Before I invite the Prime Minister to move the Second Reading, I must announce my decision on certification for the purposes of
I will make a public service announcement now. Under the terms of the business of the House motion, as amended, which the House has just passed, amendments for the Committee stage of the Bill may now be accepted by the Clerks at the Table only. Members may continue to table amendments up until the start of proceedings in the Committee of the whole House. For the benefit of everyone, however, I would encourage Members to table their amendments as soon as possible. The Chairman of Ways and Means will take a provisional decision on selection and grouping on the basis of amendments tabled a quarter of an hour after the beginning of the Second Reading debate. That provisional selection list will be made available in the Vote Office and on the parliamentary website before the start of proceedings in Committee. If necessary, an updated amendment paper will be made available as soon as possible during proceedings in Committee. The Clerk at the Table is happy, and therefore we can all be happy.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is now a week since Parliament voted to delay Brexit yet again. It is a week since this Parliament voted yet again to force Brussels to keep this country in the European Union for at least another three months, at a cost of £1 billion a month. In the days since then, the Government have tried to be reasonable and to ascribe the best possible motives to our friends and colleagues around the House. [Interruption.] I have twice offered more time for debate. I offered more time last week and I made the same offer last night. I said that we were prepared to debate this Bill—[Interruption.] I said we were prepared to debate the withdrawal Bill around the clock to allow Parliament time to scrutinise it, to the point of intellectual exhaustion. We must bear in mind that not only has this House been considering this issue for three and a half years, but last week when this Bill was being debated there was not a single new idea and not a single new suggestion. All they wanted was more time, more weeks, more months, when they could not even provide the speakers to fill the time allotted.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving eventually giving way. [Interruption.] We can all go, “Ooh”, like children but we are actually trying to get something through. Let me go back to the comments he made when he opened his speech. Either this House voted for the Second Reading or it delayed it—he cannot have it both ways, which is what he seems to want. Would the Prime Minister like to go back over his first comments and address whether he thinks they were entirely correct, because almost everything he said seemed to me as though he might be misleading the House and the country?
I am astonished to hear that the hon. Lady thinks that she voted for the programme motion last week—that is the logic of what she said. As far as I understand it, she voted for delay. She voted to delay Brexit indefinitely. Let us be absolutely clear: the whole country can see what is really going on. Does she want to deliver Brexit? No, she doesn’t. She does not want to deliver Brexit. People can see that Opposition Members do not want to deliver Brexit. All they want to do is procrastinate. They do not want to deliver Brexit on
Will the Prime Minister confirm that the only indicative vote that passed through this Parliament was to find alternative arrangements to the backstop and that he removed the backstop from the deal, but this remain Parliament will still not vote for it? Therefore, his call for an election is the right thing to do—let the public decide.
My hon. Friend is entirely right and he speaks for his constituency; they want to deliver Brexit, he wants to deliver Brexit, but Opposition Members just want to spin it out forever, until the 12th of never. When the 12th of never eventually comes around, they will devise one of their complicated parliamentary procedures and move a motion for a further delay and a further extension. I have to say that this delay is becoming seriously damaging to the national interest, because families cannot plan and businesses cannot plan. Not only is the climate of uncertainty corroding trust in politics, but it is beginning to hold everybody back from making vital everyday decisions that are important for the health of our economy—decisions on buying new homes, hiring new staff and making new investments. The performance of the UK economy is, frankly, miraculous, given the stasis here in Parliament.
That is why I hope that so many of our colleagues will support this Bill today, including the Father of the House, for whom I have the highest respect.
My right hon. Friend was one of those who delayed Brexit in March by voting against departure then on the deal that had then been negotiated. He did get a majority of 30 for his deal in principle last week, and if the subsequent time of this House had been devoted to the Committee and Report stage of the House, following the ordinary principles of government, we would be well on our way to leaving in the middle of November. I respectfully say to my right hon. Friend: can he find a slightly better basis for fighting this election when we get to the campaign in due course?
I am afraid that my right hon. and learned Friend is in error; I voted for the withdrawal Bill. I hope that he will vote for this Bill today to get Brexit done.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who I know wants to deliver Brexit. I am afraid that the idea he puts forward is one that we have tried twice. We tried it last week and we tried it last night. It would have been a good offer for Jeremy Corbyn to take up. He refused to take it up, and we are left with no choice but to go to the country to break free from this impasse, and to allow us all to submit, as we must in all humility, to the judgment of the electorate—to allow us to make our case and, above all, to allow a new and revitalised Parliament, with a new mandate to deliver on the will of the people and get Brexit done.
That new Parliament, in just a few weeks’ time, will have before it a great new deal with the EU—a great new deal, which brings together Members from across the House, as Jess Phillips mentioned earlier. It will be the job of that new Parliament, in just a few weeks’ time, to ratify the withdrawal deal and put an end to this long period of parliamentary dither and delay.
I am glad to say that since I first put forward the idea of a general election as a way out of this impasse, the ice floes have begun to crack. The Lib Dems are now in favour, and the Scots Nats—the Scottish National party—is now in favour of it. There is only one blockage still standing in the way of democracy. There is only one party that refuses to trust the judgment of the people. There is only one party that is still running scared of an election and that is the main party of opposition, which is failing in its defining function—[Interruption.] Well, we have not heard anything to the contrary. Dogs bark, cows moo and Oppositions are meant to campaign for elections—except for this one.
I have no way of knowing what the right hon. Member for Islington North is going to say. He has called for an election 35 times in the last year alone. I have no idea why he has been so opposed to an election. Maybe it is because he has been following the precepts of his intellectual mentor, Fidel Castro, whose adoring crowds used to serenade him with the cry, “Revoluciones sí, elecciones no!” Maybe he is congenitally opposed. Maybe he has been listening to the shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, or Keir Starmer, who I gather have been arguing against an election. He should beware of their motives in counselling him against a general election. It is not so much that they fear a general election, though they probably do; it is just that they do not want a general election with him as their leader.
I do not know what has been holding the right hon. Gentleman back from this obvious democratic exercise, but whatever it is, I hope that he will now stand up and say that he has mastered his doubts and that he is finally willing to submit to the electorate. He has mentioned that he is a great eater of porridge. All I can say is that when it comes to the offer of elections, he reminds me of Goldilocks in his fastidiousness—one offer is too hot and one is too cold. I hope he will be able to stand up this afternoon and say, “This time, this offer of an election is just right.”
If he does, and I hope he does, we will then be able to put that choice to the people of this country. We can go his way, which is for an economic recipe that would mean the destruction of the UK’s wealth-creating system and over-taxation of a kind that is derived from revolutionary Venezuela, combined with the political nightmare agenda of not one, but two, referendums—one on the EU and one in Scotland—with all their potential for further rancour and recrimination. As I understand it, that is his policy. Or we can go forward with this Government—a Government that have secured a great deal that allows us to leave the EU as one whole United Kingdom—as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—able together to do free trade deals around the world, able to set our own path, to make our own laws, to take back control of our borders, our money and our regulations, able to deliver all the benefits and all the freedoms of Brexit, from new free ports to more humane treatment of animals, which the right hon. Gentleman would block, from tax breaks for new technology to cutting VAT on sanitary products.
It is a deal that they said was impossible three months ago. They said we could not change the withdrawal agreement. They said that we would never get rid of the backstop, and we did. The deal is there. It is ready to be approved by a new Parliament, with a Government yearning with every fibre of their being to be able to get on and deliver our one-nation Conservative agenda, with a vision for uniting this country and levelling up with record investments in health, like nothing else in a generation, with 20,000 more police officers and more funding for every primary and secondary school in the country—levelling up across this whole United Kingdom. It will be a Government able to commit to fantastic public services and infrastructure, precisely because we believe in free markets and enterprise. We believe in free markets and enterprise and the wealth-creating sector of the economy in a way that causes a shadow of Transylvanian horror to pass over the semi-communist faces of the Opposition Front Bench.
That is the argument I want to have with the Leader of the Opposition. That is the biggest and most important difference between us—between us one-nation Conservatives and the socialists on the Opposition Benches. There is only one way now to move this country forward and to have that debate, and that is to get Brexit done. There is only one way to get Brexit done, in the face of this unrelenting parliamentary obstructionism—this endless, wilful, fingers crossed, “Not me, guv!” refusal to deliver on the mandate of the people—and that is to refresh this Parliament and to give the people a choice.
I say to the whole House and to all those who may still be hesitating about whether to vote for the Bill that there is only one way to restore the esteem in which our democracy is held and to recover the respect in which Parliament should be held by the people of this country, and that is, finally, to offer ourselves to the judgment of the people of this country. I commend the Bill to the House.
Labour backs a general election because we want this country to be rid of this reckless and destructive Conservative Government. They are a Government that have caused more of our children to live in poverty, more pensioners to be in poverty and more people to be in work and in poverty, more families to be without a home and more people to sleep rough on our streets. They are a Government that have cut and sold off so much of our important public services.
No, I will not. They are a Government that created the vicious hostile environment that saw our own citizens deported. It is time for real change.
I have said consistently, when no deal is off the table we will back an election. Today, after much denial and bluster by the Prime Minister, no deal is officially off the table, so this country can vote for the Government that it deserves.
I shall be voting against an early election today and encourage as many of my colleagues as possible to defy the threats and blandishments, and to do so as well. The uncertainty about the outcome of a general election means that, in reality, no deal has certainly not been taken off the table.
I hope my friend will join in the campaign to defeat this Government and to bring in a Government that will end injustice, poverty and inequality in this country. That is why I joined the Labour party all those years ago, and I will be very proud to take that as our message to the people of this country. I want to give our public services the funding they need and to end the threat of privatisation that hangs over so many public service workers; to stop the grotesque poverty and inequality in our country; to rebuild the economy in every region and every nation of this country; to tackle the climate emergency with a green new deal, a green industrial revolution that will bring good quality jobs to many areas of the country that have been denied them by this Government and their Liberal Democrat accomplices during the coalition years; and, after three years of Conservative failure, to get Brexit sorted—the only party that is doing so—by giving people the final say on what happens over Brexit.
We will launch the most ambitious radical campaign for real change in this country, and I look forward to campaigning in a general election all over the country, including in Uxbridge if the Prime Minister is still the Conservative candidate there at that time.
I am extremely grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for giving way. May I say to him that, in the upcoming election, the right of the Scottish people to choose their own future will be at the front and centre? If the Scottish National party wins a majority of seats in Scotland, will he respect that result?
I am looking forward to campaigning all over Scotland to support Labour candidates to be elected in Scotland. Indeed, I was there last weekend, and the enthusiasm of Scottish Labour to get out there and campaign was palpable everywhere. I am delighted to support Scottish Labour in its campaign to bring £70 billion of public investment to Scotland under a Labour Government, which is something that the SNP cannot offer.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I look forward to campaigning with him in Scotland in the upcoming election, but, as he will know, one crucial thing in this election will be the turnout and ensuring that we get as many people out and using their votes as possible. In Scotland especially, it is very dark and very cold. Does he support the idea of having polling day as a public holiday to ensure maximum turnout?
I thank my friend for that intervention and compliment her on her work. I agree that a public holiday on election day would be a very good idea, because it does mean that everyone could then get along to vote without the problems of being at work at that time. It is something that has been discussed before. I do not know all the amendments that are coming up later on this afternoon, Mr Speaker, but if that one were included that would be very welcome indeed.
My right hon. Friend will know—and I raised this yesterday—that I have tabled a cross-party amendment, which is supported by many Labour colleagues, for votes at 16. The Prime Minister talks a lot about the United Kingdom. In Wales and in Scotland, 16-year-olds now have the right to vote in elections and in referendums. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that should be afforded to all 16-year-olds in the United Kingdom.
I thank my friend for that intervention. I am coming on to that in a moment, but I absolutely do agree that all 16-year-olds should have the right to vote, because it seems fundamental to our democracy. After all, it is young people’s future that we will be debating in this election. I thank him for his intervention, and the work that he has done on bringing about parliamentary scrutiny to this whole process.
The House has amended the programme motion and it has done so in a very helpful way that empowers this Chamber, the House of Commons, to amend this legislation. I think we should just reflect for a moment that the Prime Minister was actually trying to stifle parliamentary democracy with an almost unprecedented edict that only the Government could amend their own legislation, which presumably they wrote last night. This idea of their amending today what they wrote last night suggests they have a problem, perhaps, with memory loss—I do not know what it is. I am pleased that those amendments will be debated today.
No, I will not give way.
What this legislation does is sum up in a couple of words the undemocratic and authoritarian instincts of this Government and this Prime Minister in relation to Parliament. I want to put on record my thanks to my friend Stella Creasy for her persistence in tabling that amendment last night, which means that the House will have an opportunity to debate a number of very serious amendments today. We will be seeking to expand the franchise in the December election, which means supporting votes at 16, as is the case now for Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections. It also means that we support the rights of EU citizens with settled status to vote in elections in this country. After all, we do recognise their contribution to our society. We do give them votes in local elections, so it seems to me only logical that, since they have made their future in this country in our society, they should have a right to vote on their future as well, and I look forward to supporting those amendments later on today.
I look forward to getting out on the campaign trail and smashing the Conservatives at the ballot box and returning more Labour colleagues here. I am particularly pleased by what he has just said around EU settled status here. We already allow our Commonwealth citizens to vote in our elections, so can we try to ensure that all EU citizens who are settled here get to vote as well?
My friend is right. Commonwealth citizens have permanently had the right to vote in British elections, and that is absolutely right, and, as far as I know, most Commonwealth countries reciprocate. Our relationship with Ireland means that all Irish nationals have an automatic right to vote in UK elections and vice versa.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman should resume his seat. He has been in the House since 2001 so he is familiar with parliamentary etiquette, which stipulates quite clearly that when somebody who has the Floor is not giving way, he should accept the verdict. He does not have a right to intervene and he should have learned that by now.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I want to make the point that we want any election to involve as many people as possible. It is meant to be a big exercise in democracy, and I hope the amendments—
I have already said that I will not give way, so I say it again for the fourth time—no!
