“Nothing in section 12 of this Act shall be taken to permit a Minister of the Crown, government department or devolved authority to pay out of money provided by Parliament expenditure in relation to a settlement in respect of the making of a withdrawal agreement with the European Union unless a draft of the instrument authorising that payment has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.”
This new clause would ensure that the financial provision made in section 12 of this Act does not allow the Government to make a payment in settlement of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union as part of a withdrawal agreement or new Treaty unless it has been expressly approved by the House of Commons.—(Mr Leslie.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 80—Transparency of the financial settlement—
(2) Subsection 1 applies only if the financial settlement honours obligations incurred by the United Kingdom during the period of its membership of the EU.
(3) The Treasury must lay before both Houses of Parliament an estimate of the financial obligations incurred by the United Kingdom during the period of its membership of the EU, together with reports from the Office of Budget Responsibility, the National Audit Office and the Government Actuary each giving its independent assessment of the Treasury’s estimate.
(5) Regulations under subsection (4) may be made only if a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, the House of Commons.”
This new clause ensures that any financial settlement as part of leaving the EU must reflect obligations incurred by the UK during its membership of the EU, must be transparent, and must be approved by Parliament.
Amendment 54, in clause 12, page 9, line 4, at end insert—
‘(5) No payment shall be made to the European Union or its member states in respect of the making of a withdrawal agreement or a new Treaty with the European Union or any new settlement relating to arrangements that are to be made after exit day unless a draft of the instrument authorising the payment has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.”
This amendment would ensure that there is a vote in the House of Commons to approve any settlement payment agreed by Ministers as a consequence of negotiations on a withdrawal agreement or new Treaty with the European Union.
Clause 12 stand part.
Amendment 152, in schedule 4, page 32, line 35, leave out “(among other things)”.
This amendment would limit the scope of regulations modifying the levying of fees or charges by regulatory bodies to only the effects set out in sub-sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c).
Amendment 339, leave out lines 1 to 3.
This amendment would remove the power of public authorities to levy fees or charges via tertiary legislation.
Amendment 340, page 33, line 3, at end insert—
‘(3A) Regulations under this paragraph may not be used to prescribe fees or charges that go beyond that which is necessary for recovering the direct cost of the provision of a service to the specific person (including any firm or individual) who is required to pay the relevant fee or charge.”
This amendment would prevent delegated powers from being used to levy taxes.
Amendment 153, page 35, line 8, at end insert—
‘(3) Modification of subordinate legislation under sub-paragraph (2) may not be made for the purposes of—
(a) creating a fee or charge that does not replicate a fee or charge levied by an EU entity on exit day, or
(b) increasing a fee or charge to an amount larger than an amount charged by an EU entity for the performance of the relevant function on exit day.”
This amendment would prevent Ministers using the power for public bodies to alter fees and charges either to create a fee or charge that does not currently exist for the purposes of EU regulators, or to increase a UK charge to be higher than an existing EU fee or charge.
That schedule 4 be the Fourth schedule to the Bill.
Clause 12 relates to the financial provisions of Brexit. New clause 17 seeks to clarify that a specific legislative instrument is needed to authorise payment in relation to a withdrawal agreement settlement and that that can be permitted only if approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.
It is important that we do not glide by some of the big aspects of Brexit. It has massive ramifications, one of which is the fabled “divorce bill” as it is sometimes characterised. Some people say that it is simply the settlement of obligations and liabilities, but phase 1 of the discussions, which the Government have agreed with Michel Barnier to conduct before we move on to phase 2 on the framework of future trade relations, has to include a financial settlement. It is therefore important that Members of Parliament understand it, approve it and enter into the arrangement with their eyes wide open.
We are not considering small sums of money. Last week, it was widely reported that the financial deal had been made, but we can never be absolutely sure about such reports. It was also reported that the Prime Minister had a deal with the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU on the Northern Ireland border, and we all know what happened to that in recent days. However, it feels as though Ministers, the European Commission and others have sort of agreed a financial settlement, so last week we tabled an urgent question to press the Government. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury responded to it, but unfortunately she was a bit coy about the divorce bill. We were not allowed to know how much it would be. We were told that it was still part and parcel of the negotiation process, and how dare we ask? We were also told that it was unreasonable of us to intrude on sensitive negotiating arrangements. It seemed peculiar to me that it was all right for the British Government to tell Michel Barnier, Jean-Claude Juncker and the European Commission how much HM Government and British taxpayers were prepared to pay, but somehow Members of Parliament, never mind the British public, were not grown up enough to know the real sum.
That was the surprise, and not just for us. Perhaps we were a bit cynical and did not expect the £350 million a week for the NHS on the side of the red bus to come to fruition, but I think that the British public were genuinely surprised when it turned out that, rather than Brexit’s giving us that fantastic dividend, it was actually going to cost us a considerable amount.
It is not surprising that the public were surprised. We may have accepted that much of what was promised during the referendum might fall apart subsequently, but even after the event the Government were telling us a very different tale. My hon. Friend will remember being with me on the International Trade Committee when the Secretary of State came along and said, “I don’t expect us to pay anything to leave.” My constituents heard that said not just during the referendum, when they might expect to hear things that were somewhat fanciful, but many months later. The Government were saying, “We won’t be paying anything to leave.” What we are hearing now is very different.
It is worth listing the promises that were made to the British public in the run-up to the referendum, not just by Vote Leave but by individual Members of Parliament, including the Environment Secretary and the Foreign Secretary. On
“We will take back control of our money”.
The International Trade Secretary said:
“Instead of handing over £350m a week to Brussels we should be spending that money on local priorities”,
such as the NHS.
I am delighted to see that John Redwood is present. He is very assiduous when it comes to these issues: I will grant him that. Before the referendum, he asked “How should we spend this Brexit bonus?” It was suggested that riches would be available for our vital public services. Those were the promises that were made to the British public.
Is it not all the more extraordinary that we are told not only that we will have to pay tens of billions as a divorce bill, but that the Chancellor has already put aside £3 billion—on top of the £750 million that has already been spent—just to cope with the costs of preparing for a potential no-deal Brexit?
We saw that £3.7 billion of supposed Brexit preparations in the Treasury Red Book at the time of the Budget, but I suspect that it is quite a modest sum. I know that there are former Chancellors of the Exchequer and others who have more experience than I do in this regard, but I think that those sums may have been set aside for a softer Brexit. If we ended up with a cliff edge with people saying, “We don’t need even a free trade agreement; we can cope on our own in a WTO scenario”, those Brexit preparation costs could be significantly higher.
The hon. Gentleman is making an extremely important point. Lots of people who had become really fed up and disaffected with politics and politicians took out their frustrations in the referendum. As the hon. Gentleman has said, many of them genuinely believed that if we left the European Union, there would be more money to be spent on our NHS. He is right: not only will we not have that money, but our economy could begin to retreat—and if we do not get a good deal but fall back on WTO rules, it undoubtedly will—and we will have to put aside, by way of example, £3 billion for Brexit, money that could have gone to the NHS. So my question to the hon. Gentleman is this—
The right hon. Lady was making an incredibly important point, Mr Hanson. It is not just a question of the divorce bill—the financial settlement—and it is not just a question of the billions to be set aside for Brexit preparations. The bigger issue that the right hon. Lady was raising is what will happen in a dynamic economy if our trade opportunities shrink, and if obstacles and tariffs are put in the way. This is not just our assessment, or opinion. The Chancellor himself published a table in his Red Book which showed what he and the Office for Budget Responsibility expected to happen to tax receipts over the next few years. He anticipates that by 2021 tax receipts will have fallen by not just £10 billion or £15 billion, but by £20 billion. That is £20 billion less revenue for the Exchequer to spend on the vital public services we want. This is a triple whammy, therefore, in terms of the costs of Brexit, and it is a surprise to many members of the public, who were told precisely the opposite.
May I suggest that in fact it is a quadruple whammy, because the hon. Gentleman has not yet referred to the fact that the mythical impact assessments that the Government have or have not conducted—we are not quite sure—probably contain some very large figures about the damage Brexit is going to cause to the 58 sectors on which those reports were apparently conducted?
It almost beggars belief that we are hearing not only that the Cabinet has not yet discussed the sweeping of the single market and customs union from the table, and has not yet had the chance—it is very busy—to discuss the future relationship between the UK and the EU, but that it has not even bothered to commission impact assessments. If ever there was an example of a no-questions-asked Brexit—we just career headlong towards the cliff edge, blindfold, and we do not want to ask questions—this is it. We want no information, say the Government. That is the situation we are in.
The hon. Gentleman is very well informed and of course, as we know, very bright, so perhaps he can inform the House of the cumulative net cost of the EU—our net payments over the last 42 years.
People have speculated that the net cost in terms of payments was about £10 billion a year, although some have said it was less, depending on how we look at it, but there is a cost to be paid for being a member of any club. We have to weigh against those fees and charges the benefits we get from being a member. If we are a member of a club and are gaining benefits from it, we have to ask whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and the benefits outweigh the costs. It is clear in terms of the wider economic expectations, and the Chancellor’s own assessments of what is going to happen to tax revenues in the future, that we are potentially going to be poorer as a result of some of the Brexit scenarios we are seeing.
Yes, it is true that the benefits are not simply financial. There are social benefits as well as economic benefits, and environmental benefits, and general welfare benefits that we have had in terms of the stability of the continent for such a prolonged period of time. Those benefits should not just be idly swept away; they should certainly be assessed, and the Cabinet should certainly be discussing them.
Not only is the hon. Gentleman very wise, as my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh pointed out, but he is also very fair. In the interests of fairness, and in the context of the point about the £350 million a week, does he accept that greatly exaggerated claims were made by right hon. Members, some of whom remain in this House and some of whom are no longer in this House, about what would happen on day one after we voted to leave the EU? So far as I am aware, there have been no plagues of frogs and locusts, and the sky has not fallen in.
And we have not left the EU left. The hon. Gentleman makes the point that in any election or referendum campaign there are of course claims and counter-claims, but the success of the leave campaign has caused the situation we are now in, compounded by the choices made subsequently—the interpretations that were not on the ballot paper about sweeping away the single market and the customs union. These have led not to my assessment of what will happen to tax revenues, but to the hon. Gentleman’s own Chancellor of the Exchequer’s assessment. We can talk about our expectations during the campaign, but the hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that the public feel that a result was reached during the course of that referendum and they will look to those who advocated leave and think of the promises made at the time, and expect them to be fulfilled.
