– in the House of Commons at 3:50 pm on 8th November 2022.
Some Members may have noted that the motion on the Order Paper is for an order, rather than for a Humble Address. As “Erskine May” says, the formula used simply depends on whether the motion is directed at a Department headed by a Secretary of State. A Humble Address may also be appropriate for matters closely connected to the prerogatives of the Crown, but in practical terms there is no difference between an order and a Humble Address.
I beg to move,
That, given the exceptional security concerns raised regarding the Rt Hon Member for Fareham serving as Secretary of State for the Home Department, this House:
(1) orders that there be laid before this House, within ten sitting days, a return of the following papers:
(a) any risk assessment of the Rt Hon Member for Fareham by the Cabinet Office or the Prime Minister’s Office relating to her appointment
(b) any document held by the Cabinet Office, the Home Office or the Prime Minister’s Office containing or related to
(i) any security breaches by the Rt Hon Member for Fareham
(ii) any leak inquiries regarding the Rt Hon Member for Fareham, including during her time as Home Secretary and Attorney General
(c) the minutes of, submissions relevant to and electronic communications relating to, any meeting within the Cabinet Office or the Prime Minister’s Office at which the appointment of the Rt Hon Member for Fareham, or advice relating to that appointment, was discussed in a form which may contain redactions, but such redactions shall be solely for the purposes of national security; and
(2) recommends that where material is laid before the House in a redacted form, the Government should at the same time provide unredacted copies of such material to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.
It is 15 days since the Prime Minister appointed his new Cabinet, and 14 days since it was reported that he had been advised not to reappoint certain Ministers, including the Home Secretary and, it was rumoured, the Minister without Portfolio, Sir Gavin Williamson, to their posts on the grounds of standards and of security. Fourteen days in which it has been reported that the Home Secretary breached Home Office security arrangements not just once but seven times; that she may have also broken insider trading rules; that as Attorney General she was investigated several times by leak inquiries; that she ignored legal advice on Manston, contrary to her statement to Parliament; and that she failed to take the action needed to solve the dangerous overcrowding at Manston, leaving her successor and predecessor to pick up the pieces, and that she may well have run up a huge legal liability for the taxpayer as a result, breaching the ministerial code again in the process.
It has also been reported that the Minister with Portfolio sent abusive texts to the then Government Chief Whip, that the Prime Minister was told about this and knew the former Chief Whip had put in a formal complaint, and that there are other complaints against the Minister without Portfolio including, most seriously, words used towards a civil servant about slitting his throat or jumping out of windows—words that it is reported the Minister with Portfolio has not denied using.
This is in the space of two weeks. Many people have been appalled by these appointments, and serious doubts have been raised by many Conservative Members who believe standards need to be maintained. The Prime Minister promised us that this would be a break from his predecessors, from the favours-for-mates culture of Boris Johnson and from the chaos of Elizabeth Truss. Instead, the opposite has happened.
People have been appointed to senior jobs in the Cabinet, running the country, not because they can do the job or because they will maintain the high standards and security that the Government need but because of dodgy political deals. Here is what we know: the Home Secretary breached the ministerial code, sent Government documents not only to her private email but to other people outside Government who were not authorised to receive them, including a Back-Bench Member, his spouse, and someone else entirely by accident. She was forced to resign and then, six days later, she was reappointed.
That, in itself, is extremely hard for people outside the Conservative party to understand. For a police officer who breached their code of ethics or who was responsible for security lapses to the point of being forced to resign, or for a civil servant, public appointee or company employee who was found to have broken their employment code or security rules to the point of being required to resign, the idea that they could be reappointed to that same job just six days later is unthinkable—the idea that somehow, because they had apologised in the meantime, six days off is just fine.
I have had letters from upset civil servants who have seen colleagues make lesser misdemeanours and lose their jobs, yet seen the Home Secretary, the woman in charge of national security, hold on to hers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this shows that there is one rule for the Home Secretary and one rule for everybody else?
My hon. Friend is exactly right on that. It is worse, as the Government do believe that standards on ethics and security should be upheld throughout the public sector or across the economy, just not, it would seem, in the Cabinet—not in the post responsible for upholding the law and for maintaining our security. It really is one rule for them and another for everyone else.
I am hearing what the right hon. Lady is saying, but is this motion not an obvious attempt to divert attention away from the fact that the Labour party simply does not have any alternatives or policies in home affairs, or any other area for that matter? This is a simple, naked attempt to play the man not the ball—or in this case, the woman not the ball.
The Labour party has set out a whole series of policies, both on what needs to be done to get neighbourhood police back on the beat—I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman’s party has cut 6,000 neighbourhood police from our streets over the last five years—and with the measures to set out a National Crime Agency unit to take on the criminal gangs who, unfortunately, the Conservative party has allowed to proliferate and set up a multimillion-pound criminal industry in the channel.
There is also a responsibility on the Government to maintain standards, including security standards. It is not just about what happened before the Home Secretary’s breach; since she was reappointed, a Home Office review has found that she had, in fact, sent Government documents to her personal IT seven times in six weeks, which is quite a rate. There have also been reports that when she was Attorney General she was involved in not one but several leak inquiries, including one involving briefing to a newspaper about a security service case. Notably, that briefing was later quoted in court against the Government and made it harder for them to get the injunction they were seeking. Another case involved the leaking of legal advice on the Northern Ireland protocol and another involved the early leaking of a court judgment.
It has also been reported that both the Cabinet Office and the Cabinet Secretary advised against this appointment. Obviously, this is serious. The Home Secretary is in charge of security and has to show leadership on this issue. She has to be trusted by the intelligence and security agencies, and by senior police officers, not to be careless with information. She has to show that she takes security and standards seriously, because that is what she has to expect of others.
So this is an exceptional situation, which is why we have laid this motion. If the Prime Minister does have confidence in the Home Secretary not to be careless with public safety or with issues around security, he should release the facts. What other security lapses by the Home Secretary was the Prime Minister informed about before he reappointed her? Did he ask whether there had been other lapses in the Home Office or as Attorney General before he reappointed her? What information was he given about the other reported leak inquiries and whether she might have had a role in them? Was he advised against reappointing the Home Secretary on security and standards grounds? If the advice and the information he was given was all fine, tell us, show us. If it was not, start explaining why on earth the security and public safety of our country is put in careless hands.
Talking about “careless hands” is an appropriate way of starting this intervention, because before 2019 the then Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, actually cast doubt on our security services by questioning the intelligence on the Salisbury poisoning. Did every Labour MP not try to make him Prime Minister of this country? Is the real threat to our national security not Members on the Labour Benches?
Members will know that, at the time of the Skripal crisis, I disagreed with some of the words used by the right hon. Member for Islington North, and I was very clear about that in this House and about the importance of backing our security services. However, I would say to the hon. Member that I have a lot more concerns about his right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, who, at the height of the Skripal crisis, chose to go to a place called the Russian Mountain, to a villa in Italy, where he met an ex-KGB agent without his officials. He took a guest, but he did not report who that guest was. He did not report the meeting with the ex-KGB agent to the Department when he returned, nor can he remember whether any Government business was discussed. I suggest to the hon. Member that he should be extremely worried about his right hon. Friend’s careless approach to security and to our national security.
Order. I have allowed a bit of ding-dong there, but please can we now focus on the motion before the House today?
This motion provides for redactions if there are any national security concerns about the content of the information requested, and it provides for unredacted information to be sent to the Intelligence and Security Committee instead, so there can be no security objections to this motion—quite the opposite. If Conservative Members care about credibility and security, they should support the motion now.
Is it not rather more fundamental than that? If a constituent comes to me with something important and I have to sort out the problem, it is crucial that that remains confidential. If I break that trust, I will be letting my constituent down, and also damaging democracy itself, because we must trust our politicians. Is not that really what is at stake here?
The hon. Member is right that there are standards that have to be followed. When the issues are around important Government business, it is a problem when somebody has breached those standards to the point of effectively being sacked and then is reappointed just six days later. That is what people across the country will not understand.
I apologise for interrupting my right hon. Friend. She is making an excellent speech. This is an incredibly important debate. Is not the problem that the standards being observed in the Government have just sunk too low? Reappointing somebody six days after such serious security breaches brings into question the level at which the Government think it appropriate to guard our national security. The response of Members on the Conservative Benches today suggests that they do not take it seriously either, and that needs to change urgently.
My hon. Friend is right. There has been a real sense over many years now that the respect for standards in public life from the Government and the Conservative party has been deteriorating and has been undermining standards in our important institutions. The Prime Minister promised us that there would be something different. Instead, what we have is more of the same.
The Cabinet Office has already recognised that the Home Secretary broke sections 2.1 and 2.14 of the ministerial code. There are further serious concerns that she may have broken it a third time and also ignored legal advice that the Home Office was breaking the law. Yesterday morning, her successor and predecessor, now the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said that he had had clear advice—legal and policy advice—about dangerous overcrowding at Manston, about being in breach of the law, and about the need to take emergency measures, which he then took. We have deep concerns about how the Government could have allowed this situation to develop in the first place, why they badly failed to crack down on the criminal gangs that have proliferated in the channel and why they allowed Home Office decision making to collapse, so that only half the number of decisions are being taken each year compared with six years ago and only 4% of last year’s small boat arrivals had their claims determined, so that there is now a huge backlog of cases that has led to overcrowding and the last-minute use of costly hotels in inappropriate locations.
However, there is also a serious question whether the Home Secretary has just made things worse by ignoring legal advice and allowing dangerous overcrowding, leading to even more last-minute inappropriate procurement and running up substantial legal liabilities when she should have an alternative plan to cut the backlog and cut hotel use instead.
Plaid Cymru supports this motion. The context here is the reappointment of the Home Secretary, and the appointment of a Minister without Portfolio despite bullying allegations against him—and all that after one Prime Minister was brought down by scandals and another due to ineptitude. Is it not the problem not just those specific individuals, but the fact that the very systems of accountability here in Westminster are fundamentally unfit for purpose, save for maintaining the thinnest pretence of competency from this Tory Government?
The right hon. Lady makes an important point, because the standards in our public life and public institutions have depended on people respecting them and on people across public life believing in them and taking them immensely seriously. That is why it is so corrosive when, bit by bit, they are undermined, and why it is so damaging when a new Prime Minister who promised us he would be so different from his predecessors is simply reinforcing the same problems and the same damaging situation.
The Home Affairs Committee has just returned from a visit to Manston this morning. We heard that the numbers have reduced from over 4,000 at the end of October to just over 1,200 today. What perplexes the members of the Committee is that we do not understand how the number of people could reach 4,000 in a facility designed for only 1,600. How was that allowed to happen? I am very interested in what my right hon. Friend says about Manston and about getting some answers; we very much hope that the Home Secretary will come to the Home Affairs Committee to give those answers shortly.
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. I hope the Select Committee will be able to get answers, because if the then Home Secretary, now the Business Secretary, Grant Shapps, was clear on
It has been reported that the Home Secretary was warned in the middle of September about the deteriorating circumstances, the fact that things were going to get worse and the high risk of successful legal challenge because the Home Office was breaking the law. She was warned on
“I have never ignored legal advice.”—[Official Report,
The advice made clear what the law said and how things would get worse unless she acted, so what on earth is her definition of the word “ignored”? The definition I looked up says, “To disregard intentionally”, and that appears to be exactly what she did.