In that election, everyone should have the right to participate. It is their future and this country’s future that is at stake.
The Prime Minister has failed in his promise to be out of the European Union, do or die, on
I very much applaud the Prime Minister for the stand that he has taken continuously over the past months. He is doing the right thing for the right reason. Furthermore, I have listened to the Leader of the Opposition talking about autocratic, undemocratic decision making. Time and again, we have witnessed undemocratic decisions—on the Benn Act and a series of other enactments and motions—continuously over the same period of months.
The Opposition are a disgrace. They have completely undermined the democracy in this House, and have undermined the referendum—or are trying to do so. At last, they have been dragged kicking and screaming to the Dispatch Box, and it sounds as if today they are effectively going to agree that we will have a general election in December. I therefore have absolutely no compunction whatever in condemning them for their shameless behaviour and for voting against motions for an early general election over the last few months.
I am glad to say that I voted against the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill back in 2010 and 2011 during its passage through the House, and I did so for precisely the reasons that we are now having to overcome. I said at the time—on Second Reading and while discussing various amendments—that the provisions of that Bill, which the Bill we are discussing today is at last putting straight, were
“in defiance of the democratic mandate. This is about Whips and patronage;
it has nothing to do with the people outside.”
I said that damage was being done to the people of this country and that there was no mandate
“of any kind for any party, in any manifesto, in any part of the political system.”
I also said that
“a motion can be passed by a simple majority of one, as has been the case from time immemorial—from the very inception of our parliamentary process in what is sometimes described as the ‘mother of Parliaments’. That is now being changed in a manner that will seriously alter the method whereby a Government may fall.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 519, c. 309-312.]
Furthermore, I added that what mattered was the constitutional principle that underpins the basis of having a simple majority in this House; this two-thirds majority has always been wrong.
I will not give way for a very simple reason, which is that both hon. Gentlemen have consistently tried to obstruct Brexit for the most specious and completely unacceptable reasons.
Has the hon. Gentleman completed his oration?
He has. [Interruption.] There is a rather unseemly atmosphere in here. Mr Linden, you are a very over-excitable fellow today; calm yourself. Mr Newlands next to you is clearly moderately embarrassed. He is going to try to encourage you to tread a path of virtue, and we should say three cheers to that. Meanwhile you can smile, Mr Linden, because I am about to call your leader—Mr Ian Blackford.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir William Cash. I have to say that I think he has just written the SNP’s leaflets for our election campaign. He says that we have tried to obstruct Brexit. Well, I would say to the House: guilty as charged. Let me explain exactly why we have done so.
We are used to referendums in Scotland. We have had two: one in 2014 and another in 2016. Crucially, we were told in 2014 that, if Scotland stayed in the United Kingdom, we would be staying in Europe. But more than that—we were told that this was going to be a Union of equals and that Scotland was going to be respected. And what has happened? In the European referendum, Scotland voted to remain in Europe by 62%, and our Parliament and Government have sought to give voice to that. We have published document after document under the title “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, in which we have sought to compromise with the United Kingdom Government, but at every step of the way—whether it was the previous Prime Minister or this one— we have been ignored.
I have repeatedly made the point—I make no apology for making it again today—that SNP Members are simply not prepared to sit back and allow Scotland to be taken out of the European Union against its will. On that basis, I welcome the opportunity of an election. Make no mistake, the coming election will be for the right of Scotland to determine its own future. We will reflect on everything that has happened since 2017, when 13 Scottish Conservatives were temporarily elected to this House. I say “temporarily” because they have voted against Scotland’s interests every step of the way, and have given no consideration to the fact that every single local authority area in Scotland voted to remain.
Just think about what Brexit would do to Scotland. Just think about the challenge we face in growing our population—a challenge that we have had for decades, but one that we have risen to on the basis of the free movement of people. Our economy is growing and European citizens have made a contribution to that economy. We have collectively benefited from the right to live, work and travel in 28 EU member states. We voted to retain those rights, yet the Conservatives want to take us out, so I really look forward to the election, when we can reinforce the mandate that we already have from the Scottish election in 2016, when the people of Scotland yet again voted the SNP into power. We have a mandate for an independence referendum, and it ill behoves this House to frustrate the legitimate demands of our Parliament and our Government. If the people of Scotland back the SNP again in the coming election, it has to be the case that we have the right to determine our future.
I am grateful that the European Union has granted us an extension to the end of January, and we must use the time wisely. But I say to our friends in Europe: please remember to stand by Scotland in our hour of need; and, as our dear friend Alyn Smith said in the European Parliament, keep a light on for Scotland because we are coming back. And that is because we are ambitious for our country. We want to grow our economy, to continue to benefit from the single market and the customs union, to make Scotland a destination in Europe, and to complete the journey that Scotland embarked on with devolution 20 years ago. We have a Parliament that has delivered for the people of Scotland and that is pushing on with addressing the challenge of climate change. We have a Parliament that is doing its job and has delivered education free at the point of need, not based on people’s ability to pay. I could go on about the differences between the way in which the Scottish Government and the UK Government have delivered for our people, and about the growing self-confidence that we see in Scotland.
As my right hon. Friend spells out, it is going to be quite straightforward for the SNP to write its manifesto for the upcoming election. The Prime Minister has failed in his promise of “do or die”, and the Scottish Conservatives have been acting against the interests of the people of Scotland and the against the wishes in their referendum in 2016, so I wonder how easy it will be for them to be trusted in this election. Is it not true that in that election we cannot give the Scottish Conservatives or this Prime Minister any chance at all?
Absolutely, and that allows me to ask the question: where is the Prime Minister? He seems to have beetled and scuttled out of the Chamber. One wonders if he is away to dig a ditch.
One of the things I can be proud of is that we gave 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in the 2014 referendum in Scotland. Why? Because it was about their future; it was a principled decision that those who follow us, who are going to be living and working in our country, have the right to a say in its future. The SNP calls on Members to reduce the voting age to 16 for all elections, and to extend the franchise to citizens of the European Union. As we have heard in this debate, citizens from the Commonwealth are given the right to vote in our election. Why is it the case that European nationals, who are our friends—who work with us and are part of our community, and whose rights are affected by what the Conservatives want to do—do not have the right to vote in our elections? It is an absolute disgrace. Those who pay taxes in our country should have rights of representation.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether any other European countries offer European citizens not from their country the right to vote in their national elections?
If the hon. Lady had been listening, I just explained that we do that in Scotland. The problem for the Tories is that they can never make a judgment on what is the right thing to do. We are talking about EU citizens who are losing their rights.
“Those guarantees, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we are giving unilaterally, in a supererogatory way.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 663, c. 1498.]
Well, there we are—the words of the Prime Minister, doing exactly what we are calling for, yet we find that the Conservatives are blind to these calls. I therefore expect the Government today to look positively on any amendments that come forward for EU nationals. The Government have nothing to fear from extending the franchise—and of course one very important and salient point is that EU nationals are already on the voters register because they are allowed to vote in local elections. There is no moral reason for the Government not to allow this.
This is about choosing our future: our future in Europe. It is about choosing freedom from austerity. It is about opportunity. We cannot be held back any more by Westminster. The SNP will take that message to the public. Many decades ago it was said in a letter by Steinbeck to Mrs Kennedy that Scotland is not a lost cause—Scotland is a cause unwon. We will win that battle. Scotland will become an independent country and the general election will be an important step on the way to completing that journey.
When I first arrived in this House as a new MP nearly two and a half years ago, I knew that delivering Brexit would be a complex problem. I knew that achieving a negotiation between our country and our 27 nearest neighbours was going to be a huge challenge and cover many areas. I also knew that leaving the EU with a deal was in the best interests of so many of our constituents, especially those who have shared families with other residents from other EU countries, those who have jobs in companies that trade with Europe, those who are involved in our security services and want to share data with our closest allies, and those in our scientific community who often work on collaborative projects that make a difference to our world’s future and want to continue to work with those in our neighbouring countries easily.
The deal that the previous Prime Minister delivered was challenging. Some people thought that the backstop might last forever. I always saw it as a temporary issue, but I saw it as a way to deliver Brexit and move on. I voted for it three times. Our current Prime Minister has done what nobody thought he would achieve. He has reopened the negotiations and found a different way to resolve the incredibly complex situation in Northern Ireland; it is a solution that keeps open the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I voted for that deal too, and many colleagues from the Opposition Benches were brave enough to come through the Lobby with us to support it. I would have liked to see the programme motion carried. I believe that our constituents expect us to roll up our sleeves and work day and night to get that deal over the line. I would have liked to see a second programme motion, but I genuinely do not believe that the Opposition would have supported it.
I absolutely agree, because the deal is in the interests of our country and has been negotiated with 27 other countries.
Continuing this uncertainty does not solve anything. A second referendum will not solve the uncertainty. The Labour policy to try to renegotiate and then have another referendum and then another one does not solve the problem.
The hon. Lady makes the case that a second referendum will not solve the Brexit impasse. I would like her to elaborate on that. On the question of the Bill which the Prime Minister proposed unamended and has now pulled, so this House cannot take it forward, surely a referendum on whether or not that proceeds would give a definitive outcome. Perhaps if the House had allowed the British public a vote on the previous Prime Minister’s deal, we could have had a definitive outcome many, many months ago.
The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal was pulled the moment the programme motion was rejected—sadly. If I believed that the Opposition truly wanted to have a couple of extra days to scrutinise it, I would give them another chance, but they proved otherwise again and again when they failed to turn up to scrutiny Committees and debates in this House.
Does the hon. Lady recognise that for the majority of Members here who are concerned that we are leaving the EU, the main issue was not the backstop—it was a lack of clarity about the future relationship with our European neighbours and trading partners, and this second deal does not change that one iota?
The EU has made it clear since day one that we cannot discuss the detail on the future partnership until we have agreed the terms of withdrawal. That is in article 50—read it. It is only the tiniest paragraph, but it makes that clear.
The document on the future relationship covers a wide range of different issues. I have been impressed by how much the EU27 have been prepared to put into that document, including areas such as co-operation on science and security, access to trade and the deepest free trade agreement. It details important issues such as how financial services can work together in our regulatory environment, and why sharing data is so important. That is all in the future framework, but we cannot discuss the detail of it until we have agreed the terms of exit. Every time the Opposition parties say otherwise, they are being disingenuous with the British people.
Saying that we will go back and try to have another referendum in a constituency such as mine, which voted 51:49, will not heal the divisions. It just leads to a lack of decisions. In my constituency, people want to get on and focus on other things: the more police that they are now seeing on the streets, the improvements that we are seeing in our nearby hospital, the money that is coming into our NHS, the money that our schools have been asking for and is now being delivered, the infrastructure improvements that have just given my constituency the largest housing infrastructure grant in the country and unlocked a railway station that has been blocked for 20 years, and the work that we are doing on the environment—incidentally, the Lib Dems could not be bothered to turn up to the debate on the Environment Bill last night. My constituents want us to be working on those issues that affect them and their future, and not going round and round in circles on how we resolve Brexit.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I listened closely to the comments made by Vicky Ford. She alluded to the Lib Dems not being present last night. That is not the case. Our spokesperson for the environment—my hon. Friend Jane Dodds—was here for the entirety of the debate, as I understand it from Caroline Lucas, so I would like that to be amended in the record.
The hon. Lady has amended the record. [Interruption.] No, no, no—I do not require any help from the hon. Member for Chelmsford. I am perfectly capable of adjudicating upon these matters on the strength of 10 and a quarter years in the Chair without her sedentary chuntering. Luciana Berger has corrected the record as she sees it, and the hon. Member for Chelmsford appears to accept the veracity of what she said. I was not here for that debate, but I know that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion orated in the debate, because I saw it on the annunciator. She could not have done so if she was not here. She did, so she was here.
Oh, if you really feel it is necessary.
I am perfectly well aware of that. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree has corrected the record as far as her party is concerned. She referred to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, who was here and did speak. With the greatest of respect, there is nothing to add. A lot of other colleagues wish to speak in the debate, from whom we can now hear and in whose contributions I am sure everybody is interested.
The question that we are grappling with in this House and, indeed, in the wider country is not just a narrow matter of our relationship with the European Union, although this debate on Brexit has exposed significant differences in how people feel about that. People’s identities of remain or leave run deep, because this is not only about whether we remain in the EU or leave; it is about who we are as a country. It is about our values. It is about whether we are open, inclusive and internationalist in our outlook, facing the future, or whether we are closed and insular, wanting to pull up the drawbridge and look to the past. That is the key question that we, as a country, need to resolve.
The Prime Minister talked about “one whole United Kingdom”. I thought he had a cheek, because he has not been acting in a way that protects our whole United Kingdom. He has sold out the people of Northern Ireland with the deal he has done with the EU. This is a man who said that no Conservative Prime Minister should ever accept a border in the Irish Sea, yet that is exactly what he has done. My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I think that our United Kingdom is something precious that is worth protecting, and that Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are stronger together.
If there was a vote across the whole country—one person, one vote—on the Prime Minister’s deal, my view is that the majority of people would vote remain. Does the hon. Lady agree that there is a great fear that, with a minority of votes, the Tories could get a majority of seats if the remain side splits, and we will end up with Brexit, thanks to her provocation?
The hon. Gentleman and I have both been campaigning for a people’s vote. I believe that the ideal way to resolve this issue is to put this specific Brexit deal to the public. He is right; I think that the public would be likely to reject this bad Brexit deal, because it is a bad deal. If we look at the polls, we have to go back some way to find the leave vote being ahead of remain, and that has been an increasingly consistent pattern in the last couple of years.
People who support Brexit struggle to agree among themselves what Brexit should look like—we see it day in, day out in this Chamber. To some people, the Prime Minister’s deal is not Brexity enough, and other people want to see a softer Brexit. The suggestion that there is a majority in the country for this specific Brexit path is wrong, which is why this needs to be put to the people for a final say. But I have campaigned for that. I have marched for that. We have argued for that. We have tabled amendments for that. We have not been able to secure it, and my fear is that we will not in this Parliament. We do not have the luxury of time, because the EU has given us an extension to
The hon. Lady and I have both stood on a platform asking for a people’s vote. My constituency is the second youngest in the country. Does she agree that it is essential that 16-year-olds have the vote, to save their future?
