On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Prime Minister’s questions, I raised the issue of the attack on pensions and pensioners, and I was surprised to hear the Minister for the Cabinet Office claim in response that the Scottish Government had responsibility, if we so chose, to deal with the problems created by the UK Government. He will know that pensions are reserved and that the Scottish Parliament cannot create any new pension or old-age benefit because of the restrictions in section 28 of the Scotland Act 2016, under which we cannot give pensions assistance or assistance for reasons of age. We find it intolerable that time after time the UK Government claim that the Scottish Parliament or Government have powers they patently do not have, and it must stop.
That is not a matter for the Chair, but the right hon. Gentleman has made his point with force and clarity. If the Minister for the Cabinet Office wishes to respond, he can. He is not under an obligation to do so, but if he does not, I suspect, knowing the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) , who is a persistent blighter, that he will not go away. Quite understandably and justifiably, he will want to return to the issue over and over again, so it might be best if the Minister would deploy his considerable intellect and respond.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am very clear that the advice I have is that under the Scotland Act 2016 the Scottish Government have the power to top up reserved benefits. It is for the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) to defend the decision of a Scottish Government not to do so.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.
I think the idea of further debate is fermenting in the mind of the leader of the Scottish National party as we speak. I am not sure that there is any “further to”, but I am in a generous mood—[Interruption.] I think that gesture means it will be short, so very well.
I have respect for the Minister, but he needs to reflect on the fact that pensions are reserved, period, under legislation from this Government.
The right hon. Gentleman is a bit like me; he likes to have the last word. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is a precious delicacy in the House, and we should not squander him too early. I will come to him.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has been widely reported that the Secretary of State for International Trade has advised industry representatives that he proposes to introduce measures in the event of a no-deal Brexit to reduce or import tariffs on goods to zero. The impact of that in job losses in our manufacturing and farming industries would be enormous. It would also undermine the Government’s much vaunted ambition to negotiate new trade deals by giving away what other countries would happily bargain access into their own markets to obtain. Have you, Mr Speaker, received any indication from the Government that a Minister is preparing to make a statement to this House on such a far-reaching and important matter?
No, not as yet, but who knows what is to follow. We live in hope. The hon. Gentleman’s grinning countenance suggests that he is satisfied with his efforts for now.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry that I have not given you notice of this, but it was not possible. Since Prime Minister’s questions began, the President of the European Council has said that there is a “special place in hell” reserved for Brexiteers. I do not recall any president insulting Members of this House, members of the Government and the British people in such a way. What means are open to the House or the Government to respond to such a completely outrageous insult?
I am not responsible for the statements of the President of the European Council, and I did not know—I was not hitherto conscious—that the hon. Gentleman was notably sensitive, that he was in any sense a delicate flower, and that he was capable of being a quickly and severely injured soul by virtue of the ad hominem remarks of others. If indeed he has been developing a sensitivity and he feels insulted—[Interruption.] Or even, as the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) chunters from a sedentary position, wounded.
Deeply wounded, apparently. Well, then I am sorry for the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). Whatever views he has and expresses, as far as I am concerned, as he knows, I hold him in the highest esteem because he takes Parliament seriously— he always has done and he always will do. It is not for the Speaker to arbitrate between different political opinions. What the Speaker likes to see and hear is the sight and sound of committed parliamentarians who take their responsibilities seriously. No one does so more obviously than the hon. Gentleman.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.
It seems to be very much a phone-carrying day. Very well.
I shall keep this brief, Mr Speaker. I did not have the chance to advise you of my point order in advance, as it arises from that of the right hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). May I respectfully suggest to you that you respectfully suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he might want to go beyond the headlines of the BBC in future? What the European Council President Donald Tusk actually said was that there is a “special place in hell” for
“those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it out safely”.
So perhaps—[Hon. Members: “Oh!] Well, Mr Speaker, sometimes the truth hurts, doesn’t it?
To be frank, as Speaker I do not really mind what it is that the President of the European Council has said, because it is not a matter that concerns me. I hope that the hon. and learned Lady will forgive me if I note en passant that in the course of making a point that I know was very important to her, she inadvertently elevated the hon. Member for Wellingborough to membership of the Privy Council. Perhaps it is only a matter of time, but the Treasury Bench might wish to take that as a hint; alternatively, they might not. We will leave it there for now, but I am glad that the hon. and learned Lady is in a jocular spirit, and the same seems to be capable of being said of the hon. Gentleman, even if he is deeply wounded.
European Union (Referendum on Withdrawal Agreement) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Tom Brake, supported by Sir Vince Cable, Jo Swinson, Wera Hobhouse, Mr Ben Bradshaw, Dr Sarah Wollaston, Stephen Gethins, Jonathan Edwards, Caroline Lucas, Stephen Doughty and Geraint Davies presented a Bill to require the holding of a referendum in which one option is to endorse the agreement between the United Kingdom Government and the European Union on the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union and the other option is for the United Kingdom to continue to be a member of the European Union; to require the Prime Minister to seek an extension of the period of two years specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to a period ending after that referendum; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 22 March, and to be printed (Bill 331).