We now come to the motion in the name of Mr Dominic Grieve and others, to be moved under
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the matter of prorogation with the imminence of an exit from the European Union and accordingly resolves—
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that she will be graciously pleased to direct Ministers to lay before this House, not later than 11.00pm Wednesday
and that Ministers be further directed to lay before this House no later than 11.00pm Wednesday
I am sorry to have to move this motion, because it ought not to be necessary to do so.
When I was Attorney General, a lot of the work I had to do involved advising on law, but from time to time quite a lot of it was to do with propriety in government. We are very blessed in this country that, as well as obeying the rule of law, there is within government a deep understanding that if our constitution, which is largely unwritten, is to function, there has to be a high level of trust between different parts of government—whether it be Parliament or the Administration—in how our affairs are conducted. I am glad to say that, in my experience, if and when I ever had to step in as Attorney General to point out that I thought propriety might be in danger of being infringed, I always had a positive response from my colleagues in government about the necessity at all times to be seen to be acting with clean hands.
On that point, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman is successful and the Government are obliged to supply these papers, is he confident that the current Prime Minister and the Executive will do so?
Seeing that this would be a Humble Address to Her Majesty the Queen for the documents, I very much hope that there could be no question other than that they will be provided, because it is the custom and practice and the convention that such Humble Addresses are responded to positively by the Government.
The reason why we have these rules is to manage difference. They provide a framework for our debates that—because, as I say, there is a high level of trust— enables us to manage sometimes serious difference, such as we undoubtedly have at the moment, in a moderate fashion. We are able sometimes to say strong words to each other, but to come together afterwards with a high level of appreciation of the other’s point of view and an absolute certainty that one side is not trying to trick the other. My concern is that there is now increasing and compelling evidence that this trust is breaking down and, indeed, that there is cause to be concerned that the conventions are not being maintained.
This of course arises particularly because of the decision to prorogue this House. I do not think I need to go into too much history to point out that, in recent years, the power of Prorogation has been used for only two reasons. The first is to have the short interval, usually of no more than seven or eight days, between one Session and the next, so that a Queen’s Speech may take place. It has also been used at times to extend time for a general election in order to maintain a power by which this House could be recalled in an emergency before it is finally dissolved. The use being made of it by the Government in proroguing this House until
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that what makes this particularly important is that it was open to the Government to move a periodic Adjournment—or, as we normally call it, a sittings motion—which could have been approved by the House to achieve the same effect? However, the Government chose to use the prerogative power, which in effect enables the Prime Minister to advise the Queen to remove Parliament from the scene of action. It is therefore obviously of the greatest possible importance what the Government’s motive in so doing was, and the papers he describes will reveal that motive in a way nothing else can.
I will if the hon. Lady will wait just one moment.
The justification that the Government have given for this length of Prorogation is that we were due to adjourn for the purposes of party conferences and to return shortly before the date the Government have chosen, but everybody in this House knows that the nature of the crisis that has been engulfing us in the last two months meant that it was clear the House would not consent to be adjourned because it regarded its continuing sitting as being absolutely essential. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister knew this very well. Furthermore, it appeared—certainly at the time when he stood for the leadership of the Conservative party and was about to become Prime Minister—that although suggestions had been made about proroguing the House to facilitate achieving a no-deal Brexit, he apparently did not approve of them. Indeed, he said publicly during his leadership bid:
“I’m not attracted to archaic devices like proroguing.”
That is where the trust comes in. As news emerged of the decision to prorogue, it rapidly became clear that the Government did not appear to be giving a consistent account of their reasons. As the act of proroguing has led to litigation, it has then followed that some, but not all, of the motives for Prorogation began to emerge. We have seen that although on
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way to this girly swot. Does he agree that democracy requires a certain commitment to the truth; that to date there has been a reasonable expectation that when asked questions the Government will not actively lie and will tell the truth; and that the loosening of the current Administration’s moorings from a commitment to tell the truth is a direct threat to democracy?
The hon. Lady is right. That is what concerns me so much, and I think the House collectively ought to pause and consider it this evening. She will be aware that the next thing that emerged—I shall come back to the issue of it being just rumour—in the litigation that was brought against the Government was a desire to set out the reasons why Prorogation was being pursued. When the Treasury Solicitor’s Department, as it would properly do in conducting litigation, sought to find a public official willing to depose in affidavit as to why the Government had decided to prorogue—and I might add, asked Her Majesty the Queen to prorogue Parliament, one must assume—no such official willing to swear the affidavit could be found. As a consequence, a number of documents were simply exhibited by the Treasury Solicitor for the Government’s case.
No, I can think of no such event. Indeed, it is the Treasury Solicitor’s Department and the Law Officers’ job to make sure that anything the Government say in litigation fulfils their duty of candour and is not misleading.
Then a most remarkable thing happened, Mr Speaker, and this is where it becomes more difficult for me. In the course of the days that followed I started to be given information from public officials informing me that they believed the handling of this matter smacked of scandal—there is no other way to describe it. Of course, that places me in a difficulty, because it is simply the information that I have been given. I want to make absolutely clear that I am not in a position—any more, I think, than any Member of this House—to be able to ascertain whether that information is mistaken. I can only say that I believe those sources to be reliable. Also, in my experience it is extraordinarily unusual that I should get such approaches, with individuals expressing their disquiet about the handling of a matter and some of the underlying issues to which it could give rise.
It is as a consequence of that that I have drafted, along with right hon. and hon. Friends and other Members, the Humble Address concerning the Prorogation documents. I want to emphasise at the outset that in doing so and identifying named individuals, whether they be special advisers, who make up the vast majority, or one in case a civil servant, I am making absolutely no imputation against any single one of them whatever. It would be disgraceful to do so, because I do not have the evidence on which to do it.
My right hon. and learned Friend and I have worked together, originally as master and pupil and then as Attorney General and civil servant. We have a great deal of history in this matter. Does he agree that there are civil service mechanisms and systems for guiding the behaviour of civil servants, and that these matters are ideally best not discussed in the manner in which we are discussing them this afternoon?
My hon. Friend is right about our long association. She is also right, of course, having worked in the Treasury Solicitor’s Department, where I am quite sure she maintained at all times the highest standards of integrity. The difficulty, however, is this:
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House whether he intends to put on the record any of the details of the information he says he received? The worry is that if he does not and the Government simply ignore his Humble Address, we will never know its contents. The implication of what he is saying is really very serious—that the Queen was misled by the Prime Minister as to his reasons for wanting a Prorogation.
The right hon. Gentleman raises some very difficult points. The best thing I can do is simply to state openly the generality of it. He is, I think, correct in what he says: far from this Prorogation being a desire to reset the Government for the purposes of holding a Queen’s Speech, and nothing else, there is available plenty of evidence that what actually happened was a concerted get-together within Government to try to ensure that this House would be prevented from taking action to stop a no-deal Brexit, and that the origins of that long predated the first time the Government mentioned Prorogation. That is, in a nutshell, what we are talking about.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, I have been in this House for 40 years. I have never heard of a more serious allegation against a Government: misleading this House and stopping it functioning. Would he agree?
I would, but I also emphasise—and that is why I emphasise it—that these are allegations, and in an ideal world, I would have preferred not to make allegations, even within the context of the privilege that this House provides. However, in the circumstances, and with the time available before
No, I will make a bit of progress.
What I have attempted to do, distilling the information that has been made available, is to identify people where I think the information may be available. I repeat what I said: I make no imputation whatsoever against individuals. We could have tried to be much broader, but had we been much broader, it might have looked a bit like a fishing expedition throughout Government. It seems only right to ask the questions where we have been directed —by the information that I and others have received—that the answers may be found, hence the list of individuals I have named. I say again that there is not a single imputation against any of them. What is necessary is to establish the information that they possess.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way; we have been friends for his entire time in this House. Having been a Minister himself, is he not worried about the collateral damage that this Humble Address is creating? It is important that civil servants have space—a safe space—to speak truth to power, and I think that by his actions today, he is damaging the civil service’s ability to communicate and discuss matters freely with Ministers. Does he not see the damage that he is doing?