The hon. Lady and I agree on much. I do want 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to be able to vote. The time for that change is coming, and I will always vote to support 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds having the right to vote. I have debated this issue over many years with many MPs, and Members who are sceptical should look at the success of votes at 16 in Scotland. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon on polling day, we see young people from fifth year and sixth year leaving school, walking down the road and going en masse to the polling station. It is a sight to behold, and it is a positive step. Many Members—particularly Conservative Members— in Scotland who were sceptical have come round to the idea after seeing that it is a successful change. Of course I will support that.
Has the hon. Lady considered the Liberal Democrats’ contribution to the present predicament? Their cannibalisation by the Conservatives in 2015—helped by their record in coalition, particularly on tuition fees—gave David Cameron the majority to get the referendum legislation through. Why on earth is she now making it worse by pushing for this early date? The uncertainty of the outcome of a general election certainly does not take no deal off the table.
While the Liberal Democrats were in coalition, there was not a referendum on our membership of the European Union. In fact, we passed a law to say that that should only happen when there was a significant treaty change. The loss of Liberal Democrats from the Government allowed that to be pushed through the House of Commons.
The hon. Lady says that there was not a referendum under the coalition as a result of the Liberal Democrats. I was here in 2008, and she said in this Chamber, “We are being gagged. Only the Liberal Democrats will offer an in/out referendum.” The Liberal Democrats were actively campaigning for that. They were saying that the Conservatives were only offering a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, while they would give the public a say. Whatever happened in coalition, she has long been a campaigner for an in/out referendum.
We then voted to pass an Act of Parliament to say that that should happen at the point of significant treaty change, which we have not seen. I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She has a beautiful constituency, which I am already very familiar with, and I expect to be there more in the coming weeks.
As I was saying, the Prime Minister has not supported the United Kingdom. He has agreed to a border down the Irish sea, bluntly, because he does not care sufficiently enough. This is all about him; it is not even about what he thinks is right for the country. There are different views on the European Union across this House. Sir William Cash, who was in his place earlier, has had a very consistent view on membership of the European Union. I have taken a different view, but most people in this House know where they stand on our membership of the EU. They do not have to write two different newspaper articles to decide which way to come down on that matter, and they would not make such a decision on the basis of what is more likely to get them elected as leader of their party.
The fact that the Prime Minister was prepared to make that call in his own interest, rather than in the national interest, proves he is not fit to be Prime Minister. This is a man who has been prepared to say anything and sell out anyone to become Prime Minister. No wonder people do not trust him. He said that he would get a great deal. What has he brought forward? It is an atrocious deal. It is bad for our NHS. We have already lost 5,000 nurses from the European Union 27 countries. It is a bad deal for our security. It is a bad deal for our economy—so bad that the Government have not even published an economic impact assessment. So much for a party that liked to say it was one of economic competence. Now it has even given up doing the analysis because it knows the results would be so bad. It is a bad deal for workers’ rights and environmental protections, which have been removed from the treaty and put into a declaration that is not worth the paper it is written on.
The Prime Minister also said that we would leave on
On the question of trust, has not the hon. Lady said that her party’s policy is to have a second referendum, but if the referendum comes up with the wrong result, she will ignore it, while if that does not happen and her party gets into a majority Government, she will just dispense with article 50 and ignore 17.4 million people? Why should anybody trust what she says, and why should anybody believe that she has any truck in being called a Liberal Democrat any more?
I really have to scotch this suggestion. I am not going to change my basic belief, and, to be honest, I do not think there are many in this House who would do so. Had we voted to remain in 2016, I would not have expected the hon. Member for Stone suddenly to think that being a member of the European Union was a good idea. Of course, I will always think it a good idea to be a member of the European Union, but what would be the case—
I have not finished answering the hon. Gentleman’s colleague.
If we had a people’s vote on the deal and there was a vote in favour, I would at least have confidence that there was a majority view in the country in favour of leaving under those specific circumstances. Right now, I have no confidence about that whatsoever. Tim Loughton mentioned that it is the policy of the Liberal Democrats to go into a general election and say to people, “We are a party of remain. We believe that our best future is in the European Union. If you vote Liberal Democrat, we will do everything we can to stop Brexit. If you elect a majority Liberal Democrat Government, we will revoke article 50. If we are in that situation, as Prime Minister, I will revoke article 50 on day one.” That is setting out what we plan to do and, if we are elected and win the election, then doing it, which is exactly the essence of democracy.
I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s point. I am going to make some progress and let other people contribute to this debate.
We as a country face huge challenges. We have a mental health crisis, particularly among young people, that needs to be tackled. We have schools that urgently need investment to make them world-class centres of learning. We need to take bold action to tackle the climate emergency, because the scientists tell us that time is running out. However, we have huge opportunities and huge reasons be hopeful. We have people with huge innovation and ingenuity in our universities and our businesses, and there is a spirit of entrepreneurialism in our country. We are in the middle of a technological revolution that can help provide answers to the climate emergency, to the shared problems that we face and to improve our health and wellbeing for the future. When I speak to young people—whether they are in schools in my constituency, the climate strikers or the people on the marches about remaining in the EU—I hear their energy and enthusiasm, which should be an inspiration to us all.
As members of the European Union, working with our closest neighbours as a United Kingdom family of nations—strong together, working within the EU—we can reshape our economy, harness the technological revolution and build a brighter future. That is the message the Liberal Democrats will be taking to the country in this general election.
I think we have had a filibustering of democracy for much of the last year. We have had endless games and arcane procedures to prevent Brexit, and we are seeing the same games today to prevent a general election. I think this Parliament is really reaching new levels of absurdity. In the Leader of the Opposition, we have—perhaps for the first time in history—a man who can neither lead nor oppose. I still do not quite understand whether he is supporting an election today. We need an election or we need Brexit. The Labour party voted against the Brexit timetable motion, which means that we cannot proceed. Therefore, we have to go for plan B, which is an election.
May I say to the hon. Gentleman that he is just wrong? On the morning of the vote on the first programme motion, the Labour side of the usual channels asked for a meeting, but it was refused by the Government. It is now up to the Government to lay down a new programme motion, but they have refused to do that. It is still within the powers of the Government to do it.
I have absolutely no doubt, given the bad faith that has been exhibited over Brexit and this election, that if the Government came forward with a new timetable motion, the Labour party would find ways of picking it apart endlessly.
No, it is worse than that. In the morning, the Labour Chief Whip asked through the usual channels whether he would be able to sit down to talk about a programme motion. It was the Government who refused to do that, and it is the Government who are refusing to bring back a programme motion. The idea that somehow this House is stopping debate on the withdrawal Bill is absolutely not true.
If I may, I would not mind making a bit of progress.
On the grounds of consensus, why do the hon. Gentleman’s Front Benchers not come and say that? They should come and ask to renegotiate a programme motion now.
We opposed the programme motion because a major constitutional Act would have been put in place that was going to be discussed within 48 hours? The Wild Animals in Circuses Bill got more than that on the Floor of the House. The Government could have come back and said, “Right, we’ll negotiate on a programme motion”. The usual channels on the Labour side were offering that, but it is up to the Government to do it. We have always said—this has been said by the Leader of the Opposition—that we would sit down to talk about a programme motion. It is the Government who have refused to do it, not the Opposition.
I would like to just answer and then move on, if I may.
Every time we bring something to this House, the House tries to turn it into the political equivalent of a pushmi-pullyu. We tried to put a timetable motion through, and Labour Members voted against it, but now they want a timetable motion. You were offered three times—
I am not giving way because I want to answer the point made by Mr Jones. It is really important, and I would like to continue to make my point. Three times we had a withdrawal agreement this summer, and three times it was voted against, but now we are told you want that withdrawal agreement again. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman votes against, a week later they say, “Oh, why didn’t we get that back again?”
I ask the hon. Gentleman a simple question. If the Government are so proud of the withdrawal agreement they have drawn up, why do they refuse to let the House discuss it? The House proposed a programme motion that could actually move it on today. If anyone is stopping Brexit, it is the Government.
I do not want an extended debate on this, but there is another good reason why the hon. Gentleman, despite his certainty, is absolutely wrong. The Government have no control of the timetable because they have lost their majority by expelling Conservative Members with long and proud service, losing people to defections and losing the support of the Democratic Unionist party. The reason is, therefore, that the Government have been badly and recklessly led.
No. I am making an intervention on my hon. Friend. Eventually there was a consensus on the withdrawal agreement, so the next point of attack became how long we could discuss it. It is obvious to the country that there is a process that is coming to a conclusion. The conclusion should be that the withdrawal agreement is passed to give business and people certainty. Arguing about it will not get us anywhere.
My hon. Friend is spot on. To answer Paul Farrelly, I think that the Prime Minister is acting in good faith. I personally have found him entirely reasonable in my dealings with him in the past couple of years. He was very supportive of a project that I helped to write earlier this year—he did not have to be.
The Prime Minister is trying to keep a promise that was made to the British people. In the Labour party manifesto, which Labour Members stood on, there was a promise to respect the referendum.
No, please let me continue. I have not yet learned to say no—I need to do so. Nyet!
In the Labour party manifesto—I think on page 24 —Labour Members collectively promised to respect the referendum result. That was patently in bad faith because they have not yet done so. The Prime Minister, believe it or not, is trying to respect the referendum result that was given to him in the mandate of 2016. I am afraid to say that the Labour party is trying to do everything it can to avoid respecting the manifesto commitment in 2017. That is why my first sentence referred to filibustering democracy.
I have respect for the hon. Gentleman. However, the Labour party did not stand on a manifesto to sell the British public down the river. Does he accept that perhaps our reason for not voting for the withdrawal agreement three times is that it was an utter load of rubbish?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. The question was not framed in pejorative terms: are you voting for Britain to be greater, Britain to be smaller, Britain to be richer, Britain to be poorer? The question was a simple one: do you want Britain to leave the European Union?
Order. I have great regard for the hon. Gentleman’s perspicacity, but not for his failure to adhere to parliamentary rules. The word “you” should not as a foreign body invade his speeches. “You” refers to the Chair. I have taken no stance on these matters.
Roughly, yes. About 10 minutes ago, I was making the point that we needed a new Parliament, before I faced a host of helpful interventions from Labour Members. We need a new Parliament because we spend so much time talking about the same old thing; talking about Brexit endlessly, when there is so much else out there.
Please let me make some progress. I will let the right hon. Gentleman intervene a little later.
We need a new Parliament because there are so many other things that we need to debate. I am interested in debating the rise of autocracies in the world. We have significant issues regarding Huawei.
My hon. Friend has just said that we need a new Parliament as if somehow a totally different electorate will be voting for people to represent them. Does he think that the people of our country made a mistake in 2017 with the Parliament they elected?
No. My right hon. Friend makes a good point. I do not think the people made a mistake and one has to respect what they did. They read the Conservative and Labour manifestos and 80% of Members were elected on a pledge to respect the wishes of the people in the 2016 referendum.
But my hon. Friend will also know that at the bottom of page 36 of the Conservative manifesto it was clear that the party’s intention was to leave the European Union with both a withdrawal agreement and a future partnership agreed by the end of the article 50 period. Surely he accepts that that is now not what is being proposed, so the current proposal does not deliver what the Conservative party manifesto set out at the last election.
Again, my right hon. Friend makes a perceptive point. It is not from lack of trying. We have had two withdrawal Bills. We have almost got to the point of a “take your pick” withdrawal Bill. We had one this summer, which Labour Members relentlessly voted against. Now many of them wish that they had not done so, because, funnily enough, they like the new withdrawal Bill even less.
The Conservative party is, of course, the Conservative and Unionist party and I believe in equality across the Union. Many young people in my constituency might like the idea of votes at 16. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be unfair if 16-year-olds had them in Scotland and in Wales, but not in England, and that instead of raising such topics at the last minute time should be given to consider whether they are deliverable?
I thank my hon. Friend for her point. Regardless of whether one agrees with the principle, we almost certainly do not have time to introduce such a measure by
I am sorry, but I do not buy the claim that we do not have time to deal with 16 and 17-year-olds voting. We have tabled amendments and spoken about the matter at every opportunity we have had in the House since 2015. On every occasion the Conservative Government have said that it is not the right time to do it. Why not just do it now?
Is it not the case that the Labour party voted for Brexit—the one that was in our manifesto, rather than the Government’s version of Brexit? Labour has called for a customs union, but the Government have not offered that. Why should we support the Government’s deal, when it is not the promise we made to our own electorate?
I suspect the answer to that is that I am sure the hon. Gentleman will enjoy telling his electorate why Brexit has not been passed. The hon. Gentleman believes that that is a competent answer. We look forward to seeing him back here. I clearly hope very much that I will be back here too, but I need to explain to my electorate why Opposition Members keep voting against Brexit and, thus far, keep voting against a general election.
The hon. Gentleman says that Labour Members are constantly voting against Brexit, but he should remember that for two years and eight months this House had no say on Brexit because it was an internal debate within the Conservative party. He says that the Labour party opposed the deals. If he reads the Labour party manifesto, he will see that I stood on a clear commitment to not support no deal, and that a customs union and close integration with our European allies was key. My colleagues and I have stuck to our manifesto, and the idea that we have spent three years discussing Brexit is just not true.
I would say that we have arguably spent 25 years debating it, certainly in some parts of Britain. We then spent months before an election campaign and a couple of years afterwards debating it. The right hon. Gentleman is right to point out that those of us on the Government Benches are not perfect and that there was argument within the Conservative party. Arguably, we spent too long trying to work out the sort of Brexit that we wanted. I accept that point. It would be churlish of me to say that we are perfect and that the right hon. Gentleman’s side is not, but there is a basic principle here which I am very happy to explain to the good folks on the Isle of Wight. It is this: we have tried repeatedly to push through a realistic and sensible Brexit deal. We tried three times this summer. We tried again with the Prime Minister’s very good withdrawal deal. Granted, I did not like some elements relating to Northern Ireland, but we have to move on and try to make the best of what we can. We have not got that, because it has not been supported by this House. We then said that we need to go back to the people, but that has not been supported by this House. That is why I said a few minutes ago that the right hon. Gentleman’s leader is the first Leader of the Opposition in history who has not led and not opposed. I want him to do that because we need to have a general election.
