Before we begin the urgent question in the name of Matthew Pennycook, I wish to emphasise to the House that it is narrowly focused. Colleagues will, I am sure, attend to the wording—indeed, I have already attended to the wording—of the hon. Gentleman’s urgent question, which is on the matter of when the Government intend to provide the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union with impact assessments arising from sectoral analyses carried out by Her Majesty’s Ministers. Questioning must focus on that matter; this is not an occasion for a general re-run of Brexit-related matters, of which I am sure there will be many examples in the days, weeks and months to come. I am sure that colleagues can expend their energies more than adequately on the terms which the hon. Gentleman has drawn.
We have this morning laid a written ministerial statement on this issue, which sets out the timeline and nature of our response to last week’s motion. As the Government have made clear, it is not the case that there are 58 sectoral impact assessments. During the Opposition day debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend Mr Walker, told the House:
“there has been some misunderstanding about what this sectoral analysis actually is. It is not a series of 58 economic impact assessments.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 630, c. 887.]
The Secretary of State for Exiting the EU made the same point during his appearance before the Lords EU Committee on
Let me clarify exactly what the sectoral analysis is. It is a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis, contained in a range of documents developed at different times since the referendum. It means looking at 58 sectors to help to inform our negotiating positions. The analysis examines the nature of activity in the sectors and how trade is conducted with the EU currently, and in many cases considers the alternatives after we leave the EU, as well as looking at existing precedents.
Our analysis is constantly evolving and being updated, but it is not, and nor has it ever been, a series of impact assessments examining the quantitative impact of Brexit on these sectors. Given this, it will take the Government some time to collate and bring together this information in a way that is accessible and informative to the Committee. We will provide this information to the Committee as soon as possible. We have made plain to the House authorities that we currently expect this to be in no more than three weeks.
Here we are again, Mr Speaker. As you will know, Members from both sides of the House have repeatedly requested that the 58 sectoral analyses undertaken by the Government be released. On each occasion prior to last Wednesday’s debate on our motion, Ministers argued that publication of these analyses would compromise the UK’s negotiating position. On no occasion did Ministers argue or imply that the information did not exist as discrete documents, yet yesterday, in his letter to the Chair of the Brexit Committee, that was precisely what the Secretary of State argued. Can the Minister tell the House why, if the information that Members have repeatedly called for does not exist as a series of discrete impact assessments, a clear impression has been allowed to develop over many months that it does?
In a response dated
“the Department for Exiting the European Union…holds the information you have requested”.
Yet in the Secretary of State’s letter to the Chair of the Select Committee, he implies that it will take time to collate and bring together the information because some of it is held by other Government Departments. Can the Minister confirm that the information given by his Department’s FOI Team on
This farce has dragged on for far too long. Ministers cannot use semantics and doublespeak to avoid the clear instruction that this House has given. There can be no further delay; Ministers just need to get on with it.
The hon. Gentleman says that an impression has been allowed to develop. It was never our purpose to allow such an impression to develop. As I have explained, the Government carry out a wide range of analysis across these sectors in order to inform our negotiating position. Our purpose is to develop our negotiating capital. Our purpose is not to create the kinds of stories that the hon. Gentleman seems to be pursing. The Government hold a wide range of information across a wide range of documents. The information is provided by Departments and collated by my Department, but what it does not comprise, and has never comprised, is quantitative forecasts of impact on those sectors. I think that the public will look at Labour Members today, look at what they are asking for, look at the kind of narrative they are trying to create, and ask, “Whose side are they on?”
As vice-Chairman of the Committee on Exiting the European Union, I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. The Select Committee has not actually discussed this matter formally, but from my own point of view, may I tell him that what he has said to the House this afternoon seems to be entirely reasonable?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has spoken to the Chairman of the Committee, from whom I am sure we will hear, and I believe that a further meeting has been scheduled.
It is absolutely astonishing that more than 500 days on from the referendum these documents are not yet prepared. If the Government are scrabbling them together in three weeks’ time, woe betide us all. Have they been shared with the devolved Administrations, as the Secretary of State intimated to the Committee? Can the Minister confirm what other assessments have been made about the regional impacts of leaving the European Union?
First and foremost, this criticism comes from a party that decided to leave the United Kingdom without determining what currency it would use. The sectoral analysis has been discussed with the devolved Administrations and the Joint Ministerial Committee, and we will give careful consideration, as and when information is released to the Select Committee, to how we share that information with the devolved Administrations. Once again, I reiterate that the information that we have does not comprise now, and never has done, quantitative forecasts of impact—not on sectors and not on any region.