We rightly debate all the figures, including the infamous £350 million on the side of the bus, but do we not also need to look at the real impact on the ground? The fact is that we are now having to recruit new customs and border officials to deal with the potential consequences of Brexit instead of spending Home Office budgets on new police officers.
Yes, there is a sense that the nation should be talking about how to tackle the massive challenges that we face—questions of productivity, of opportunities for young people and of the kind of healthcare improvements we can expect in the 21st century—but they have now been put on the back burner while we try to negotiate an inferior free trade arrangement to the one that we currently have. This is a kind of salvage operation.
I am a new Member here, and most of the people around the House do not have a clue who I am, but as a new Member, I think I might bring a slightly fresher approach to the debate. Nobody in their right mind would sign a blank cheque for this amount of money, but if I tried to explain to my constituents why I am not going to be consulted about the final sum, I could not do it. It’s nuts!
At the very least, we should know what we are being asked to pay. We know that the Foreign Secretary told the European Union to “go whistle”, and perhaps that is still the Government’s official policy. We also know that only in September the Brexit Secretary was saying that a figure of £50 billion was “nonsense”. Since then, of course, we have seen completely different reports. Parliament and the people deserve to know the sum involved. The idea of a blank cheque is completely unacceptable.
I am worried that my hon. Friend is going to move on from the important point that he has just raised about the impact assessments. There is a serious question about the competence of the Government if they have gone ahead with this without producing those assessments. There is a more important question, however. We as Members of Parliament were told that there were 58 documents that went into excruciating detail, but it now appears that that was not true. Amid all the talk about what happened outside this place, we must not forget the central point that the Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and told us that those documents existed and that the Prime Minister had looked at a summary of them. He is now saying that those documents do not exist, so what he said was not true.
My hon. Friend’s anger about this is correct. For all the bonhomie and swagger of the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, this is unacceptable. He always has a cheeky little smile and a glint in his eye, but we should not let him off the hook. With all that bluster, he was saying, “Oh, don’t worry, there are oodles of detailed impact assessments but you must realise that they are commercially sensitive. We can’t possibly share them, but don’t worry, detailed impact assessments have been produced.” It now turns out that his bluff has been called, and when the curtain was pulled back we saw that those things did not exist, and he is now cycling away. Nobody expected this to be quite so threadbare.
I would like to make another point before I give way again.
This brings in the wider theme about sidelining Parliament and creating a sense that we should not have proper scrutiny of these issues. The new clause is about scrutiny, as is the debate going on in the Brexit Select Committee. It is also about the fact that sovereignty lies not in the hands of Ministers but in the hands of Parliament as the representatives of the people, and we need to do our job. The massive land grab of legislation, under the Henry VIII clauses in the Bill, is not acceptable. The cloak and dagger pretence about the impact assessments is not acceptable. Also, the idea that the divorce bill will be somehow covered over in some grubby hidden backroom negotiations, itemising only the textual liabilities rather than showing us the pounds, shillings and pence figures, is not acceptable.
The new clause goes to the heart of the argument made for the UK leaving the European Union: this House would take back control. It was done in the name of parliamentary sovereignty. Does my hon. Friend not find it curious, therefore, that the Members who argued in the name of parliamentary sovereignty that we should leave—I see John Redwood in his place, and Sir Edward Leigh and others—do not support his new clause? I find it remarkable. That this House should approve any divorce bill would be the ultimate reassertion of parliamentary sovereignty.
I see John Redwood nodding his head, so he agrees. He is an honourable gentleman, because he does believe in parliamentary sovereignty. Many hon. Members agree that the new clause is not about whether we believe in the single market or the customs union; it simply states that when the withdrawal agreement comes to fruition there needs to be a specific vote on the money, because it will come from the taxes collected by the Exchequer—by the Government—and authorised by Parliament. There needs to be authority. I want to see hon. Members who advocated the whole process, on both sides, having to put their mouth where their money is and go through the Lobbies to state an opinion about the amount of money involved.
Has the hon. Gentleman considered whether his new clause would achieve that, because it is phrased so that a draft of the instrument authorising a payment must be approved, but that would not require a specific sum? It could simply be a framework regulation allowing for such a payment to be made. Surely his new clause is not to the point.
The hon. and learned Gentleman, who considers these matters in great detail, will understand that this matter relates to clause 12, which details financial provisions. Clearly it would be impossible for the Government to bring forward such a motion that did not have the clarity that the House expects. In my generosity, I drafted the new clause so as to make it as broad and flexible as possible. Any information would be better than no information. I know that he is urging me to be firmer with the Government on the issue—a manuscript amendment is always possible, so I look forward to that. Let us give the Government a chance to accept the new clause, because it is perfectly reasonable.
My hon. Friend is exposing whether the Government are hiding facts from the House over the cost of the divorce bill. Is he concerned, as I am, that the lack of scrutiny means we do not know what we are getting for the money? For instance, we have heard from Government Members that we are leaving a club. Well, we have to settle our tab before leaving a club. They are also confusing that with the future trade deal. We are not seeing what the cost of the trade deal will be. There seem to be two figures here: the cost of leaving and the cost of a trade deal—but we are not getting that detail from the Government.
No, and of course we are talking about the divorce bill now, even though we have had no sight of it, because the Prime Minister is naturally anxious to move on from phase 1 to phase 2 of the talks. I almost feel sorry for her, because she is being pulled from pillar to post, with the hard Brexiteers wanting one thing and the DUP always yanking her chain in another way. The EU is of course a stickler when it comes to sufficient progress, but sufficient progress is what she wants to achieve, so she will give them a nod and say, “We will give you a divorce bill settlement, but please don’t publish how much it is, in case Parliament and the public find out.” If it is in the order of £67 billion, which is in the back of the OBR’s red book—I doubt it will be that high—that equates to £1,000 for every man, woman and child in this country. Members should just think about that when they are next in their constituencies: £1,000 for every single person they see will be part of that divorce bill.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe, as I do, that the Government have managed to convince themselves that the EU is going to “go whistle” and that leaving will not cost us a penny because they get their information from too limited a number of sources? I do not know whether he is familiar with the Legatum Institute—I know that the Minister on the Front Bench is a fan—but the Government seem to give it undue access, and possibly influence, and it has a specific agenda.
I do not want to get too side-tracked into my opinions on the advice given by the Legatum Institute. Let alone the Government, I suspect the Legatum Institute has not been doing many impact assessments. The Legatum Institute might be a good cheerleader for the cause—there are many good cheerleaders for that particular cause—but that emotional response is not necessarily evidence-based.
A minute ago, my hon. Friend Clive Efford raised the question of what we will get for this divorce bill settlement. That raises the next natural question. Many commentators are assuming that, by moving on to phase 2, we part with this £50 billion or £60 billion and, at last, we are finally able to talk about trade. Actually, under article 50, we will not be entering trade deal territory; we will be entering territory that is about a framework for the future relationship with the European Union.
I will give way in a minute.
It is important the Committee realises that phase 2 is not trade talks. The £50 billion does not secure a trade deal. Article 50 refers to:
“an agreement...setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.”
Phase 2 of these article 50 talks will look at only the framework, not the substance of future relationships. The details of that full trade deal will begin only when the UK becomes a third country, which is important because we are getting to the notion that this is the only financial commitment for which we are on the hook. Phase 2 is actually a bit of an interregnum period. The actual detail of the trade relationship will come after we have left, after exit day. The whole Committee needs to appreciate that.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill is paving the way for a hard Brexit? The Bill is dealing with everything up to exit day, and thereafter, if we get a deal, it will be sorted out after we have left the European Union.
That is why so many of the amendments tabled by the right hon. Lady and by other hon. Members are crucial to ensuring that Parliament keeps its foot in the door in this process so that we do not just give things away, money for nothing, by giving Ministers total power on exit day to negotiate these arrangements and treat Parliament as a rubber stamp after the fact. We have a duty to make sure we get whatever best deal is possible. Phase 2 could simply be heads of agreement. It could be a couple of sides of A4 simply saying that, after exit, we intend maybe to talk about the details of a particular trade deal. This £50 billion or £60 billion is not purchasing a trade deal.
Is my hon. Friend arguing that this country will spend up to £67 billion, over which Parliament will have no say, to leave a club and to take us on to a stage to create a framework to re-enter a relationship with that club?
More or less, and that that relationship may never match, even partially, the arrangements that we have at present.
If my hon. Friend and other hon. Members will bear with me, we then have to imagine that we have just gone past exit day. We might have a heads of terms framework. We then, of course, enter a two-year transition period, if we are lucky. How much will we have to pay during that transition phase? The notion that our divorce bill is the end of the money is, of course, not right. I anticipate that, during the transition, if we are on the exact same terms as now, which is the impression we have from the Government, we will obviously have to continue paying into the club for those years of transition.
If we want to get any deal at all, especially one that is better than Canada’s comprehensive economic and trade agreement, we will also have to pay into the club for future years. If we are lucky enough to get the inferior arrangement that is the Norway deal, which is certainly better than absolutely nothing but is not as good as the single market and customs union membership we have right now, we will have to pay to be members of the club. The idea that the full benefits of Brexit are to come is a fallacy. The Norwegian people pay £140 per head each year for the Norway arrangement. We pay about £210 to £220 per head per year, so roughly two thirds of that cost will continue, for the inferior relationship. These are costs to our taxpayer that they need to know about, so that they can make assessments of the these things.
Is my hon. Friend aware yet of the evidence the Chancellor gave to the Treasury Committee this afternoon, when he, in effect, confirmed that there has been no Cabinet decision or agreement about the desired end position of the British Government? So we are leaving the single market and the customs union—that is not a decision taken by the Cabinet—but if we ask any Minister what the form will be to deliver on the Florence speech, they will not be able to give us a Government position. What an absurdity this is.
It is not just an absurdity; it is massively irresponsible for the Government to run headlong in a direction without knowing where they are going and without doing any assessments of potential costs. It is important that the British public see this, because they need to understand that this is not a fait accompli. We do not just have to throw up our hands and say, “Nothing can be done about this. It is all just going to happen.” The British people do have power. They do have a chance to change course. I believe we will see the clock ticking away and there will come a moment when we have to make a judgment and say, “Are we just going to continue to this timeframe?” Article 50 can of course be revoked or put on pause, and we need to consider that as an option. The British people do have the right to think again if, on reflection, they see that this process is too costly and potentially too damaging.