The hon. Gentleman says he will vote for any Brexit that comes forward. It has been seven or eight days now and the withdrawal agreement Bill has not been brought forward. I do not know why—it is rumoured that the Government are on strike and will not bring it back. In the Bill is an amendment for a customs union. He says he will vote for any sensible option to get it through. Why does he not encourage the Prime Minister to bring the Bill back, vote for a customs union and get Brexit done?
For me, a customs union is not a realistic Brexit and it is not the kind of Brexit that was voted for. That is not the sort of Brexit that many Labour voters want to see either. The Labour party actually did quite well in my patch at the last election. It got 16,000 or 17,000 votes. Half of those votes were from people who wanted Brexit and I think they will be very disappointed by the behaviour of the hon. Gentleman’s leadership in not voting for Brexit. I do not think it is in the interests of his party either. We all want to move on, because there is so much else to do.
Does my hon. Friend not agree with me that this election provides a fantastic opportunity for each of the main parties to set out in principle what they want to see from Brexit, and to finally address the point that the public voted to leave the European Union but are leaving it to parliamentarians to decide the best way of delivering Brexit? It is therefore incumbent on both main parties to set out their Brexit proposals. We can at least unite in this fractious Chamber by agreeing that no deal is not an option and that those who voted to stop no deal are the real heroes of Parliament.
May I say to the hon. Gentleman that it is normally known in the trade as in-flight refuelling?
I have just been refuelled, Mr Speaker.
We were talking about the need for a new Parliament. There are many things that I would like a Parliament to spend much more time talking about instead of being so focused on Brexit. The rise of autocracies is a very serious issue. On Huawei, do we allow the use in this country of high tech from a communist party state, especially if its stated aim is to dominate global 5G in the years to come? I am wary of making the world safe for autocracies and one-party states. We need time to debate that.
Another issue is the ongoing disaster of Syria and the clear mistakes made by President Trump. There is also the need for integration of overseas foreign policy. We also have an exciting domestic agenda and I want us to talk more about that.
Finally, I want an Isle of Wight deal so that our public services are of the same standard as those on the mainland, or the north island, as we call it. Most parts of the United Kingdom that are isolated by water—in other words, islands—either have a fixed link, which we are never going to have because it would cost £3 billion, or more money through increased public expenditure, but the Island has neither, and that has been a structural flaw for many years.
The best way to deal with all of those problems is for us to agree to an election and to listen to our constituents, the folks in the places that we care for and love—
Fantastic. For all those reasons, I very much want an election if we cannot have Brexit. Given that, thanks to the Labour party, Brexit now seems to be off the table, an election is the way forward.
I begin with the revolutionary thought that if something was a bad idea yesterday, it might just be a bad idea today. I do not believe that the Prime Minister has been pushing for an election because it is impossible to get his deal through. After all, the proposal received its Second Reading last week. This is being done because the Prime Minister wants to avoid proper scrutiny of his proposals before he calls an election, and he has been desperate to run this election since the day he took office, no matter what he says about his reluctance.
There are two reasons that should give us pause for thought. First, depending on the outcome of an election, this does not take no deal off the table. The Prime Minister has made sure of that himself, through his own petulant decision to pull his withdrawal Bill before it could complete its parliamentary stages—before we could even begin the detailed scrutiny that a measure of this importance deserves. If no withdrawal Bill is being discussed before the poll takes place, no deal is still a possibility.
Moreover, we are only in the first phase of this negotiation. Not only is no deal a possibility in the first phase of withdrawal, but, as we know from the political declaration placed before us a week or so ago, it is also a distinct possibility in the second phase. In fact, it is more likely in the altered political declaration than it has been in the past. The possibility of a no-deal exit has not been removed. That is my first point.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the only way to completely remove no deal from the table is either to revoke, which his party says it does not want at the moment, or to agree a deal, which his party blocks?
Those are not the only ways. There are three ways to avoid no deal: we can revoke, as the hon. Lady says, but that is not something we should do without the people having a say; we can agree a deal; or we can go back to the people. There is more than one possibility.
I would like to proceed.
Secondly, what is the right way to reach a resolution on an issue that has been so difficult for us and for the country? Surely the right way to reach a resolution on Brexit, and on the proposals before us, is to properly and fully consider them—not to have the pre-cooked, pre-prepared tantrums of the Prime Minister. The withdrawal agreement Bill is a hugely important piece of legislation—perhaps the most important that this House has considered for many years—and it deserved proper scrutiny.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is simply a dreadful deal, that the attack on workers’ rights, environmental protections and consumer protections is simply appalling, and that we need time to discuss these important matters?
I do. There are many other points about this deal that we should properly explore, not least because for the first time, the proposal before us is to have two Brexits, not one—one Brexit for one part of the country and another Brexit for the rest of the United Kingdom.
There are those who will say, “You have been discussing all this for three years; you have had plenty of time,” but as others have said in this debate, much of that time was taken up by an internal negotiation within the Conservative party and the Cabinet, with multiple Cabinet resignations, and the specific proposals before us were published only a couple of weeks ago. They are different from the proposals in the past.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he could not vote for the agreement because it still allowed the possibility of no deal and because that possibility of no deal could happen after the agreement was passed, and following the subsequent negotiations about the nature of the deal. So on that basis, he could never vote for a deal. There is all this nonsense about how we need more time for scrutiny and how all these years were wasted, but he was never going to vote for a European withdrawal Bill. He pledged in his party’s manifesto to uphold Brexit, but he is not going to do that. The only way out of this, therefore, is to have this election, which is why he should vote for it.
I voted for a number of proposals that would have kept us close to the EU economically, including customs unions, single market arrangements and other proposals. It is not the case that I have opposed everything.
Anyone on the Government Benches who voted against the withdrawal agreement proposed by the last Prime Minister cannot really complain if other people voted against different versions of Brexit, because they clearly subscribe to the principle that their interpretation of Brexit should guide their vote.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very wise point. When hon. Members such as Tim Loughton say, “You have blocked everything”, it is worth remembering that the people who were most vociferously opposed to the deal of the previous Prime Minister, Mrs May, were Members from her party, some of whom now occupy Cabinet positions. That is important in the argument to come.
The proposals before us were published only a couple of weeks ago and they depart from the previous proposals in several important ways. First, as I said, they propose two different Brexits for different parts of the UK—one for Northern Ireland and the other for the rest of the UK. Secondly, they chart a course for the future that is much more divergent on some of the rights that hon. Members have mentioned than was the case previously.
I am going to wind up soon. In my view, the right way to have dealt with this issue is not to do what the Prime Minister has wanted to do since day one—to go for an election before these proposals could properly and fully be scrutinised by this House and the public—but to have proper scrutiny and debates and consider the amendments that would have been put forward. If we want to consult the public again on Brexit—as the Prime Minister said he wants to do time after time—and let them decide, why not consult them on the specific Brexit proposals of which he is now the champion? For those reasons, I do not think this is the only way to go.
Since the day he took office, it has been part of the Prime Minister’s plan to run a people versus Parliament campaign, despite having opposed several Brexit deals himself, and to blame everyone except the champions of this project for its not proceeding—to blame the European Commission, Parliament and sometimes the civil services and judges. But while this may have been part of his plan since day one, not all of us are willing to fold into it this evening.
It is important that we have a general election. When the question about Brexit was asked in 2016, it was a matter of which side of the argument people supported. Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who looks as if she is about to leave her seat, says she looks forward to being in my constituency more often. I say to her: thank you—we have had the magazine with your name all over it. The hon. Lady, who is now leaving the debate, is promoting herself in my constituency as the next Prime Minister, so it is important that we look at what is being heralded by parties such as the Liberal Democrats in the next election.
When we had that 2016 question, it was not a tribal question; the question for us on the doorstep was not: “Is yours a party of remain or leave?” We were empowered to campaign for whichever side of the argument suited us best, and we all pledged to respect the result, whether we knocked on the door and said “I’d prefer to leave” or “I’d prefer to remain”. I stood in the marketplace in St Albans behind a market stall manned by Conservatives, some supporting remain and some supporting leave, showing that our party respected the right of people to determine that question, not along party lines but having lived the European project for 40-odd years. Some, including me, had never had the opportunity to vote on the matter; others were being asked a second time.
As I said in an intervention on the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who has now gone, along with all her colleagues—[Interruption.] Oh, sorry. I did not recognise Jamie Stone back there. He is a worthy stalwart, staying for the debate, which is not something the Liberal Democrats do very often. I am pleased he is here for my remarks.
As I said, the parties were free to campaign, and as I said to the hon. Lady, in 2008, for purposes of electoral expediency, seeing that David Cameron and the Conservatives—I was serving here at the time—were uncertain whether to offer a debate on the Lisbon treaty, which was being passed by the then Labour Government, the Liberal Democrats campaigned with a great big photograph of Nick Clegg all over a leaflet saying: “We are the party to offer a referendum.”
My hon. Friend articulately expresses how the EU referendum result was not based on what parties campaigned for. Does she agree that it was not a country-by-country or constituency-by-constituency vote, but that it came down to every individual vote by every citizen across the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important that we go back and look at how we got to where we are in order to understand where we are going next. I am sorry about the history lesson, but it was in 2008 that the campaign started gathering momentum, simply because the Liberal Democrats were saying, “Only we will give you the choice.” I do not remember then or any time in between, until now, when it seems politically expedient, that any party campaigned to revoke. All of us, on whichever side of the in/out binary argument we stood, were free to campaign, hence the divide and the fact that there are Members with firmly held views, either for remain or leave, on each side of the House. Now the House and the political groupings have turned it into a party political campaign, and that is the problem.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady’s attack on the Liberal Democrats. I did not vote for the referendum legislation, and I did not vote to trigger article 50, so I am certainly not going to vote for an early general election, which is opportunism from the Prime Minister and opportunism from the Liberal Democrats. However, the hon. Lady has a chance today to agree with the Liberal Democrats, because an amendment, if selected, could change the date to
I assume that the word “you” was directed not at you, Mr Speaker, but at me, so I do not expect you to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question and tell us why you are not changing the date to the 9th, but I will answer it and say that I do not think the public will care one way or another. We have a tradition in this country of holding elections on Thursdays, but as for the guff and nonsense that we have heard in this place about people going to Christmas parties and school plays and all the rest of it, the public will think that that is a pretty trivial argument. I do not think it amounts to a hill of beans now: I think that the public are absolutely fed up.
My right hon. Friend tempts me, and since there are no time limits, I may well wax lyrical on that point. However, it is important for us to get to the nub of the matter, which is that we have moved this away from being a choice for the people. I knocked on doors, and people said, “I am for leave” or “I am for remain”—
May I finish this point first? Otherwise I could be speaking for hours, and I am sure the House would rather I did not detain it for that long.
People came up to that market stall and said that they were for leave or for remain. I did not ask them, “Do you vote Liberal Democrat, do you vote Green, do you vote Labour?” Indeed, members of the Labour party have suggested that they agree with my views, while members of the Conservative party, such as my right hon. Friend Mr Vaizey, probably disagreed with my views at the time. All of us, at the time—well, I believe that the Liberal Democrats said that they would respect the vote—gave the impression that it was a once-in-a-lifetime choice, and a once-in-a-lifetime decision on which we would not renege and which we would not revoke: it would be delivered. It then came to a Parliament whose members were subsequently elected on the basis of their own political tribes.
Will the hon. Lady please explain to me why the Government have not got Brexit through when they have had a majority for three years?
Just about everyone in the Chamber said that they respected the result of the 2016 referendum and stood on manifestos in 2017 saying that they would honour that result. Why does my hon. Friend think they have backtracked and are retreating into their political tribes in respect of this very important issue?
I can only hazard a guess that certain parties saw it as politically expedient to suggest or imply, in 2008 in the case of the Liberal Democrats or in 2017 in the case of the Conservatives and the Labour party, that they would indeed offer, or respect, a referendum. Now too many of the parties are finding it politically difficult.
This is not about us. It is not about individual parts of the United Kingdom and individual constituencies. That is not how the referendum campaign went. Nobody came and asked us questions on a constituency-by-constituency, country-by-country or region-by-region basis. We are in this mess now because we have turned the issue into a political football.
On the subject of football, if the hon. Lady would like to buy my new book on football, she is very welcome—and I thank her for allowing me to plug it.
The hon. Lady talks about manifestos; I stood on that manifesto in 2017 and was the director of Scottish Labour for the single market and the customs union, which would have taken us out of the European Union, but, given that the Conservative party decided not to try to seek a consensus and instead turned to its own tribes with the Prime Minister pandering to the extreme right, that was no longer on the table and therefore I moved to a position that if it is not on the table the best deal is to put it back to the people and let them decide.
On a scintilla of that argument I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, I am going to go back to the intervention of my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight about referendums, and the result the hon. Gentleman said he was not happy with is what he would now like to see not delivered in that particular way. His Front Bench, unfortunately, wishes to have the perverse situation of going back to the European Union, shredding the deal that has been agreed by 27 countries and that seems perfectly fit for purpose, if not perfect, and coming back with a better deal—because they are bound to offer the hon. Gentleman’s Front Bench a better deal!—in the full knowledge that the deal that would be better will then be campaigned against. It is a nonsense. To back—
I will give way in a moment; I am in great demand. First, however, I will respond to my right hon. Friend’s intervention on referendums. It is important that we recognise that people voted in that referendum who had never voted before. I spoke to people in St Albans—and I am sure that this experience was replicated across the House—and they had a fixed view; it was not a political view, but it was a fixed view on whether they wanted in or out. Some people wanted help in making their minds up, and some changed their mind, but they had a fixed view, and I had numerous people say to me, “Politicians are all the same,” but on this matter all the political parties came together to ask the same question.