If the Home Secretary wants to claim it was not intentional, but somehow accidental—that she just did not really have a clue what the consequences were of her inaction—I think that makes things worse.
If my memory serves me correctly, the right hon. Lady brought an urgent question to this place about a year ago opposing the use of Napier army barracks for those who enter this country illegally. She has just said she also opposes costly hotels. Just where would she accommodate those who have entered our country illegally?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will recall that what happened at Napier was that the Government ended up with a huge outbreak of more than 200 covid cases, at the height of a covid crisis, because they were failing to follow basic public health rules and requirements. To be honest, it was an incident that the Home Office again does not seem to have learned from, as we have had outbreaks of diphtheria, MRSA and scabies at Manston. Frankly, if the Home Office and the Government want to solve this properly, they need to address the total collapse in decision making, with just 14,000 decisions being made a year, which is half the number being decided just five or six years ago. That huge backlog has increased as a result of Government legislation that has added to the bureaucracy and made those delays much worse.
The backlog is a hugely significant issue. Among my heavy case load, I have a surgeon who cannot move hospitals because he cannot get his visa turned around, families who are separated and spouses who cannot live together. That is the real human impact. We are turning our back on good people who want to work and live in this country because they are caught in the backlog as a result of the Home Secretary’s actions.
Just before the shadow Home Secretary responds, I say to Members on both sides of the House that this is quite a specific motion on the papers relating to the Home Secretary. It is not a general debate on the Home Secretary or other Government Ministers, so please be mindful of that in any interventions from either side of the House, so that we can focus on what this motion is about.
The issue is about whether or not the Home Secretary is continuing to breach the ministerial code. We know that on
My right hon. Friend notes that the Home Secretary says that she did not ignore the law, but she does not say that she followed the law or complied with the law. Yesterday, a Minister appeared to be saying that the Home Secretary chose to break the law in one way, rather than another way, which was to put people out destitute on to the streets of Kent. Is that not almost an admission that there has been lawbreaking in this case?
The important point here is that Ministers have a responsibility for public safety, security and meeting and upholding standards. Part of the reason we are seeking this information and these facts about the decisions that were made is to find out whether any of these issues and concerns that have been raised in the Home Office were raised with the Prime Minister at the time, or whether the way in which the Home Secretary had behaved was raising concerns within the Cabinet Office and with the Cabinet Secretary.
On what occasions during the previous Labour Government did the Government release legal advice they were given? In particular, did Tony Blair release the advice given to him on the Iraq war?
The right hon. Gentleman is rewinding 12 years. We have had 12 years with a Conservative Government in place, and we have been very clear that this is about exceptional circumstances. He will know that a similar motion was supported by this House about Members of the other place, similarly in exceptional circumstances. We have also been clear that if there are any security concerns around the advice or information given to the Prime Minister, that should be shared instead with the Intelligence and Security Committee—that is the responsible way to do it.
As someone who spent a few years working as an official in the Home Office, I am all too aware of how important it is to protect our national security. Is it not the case that the Government failing to provide the report to the Intelligence and Security Committee indicates that this Government are not serious about national security?
That is the problem. We have these reports in the papers and the allegations that have been made, and we must bear in mind that this is not simply about the security lapses that the Home Secretary herself has recognised and admitted to; it is also about reports of further leak investigations during her time as Attorney General. We are simply asking for factual information about whether or not these were raised as concerns and whether or not this was an issue of concern for the Cabinet Office and the Cabinet Secretary when the Prime Minister made his reappointment decision.
This goes to a wider problem about the way in which the Prime Minister appears to have been taking his decisions. The Government have confirmed that the Prime Minister knew about the complaint from the former Chief Whip, Wendy Morton, against the Cabinet Office Minister, the Minister without Portfolio, Sir Gavin Williamson, which also involves very serious allegations, including about the use of language. We should remember, too, that that Cabinet Office Minister was previously sacked from the Government by Mrs May for leaking information from the National Security Council. He has now been reappointed to the Cabinet Office—the very office that is responsible for supporting the National Security Council and leading on cyber-security. This matters—maintaining standards, maintaining the ministerial code and showing leadership on security matters.
Is not the reason that we have to ask for these papers to be laid before the House and put in the public domain that, time and again, those on the Government Benches have shown that they lack any judgment on national security, probity and integrity? They had a Prime Minister who had to resign in scandal, and there have been numerous scandals and leaks and a dangerous lack of regard for national security. In normal times, the Prime Minister would be able to see these documents, and they would not need to be presented to the House because this would have been dealt with, but these are not normal times, because the Conservative party has shown that it does not regard national security in the same way that we do.
My hon. Friend makes a really important point: national security matters for all of us. This is a time when the national security threats that our country faces have changed. We face new threats from hostile states who wish to do our democracy harm. We face cyber threats from those who want to undermine our national interest. Cabinet Ministers are the custodians of that national interest, and we need all of them to take that seriously and not be careless about the risks that we face and the impact of a lack of leadership on these kinds of issue.
Sadly, the reality is that we have had a series of Conservative Prime Ministers who have not taken these issues seriously. Boris Johnson, at the height of the Skripal crisis, as I said earlier, wandered off to a Russian villa in Italy, met an ex-KGB agent, took an unknown guest, did not report it to officials and still cannot remember whether Government business was discussed. Elizabeth Truss was accused of using her private phone for sensitive Government business, and
If this is all nonsense, then Government Members should support the motion and show us that there is not a problem—show us that the Prime Minister does take this incredibly seriously, has asked the right questions and has got the right reassurances. He has only been in post two weeks, and already we have this chaos. He said he wants to stand up for integrity, so enforce the ministerial code. He said he wants professionalism, so appoint people who can do the job. He said he wants accountability, so support this motion and show some accountability to the House.
It is, as ever, a pleasure to reply to the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper. I was pleased to hear from the Chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee, Dame Diana Johnson, that her Committee visited Manston today and saw, I assume, at first hand the improvements there. What a pity we are not discussing that today. What a pity we are not discussing the many pressing issues on matters of home affairs. What a pity that the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford did not choose to talk about policing and the matters that affect the people on the streets of this country. I know how disappointed my hon. and right hon. Friends in the Home Office will be that they have not had the opportunity to cross swords with her this afternoon. Instead, she has chosen to debate this motion—a motion for return. She ranged far and wide, touching on rumour and speculation but rarely on the specifics of the motion, and I was grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your guidance.
However, I am pleased with the debate. In the intervention of my right hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh, we heard that, somehow, a self-confessed error of judgment relating to an email not on an issue of national security represents exceptional circumstances, in the view of the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, but that, in the last Government, the fact that this country was going to war did not represent exceptional circumstances, according to the right hon. Lady.
I would like to bring the debate back to the motion before the House. In her letter to the Home Affairs Committee on
“did not contain any information relating to national security”.
As I set out to the House in response to the urgent question tabled by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, the ministerial code allows for a range of sanctions in the event that a breach has occurred. In the light of the breach, the Home Secretary stepped down and her resignation was accepted by the then Prime Minister. The appointment of Ministers is a matter for the Prime Minister, in line with his role as the sovereign’s principal adviser. On appointing the Home Secretary to the Government, he received assurances from her. He was clear that she had recognised her error and had accepted the consequences. He considered that the matter was closed. He was pleased to be able to bring the Home Secretary, with her undoubted drive and commitment, back into Government and to be working with her to make our streets safer and to control our borders —matters that could have been discussed this afternoon.
I understand the desire to see inside the process of ministerial appointments and to make public discussions that may form part of any appointment. However, there are compelling and common-sense reasons why that desire should be resisted.
Many a person who has gone through our court system will get 12 months’ probation. Why is six days good enough for the Home Secretary?
I do not know the cases to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Every case must be looked at on a case-by-case basis. What we are dealing with here is a circumstance in which a breach of the ministerial code happened. The Home Secretary accepted that. She acknowledged her error; it will not happen again. The Prime Minister had to take a judgment on that basis, and he did.
Once again, the Government have put out the man who defends anything, however bad it is, to speak for them. This is not just a matter of a security leak; it is a fundamental matter of the judgment of the woman who is responsible for our national security—the Minister cannot just brush it under the carpet as a six-day matter. The Home Secretary’s judgment is at stake, and there is no evidence that that judgment is any better today than it was when she made these leaks.
The Home Secretary does not deny that it was an error of judgment; she made that absolutely clear in her letter to the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North, the Chairman of the Select Committee. It was an error of judgment; she recognised that error of judgment, she apologised for it and it will not be repeated.
However, coming back to the motion for return, it is critical to the functioning of government that conversations that occur around appointments are able to take place in confidence. There is therefore a long-standing practice, implemented by Governments of all political persuasions, of protecting that confidentiality. Without the ability to speak freely ahead of an appointment on matters that will be personal, that can be sensitive and that can even relate to personal security, the ability for meaningful advice to be delivered would be massively undermined. Individuals being considered for appointment need to know that they can speak freely and without reservation to the Prime Minister and officials, and if necessary share concerns, without the prospect of confidential information being placed into the public domain.
I wish to reassure hon. Members that appointments in Government are of course subject to advice on matters of propriety. In the formation of this Government, the usual reshuffle procedures were followed, as is appropriate, but the Government firmly and resolutely believe that any information relating to those procedures is not appropriate for publication, either now or in the future.
After the recent chaos and crashing of the economy, I was most heartened when I heard the Prime Minister declaring to the country that he would be conducting proceedings with integrity and professionalism. Yet the day after, he appointed as his Home Secretary somebody who had to be removed from Government just six days earlier for having breached the ministerial code, and now he has included in his Cabinet somebody who was sacked from office for leaking information from the National Security Council. So much for national security and acting with integrity and in the national interest. Does the Minister agree that the British public will simply conclude that it is the same old Tories, making the same old grubby deals to desperately cling on to power?
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention started so well. Like him, I greatly appreciated the words of the Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street. He set out clearly what his Administration would stand for, and he was right to do so. He made it absolutely clear that Ministers in his Administration will have to adhere to the ministerial code. That is what is expected of us all.
I also believe there is a role for redemption. The Home Secretary made it clear that she had made an error, she apologised for that error, and she gave assurances to the Prime Minister, who is at liberty in forming his Administration to take a view and to decide to give someone a second chance. It is his right and his ability as Prime Minister to take those decisions.
The Minister is very kind in giving way. He will know that it has been reported in the papers that the Home Secretary, when she was Attorney General, was interviewed as part of several leak inquiries. Has the Minister seen the conclusions of those leak inquiries, and did the Prime Minister see the conclusions of those leak inquiries before he made the appointment decision?