I understand my right hon. Friend’s point. That was a matter that exercised me very much before I decided to table this motion, but against that, we have to face up to another fact: those necessary protections for civil servants cannot and must not be used as a device to hoodwink this House and the public as to the way the Government conduct their business. The Government have a duty. They can sometimes have a duty not to say something, but they certainly do not have a right to mislead, and this is such a fundamental matter that I think we are right to pursue the issue. Of course, if it turns out that the information I was given was mistaken, well, in those circumstances, I shall be the happiest person of the lot, but I have to say that I think it is sufficiently serious in its nature and content that I would be failing in my duty as a Member of Parliament if we were not to seek to ascertain whether it was correct.
Surely all that matters is what was in the Prime Minister’s mind—his reasons for making the decision—and we cannot work that out from the personal testimonies of lots of officials, some of whom met the Prime Minister about this and some of whom did not. The question is what was in the Prime Minister’s mind, and the House has had ample opportunity, which it has already used, to cross-examine him and to satisfy itself as to his true motive. I do not see how knowing what some officials thought helps at all.
If I may say to my right hon. Friend, last week, at Prime Minister’s questions, my right hon. Friend Mr Gauke and I asked questions of the Prime Minister seeking to elicit an answer about his motive and state of knowledge, and I was rather struck by the fact that he avoided answering both questions completely. He made not a single attempt—my right hon. Friend should look at Hansard—to answer the question. I am afraid I do not have much confidence that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has the capacity—frankly—to answer questions of this kind, because he does not appear to understand how serious they are and appears to treat them with a high level of flippancy.
Yes, indeed, and of course that might have provided another opportunity to ask questions.
I appreciate that this House can sometimes be difficult and irksome to Prime Ministers and Governments, but that is our job. We are here precisely to provide scrutiny and to hold to account. For those reasons, I do not think it would be unreasonable of us to proceed to ask for these documents. I believe and hope that this has been drafted in a way that is sufficiently focused that we can come swiftly to a conclusion by Wednesday as to whether there is anything that should be causing the public disquiet.
My right hon. and learned Friend has named nine individuals. He could have asked for the Cabinet Secretary and permanent secretaries, but these names appear very arbitrary. I know one of them and I think she was appointed only a week or 10 days ago. What were his criteria for choosing these nine individuals?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. There was a time at the end of last week when the list was rather long and included—I will say this openly—senior civil servants, but I was reticent about that and felt as a result of inquiries I made that the list could best be narrowed. It was made quite clear from the information I gleaned that the origins of the story of how Prorogation came about lay not with public officials but with the special advisers to Ministers. For that reason, the list is as well directed as I believe it can be.
That is the issue surrounding Prorogation. In addition, we have the papers surrounding Yellowhammer. The House will remember that the Government sought to suggest when the Yellowhammer papers first started to emerge—some of them—that this was material prepared for a previous Administration, but that turns out to be incorrect and to be another of those little inaccuracies that now seem to creep out of No. 10 Downing Street. It was material prepared for the current Administration and Cabinet committees so that they could understand the risks involved in a no-deal Brexit.
We will be prevented over the coming weeks from debating those issues, and when we return we will have almost no time. I fear very much that by the time the Queen’s Speech debate is over we will be mired in a great crisis that I would much rather see avoided. It seems entirely reasonable, therefore, to ask the Government to disclose these documents, both so the House can understand the risks involved and so that these can in due course be communicated more widely to the public. Of course, if the documents suggest that no risks are involved, that too will be in need of communication.
There are few in the House who have the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s knowledge of its conventions and protocols, except, perhaps, you, Mr Speaker. Certainly, my constituents do not follow the differences between Prorogation, recess, Queen’s Speech requirements and so forth. However, they do know that my title is “Member of Parliament”, which implies where I should be—in Parliament. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that at this time of constitutional crisis my constituents expect us to be sitting in Parliament, and expect it not to be shut down? Does he agree that the question of why we are being prorogued goes to the heart of the credibility of me as a Member of Parliament and the credibility of the House in its entirety, and does he agree that, for that reason, the public interest is absolutely involved?
I agree wholeheartedly, and I do worry, because this prorogation is, to my mind, a most regrettable event. It will prevent the House from giving proper scrutiny to what is, as I have said, an evolving situation that has critical importance to the future of our country.
I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend has had a chance to look at the transcript of the evidence that I supplied to the Exiting the European Union Committee last week. In my evidence I gave some undertakings about publications related to Yellowhammer. If carried out, would those assurances be sufficient for my right hon. and learned Friend?
I rather hope that the assurances and the terms of the motion would prove to be entirely identical. I see no reason why not, and such documents that have been revealed so far do not suggest to me that they contain any material that touches on essential issues of national security. It is entirely about the day-to-day life of this country in the immediate aftermath of departure. Of course, if there were national security implications, I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be able to raise them and they could be dealt with.
I hope that before this debate concludes my right hon. and learned Friend will have an opportunity to look at the evidence submitted to the Select Committee, and I hope that, on that basis, he will be able to take those assurances as appropriate. I should be very grateful for his indication that he would do so.
If I may say this to my right hon. Friend, I think not. I think that the terms of the motion cannot be abandoned unless the House wishes to abandon them. I cannot believe, on the basis of what he so graciously said to the House a moment ago, that the terms of the motion will be significantly dissimilar. In those circumstances, I very much hope that we will get the documentation relating to Yellowhammer, in the way in which it was presented to him and his colleagues, on the basis of which they are taking the decisions that they are taking, which are of great importance to the future of our country, its wellbeing, and the wellbeing of every citizen.
May I pursue the point about the evidence presented by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to the Select Committee last Thursday? I did indeed ask him whether he would publish the report on Operation Yellowhammer. For the benefit of the House, this is what he said in response:
“What I hope to do is more than that. What I would like to do is to make sure that we have Yellowhammer, once we have done the proper revision and the kicking of the tyres, alongside a publication that details the actions that the Government has taken to inform people of the consequences and allows people to see the mitigations that we have put in place, so people can make a proper judgment about the changes they need to make”.
That, I think, is a full quotation. On that basis, it would seem to me that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would have no difficulty whatsoever with that part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s Standing Order 24 motion.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If I may say so, had the House more time I would not have tabled that part of the motion. We could have waited, sensibly, to see that the House will be gone by midnight tonight—or shortly thereafter, depending on how long our proceedings continue—and we will not be back until
That brings me to my final remark—
“Downing Street not in any mood to bow to Grieve’s demands…No. 10 source: ‘Under no circumstances will No. 10 staff comply with Grieve’s demands regardless of any votes in Parliament.’”
If the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster intervenes on the right hon. and learned Gentleman again he can be pressed to assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he will not see Parliament treated with such contempt.
I am afraid this classically illustrates the problem that we now have: these extraordinary utterances —pronouncements—from No. 10 Downing Street that bear absolutely no relationship with the operation and conventions of our constitution. It is impossible to know whether they are froth, whether they are Mr Cummings’s thoughts, or whether in fact they represent some settled policy view of Government, in which case this country is facing, frankly, a revolutionary situation in which this House has to exercise the utmost vigilance to ensure that our rights and privileges are not simply trampled upon.
I am very mindful of the fact that in this current crisis we are a divided country and a divided House, which pains me very much. I would like to work, even with those with whom I disagree such as some of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, to try to get this matter resolved in a way that is compatible with healing some of the divisions in our country, but that simply is not going to happen if the atmosphere of confrontation keeps being ratcheted up, slowly undermining the institutions that are the only props of legitimacy—that is the truth, for all of us—and in which everybody is happy to go into greenhouses and chuck bricks all over the place but expect the structure to provide some shelter afterwards.