This is a storm in a teacup. Given the extent of the analysis, the timeframe seems reasonable, because if an incomplete picture was presented, the Opposition would be the first to criticise and to suggest that we were hiding something. I also suggest to the Minister that we should not want to weaken our negotiating hand.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend—he is exactly right. Our purpose as a nation is to go forward and maximise our negotiating capital to deliver the best possible deal for all people in the United Kingdom.
We now know what this material consists of, but I am concerned to read in a letter that the Secretary of State sent me that Ministers now intend
“to collate and bring together this information in a way that is accessible and informative for the Committee.”
I would expect the Committee to receive these documents in the form they were in when the motion was carried—in other words, unamended. As I made clear in my letter to the Secretary of State, I think it is for the Committee to decide in what form they are published. We are conscious of our responsibilities, in the same way as the whole House is. Can the Minister therefore confirm that that is what will now happen, and that there will be no further undue delay?
The material that we hold includes commercially sensitive material and material that is relevant to our negotiating position. The House has previously voted not to release information that would be prejudicial to our negotiating position. If we were to give the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee the original reports commissioned at the beginning of the Department’s life, he would find that that material was incomplete and out of date. It is our intention to satisfy the motion by providing to him information that is relevant, timely and correct.
The Minister does himself no favours by turning into a partisan matter a perfectly legitimate request by this sovereign Parliament for information about the most important negotiations to affect this country for decades. In the Secretary of State’s letter to the Chair of the Brexit Committee, he talks about
“a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis”.
“looks at impacts on different parts of our economy”.
My understanding is that that model is available immediately. Will it be disclosed immediately?
The Treasury model to which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor referred is not contained within the documents, which I have carefully studied.
The Minister says that there is nothing of significance in these documents and that they do not measure any impact. One might ask: what is the point of them, on the biggest single issue facing our country in our lifetimes? On the timing, Mr Speaker, you were very clear last week after the vote. You talked about days, not weeks, and there was also a discussion of Ministers being in contempt of Parliament. Perhaps you might like to remind the Minister what the potential sanctions are for a Minister who is found to be in contempt of Parliament.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has put the words “nothing of significance” in my mouth. I do not think that I have ever said that. We are saying to the House that this sectoral analysis does not contain quantitative projections of impact. As for the right hon. Gentleman’s final question, I think that is a matter for you, Mr Speaker.
The motion that the House passed last week without objection referred to
“the impact assessments arising from those analyses”, in reference to the previous list. I can well imagine that these assessments are scattered around different Departments, and that different officials are looking at various bits of work and saying, “Does this count as part of one of these assessments or not?” I think it would have been unconscionable for the Government to come to the House and suggest that they were not going to comply with the motion or release this information, but may I suggest that there should be some private dialogue with the highly respected Chair of the Brexit Committee, on Privy Council terms, about how to resolve the matter without it becoming a matter of embarrassment that disrupts the negotiations?
It is our intention to comply with the will of the House, but we cannot release what we do not have. We will bring forward the material that is appropriate, timely and up to date, and that will inform the Committee. Steps have already been taken to carry forward the appropriate meetings.
In response to detailed questioning at the Environmental Audit Committee last week, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers revealed the existence of sectoral analyses for the waste and chemicals sectors. Given that those two analyses exist and have been read by Ministers, what is preventing their immediate publication?
The reports that I have read on waste and on chemicals date back to the origins of the Department and so, as I suggested earlier, are now out of date and do not reflect our current thinking. We wish to inform the Committee with the latest information.
Unlike the Minister, I attended the entire debate. I have gone back on my phone to look at the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend Mr Walker, and I make it absolutely clear—the Hansard record of the debate is absolutely clear—that the nuts and bolts of the debate were about redaction. The argument that the Government advanced was that some material in the papers would be commercially sensitive and might have an impact on the negotiations. Will the Minister please take this matter seriously? This is a gross contempt of this place. The Government were specifically asked what, if they were not going to vote against the motion, was their problem. Disclose this material, and disclose it properly and quickly.
My right hon. Friend is being perhaps unnecessarily unkind to me. I am sure that I did attend the entire debate, although I might have slipped out briefly. Perhaps I should watch the entire video over the weekend, but we will see. I would say to her that there has been no suggestion of redaction from the Treasury Bench, and certainly not during the course of that debate. That came from the Opposition Front Bench, when—
The hon. Lady says that is not true, but the record will show that when Keir Starmer was standing at the Dispatch Box, in dilating on his experience as Director of Public Prosecutions, he offered redaction, gisting and summaries—[Interruption.] He did that in his opening speech, whatever the hon. Lady may say.