The right hon. Lady turns to leak investigations, to which I was also about to turn my remarks. As she knows, it has been the policy of successive Governments not to comment on the specific details of leak investigations, to protect the sensitive techniques and procedures involved. What I can say is that all Ministers and the officials and advisers who support them most closely have, on occasion, access to large amounts of sensitive Government information. Regrettably, at times, some of this information is leaked. When this happens and inquiries are launched, all individuals in Government who had access to the information would fall within the scope of such an inquiry. That does not mean that they are guilty or necessarily personally even under investigation; it means simply that they had access to the information in question.
The Home Secretary has given a full account of, and has taken responsibility for, the events that led up to her resignation. The Prime Minister is satisfied with that account and considers the matter closed. We believe that the proposal in this motion is inappropriate and would set a deeply injurious precedent for important procedures, not only now but long into the future. I know that the right hon. Lady is upset that Home Office Ministers are not in the Chamber to debate with her this afternoon, but she could have chosen this evening to debate the Labour approach to stopping small boat crossings, which I am sure would have been enlightening for us all. She could have chosen to debate the fact that this Government have recruited over 15,300 extra police. Labour Members could have probed the campaign that has closed 2,400 county lines, with over 8,000 related arrests. Instead, they are concentrating not on home affairs but on a fishing expedition. I trust the House will reject the attempt.
I think nobody in this Chamber will be surprised to hear me say that I think there are a million reasons why the Home Secretary should be nowhere near the office that she currently holds—whether it is her atrocious rhetoric about Rwanda, her desperate smears about a “Benefits Street” culture, her trashing of the Attorney General’s office or the fact that, as far as I can tell, she still thinks that the infamous mini-Budget was brilliant and worth sticking to.
This morning, I joined colleagues from different Committees to visit Manston. I hate to report to the Minister that we did not notice an improvement there; rather, we noticed a significant deterioration, not because of the hard work of the staff there, but because of the overcrowding. As the shadow Home Secretary said, it is fair to say that the Home Secretary has significant questions to answer as to why Manston was allowed to move from being a strict 24-hour short-term facility to a place where families are having to spend days and weeks living on mattresses on the floor, not because of, but despite the efforts of staff, who have been placed in an impossible position by the Home Secretary.
This afternoon, the Labour Opposition have raised security concerns, and of course they are perfectly entitled to do so. Indeed, it is something of an open goal given not only the Home Secretary’s own words, but those of many of her former and current colleagues—none of whom is here today, it has to be said—who have expressed doubts about whether they could accept what the Home Secretary says, publicly questioned a serious breach of security, and suggested that multiple breaches of the ministerial code occurred. In her words:
“Pretending we haven’t made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can’t see that we have made them, and hoping that things will magically come right is not serious politics.”
But that seems to be a very good description of precisely what she is trying to do now, hoping that people do not fully understand what happened or that they forget.
In fact, the only objectionable thing about those words is her characterising what happened as a mistake—and the Minister veered towards that description today as well—but she did not resign because of a mistake. Her own resignation letter confirms that she resigned because she quite intentionally used her personal email to share a sensitive Government document with someone outside Government. She knowingly and deliberately broke the rules, and she was therefore right to resign.
The hon. Member raises a very fair point. There are all sorts of things missing from the Home Secretary’s letters—both her resignation letter and her letter to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—which raises all sorts of questions, some of which I will come to.
The fact is that the Home Secretary took an incredibly blasé attitude to sensitive information. When the incident that prompted her resignation happened, unlike everybody else involved, she just carried on as if nothing of note had occurred. Her resignation letter downplayed the incident as “technical” and did not in fact present the full picture, as we have just heard.
My hon. Friend is telling it like it is. When I asked both the Home Secretary and the Minister responsible for national security if they would countenance an employee—a civil servant—being re-employed after such a breach, neither of them would answer the question. Is it not the case that they would not accept that in any circumstance, and it is just a disgrace that she maintains her position as Home Secretary?
My hon. Friend makes an absolutely valid point, in that we are holding staff to a much higher standard than the standard to which the Home Secretary appears to want to hold herself.
The other point I want to make is the contrast between how others responded on the day of these events and how the Home Secretary responded. When the staffer who was the accidental recipient of the draft ministerial statement picked up the email, he or she understood that it was an important matter. That staffer flagged the issue both directly to the Home Secretary and to his or her boss. In contrast, the Home Secretary just asked them to delete it and carried on with routine meetings, alerting absolutely nobody.
When the Home Secretary’s colleague who employs that staff member saw what had been sent and how it had been sent, he too understood the significance. He emailed the Home Secretary directly to express concern about security and the ministerial code, and he made clear her response so far had been unacceptable given
“what appears, on the face of it, to be a potentially serious breach of security.”
He was concerned enough to consider a point of order in this very Chamber, and he approached the Government Chief Whip, yet while he was taking all these very significant steps, in contrast the Home Secretary had wandered off to Westminster Hall to meet a couple of constituents, still having alerted nobody.
When the Chief Whip heard what had happened, she understood the significance. She WhatsApped the Home Secretary and then, along with her colleague, seems to have gone to track the Home Secretary down. More than that, the Chief Whip notified the Prime Minister’s private office. In contrast, the Home Secretary failed to notify anybody, until of course it had been taken out of her hands. Only on being confronted did the Home Secretary do anything about it, and she went off to speak to her special adviser.
None of these events supports the Home Secretary’s claim of a rapid report to official channels. As one of her own colleagues expressed it, the evidence was put to her and she had to accept the evidence, rather than the other way round. Her sluggish response has only two explanations: either she was simply hoping to get away with her breach, head in the sand, or she totally failed to understand the significance of it. Perhaps it was both: she thought she could get away with it precisely because she thought it did not really matter. Indeed, I have heard almost nothing since to suggest that, if she had not been caught, she would not still be operating in precisely the same way today.
Not only did the Home Secretary’s actions at the time show little regard for the seriousness of treating sensitive information in that way—so did her subsequent attempts at an explanation. Her resignation letter totally failed to mention that a sensitive Government document had been sent to an accidental recipient, referring instead only to the “trusted colleague” she sent it to. She claimed in that letter to have reported the breach “rapidly” on official channels, when in reality she carried on as if nothing had happened until she was caught. She talked of a “technical infringement” and she has since been at pains to point out that this was not top secret information. However, at paragraph 28 of her letter to the Committee Chair, she acknowledges that “of course” a draft ministerial statement is sensitive. Indeed, it was so sensitive that she could not append it to the letter to the Home Affairs Committee Chair. What is more, it could not even be shared with the Chair, except on a confidential basis. Yet she was happy to batter that off from her Gmail account to a trusted colleague with a quick, “What do you think?” Extraordinary complacency.
To emphasise the point, next week, we will almost certainly pass legislation promoted by the Home Office that would see some people leaking protected information like that imprisoned for life, depending on the reasons they were doing it. I am not remotely suggesting that what the Home Secretary did is remotely comparable to the offences we will be passing in relation to the National Security Bill, but the fact that her own Department wants to protect that information from foreign state actors, with sentences of up to life imprisonment, puts quite a perspective on it. As has been pointed out, that is a double standard when compared with how other people would be treated in similar circumstances.
There are still many questions to be answered. In her letter to the Committee Chair, the Home Secretary said that the document was emailed to her Gmail account simply because No. 10’s proposed edits had come in “too late” to print them off. So why not just email it to her Government account? The letter also says there was no market sensitive data in the leaked document. Why then did No. 10 apparently repeatedly brief that there was?
The letter to the Committee Chair also reveals that a Home Office inquiry found six further uses of personal IT to look at sensitive Government documents. Despite efforts to downplay it, that is more than once a week. Is the Home Secretary really arguing that neither she nor the Home Office could come up with a better way to allow her to view documents while taking part in online meetings? As she notes in her letter to the Chair:
“The Guidance on ‘Security of Government Business’ makes it clear that you should not use your personal IT…for Government business at any classification;
and the Government’s stated position is that Government systems should, as far as reasonably possible, be used for the conduct of HMG business.”
She knew all that, yet she deliberately and repeatedly sent those documents in breach of those rules. More importantly, how often did this happen in previous roles? The inquiry we have heard about clearly relates only to Home Office documents and her time at the Home Office alone. Are we really to believe this was the first time she had shared sensitive information with her “trusted colleague”?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the absurd excuse from the Home Secretary. Is not it the case that she could use an iPad for a phone call and a Government-issued phone to view documents? She clearly has access to more than one parliamentary device, so to say that she had to use her personal device is ridiculous.
A whole host of arrangements could have been made that would have been far preferable to what the Home Secretary did, and it is extraordinary that she thought that was something she could do week in, week out.
The shadow Home Secretary highlighted other reports of investigations: first, an apparent probe into whether the current Home Secretary, while Attorney General, leaked sensitive details about the Northern Ireland protocol; secondly, a probe by the Government security group at the Cabinet Office into leaks about the Government’s plan to seek an injunction against the BBC in relation to reports of a spy accused of abusing his position to mistreat a former partner. Apparently, that leak caused MI5 “concern”. According to another report, the Home Secretary has been subject to three official Cabinet leak inquiries this year alone.
I appreciate that, ultimately, no conclusive evidence was found in these cases, but it is fair for us to ask whether these events and inquiries formed part of the Prime Minister’s deliberations before the Home Secretary’s reappointment. Did he seek advice from agencies? What precisely was the view of the Cabinet Secretary? Is it correct that he advised against her reappointment? All those are absolutely legitimate questions that the motion would help us find answers to.
The ultimate question, though, is about the Prime Minister’s judgment. Given all these issues and concerns, the outstanding questions and the resignation just one week before, how on earth could he think it sensible and appropriate to reappoint the Home Secretary to such an important role in charge of national security? No doubt the Prime Minister thought it in his interests to appoint her—we all know why that was—but it does not seem that he weighed up the UK’s security interests in coming to that decision. It was, in the Home Secretary’s words, “right” for her “to go”. It is not right that she is back in the same post, and so quickly. In fact, it is ludicrous and everyone knows it. That, in a nutshell, is why we need to support the motion.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in the debate. When it comes to standards in public life and adhering to the ministerial code, my constituents are very quick to let me know if they think that something is not right, and my record on issues that have happened in the last couple of years shows that I would be the first in line to make a statement on that. I have had nine emails in my inbox on this issue—not the hundreds that I would normally expect to receive—and some of them are supportive of the Home Secretary. The Opposition are allowed to have a number of Opposition day debates. I am disappointed that they have not used this one for something that really matters to my constituents.
What really does matter to my constituents in terms of what the Home Secretary is trying to tackle is the small boat crossings, which we talked about yesterday in the Chamber. They want to see that dealt with so that those who need our help and support can have it and we have the capacity to offer safe and legal routes. My constituents want the Home Office to ensure that asylum claims are processed fairly and efficiently and that we can stop the criminal gangs taking advantage of vulnerable people with those unsafe boat crossings.
Today and this week, on the M25 not far from my constituency, Just Stop Oil protesters have been climbing gantries. My constituents are concerned about having their journeys disrupted as they go about their business. They want the Home Secretary to be providing our police with the powers they need to ensure that the protesters who have chosen to sit on motorway gantries can be removed swiftly and the roads reopened.