My hon. Friend is making a good case. There is a further cost that he is not taking into account, which is the cost to the public finances. We know that the Red Book takes no account of the £40 billion or £50 billion in the divorce bill, which means that the Government’s forecast—or the OBR’s forecast—for the public finances will be shot to pieces. That means interest rates will go up faster than anticipated and the cost of Government borrowing will go up. This is a major economic event and we need an assessment of that as well from the Government. Does my hon. Friend agree with me?
Yes. All hon. Members, not just the Government—there are such hon. Members even on the Labour Benches—will want to commit public resources to all sorts of things, and they need to recognise that if the cost is £60 billion, that is not something to be sniffed at. In a couple of years’ time the deficit is projected to be about £30 billion a year, so we are talking about the equivalent of two years of deficit to be added, presumably, to the national debt at that point in time. That is all notwithstanding what happens to our wider economic circumstances. These things should not just be dismissed.
We should be putting the House of Commons at the centre of this process and not treating it as a peripheral part of the Brexit arrangements. That is why this new clause is so important. Brexit is a costly exercise and Parliament needs to have the chance to properly reflect on it. A potential divorce bill of £1,000 for every man, woman and child in this country certainly should not just be brushed aside. When we ask ourselves what we are getting for this arrangement, we see that we are getting the chance to rip up the finest free trade agreement—a frictionless, tariff-free agreement—of anywhere in the world, for the chance to have something inferior. The current path we are on is not about taking back control; this is about losing control. The idea that Parliament should simply step to one side and agree to have control taken away from it is not acceptable to me and to very many hon. Members. This new clause would at least drag Brexit back into the sunlight and let the public hold those responsible to account.
With his customary eloquence, Mr Leslie has given a splendid speech about many things. I wish to divert slightly from his path by taking his new clause seriously as a legislative object, rather than engaging in the interesting questions he raised about the utility or otherwise of the whole of Brexit. The Committee is called upon to decide whether proposed amendments to the legislation are meritorious in terms of achieving the objects of the Bill, and that is what we have done in Committee on many other occasions as we have gone through the Bill.
It is obviously right that Parliament should control public expenditure. The withdrawal agreement will be an element of public expenditure, so one might think that new clause 17 was meritorious. However, it is clear that the payments that the new clause describes will, if they arise at all, be part of an agreement. The Government, rightly, have already said that Parliament will have a vote on the agreement. We cannot vote on an agreement without voting on the financing of an agreement, because the agreement will stipulate the financing. Therefore, new clause 17 is entirely otiose and there is no reason for the House to vote in favour of it. The House should reserve its voting for a later moment when the Government introduce the amendment to allow us to control the agreement, which I shall certainly support.
I think the Government have gone further. They have said that if there is an agreement, primary legislation would probably be needed to implement it, which means that the full procedures for statutory approval would be required in order for there to be the power to make any payments—as I understand it, there are no legal grounds for making additional payments to the EU, and if the Government wish to do so, they will need legal grounds—and then to cover the full implementation of the agreement.
As so often, my right hon. Friend snatches the next words from my mouth. I was about to say that the House will, as he rightly observes, be called on to vote on primary legislation, as we understand it, which will of course require something called a money resolution, with which I know the hon. Member for Nottingham East is fully familiar because I have heard him make long speeches about them on several occasions. He is an expert at doing so, and no doubt he will enjoy doing so again when the relevant resolution comes before the House, but new clause 17 is not necessary to achieve the objective.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a fair point about wanting to probe the details of the new clause, which is specifically about amounts of money paid out without authorisation. He must agree that despite their name, money resolutions do not always specify a sum of money. A draft withdrawal agreement would not necessarily have to set out the amount of money, either. If he has heard otherwise from the Government, I would be interested to know.
I do not think there is the slightest chance that a withdrawal agreement will be put before the House that does not specify, or enable one to calculate, an amount of money, because there is no indication that the EU would accept such a thing. Whether or not we should be paying such an amount is a separate matter. In any event, as my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald just said from a sedentary position, if that is a deficiency of a forthcoming money resolution, it is a deficiency shared by new clause 17, which also does not stipulate anything about an amount. One way or the other, I fear that the new clause is otiose. It has given an admirable opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to make an interesting speech, but that is its only virtue. The House should have nothing further to do with it.
It is a real pleasure to be called to contribute. I wish to speak to new clause 80 and amendments 339 and 340 in my name and the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
New clause 80 would require a vote in the House on the financial settlement that the Government agree with the European Union. Further, it would require the House to be informed in its decision on that matter by reports from the Office for Budget Responsibility and the National Audit Office. Amendments 339 and 340 would prevent tax or fee-raising powers from being established via tertiary legislation and limit any fees that are levied by public bodies to the cost of the service that the fee is intended to cover.
I should start by referring Members to the third report of the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee from September, which examined the Bill before us today. The report draws our intention to the fact that the delegated powers memorandum notes that those powers would enable
“the creation of tax-like charges, which go beyond recovering the direct cost of the provision of a service to a specific firm or individual, including to allow for potential cross-subsidisation or to cover the wider functions and running costs of a public body.”
The report alerts Parliament to the danger of allowing organisations full-cost recovery of their services without parliamentary scrutiny as it could allow them to gold-plate the services that they offer. As the report says:
“A tax-like charge means a tax.”
“should not be allowed in subordinate legislation. They are matters for Parliament, a principle central to the Bill of Rights 1688. Regulations under clauses 7 and 9 cannot impose or increase taxation.33 But regulations under Schedule 4 may.”
The report goes on to make the point that that means that Ministers can tax. They can
“confer powers on public authorities to tax and they can do so in tertiary legislation that has no parliamentary scrutiny whatsoever.”
New clause 80 also addresses this issue of a lack of parliamentary oversight. As we all know, the Government are in the process of attempting to conclude the first phase of negotiations with the European Union. Part of that process is agreeing a financial settlement, which reflects the obligations that the United Kingdom has incurred as a result of its membership of the European Union. Labour has always been clear that Britain should meet its obligations. We cannot seriously hope to make new agreements on the international stage if we are seen to go back on what we have already agreed. Britain is a far better, fairer and more reliable ally than that.
“I find it inconceivable that we as a nation would be walking away from an obligation that we recognised as an obligation.”
“That is just not a credible scenario. That’s not the kind of country we are and frankly it would not make us a credible partner for future international agreements.”
On that, we are agreed. But we have also been clear that the deal must be fair to the taxpayer. Already the Government are attempting to bypass the scrutiny that should take place in this Chamber. This money belongs to the UK taxpayer and they have a right to know how much, and for what they are paying. It is true that the public interest in discovering more about the financial settlements that the Government intend to make with the EU is great, and that there will inevitably and rightly be extensive media coverage. The details, some certain and some speculative, will be pored over by commentators. Estimates will be made and objections proffered on the basis—sometimes, I venture to say—of inaccurate or incomplete information. That is not a satisfactory way to proceed. The House must get a grip of this process and demand the ability to scrutinise and take a view on the deals reached.
Our new clause argues that this House should have a vote, and also that the vote should be properly informed. Being properly informed means that independent analysis by the OBR and the NAO must be provided to assist this House in its consideration of the deal. We are going to need that, because the financial settlement will not be straightforward, and unvarnished truths will be hard to come by. Crudely speaking, the Government will try to make the amount look as reasonable as possible and the EU will try to show that it has everything that it thinks it is due.
The Government will want to highlight estimates that show how payments will be less than half the €100 billion liability, once UK projects have been taken into account. As Alex Barker in the Financial Times put it last week:
“Ministers are banking on Treasury budget wizards making the exit price look as small as possible.”
The two sides in the negotiation could look at the same agreement and come up with net estimates that are quite different.
I am just puzzling over how the Government think this will work. Has my hon. Friend thought about this: it is highly likely that we will make not one big payment, but a number of payments over a period of time, which means that the payment could be spread into another Parliament? Given that no Parliament can bind its successor, how does she think that the Government can make this agreement?
That is a very interesting point. As a fellow member of the Select Committee on Procedure for several years, I am not surprised that my hon. Friend has spotted this. I would be fascinated to hear what the Minister has to say about that when he gets to his feet later this evening.
Parliament ought to have the ability to debate, scrutinise and reach its own conclusion on this matter. If we do not, we will be the only people not tussling with it. This Parliament wants to do as the people said we should: take back control. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury said in response to an urgent question from my hon. Friend Mr Leslie that to give Parliament details about the settlement
“would not be in our national interest”—[Official Report,
Vol. 632, c. 327.]
That is not good enough. She said that she will “update the House” when there is more to say, but we do not want to be updated; we want the ability to decide.
We understand that the Government cannot, at this stage, set out a precise figure, given that we are at a sensitive stage of the negotiations. But the financial settlement needs to be assessed by the OBR and the NAO, and MPs need to have a vote. Lord Heseltine made the point well when he asked,
“what would a Conservative opposition do if a Labour party proposed to spend £30bn, £40bn or £50bn without telling Parliament what it was doing with it?”
Stephen Hammond went further and said of the bill,
“It is very difficult for the Government to continue to say post-council that we cannot...set out how it is calculated”.
He also said that he hopes that the Government
“keep its promise to be as transparent as possible”.
Well, I hope so too.
Labour believes that any agreement on money with the EU must meet our international obligations while delivering a fair deal for British taxpayers. But unless the Government are transparent at every stage of this process and Parliament is given sufficient opportunity to scrutinise the final figure, how will we know? The Government are crumbling before our eyes. The Foreign Secretary says the EU can “go whistle”, while the Prime Minister does not want to share any details on money or anything else, even with those who are supposed to be her political partners.
This evening, the Committee has the opportunity to vote for transparency and accountability—to give “taking back control” its true meaning. This Parliament needs to step up and do its job.
I was slightly not expecting to be called to speak then. I am very glad that I have been—honestly. It is good to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, particularly on the financial aspects of the Bill. Given the rumours that we heard last week in the press about the divorce bill, which have not yet been substantiated by the UK Government, this is a good time to be having this discussion.