There are times when a Government have the stench of death about them. They are leaderless and directionless, and we learn today that their defence is that they are also contentless. Most concerning of all is the Minister’s attempt to come to the House today and say that those who ask for this information should have their patriotism questioned. This will not stand, and it cannot be allowed to stand. The House gave the Minister an instruction, so my request to him today is to show a modicum of competence—in this week, of all weeks, for the Government —and pass these studies to the Committee, without redaction, as soon as possible.
We have been given an instruction and we are seeking to comply with it earnestly. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that there is absolutely no question of being content-free. We have a large amount of content, but we need to draw it together and present it to the Committee in a form that is useful. On his other point, it bears repeating that it is time for the House to come together and strive in the national interest to implement the referendum result, not to seek anything that would undermine our negotiating capital.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. It is very important that we in this House do not do the work of our negotiating partners for them. We wish to have a deep and special partnership, and to go forward in a spirit of friendship, but it is not our place to do an analysis of our own negotiating capital for our partners.
I actually want to commend the Minister, as I thought it was impossible for this Government to get more incompetent but they are doing a very good job of it. When they release the data, will they explain why, if they have undertaken all this analysis, none of it is quantitative? That does not bear any credence whatsoever, because there is no point undertaking an analysis without checking what the impact will be.
I am very happy that I now have so many hon. Friends from Scotland, which is a statement about what the Scottish people think of the competence of the hon. Gentleman’s party. In so far as there is quantitative analysis in the documents, which I have carefully studied, that is a statement of the facts as they were known at the time, not a projection into the future.
Most fair-minded people would accept that it is reasonable that some of this material may not be available until three weeks have expired, but there must be some of the material that could be made available now or sooner than in three weeks. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will do his best to make available soon that material which could be supplied before the three-week deadline?
I hesitate to ask this question, because I have an image in my mind of the Minister rocking up to the office of my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn with carrier bags full of paper and asking him to sift through them. Nevertheless, will the Minister assure me that when the documentation is made available, it will include comparative information about the sectoral impact of the different forms of Brexit that the Government have considered but discounted?
The hon. Lady asks an interesting question. It is precisely because we wish to avoid dumping unnecessary information on the Committee that we want to take the time necessary to bring together the information in an appropriate form—[Interruption.] Well, that was what the hon. Lady said. She asked for comparative economic forecasts, but I have already said repeatedly that this material does not include quantitative economic forecasts.
What the Minister has said is perfectly reasonable, but I urge him to release the documents in full as quickly as possible, as redactions only enflame interest. I have lived through many of these rows, and once such documents are published, they are often found to be very long and boring. When Parliament gets itself into a fine passion about this sort of thing, the travelling is often more fun than arriving.
On my hon. Friend’s final point, having carefully read the initial analysis, I think I can say with some certainty—[Hon. Members: “Oh, we have some analysis!”] I say to SNP Members that, as I have already told the House, I have read the initial round of analysis from the beginning of the life of the Department.
I can say to my hon. Friend that, in this case, the arrival will indeed be far less interesting than the journey.
The House will be absolutely staggered to hear Ministers say today that it is not the case that 58 sectoral analyses exist. In his evidence to the Select Committee, the Secretary of State said that the Prime Minister had seen the summaries, and that they comprised excruciating detail. In its response to my freedom of information request, the Department said that the initial exercise had concluded and, as such, all of the studies referred to had been completed. Will the Minister explain exactly what the Prime Minister saw, given that the Department does not have the studies, and could the studies—as referred to, perhaps, in the initial exercise, and as shown, I suspect, to the Prime Minister—be released to the Select Committee today?
The hon. Lady is conflating various terms. There is certainly a sectoral analysis; what there is not is a quantitative impact analysis forecasting the future. It might help the House if I repeat what I said earlier. The analysis thus far has been a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis, contained in a range of documents developed at different times since the referendum. The analysis examines the nature of activity in the sectors and how trade is conducted with the EU currently in those sectors, and in many cases it considers the alternatives after we leave, as well as looking at existing precedents.
The House has clearly voted for these papers to be released. My Whips advised me not to vote against that, so they have to be released. The Minister is trying to be helpful in providing additional information. I would say to him that that is not what the House requires. It requires lots of cardboard boxes with the information to be dumped on the Select Committee for it to look at. The Select Committee will then decide what, if anything, should be published.
I am very grateful indeed to my hon. Friend, but I would say to him that the information we have includes commercially sensitive information, information that is material to our negotiating capital and advice to Ministers. The House must be very careful not to establish precedents that it could regret in due course.