My constituents care about antisocial behaviour. I know of the widespread distress of individuals who have been affected by antisocial behaviour in neighbourhoods in my constituency. I welcome the addition of 155 new police officers in Surrey, which will help to combat crime and make our community safer. They are visible. A young girl had someone expose themselves to her on a local bus. She sat at a bus stop in distress and tears. Two female police officers saw her, pulled over and helped and supported her. We are improving policing and I am seeing the results in my community.
My constituents care about violence against women and girls being tackled and want our Home Secretary to get on and deliver the strategy to tackle that. They welcome the safer streets fund and the safety of women at night fund. I also welcome that almost £1 million of funding has been provided by the Home Office to Surrey police as part of the what works fund to provide a package of support for—
Order. I have given a bit of latitude, but speeches should be about the motion before us. This is not a general debate on home affairs.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. As a result, speeches will be short. It is not appropriate for the Government to publish information relating to confidential advice, which is sought by the Opposition’s motion. Were they fortunate enough to be in government, that advice would need to be given to them. They are asking us to publish these papers. They have to accept that we would ask the same of them if we were in opposition. On that note, I will not support the motion.
I want to begin by congratulating the Home Secretary on doing the right thing by resigning just three weeks ago. The holder of that great office of state is responsible for Great Britain’s national security and oversight of all security services. After the first breach that Parliament and the public became aware of, the Home Secretary considered the impact on our country of that major breach and resigned. How did the Prime Minister satisfy himself that it was unlikely to happen again? He reappointed her and now there are six allegations of full breaches of security that we know of. How much more do we not know? Do the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and Cabinet members expect Ukraine, the United States and the European Union to trust Great Britain with their security?
On his appointment, the Prime Minister promised that
“This Government will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.”
What is worrying is that, just six days later, he reappointed the Home Secretary with full knowledge of the first security breach. It now turns out that the Home Secretary is alleged to have committed at least six full breaches, yet how come he trusts the Home Secretary with our national security? Does he really expect and believe that Parliament and the public will forget a breach of national security and trust this Government?
The reality is that the Home Office does not have the time to be part of a psychodrama. We all saw over summer how much chaos the passport backlog caused. We have seen the events at Manston caused by the lack of processing of applications. Thousands of asylum seekers are living in inhumane conditions, with children imprisoned for months, and now there are radicals throwing firebombs at them. We all know how intricate security and confidence must be maintained so the security services can keep this country and its people safe.
The Prime Minister needs to start putting the country before party. The deal with the Home Secretary to help him become Prime Minister is not worth compromising our national security. Is it true that the Prime Minister is now coercing other Ministers to do the media rounds and defend the indefensible? This is not a one-off. The Prime Minister also decided to reappoint Sir Gavin Williamson, a former Defence Secretary, to the Cabinet—a Defence Secretary who was sacked by a previous Prime Minister for leaking information from a top-level National Security Council meeting. As a Minister of State in the Cabinet Office, he will now be responsible for our national cyber-security. I wonder what the Prime Minister found so appealing about a man who has helped to run two successful Conservative leadership elections.
For all the talk of trust and getting back on track, the Prime Minister has put himself and his party above our country. This House and the country need to know what information the Prime Minister had before reappointing the Home Secretary. Did he know of all the security breaches? Could he come clean? Was there any consideration or risk assessment prior to the reappointment of the Home Secretary, who looks after our national security and has oversight of all security services? Was there any risk of breach of confidential material? Yes. Was the risk identified? Yes. The Home Secretary herself identified it and resigned. She recognised that she was not up to the job and that there was a risk of it happening again.
How did the Prime Minister satisfy himself that it was unlikely to happen again? He reappointed the Home Secretary, and now there are six allegations of full breaches. How much more do we not know? Do the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and Cabinet Ministers expect Ukraine, the United States and the European Union to trust Great Britain with their security? They should be able to expect that.
Our country is entitled to have a Government with a Prime Minister, a Home Secretary and Cabinet Ministers who put the country first. Integrity, professionalism and accountability need to be far more than words and more than a newspaper headline. It is time to clean up our country and this Government.
You caught me slightly off-guard, Mr Deputy Speaker—I do not think that I have ever been called so early. It was quite dramatic, but one will have to do what one can. Bearing in mind that I have spoken quite fluently on many of these issues recently, it should not be too much of a challenge.
I note that I did not have an answer to my question, when I made an intervention on the shadow Home Secretary, about quite where these individuals should be based. She has opposed former Army barracks being used. She has opposed costly hotels being used. We do not know what the answer is.
I have slightly lost track—I do not know whether the approach of the Opposition is to go through every single mechanism for debating the same issue over and over again— but I think we have had an urgent question; maybe we have had a statement and had it raised at Prime Minister’s questions; and now we are having an Opposition day debate. It seems ever so slightly extraordinary. I note that my hon. Friend Angela Richardson has had nine emails on it. Perhaps we should not use our phones in here but sometimes we do to communicate with our staff on important matters, so I did say to my team, “How many emails have we received?” The answer was, actually, zero, so we will have to confirm that that is the case. But what I have had emails about is the small boats crisis. What I have had emails about is the use of a hotel in the town centre in Ipswich by 200 of these individuals and the impact that that could have on the local area. That is what they have raised. That is what they would much rather we discussed in this Opposition day debate.
Forgive me, Mr Deputy Speaker, but perhaps we are ever so slightly at risk of certain colleagues on the Government side of the House occasionally straying into topics that are slightly beyond the strict remit of this debate. But that is because it is incredibly difficult to debate something that we have already debated about eight times. What is there to say about it? Ultimately, it is difficult, when we are dealing with what is quite clearly a highly personalised political campaign against the Home Secretary, not to talk about the wider issues.
Why is it that those on the Opposition Benches dislike the Home Secretary so much? Actually, I took part in an interesting debate yesterday with a Labour shadow Minister who said that the reason why the Home Secretary was in place was that there was some sort of shabby deal with the extreme far right. I thought that it was interesting that the mask slipped there, because the Home Secretary’s views on immigration are actually, I think, shared by tens of millions of people up and down the country. The fact that there are shadow Front-Bench Members who think that many of their constituents’ views are actually the views of the far right is shocking. That tells us everything that we need to know about the Labour party’s approach to immigration—where there is an approach. It suits the Labour party to talk to death this issue about emails, because it has absolutely nothing to say when it comes to tackling the small boats crisis. Labour Members do not know where they would accommodate the individuals in question. They talk vaguely about speeding up the process for dealing with the applications, because we know what their approach to speeding up the applications would be: to grant everyone immediate refugee status, whether they are or not. So admittedly, there would be no queue, but we would also have huge numbers of people staying here indefinitely who quite probably are not refugees. I do not think that is the appropriate approach.
You have allowed me to discuss some of these issues, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I think that is necessary, because we are dealing with a highly personalised campaign against a Home Secretary who Labour Members do not like because they do not like her views. But the news is that those views—a belief in controlling our borders, a belief in controlled immigration, and a belief in distinguishing between genuine refugees and those who illegally, by choice, enter our country from another safe European country—are shared by, I believe, the majority of the country.
My political advice to the Labour party is that its current approach of ignoring the debate is not sustainable in the long term. We would like to know what its approach is. What we do know is that it opposed the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and opposed the Rwanda scheme, but I assume we will be back here soon discussing the same issue about emails.
I think I have concluded what I have to say—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]—much to the enjoyment of the Opposition. In my Westminster Hall debate earlier today, I spoke at length about my concerns about the Novotel situation in Ipswich. I have also made lots of interventions in statements from the Home Secretary in which I have made my support for her clear.
Ultimately, I take issue with the fact that so much parliamentary time is being spent on doing this issue to death. I have received no emails about it. What my constituents are concerned about is illegal immigration and how we tackle it. If we had spent these two or three hours talking in depth about how we can put rocket boosters under the Rwanda scheme, that would have been much more appropriate.
I am not giving way—I am simply not giving way. I have said my piece and I look forward to the wind-ups.
I do sympathise with hon. Members, but it is quite a narrow motion. I am really pleased that I am sitting in the Chair and not on either side of the House.
The Prime Minister faces serious questions about security concerns relating to the appointment of his Cabinet Ministers. The Home Secretary resigned only 20 days ago, saying:
“Pretending we haven’t made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can’t see that we have...is not serious politics. I have made a mistake;
I accept responsibility;
In a letter to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, she then admitted to six separate breaches of security—one for every week she was in post. The Prime Minister’s decision to reappoint her as Home Secretary six days after she broke the ministerial code, and to appoint Sir Gavin Williamson as a Minister after he was sacked for leaking sensitive information, was irresponsible and reckless. Once again, it showed the Tories putting party before country.
We need to know whether the Prime Minister even considered questions of security or the ministerial code when he made his Cabinet appointments. That is why Labour is calling on the Government to publish the papers relating to those decisions. Labour has called this debate because our constituents deserve to know what the Prime Minister was advised, whether he knew about security lapses at the Home Office, and whether the Home Secretary was involved in other leaks when she was Attorney General.
We all watched with horror as recent events unfolded at Manston asylum centre. It is disturbing that even though reports say that the Home Secretary was repeatedly warned, yet again she did not act quickly enough to make sure that vulnerable people were being held safely. In fact, on her watch the Home Office dumped some of those vulnerable people on the streets of London in the middle of the night.
The Prime Minister and his Cabinet have overseen constant chaos since he was imposed on us, but the Government are unable to be straight with us about whether their own Ministers are fit for the job. At a time when the public desperately need reassurance, the Prime Minister’s actions have done absolutely nothing to reassure my constituents.
The Home Secretary made an error of judgment, recognised her mistakes, and took accountability for her actions. Now we need to get on with tackling the significant challenges facing our country in general and my constituency in particular. The Home Secretary is entirely focused on delivering on the people’s priorities, and that includes taking further action to stem the number of people arriving here illegally in small boats, getting more police on our streets, and cracking down on crime.
Taking account of your admonishments, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will now focus on the issue at hand. Let me say first that it is not appropriate for Government to publish information relating to confidential advice. Breaching the confidentiality of advice regarding appointments will weaken the advice given to future Prime Ministers. Such advice can include sensitive information which may include matters of national security, and publishing it would set a precedent that would reduce the ability of future Prime Ministers to seek meaningful advice.
Our national security has always been protected. The documents in question did not contain any information relating to national security, the intelligence services, cyber-security or law enforcement. The data concerned was already in the public domain. The Home Secretary clarified that in her letter to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, in which she wrote:
“It did not contain any market-sensitive data as all the data contained in the document was already in the public domain.”
Does that mean that it is okay, if the material shared was not a matter of public security and was not secret or anything? Surely the code of practice for Ministers applies to everything. We cannot pick and choose between what is and what is not sensitive information. It is the behaviour that matters, not particular content.
I would like to make a general point here. When I look to the Opposition Benches, I see many people who have had problems—I will not go into the details—and I think that, as a centre of democracy, we should try to focus positively on the important issues that face our country rather than always denigrating anyone in a position of authority, which seems increasingly to be the only way in which the Labour party is prepared to conduct politics.
