Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:01 pm on 2nd May 2018.

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Photo of Jeremy Quin Jeremy Quin Conservative, Horsham 5:01 pm, 2nd May 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Lyn Brown. I think that she found absolutely the right words to express the human tragedy of this case, and I congratulate her on her powerful speech. Like her, I have been in the Chamber holding the Government to account when there have been urgent questions and statements about this issue, and like Emma Reynolds, I am seeking—as my questions will confirm—the swift implementation, after consultation, of an effective and appropriate compensation scheme.

The House has every right, indeed a duty, to hold the Government to account. I hope that had the motion concerned the substance of policy, the mistakes for which the Government have apologised and the details of compensation and restitution, my contribution to the debate would have been no less sincere and no less demanding than that of any other Member in upholding the rights of our fellow citizens, to which I know the Government are also committed. However, that is not the motion that the Opposition have chosen to debate. Many speakers have not focused on the motion, but have discussed the Windrush affair more generally. I do not blame them for doing so—it is an issue that rightly excites fierce passions—but the House must be cognisant of what the motion actually says.

Ms Abbott set out a list of items of information, some of which I thought were quite reasonable, and most of which I thought she could access by means of parliamentary questions or freedom or information requests. However, she has resorted to a deeply archaic mechanism involving vastly wide-ranging powers and implications. The power that the motion invokes predates our Select Committees. It predates the routine questioning of Ministers on the Floor of the House. It predates freedom of information requests by centuries. It is not designed for a trawl through eight years-worth of text messages. In my view, it has been superseded by the freedom of information legislation introduced by the last Labour Government, with the checks and balances that that wisely incorporates.

I appreciate that neither the right hon. Lady nor the Leader of the Opposition has been a Minister with civil servants to advise them. However, having served on secondment in the civil service, I cannot emphasise too strongly how fortunate we are as a country to have a cadre of extremely experienced, independent civil servants, eager to do their utmost to provide the Government of the day with the best possible advice. I am deeply concerned by the precedent that the motion sets, not because of the position in which it places Ministers but because of the position in which it places decent public servants who do their utmost to support any incumbent Government.

The motion makes a number of demands. First, it demands the release of all papers, correspondence, text messages and advice on a set policy area over an eight-year period. I find it hard to think of a precedent that could be more injurious to good government and good advice. The motion makes it absolutely clear that through this mechanism, confidential advice destined for Ministers can be passed on. We are not talking about final policy, chewed over, discussed and determined by a Minister. We are talking about the range of options and recommendations provided by civil servants to aid the Minister in that analysis. The civil servants concerned have no means of defending themselves if this information is released into the public domain. I implore the House not to establish a precedent whereby our senior civil servants shy away from telling the truth to power.