As a number of hon. Members have said, it is clear that the divorce bill is likely to be significant. But the reason that we are making assumptions—or trying to come up with ideas about what the divorce bill might look like—is because there are no solid facts coming out of the Government. It would be incredibly useful for all of us if the Government were to say, “This is how we expect the divorce bill to be structured. This is what we expect the money to be spent on. This is how we expect it to be allocated.” We would then be able to provide appropriate scrutiny, which is the job not just of the Opposition, but of Back-Bench Government Members. It would be useful if we were able to do that.
The Government say that they have not pinned down exactly how much money we are talking about, but they have not even said that they will tell us the breakdown of the money in the end. They have not promised that level of certainty. It is all well and good for Conservative Members to say, “I’m sure that the Government will give us this information.” It would be a positive step forward if the Government actually committed to doing that.
We cannot have the devolved Administrations having to pay money towards the divorce bill. It is ridiculous that this Parliament would in any circumstances suggest that the devolved Administrations should have to pay towards something that Scotland and Northern Ireland did not vote for as those countries. It would be incredibly galling if it were suggested that we had to use the money that we would spend on public services, over which the devolved authorities have discretion, to pay any portion of the divorce bill. We would completely disagree with that.
My best guess, given the lack of information from the Government, is that the divorce bill that is being spoken about is not for future trade access, or to allow us to get into the single market or to use the customs union. In fact, the Government have been clear that they do not want us to be in the single market or the customs union. This £50 billion or €50 billion or up to €100 billion—who knows how much it will actually be—is just for our ongoing liabilities. It is not to give us access. As I have said, if the Government said what it was actually for, we would throw less accusations across the House at them about it.
New clause 80 on the transparency of the financial settlement pretty well covers what we are seeking from the Government. We need to see all that detail and it would be good to see it as soon as possible.
We have seen how the Government have behaved. The Prime Minister’s speeches have not been made to this House and she has had to come to the House afterwards to make statements. I think that, when the divorce bill is agreed—when there is a signature on the dotted line—the UK Government should have to come to tell the House first. If we are talking about bringing about sovereignty, that is the way in which such things should be undertaken. There should not just be an announcement or a speech; there should be a proper announcement to this House so that the divorce bill can be effectively scrutinised. That would be the best way to do business.
I will move on to parliamentary scrutiny and the issue of sovereignty. Jenny Chapman spoke about fees and levies being put into statutory instruments. She was absolutely correct that, if something is a tax-like charge, it is a tax. Therefore, it should not go through a Delegated Legislation Committee; it should be in primary legislation that is discussed on the Floor of the House.
The statutory instrument system we have is already pretty rubbish. We are given the SI without much notice. When we go into the Committee, we do not know how things will go. It tends to be made up of a number of MPs who are pretty disinterested, most of whom have not read the legislation. I have been on two SI Committees over the past couple of weeks. One took about five minutes and the other took much longer and involved a much more in-depth discussion. Before we go into an SI Committee, we do not know which one of those it is likely to be, because no measure of priority or importance is given to them in advance. If we are going to put everything, from taxes to the replacement of EU workers legislation, through an SI Committee, we need a better SI system in this House to ensure that there is proper scrutiny.
To have another slight rant about proper scrutiny, the estimates process in this House is utter nonsense and does not provide proper scrutiny. I have been shouting about that for a very long time and I will not stop. If the UK Government decide that the £50 billion will go through the estimates process and will not, therefore, be properly scrutinised, there will be an awful lot of incredibly upset Members in this House, and not just on the Opposition Benches. I would like the Government, if possible, to be very clear that if there is to be a vote on this money in Parliament, there will be a proper vote—not a vote as part of the estimates process, during which we are not allowed to discuss things in great detail.
I absolutely agree. If the incredibly inadequate estimates procedure were used, an awful lot of my constituents would say to me, “Why did you not talk about this?”, and I would have to say, “Because it didn’t happen to be picked by the Liaison Committee and therefore we had to talk about something else and couldn’t vote on specifically amending this matter.” That would be a major concern to people here and people outside. It would be great if the Government could give the commitment today that any vote on the divorce bill will not happen through the estimates procedure and will be properly scrutinised on the Floor of the House.
It is really important that we do get House of Commons approval for any financial settlement that is agreed on. It absolutely has to be agreed by this House. I would prefer it also to be agreed by the House of Lords. It would be sensible for it to have as much scrutiny as possible before any agreement happens. We are making it very clear that that is very important to us.
Last week, I called for the Chancellor to bring forward an emergency Budget. The Budget that we had the week before last made no mention of payments in relation to a withdrawal settlement, but the Chancellor must have had some idea about this. I can only assume that he did, but given that the DUP did not know what was going on with the agreement that had been made on Monday, perhaps he did not. He should have had some idea of the ballpark figure that was going to come out in the news the following week, and therefore it should have been in the Budget. As it was not in this year’s Budget, the Chancellor needs to come to the House and introduce an emergency Budget explaining how he is going to pay this bill—which taxes he is going to raise, perhaps—and where the money is going to come from, and then this House should properly debate the matter.
I agree with the hon. Lady to a large extent. We do not want hidden protocols whereby certain secret agreements about expenditure do not come before the House. We want full exposure and a comprehensive view of this.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, with whom I used to serve on the Scottish Affairs Committee. This does need to be as transparent as possible. Every bit of money that is agreed between the UK Government and the EU as part of the withdrawal settlement needs to be itemised. We need to know what the UK is agreeing to pay for and the timescale over which we will be paying it.
I entirely agree with the points that the hon. Lady is making. It was interesting that this afternoon in the Treasury Committee, the Chancellor acknowledged that the cost to the UK of settling any outstanding debts with the European Union will be small beer compared with the costs if we do not get a good long-term trading relationship with the EU. There are two issues: the short-term cost and the impact on the scorecard, and the long-term cost to the economy and the damage that that will do if we cannot move on to phase 2 of these talks.
I absolutely agree. I will come on to the more indirect costs in a moment, but first I want to mention one more thing in relation to direct costs.
There is still ongoing uncertainty about the replacements, or possible replacements, for EU structural funds—for example, the Horizon 2020 money, the social fund and the common agricultural policy payments. We have a level of certainty on some of those in the very short term, but what happens after April 2019? What happens to the projects that currently receive money, or are likely to be bidding for money in future? What are the UK Government going to do to replace those funds? We do not have any certainty on the replacements for most of the direct funding.
I now move on to the indirect costs of Brexit. I am totally baffled as to whether or not there are economic impact assessments. The UK Government told us that there were impact assessments. They were incredibly clear that there were impact assessments and so they definitely knew how this was going to impact on the economy. Then, at the Brexit Committee, the Secretary of State said that there are no economic impact assessments. Any kind of responsible organisation does an economic impact assessment—before it takes an action, preferably. If an organisation is in this crazy situation where it has signed up to an action and drawn all these ridiculous red lines, it will probably be wise to do the economic impact assessments then so that it has an idea of quite how much of a mess it has got itself into.
I do not know whether the hon. Lady is one of a number of MPs, including me, who put in a freedom of information request to access these reports. The response we got was that they could not be released because the information contained therein would damage the UK’s negotiating position. I do not know whether she has been to see the reports, but frankly there is nothing in them that could not be obtained by googling different sectors. I am not quite sure why that was used as an excuse for not releasing them to Members of Parliament.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. I have heard that pretty insubstantial information has been provided, particularly on the numbers.
I was concerned to note that the UK Government have made a call for evidence on trade remedies. They want information from companies, organisations and sectors about which trade remedies are important to their sector. The UK Government do not know which remedies are important, because they have not done the work. They do not have a good enough understanding of the sectoral impact of Brexit.
I shall highlight a few things in relation to that. The Bank of England recently asked what would happen to cross-border derivative contracts and insurance policies after Brexit. The UK Government have not answered the question. I asked them what would happen to rules of origin and what would happen to companies that, for example, made cars in the UK. What would happen to free trade arrangements that call for cars to have 55% or 60% UK content? Currently, it is EU content, but in the event of Brexit we would seek 55% or 60% UK content. Our cars do not have that much UK content, so I asked the UK Government for their position on rules of origin and what they were doing about that. Basically, the answer was “We don’t really know.”
There has been a complete lack of understanding. An awful lot of companies and organisations are going to the Government and saying, “This is our problem. You need to fix it—and you can do it this way.” Most of them have come up with solutions and have suggested ways to fix things. Insurance organisations, for example, have a huge problem. If they sell insurance to someone in an EU country, after exit date they will no longer be able to collect premiums or pay out in the event that someone makes a claim, and they will not be allowed to write to those people to tell them that they cannot do those things, because that is how the rules work.
The UK Government could attempt to give certainty now on a number of such issues, including customs. The economic impacts of this are unbelievable, and the regulatory impacts are baffling even the Government. The impacts are going to be too big for anyone to comprehend. Most of the stuff that we will look at in future, according to how the Bill is drawn up, will be dealt with in SI Committees. It is totally inadequate to discuss incredibly important regulatory regimes, levies and taxes in such Committees. That is not how the Government should proceed. They should change their mind on that and look at the amendments that have been tabled, particularly by Mr Leslie. The SNP is willing to endorse them, and we thank him for introducing them.
I am pleased to follow Kirsty Blackman. I share her bemusement at where we have got to on the impact assessments, which we have now been told do not exist. Like her, I would have thought that that work would have been done—it certainly should be done. If it has not been done—we have been told that it has not been done—it urgently needs to be done so that the Government and the House can take an informed view about where we are heading.
I wish to speak briefly to my amendments 152 and 153 to schedule 4, which touch on the matter raised by my hon. Friend Jenny Chapman. She pointed out that while it was a good thing that Ministers could assure us that no new taxes would be introduced as a result of the sweeping powers that the Bill gives to Ministers—I am glad that new taxes are not going to be imposed on us through the use of these powers—nevertheless the Bill gives them the powers to impose charges. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make the point, which was also made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North, that there is frankly precious little difference between taxes and charges. There are wide powers in the Bill to impose new charges, so my amendments 152 and 153 are intended to constrain the power of Ministers to impose charges, which could be almost limitless in scope. I hope that the Minister, in winding up the debate, will be able to give assurances to the House that these powers will not be used in ways that none of us would want. I hope that by probing the Minister’s intentions through my amendments I will receive the assurances I seek.