I have been listening with great care to my right hon. and learned Friend’s observations and part of his draft Humble Address troubles me. What legal right do the Government have to require their employees to give up private email accounts and personal mobile numbers? If there is no legal right—I imagine he would contend that there is not—how on earth would the Government enforce the Humble Address if they desired to do so?
These are Government employees. In the course of their work it is their duty to observe the civil service code and to comply with its requirements, including, I respectfully suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, not using private means of communication to carry out official business.
Order. We must conduct this debate in a seemly manner.
I will give way to my right hon. and learned Friend in a moment.
In addition, it is a question about what this House requests. I am perfectly aware that sometimes I may say that the Government may be acting abusively, so I am the first to understand that there is a capacity for this House to act abusively. However, what is being asked for, and ought to be respected by any self-respecting Government employee, is that if they are asked to look and see whether they have carried out a communication, within the relevant request, that goes to their official work, they ought to be willing to provide it. It should not be a question of coercion; it should be a question of willingness. If we move from that, that will be the destruction of another convention under which this country has been run, and it will be greatly to our detriment.
Order. The point of order trumps the attempted intervention even of an illustrious Law Officer.
The hon. Gentleman has made his own point in his own way, and he may wish to expatiate further on that matter if he catches my eye in the course of the debate. Meanwhile, it is on the record and will be widely observed.
My right hon. and learned Friend has just refined the Humble Address to confine the request for personal mobile information and personal private accounts only to communications that ought to have been carried out as official business on official accounts. The difficulty with the Humble Address that I invite him to consider is that it is a blunt instrument and that, in truth, what this Humble Address requires is careful refinement so that it complies with legal rules. This Humble Address has no binding legal effect on individuals. It potentially has a binding effect on the Government, if they observe it, but not on individuals. There seems to be a risk that it will trespass upon the fundamental rights of individuals, as it is currently drafted.
I am afraid I have to disagree politely with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General. The issue is clearly defined: it relates to the Prorogation of Parliament. That is what it concerns. If I may say so, picking up on the earlier point that he made, I was just a little bit surprised. Of course he may argue that the Government cannot get this information, but No. 10 Downing Street is saying is that it will not even seek or try to provide it. This again is absolutely illustrative of the slide we are experiencing towards a Government that will not respect the conventions, without which orderly government in this country cannot take place.
No, I want to finish.
For all those reasons, I believe that, while I am the first to recognise that any attempt at a motion of this kind will have a degree of bluntness that is unavoidable—
I am very worried, because I have been looking at the special advisers code of conduct, and it says:
“Special advisers should not disclose official information which has been communicated in confidence in government or received in confidence from others.”
Does my right hon. and learned Friend not realise that his motion today sets all special advisers in conflict with the code that they have signed up to?
Not at all! Absolutely not at all! They are entitled, correctly, to say, “I have been asked by the House of Commons in a motion under a Humble Address to Her Majesty the Queen to provide that information”, and they should do so, if I may say so, with a public spirit and, indeed, a degree of pride—that is what I would do—because that request has been made of them.
Mr Speaker, I do not want to detain the House any further. As I said, I am the first to accept that this is a difficult matter, and I am the first to accept that finding a uniquely perfectly tailored instrument to meet the gravity of the situation that has arisen will always be difficult and might be open to some reasonable criticism. However, for all those things, I think the nature of what has happened, the immediacy of the crisis and the fact that we are proroguing require this motion, and I commend it to the House.
Mr Speaker, may I first associate myself with the many comments about your role as Speaker in this House and the way in which you have performed it, certainly since I have been here? I did not have the chance to speak earlier, but I want to associate myself with those comments.
I rise to support this application in the name of Mr Grieve. At the heart of the application is the simple principle that the Executive should be honest and open with Parliament so as to enable this House properly to scrutinise the Government’s policies and decisions. That should be a given, but it is not, and I am afraid that that speaks volumes. Two important decisions underpin this application. The first is the decision to prorogue the House for five weeks, at what should be the most important and intensive part of the Brexit negotiations. The second is the decision to deny the House the assessment of the preparations for a no-deal Brexit—the Yellowhammer analysis.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, at the very least, Members of this House should be aware of the cost of a no-deal Brexit? That information is crucial to understanding whether the cost is £2 billion or £8 billion.
I do agree with my hon. Friend.
It is regrettable that we are compelled to use this process of a Humble Address, but the reason is obvious. Today’s measure speaks to a wide truth, which has been touched on a number of times by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield, and I am sad to say that it is the basic lack of trust that now exists between this House and the Executive. That has changed in recent weeks. That lack of trust arises very much from the actions of the Prime Minister over the last weeks, which have contributed hugely to it. That alone should be a profound cause of concern to all Members of this House, because in my experience—only four years plus—this House operates on the basis of trust. That trust is going, day by day, and that is why this application has had to be made. That is a concern to all of us and it should be a concern to the Secretary of State.
Let me take the two issues one by one. At this stage of the Brexit process, the House should be sitting as often as possible. Frankly, we should be sitting every day until
The right hon. and learned Gentleman may be interested to know that in previous years I have asked the House of Commons Library to provide me with a list of what is going to be in the Government’s Queen’s Speech in advance. This year I have again asked that question, but the Library has replied that it is unable to provide me with any information about what might be in it because it has not detected the Government announcing anything in relation to what is going to be in the Queen’s Speech.
That intervention speaks for itself.
I remind the House that in the past 40 years Parliament has never been prorogued for longer than three weeks, so it is extraordinary that this Prorogation should come now and for five weeks. In most cases, the House is prorogued for the purposes of the Queen’s Speech for a week or less, and often just for a few days, so to shut down Parliament for so long a period at this stage of the Brexit process is extraordinary.
I am thoroughly supportive of this emergency debate and what it seeks to achieve. Many people perhaps do not realise that this is not just closing down the debate on Brexit; it is closing down the debate on everything. For example, were we not proroguing, we would have had Treasury questions tomorrow and I would have asked a question to represent some of those people affected by the 2019 loan charge issue. That issue, along with the NHS, schools and everything else, will now be set on one side, and this House’s voice on behalf of the people will be utterly muzzled.
I accept that intervention, because the House is being shut down and we will not be able to do our job. It is not Members of Parliament who are being shut out, but those we represent. Whether in relation to the issues mentioned by the right hon. Lady or any other issue, the people are shut out when Parliament is shut down. It is all very well for the Government to say, “We will produce some documents in relation to our analysis of a no-deal Brexit,” but we are not going to be here for the next five weeks, so when are we going to scrutinise them? Even if the Government do publish something, when do we get to ask questions? Not until it is far too late—two weeks away from the decision. To simply say, “We will publish some documents,” under Yellowhammer or anything else misses the point, which is that there can be no scrutiny if we are not sitting.
There is a wider observation, which is that if the purpose of proroguing is justified by the need to pass a Queen’s Speech, how on earth do the Government think they can now achieve that? I remind the House that the Government now have a majority of minus 40. With Cabinet Ministers and even the Prime Minister’s family resigning the Tory Whip every day, one can only wonder what the number will be by the time the House returns. Surely the Government should now just give up on the idea of a Queen’s Speech and drop Prorogation altogether.
Yes, I have seen that. Why we are being closed down is blindingly obvious. As I said earlier, if anybody believes it is genuinely for the orderliness of the House and the convenience of a Queen’s Speech, they will believe anything. We are being closed down to stop scrutiny and to prevent this House from expressing a view on no deal. The only positive is that it galvanised the House last week to take the necessary action to prevent no deal, and Opposition Members were pulled together and spoke strongly on the Bill that has just received Royal Assent.