The Minister’s explanation for the delay is laughable and was not used in rejecting my freedom of information request two weeks ago. His explanation smacks of cover up and smokescreen. He questioned which side the Opposition were on. We are on the side of the public. When he deigns to publish these reports, will he also publish a report that the public can have, setting out precisely the cost of the Brexit that he so enthusiastically endorses?
As I have not ceased saying, we are not in possession of quantitative studies forecasting the impact of leaving the EU. What the public deserves is to have this House pull together to deliver a successful result, which requires us to maximise our negotiating capital by not releasing information that would be prejudicial to the future of the country.
Although these analyses do not contain sectoral impact assessments, they may contain sensitive and confidential information, so will the Minister engage with the Chairman of the Select Committee to ensure that the information in these reports is handled appropriately with the public and the Committee?
As I understand it, a meeting has already been arranged between the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Committee to do just that.
I am sure that the public will, on the whole, use common sense and agree that this timing is reasonable. May I ask the Minister to make it very clear that, whatever is in these documents that we will be sitting up all night to read when they are published, it will make no change whatever to the policy of this country—that we are leaving the European Union, the single market and the customs union?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, and I agree with her. The Government’s policy follows naturally from the UK’s democratic decision to leave the European Union. We will take back control of our laws, our borders, our money and our trade policy, and I am confident that we will make a success of it.
Mr Speaker, you have said that this particular question should focus on the issue of when, and the Minister has said within three weeks. During that period, the Select Committee will be able to have a proper debate about what exactly we want to see and in what format. Those of us who are going to Brussels this afternoon will have the chance to ask Mr Verhofstadt what plans the European Union Parliament has to make the same demands to the European Union Commission, and to ask Monsieur Barnier what plans the Commission has to provide the same answers to the same demands. Surely there is no one in this House who would want to see us publish information that would damage this nation in negotiations with another party.
It really is a bit rich for those on the Government Benches to ask which side we are on when this whole exercise from start to finish has been one of party political management over the national interest. The question is: party interest or national interest—which side are they on?
On the specific issue of timing, I am on the side of British businesses, which have warned the Treasury Committee that, before Christmas, some sectors will have to take potentially irreversible decisions. That position worsens in quarter one of next year in major sectors of our economy. Is three weeks really a reasonable delay? What can possibly be a reasonable explanation for such important and critical information not to be held in a way that is readily available and readily understood?
The hon. Gentleman refers to an exercise in party management, but I have to tell him that, over the past two years, I have very much enjoyed working with members of Labour leave—and, indeed, Liberal leave. Right across this country, people of every party allegiance have wanted to resolve this question. He refers to businesses: of course, we continually engage with businesses—indeed, I met representatives of the chemical sector yesterday. He asks whether three weeks is reasonable. The answer is yes, for the reasons that I have given.
The Minister confirmed in a response to me on
The Minister has confirmed that the sectoral analyses will need to be released in relevant time and will need to have the correct information. Does he agree that resolving this matter to the satisfaction of the whole House and this country is most important and that long-term damage to the UK is certainly what nobody should be seeking?
As I have said during the course of this debate, members of the Government are parliamentarians first and we do wish to satisfy the House. I say to my hon. Friend that our first priority as a Department is securing the long-term future of this country, and it is to that end that we will bend all our work.
Does the Minister recognise that, with his statement today, he really has turned farce into a new art form? When he asks what side we are on, I say that we on the Opposition Benches are on the side of the 29 million workers whose livelihoods absolutely depend on the impact of Brexit on the UK economy. Will he recognise that he is treating not only this House but the British public with contempt?
I will tell the House what is turning farce into an art form: it is blogging about the Greek debt crisis under the hashtag #thisisacoup and then supporting our continued membership of the European Union, as the hon. Lady has done. That is what takes the public for fools. I say to her that we are all on the side of the British public. The UK took a democratic decision to leave the European Union, and we will now carry through that decision.
When these documents are released as a result of the Opposition day motion, a cheap asset will have been handed to our negotiating partners within the EU. When the Minister implements the motion of this House, will he take as much time as is necessary to ensure that at least he and the Secretary of State continue to act in the national interest?
People are increasingly concerned about jobs and the national health service. The Minister has given some very confusing information in his answers today. Who will be the censor of what MPs and the public are allowed to know about these issues of national importance?
This Government have a proud record on jobs and on the NHS and we will continue to give both issues the first importance.
My constituents, more than most, want the Government to get on with delivering Brexit. They told me that they were saddened that this House had voted as it did because it does not help our negotiating position. What they would like this House and the Minister’s Department officials to get on with doing is negotiating the best possible deal rather than spending time facilitating the whims of this House. [Interruption.]