My area, Newcastle-under-Lyme, voted 60% to 40%, some say 62% to 38%, to leave. During the last election I was re-elected—some thought it was a surprise. When I was asked about Brexit on the doorstep, I said that, first, it was for this House to determine how, but I was quite honest with the constituents that I thought our future would be better if we remained, and that was my straight answer. In St Albans, where 62% of people voted to remain, what is the hon. Lady’s answer to her constituents?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman asked me that because my answer to my constituents then, now and in the future is that I completely respect democracy, and whatever democratic outcome was delivered I would respect. I am not here to argue against it or for it; I am here to argue to deliver it. And I hope, since the political make-up of the hon. Gentleman’s seat is very like mine—I do not dispute that in any way whatsoever—that he will be arguing, as I do, that the British public, as we need to heal—
No; I said no, and I say no twice. Mr Speaker made a ruling on this earlier on, so the answer is no.
What I will be arguing, as indeed we are arguing, is that we gave the in/out choice, regardless of political parties, and the in/out choice was delivered. Some people did not like it, and some constituencies did not match up with what their MP wanted, but that is not what it is about; what it is about—
I thank my hon. Friend very much for allowing me to intervene on her fantastic speech. She is making a number of points that I agree with extremely strongly. I voted remain in the original referendum, but my very strong feeling the day after the referendum, when we saw that overwhelming desire to leave the European Union, was that I should passionately support democracy in this country. Ever since that day I have supported that vote, even though I am a remainer, because I think we have one thing to do in this House, which is keep our promises to the electorate. Does my hon. Friend agree with that, and does she find that people who voted remain in her constituency share this desire to honour democracy above all else?
I absolutely accept my hon. Friend’s point. I accept that there are people in my constituency, as there will be in others, who fervently wish to overturn the result and to back remain. However, most people I speak to, when asked, feel that revoking would be a step too far. Most of them say, “I just want it over and done with. I want a deal.” I believe that this Government have tried to deliver exactly that. The last Prime Minister tried to deliver exactly that. She, like my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean, made it clear that she was a remainer, but like me she vowed to respect democracy. The fact that I am mismatched with my seat might be something that political opponents wish to capitalise on, but the fundamental question we need to ask ourselves is whether we value political self-interest more than the trust, the pledge and the contract that we all made when that referendum was called.
Honouring contracts: an excellent input. I should like to draw the hon. Lady slightly back towards the Bill that is before us today, which she no doubt fully supports—quite rightly, in her own mind. Does she agree that the accompanying notes to the Bill confirm that it deals with the franchise for the election and the date of the election, as discussed? The notes state:
“The Parliament of the United Kingdom and parliamentary elections, including the franchise and disqualifications for membership of that Parliament, are an excepted matter under paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998.”
I ask this specifically with regard to the importance of the Bill, which is addressing a general election.
Yes, we are discussing a Bill about having a general election. My point is that we need a general election because we have moved so far away from the original concept of the referendum, which was a choice between in and out, not a party political choice. Now, we are in a sclerotic position. We cannot move forward in here, and the only obvious answer is to ask the public to decide.
Can I just answer the previous intervention before I take any more?
If it is somehow politically expedient for some people to vote tonight for an election, I would say that they are putting their own considerations before those of the country. This should not be about us. This should not be about us looking at poll ratings and saying, “Does it suit me and my campaign to go to the country now?” This should be about us remembering what we said in 2016 or—as I said in my intervention on the Liberal Democrats—remembering what we tempted the public with in 2008. I will stand corrected if I am wrong, but I do not believe that any party ever said, “We will offer you a referendum, but if we don’t like the result we will frustrate it and campaign against it to try to get a different one”, or worse, “We will ignore the result.”
I am waiting for the “Ooh!” and the jumping up and down from the Scot Nats when I say this, but I believe that they are hoping against hope that they can have a referendum and—hopefully, according to their agenda—deliver an independent Scotland. I hope that before this House grants any such independence referendum, they will have a full deal to put on the table, very much like they are saying we should do on the European Union. I hope that they would first have an answer on the fisheries policy, the euro, the border and all the other hard concerns they have about the Northern Ireland question. The reality is that a referendum is never formed in those terms. The previous one was not, and a future one would not be. The reality is that we asked the question: in or out? [Interruption.]
I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend’s articulate flow once again. I could not help but hear the chuntering from a sedentary position on the SNP Benches. I believe that there were 617 pages in the White Paper on Scotland’s future that was published in advance of the 2014 independence referendum. On page 217 of that document, it clearly told the people of Scotland—[Interruption.] Page 217—do Members know where I am going with this? It told the people of Scotland that if they voted against independence, there was a risk of Scotland remaining in the UK and the UK then holding a referendum on EU membership, as that referendum had been announced by that time. Despite that warning, Scotland still voted to remain in the UK.
On the sclerotic nature of this Parliament and whether a general election will somehow change that, will it ever? Brexit has been a virus in a vial in a nightstand by the Tory party bed for 40 years. Occasionally, it would break and infect the Conservative party, which would catch a cold, and maybe the Labour party would win an election. You unleashed a referendum and broke the vial across the whole country, and we have all caught the cold. Churchill said that fanatics were people who will not change their mind and could not change the subject. Brexit will not be solved by a general election.
I do not blame you at all for unleashing a vial across anybody, Mr Speaker. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but the point is that the people were asked. We cannot now say we should not have asked the question. Plenty of colleagues went around the country framing the arguments—plenty of colleagues framed the arguments for, and plenty of colleagues framed the argument against.
I come back to the point that the only reason we need a general election now is that the public have seen how we have behaved in here. The public have seen which party is the most likely to honour its pledges made to the British people in 2017, which party came out with a deal that this House found favour with, and which party remembers that we are only here to carry out the referendum, not to ignore it or to change it.
I agree, but we also need to get on and discuss all the other issues. For example—this is not the most important thing for me, but it is important— St Albans has what claims to be the oldest public school in the world. It is right slap bang next to the cathedral. It is iconic. I have been in contact with parents—I am meeting another group on Friday—who are extremely concerned that the Labour party will remove the school’s charitable status if it is elected. They are extremely concerned that the Lib Dems will charge the school VAT. Businesses are extremely concerned that they do not have certainty about what to do next. People are pleased to hear about the £400 million investment in hospitals in St Albans and Hertfordshire, and they are extremely pleased that St Albans schools have received above-average cash injections. They want to hear about all these other topics. My hon. Friend is right that Brexit is drowning out the scrutiny of all these other things.
I want to remind the people in St Albans that the Labour Government left a little note when they left office saying that there was no money left. I want to remind St Albans that we now have the lowest number of unemployed young people since records began. I want to remind people in St Albans that there have been 500,000 new apprenticeships. I want to remind people in St Albans that we have lifted loads of people and families out of paying income tax at all, and that came from a Conservative Government. I want to be discussing those topics. The interminable vial of Brexit to which Mike Kane referred is being kept active in here.
It is dangerous to continue this “people versus Parliament” narrative, saying that Parliament is somehow frustrating the process. The reason we have not been able to coalesce around a deal is that the two deals that have been on the table have been terrible for this country. Diligence and integrity are required to ensure that we make the right decision. Has the hon. Lady read the impact assessment? If so, what does she make of the value of the trade deal to Northern Ireland? What does she make of the impact of this deal?
I have, and the worst impact is the absolute uncertainty surrounding investment in our jobs and businesses. People do not know whether they can trade, whether they have to stockpile goods or what the arrangements will be because the dates keep moving. That is the worst thing.
All this flummery about Brexit is hiding the fact that we are not getting the business of this House done. Almost no one was here to talk about the Environment Bill, yet people are marching against plastic.
To return to the Second Reading of this Bill, my hon. Friend faces a challenge from the Liberal Democrats in St Albans. Does she agree that, during the referendum, every household in the country received a letter saying
“The Government will implement what you decide”?
Does she remember the previous leader of the Liberal Democrats saying that, even if it were by one vote, the result should still stand? And did she hear the other day—
Order. I say very gently to the hon. Gentleman that there is a difference between a brief intervention and what one might call leisurely musing. I fear that what should be a brief intervention has elided, surely inadvertently, into leisurely musing and therefore his triple-hatted inquiry is, I feel sure, reaching its zenith.
You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker. My inquiry was reaching its climax. I finish by asking my hon. Friend Mrs Main whether she also recalls the current leader of the Liberal Democrats saying that, if there were to be a people’s vote and the result were to go, in her view, the wrong way—in other words, if the people were to vote again to leave the European Union—she would not recognise it as valid. Is that not a most extraordinary position for any party of democrats to take?
I take your instruction, Mr Speaker, and I will not be diverted.
A general election allows us to ask which party is prepared to honour democracy, and I will be asking that question every day in St Albans. A general election also reminds people that a strong Government is needed, and I mean a strong Government with a majority.
The current situation is the worst of all governance. It is governance by horse-trading. The Conservative party did not quite have the majority it needed at the 2010 election, so the Liberal Democrats came into power with us. [Interruption.] It worked so well, as someone says from a sedentary position. The horse-trading began straightaway. Horse-trading is exactly what happens in weak Governments. The lack of numbers means people suddenly start putting forward different agendas.
In St Albans, many students and young people were seduced by the thought of free tuition fees. I heard that being promised time and again across the land, and young people, potentially facing large debts being wiped away, suddenly found they might want to nail their colours to tuition fees at a general election. Tuition fees were an issue that attracted many young people for obvious reasons, and young people nailed their colours to that mast in largish numbers.
However, when we got into government with the Liberal Democrats, tuition fees were the first thing to be horse-traded. Tuition fees were horse-traded for a vote on the alternative vote system. The Liberal Democrats felt that changing the voting system was more important than tuition fees. As a result, hundreds of thousands of young people found themselves being duped and the horse-trading continued.
I have enjoyed every second of my hon. Friend’s 29-minute speech, and I am grateful to get in just before the end of her remarks, because I know that she is going to give way soon to others who want to contribute to this debate. Given the seat she represents, I know that she agrees that one issue we will want to talk about in the election, apart from Brexit, is culture and heritage. That issue is close to my heart and hers, so in the last couple of minutes of her speech I would like her just to acknowledge that.
The right hon. Gentleman tempts me, because the culture and heritage goes back to the Romans in St Albans and I could talk about it for a very long time. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have a wonderful picture of the new St Albans museum, in the centre of my beautiful city; before he was Prime Minister, he came to St Albans and congratulated the Conservative-led council on delivering a fabulous museum, which is to the absolute enhancement of my constituency.
I will move on to the general election—[Interruption.] Is shouting down democracy something we agree with in this House? As far as I can see, this House says it wants more time to debate things, but when an hon. Member stands on her hind legs and starts debating things, they do not want her to have that amount of time—they want to run on to other Opposition groups or to other Members in the House. On something as important as this, the people need to know, even if it is Brenda of Bristol, why on earth we are troubling them yet again with another election.
Has the hon. Lady completed her oration?
Mr Speaker, I rise as the unrecognised Liberal Democrat in this place and I apologise to the Chamber. Let me get back to the issue of the election itself. I represent the coldest and most northerly constituency in the British mainland. It is going to get dark a hell of a lot earlier where I come from than it does in St Albans, and the streets and roads are going to be an awful lot icier. This is perhaps an appeal for the Leader of the House, who is not with us at this precise moment, but may I ask the Government to co-ordinate as closely as possible with the Scottish Government to make sure that the streets and roads are safe for the people who want to come out to exercise their democratic right?
I am not sure how that related to Brenda of Bristol, but the point I wish to make, before I start concluding my remarks, is that in 2017 the public were sick of the idea of having an election but they turned out and they mostly elected the two biggest parties, on a mandate to deliver. This House, for whatever reasons it wishes to conclude, has been letting the public down. The binary choice of in or out has been turned into a political football. Now the parties need to draft their manifestos. They need to firm up their pledges and be honest about what they wish to do. They need to tell the public that if a party is elected with a strong mandate, the horse-trading will stop, the deals will stop and the taking over of the agenda by the Opposition or other individual groups with their own little axe to grind will stop. The parties need to say that a Government will be able to deliver on all the additional funding pledged in the Queen’s Speech and on Brexit, and that the next Government, unless they are a Government who are asked to oppose Brexit, will be delivering on the pledge to deliver to the people.
I hope that today there will be a vote for a general election, and not for political expediency. All of us should be saying sorry to the public for putting them through it again. We should be saying sorry for the dark streets, the cold nights, and the cancelled Christmas decorations or whatever else was going on in halls that are now going to be having election proceedings. All of us need to apologise to the public and say, “Sorry, when you told us to leave, we weren’t actually sure you meant it.”
I believe the public meant it. I know that other Members wish to speak today, including Mr Vaizey, who was not here for the whole debate—
He has risen to right. hon—I am so sorry and I apologise. He wishes to speak. When we are going out on the doorstep, we should remember that that person who voted in or out did not vote Conservative, Green, Labour or Liberal—they voted in or out. We need to respect that. We gave them a choice. It is insulting the public to say that we should not have given them the choice, as someone on the Opposition Benches has said, that they were too stupid to make the choice, as some have said, or that some of them are dead now and so we will ask people again. So may I make the plea that tonight we go for a general election, even though it or the timing may not suit all of us? What it should do is resolve this issue of a zombie Parliament incapable of action and deliver a Conservative Government who will deliver on their promise, their mandate and their pledge to uphold democracy.
I wonder why on earth we need a four-hour debate, because we have a very simple choice: we either want to vote for a general election or we do not. I voted for a general election last night and I will vote for one tonight. Let us be truthful: I do not think anybody in the House, listening here or in their rooms or wherever they are listening, will change their mind one iota on how they are going to vote because of this four-hour debate. Some Members are probably using the debate more as an election address. I do not have to do that, because I am not standing again, but I want to say why I will support a general election in the vote tonight.