A moment or two ago, the right hon. and learned Gentleman drew attention to the difficulty of passing a Queen’s Speech with a Government majority of minus 43. In such circumstances, would not a general election be the constitutionally proper thing to settle the matter? Will he therefore be voting for one, as the Leader of the Opposition promised last Wednesday, later this evening?
I am sure that we will have a general election soon, but not at the cost of a no-deal Brexit, which will so damage this country.
The second issue addressed in the motion is the Yellowhammer documents. I wrote to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on
I understand that the people of Wales need that information. This House needs that information. Frankly, to take the country on a route that may well end up with a no-deal Brexit, but without providing the analysis of the impact, is so wrong in principle that we should not be where we are today. We have no documents or analysis to look at, and we are being shut down tonight, so even if some documents are produced, we will be unable to scrutinise them properly. We can only rely on leaks to the Sunday papers that, if right, show that, in the most likely scenario, the Government expect to see the return of a hard border in Northern Ireland—notwithstanding the efforts of many people to ensure that that does not happen—which will disrupt the fuel supply and UK ports, will cause severe delays in relation to medical supplies, and cause significant disruption and impediment to the ordinary functioning of British citizens’ lives and businesses.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the British Government are planning a £100 million propaganda campaign to sell the virtues of a no-deal Brexit. Could they not save a lot of taxpayers’ money by agreeing to the terms of this motion, which will see the documents published on Wednesday?
The Government could save a lot of money by coming here and putting information in the public domain without the money attached. We could have had these documents last week. There is an irony in having a public information campaign when the impact assessments are not being made available to Parliament. The Government are spending millions of pounds on telling the country to get ready, but without having the decency to put the documents before Parliament and allowing Parliament to sit so that they can be scrutinised.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is reprehensible that this Government have put us and the people of the United Kingdom in a position where we are having to fight every step of the way, through the courts and through Parliament, just to get basic information about the impact of a no-deal Brexit? That information should have been given to the people well ahead of the referendum. We now have brinkmanship and kamikaze-like behaviour from individuals who are going to damage the lives of our constituents—constituents like mine who will not be able to get medical supplies. He mentioned Yellowhammer and medical supplies. A close member of my family and a number of my constituents suffer from ulcerative colitis and are concerned about medical supplies and about their health. It is a disease exacerbated by stress. This Government are putting the lives and health of our citizens under threat. Does he agree?
I agree, and this goes to the basic question of transparency. If the Government want to take us down this path, which may end up with a no-deal Brexit, they should have the decency and the courage to put the analysis before Parliament.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the difference between that £100 million that the Government are spending on so-called information and the information that we are seeking the publication of through this emergency debate is the difference between gross propaganda paid for by the taxpayer and factual information that ought to be in the public domain as we approach
I agree. The Government are telling us to get ready, but they will not tell us what to get ready for. I say that really just to underline that these are not trivial documents. They are critically important, and they ought to be put before Parliament.
I may be missing something here, but if the Labour party votes for an early election tonight, all this will be decided on
That is such an unconvincing answer to the question of whether there should be basic transparency and accountability in this House.
I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on stressing the fact that this is not just a technical debate. The livelihoods and lives of our constituents are literally at stake.
On that subject, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman share my concern that my freedom of information request to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the impact on food supplies and the other risks of a no-deal Brexit was turned down? DEFRA confirmed it had that information on what the impact on food supplies will be, but apparently it would not be in the public interest to reveal it. Does he share my concern about that?
I am concerned about that, and I recall that that is where we started the journey last time, when we asked for impact assessments because freedom of information requests were not fulfilled.
Australia is currently suffering from an appalling flu outbreak, which is worse than any it has seen in many years. The vaccine for under-65s is more complex this year and will not be in place before
I am grateful for that intervention on a very serious issue, and it makes the wider point. Many members of the public are extremely concerned about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on their lives, which is why this is the right application to be made. The application has been made because Parliament is being shut down and preparations for a no deal are not being scrutinised.
I commend the motion to the House, and I urge Members on both sides to support it.
I wish to speak briefly on two points, as I was not given a chance to intervene on Keir Starmer. He mentioned the issue of irony, and there is an irony at the heart of this debate: every Opposition Member who has stood up to warn of the risks of a no-deal Brexit had the opportunity to vote for a deal three times in this House. I did not hear a single one of them, including the right hon. and learned Gentleman, make any kind of convincing argument for why they did not vote for the deal negotiated by the former Prime Minister, except for the fact it was negotiated by a Conservative.
I am afraid that I will not give way, because a number of Members want to speak on this matter.
The irony is staring us all in the face. We all want to honour our constituents’ desire to leave the European Union, as expressed in the historic referendum—that is certainly what I was elected to do. I was put in here to honour the mandate expressed at the ballot box. It was not my vote, but I understand it is my duty to carry out their wishes, and not to think that I know better than them. Those people had only one vote, and it is my intention to fight to honour it. That is what I was put in here to do.
My constituents are watching this with astonishment and frustration. The more we go round and round in circles, with these processes that make absolutely no sense to people outside this place, the more angry and frustrated they are, because all they can see is a House of Commons that is completely out of touch with people out there. I am proud to make that point on behalf of my constituents in Redditch, who communicate with me on a regular basis.
My second point is about trust. Again we are talking about trust, which is at the heart of this argument. The trust that people put in us, as representatives of their will, is that we would honour their vote in that referendum, and all they have seen is people in here trying not to honour it.
It is obvious to all of us that this is an issue that cuts across political colours, as I have said many times in this House, and what is happening is that these shenanigans, these motions, are being tabled by Opposition Members and, unfortunately, Conservative Members who actually want to stop this democratic process. They want to stop Brexit, but they are not honest enough to admit it. If they were so sure of their argument—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Rachel Maclean has said two things: first, that people are thwarting democracy; and, secondly, that hon. and right hon. Members are not being honest in the arguments they advance. Presumably she is referring to Mr Grieve, who is sitting some three Benches behind her.
I hope the right hon. Lady will forgive me, but I was immersed—there is no point in my pretending otherwise—in a Socratic dialogue with an hon. Gentleman, as the Chair sometimes is. Therefore I did not hear what Rachel Maclean said. I find it hard to credit the notion that she would impute dishonour to a colleague, particularly to a colleague on her own Benches, and certainly she should not do so. At this stage I have to declare her innocent, because there is no evidence of guilt, but nevertheless it is useful to be reminded of the dictate of “Erskine May” that moderation and good humour in the use of parliamentary language are reliable watchwords in conducting our debates.
Thank you for your guidance, Mr Speaker. I endeavour to follow it and, should my words have been misinterpreted, I of course withdraw them immediately.
I made the point that there are divisions on this issue in the House, and the Members who are trying to bring forward these processes are the Members who are trying to stop Brexit. Some of them are actually quite honest and open about that, which is fine. That is their policy. Labour is now a party of remain, which is fine. It would be clearer if Labour put it to the test in a general election and let us see the public’s verdict, but unfortunately they are too frightened to do that.
I understand the passion with which my hon. Friend speaks. Does she accept that, like her, many of us who are supporting this motion, and who have supported other such motions in this whole endeavour, voted three times for a withdrawal agreement and wish to see a withdrawal agreement? I have assured the Prime Minister, both inside and outside this House, that I will personally vote for any agreement that he brings back from the European Council.
I am delighted to hear that, and I absolutely acknowledge my right hon. Friend’s support for the withdrawal agreement and for any future deal. It is wonderful to hear that.
Special advisers are caught up in this Humble Address. I do not have a lot of experience of special advisers. I am a junior Parliamentary Private Secretary, and I have had the privilege of working with a few special advisers in the Departments I have been honoured to assist, and I have found them all, without exception, to be dedicated and conscientious individuals who do their job to the best of their ability.