We are delivering on the people’s priorities, including cracking down on illegal migration by co-operating with the French authorities to dismantle international people-smuggling gangs and stopping more than 29,000 illegal crossings since the start of the year—twice as many as last year. We have passed our Nationality and Borders Act 2022, introducing new and tougher criminal offences and deterring illegal entry to the UK, and we have given Border Force additional powers, ensuring that our authorities are fully equipped to prevent illegal entry to the UK. We are putting more police on our streets and cracking down on crime by recruiting more than 15,300 additional police officers since 2019, including 145 new officers in north Wales, making our communities safer; and we have passed our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, strengthening police powers. By contrast, the Opposition’s cupboard is bare of policies to deal with illegal migration. There is plenty of talk, but very little in terms of specific policies. I therefore strongly support the Home Secretary’s policies to combat illegal migration and crime and make our country a safer place for us all.
Just imagine what would have happened if Lord Carrington had returned to office six days after his resignation. The Government would have barely had time to work out where South Georgia was, never mind give orders for its recapture—yet a Cabinet Minister’s return to office six days later is the situation that we see in this Government in 2022. This was just six days after she, by her own admission, deliberately emailed sensitive documents to a friend on the Back Benches without clearance. Since then, we have also heard about six further data breaches. What do they relate to? We do not know, so sensitive are they.
Lord Carrington understood a phrase that I was reminded of by a constituent from Axminster recently: noblesse oblige. One must act in a fashion that conforms to the position and privileges that have been bestowed upon one. This Government cannot seem to recognise that with privilege comes responsibility. We are in this place to act on behalf of our constituents and the country, not our own vested self-interest or party political interests. This exposes something about the Prime Minister. In spite of a myth crafted by a slick PR campaign, he is just as complicit as Conservative Prime Ministers before him.
It is clear that the Government have learned little from the past two years, including the by-election in Tiverton and Honiton this summer. Voters overwhelmingly said that they had had enough of sleaze and cover-up, yet to coin a phrase from one former Prime Minister, nothing has changed. This Home Secretary readily uses inflammatory language to exacerbate anxiety about inward migration. There is a real issue relating to inward migration that has developed while the Home Secretary has been in government, but instead of whipping up fear by speaking of an “invasion”, she should learn from Lord Carrington who, when faced with a real invasion—that of the Falkland Islands—did the right thing and resigned. So, too, should she.
It is a pleasure to follow Richard Foord. I was not planning to speak at length, because this all has an air of déjà vu about it, and apparently that is also true for official Opposition Members because there are so few of them here. I mean, this is an Opposition day motion and we are outnumbering them here by two to one. They are fed up with hearing about this too. It is not as if this topic has not been hashed and rehashed ad nauseam, but I suspect that Labour Members will continue to bang this particular drum for a while because, let’s face it, they have absolutely nothing else to talk about.
Yvette Cooper has taken on the demeanour of the witchfinder pursuivant lately: “I saw Goody Braverman talking to the ERG in the Aye Lobby—she must be hanged!” It is not like we are looking at the second coming of the Blair era here. We are not faced with bright, intelligent people bringing alternatives to this country; it is just more carping. They are a tired, lazy Opposition. I was going to call them beige but I think they are more of a Farrow and Ball crowd. I had a look through the range and the closest colour to beige I could find was called smoked trout, which I think is quite apt.
Mr Deputy Speaker, with your indulgence I am going to get to the motion via a slightly circuitous route. I am headed there and I am developing my argument en route. I think Labour Members might want to reflect on why they lost supposedly safe seats at the last general election, including mine in Heywood and Middleton. I know it is very easy to blame Brexit and that is of course their go-to: it must have been Brexit because everything was fantastic and they had such a good manifesto and everyone agreed with it; that is why people did not vote for them. We saw the first signs of that in 2017. There is a clear values dissonance between the Opposition’s increasingly metropolitan and louche outlook and what used to be their core vote.
When I knock on a door in my constituency I can guarantee that if I mention the Home Secretary, the first words out of someone’s mouth will not be, “Well, there was a data breach.” The first words out of their mouth will be “small boats”. Of course we are not talking about small boats today, but people want to know what we are doing to stop that influx of illegal migration. They want to make sure that our rightly generous and welcoming asylum system is not being abused by people coming here to take the mick. The fact that Labour Members care about what we are talking about today more than that issue should be extremely telling for the people who voted Conservative for the first time at the last election. My constituents want more coppers on the street and fewer boats in the channel, and I think we have the team in place to do that.
Turning to the motion, I would love to say that I was surprised by it, but yet again we have sixth-form politics. The official Opposition are asking to breach the confidentiality of advice regarding appointments. Officials should be able to rely on the advice that they give being done in a private and confidential way. Setting a precedent that their advice could be published as a matter of course would inevitably weaken the quality of the advice that they give to Prime Ministers of all parties.
We already know quite a lot of the salient details that the Opposition are asking for in this motion. The Home Secretary’s letter to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—Dame Diana Johnson is unfortunately not in her place—said:
“The draft WMS did not contain any information relating to national security, the intelligence agencies, cyber security or law enforcement. It did not contain details of any particular case work.”
The letter also points to the fact that the data in question was already in the public domain.
I hate to labour the point, but I feel I must in the vain hope that the message starts to percolate through to the Opposition. My constituents want more police, like the 15,300 we have already put on to the streets. They want to stop illegal crossings, and they want to stop the evil traffickers who exploit and endanger the most desperate. They like the Rwanda plan and they like the tough measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, both of which the Labour party voted against.
No, I will not.
My constituents think we should be banging up people who glue themselves to the roads and vandalise buildings and monuments. They want fair, controlled migration, not open borders. Any of those things would have been a worthwhile use of an Opposition day but, again, we are talking about a process issue—the same thing we have talked about half a dozen times. It is a waste of parliamentary time. Sadly, it is predictable, wearing and utterly ridiculous. Get a grip.
What a debate this is turning out to be on one side of the House. I cast my mind back to last week’s SNP Opposition day debate, and to other Opposition day debates. A single transferable speech seems to be rattling around about all the things that the Opposition could be talking about. The clue for Conservative Members is in the name. If they want to be in charge of choosing the topics for Opposition day debates, they should simply call a general election, which would be welcomed by the country.
Opposition day debates are about the things the Opposition want to talk about, which are very often the things that the Government desperately do not want to talk about. I do not blame the Government or the Paymaster General—the Paymaster General always seems to be the one sent out to defend the crease, even when the post holder changes—for not wanting to talk about the Home Secretary’s shockingly casual approach to security protocols, her apparent disregard for her officials’ legal advice or her extreme rhetoric, which is creating security risks and surely makes her completely unfit for any kind of public office.
We are often told that there are two things we should never see being made: laws and sausages. After the Paymaster General’s remarks today, we might need to add ministerial appointments to that list. It is astonishing that, six days after admitting she had broken the ministerial code and resigning, the Home Secretary was able to saunter back into her old job, off the back of her grubby deal to endorse the Prime Minister in the Conservative party’s leadership election.
It has been obvious in recent years that, whenever a Minister transgresses badly enough, even under this Government, to have to leave office, the time they have to spend in the ex-ministerial sin bin has diminished. I am not sure if that is always because standards have dropped, but the half-life of the radioactivity that results from political misdemeanours seems to have markedly reduced.
The Home Secretary’s reappointment to Government, never mind her reappointment as Home Secretary, raises some extremely serious questions, because there is not one but two emerging scandals surrounding her. Each one, in its own way, not only calls into question her competence and integrity in office but raises extremely serious questions about the judgment of the Prime Minister himself.
Members have spoken about the woeful situation at Manston and, with your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to move away slightly from the discussion of the unauthorised release of information and talk about the obstinate refusal to disclose relevant information—surely that is completely the wrong way round for how Ministers should be operating. We have heard the Home Secretary’s approach to defending the way she dealt with legal advice; she did not, apparently, ignore it, but simply chose to act in a contrary and potentially unlawful fashion having read it.
What cannot be in dispute is that a facility designed to hold up to 1,600 people for no more than 24 hours at a time as a short-term processing facility became, under this Home Secretary’s watch, severely overcrowded. The result has been what the Prison Officers Association assistant general secretary Andy Baxter described as a
“humanitarian crisis on British soil”,
with people sleeping on cardboard in tents amid outbreaks of covid, diphtheria, scabies and hepatitis. David Neal the chief inspector of borders and immigration told the Home Affairs Committee that we are now past the point where we can describe Manston as being a safe facility.
All of that coincided with the Home Secretary’s first period in office. Although she denies this, numerous sources, both inside and outside Government, have stated that one major factor for that overcrowding was that the new Home Secretary was refusing to sign off on hotel accommodation—or “alternative accommodation”, call it whatever you like—that would have allowed people to move on from Manston. I tabled a named day question last week asking how many people had been rehoused in that alternative accommodation and how many such alternative places had been approved by the Home Secretary. Remarkably, the answer that came back refused to divulge that information, because, apparently, it could be obtained only at “disproportionate cost”. I do not think that disproportionate cost is something that can be measured in financial terms, but I hazard a guess that this would have come at a greatly disproportionate cost to the remaining credibility of the Home Secretary.
I go down that byway because paragraph 1(c) of the motion calls for the “minutes”, “submissions” and “communications relating to” the Home Secretary’s appointment or
“advice relating to that appointment” to be disclosed. It would be extraordinary if the advice that we have been told was being proffered to the Home Secretary was dealt with and treated by her, through her actions, in the manner that many of us believe it was.
This debate is, of course, concerned with security rather than Manston itself, and the reason for that is simple: we know that, by her own admission, the Home Secretary sent confidential information from a secure government IT environment to her own personal Gmail account. She also sent information to another Member of this House, who was not authorised to receive it in that form. Incredibly, she also tried to send it on to the Member’s spouse’s email account and the only reason they failed to receive it was that the Home Secretary accidentally sent it to a different unauthorised recipient, a member of staff of a different parliamentarian. So there were two unauthorised recipients, one of whom it was sent to deliberately and the other of whom was an accidental recipient, every bit as unauthorised as the other intended recipient.
In her resignation letter, the Home Secretary claims to have “rapidly reported” the breach when she realised it. However, a former chairman of the Conservative party has said:
“As I understand it, the evidence was put to her and she accepted the evidence, rather than the other way round.”
In a letter to the Home Affairs Committee on
To take the two most high profile resignations from this Government of late, there is some quite remarkable language used in the letters. The Home Secretary said that she was
“choosing to tender her resignation”,
when she should not even have been given the luxury of that choice. That is almost as good, if not better than, the line in the letter of resignation from Kwasi Kwarteng. He said:
“You have asked me to stand aside as your Chancellor. I have accepted.”
My goodness, how gracious of him! Nevertheless, there are serious discrepancies in the Home Secretary’s version of events around this breach.
When it comes to that laxness in IT and informational security, we know, of course, that the Home Secretary has form. She herself has conceded that, on six separate occasions, between
If the Prime Minister wants to restore some level of confidence in national security and in the office of Home Secretary, he now needs to remove this Home Secretary from office and commit to a full investigation and to the release of all the relevant documentation to establish what exactly took place. If the Prime Minister was in the least bit serious when he talked of integrity and accountability in his Government, he needs to match those fine words with the reality of his actions: release that information and sack the Home Secretary.