Let us not forget that the public have been looking into Parliament a great deal more in these last few months than ever before. What they have seen is a Parliament that does not and cannot allow the Government to govern. The Government do not have a majority. The Government have not been able to get their withdrawal deal through; they have not been able to get much else through. Without doubt, there are Members who will never vote for any withdrawal agreement whatsoever, no matter how wonderful it is, because they do not want to leave the European Union, and the reality is that people out there know that. They know that we now have a Parliament that is a bit of a shambles.
Anyone who goes out and talks the public, whatever their views and however they voted in the referendum, will know that they think this Parliament is a bit of a shambles. They are seeing that even today. A simple vote on whether we have a general election is now being turned into a debate, with very little time, on whether we want 16 and 17-year-olds to be added to the electoral register and whether we want to give European Union citizens the right to vote. Even if I supported those proposals 100%, this is not the time to be changing who is on the voting register; in reality, it is pretty difficult for that to happen before a general election on
Does the hon. Lady agree that people outside might think it a little disingenuous of some Members to say that they want to vote for an election, while seeking to add wrecking amendments, such as votes for children or for EU nationals?
A lot of people who have seen how Parliament works over the past few months will have seen that wrecking amendments, delaying amendments and procrastination are now part and parcel of how we work in this Chamber. That is why we are here now talking about a general election.
The last general election we had, in 2017, was entirely unnecessary. Many people know that it was ridiculous to have a general election and the public punished the party that called the general election, when it had a majority and there was no need for a general election. The situation is very different now, because the Government cannot govern and the public deserve the right to have a Government, of whatever party, who can get their business through the House and who can get some general sanity into what we are doing in our procedures.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene. As she and I both serve on Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, she will be well aware that the essential legislation to compensate the victims in Northern Ireland of appalling historical institutional abuse began its progress through Westminster in the other place. If we were to dissolve on
I do think that that is a hugely important issue, which has unity across this House. If the Leader of the House, who has just left his place, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland really wanted to get that Bill through, they could do so this week. It could still be put through this week. It passed its Second Reading in the other place last night, so there is absolutely no reason why we cannot get that Bill through. Yes, the hon. Lady is right. There will be many things that we cannot get through, but there are also an awful lot of things that we should be getting through but we are not able to do so because there is no majority for them in this House.
I thought that I heard the Leader of the House say that one reason for keeping the House going until
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I hope that those whose business it is can sort out what we do over the next few days. As I understand it—I am sure that other people know more than I do on this—if there is not a general election until
I know, too, Mr Speaker, that you have made your decision about leaving this House. I see no reason why the election of a new Speaker could not have been brought forward to this week, so that the issue could have been resolved before Parliament dissolves. I am getting away from the Bill, and I know, Mr Speaker, that you would not want me to do that.
I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Under the previous Labour Government when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, was not the question of giving voting rights to overseas citizens living here raised and looked at by Lord Goldsmith, who concluded that full voting rights should be given only to UK citizens?
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to make a contribution in Committee, when we will know more about the detail of that amendment, but I certainly will not support it. I do not support it, and I certainly do not support, as I have said earlier, either of those changes being introduced in this Bill at this time. What this legislation is about is whether we want a general election.
In my view, every political party and every candidate standing in the election will have to be very clear about their position on what will happen about our leaving the EU and honouring the result of the referendum. Members have mentioned a people’s vote. I waited 40 years after we joined the Common Market to get another referendum. We have not implemented this referendum, so I am very pleased that there does not seem to be a majority in this House for another referendum. None the less, it is absolutely clear that we just cannot go on like this in our Parliament. We must resolve this issue. I hope that when the parties put forward their manifestos, they will be very clear that this withdrawal agreement can still be looked at and changed.
I hope that they will see that the terrible part of this deal, which to me really stands out, is the way that Northern Ireland has been treated. We cannot allow that to happen. I know that there are lots of talks going on about how this can be changed. I believe that we should be leaving as a whole United Kingdom, not leaving Northern Ireland different and separate. That can be solved and it needs to be solved if we are finally to get an agreement through this House.
It is important that the public see that we have finally said that we accept that there is not a majority for anything really happening in this House over leaving the EU. I blame those Members of Parliament on both sides of the House who decided very early on that they would do what they could to prevent us from leaving. They have been very successful, but I do not think they will be as successful when it comes to the general election.
The question before us today is: do we want a general election? Do the public want a general election and do the politicians want a general election? I do not think that anybody wants a general election. If we have an election in December, it will be the third time in three years that my electorate have been asked for their vote, and I hope that they give the same answer this time. But what people do want is Brexit to be delivered.
My constituency of Sleaford and North Hykeham voted overwhelmingly to leave. The country as a whole voted to leave, but even the constituents I meet who voted remain—including business owners and people who run businesses—also want Brexit done. They tell me, “Look, we really wanted to stay and to start with we thought another vote might be a good idea, but now what we see is that the ongoing uncertainty—this kicking the can down the road all the time—is more damaging to our business than any form of Brexit, and we want you to get it done and respect democracy.” So why has it not been done?
There has been much talk of whether we are representatives or delegates, and whether the 450 MPs who represent constituencies that voted to leave should also want to leave. We are representatives, and as such we can choose whether to follow the majority of our constituents. I have followed the majority of mine in supporting Brexit, because that is what they voted for. In this case we have a very unusual situation, whereby we representative politicians gave the choice to the British people. We delegated the responsibility for this one decision to them, asking them, “What do you want us to do? This is such a momentous decision that we want you to make it for us.” They said that they wanted to leave, and it is up to us as representatives to deliver Brexit on their behalf. But we have now a perfect storm, whereby the representatives do not agree with the delegated decision of the British people, and the Government lack a parliamentary majority with which to deliver their will. Under this Prime Minister, the Government have tried every single avenue open to us to deliver Brexit.
What the hon. Lady is saying is not exactly true, is it? It took her party two years and eight months to put anything to this House. The Government now have a Bill that has passed its Second Reading and could actually go forward, so it is not the case that an election is somehow going to deliver Brexit. The architect of stalling the Brexit process was the present Prime Minister, when he voted against the former Prime Minister’s original withdrawal deal.
The point I was trying to make is that the Government have tried every avenue to deliver Brexit, but this Parliament and this Opposition have done everything they can to stop it.
The argument that the proper thing to have done was to extend the time available is undermined by the fact that the greatest enthusiasts for that voted in principle against the Bill. By “scrutiny” they merely mean amending the Bill so that it no longer represents the agreement and the negotiations have to be restarted and the whole wretched cycle can begin again.
My right hon. Friend is exactly right.
The Prime Minister was told that he could not reopen the withdrawal agreement, but he did. He was then told that he could not remove the backstop from that agreement and could not gain other important changes, but he did. He was then told that he could not get a deal that, in principle, was voted for and supported by this House, and on Second Reading he did. But then the Opposition voted to prevent it from being discussed, because it cannot be discussed without a timetabling motion, and they voted against that.
I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already.
This is a question of trust. The British people trust us to deliver on our promises, and if we do not deliver on our promises we undermine the basis of democracy. The leaflet that came out during the European referendum said: “We will implement what you decide.” Many people, some of whom had never voted for the whole of their lives because they felt it did not make anything change, went and voted in the European referendum because they thought it would make a difference. It was the biggest democratic exercise in our country’s history and a majority voted to leave—and leave we must.
The Opposition are playing party politics, because their only determination is to try to make sure that Brexit cannot happen by the 31st. That is because they think the public are stupid. They think the public will say, “Ah—the Prime Minister did not deliver Brexit by the 31st, so we can go to the country and say that he did not keep his promise.” But actually the public are not stupid. They can see that the reason we have not delivered it by the 31st is that the Opposition voted to institute the European Union (Withdrawal) No. 2 Bill, which surrendered control of when we leave to the European Union.
I want to deal with the issues in the amendments. The first amendment would allow all EU voters living in this country to vote. Quite apart from the fact that this has not been properly debated, it is very difficult to add 3 million voters to the register at very short notice. It would also have—
Order. I just say very gently to the hon. Lady that a copy of prospective amendments has been made available, but the time for debate upon amendments is at the Committee stage for which they are intended. Therefore, briefly to animadvert to a possible amendment is orderly, but to dilate upon it is not.
Order. I am not sure whether that was done in an arch way. It was advertised, and it has attracted the attention of the Clerk at the Table and of the Chair, but in any case I know that the hon. Lady will unfailingly sign up to the nostrum that two wrongs do not make a right.
Absolutely, Mr Speaker
I would like to discuss the issue of European citizens, which has already been mentioned during the debate. It would be very difficult to add 3 million voters to the electoral register at short notice, and the relative size of constituencies would be affected. It is notable that some, like my hon. Friend Mr Seely, who was here earlier, have constituencies of more than 100,000 people, while others have constituencies of just 20,000 people. I know that there has been an effort by the Boundary Commission to introduce changes that would even those up, but suddenly adding European voters would have an impact on the relative value of an individual’s vote. It is also notable that none of the EU27 member states allows citizens not from their country to vote in a general election, and with free movement and elections at different times one can rather see why that might be.
Other speakers have discussed votes at 16. As a paediatrician, I have over time seen and treated a number of young people at 16. I have met some very, very mature 16-year-olds with great life experience who no doubt have the knowledge and maturity to vote, but I have also met 16-year-olds who do not. It is worth looking at the international—
I put forward a private Member’s Bill to try to extend the franchise. Does the hon. Lady not agree that if we start to put up arbitrary barriers and set tests for 16 and 17-year-olds, we should set the same tests for other age groups? If she set a maturity test for 16-year-olds, I can bet her that the Prime Minister would not pass it.
I am reminded of the fact that when people start to get personal towards the Prime Minister or others, it is because they do not have a political argument to make.
It is useful to look at international norms. The United Nations, which we are part of, sees 18-year-olds as adults. Internationally, refugees are seen as children if they are less than 18 years old. We are part of the Five Eyes group, along with Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada, all of which allow votes only from 18. All EU member states, apart from Austria, allow votes only from 18. As a children’s doctor—
Order. I ask the hon. Lady to resume her seat. Either entirely of her own initiative—which is perfectly credible, because she is a most assiduous parliamentarian—or because she has been exhorted by others, or maybe a judicious combination of the two, she seems inclined to do precisely what I told her she should not do, which is to dilate on matters that, as things stand, are outwith the scope of the Bill. I cannot in all conscience encourage her to persist with her global tour, and potentially her intergalactic tour, in pursuit of evidence that she wishes to adduce on the matter of the appropriate age at which people should vote. What I have tried to tell her courteously, and which I now tell her courteously but bluntly, is that those matters are not currently up for discussion. It will not suffice for her to smile at me and say, “Mr Speaker, I am most grateful for your guidance,” with a view then to comprehensively ignoring it.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; I appreciate your guidance on this matter. I hope you will not mind my responding to the comments made by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, who said that our children should have a vote because it matters to their future. This will affect my four, eight and 12-year-olds’ futures even more, but that is not a rational argument for them to vote.
I am concerned that the amendments that have been tabled are wrecking amendments, because they are trying to change the franchise just before an election. Were that to happen against the Electoral Commission’s advice, we would not be able to have an election in December.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention; he is right.
We need to deliver Brexit and get on with the priorities of the British people. People in my constituency want more police, more money for schools, better broadband and a strong economy—all the things that were promised in the Queen’s Speech. This Parliament needs to be honest with the people. If Members do not want to deliver Brexit, they should be honest about that and say to voters that they do not want to deliver Brexit, then see whether they are returned. We are at an impasse where the only solution to get Brexit done, whether we want one or not, is to have a general election now.
I am most grateful to the hon. Lady. May I politely suggest that colleagues have care and concern for each other? Each of them wishes to speak. It is not necessary or desirable for one person to speak at inordinate length and then say, either openly or to themselves, “Whoops! Sorry. I stopped someone else doing so.” It is better to avoid that grisly fate.
I agree. I plan to say a number of things, but I want to follow up on some of the things that have been said during the debate. There has been a huge amount of talk about being honest with the public, political expediency and turning the referendum into a party political thing. Mrs Main seemed very concerned that the referendum and how we vote on Bills has been used for political expediency. I would like to gently remind everybody of the time that the Prime Minister got a camera crew to come and take a picture of him as he signed his little resignation letter to Theresa May—sorry, Mrs May. Some might say that it had been politically expedient and, lo and behold, he is now the Prime Minister. Gosh forbid that anybody should use things for political expediency or that Conservative Members have always voted for the Bill.
The trouble with the arguments we are having is that the Government have continued to behave like a Government who have a majority, regardless of the fact that they do not. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead suffered exactly the same problem after the referendum, which was not won decisively by one side—it was a marginal win—and after the 2017 election, when again the country was split, and the idea of bringing forward a Bill that we could all sit down and work on was literally never ever taken forward.
I have listened to Conservative Members saying today, “Well, you shouldn’t be allowed to amend the Bill”, or “You only want time to amend it”. Er, yes—that is absolutely right, because that is the job of this House. Different people come here from different backgrounds and make laws that are not just for one sort of person, but that represent this country. I seem to be in a twilight zone where the Government and the Executive seem to think that they just write a line and then go, “Er, well, it’s my way or the highway”. Welcome to parliamentary democracy!
Does my hon. Friend agree with me that it is even worse than that because Parliament was excluded from this process for two years and eight months while the Conservative party had an internal debate about what type of Brexit they could get through, and it was only then that this House was let in to the arguments?
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. It is ridiculous.
I represent a leave seat, and, as we enter this general election, I may face the fate for my beliefs that the hon. Member for St Albans fears that she will face—and that is okay. She thinks it is okay, and I think it is okay that I may have done something different from what the majority of my constituents did, regardless of the fact that 10,000 extra of them voted for me post the referendum.
The reality is that the Government have only ever wanted obedience. They have looked on people like me and said, “Do as we say, little girl. We’re not going to let you do anything to our precious Bill.” But that is not the meaning of this place. What nobody in this place can answer is how will it end if what is returned is another hung Parliament. We did not think we were going to be here before, yet here we are. I believe the right hon. Member for Maidenhead thought that she would be having a considerably nicer time when she was next to Lord Buckethead on the evening of the general election, yet here we are.