That is a hypothetical point, because we have not yet passed this motion. As I said at the start of my remarks, I have not been here long and I have very limited experience, so I have worked with none.
This would be an unprecedented situation for individuals who came into public life and into politics for the best of reasons. They want to perform public service and carry out their offices, and this Humble Address puts them in an extremely difficult position.
Governments of all colours have special advisers, which is an established role. It is not just this Government who have special advisers. The Labour Government had special advisers, too. We need to be extremely careful about tying their hands and constraining their freedom to advise the Ministers with whom they work.
Yes, there is not an unpurged contempt, and my recollection of the particular case, whose details I am broadly familiar with, is that he was not invited to apologise, but there was a contempt, and that is a matter of unarguable and incontrovertible fact. These matters came my way recently, in circumstances with which I need not trouble the House, but I do know of what I speak and there was a contempt.
Thank you for that clarification, Mr Speaker. The question I was asked in the earlier intervention was how many I have worked with. I have not worked with Dominic Cummings, so I was answering a question in a quite straightforward way. I have made my point and I will bring my remarks to a close. I will not be supporting the Humble Address, for the reasons I have laid out, and the House would do well not to support it.
I rise to state the Scottish National party’s unequivocal support for this application and to congratulate Mr Grieve on obtaining this debate. Unlike Rachel Maclean, I am going to confine myself to the terms of the motion, but I wish gently to remind her that this motion is supported by Members from across the House, some of whom, like her, have constituencies that voted leave and some of whom, like me, have constituencies that voted remain. The will of the people in Scotland is to remain, so I have no shame in having that as my primary motivation. Having said that, I am also very concerned to ensure, for as long as I and my colleagues are here, that this Parliament and this Government do things properly, and there are strong grounds for suspicion that things have not been done properly in relation to this Prorogation. The dogs in the streets know that the reason this Prime Minister is proroguing Parliament is to avoid scrutiny as he hurtles towards
I agree with what the hon. and learned Lady says. Were we able to have a voice on this, many Members of this House would think that we should not even have the conference recess for three weeks and that Parliament should be here doing its job at a time of crisis, speaking on behalf of our communities.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Lady on that matter. The documents lodged with the Scottish Court last week, and revealed to the public against the Government’s wishes but as a result of interventions by the legal team that I and others in this House instruct, and by the BBC and other newspapers, show that the Prime Minister had approved a plan to prorogue parliament on
The memos produced by the British Government showed not only the somewhat distasteful comment about girly swots, with which the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield dealt most ably, but that the reason why the current Prime Minister wants to prorogue this Parliament is because he wants to avoid what he referred to as the “rigmarole” of this Parliament sitting in September. So even if the Scottish case achieves nothing else, it has shown that the Government have not been entirely truthful so far.
Another myth was finally put to rest at the weekend when Amber Rudd resigned. Most of us were not surprised to hear her confirm that there are, in fact, no renegotiations ongoing with the EU. Of course we already knew that from the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and from a number of counterparts in the EU. I noted last week at the Brexit Select Committee that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster initially tried to give the impression that negotiations were ongoing but when pressed on the matter he conceded that there are no negotiations as such, merely discussions. We heard that from him last week, but it was good to hear it from someone who has so recently been at the heart of government and has had the decency to leave the Government given what she has seen.
The weight of evidence regarding the damage that no deal would do to the nations of these islands is overwhelming. We all know that from the work we have done on Select Committees over the past few years—work that will not be happening in the next few weeks, when Parliament is prorogued. But still the Government will not tell us the truth about the assessments they have made of the impact of a no-deal Brexit and the preparations they are making for that. So it is right that this House seeks the documentation relating to Operation Yellowhammer.
I will now concentrate on the Prorogation case, because myself and a number of other MPs and peers, as well as Jo Maugham, QC, and the Good Law Project, have raised an action in Scotland, in which we argue that Parliament is being prorogued for an unlawful purpose and to prevent democratic scrutiny, and that therefore the courts should overturn the order to prorogue. Although the judge at first instance was not with us, we had a full hearing before Scotland’s Appeal Court last week, and we are awaiting the outcome of that decision on Wednesday. Of course a date,
In the course of these proceedings, something curious happened last week. I commend to hon. Members’ attention an interesting article about this in the Financial Times at the weekend by David Allen Green, the distinguished legal commentator, entitled: “The curious incident of the missing witness statement”. In the Scottish case, the petitioners argue that the Government had an improper motive in seeking Prorogation, and we say that the real intention was a cynical effort to close down Parliament so that it could not block a no-deal Brexit. Usually, there is a pretty straightforward way for the Government or the responding party to rebut or refute an allegation of such bad faith. Where somebody is facing such an allegation of bad faith, the normal thing to do in an action of judicial review would be to submit a sworn statement—an affidavit—setting out the way in which the decision was made and that the decision was properly taken and to lodge relevant supportive documentation. What happened last week in Edinburgh was that the Government did not provide any such witness statement. They provided no such sworn affidavit and no official explanation. They simply supplied some documents, heavily redacted, without any covering explanation. The absence of such a statement in such litigation is, as David Allen Green says, very “conspicuous”.
I am certainly not a lawyer, but general knowledge leads me to ask: is what the Government are doing here not, in effect, the equivalent, in American terms, of taking the fifth—refusing to give evidence on the basis that it might incriminate them or cause them to commit perjury?
It does rather have the whiff of that.
At Prime Minister’s questions last week, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield asked the Prime Minister why it had proved impossible during the Scottish legal proceedings to find any Government official or Minister who was prepared to state on oath in a sworn statement the reasons for Prorogation. The Prime Minister did not answer the question. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman explained earlier, it has been suggested to a number of Members, myself included, by reliable sources, that Government officials were approached by the Government Legal Service about swearing such statements but refused to do so. I cannot know the reasons why they refused to sign a sworn statement; I can only speculate. I speculate that perhaps they refused for fear of perjuring themselves, or for fear that to tell the truth would be damaging to the Government. The idea that any Government official should be put in a position in which they fear having to perjure themselves before the courts of the jurisdictions of Scotland or England, or indeed any jurisdiction in the United Kingdom, is very concerning.
The same sources that suggested that officials have refused to sign sworn statements have also suggested to me, and to other Members of the House, that key figures in No. 10 and the Government have been communicating about the real reasons for Prorogation not through the official channels of Government emails and memos, but by personal email, WhatsApp and “burner” phones—normally used by people involved in a criminal enterprise to avoid being traced. If that is true, they will have adopted a subterfuge, and there can only really be one reason for that: to conceal the real reasons for Prorogation from the scrutiny of this House and, very seriously, the scrutiny of the courts.
The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield explained at some length what careful thought he has given to the way in which this has been presented. I will not repeat any of that, other than to say that he has clearly applied his mind very carefully to it, and the allegations that underlie the motion are very serious. If there is no truth in them, so be it. But let us pass the motion and let there be transparency and accountability, because those are the two things, I suggest, that this Prime Minister and his shabby Administration fear the most.
The hon. and learned Lady is making a powerful case. Does she agree that this Government’s cavalier treatment of parliamentary procedure and democratic principle underlines the need not for uncodified practices but for a written constitution and, in particular, a citizens’ assembly that could once again put the people at the heart of our democracy?
I agree with my hon. Friend, but I would take the argument further, because the shabby practices of this Government and the creaking of the British constitution underline, in my mind, the need for my country to be independent of this mess.
Even as we have been speaking this afternoon, it has been reported on Twitter—this point has already been alluded to—that unidentified No. 10 sources are saying that even if we pass this motion for an Humble Address tonight, they will not comply with it. [Interruption.]
Order. I am extremely grateful to the hon. and learned Lady, but I gently point out to her that, as there is a significant number of other Members waiting to contribute, and as the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has every right and reasonable expectation to think that he will have 10 minutes or so to speak, I am cautiously optimistic that she is approaching her peroration.