As I have said, this matter raises very serious concerns about the Prime Minister’s judgment. That is why the information must be released. That is why the Government must release information also made available to the Prime Minister in deciding whether to reappoint the Home Secretary. That would allow us get to the bottom of it. It would allow us to reach an informed judgment and see whether it is justified that so many Members on the Opposition Benches take the view that the appointment of this Home Secretary was a very, very serious misjudgment indeed.
I was very pleased that the hon. Gentleman brought his speech back neatly to the motion. This is another reminder that we have in front of us quite a narrow motion. I trust that hon. Members will adjust their speeches accordingly.
I am afraid that we just have to ignore the shameless politics of this motion. It is, of course, the job of the Opposition to bring this sort of motion before the House. There may come a day—a very distant day—when we sit on the Opposition Benches and make similar attacks on the Government. If the Labour party is the Government, we will have plenty of material to work with based on its last stint in office. There will be new names to add to the illustrious roster of Hinduja, Ecclestone, Mittal and so on, and perhaps even some old names will be coming back. I have the fortune of representing the noble Lord Mandelson as a constituent. I dare say that he will be back on the Front Bench of the Labour party if it is ever back in power and he, no doubt, will be resigning two or three times during his next stint in office. Our Home Secretary has only ever had to resign once, compared with him.
We should not complain, even if it is very thin stuff that Labour Members are bringing. What is going on here? Is it the context or the subtext of this motion? Labour is not attacking the Home Secretary because she shared a policy document with a fellow Privy Counsellor and a former security Minister. The document itself contained no security information. In fact, all the information in the document was already in the public domain. There was no national security breach and no private data involved. That is not the purpose of their attack. The attack is because of her approach to immigration, and I suggest that that is not a subject for this sort of political knockabout, because the topic matters to us all. Despite the knockabout, I think both sides have a legitimate concern and legitimate points to make in this debate, and deep down we all want the same thing.
It is easy to caricature one another’s positions: the Opposition say we are heartless; we say they are naive. They say we are against refugees altogether; we say they want open borders—I said that last week, and it is true of some of them, but let me be fair to the majority of our opponents and try to represent their view fairly. They want us to play our part as a country—a leading part, given our history—in the management of the great people movements of the world. They want our attitude as a country to those people huddled in boats in the English channel to be one of compassion. They want our responsibility—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying—
Order. The hon. Gentleman needs to sit down when I am standing. Thank you. He is straying away from the terms of the motion, and he should be quite careful what he says about other Members of the House.
That is a fair point, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I thank you for that guidance. I do not have much more to say, then, because the topic of the debate should have been the question of how we manage migration—that is the real purpose of the Opposition’s attacks on the Home Secretary.
It is right that we on the Government side represent citizens who believe strongly in the importance of protecting our borders against illegal migration. It is preposterous that the Opposition think the Government should reveal legal advice. They cannot attack the Home Secretary for her plans on migration, because those plans are popular and right, so they attack her. I wish they would recognise that we all want a humane asylum system and secure borders; they could even work with us to secure that.
This debate has as its core the issue of standards and integrity in our politics. When he was appointed as Prime Minister,
The issue of standards relates not just to emails and the use of personal IT, but to the ethics of how the Home Office works as a Department. Like all of us, Ministers are public servants. We all sign up to the seven Nolan principles of public life: integrity, openness, selflessness, objectivity, accountability, honesty and leadership. Ministers also have a duty to this country on public safety, national security and human rights and a duty to the taxpayer. Have we seen that from the current Home Secretary? No—and that is what this debate is about.
I want to focus on the record and decisions of the Home Secretary and the Home Office in relation to their approach to the crisis in the UK response to asylum seekers. For instance, last week the Home Secretary played to the anti-immigration gallery by implying that asylum seekers had to be stopped from wandering our streets—hence the Government’s policy on Manston—yet her Department was responsible for two groups of destitute asylum seekers being found wandering the streets around Victoria and having to be picked up by a small charity to ensure that they had warm clothes, warm shoes and food.
I also remind the Conservative party that asylum seekers are seeking refuge. They are fleeing—
Order. I am afraid the hon. Lady is also going a little wider than the terms of the motion. If she could bring herself back to the motion, that would be very helpful to everybody.
I appreciate that, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I hope you will let me continue, because I will bring my speech back to the point about standards in public life, which is where I started and what I think this motion is fundamentally about.
Just to give some background, if you will indulge me, Madam Deputy Speaker, in Hounslow there are currently almost 3,000 asylum seekers in nine hotels, and more than 500 in dispersal accommodation, which are mainly rundown houses in multiple occupation with shared kitchens and bathrooms. There are 140 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The challenge locally is not asylum seekers roaming the streets causing problems for the community, because by definition asylum seekers want to play by the rules because they want to be given asylum. They do not want to cause trouble, and they are not going to cause trouble. The problem is the challenge for our public services in making sure that these vulnerable people have the right to education and social services to ensure that they are safe and comfortable while they are waiting in the ever-lengthening queue to get their status. The Home Office—
Order. The hon. Lady absolutely must come back to the terms of the motion, because she is roaming much wider, and I have pulled up other Members for that. She must come back to the motion itself.
The Home Office has contracts with organisations such as Clearsprings Ready Homes, which then has contracts with a network of other agencies that are providing a terrible service. One person who works with these services said that asylum seekers receive food not fit for a dog and accommodation not fit for animals.
The hotels—I am coming to my point, Madam Deputy Speaker—receive £40 a room, yet the agencies are receiving Home Office money and taxpayer money at £130 a room, and they are pocketing the difference. The agencies are getting £15 a meal, yet the caterers are receiving £5.
Order. I am sorry, but the hon. Lady is not talking about security, as set out in the motion. If the hon. Lady can tell the House how what she is saying relates to these issues of the release of papers, that would be very helpful.
All right, Madam Deputy Speaker. I take your point and I will keep my notes on that level of misuse of taxpayer money for another time.
I will conclude by saying that perhaps the Prime Minister could finally appoint an independent ethics adviser to ensure that when we see serious breaches of the ministerial code, they can be investigated impartially and a report can be published. I fear that we have returned to an outdated and old-fashioned approach to standards—an approach that simply says, “Trust us, don’t worry, we’ll look after it”, yet surely we and all those who we represent deserve so much better.
We all know in this House that it is not appropriate for the Government to publish information relating to confidential advice, so why are we here today, again wasting parliamentary time when we could be talking about real issues? I am just looking at the Labour Benches opposite, and seven Labour MPs have turned up for this debate that they asked for. They cannot even be bothered to turn up to a debate.
Why are we actually here? It is nothing to do with security. It is nothing to do with standards. It is nothing to do with wanting to do the right thing. This is a bullying campaign to get rid of the Home Secretary. That is all it is—it is a relentless bullying campaign to get rid of our brilliant Home Secretary. I can tell you now, she is going nowhere. In the real world where I live and where I represent, I have not had one single email. If you are talking about releasing documents, how about you lot over there—[Interruption.] Sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker. How about Opposition Members releasing their emails to show how many emails they have actually had on this subject? I suspect it is not very many at all. They do not live in the real world.
Like I say, it is a relentless horrible bullying campaign to get rid of the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary needs to have the backing of this place. She needs the backing of Parliament. She needs the backing of the whole country. She needs people to get behind her so that we can sort out the migrant problem, crime on the streets and these silly protests that we have outside, but that will not happen unless the Opposition get behind her and unless we all get behind her. They are just playing politics—that is all they are doing. I used the word “bullying”. That is all they are—a bunch of bullies. I have been bullied before by the Labour party. I was bullied out of the Labour party, but thanks to them, I am stood here now, sticking up for my residents in Ashfield and Eastwood.
The British people get it; they understand. Like I said, I have not had one single email on this subject. Why are we here today, wasting taxpayers’ money, when we could be talking about the boat crossings, crime on the streets or saving lives? We could be talking about the important stuff. You can sit there with glazed expressions on your faces again like you normally do, looking at me as though I have just landed from a different planet.
No, I am not looking at all glazed. Please follow proper parliamentary procedure.
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. You may be aware that Opposition Members are looking at me like I have landed from a different planet, but I have not—I have landed from planet Ashfield, and this is where real people talk common sense. This lot on the Opposition Benches need to visit my constituency, if they ever get the chance. At the next election, I challenge them to come up, knock on some doors and speak to some real people in the real world of Ashfield, and they will go away knowing that that seat of Ashfield is going to stop blue for a long time. I cannot talk any more, because this is a very narrow debate, but what I will say is that they are nothing but a bunch of bullies, and they should be ashamed of themselves.
I am going to branch out in a different direction and speak to the motion. It is very precise and quite narrowly drawn, but it goes to the conduct and character of the Home Secretary, which is an important matter for us to discuss, and that is possibly why so many, if not all, Government Members have found it difficult to speak to the motion. They can talk to the Home Secretary’s policies—failed as they are, they are ones that appeal to them—but they find it difficult, perhaps, to defend her behaviour.
The serious issue here is not the course of conduct that led to the Home Secretary’s sacking; we know about that. It is the way the Home Secretary has conducted herself since that sacking; it is her refusal to answer questions. That is why these documents and reports need to be asked for. As always, it is the cover-up that is the problem as much as, if not more so than, the offence itself.
The Home Secretary has form on this issue. She was Attorney General on and off for well over a year. I had the chance to observe her behaviour then, and I am afraid to say that there were regular reports of her being investigated for leaking sensitive Government information. On
I have tabled questions, including as recently as today, to try to get to the bottom of this. I asked the Minister for the Cabinet Office
“whether the Government Security Group conducted an investigation into release of information relating to Government plans to seek an injunction against the BBC over concerns of national security.”
The Minister replied that it is their policy
“not to comment on leak investigations.”
That is just not good enough in this case. That is why this information is being requested. It should not have to be, because it should have been put in the public domain already by the Government.
Let us come on to the more recent conduct and the resignation. I have tried several times over the past week and a half to get answers from the several statements we have had from the Home Secretary and others, usually in response to urgent questions in the House. The first point is that there are stark contradictions in the versions that the Home Secretary herself has given—for example, between her resignation letter and the much more detailed letter that she then voluntarily sent to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson. She said in her resignation letter:
“As soon as I realised my mistake, I rapidly reported this on official channels, and informed the Cabinet Secretary.”
However, when she wrote with a detailed timeline to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, she revealed that she actually waited several hours before making any such report. She revealed that she was confronted by other members of the Conservative party outside this Chamber and that matters were put to her; it was not that she volunteered them. When, after that, she finally decided to report her breach of security, for which she was sacked, she did not go to the Cabinet Secretary; she went to her own special adviser. The question is, why did events unfold in that way and why was her account so different in her letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North and her political grandstanding resignation letter?