What has happened since then is like a Rorschach test. The hon. Member for St Albans can look at the exact same result as the one I can look at, and we can say, “In this piece of toast, I can see the Virgin Mary”. We say that the voters think exactly what we think, regardless of what they actually said, because the question is fudged. We did not do so when we asked them in a general election, and we are not going to get a decisive answer on the issue of Brexit.
I spoke to the Prime Minister in the Lobby the other day. He was loitering around outside the private Members’ Bills ballot, which I invited him to enter as it seems he would struggle to change the law otherwise. He asked, “What will it take for you, Jess, to support this Bill?” Am I allowed to say my own name? Is that allowed? He asked, “What will it take for you, the honourable— the incredibly honourable—Member for Birmingham, Yardley?” I said, “What it will take for me is that you ask the people where I live if they are happy with the deal”. It is as simple as that. He looked at me as if this was brand new information—“This is the first time I’ve heard such a revelation”—which I thought was odd, but, you know, he is an unusual man.
Then the Prime Minister said to me, “Don’t you think another referendum will be dangerous for this country?” To that, I said, “I’m not entirely sure why you think it would be any different from a general election”. We are all sitting in here talking about this general election, but pretty much no one has actually talked about general elections, apart from a few party political broadcasts about people’s museums in their constituencies and how beautiful the islands are. The reality is that we have all talked about the referendum. This is going to be a Brexit referendum whether we like it or not, except that we will not be being clear and we will not be being honest—none of us will be—and in what we get back we will be able to see whatever we want to see.
I have heard people in here say that I as a Labour voter voted to deliver Brexit based on the last general election, and that is simply not true. I did not do that. As a Labour voter, I voted for many, many things that I believe in about Labour values. My vote had nothing to do with the Brexit position of my political party and I would say the same if I was not a representative of it. We are going to dishonestly use a general election. It will not be about the fact that people in my constituency cannot send their kids to school five days a week, or about whether the NHS is serving them properly, or about whether they are happy with something that the Conservative party might say. We are going to use the general election for political expediency. Can we all stop pretending that it is about anything else?
I thank the hon. Lady for making a passionate and amusing speech. I believe that she is making the argument for a further referendum. How long would it take this place to legislate for that and how long has the EU given us in the current extension?
The honest answer—I have truck with honesty—is that I am not entirely sure, but does the hon. Lady understand that we tried to get the biggest piece of legislation through this House in three days? I am certain that the wit of the people in this Chamber could organise a referendum, even to be on the same day as a general election.
I do not particularly like the idea of a general election in December for all the reasons people have mentioned. The main thing I do not like is exactly what I have said: it will be used by people afterwards to say that it meant what they wanted it to mean. That applies not just to the Government side, but to the Opposition. No one can answer the question of what happens when we return a hung Parliament to this place and we are stuck once again in Brexit paralysis. What will we do then? No one is answering that question because everybody is acting completely arrogantly and doing that thing we all do on the stump when we say, “Here’s the next Prime Minister” even if we are in a minority party with about four people in it. It is totally ridiculous. It does not answer the question of what we do if we return a hung Parliament that, just like in 2017, is split exactly down the middle and we cannot get anything through.
I do not speak for the Labour Front Bench or those who make policy, but the Act seems to have caused paralysis. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is nothing ideal about the situations that any of us have found ourselves in since 2016. None of this is ideal. Frankly, it needed people who could put most things aside and try to do what was best, and I am afraid that this House has largely failed in that endeavour to try to find consensus.
And so we face the future. After the next general election, will we all agree to try to build a consensus, if it returns a hung Parliament with no clear line? Will we all put that in our manifestos? I do not know the answer to that. “Make it end” could just carry on in perpetuity. Nobody wants that.
I want to build consensus. A man was arrested and charged for trying to break into my office, calling me a fascist because I would not vote for the deal. I asked for him to be shown leniency in court, and I asked for us to be able to sit down and talk to each other because I do not believe that I cannot find something in common with this man who is the same age as me and grew up streets away from me. I believe we can find consensus, but I am not sure a general election campaign is where we will find it.
I can guarantee to all hon. Members that an onslaught of money will come from who knows where to fund propaganda in our election: when our electoral laws in this country are currently not fit for purpose; when we are about to enter into a battle where foreign funding can flood into our system; where the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, who led a campaign that has been found to have broken the law, is going to be in charge of some of that propaganda machine; and when the Prime Minister himself refuses to answer direct questions on exactly his role in the decision-making and when he found out.
In the recent European Parliament election, a man stood on a platform, completely legitimately, when the thing that made him most famous was whether he would or would not rape me. Our electoral laws are not fit for purpose. So what are we all going to do—all of us sitting here pretending that what we want is honesty and that we do not just want to win? What are we all going to do during the election campaign to make sure it is fair, to make sure it is legal and to make sure that it is not trying to say from the other side that people like me are a danger to the country or from my side that people like you are, so that people who hear that turn up and try to break into my office, scream in face and send me death threats? What are we going to do? It might be much easier for everybody to get a one-line Bill through, but a one-line Bill on an election does not answer a single one of the questions that every single person in this place has been asking for a very long time.
I shall finish my remarks by saying that I will gladly go back and sleep in my own bed for a solid six weeks, see my children every day and join the camaraderie of the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers who will join me in my seat as they do every time we have an election, but what happens next is the question that nobody can answer. Until that is the case, the one-line Bill is useless.
I am grateful to have been called when I was not able to be present for the whole debate. I will try to keep my remarks brief, because I know that other colleagues want to speak.
It is an example of the journey I have made in my 14 years in this House that my maiden speech was a Eurosceptic speech that followed a speech by a Labour Eurosceptic, Kelvin Hopkins. I will now make a resolutely pro-remain, pro-European speech following the excellent speech by one of the Members whom I most admire in this House, Jess Phillips.
Order. May I just very gently say, because the right hon. Gentleman implied that he would be brief—I hope, mercifully, that he will be brief, brilliant though he is—that there is no need for him to make either a pro-European or an anti-European speech, or a speech anywhere between the two? There is a need for him to make a speech about whether there should or should not be an early general election, nothing more. It will be delivered with an eloquence worthy of Demosthenes and an intellect to rival Einstein’s, I feel certain.
I have to say, Mr Speaker, that the minute you rose I realised the error I had made in speaking injudiciously and inaccurately. From now on, I will take a forensic approach. The point I was going to make was that I support the call for an election. It is quite right that we try to break the deadlock that exists in Parliament by having an election as soon as possible. I am also mindful—I have listened to every word you have said in this Chamber, Mr Speaker—that I am not going to speak about any of the amendments. All I will say is that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley raised important points and the amendments, if they are called, will also raise important points.
There are important debates to be had in this Chamber about the shape and form of elections. I am open to the idea, for example, of 16-year-olds voting. I am open to the idea of our European friends who live here and contribute their taxes voting. In particular, I take on board the point the hon. Lady made about money and lies. We know that in a digital age the propaganda pumped out on tech platforms will be a huge issue in this election and in future elections. When this House returns after the election, I hope that that will be one of the issues that is addressed.
Many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend Mrs Main, who made an excellent speech, have focused on the fact that people in the country are yearning for us to talk about something other than Brexit and about the issues that matter to them. I am extremely fortunate to represent the wonderful constituency of Wantage and Didcot, which contributes an enormous amount to the British economy. It is a centre for scientific research, space companies and life sciences, and it has a Formula 1 team, Williams Formula 1. Understandably, the constituency voted to remain because those companies rely on the expertise of a workforce who are spread throughout Europe and who are able to come to this country to work. It is clear, therefore, that when we have this election—and we must have it—Brexit and the issues that emerge from it will be an important factor in the debate.
It is also right that when we call this election—I am speaking in support of the Bill—people should have the chance to debate issues such as who provides the best stewardship of the economy, healthcare and education as well as the importance of culture and the creative industries in our society, a subject very close to my heart.
I echo what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley said—I hope this is in order, Mr Speaker—about the tone of any forthcoming general election campaign. You will be pleased to know that the insight I am about to deliver represents the conclusion of my remarks. When you quite rightly ruled me out of order for saying that I was going to make a pro-remain speech when in fact I am making a pro-election speech, the point I wanted to make was that, with a little bit of Brexit inside me—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans has perked up. Obviously, I do not want to be part of a European superstate. I often say to my remain friends that if at any point the European Union told us, “You can stay in the European Union only if you join the single currency,” I would be the first to man the barricades and call for Brexit—even, dare I say it, a no-deal Brexit.
What was left behind after the referendum, and what I hope we get back if we call an election, is an understanding of the role of this incredible institution of Parliament. We know that the people voted to leave the European Union, but the paranoid hard-right Brexiteers decided that any version of Brexit apart from their own would somehow snatch away their hard-won victory. However, you know, Mr Speaker, that the role of this place, as the Chamber of a representative democracy, is to take that instruction and to interpret it as best we can.
My rebellious streak emerged when a hard-line Brexit was proposed—the proposal to leave the customs union and the single market while maintaining an open border in Ireland is an impossible circle to square—and there were attacks on our judges, who were called “enemies of the people” for interpreting the law; attacks on business, which pays taxes and employs people; attacks on our civil servants, who worked day and night to deliver the instructions of their political masters; and, dare I say it, Mr Speaker, attacks on you for allowing us in this Chamber to have our say on important matters. What really drove me mad was the attempt by some people in this House to own the result of the referendum and say, to echo the words of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, “My way or the highway,” trashing in the process every single institution that they purported to be campaigning for when they campaigned for Brexit. That is utterly shameful. I hope they realise that everyone in this House has done their best to deliver on the referendum result.
It is not our fault that there was a hung Parliament. We can blame various people for the reason that we came back with a hung Parliament—[Interruption.] No, I blame the politicians. I blame the person who was leading our party at the last election when we could have come back with a majority, and this party can perhaps reflect on how long it took to react. Nobody knows how this election will turn out. I have simply taken a consistent position—as I have watched the carnage and the wreckage, and the ratcheting up of the rhetoric to “traitor” and “treason”—and said, “We should respect the referendum result, but we should leave with a deal.”
I do not know whether you and I will ever meet again in our respective positions, Mr Speaker. I simply want to say to you, as one man of average height—to echo my right hon. Friend Mr Francois—but of substantial girth: thank you for everything that you have done to stand up for the rights of this Chamber. Thank you as well to all my colleagues, who I look forward to seeing on the election beat, reasonably exchanging sensible and intelligent views on the best way forward—
It will be a small intervention, Mr Speaker. I do not wholly agree with my right hon. Friend, but this place would be poorer if he were not a Member of a future Parliament. I hope that he gets the Whip back and we can hear more brilliant speeches about science and all the other things that he has championed in this place.
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s very kind and gracious remarks, and I will not forget them.
I am afraid that to accommodate the remaining colleagues who are on the list, I will have to introduce a three-minute time limit with immediate effect—[Interruption.] Otherwise, people will not get in—I cannot help it, but there is injury time, as Caroline Lucas knows.
I will not be supporting a general election because I do not think that a general election will resolve Brexit. The clue is partly in the name: a “general” election is about general issues. It is impossible to extrapolate from the result what people think about a very specific issue—in this case, Brexit. If we want a specific answer on Brexit, we have to ask a specific question, and the best way of doing that is through a people’s vote. That is even more the case with an electoral system that is as undemocratic and antiquated as ours, because first past the post regularly delivers majority Governments on a minority of votes.
A million people did not march through the streets of London a few weeks ago demanding a general election; they wanted a people’s vote because they know that that is the best way—indeed, the only way—to get to the bottom of this crisis and resolve it. All that a general election will do, frankly, is put Nigel Farage and the Prime Minister back in their comfort zones, giving them a stage—political insiders dressed up as rebels, whose agenda, frankly, is chaos—so that division will thrive.
I want to take on the idea that this Parliament has run its course. The Prime Minister has won votes on both his Queen’s Speech and the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill. The only person who is blocking progress in this Parliament is the Prime Minister. The reason for that is very clear: he has an agenda that is all about a general election—about installing an even harder Vote Leave contingent of MPs in Parliament—but let us not allow him to get away with telling us as Parliament that somehow we have not been doing a good job of holding him to account. This is not a zombie Parliament; it is a Parliament that has got its head around parliamentary procedures in a way that any new Parliament will take months to do. It is precisely because we have been able to keep the Prime Minister in his box that he is not very happy with the fact that we are trying to continue on our way forward.
One of the reasons I do not want a general election right now is that the thing that should be front and centre of it—the climate emergency, which is what we should be debating in a general election—will be overshadowed by yet more fights about Brexit, which it will not resolve. We know that the next 18 months will be crucial in terms of whether we have a chance of getting off the collision course we are on with the climate catastrophe. The Committee on Climate Change said in its report to Parliament a few months ago that the next Parliament will be absolutely vital, so it is crucial that the next general election is about the climate crisis. This existential crisis is facing all of us and if we fritter the time away with more debates about Brexit, which they are not even going to resolve, we will be responsible for the greatest irresponsibility—that does not quite make sense, but you know what I mean. We will be responsible for the greatest betrayal of young people and their futures, because this is a massive wasted opportunity, and I cannot bear the fact that we are going to spend it talking about Brexit in a way that is not going to resolve it.
As I made clear earlier, there are issues relating to the franchise, conduct and security of any election that takes place, but we do not have time to go into all those, so I will concentrate on the issue I have tabled two amendments on: votes at 16.
Votes at 16 could be done in a variety of ways without impediment, and I await the selection of amendments for the Committee stage. In my view, at the very least, 16 and 17-year-olds, and 18-year-olds who are obviously already on the register, should be able to vote. This step has been taken in Wales and Scotland. In my view, those who have the greatest stake in the future of our country—our young people—should be able to vote in this important general election, as they should in referendums, local elections and other such matters. I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friends the Members for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield), for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) and for Hove (Peter Kyle), who have pursued this issue strongly in the past.
