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Leaving the Eu: Customs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:49 pm on 16th May 2018.

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Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General 6:49 pm, 16th May 2018

This has been a wide-ranging debate. We have covered customs models and second referendums. We have covered the single market. There has even been a spirited attempt by my hon. Friend Mr Fysh to challenge the very orderliness of the motion, and the Chair. He is a braver man than I am. We have heard Peter Dowd extol the virtues and the leadership qualities of Mickey Mouse, with which I am sure he is most familiar on his side of the House. However, I wish to bring Members back to the important matter of the motion, which calls for

“all papers, presentations and economic analyses” presented to

“the European Union Exit and Trade (Strategy and Negotiations) Cabinet sub-committee, and its sub-committees” to be laid before the House.

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said in his opening speech, any papers or analyses created for the Cabinet are rightly confidential. That is a well-established principle. Ministers must be able to discuss policy issues at this level frankly and to debate the key matters of the day within a safe space. There is a real risk that if details of Cabinet Committee discussions were made publicly available, Ministers would feel restricted from being open and frank with one another. The quality of decision making would be diminished, the advice of officials would be exposed in the most unreasonable manner, the tendency to make oral decisions would be amplified and there might even be communication via post-it notes, as my right hon. Friend suggested.

I say this not in a partisan manner. It is an important principle that applies to any Government of any political composition. The concept is, of course, not new. My right hon. Friend quoted the former Home Secretary Jack Straw, whose own White Paper on freedom of information concluded:

“Now more than ever, government needs space and time in which to assess arguments and conduct its own debates with a degree of privacy.”