The second point is that the Home Secretary is very selective in the denials she makes in her letter to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. She says that
Then we come to the matter that was raised in the urgent question yesterday, which has been raised on several other occasions as well, which is the Home Secretary’s statement—again, I think it is very carefully worded—that,
“I have never ignored legal advice.”—[Official Report,
My hon. Friend Clive Efford asked about that yesterday, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and there has been some debate as to what the Home Secretary means by it. As I pointed out in an intervention earlier, she does not say—this would be much more straightforward—“I followed legal advice.” There was clear legal advice as to whether detention at Manston over 24 hours was legal, and it clearly was not. She could have said, “At all times I complied with legal advice,” but she said, “I didn’t ignore legal advice,” which could cover a multitude of circumstances. It could mean that she considered that advice and then rejected it, notwithstanding the fact that it was sound and solid legal advice. It could mean that she took another course of action, and I think we are getting near to what actually happened there.
Indeed, I think the Minister who answered the urgent question yesterday got close to what actually happened when he said:
“There are competing legal duties on Ministers. Another legal duty that we need to pay heed to is our duty not to leave individuals destitute. It would be wrong for the Home Office to allow individuals…in a condition of some destitution, to be released on to the rural lanes of Kent without great care. That is why the Home Secretary has balanced her duties”.—[Official Report,
Leaving aside the fact that, on at least one occasion, individuals in a state of destitution were released on to the streets—the streets of Victoria rather than Kent—it does appear that, in the majority of cases, the Home Secretary decided to allow Manston to fill up to two or three times its capacity and to allow people to be contained there not for hours or days but for weeks and, in doing so, knew she was breaking the law. She decided that she would break the law in that way rather than in another way. Again, that is not good enough. She had the option of not breaking the law; she had the option of finding hotel or other accommodation for the people who were stacking up at Manston in appalling conditions—we have seen the reports and the photographic evidence—so they could have been placed elsewhere.
What it comes down to is that, throughout this process, since she was reappointed, the Home Secretary has dodged questions again and again. Whether that has been by using weasel words, contradicting herself or using a bit of legal sophistry, the fact of the matter is that she will not answer these questions. I have asked her again and again, including in written questions, to specifically address the deficiencies in the letter she sent to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and the same reply comes back. Indeed, I received a reply to another question yesterday which said:
“I refer the Hon. member to that letter”— that is, the letter of
I think we know enough, without having those questions answered, about where the Home Secretary has been coming from in these events. We have to have, in the terms of the motion, these inquiries made and these documents released, because we have a right to know. That is the reason why my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper has tabled today’s motion. However, I do not think the jury is out any more on the judgment or conduct of the Home Secretary. What this points to more is the judgment and conduct of the Prime Minister, who, knowing all this and knowing who he was reappointing, went ahead and did just that, in the same way that he appointed Sir Gavin Williamson to a Cabinet position. Incidentally, when questioned about the breach of security for which the right hon. Gentleman was previously sacked, the Prime Minister said that that was “four years ago.” If being four years ago is an excuse, what is being six days ago?
Let us look in more forensic detail at the conduct of the Home Secretary, but let us not let the Prime Minister off the hook either. He must take responsibility for those appointments that he has made. Even the Business Secretary, the man of a thousand name badges, could not defend the Home Secretary in the comments that he made. The Prime Minister should not be doing that either.
It is a privilege to follow Andy Slaughter. I congratulate him and my hon. Friend Simon Baynes, who is not in his place, on sticking closely to the script and looking at the issue of papers in some detail. This is indeed a narrow debate, and I commend my hon. Friend Danny Kruger, whose comment about it being a thin debate made me think of thin gruel. I must, though, commend my hon. Friend Chris Clarkson for managing to work the word “louche” into the debate. He has a skill that I can only aspire to.
This is a serious issue, though, so with your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will set out some of the context. I would first point with pride to the UK’s history of aiding those in genuine distress. In the last two years, we have opened our doors to an unprecedented 350,000 people fleeing conflict around the world, in Ukraine and in Afghanistan, or persecution in Hong Kong. It is the disposition of the people of these islands to be welcoming. It is also their expectation that laws be upheld and the character of our country preserved.
It is the work of Government to balance these desires, but this is an Opposition day debate, and regrettably they have turned instead to the study of the smallest part. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, lessons are there to be learned, and I am grateful for their concern for the speck in our eye, but it is the responsibility of Government to keep sight of the big picture and real-world context, so let me briefly set this debate in the real-world context of what is happening in communities up and down the country.
Last Sunday evening, I received a wave of concerned messages and phone calls from constituents of mine living in the community of Dolgarrog, and they were not about papers. I must explain that Dolgarrog is a rural Snowdonia village of around 400 residents. It is a tight-knit, deeply hospitable and Welsh-speaking community. It has its own rich history, woven with aspiration and with tragedy, and it has been my privilege to get to know this during my time as MP. By way of setting this in context, residents there address each other by name and children walk to their school. It came as a shock to them, and this is the reason for the calls to me on Sunday evening, when they discovered that the local hotel had been procured as overflow accommodation for asylum seekers. Overnight, the community found that its population had increased—
Order. I fear that although the hon. Gentleman keeps saying he is setting this in context, he seems to be taking it to a whole different area from what is in the motion, frankly. So could he return very quickly to the motion? I think we have got the gist of what he is saying about what happened the other night, and it is quite important that he addresses the motion.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful for your guidance and your indulgence.
When I spoke to residents last night, they did not vest their complaints in questions about papers. They did not hold ideological positions, they did not speak with hatred in their hearts and they did not question the process of ministerial appointments. They did not even question the individual appointments themselves, and they did not ask to see any classified papers. They did not concern themselves with petty party political point scoring. Instead, the overwhelming sentiments and questions were: “How long will this last, should we walk our children to school, can I walk my dog, are my windows and doors secure, and will my son get his job back?” There was no mention of papers. These are the concerns of a community whose future hinges on debates and decisions here in this House, and any of us in the same position would feel the same way.
However, the Opposition have sought to detain the Home Secretary. They want to waste finite time and resources for the sake of pursuing political point scoring. They want to look at papers. They want to remove the speck in our eye, but they have forgotten the beam in their own. Labour has, after all, no plan to reduce the number of dangerous small boat crossings in the channel, and it voted against our Nationality and Borders Act 2022, siding with people smuggling networks and blocking the removal of those with no rights to be in the UK. While serving as shadow Immigration Minister, the Leader of the Opposition said he wanted any migrant who said they were scared to return home to stay in the UK—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is whizzing off again in a completely different direction. I really think he needs to come back to the motion in front of us.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. If I may, I am simply drawing attention to the things the Opposition could have chosen to discuss in the House, but did not choose. They have chosen instead to discuss papers.
It is clear that Labour Members are detached from the priorities of residents in their homes and of this country at large. They fail to understand both the magnitude of the crisis and the moral duty towards the estimated 80 million people on the move around the globe. Instead, they wish to talk about papers. It is imperative that the Home Secretary receives the support of this House in the execution of her duties, so I end my speech with a plea that Labour Members take a step back from party politics, debate serious matters and work with us to deliver the protections this country and communities such as Dolgarrog demand.
It is a pleasure to follow Robin Millar.
Trust is a really important value, and it something that I fear people listening and watching outside, and perhaps even people in here, feel is deserting this place, particularly after the last three years of what could be described as virtual mayhem, a certain amount of lawbreaking and a certain scandal. The new Prime Minister promised
“integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level”,
and I think all of us wanted to take him at his word—the country certainly did after the complete and utter chaos of the previous six or seven weeks. We know that as Home Secretary, Suella Braverman was guilty of six separate breaches of security in six weeks. Previously, as Attorney General, her record showed Cabinet leak inquiries on three occasions in the past year. How many breaches would there have been during the 133 weeks that she was Attorney General?
The Prime Minister should have done due diligence. He has an investment background, and we would have expected that in who he appointed to the top three or four roles in Government. As my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper said, there is evidence of insider trading, and if we were talking about a football manager, they would have been sacked a long time ago. We know the Home Secretary has broken the ministerial code at least twice. These are not one-off mistakes, so why was she reappointed after just six days? That calls into question the judgment and credibility of the Prime Minister, after three years of a Prime Minister trashing the office of No. 10.
Indeed, we know that Mrs May restricted the access of the then Foreign Secretary to papers while he was in that position, and she did the same for Sir Gavin Williamson. We then had six weeks of chaos, with the Prime Minister and Chancellor trashing the economy. The country demands integrity, but it is not getting it in the shape of this Home Secretary. Businesses, public sector workers, and in this case civil servants expect professionalism. They expect decency, integrity and standards in public life.
Lee Anderson asked for common sense to be applied, and whether we had visited Ashfield. I have visited Ashfield recently, as he will know. He accused us of being a bunch of bullies. I have never been accused of being a bully in my entire life, yet he asserts that. On behalf of the public we are seeking to understand the degree of breaking of the ministerial code that is going on, and the sense of judgment of the Home Secretary and, by extension, the Prime Minister. I speak to ordinary people on the street, to businesses and others, and a director of a business would have been struck off for this pattern of behaviour. A doctor would have been struck off. This kind of behaviour does not meet the test of being fit and proper to practise.
The motion before us asks whether the Prime Minister undertook a risk assessment. That is critical to understanding what he understood at the moment when he appointed the right hon. and learned Member for Fareham to her position, and back into the Home Office after six days. His leadership has to be understood. Judgment is critical to that, and I am afraid that he failed in that not just once, with his appointment of the right hon. and learned Lady, but a second time with the appointment of the right hon. Member for South Staffordshire. Once upon a time, when Ministers broke the ministerial code or were found to be enmeshed in scandal, they would walk. The Prime Minister talks about integrity, professionalism and accountability, but I am afraid the Home Secretary fails on all three.
This is quite a narrow motion, and I will try not to veer away from the subject at hand, but I need to address some points that have been made. My hon. Friends the Members for Guildford (Angela Richardson), for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) and for Aberconwy (Robin Millar) talked about the amount of correspondence they have received regarding papers. Along with my hon. Friends on the Government Benches, I have not received a single email on papers, the Home Secretary or the behaviour of the Home Secretary. What I have received is hundreds of emails from people who are really concerned about the small boats issue. That is really getting under the skin of my constituents. Not only that: they want to see more police on the street. That is what they are writing to me about, not papers and the hearsay of Opposition Members.
The contributions to the debate from Government Members will be quite short, because ultimately the papers that Opposition Members are referring to are confidential and therefore, based on legal advice, we cannot publish them. So we will keep the debate narrow, but what I find astonishing is that the Opposition talk about national security when we have Barry Gardiner on the Opposition Benches. We can talk about Chinese money—
Order. Did the hon. Member notify the hon. Member for Brent North that he would refer to him?
In that case, he will not refer to him.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Ultimately, it is not appropriate for the Government to publish information relating to confidential advice. Despite what the Opposition say, the documents in question did not contain any information relating to national security, the intelligence agencies, cyber-security or law enforcement. In the Home Secretary’s letter to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, she clarified:
“The draft WMS did not contain any information relating to national security, the intelligence agencies, cyber security or law enforcement. It did not contain details of any particular case work.”
The data in question was already in the public domain.