Amendment 152 would amend line 35 of schedule 4, on page 32. The schedule is slightly alarmingly worded, and the amendment is to part 1, which deals with the power to provide for fees or charges. Paragraph 1(3) lists various things that Ministers can introduce regulations to do: to prescribe fees or charges; to provide for recovery of any sums payable; and to confer power on public authorities to do rather similar things. The sub-paragraph explicitly allows Ministers to introduce regulations on those three things, but its first line also reads:
“Regulations under this paragraph may (among other things)”.
Apart from the three specific things, which, frankly, sound rather alarming, it seems that there are some other, non-specified things that the schedule would empower Ministers to do. Amendment 152 simply proposes the deletion of the words “among other things”, so that at least Ministers can do only three things to demand money from taxpayers or charge payers.
I just want to make sure that I have understood what my right hon. Friend is saying. Surely what is being proposed here is that Ministers’ ability to use secondary legislation to impose taxes should be constrained, and they will be allowed to impose charges—not that if the Brexit bill is ginormous and the public finances are in a mess, Ministers will have stood at the Dispatch Box now and committed never to increase income tax. That is the correct understanding, is it not?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The amendment simply constrains Ministers’ ability to introduce new charges—she calls them taxes, and she has every right to do so—under the secondary legislation envisaged in schedule 4. What I hope the Minister will do is assure us that by “among other things” he is not envisaging some great long list of new money-raising powers.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We come directly to that point in amendment 153, in which we propose to add to schedule 4 the words set out on the amendment paper, which I shall read out. We propose to constrain Ministers’ powers by saying, first, that regulations
“may not be made for the purposes of…creating a fee or charge that does not replicate a fee or charge levied by an EU entity on exit day”.
That is exactly the point my hon. Friend has just raised. We of course recognise that a lot of charges are imposed at the moment by EU bodies of one sort or another—she mentioned a very important one—and that, in future, comparable fees or charges may well need to be levied by UK entities, but the aim of the first paragraph of amendment 153 is to make it clear that Ministers cannot impose new fees or charges for which there is not already a counterpart from the EU entity.
The right hon. Gentleman is doing exactly what needs to be done in Committee, and I have considerable sympathy with his ambitions. Has he considered whether the reference to remedying deficiencies as the basis for secondary legislation powers under the Bill would in any case have the effect he is describing?
I had not considered that, and the right hon. Gentleman may well have a point. I would be interested to know whether that is indeed the case. That interesting point is certainly worth pursuing, and I would welcome it if he expanded on that later.
Secondly, amendment 153 states that Ministers cannot bring forward regulations for the purpose of
“increasing a fee or charge to an amount larger than an amount charged by an EU entity for the performance of the relevant function on exit day.”
Let me take the example my hon. Friend Helen Goodman mentioned. The European Medicines Agency does very important work, and it charges the industry for that work. I am suggesting that the secondary legislation powers in schedule 4 should not be used to introduce a charge for the same function that is higher than the one currently charged by the European Medicines Agency. There may well be a loss of economies of scale in leaving the European Medicines Agency, and it may well be that undertaking that function purely for the UK will be a less efficient process than doing it EU-wide, as the European Medicines Agency does, but I do not think the secondary legislation powers in the schedule should be used to impose on industry or any charge payer a fee that is higher than the one currently charged by the EU entity.
I accept that there may well in due course need to be some higher fees or charges than those currently levied by EU entities, because the process may well be less efficient when carried out at a UK-only level, but I do not think the secondary legislation powers should be used for that purpose. If Ministers want to bring forward a proposal to impose a higher fee or charge, they should do so through the proper parliamentary process, with scrutiny by this House, not through secondary legislation powers.
One of the points made to me by those in the industry is that if these fees and charges shoot up, that will have an impact on their competitiveness, which is the last thing we want. Does that not reinforce my right hon. Friend’s point?
Once again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, my amendments arise specifically from the discussions I have had with those in the tech sector who are worried about the prospect of being hit by substantially larger fees and charges in the future, which is exactly what the powers in the schedule would allow Ministers to do.
I very much hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that these powers will not be used in that way, and that we will not find that industry and charge payers of other kinds are hit by fees or charges that are not being charged at the moment or are higher than those currently being charged. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response.
Although new clause 17 may be otiose, to echo Sir Oliver Letwin, it does at least give Members the opportunity to express strong views on aspects of Brexit. I wonder whether among Government Members there is any sense of humility, shame or embarrassment about what they are inflicting on the country. Looking at the chaos and instability, and indeed the loss of influence, the UK has experienced in the past few months, I would have thought that some Conservative Members would be starting to question their enthusiastic endorsement of action that is weakening the United Kingdom and leaving us much, much poorer.
I know there are Members on both sides of this House who were remain supporters and who are keeping quiet and biding their time. They tell me that they are waiting for the polls to shift before coming out and voicing their concerns about the impact of Brexit more openly. I point out to them that they do not have much time to wait for the polls to shift before Brexit goes ahead—if it goes ahead. I say “if” because there is nothing final about it. Clearly article 50 is revocable, and although the will of the people on
The right hon. Gentleman’s remarks so far are interesting. Is it not telling that those who urged the country to take this course—those who feel that Brexit will provide this dividend, these great riches—are amazingly mute today? When it comes to the crunch, they do not want to be seen to defend Brexit and the impact it will have on the public finances. I think they should be made to vote for the consequences of the actions they argued for.
I agree absolutely. That is why new clause 17, which the hon. Gentleman moved, is not otiose at all. It would put people on the spot: they would have to vote, hopefully for a figure. I hope the Government will want to do that, in the name of accountability and transparency. We need a figure, because there is a real risk. We have seen press reports that some arrangement will be reached whereby the Government and the leading leave campaigners within the Government will be saved the embarrassment of a very large—£45 billion to £50 billion—figure being put into the public domain. As several Members have said this afternoon, that is the down payment, not the final divorce settlement.
Speaking as one who voted to remain, I was disappointed on that Friday morning, but I accept the will of the people. Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that we ignore that decision made by the people of the United Kingdom?
I am absolutely not doing that. That is why I just referred to the idea of having a vote on the deal. The whole point of that is to have a public popular vote. We, the Liberal Democrats, have made it clear from the outset that the only way democratically to answer the question posed by the marginal result on
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that we should call this process a confirmation of the first decision? Then we could keep things very neutral: people could confirm that this really was what they voted for. What should any of us who are democrats be afraid of? If there is confirmation of the original decision, fine, but let us wait and see whether people want to confirm their original decision.
I certainly agree with the intent behind what my hon. Friend says, although I would hesitate to call the vote confirmation of the original vote; this vote would be different in nature, given the facts now available to us—given that the initial settlement will be £45 billion or £50 billion; that huge problems have been created at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland; and that 16 or 17 months on, the issue of EU citizens here is still not resolved.
The right hon. Gentleman has sparked a highly relevant debate. The referendum asked whether we should leave or not. What we are debating in the Bill is how we leave. We have learned that the process is a series of decisions; there is not one way to leave the EU. We need to keep every option open, not shut doors as this Government are doing, so that if the public mood shifts, as it might well do, all options are open.
I agree. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will regret, as many Opposition Members and I do, that very early on, the Government shut down some of the options available to us regarding the single market and the customs union. There was no attempt by the Government to negotiate with the European Union on whether there was scope for the EU to give ground, including on freedom of movement. I know from contacts that I have had that there would have been some appetite among some EU countries to give ground on freedom of movement, but that is not something that the Government sought.
We have had a huge election within the past six months. The Conservative party went into that election with a manifesto commitment to honouring the outcome of the June 2016 referendum. I am not sure that I quite understand what the right hon. Gentleman does not understand about what the result of that election meant for the representation of the parties in this House. The majority of Members in this House are elected on a platform of leaving the European Union.
The clearest outcome of the general election was that the hon. Gentleman’s party lost its majority and is now in an unwieldy and dangerous relationship with the Democratic Unionist party. The route that the Government are going down—a particularly hard Brexit—was not endorsed in the general election.
We have discussed the Irish border an awful lot this week. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one obvious solution to the Irish border situation is for the whole UK to remain in the single market and customs union?
Absolutely; that is probably the only safe solution to the question of Ireland and Northern Ireland—and it is one that, unfortunately, our Government ruled out at the outset. They probably rue the consequences of that decision.
I have strayed slightly from new clause 17, but I certainly do not think that the new clause is otiose. When the right hon. Member for West Dorset called it that, it reminded me of his term in the Cabinet Office. I am absolutely convinced that as a senior Minister with an overview of the activities of all Government Departments, he would never have accepted the Government’s going forward with an economic project on the scale of Brexit without insisting that each Department conducted a decent impact assessment for all sectors for which it was responsible. If he disagrees and wants to say that when he was at the Cabinet Office, he would have been perfectly happy with the Government forging ahead in this way with the single biggest economic—and, I would say, most damaging—project that the country has undertaken in 50 years, I give him the opportunity to do so now. Members will note that he has not taken it. I think that must be taken as an indication that he not happy with Conservative Front Benchers, who have decided to proceed without conducting any impact assessments of Brexit.
When Opposition Members heard from Ministers about impact assessments and sectoral analysis, we rightly expected the Government to have conducted an impact assessment of hard Brexit, of perhaps the Norway model and the Turkey model, of no deal and of our current arrangements to inform the House properly about the impact of Brexit. We would then have known about not just the down payment of £45 billion, or whatever it will be, but the long-term financial consequences for the automotive, pharmaceutical and agricultural sectors and all the other sectors that will be so greatly affected.
The right hon. Gentleman is making an incredibly powerful case about the importance of data. Just today, John Curtice has released information that proves that a majority of the British public now believe that Brexit will be bad for our economy, so even the British people have twigged that something is awry. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the lack of impact assessments will compound that sensation?
The British public cannot but note the incompetence that our Government have shown. Whether they were leave or remain supporters, when they see a Government in chaos, conducting negotiations in a cack-handed manner, it is not surprising that they are beginning to worry about the impact of Brexit.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions impact assessments. I wonder whether our 27 friends in the EU might do a retrospective impact assessment of the time when David Cameron went to Europe to ask for some concessions on our arrangements as a member of the EU. He went for a basket of bread and came back with a basket of crumbs. The impact assessment should be directed at them. We would not be where we are today if things had been different. We should ask ourselves who has brought us to where we are. The answer is our friends in Europe.
We are here today debating the impact that the hon. Gentleman’s Government will have on every single man, woman and child in this country by pursuing a hard Brexit agenda. I do not think he believed what he was saying when he tried to shift the blame to the EU for what happened to David Cameron’s negotiations. However, I made the point earlier that if the EU had been faced with the realistic prospect of the UK leaving, I think it would have been much more amenable to making more substantial concessions.
