7.62 mm, is a military round often used in machine guns. The NCA brief further states:
“The propellant mass in a standard M33 .50 calibre ‘ball’ round is nearly ten times as great as that in the standard ‘ball’ round used in the…Army’s primary battlefield rifle, the L85.”
However, that is simply disingenuous, as the 5.56 round used in the L85 is specifically designed to be light and to perform a totally different role from the .50 calibre rifle. In particular, that round is designed to enable large quantities to be carried by troops and is faster firing and easier to use at close quarters, but to say the L85 is any less dangerous as a result is bizarre.
The irony is that .50 calibre firearms could have their barrels shortened, thus taking them beneath the maximum velocity. The 13,600 J limit is entirely arbitrary, and many owners and manufacturers could simply adapt their guns down to the new limit. The NCA refers to recent seizures of guns, including fully automatic weapons, as showing that crime groups are seeking more powerful weapons, but the .50 calibre is not automatic and there is no evidence of crime gangs ever having wanted to use it.
There was also a failure to consider the historic arms position. People should have the right to engage in shooting sports, unless serious possible injury to the public can be proved. I am a Conservative, and Conservatives to my mind do not ban things for the sake of it.
It is about 20 years since I fired a .50 calibre. My hon. Friend is entirely right to talk about how large and inappropriate they are for crimes. I very much support the case that he is making.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.
It is unfortunate that this debate is not about the criminals who we should be targeting, namely the owners of illegal guns that are being used for crimes, but about the law-abiding sporting men and women who would lose out for no good reason.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and thank the Minister for seeing common sense and considering a consultation. I have a shooting range in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that the majority of the totally law-abiding people using my range and others are primarily ex-servicemen and women or ex-policemen and women, and that it is important that they can continue doing what they do?
I am not sure whether those people are primarily ex-servicemen and women, but I am sure that a lot of them shoot. A lot of children learn to shoot on the range in my constituency, which is an important part of the community that provides an important sporting outlet for disabled people, who cannot do other sports and hugely enjoy their shooting.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being extremely generous. I would ask him to consider this scenario, which happened in my local shooting club. Somebody who was clearly quite troubled was able to book up all the shooting lanes and then held up the shooting range official, took the guns and murdered two women a mile away from my constituency border. My hon. Friend talks about the illegal versus the legal and about the risk being minimal, but when things go wrong, even in minimal-risk circumstances, it can have devastating impacts. That is why I find myself a little hesitant about what is now being changed.
My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. Firearms are potential very dangerous things to use. I can only say to him that, as I said before, the number of legally owned weapons used in crimes is very limited, although that is not to say that we do not have a gun problem in this country. We certainly do, and we need to address it.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) said, my hon. Friend has been extremely generous in giving way. Guns are meant to be fatal if they are used properly. That is why they have to be protected with super-legislation—the toughest in the world—to ensure that the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle are safe. Indeed, some of the vilification that I suspect my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) got was most unwelcome, because some of the effort that we went to with the tremendously helpful Minister was intended to seek further protection, so that the public were safer.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention. I can honestly say that I have never heard a Member of Parliament or anyone involved in the shooting fraternity say that we do not need very tough rules, but they must work and must be fairly applied.
Just as worrying to the shooting community is the “thin end of the wedge” effect. If we could ban a calibre that is not held illegally and has never been used in a crime, how much easier would it be down the road to ban calibres that have been held illegally and are frequently used in crimes? By picking on the seemingly easy target of only 150 gun owners, the unamended Bill would have undermined shooting sports in this country as a whole.
Nuclear weapons have never been used for a crime, nor are they used in sport, yet they are not allowed to be held by civilians. I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman’s logic, but I am afraid that I am struggling.
I am afraid that I do not really understand the hon. Gentleman’s logic. I am talking about sports.
It was important and impressive that 74 hon. Members across the House signed the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) to remove the .50 calibre provisions. The Government are to be congratulated on tabling their amendments.
May I begin by reiterating Labour’s support for the Bill? We gave our support on Second Reading and in Committee, but let me also say how disappointed we have been at the Government’s consistent mismanagement of this important legislation. This should have been a comprehensive and honest response to the horrifying surge in violence that we are seeing in every community in our country. Instead, it is a relatively meagre collection of proposals that, rather than being strengthened in making its way through the House, has been watered down, as the Government have rolled over in response to their Back Benchers.
It is deeply regrettable that the Bill before us is far less effective than what was presented on Second Reading and that, in the Government’s complete paralysis in the middle of Brexit negotiations in their own party, they have refused to listen to the voices of the most senior counter-terror and security experts in the country and instead have once again allowed ideology to win the day.
It is a very sad reflection on our times that matters of great public importance—no task is more important than the Government keeping their citizens safe—are being sacrificed at the altar of Brexit. We have offered our sincere and constructive support throughout the passage of the Bill, supporting the Government’s efforts to respond to the surge in violent crime. We offered our support in Committee and now on Report in their attempt to ban the .50 calibre rifle, but, unfortunately, once again they have proven themselves unable to govern in the national interest, in hock to a group of Members who are prepared to risk public safety.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. As the lead signatory to the amendment that sought to remove these 0.50 calibre weapons from the Bill, the hon. Lady has implicitly accused me of endangering public safety. That is completely untruthful and unworthy, and she should withdraw her remarks.
I did not see that comment as a personal accusation. One thing is clear—the hon. Gentleman has certainly put his view on the record.
Later in my speech, I will come to exactly why we think the amendment that the Government have tabled will indeed risk public safety.
The Home Secretary said back in April that he wanted to bring forward an Offensive Weapons Bill within weeks and that if it achieved cross-party support, it would become law “very quickly”, making a “big difference”. Over the weekend in London and across the country, more lives have been taken in senseless violence. Thirty-seven children have been killed this year. How can it have been allowed that the already limited measures in the Bill have been held up three times now because of a fight over high-calibre rifles? It reflects very poorly on this Parliament.
I speak in support of new clauses 3 and 4 in my name, new clause 2 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), and new clauses 18 and 19 in the name of