If it was already in the public domain and there is nothing to hide, does the hon. Member agree that we should at least get to see that ministerial statement?
As I said, my constituents are just concerned about the subject at hand, which is illegal immigration and the small boats and dinghies coming over. So no, I do not think that that is correct.
In the Home Secretary’s letter to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, she clarified:
“It did not contain any market-sensitive data as all the data contained in the document was already in the public domain.”
That concludes my speech.
I am extremely pleased to close this debate on an important motion. It is important to my constituents in Putney, Southfields and Roehampton, who have stopped me on the tube recently and said, “What is going on?” They are perplexed about what is being allowed to happen and especially about the issues around the recent reshuffle and its returns.
I am just starting off.
The public look to the Home Office to keep them, their families and their communities safe, but the Prime Minister’s decision to reappoint the Home Secretary against advice just six days after she broke the ministerial code and had to resign, and in the light of the further reports about security and code breaches, is shockingly irresponsible. We have heard a full, detailed list of questions that we still do not have answers to. I hope to hear answers to them in the Minister’s closing speech.
We heard powerful speeches from my hon. Friend Ms Rimmer, who listed several serious questions that need to answered, my hon. Friend Mrs Hamilton, who outlined the serious concerns raised by her constituents that need to be addressed, and my hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury, who raised the questionable decisions made by the Home Secretary—that is what is underneath this whole debate today—and the need to appoint an ethics adviser. Perhaps we will hear about that from the Minister later.
My hon. Friend Andy Slaughter gave a forensic analysis of the current Home Secretary’s history of leaking being investigated, and the discrepancies in the timeline: when she reported the mistaken email, the selective information given in the letter to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson, and the deficiencies in those letters. That letter and the deficiencies in it are one of the reasons why the Opposition called for this debate and for the documents to be made public.
My hon. Friend Matt Western underlined the importance of trust and the need to rebuild the trust of our constituents in the Government after recent months—years even—of the Conservative Government. We need to rebuild trust and that is why we need to see the documents. The judgment of the Prime Minister is being called into question, as my hon. Friend outlined, and the country deserves high standards.
Let me be clear: these are serious questions for the Prime Minister. This month’s Prime Minister promised
“integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level”,
but the unravelling of the Home Secretary’s story throws all three of those into doubt. There are serious discrepancies in the letter to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, which I think releasing the documents would help to show. The written ministerial statement leaked by the Home Secretary, which is central to these allegations and issues, was sent on purpose to a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Sir John Hayes and, by mistake, to someone else. That surely throws up lots of questions about what else the Home Secretary is sending out and to whom.
Did the Prime Minister know that the Home Secretary had previously used her personal email on six other occasions when he made this appointment? Did the Prime Minister know about the review into her use of personal and Government IT, and was he presented with the findings before he reappointed her? Did he know about the very serious allegations that the Home Secretary was repeatedly leaking sensitive information when she was Attorney General? Did he know of any other breaches that are not currently in the public domain? Has he seen the contents of the Cabinet Office leak inquiry report? Has he been advised of any further breaches of the ministerial code over the handling of events at Manston? Why has the Prime Minister appointed someone with such a cavalier approach to the security of documents and such a history of leaking, to such an important position for national security? All those questions could be answered right now by the Minister without making any personal information about appointments public. They could just be answered right now and I think that would go a long way to restoring trust. The Prime Minister has an opportunity today to definitively prove he has nothing to hide, or he can Whip those on the Government Benches to vote against this motion. We would then have to assume that there is something to hide.
This is a narrow debate, as has been said many times, and specifically so. It asks only that certain papers be laid before the House within 10 sitting days, so that the decision to reappoint the Home Secretary just six days after resigning can be made fully transparent. We are asking to see only the risk assessment, the documents about security breaches and any leak inquiries, submissions made or advice relating to the appointment, and that if redactions need to be made, understandably so, any unredacted materials are made available to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.
In his opening remarks, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, Jeremy Quin said that sharing appointment documents would undermine the appointment system. We are not asking for all documents in all cases to be shared. This is a very exceptional and unusual appointment just six days after a ministerial resignation, so the process is already undermined. The allegations will continue to dog the Home Secretary unless we can fully find out what has been going on. I hope that those documents would restore the trust that has been lost.
It is not just the Opposition who are asking serious questions. The Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Mr Wragg, also wrote to the Cabinet Secretary on
Amid all the chaos, it is timely to remind ourselves that there is still no ethics adviser in post. The Prime Minister said that one of the first things that he would do was to appoint a new ethics adviser. The previous Prime Minister said that she did not even need one, but no one believed that. A Cabinet Office Minister also promised me in a Westminster Hall debate on Monday
The Conservative Government have instead relegated national security to an afterthought, at times an inconvenience and something to be worked around. The Opposition have secured this debate not only because the allegations are very serious in their own right and we need to know more, but because the Home Secretary’s actions and appointment indicate a pattern of behaviour by the Prime Minister in the way that he is making decisions.
There have been allegations that the former Prime Minister used her personal phone for Government business. There are now revelations about the actions of the Cabinet Minister—the Minister without Portfolio, Sir Gavin Williamson—and that is relevant to this motion, because that pattern of behaviour cannot become normal. We have to draw a line.
Have we not just heard the real reason for this motion? It is nothing to do with the Home Secretary or even immigration; it is all to do with trying to establish a pattern of behaviour in the Prime Minister, because the Labour party is playing political games.
I thank the hon. Member for that intervention, because we are absolutely seeking to establish whether there is a pattern of behaviour by the Prime Minister in appointing people to the Cabinet who should not be there because of their history of leaks and misbehaviour. That cannot be acceptable. It undermines integrity, which the Prime Minister was talking about. Let me remind colleagues, including Robin Millar, that the Prime Minister has reappointed to Cabinet the man who, in 2019, was sacked as Secretary of State for Defence after a leak investigation. That pattern of behaviour cannot be allowed to continue.
What does this pattern of behaviour show? It appears to indicate that there is no sin too serious, no leak too large and no text too ill-tempered for a Tory to find their way back to the Cabinet table. That is no way to run a country. Is there just a chronic shortage of talent in the Conservative party? Do those who seem to find their way back know where the skeletons are buried? The public will ask those questions unless the documents are made public, and we need to hear them. Unless we see the papers and have reassurance about national security concerns, the public will be left fearing the worst. It is time for the truth. I challenge Government Members to vote for the motion, make the documents public and prove that the Prime Minister has nothing to hide.
It is a pleasure to respond to this Opposition day debate, 10 days into the job though I am; this is a very important subject. It is a pleasure to follow Fleur Anderson. I should say at the outset that I can answer one of her questions: the Prime Minister will appoint an independent adviser in the very near future. I am sure that the House will hear about that in due course.
We have had a far-ranging debate. At times it ranged slightly further than you might have liked, Madam Deputy Speaker, from some very interesting insights into the thoughts of constituents in Guildford and Aberconwy to a minor digression on sausage making from Richard Thomson. Central to the motion, despite the digressions, is a serious issue that affects the very real business of government and how it is conducted: the question whether advice given to Ministers and Prime Ministers in private, in confidence, should be made public. Conservative Members are clear that it should not.
These are very serious matters that the Government take seriously. It is because we are taking them seriously that we cannot agree to the disclosure of the information set out in the motion. The thrust of this debate is that the Opposition seek to see inside the internal processes of ministerial appointments and to make public the discussions that may form part of any appointment. As my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General said, there are compelling and common-sense reasons why that desire should be resisted.
I am very confused. I have sat through this debate for three hours now. Can my hon. Friend explain why the Opposition are hearing from people in their droves asking to see these documents, yet nobody is asking Conservative MPs? Are the Opposition just playing politics?
I am shocked and surprised to hear that my hon. Friend has views. It is the first time that he has ever shared them with me. The Opposition have not entirely turned out to take part in this Opposition day debate, it is true.
Hon. Members will know that it is essential to the functioning of government that conversations that occur around appointments can take place in confidence, as my hon. Friends the Members for Devizes (Danny Kruger), for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) and for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) mentioned.
Let us say that we accept that the Government do not want to release these papers. As a compromise, will the Minister undertake to ensure that the new independent ethics adviser looks retrospectively at the appointment? Then everybody could be happy.
That is a matter for the last Administration. Also, as hon. Members across the House know, it is a very long-standing practice observed by Governments of all types that they do not give over advice given in confidence. It is a practice that respects the confidentiality of the advice given and the confidentiality owed to the adviser. To place all advice in a position in which it might subsequently be published and made public would have an absolutely deadening effect on the business of government, as my hon. Friend Simon Baynes says.
What this really amounts to is gameplay by the Opposition. It is Labour Whips’ trick No. 666: ask the Government for information that they know but that Governments never release, and then feign horror and surprise when they do not release it. The fact is that a Labour Government would never publish such information. If the Opposition commit tonight to releasing such information should they be in power in future, the next Labour Government—may they never come—will bitterly regret that decision.
The shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, can say that it is a simple matter of showing us what happened, but as a highly experienced legislator, Minister and Select Committee Chair she knows that this is not a simple matter. It was not a simple matter for the Labour party when it was asked to reveal the legal advice on Iraq, but in opposition it suddenly decided that it was a simple matter to get the Government to display their legal advice on Brexit. Several Members have noted that it is the case that Governments of all stripes do not release such information, and those on the Opposition Front Bench know it to be the case as well.
There is, as we have said, a very long-established process for the appointment of Ministers. It is the Prime Minister who decides who sits on the Front Bench. The Labour party knows as well as we do that Ministers hold office for as long as they retain the confidence of the Prime Minister, that it is for the Prime Minister to decide who sits in the Cabinet, and that it is for the Prime Minister to pick the best team to solve the problems that the country faces. If the Opposition do not like his choices, it is normally a sign that he has picked the right team. On immigration, the Prime Minister has picked my right hon. and learned Friend Suella Braverman because he knows that she has the talent and knowledge that are necessary to help him to solve the small boats crisis in the channel. It is pretty clear tonight that the Labour party knows that too, and that is why it is seeking to undermine her. As we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) and for Ashfield, Labour is doing that because it is scared that she will get the job done.
As my hon. Friend Robin Millar and a number of others have said, many important issues could have been debated tonight other than a motion asking for the release of papers that the Opposition know will not be released. The shadow Home Secretary said that “bit by bit” trust was being undermined. I will tell the Opposition what causes trust to be undermined: political games which call for the release of papers that cannot be released and which report rumours as facts, double standards which call for the release of papers that Labour would not have released when it was in power, and double standards which say that Ministers cannot be rehabilitated. I remember the very great Peter Mandelson being brought back on two occasions, but Labour will not forgive this Home Secretary once.
The truth is that this is a motion tabled with the aim of playing political games to try to tie up Ministers in process and reporting, to try to hurt the Government by asking them to deviate from long-standing practice that has previously been respected on both sides, and to try to distract attention from the fact that while the Government are busting a gut to solve the problems in the channel, the Opposition have no solutions. There is a reason why they want to talk about personnel, process and appointments: it is because they do not want to talk about policy.