You are correct, Mr Speaker; I am about to draw my remarks to a close.
I am a student more of Scottish history than of English history, but our histories are bound together, and I know enough about English history to know that it was secret, unaccountable whispers of poison that brought down Edward II and Richard II. I suspect that this Prime Minister will be brought down by secret, unaccountable whispers of poison, such as those in the unattributable briefings we heard this afternoon. Let us make sure that this House and the courts see the contents of the secret whispers of poison that preceded this Prorogation, so that we can all see the real reasons why the House of Commons has been prorogued by an Executive terrified of scrutiny.
Now, a self-denying ordinance would help. I think that Mr Paterson can probably deliver himself of his thoughts on this matter within five minutes.
I will be extremely brief, Mr Speaker, as I came to the debate with no intention of speaking. I just want to make the point that Joanna Cherry talks about “secrets” and “poison”. We are naming nine individuals here, some of whom have never worked for the Government before, and some of whom have been working as special advisers for only a week or 10 days. Bluntly, this whole debate offends my sense of fairness. We have a long tradition that people are innocent until proven guilty, yet the hon. and learned Lady assumes instant guilt on the part of these people. We all know that there are probably two names that she would love to flush out, but there are other individuals listed here. Members should just think about this, because these are junior people who have not worked for the Government for very long.
No, I will not give way.
There are significant figures who could have been chosen, such as the Cabinet Secretary, or learned counsel who advise the Government—Treasury counsel and people like that. I received a very unsatisfactory answer earlier when I asked what criteria Mr Grieve had applied for naming these people. Before this witch hunt atmosphere continues, would Opposition Members like to consider that they are talking about nine relatively junior members assisting the Government? There are two names that we know they would very much like to flush out, but can we just think of the impact on these people of having their private emails and phone messages to family and friends inspected?
Who is the omniscient person—this great fount of wisdom—who will judge whether those messages are pertinent to the motion. Before Members vote for the motion, I would like them to consider who that person will be. Who will be the chairman of the committee of public safety who will make those decisions?
Are those Members prepared to put their private communications on the record? I am sure that Keir Starmer has had many communications with senior members of the European Commission. Only this afternoon, Mr Guy Verhofstadt gave a great paean of praise to you, Mr Speaker—he is going to welcome you to the European Parliament—but I very much doubt that you will make available to us your private communications with him.
You asked me to be brief, Mr Speaker, and I will be. Could we please just recognise that this motion is invidious and unfair? It chooses nine names arbitrarily. If people were really on a fishing expedition, they could have gone wider and gone for more senior figures. Of course, the person they are really after is the Prime Minister, and he does come to this House, and there will be many opportunities to ask him the questions, because ultimately he is the one they should be after.
Order. Has the right hon. Gentleman finished his oration?
We are deeply obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. We now need very short speeches, of no more than four minutes.
I will certainly speak within the four-minute limit, Mr Speaker.
I wish to focus on Operation Yellowhammer. The issue with Prorogation is whether the Government deliberately misled Parliament. The issue with Operation Yellowhammer is whether the Government are deliberately withholding key documents from Parliament and the public.
Members of Parliament will have seen The Sunday Times last month when it published the leak of Operation Yellowhammer and said that Britain would face shortages of fuel, food and medicine and three months of chaos at its ports in the event of a no-deal exit. The report went on to warn that lorries might face delays of two-and-a-half days at ports and that medical supplies might be vulnerable to severe extended delays. It also said that the Government had expected the return of a hard border in Ireland. We have not, of course, been able to see this document, because the Government have not been willing to provide them to us, but what we have had is a series of Ministers touring studios saying, in effect, that there is nothing to see in this document, that there is nothing to worry about and that everything is under control. I am afraid that, at the same time, we see reports that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has sought to sanitise it. Having apparently failed to sanitise it, he has simply decided to rely on the fact that the report will not be published at all.
I have sought assurances from the Government that if civil servants were asked to modify this document—in effect to sanitise it—that would be in breach of the ministerial code. I have also asked whether those civil servants would be subject to disciplinary action if they refuse to sanitise it and whether, if they spoke out because they noticed that the documents had been sanitised, they would be covered by whistleblower legislation. When I asked for this information, I was referred to the evidence that the Minister gave to the Select Committee, or was about to give to the Select Committee, last week. After he had given evidence, I went hotfoot, as Members would expect me to do, to see whether he had answered any of these questions, and, of course, he had not. When he replies now, perhaps, rather than sending me a letter referring me to evidence in which he has not answered the question, he would like to answer those specific questions, because we need to have that information available.
Businesses are trying to prepare for no deal. The Government are withholding information from them. At the same time, the Minister in charge of local government is writing to local authorities telling them that they have to provide information to residents and businesses about what preparations they are making in relation to no deal. It does seem that if the Government are asking local authority leaders to make that information available, there is a duty on them to make that information available. Yet what we have from the Government is the withholding of this critical information that would allow all of us to prepare for a no-deal scenario.
It may be that the Government are worried that putting this information into the public domain might lead to shortages of food. To some extent, I understand that, and, if that is the case, that would be less than perfect. Again, I did suggest to the Minister that the Government might want to release the information on Privy Council terms to Privy Counsellors and allow us to access that information. Clearly, I would prefer all Members of Parliament to be able to see that information, but if that is one way that the Government would feel more confident that the information could be shared, then they could do that.
I hope that, when we get a response from the Minister, he will be quite specific in answering these questions, which have so far been avoided by the Government. We would all like to know the answers to those questions so that we have a degree of certainty about what the impact of no deal will be, so that we can all help businesses and others to prepare for that eventuality.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.
Let me see—[Interruption.] Oh, I do beg the pardon of Simon Hoare; I think he used to make those sorts of coughing noises when he was at Oxford with my wife 30 years ago. Yes, very good—he has three or four minutes now.
I think I can say without peradventure that they were happier days, Mr Speaker.
I will vote against the motion this evening for the very clear reason that Government must function. If officials and advisers are to provide information to Ministers, they should be able to do so freely and without any thought that their correspondence, while in an official capacity, will be dragged before us. However, I will, if I may, make a couple of important caveated points. My understanding is that our unwritten constitution, as crazy and as byzantine as it often can be, can only work, and can only continue to work, where there is trust, where there are checks and where there are balances. Those three things must be observed and maintained.
We all hear the phrase, “Through the usual channels”. We all know what that means. This place would not function—our constitution would not function—without the daily conversations between the principal parties in this place and others on how legislation is going to be delivered. It does not matter to this motion whether one voted leave or remain or even abstained in the referendum campaign—a number of right hon. and hon. Members have referred to that. The motion is about the functioning of Government and, as a number of colleagues have said, trust. It matters that good practice and the rule of law are followed. People in this place and, indeed, in the country are broadly satisfied in accepting a decision if and when they are confident that the means by which that decision has been arrived at is clear and fair—or, as I would say colloquially, it has passed the sniff test.
Interestingly, I have had, as I am sure we have all had, hundreds, if not thousands, of emails over the past month advocating position x, y, or z with regard to leaving the European Union, but I have not had a single email from a constituent—not even from the most avowed and determined advocates of Brexit in my constituency—who has felt that proroguing Parliament has been the right thing to do. We should not be hiding behind the narrative of, “Well, we were going to rise for three weeks anyway for the conference recess”. Having had six weeks off already, the conference recess should not have been used as an argument to support a Prorogation. The conference recess should not have been taking place, and the conferences should either have been cancelled or gone on in a lesser form. I do not think that that narrative passes the test. It is interesting that I have had no correspondence on the matter—I will probably regret saying that when I am inundated tonight and tomorrow—from any constituent saying that Prorogation is the right thing to do.