Hon. Members may be pleased to hear that I am about to conclude—[hon. Members: “Hooray!] Thank you. Apparently, Brexit is about taking back control. We therefore need to ensure that new clause 17 is put into statute so that Parliament has the opportunity to take back control and demonstrate whether we think that the down payment of £45 billion, £50 billion or £55 billion is a price worth paying for the views of a relatively small number of Brexit-obsessed Conservative Members of Parliament.
I want to speak in support of the new clause. I have listened to several hon. Members compare the purchase of houses and cars with Brexit. I have also heard Members point to the necessity of knowing exactly what we are buying. With such a large transaction looming, a simple figure is the least one should expect. Beyond that, however, I think it perfectly reasonable to ask how the figure was calculated. When I receive my bill in a restaurant, I expect to be able to see how much each item cost. I look at the bill, and then—hopefully—I pay. Alternatively, I dispute the bill, and say, “I was not taken with the main course.” Similarly, if I am looking at cars, I may say, “This car is not worth that.” If a survey has shown that there are serious problems with a house, I say, “I am not prepared to pay that: I expect you, the owner, to put it right first.”
New clause 17 asks no more than that. It says, “Let us see the figure. Let us see the calculation. Let us be able to offer an opinion. Let us be able to offer what our constituents send us here for: a vote on whether or not we are prepared to go back to them and say, “This is the bill.” When we are presented with a bill for an unlimited amount that has been guessed to be £40 billion, or £60 billion, or however many billions of pounds sterling, or maybe euros, is it too much to ask—indeed, is it too much to expect—to be given a set figure and an explanation of what the money is for, and is this not the place in which to have a discussion about it? There could be a debate on a statutory instrument in a Committee, watched by a few and ignored by many, and—as we heard earlier from Kirsty Blackman—perhaps ignored by some of the MPs who have been asked to attend it, but the place in which to discuss the issue is here, so that our constituents can see what we are saying about it and how we are defending or, indeed, opposing it.
Conservative Members have spoken of the need to respect the result of the referendum, and it has been pointed out that that was included in the manifestos of a number of the major parties. There is nothing wrong with accepting the result, because when we asked the public whether they wanted to stay or leave, we were unable to give them any figures, apart from, possibly, one painted on the side of a bus. We asked them whether their intention was to leave Europe, and they answered yes to that question. The new clause proposes that we explain to our constituents—and, I must add, to Members themselves—what the actual cost will be: not “may be”, not “can be”, not even “should be”, but “will be”. We have a responsibility to do that. The new clause simply requests that
“a draft of the instrument authorising that payment” should be
“laid before, and approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.”
A huge amount of the Bill draws into the Executive a sovereignty which, in my opinion, extends far beyond that which the Executive should rightfully exercise. The new clause would put parliamentary sovereignty back where it belongs, where Members of this House can vote on it. We have heard quotations about how the referendum allowed people to “take back their money” and to get a “Brexit bonus”. Much has been made of the potential, but the reality of how we leave Europe and the reality of the consequences are now starting to become apparent.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case for parliamentary sovereignty, clarity and transparency. Do his constituents, like mine, not expect that when they elect a Member of Parliament, that Member of Parliament’s job is to exercise sound stewardship of the money that they part with—the money that they give to the Chancellor and the Treasury when they pay their taxes? Would they not be mystified, and very angry, if they thought that we were nodding through £40 billion or £60 billion without specific authority? Would they not be absolutely astonished at the Government’s implied proposition?
That clearly must be the case. There is an expectation on us to explain how the pounds, shillings and pence are spent, rather than just say, “Oh, it was just nodded through,” and when asked how much it cost, say “I have no idea.” That is unacceptable to those who send us here, and rightly so, because it is their taxes that pay for this; it is their work, their productivity and their hard graft—to use a phrase I heard earlier today—that raises the money to meet these bills.
The draft of the instrument in new clause 17 and of the regulations in new clause 80 are put there on the expectation that there is some transparency. The events of the last few days, weeks, and certainly months would have seriously benefitted from having had far more transparency about what is happening. It is not necessarily the case that keeping hidden a sector title of “Forestry” aids our negotiations. If there was more transparency, the Government would have had far more useful and sensible advice from various industries around the UK. If they consider, even or stumble upon the idea of, an impact assessment for the regions, and perhaps if they share with the regions that that is being carried out, the regions—and indeed the devolved powers—could share some of their expertise, so that, as with these amendments, when measures come back to this House we may make a reasoned decision based on facts, influenced by our constituents’ views and genuinely aiming to make the best of a situation that, much like the vaunted driverless cars, could be heading for an absolute disaster.
When Mr Leslie moved new clause 17 he made a number of worthy points that need to be addressed. I will obviously be voting against the new clause if it is pressed to a vote, and I hope that that is the point, but in terms of the raison d’être of all of these amendments, the cat has been let out of the bag: the hon. Gentleman wishes to revoke article 50 and thereby overturn the will of 17.4 million people. That is the be-all and end-all—that is the raison d’être of what we have heard tonight. The whole tactic of these amendments—no matter how reasonable they might sound and how powerfully supported by some Members—is essentially to do-over the will of the British people.
The hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair. He should look at the text of the amendment, which simply says that the consequences of Brexit—the costs to the public and his constituents, who might have to fork out £1,000 per man, woman and child—should be authorised by this Parliament; we should take back control. The hon. Gentleman can imply all sorts of motives on my shoulders for tabling it, but it would be honourable if we could address the topic at hand.
I am addressing the topic. Does the hon. Gentleman deny that he wishes to revoke article 50 and turn over the will of the British people?
The point that I made was that article 50 can be revoked if the British public wish that to be the case. The Prime Minister has not denied that is the case; she might say that it is Government policy not to revoke article 50, but she has not said that it is impossible to do so. I was simply pointing out a legal reality.
The hon. Gentleman says he has pointed out a legal reality, but the Labour party’s position on all of these matters is now no clearer than mud. Are we ultimately going to honour the will of the British people, enact this Bill, and withdraw from the EU? That is the bottom line. All these amendments are slowly but surely being exposed as having a different motivation. It was said earlier that there was a need to put the Brexit Members of Parliament on the spot and get them to vote for the consequences of Brexit. I will happily walk through the Division Lobby tonight to vote down new clause 17, for the very reason that I wish to put into practice and into law the will of the British people. They voted to leave, and we must bring it on and allow them to leave. Confusion has been allowed to reign as a result of the proposed amendments.
I have never heard anybody put this argument in quite this extreme way. The British public answered the simple question of whether they wished to leave the European Union, but that question carried within it hundreds of highly complicated sub-questions which now have to be addressed after the negotiations. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that we should not, for example, discuss the basis on which we make a contribution towards accrued pension liabilities during our membership of the European Union because our masters, the people, have decided that we must pay those accrued pension liabilities and are indifferent to how much that will cost? That is an absurd misuse of the one simple question about whether or not to stay in the EU.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Father of the House, has been a Member of Parliament for many years, and he will know that it is only very occasionally that the British people are asked their view by way of a referendum. Indeed, that has probably happened on only two occasions in his lifetime. On both of those occasions, the will of the British people was enacted by this place. Yes, of course there is debate. Who says that there should not be reasoned debate? [Hon. Members: “You.”] I do not say that, and I have not said that. Don’t be silly—[Interruption.] I am not saying it now. I am saying what the raison d’être behind the debate is, which is very different. Let us have the debate. I have actually used the words “bring it on”. If the Father of the House is suggesting that this occasion is just the same as every other occasion, I have to tell him, with due respect, that he is wrong. The will of the people has been expressed through a referendum. That is what makes this different.
Is not this debate bringing out the fact that the will of the people is a very mixed bag? Is it not therefore admissible for us to get close to the will of the people through these debates and, if it appears that we are going to get a great result out of Brexit, to go to the people again and asked them to confirm or reject their original decision? That is what I call democracy.
The hon. Lady has made the point about having a second referendum on a number of occasions, and I believe that the proposal has been rejected. She is of course entitled to keep making that call, but I believe that it will continue to fall on deaf ears. However, she is right to continue to fight her corner.
The hon. Gentleman says that the proposal has been rejected. He might have heard me refer earlier to a Survation poll at the weekend which confirmed that 50% of people now support the idea of a vote on the deal, and that only a third of them oppose it.
Yes, and every single poll that I have read about myself and my party tells me that I have lost every election, but in reality I have won them all. The poll that ultimately counts is the one that is taken by the people.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the logic of the Lib Dems’ position—which they certainly did not put forward on Second Reading of the Bill that introduced the provisions for the referendum—is that we should have three referendums? In that way, it could be the best of three, or they could carry on until they got the result they wanted.
My hon. Friend puts his finger on a very Irish solution to the problem. I remember the Lisbon treaty. The Irish voted against it, but they were told by their political masters that they had made the wrong decision and had to vote again. This is ultimately a ruse to ignore the will of the British people, as expressed in a referendum on this matter.
I just want to get the hon. Gentleman on the record saying that, whatever happens to public opinion and however bad the negotiations go, even if the 50% who believe that there should be a vote on the deal grows to 90%, he is adamant that, because of the vote on
In the same way that public opinion changed from 1973 to the present—
I will take your instruction, Mr Hanson, but I think that Tom Brake knows where I stand on that point.
I was hoping to hear some clarity from Labour’s Front Bench tonight, instead of more confusion. I was hoping to hear some key arguments about why the Opposition are putting forward some of these amendments to deal with the consequences of the divorce bill. I wanted to hear them deal with who should pay, with freedom of movement and with the single market. I wanted a hard and fast line, but I am afraid that we heard even more confusion.
We have had a diet of this confusion for some time. John McDonnell said that we must leave the single market and respect the referendum result. Tom Watson said that we should stay in the single market and the customs union permanently. The hon. Members for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) and for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) said on another occasion that we have to leave the single market. Ms Abbott said that we should keep freedom of movement. Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition, and Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit Secretary, have said that freedom of movement ends with Brexit.
We really need more clarity from the Labour party. If it is going to try to persuade us on these key issues, it needs a single position. At least the Government, for all the problems that have been pointed out, have a single position. I think that would be a good starting point.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to support new clause 17, moved with great elan by my hon. Friend Mr Leslie, new clause 8, tabled by the Labour Front Benchers, and amendments 152 and 153, tabled by my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms.