I know, but I am conscious of other colleagues.
I pay tribute to all the organisations, particularly Members of the Youth Parliament, who have been making their voices heard and urging us to support the proposal and who want us to be able to debate this crucial amendment. Members of the Youth Parliament visited me in my own constituency a couple of weeks ago and reflected to me the issues that young people want discussed in this election. It is not just about Brexit, which I have spoken about many times—I am clear it will leave our country worse off, less safe and more unstable and I will continue to oppose it and to campaign for a people’s vote; it is about all the other issues that young people in my constituency come to talk to me about, including mental health, climate change, public services, opportunities for young people, tackling antisocial behaviour, violence and knife crime, and all the other issues. Our 16 and 17-year-olds care just as much about the future of our country as all the rest of my constituents do, and I will continue to stand up for them and all my constituents, young and old, in any election, but we need to be clear that that younger generation must have the vote in this general election.
My constituents and constituents across Scotland will have their say in a general election on the shambles they have seen unfolding over this Brexit farce. Scotland voted against Brexit—62%. Every single council area did so, but this Government and this Parliament ignored the Scottish Government’s compromise and ignored the Scottish Parliament, where every single party except the Tories voted to avoid this situation. The SNP wants to stop Brexit. We want to see the Prime Minister’s rotten deal go by the wayside.
More than that, since 2012, my constituency has been enduring the scandal of the universal credit roll-out to full service, which has brought misery to my constituents. The city used to have just one food bank; now there is one in every quarter of the city, thanks to the misery universal credit is causing. My hon. Friend Alison Thewliss has raised the issue of the rape clause in universal credit. I have urged three Prime Ministers now to listen to the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Marie Curie, Macmillan, patients, doctors and clinicians, to get rid of the six-month rule in universal credit for the terminally ill and to allow implicit consent, yet it has been ignored at every single stage. They all deserve their say on the Government’s failings. What have the Government got to fear from votes at 16? What do they have to fear from 16-year-olds? They are about to inherit the farce that this place is laying down for them. EU nationals are also vital. In the highlands, they are vital for care, the NHS, tourism, hospitality and farming. These are our friends, neighbours and colleagues, and they should have the vote, as should 16 and 17-year-olds. Scotland does not want a Tory Government, and it especially does not want this Tory Government, who have failed my constituency and are failing Scotland. It cannot afford to be ignored any more.
A mandate exists for a referendum on independence for Scotland. We need to be in a position to give all our people in Scotland hope for the future and a choice between Boris island—this broken spectacle of Westminster little Britain under Brexit—and an independent Scotland taking its own seat at the heart of Europe.
I do not think that I will take my three minutes, Mr Speaker.
I do not fear an election, because I know the people in Motherwell and Wishaw well. I have been talking to them over the last few months, and the spirit of those people says that they are looking for independence. They want out of this cracked and broken Union. They want rid of this reckless Tory Government. They want the feckless Labour Opposition to stand up and fight against Tory austerity, Tory Brexit and the Tory mess that they have turned Scotland and the UK into over the last umpteen years.
Let us have an election. Let us find out what Scotland really wants. I know, but the rest of the UK should know. Scotland wants and needs independence, and independence soon.
A Government under siege from its own side, ignoring the advice of its more thoughtful friends and fearful of a mythical force of ultra-patriots, prepared to do irreparable damage to the UK’s international relations by charging ahead with a reckless and ill-considered Brexit, is now desperate for an election to turn its huge opinion poll lead into a parliamentary majority.
So much for the May Government and the election of 2017. That Government impaled itself upon its own hubris—and who thought that history would repeat itself so quickly? The thinking of this Government has appeared to be, “We will burn that bridge when we come to it”, and the blame has always been someone else’s. A Prime Minister who bemoans his lack of control of Parliament while disposing of great chunks of his parliamentary party, and who struggles to win any vote in the Chamber, betrays a lack of leadership, a lack of control and a lack of statecraft. His premiership is defined now, and no election can save it. This is a make-do-and-mend, hand-me-down Government that will limp forlornly from here to its end and pass unlamented into history. The only question left is how much damage it will do as it dies.
An election now may not, of course, solve anything for the UK. It may return another deadlocked Parliament. There may be a small majority for one party or another, but there may well still be a deadlock in this strange malaise that has so paralysed the English body politic. You lot have no escape, sadly for the people whom you represent, but Scotland has. This election will demonstrate how the nations of the UK are diverging, and how Scotland is charting a different path. A nation that regards the EU as being generally a force for good, a nation that sees other nations as possible allies rather than probable enemies, a nation that looks outwards instead of up its own fundament, Scotland sits more and more uncomfortably with this place.
This election, when it comes, will lay the foundation for the independence that will follow. Scotland will walk a different path, and we will forge a different future. I pity the people of England who are so poorly served by their politicians, but England’s people have overthrown broken systems in the past, and they can do so again. They can cast down the petty tribunes who have sat here for so long squabbling over trifles. This should be the last election to a UK Parliament: Scotland will be independent before another is due. We will have no need to die in a ditch; we will just get independence done without the buffoonery. No one can arrest the progress of a nation or shout down its ambition. This is the sunderance of the UK and the end of the song, and an auld song once ended in Scotland will start again.
I am in favour of a general election: a general election on
I very much regret that we are hurtling in this direction, thanks to the Liberal Democrats giving up the public vote and to the SNP; basically there is an unstoppable momentum towards an election. We will probably have an election now. The Labour party will be talking about a better Britain, a fairer Britain, a greener Britain, addressing climate change and not just Brexit, fundamentally giving that vote back to the people, so we are the party of democracy. The Tories will give Brexit at any cost. The Liberals will basically say “Remain, whatever you think.” We will provide democracy, a better Britain and the fourth Prime Minister in four years with Jeremy Corbyn.
This Government are in complete disarray. After yesterday’s vote, we now have a Prime Minister who has suffered 10 embarrassing defeats in this House and two historic court rulings against him. He has shown his utter incompetence as Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister came to office promising to deliver Brexit by
To this day, the Prime Minister continues to try to deflect the blame for breaking his word on to anyone he can think of. I would call it the politics of the schoolyard but frankly at Parkview School we were better behaved than this, and I believe the vast majority of our children and young people would behave more honourably in similar circumstances.
It is clear that a general election is needed because this Government have lost the trust of our country, because we know the damage a no-deal Brexit will do to jobs and industries all across this country, and we cannot trust the Prime Minister to be true to his word. We have consistently said that we will support a general election once no deal is absolutely off the table, and when the date for the election can be fixed in law. We have now reached that point.
I will not give way; time is very limited.
The purpose of a general election is to let the people decide the future of our country. It therefore must be conducted in a way that is accessible to as many people as possible. We will therefore be supporting amendments that achieve this.
Students should not be disenfranchised by an election date which will not allow them to vote at their term-time address. This is the address where they live for the majority of the year and where they rightly should be able to vote. That is why our preference is for an election on
But we can do better than this. Let us seize this historic opportunity to extend the franchise to some of those most likely to be affected by the outcomes of the general election: 16 and 17-year-olds and EU nationals, who we already give votes to for all other elections anyway. We are now in the inconsistent and unsustainable position where 16 and 17-year-olds living in Wales and Scotland can vote in local elections, but their English and Northern Irish counterparts cannot. It is also fundamentally wrong that many millions of EU citizens who live in this country, have their families in this country and contribute to our country and are deeply affected by the developments in this Parliament are currently denied a vote in Westminster elections, and in the most important general election for a generation. We have accepted the argument that they are affected by the decisions taken at local government elections, which is why we give them the vote in those elections, and there is no sensible reason why they should be denied this right in general elections.
The next general election will be a defining moment for our country, as we have suffered almost a decade of relentless Tory cuts that have pushed our public services into crisis: the NHS is in crisis, local schools are starved of funding and adult social care is on its knees. We need change.
Labour will put forward the most radical, hopeful, people-focused programme in modern times: a once-in-a-generation chance to rebuild and transform our country. We will put control of Brexit back in the hands of the people, with a real choice between a sensible leave deal or remain. Labour is the only party that can and will let the people decide on Brexit. We will tackle the climate emergency with a green new deal, bringing net zero emissions targets forward and providing renewable industries with the investment and support they need, including banning fracking in the UK once and for all. It is time for change. Labour will end austerity and build an economy that works for all, with a real living wage, proper collective bargaining and four new bank holidays. I look forward to making these positive arguments to the country in the weeks ahead.
I should like to begin by paying tribute to all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to today’s debate and spoken with genuine sincerity and passion. There have been some excellent contributions, and a wide range of issues have been raised. Particularly, I would like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Seely, my hon. Friend and neighbour Mrs Main and my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Sir William Cash) and for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson). All those contributions made the same point: people want to get Brexit done. They want to move on, and the only way we can do that is to ensure that we have a general election mandate to ensure that that happens. In particular, I would like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr Vaizey—sadly, he is not in his place—who gave a heartfelt and excellent speech paying tribute to this House.
I hope hon. Members appreciate that there will be further opportunities for discussion during the course of the Bill, particularly in the Committee stage that follows, so if they will forgive me, I will not go into detail on some of the points that I think will be addressed at that stage. What we really are facing today is the simplest possible Bill. It is a straightforward piece of legislation to allow a general election on
I presume that as part of the Prime Minister’s general election campaign, he will make a grand tour of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, so could the Minister just explain what the Prime Minister will say to the Unionist community there and how he will reassure them that their future is safe in his hands? I can assure the Minister that, at the present time, there are many in the Unionist community who do not feel confident that their future is safe in the Prime Minister’s hands.
I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution. I do not know exactly where the Prime Minister will go on his election tour, but I am sure he will go to Northern Ireland. He will take the message to Northern Ireland that the deal that he has negotiated will allow the entire United Kingdom to leave the customs union as one and that that deal we based on a mechanism of consent.
The challenge that we have in getting such a deal through this House is that whenever Parliament has had the opportunity to get Brexit done, it has not taken it, even though 80% of us in this House stood on a mandate to honour the referendum result. Let us look at the record. Parliament voted to extend and delay in March, and to extend and delay in April. Through the Benn Act, Parliament forced the Prime Minister to extend beyond
I heard the hon. Lady make that point repeatedly throughout the debate. The very simple answer is that the people should vote Conservative and vote for a party that will get the deal through and ensure that we finally leave the European Union, as people want us to do.
I think that I have dealt with the hon. Lady’s point.
Thanks to the Prime Minister’s efforts, we have a deal that we will be putting to the British people at the general election, and we will then seek to deliver the deal through the House on the back of a stable and sustainable parliamentary majority that will finally allow us to leave the European Union, as most of us have promised to achieve.
The problem with the argument advanced by the hon. Gentleman is that when we had the opportunity to get Brexit done and to get it done by
The deal that the Prime Minister has reached has confounded critics in this House and elsewhere. People said that we would never be able to reopen the withdrawal agreement, but we reopened it. He has nailed the naysayers who said that the EU would never let go of the Northern Ireland backstop by getting rid of the backstop. When people said that we could not ensure that the whole United Kingdom could leave as a single customs territory, he refused to accept it. This Government have made sure that the UK can leave the customs union as one entire United Kingdom that is free to chart its own course.
The Government’s position for some time has been that if Parliament cannot back the Prime Minister’s deal, we must surely have a general election. Up until today, however, that has not been the position of the Labour party. We have had the extraordinary spectacle of a Leader of the Opposition who spends every day castigating the Government’s failures—indeed, his party busily puts out leaflets demanding a general election—but when that golden moment arrives finally to have that general election, what happens? The Leader of the Opposition has repeatedly spurned it. I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition has finally faced up to the inevitable, ensuring that we will make some progress with this Bill. I am confident that we can make that progress, and that we can get on and have that general election.
When the general election happens, we will have two contrasting visions for 2020. The choice in front of the British people is clear. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has a deal that ensures that we deliver on the promises we made in the 2017 manifesto. We can finally deliver on Brexit and get the job done. Once we have got the job done, we can finally turn to the priorities that matter to the British people. The great one nation agenda being advanced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will allow us to deliver for our hospitals and for our schools.
The Minister has two and a half minutes in which to develop his peroration, but the hon. Gentleman has registered his disapproval.
Thank you for that opportunity, Mr Speaker, but I think I will be able to do so in slightly shorter order, so I hope that I can bring pleasure to the hon. Gentleman.
In the election, we will deliver on a one nation agenda: delivering for our schools and our hospitals, safer communities, more police, massive investment in our infrastructure, keeping our streets safe and tackling the cost of living. The alternative will be the nightmare advanced by the Leader of the Opposition, who wants to make 2020 the year of two referendums: one on Brexit and another on Scottish independence—more energy-sapping, mind-numbing stagnation and more pointless delay, so I urge right hon. and hon. Members to back this Bill and back the general election. Let the Government get Brexit done and allow the country to move on.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, this day).
Under the Order of the House of today, we shall now—for which I may have to substitute “shortly”—move to a Committee of the whole House.
I say this as much for the benefit of people outside the elected Chamber as for anybody else. I have collected the voices, as the Speaker is required to do, and it is clear that there is an overwhelming majority in support of Second Reading. From Second Reading, we proceed to Committee. When the House sits in Committee, the Speaker does not occupy the Chair. That responsibility is taken by A. N. Other, who will be wending his or her way to the Chamber as I speak. I say with some confidence that another Chair will arrive ere long to take up his or her important duties.
I am deeply grateful to the hon. Lady, who may be indulged at slightly greater length than would otherwise be the case.
This has been a fractious, challenging, controversial and difficult debate at times. Do you agree, Mr Speaker, that in the context of this debate, it is extraordinarily important that all Members agree that their behaviour, whether in this House or in the potential general election to come, should be exemplary, whatever others do?
I agree. On the matter of exemplary behaviour, we can all learn from the hon. Lady. I know she did not seek that tribute, but I proffer it gratis in any case, because it has the advantage of being justified.