I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to consider those points and, importantly, to take on to ourselves the humility that, certainly last week, we were a minority Administration. I have lost track of the figures slightly, but we do not have such muscularity of numbers that we can deal lightly with constitutional norms and with this place.
I am concerned that, as was flushed out at the urgent question on Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—and, as I understand it, every other Cabinet Minister—has still not received legal advice from my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General with regard to Prorogation. We have had the legal advice of the Attorney General published in the past. I am not a lawyer, but I understand that, in normal times, it is perfectly proper for that to be under lawyer-client privilege. However, we all recall that we saw the legal advice of the Attorney General with regard to the amendments that the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mrs May, had secured and how they had affected the legal status of the withdrawal agreement. There is therefore a precedent for the publication of legal advice. As somebody who is concerned to get leaving the European Union right on behalf of my constituents, but also as the chairman of the Northern Ireland Committee, I think that the legislative needs of Northern Ireland, particularly in the scenario of a no-deal exit, are being ridden roughshod over by the fact that the House is being prorogued this evening.
I seek assurance from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that the needs of Northern Ireland and the need to maintain the unity of our United Kingdom, which he and I hold to be incredibly precious, are not being dealt with in a cavalier fashion. I will be voting against this motion, but the Government do need to think about how they deal with these matters.
I put my name to this motion for three very simple reasons. I agree with what many Members across the House have said about what our constituents do not understand about what is going on in this place. First, many do not understand the concept of Prorogation. Indeed, one of my constituents thought it was something to do with pierogi—dumplings. They do not understand why, when this country is facing a massive crisis, MPs are upping sticks and going home. When I tell them that it is not of my choosing, they ask “Whose choosing was it?” This motion is about people understanding that process. As Simon Hoare said, it is about asking, “Does it pass the sniff test?” The honest truth is that everything we have seen to date says that it simply does not.
Secondly, my constituents do not really understand the machinations of official channels and the civil service code, but they do get that an unelected cabal of people are making decisions about their future without any accountability. To Government Members who are concerned about the concept of being able to look at private emails, I gently say that they might wish to google the concept and revisit some of the situations that the House had to deal with in 2011 and in 2013, precisely regarding civil servants and special advisers using official channels to conduct official business. I am sure that there are Members on the Front Bench who can tell them of that time and of the clarity that was given that such information would be FOI-able. This is not something new; it is simply about the exigency of seeing that information when we are making decisions.
There is a third thing that my constituents would not really understand. They do not know what a no-deal Brexit entails—nobody really does because, thankfully, we have not yet experienced it—but they do know that there are doctors going on the national airwaves to tell them that the Government are stockpiling body bags, and they are then hearing the Leader of the House discrediting those very same doctors.
There is a simple question at the heart of this motion, which is the question that I suspect all our constituents, whether we represent leave or remain constituencies, have been asking us over the last couple of weeks: what on earth is going on? The honest truth, if we want to talk about truth in this place, is that none of us can really answer those questions, because we have not seen the homework on why Prorogation has suddenly appeared and what a no-deal Brexit would actually mean—whether it is true that 85% of lorries travelling across the channel are not ready for French customs or that the supply of fresh food will be disrupted. The simple truth may even be that if the situation is not as far-fetched as the stories in the press, just publishing Yellowhammer will set everybody’s minds at rest. This motion is about us being able to do what we should be able to do best: inform our constituents, and hold the Government and their advisers to account. I urge everyone to support it.
I am afraid that there needs to be a two-minute limit.
This motion is about trust. We should understand the people we are dealing with.
As recently as July 2019, the Electoral Commission published detailed evidence upon which it based its finding that Vote Leave committed electoral offences in the immediate lead-up to the 2016 referendum. In March 2019, Vote Leave itself admitted to breaking the electoral law. Electoral law is there to safeguard democracy. Vote Leave’s offences are set out in detail in the July 2019 Electoral Commission findings, which explain that Vote Leave conspired, quite deliberately, to break the referendum spending limits by channelling money to the Canadian company AggregateIQ through an alternative funding stream. Dominic Cummings, working for Vote Leave at the time, explained in evidence disclosed by the Electoral Commission that
“there is another organisation that could spend your money. Would you be willing to spend the 100k to some social media ninjas who could usefully spend it…in the final crucial 5 days. Obviously it would be entirely legal.”
As we now know from the Electoral Commission—and accepted by Vote Leave—it was entirely illegal. Dominic Cummings said that this spending was “crucial.”
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster knew of these payments. In an interview with Dermot Murnaghan of Sky News, he said that he knew of these illegal payments, but not until after the referendum had taken place. On
Dominic Cummings has refused to give evidence to the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, frustrating its inquiry, and has been found to be in contempt of Parliament. When he was appointed as the Prime Minister’s adviser, I wrote to the Prime Minister, asking him to instruct Dominic Cummings to give evidence to the Committee. The Prime Minister has refused to do this. These are the people who are making these decisions, and we cannot trust them to make the right ones. I therefore support the motion.
What an invidious choice. I call Dr Rosena Allin-Khan.
It is an absolute disgrace that tonight we will go home for a number of weeks, after we have already been off for many weeks already.
This Government are playing games. Although I am the MP for Tooting, I am also a Tooting girl, who was voted here to do her job: for the five-year-old boy who is starving and has to go to the local food bank—he has not got time for games; for the mother who is waiting for her delayed cancer treatment—she has not got time for games; and for the family who have been failed by the Department for Work and Pensions, who are starving, cannot pay their electricity bills and face another cold winter—they have not got time for games. We are letting the public down at a time when there has never been greater distrust between them and us in here. The mother in my patch who has to bury her son, and who knows that her other children have no opportunity, does not have time for the games that we are playing in this House. To the people sitting in the Gallery, we are a laughing stock. Leaving without a deal makes the very poorest and most vulnerable in our communities and society even worse off.
So today I say, on behalf of Balham, Tooting, Furzedown and Earlsfield, that this Government are a disgrace and proroguing Parliament is a disgrace. I am here in my capacity as an MP and as a regular, ordinary girl from Tooting, who had never been in this place until she was elected to be here. We deserve better and our communities deserve better. Let us be here to do our jobs.
Like many Members’ constituents, many of my constituents in Cardiff have told me over the weekend that they are simply totally confused about what is going on. They are not interested in the procedures and the chicanery; they are interested in their lives, and what difference the proceedings here make to them.
So why does this motion matter and why am I supporting it? Well, the gag that the Government are going to put on Parliament tonight prevents us from having Treasury questions, Northern Ireland questions, Prime Minister’s questions, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions and questions to the Attorney General, whose legal advice is so crucial to this situation. It prevents us from having debates on the battle of Arnhem, in which my grandfather served and was taken prisoner of war; the pension age of our police; sanctions; refugees; climate change; EU citizens; the middle east; fracking; Northern Ireland; chemicals; sexual violence; and children.
Proroguing Parliament will prevent the discussion and agreement of the Agriculture Bill, the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, the Trade Bill, the customs Bill, the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill and, crucially, the Domestic Abuse Bill, yet this Government have carried on with this gag. They tell us it is because they want to set out provisions for a new Queen’s Speech and a new programme for government. Who are they fooling? We know the truth. We know why this is being done—the Prime Minister’s own documents have revealed it.
The Prorogation plot was known well before. How was it that I was able to know about it in the early hours of the morning—before it was announced, before you had been told, Mr Speaker, before the Cabinet had been told and before the country had been informed? How was it that journalists were able to know that night and I was able to know, yet No. 10 Downing Street was still denying that this gag was going to go forward? No. 10 was denying it days before, yet as was revealed, the decision was taken on
This is about trust in a Government who cannot be trusted, it is about our constituents’ lives and the issues that matter to them, which go well beyond Brexit, and it is about the national security and safety of this country. The Yellowhammer documents should be made public so that we all know the true risk to this country of a no-deal Brexit.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate after a number of important, serious and passionate speeches. It is important that we pay appropriate regard to this Humble Address, standing as it does in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve and supported as it has been by three distinguished QCs in two of the three jurisdictions of these islands.