It seems completely reasonable for the House to expect the Government to produce papers explaining the basis of the payments that we will have to make in order to secure a successful Brexit. We want to know from the Government in writing what legal obligations they accept, what they agree to in relation to our obligations under the current five-year EU budget, what they believe our long-term liabilities are—such things as pensions—and how our share of the EU’s assets are being taken into account in the calculation. For example, it would be extremely helpful to know the Government’s position on the European Investment Bank, because we still do not have clarity on that. That will obviously play some part in the divorce Bill. We need to know what the number is, but we also need to know whether it has been worked out in a reasonable way, because at the moment it is not at all clear how the assessment has been made. We are asking for a parliamentary opportunity to look at this.
We also want to know Ministers’ plan for how the payment will be made. What will be paid earlier and what will be paid over time? What account will Ministers take of fluctuations in the exchange rate? The pound has fallen by 12% since the referendum in the summer of 2016. That is not a huge amount, but it has a significant impact on these numbers. If the Government agree a figure of £50 billion, it would increase the bill by €6 billion or £5 billion. How will the Government manage such exchange rate risks?
Does the hon. Lady agree that a good way for the Government to publicise precisely how much the bill will be is for them to put the figure on the side of a red bus and for senior members of the Government to drive around the country publicising the £45 billion down payment?
That is a good, eminently sensible idea. I will return to the public’s attitude when I wind up my remarks.
This is a significant sum. When we bailed out the banks 10 years ago, we spent £133 billion. Now we are talking about a figure of £50 billion, which will have a significant impact on the public finances. I am sympathetic to the remarks of Kirsty Blackman on the inadequacies of the current estimates procedure. Given that this is an exceptionally large sum of money on an exceptionally important item, and given that this is exceptionally politically sensitive, we expect a much better way for Parliament to approve the sums of money. That is what new clauses 17 and 80 are driving at.
I am worried about the impact on the public finances. Not only is this a big number, but it seems to be a big number that the Chancellor did not take into account when putting together the Red Book, in which he included the current net payments to the EU of £9 billion a year up to 2019 and, thereafter, £12 billion a year of continued expenditure on items coming back to this country that are currently the responsibility of shared EU programmes, such as agricultural support, universities and R and D. He put in £3 billion for transitional costs, such as new computer systems at HMRC and the Rural Payments Agency, but he did not put anything in for the divorce bill. His forecast of the deficit coming down and of debt starting to fall towards the end of this Parliament is bound to be wrong unless the Government present the British people with a whopping great tax bill.
My hon. Friend is right, but I am confining myself to the impact of new clauses 17 and 80.
We need to understand how Ministers will cope with this big bill when the deal is done. Will Ministers give everybody a massive tax bill—and it will be a massive tax bill, because we are talking about at least £800 per person, or £3,000 per household—or will they increase Government borrowing?
I return to the simple point about the promises that were made by, among others, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), during the referendum campaign—the £350 million a week for the NHS that we saw on the side of a bus. This is £16 billion a year. After the Brexit vote, I had a number of public meetings with my constituents and asked them what their expectation was when they voted to leave the EU. I will never forget this nice old lady saying, “Helen, it will be marvellous, because now there will enough money for the Government to reopen the A&E in Bishop hospital.” That is obviously not what the Government have in mind. It is incumbent on them to be open and clear with the British public, and that is what new clauses 17 and 80 are driving at.
We have all heard the famous phrase “a week is a long time in politics”. Well, it has now been almost 18 months since the public voted to leave the EU and in that time lots of new issues have come to light. From leaving the single market and customs union, to the renewed tensions over the Irish border, we know things now that voters could not have been expected to know all those months ago. We also know that the Brexit divorce bill is likely to cost the Treasury upwards of £50 billion. That is almost £2,000 per household that could have been put to more positive use but instead becomes the opportunity cost of Brexit. Some people will say, “That’s money that would have been paid to the EU anyway”, and to some extent they are right. The difference is, however, that the money we paid to the EU in the past bought us collective benefits and access to shared resources, such as Euratom and the European Medicines Agency, that are now at risk as a result of Brexit.
I am not sure whether Mr Leslie listed as one of the costs of Brexit all the costs to us as a nation—individually—of establishing all the agencies we currently share with the EU.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. We have no idea how much extra it is going to cost us to establish our own agencies to cover the roles of the many European agencies we have shared. This opportunity cost is not simply about the raw cash we need to spend; it is also about the time and other resources devoted to making this happen. When I stood for election to Parliament, I had in my mind a long list of issues I wanted to address and ideas I wanted to drive forward to make this country a better and fairer place. Instead, I find that much of the time in this House is now being devoted to tackling the myriad problems that have arisen, and working to reduce the harm that may come to our country and our economy from leaving the EU.
This whole process is not just an opportunity cost—it is also an opportunity lost. Nobody in my constituency who voted to leave the EU voted to make our NHS worse off. They wanted to see it improve and, if anything, were persuaded by a somewhat misleading figure on the side of a bus, but the threats to our health services are very real. Just yesterday, Dr Jeanette Dickson, from the Royal College of Radiologists told the Health Committee that the isotopes we import for cancer treatments could be rendered useless by delays in the customs process. Quite simply she told us, “If we do not have an assured supply, the reduction in rate of cure means more people will die of thyroid cancer.” That is thousands of lives every year that will be at risk if we get this wrong.
Voters did not vote to make their family poorer either; they genuinely wanted to see our economy thrive and believed that exiting the EU would bring renewed prosperity for their families. But with slowed economic growth, a collapse in the value of the pound and rising costs of imports, that flourishing economic future seems a far cry from this Government’s current performance.
Earlier in this debate, I was accused of having an extreme view on something. Is it not rather extreme to suggest that people are going to die of cancer because of this? Seriously, listen to yourself!
I recommend that the hon. Gentleman looks at what was said by the expert who provided evidence to the Health Committee yesterday. She explained what would happen if we get this wrong—what I suggested was conditional, because I said “if” we get this wrong. She said that radio isotopes that we do not produce currently in the UK and need to import from other European countries, and that are essential for cancer treatment, will not be available to provide that treatment.
Just to add a little more on that, these isotopes often have a half-life of six hours, which means that within 24 hours they are effectively useless for treatment. We do not have the ability to produce them here so they must be imported. If we are not part of the Euratom treaty, we will have serious problems with cancer treatment. It is not scaremongering, it is fact.
I thank the hon. Lady for adding to the evidence. We must listen to the evidence.
As we know, the proposals before us would require the divorce bill to be assessed by independent watchdogs, and I support that. It is important that the information that comes out of the Government’s negotiations with the EU is properly scrutinised in this Chamber and beyond. As a scientist, I learned to follow evidence. When new evidence emerges, so must our course of action change. As a doctor, if a test carried out on a patient revealed a totally unexpected result, I would repeat the test again rather than plough on with a process that I thought would harm the patient. For some years, medical professionals used to say that smoking was not a risk to people’s health, and they also used to tell pregnant mothers that moderate drinking during pregnancy posed no risk to the health of their child. With the benefit of hindsight, new information and the evidence we have now, how ridiculous do those statements seem?
We must continue to keep an open mind and to scrutinise the divorce-bill negotiations and Brexit more widely. As the opportunities seem to diminish and the potential for harm to our economy and society increases, we must also be willing to ask whether this is what the public voted for. Yes, we have a duty to act on behalf of our constituents, but as representatives, not simply delegates. I promised the residents of Stockton South that I would fight and work for them all, regardless of how they voted. The public must have the right to change their minds; that is one of the key aspects of democracy. It is why we have elections every five years—or perhaps more often. If public opinion shifts, we must all be able to look at matters again.
Attention to detail and accountability to Parliament are crucial to the Brexit process, and particularly the divorce bill. That is why I shall support new clauses 17 and 80 tonight.
Order. I am happy to call both hon. Members—indeed, I have no discretion not to call the hon. Members for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and for Ilford South (Mike Gapes)—but I must point out that they have not been present since the start of the debate. I have no discretion on this matter, so I call Graham Stringer.
I am grateful for your comments, Mr Hanson. You are right I have not been present in this particular debate for the whole time, but I have been in many of the debates and this is the first time I have stood up to speak on the issue. I shall not detain the Committee for very long.
Following on from the comments made by my hon. Friend Dr Williams, of course people in every democracy have the right to change their minds. The correct way to do that is through the same means by which the referendum came about in the first place: a political party should say in its general election manifesto that it wants a referendum, win that election and hold another referendum. The Lib Dems tried that at the most recent election; admittedly, they gained seats, but they lost votes. That is the way to do it, not by calling on the most immediate opinion poll.
Opinion polls change. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South and other Members may be interested in a poll taken by Lord Ashcroft the day after the referendum. He surveyed all those people who had voted for Brexit and found that 94% of them had not voted for it on economic grounds, so a lot of the arguments about economics do not apply to the people who voted to leave.
To clarify a point, the 2015 Labour manifesto opposed a referendum; Labour was led then by my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband. Two weeks after the general election, we were whipped to vote for the piece of legislation that enabled that, and the Labour party did so. Did my hon. Friend think that we were wrong because it was not in our manifesto? We opposed a referendum in the manifesto
I have to say that I found it a bit curious, having voted for a referendum for many years, to find all my Labour colleagues finally in the same Lobby as me. The argument given by the leadership at the time was that the election had been lost, the public had voted by a majority for a referendum and it was going to recognise that.
On the financial issues, I am always in favour of transparency, which is what the essence of this argument is about. It is difficult for any Member not to be in favour of transparency, but with regard to the actual wording of the amendments, they are rather biased in terms of costs and do not, as I would have preferred, put the savings in the context of what we do not have to spend. As has been said, in all certainty, net, there will be a saving. People opine that there will be huge costs to leaving the EU. I do not know what the Government are likely to pay or not pay. I suspect that they will end up paying too much, but if we look at the history of the common market and the EU, over that period, we have probably paid half a trillion pounds net—a huge amount of money. What has been the benefit of that? We have gone from having a balanced trade with the EU to running a deficit of about £70 billion a year.
I am incredibly grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I accept the point that there could be savings or, in my view, much bigger costs, but could we at least agree, here and now, that the £350 million a week for the NHS, which was on the side of that big red bus, is not going to happen?