Order. There is a very unseemly atmosphere in the Chamber. I understand the rising passions on the subject, but, as colleagues will know, I regularly visit schools across the country and conduct Skype sessions with school students. One of the most frequent questions put to me is: why do people feel the need to bawl at each other? We should set a better example to the next generation of leaders.
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend and I say to him that officials and Ministers will have to spend some time on this work over the next three weeks, which will of course distract them from the negotiation. That is regrettable, but we take seriously the motion that the House has passed and, in the way that I have set out, we are seeking to comply with it.
This is outrageous! Whose side are we on? We are on the side of the truth being told; we are on the side of the British people; we are on the side of British business; we are on the side of British workers. Is it not the case that the Minister is simply making it up as he goes along, and treating Parliament and the people of Britain with utter contempt?
I am very conscious of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill coming forward, and I would like to begin Committee stage in a positive spirit of collaboration in order to deliver in the national interest. I have sought today to give straightforward answers to the questions that we have been asked, and I stand by what I have said.
This is turning into the Government equivalent of the dead parrot sketch. The Minister says that releasing the information could compromise the Government’s negotiating position, yet he could not be bothered to turn up to the House to vote the motion down. The Secretary of State for Scotland said at Scotland Office questions just last Wednesday that a sectoral analysis of Brexit’s impact on Scotland’s economy existed and had been shared with the Scottish Government. Does it or does it not exist? When will the Minister release that information?
As I have said throughout the urgent question, we are not in possession of quantitative forecasts of the impact of Brexit. We are in possession of sectoral analysis, and we will work on that to satisfy the motion.
It is very simple. Parliament has told the Government to hand over the documents to the Select Committee. The Government accept that the resolution of the House is binding and that they will have to do that. They accept that the things exist because the Minister says that he has read them all and that the Prime Minister has read their outlines. It is very simple: the Minister has to hand them over to the Committee in a timely fashion. However, he seems to think that, in the meantime, he can rewrite them all because they are not good enough. That is not good enough. It is all very well for him to smirk and sneer at our patriotism, but if he holds the House in contempt, he holds the British public in contempt.
There is no question of our holding the House in contempt. We are seeking earnestly to deliver to the House what has been requested. I say again that I have read the initial analysis, which Departments conducted at the beginning of our Department’s work. It is necessary to hand to the Select Committee not out-of-date, multiple documents produced at different times that are not representative of our latest thinking. We will therefore bring together the right information to provide to the Select Committee.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is an extremely versatile and dextrous parliamentarian. He should not accuse the Minister of “slippery evasions” because there is a connotation there of alleged dishonesty, which the hon. Gentleman, who is normally an equable and good-natured fellow, should withdraw. He has articulated the thrust of his point. Withdraw.
Mr Speaker, I am most grateful. I reiterate that I am confident that I have answered those questions directly. The purpose of our Department is to deliver a successful exit from the European Union. I know that the hon. Gentleman nobly opposes that cause, as he has long done, but I have to say to him that we will continue to work with all our might to deliver a successful exit from the EU that works for everyone.
The quantitative assessment that counts is that of the British people. They determined at the general election that the Conservatives should not have an overall majority in this House. That is why a majority of this House demanded that the Minister make the documents available to the Select Committee. It is not beyond the Minister’s wit to negotiate with the Select Committee Clerks how confidential information may be handled and kept confidential. He should proceed on that basis and negotiate the handling of the documents. Exactly what does he fear that Select Committee members will do with the confidential information?
We are currently fighting for the survival of the Vauxhall car plant in my constituency. I am working with the local enterprise partnership and others to come up with a plan for the future. Of course, Brexit is a huge part of that. Will the Minister share as much as he can as soon as he can with my LEP of any impact analysis he has seen for the automotive sector?
We would like to get on with delivering the best possible deal for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and the whole country. That is why we have constantly sought to get on to talking about the future relationship. I undertake to visit that plant with him as the business of the House allows.
We are seeing astonishing, dizzying theatre from the Government. We have had all sorts of Brexit before us: we are now seeing “improv Brexit”—improvising, making it up as they go along, with no tangible appreciation that, away from here, Brexit is playing out in everyday lives and there is a thirst for practical guidance. Three weeks feels like enough time to make it up, from “We shall not publish” to “It is not the case that these documents exist”. What does the Government’s quantitative analysis actually quantify?
As I said in answer to a previous question, the quantitative analysis in the documents that we have and that I have studied reflects conditions at the time they were written.