Important issues are raised by this Humble Address. There is a request implicit in it for full information for this House about the consequences of leaving the European Union. I would emphasise that the opportunity for not just Members of this House but citizens in this country to make sure that they are familiar with all the consequences—and, indeed, the opportunities—of leaving the European Union is at the heart of the Government’s information strategy. Some have suggested that it is somehow propaganda. Far from it: it is an effort to ensure that the facts are laid out in an accessible way to every citizen. So whether it is a simple matter of individuals knowing what their rights might be if they happen to be UK nationals abroad, or businesses who require to know what the customs procedures are in order to export, that is all in the public domain.
Not at this point.
Indeed, that is not the only thing that is in the public domain. As a result of a court case that has been brought by Joanna Cherry and others, we also have in the public domain the submission that went to the Prime Minister on which he made his decision. Submissions such as this, and Government policy that rests on them, are not ordinarily made public, but, quite properly, following the duty of candour in respect of that judicial review, that information was published. There it is in black and white: the reasons that were put to the Prime Minister for going down this course of action, and indeed the reasons that led him to make that decision. I would say that it is not unprecedented, but rare, that such a degree—
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene on him. He will of course be entirely aware that last Thursday, during an urgent question, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is a very good appointment indeed, made it quite clear that he had not been consulted by the Prime Minister about the plan for Prorogation; he was told only just before it was publicly announced. Therefore, we have a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who is facing a perfect storm of the possibility of a no-deal Brexit and no functioning Assembly—and no expectation of one any day soon. How can it possibly be that the Minister is telling the House that the Prime Minister had a paper that he did not even share with the Cabinet?
The hon. Lady raises at least two important points. First, we are of course absolutely aware that whatever the impacts of a no-deal Brexit, they are likely to be more acute, in a number of ways, in Northern Ireland. She is absolutely right that that extends not just to the economy of Northern Ireland but to security considerations. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who have been very clear about what the risks are and their attempts to mitigate them.
On the broader point, submissions that would go to the Prime Minister would not normally be circulated to the whole of the Cabinet, any more than submissions that go to an individual Minister would. This goes to the very heart of what is being requested. That submission is already there, but we are now being asked to give this House and, indeed, the world not just those submissions but every possible communication that any civil servant might have entertained beforehand in helping to advise the Prime Minister on the correct course of action. It is a basic principle of good government observed by Governments—Labour, Conservative and Scottish National party—that there should be a safe space for the advice that civil servants give.
The Cabinet Secretary, when he appeared before the Procedure Committee, made it clear that this convention that advice should be private has applied to Governments of all parties throughout the history of the civil service. He said that the Humble Address—the particular procedure that we are debating today—has a chilling effect that is to the severe detriment both of the operation of government and the public record of Government decisions. That is the Cabinet Secretary’s view. It is interesting that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said that of the nine people whom he names, only one was a civil servant. Four are civil servants, including the Cabinet Secretary, and he has been clear, as Administrations of every colour have been clear, that they do not disclose this information.
Indeed, sometimes—I listened with care to what the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South said—there are Administrations who say that they do not reveal legal advice even when it does not exist. She told us that if we had an independent Scotland, the rules, procedures and practices in an independent Scotland would set an example to us here. But the former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, told the BBC that he had legal advice on the impact of Scotland being independent in Europe, and then, when he was asked to publish that legal advice, spent £20,000 of Scottish taxpayers’ money fighting that and saying that no freedom of information requests should be granted. Then eventually, when the court found out what had happened, there was no legal advice at all. So I will take no lectures from the Scottish National party about trust or transparency.
No, no—absolutely not. [Interruption.] No—no, thank you.
What is being asked of this House is more than just the publication of advice: private communications of a variety of public servants are about to be published if this Humble Address is published. My right hon. and learned Friend did not ask specifically in this Humble Address—
No, I will not give way.
If the Humble Address had been shaped in such a way as to say that official advice was requested, the Government would have sought to collaborate that—co-operate, I should say—with my right hon. and learned Friend about. But this is a trawl—a fishing expedition in which every single communication from public servants is being requested if it has anything to do in any way with Prorogation. If there are officials or special advisers who are communicating with one another about personal matters, then that would be within the scope of this Humble Address. It is unprecedented. It takes a coach and horses through our data protection legislation. It is questionable in terms of the article 8 rights that individuals have under the European convention on human rights, and it would, for the first time, say—
It would, for the first time, say that the House of Commons, by a simple majority vote, can say that any individual’s communications should be rendered transparent. Do Members realise what they are doing? No criminal offence is alleged. The sole purpose of this is to determine what may or may not have been the private opinion of civil servants and special advisers. The idea that, in order to discern exactly what they thought, we will trample over data protection law, ECHR rights and the principle of safe space is an unprecedented example of those who claim to revere—
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall not take any interventions because it is important that I make progress.
I want to underline that these propositions are being put forward by people who say—and I believe them—that they take the rule of law seriously, but in their desire to rifle through the private correspondence of individuals, they set aside legal precedent, set aside the good workings of government, and set aside the rights of individuals.
Let me turn briefly to the particular part—
I hope it is a point of order, not a point of frustration.
It is a point of order. I wrote to the Secretary of State on
Persist, man! Persist by asking further questions or sending follow-up letters—keep buggering on at all times.
In his speech, Ian C. Lucas answered his own question. He explained that I had said to Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News exactly when I knew about these payments. He can ask as many times as he likes for me to repeat the answer, but I gave the answer months ago.
Talking of politicians who cannot see what is in front of them, we come to Yellowhammer. The point has been made that it is critical that we share with this House as much as we can, and I am absolutely committed to that. In the evidence that I gave to the Exiting the European Union Committee last Thursday—
No. In the evidence that I gave, I made it clear—I am grateful to the Chairman of that Committee for allowing me to do so—that we wanted to publish and would publish a revised Yellowhammer document. It is also important to recognise that the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Keir Starmer, described Yellowhammer as both an “impact assessment” and a “likely scenario”. I was clear in the evidence, which was accepted by the Chairman in that Committee, that it was neither an impact assessment nor a likely scenario. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that he wants scrutiny of our no-deal assumptions, but when that scrutiny is given and when the facts are in front, he seems not to be interested, not to read it or not to know what has been said. He says he wants scrutiny, but when he gets scrutiny, he cannot be bothered to take account of it.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I am sorry to take him back to the issue about Prorogation and its origins. Would he like to explain at the Dispatch Box why that no affidavit was filed by any official relating to the circumstances in which Prorogation was decided upon? He will understand that the suggestion is that, in fact, the explanation given by the Government is inaccurate, that the decisions and work on proroguing this House to prevent us from scrutinising the Brexit process were taken earlier and that there is evidence of it in the interchange of communications between special advisers and others in government.
I know what the right hon. and learned Gentleman suspects, and he has been fair in laying it out clearly, but the question that this House has to ask is, are we prepared—[Interruption.] The question before the House is this—[Hon. Members: “Answer the question!”] I am answering the question. The question before the House is this. We know what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is concerned about, and we know what his concerns are, but are we willing, in order to satisfy his curiosity on this point, to make sure that data protection legislation, the EHRC and the standard practices of government are overturned? I should say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we have published in unprecedented detail, in conformity with the duty of candour, all the information required—
claimed to move the closure (
Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.
Question agreed to.
Main Question put accordingly.
The House divided: Ayes 311, Noes 302.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House has considered the matter of prorogation with the imminence of an exit from the European Union and accordingly resolves—
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that she will be graciously pleased to direct Ministers to lay before this House, not later than 11.00pm Wednesday