I do not know what decisions will be made. I believe that the Government are likely to pay too much. Let us ask ourselves: why would we be paying money so that the rest of the EU can trade with us and every year sell us £70 billion more in goods than we are selling to the EU? Why is that a deal that we should be keen to support? I suspect that the Government will come back and put it to—
Whatever my hon. Friend’s feelings towards the European Union, he has just said that he fears that we may pay too much, whatever the number is. New clause 17 is about knowing what that number is. Surely he must support that principle. Then we can answer the question about whether it is too much, not enough or completely irrelevant.
I hope that my hon. Friend was listening to me when I was arguing in favour of transparency. I was arguing against the particular wording of these amendments, which I believe to be biased. Of course we should be transparent about what things cost, and we should have the right to have a view and determine what we think about that. Who could argue against that? All I am saying is that, if we are paying £40 billion over 40 years, that is probably against £400 billion that we would be paying, and that should be the context in which these figures are produced.
As a member of the Labour party, the hon. Gentleman should understand the word “solidarity”. He has just been talking about the fact that Europe is much more than just a financial project. Is this not about European solidarity and we, as one of the richest countries in the world, acting in solidarity with people and countries in eastern Europe, which, for decades, have been losing out? Now we are helping those countries and their democracies to thrive.
There could be a very long answer to that question, which I will not give. All I will say is that the EU—and this is one of my reasons for voting to leave it—has had a hostile view to democracy and national sovereignty from its very conception. I believe that we should have solidarity with those countries that are moving towards democracy and improving the rights of their citizens, but I have never believed that the EU is a body that can do that.
There has been an assumption in the debate not only that the finances and paying for a trade deal were good things, but that most of the regulations that came from Europe have been good and most of the application of those regulations has been good. There are many regulations that are not good. The clinical trials directive is the obvious one, which I have discussed with my hon. Friend Mr Leslie previously, but there are many others, including the electromagnetic field directive, which nearly wrecked much of our medicine. There has been an anti-scientific view from the EU that has stopped the development of genetically modified organisms in the EU. One has to take a balanced view. There have been good things from the EU, but there have also been many negative and bad things.
Finally, the essence of many comments that have been made today is that it is difficult to become an independent country. These are essentially the arguments of imperialists. It is not that difficult for a powerful economy such as ours to take over its own democracy and become independent again.
I was here for seven hours on Monday before I spoke, so I feel that I can say at least a few words today.
We face a fundamental choice in this debate. Are we still a parliamentary democracy, or do we simply—because of a very narrow vote on
That is why my hon. Friend Mr Leslie tabled new clause 17, which I am delighted to support. It would mean that there has to be an independent assessment of the costs of the Government’s proposals. We in this House—this democratic Parliament —can then assert centuries-old tradition against overweening Executive power. We can decide democratically. We can assert and take back control. That is why we need to vote for new clause 17 and support the associated amendments.
I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their participation in this debate. I congratulate Mr Leslie on his new clause, because he has achieved a considerable widening of the debate’s scope, which has led to a wide range of contributions.
Clause 12 is not about paying any negotiated financial settlement. It is about ensuring that Parliament has authorised the Government and the devolved Administrations to incur expenditure under this Bill. It is also about the preparation for the making of statutory instruments under the powers of the Bill or under existing powers to make subordinate legislation as modified by or under the Bill. The clause has two functions. The main text of the clause is concerned with parliamentary approval for the Government to spend money. The clause also gives effect to schedule 4, which is concerned with fees and charges by which the Government, devolved Administrations and arm’s-length bodies raise money.
Clause 12 and schedule 4 will ensure that all the money that might flow into and out of the Exchequer as a consequence of this Bill is proper and respects the long-established rules for the relationship between this House and the Treasury, as laid down in the 1932 Public Accounts Committee concordat and the Treasury guidance in “Managing public money”.
Taking back control of functions the UK has long delegated to European Union institutions may cost money. That expenditure will come from the use of the powers in the Bill. Although at this stage in the negotiations it is too early to say precisely what that expenditure will be, it might involve expanding public authorities in the UK, recruitment at those authorities or setting up new IT systems. That is not to say that the UK cannot perform those functions more efficiently and, crucially, at a lower cost than the European Union, but clearly we cannot say that it will cost the Government nothing at all to carry out the new responsibilities. It is therefore vital that the financial aspects of taking back control and preparing to take a fully independent position on the world stage are put on a sound and proper footing.
Clause 12 is a technical clause that is designed to ensure that Parliament has had an opportunity formally to signal its assent to expenditure once the Bill has been passed. The Committee will realise that we are debating the authorisation of expenditure under the powers in the Bill before we debate the powers themselves. The debate on those powers is for another day, when the Government will set out the importance of those powers remaining to ensure that we can effectively correct deficiencies in the statute book arising from our withdrawal in time for exit day. There can surely be no argument about the need to be properly prepared.
Schedule 4 will mitigate the burden of taking on new functions on the general taxpayer. It ensures that fees and charges that are currently made in relation to retained EU law, such as the cost of Kimberley process diamond certificates, can continue to be modified as costs rise and fall, and that new fees and charges can be made, for example to replace those being made by the EU, such as for the regulation of chemicals. That will ensure that those who benefit from the functions transferred from the EU to the UK pay for them and that taxpayers, both corporate and individual, do not end up paying for services provided to others.
I am happy to tell the right hon. Gentleman that, as a good Conservative, I certainly hope to reduce the costs on businesses and individuals. I will come to his amendments in a moment.
New clause 17 and amendment 54 show an understandable desire to protect the role of this House, but they are not necessary. The Government have always been clear that the negotiated financial settlement will be part of our withdrawal agreement and that the House will be given a vote on that agreement. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union was very clear on
The Minister says that there will be an opportunity to vote on the finances, but only as part of the entirety of the proposed withdrawal agreement. Would it not be proper, as is the case with many other financial issues, for the House separately to authorise financial expenditure in relation to exiting the European Union? Surely the Government should commit to that power for the House of Commons, or will he deny us that opportunity?
I am confused by the hon. Gentleman, because he is such a diligent Member of the House. I explained moments ago that we will bring forward the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, which will cover any financial settlement, among other withdrawal issues. I would of course expect that Bill to go through the normal legislative processes, during which he and other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will have a full opportunity to scrutinise those provisions.
I turn to the amendments tabled by Stephen Timms. The power in part 1 of schedule 4 can be used to create fees and charges of the type that amendment 153 is concerned with. That power can be used to establish new fees only in relation to functions being transferred to UK entities under the powers in this Bill. In most cases, one might expect that it will be replacing a fee set at EU level, but in some cases it may be right that it will be better value for the taxpayer and for users of the services to create a new fee to pay for functions that the UK previously funded through the EU budget.
Amendment 152 does not recognise the need for adjustments to other, peripheral aspects of the fees regime in connection with charging fees or other charges—for example, arrangements for refunds, which I think all Members can agree should be possible so as not to leave ordinary hard-working fee payers unfairly out of pocket. Furthermore, future Governments, in the fullness of time, may wish to simplify charges, amalgamate them, or charge less for one function or another.
In future it may be necessary to do all sorts of things, but surely the powers in this Bill should not be used to impose new charges on businesses that are not being paid at the moment.
This Bill, first and foremost, is about exiting the European Union successfully, with certainty, continuity and control, as the right hon. Gentleman will know. I draw his attention to schedule 2(7), which makes it very clear that in the event that a provision imposed a fee or charge, or conferred a power to sub-delegate, it would go to the affirmative procedure and this House would have the opportunity to vote on it.
I turn to amendment 339 on sub-delegation. It is right that this House keeps strict control over all financial matters, but this Bill is about ensuring continuity. I remind the Committee that this power is available only if the public authority is taking on a new—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Hanson.
The power is available only if the public authority is taking on a new function under this Bill, and the fees and charges must be in connection with that function. The amendment would force Ministers to exercise this power on behalf of public authorities, such as the Financial Conduct Authority, which this House has made statutorily independent from Ministers. The Government believe that it is right that where Parliament has already granted the power to set up rules within these independent regulators, fees and charges of the type envisaged by this power should continue to be exercised by those public authorities. For good reasons, they have been made independent of Government, and Parliament should have the option to maintain that status quo. I stress that the terms on which any public authority would be able to raise fees and other charges will be set in the statutory instrument that delegates the power to them; and that, as I said, any such delegation would trigger the affirmative procedure, ensuring that this House considers and approves any delegation of the power and how it would be exercised.
Amendment 340 on cost recovery has the disadvantage that it would prohibit what I hope Labour Members would consider to be progressive principles of ensuring a spreading of the burden of regulation. It also might not allow regulators to cover the cost of enforcement.
Clause 12 and schedule 4 are about delivering a successful EU exit with certainty, continuity and control. Clause 12 is not about enabling the payment of any negotiated financial settlement, and neither is schedule 4 about subverting the normal process of raising taxation. The amendments muddy the waters of what these provisions are for. These provisions are simply about ensuring that the financial aspects of taking back control and preparing to take a fully independent position on the world stage are put on a sound and proper footing.
The Minister said that he thought that all the amendments muddied the water, but he has also said that it was right that Parliament should have a vote on the money—on the divorce bill—and that there should be parliamentary oversight of any additional controls. Why then is he not going to accept amendments that simply ensure that that is the case? Just what kind of control is he seeking to take back?
As the hon. Lady would expect me to say, what I want is Parliament to have proper control over our laws, our money, our borders and our trade policy. Having expressed my gratitude for her intervention, I hope that I have tackled right hon. and hon. Members’ concerns, and I urge them not to press the amendments.
I have heard what the Minister said. In fact, he even had the gall to use the phrase, “take back control” while simultaneously telling Parliament that it cannot have a separate, free-standing vote on this massive divorce bill, which will potentially cost the constituents of every single Member in the Chamber—every man, woman and child—up to £1,000 a head. They expect accountability for those decisions, and I want all those hon. Members, particularly those who advocated a hard Brexit, and who still potentially advocate going over the cliff edge into World Trade Organisation terrain, to walk through the Lobby and be held accountable for the amount of money that it will cost taxpayers for decades to come. That is why I do not wish to withdraw new clause 17. I believe that Parliament should exercise control over those amounts of money. Let us take back control and have accountability for those sums of money. I wish to push this to a vote.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House divided:
Ayes 288, Noes 316.