Business Questions 29 November 2018

I raised the Government’s refusal to publish the full legal advice on the Brexit deal with the Leader of the House. The House resolved that the Government would publish the legal advice but the Government now says that it will publish a position statement. A position statement can exclude that part of the advice that states that the Government may or may not be acting appropriately, or the consequences of the way in which the Government act. We need clarity and transparency. This is in the national interest. We govern in the people’s name, not in our own name.

Below is my speech in full:

May I thank the Leader of the House and say “Hallelujah”? We are rising on my niece Anjali’s birthday, so I will not forget that.

The Leader of the House has helpfully set out the timetable for the debate in the coming weeks—it is the first time that we have had two weeks for some time—but what chaos in the run-up to the debate. Let us start with the debate. After struggling to clarify what will happen on the business motion, could the Leader of the House finally agree that the Government have now conceded the recommendation in the Procedure Committee’s report that the Government take the amendments first before the Government’s main motion? We have now heard from the Solicitor General, who is very excellent in his role, about the legal advice, but why does it take an urgent question to fulfil the will of Parliament? This is not about the legal advice on an everyday matter; it is of major constitutional significance to our future. The House has asked for the legal advice that was given to the Government. The Government have taken the legal advice and now they are saying that they will formulate that, along with every other advice, and give us the Government’s legal position. That is not what was asked for.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) mentioned the motion and I will read it out again: “that the following papers be laid before Parliament: any legal advice in full, including that provided by the Attorney General, on the proposed withdrawal agreement”.

That is very narrow. It is not about everything that the Government need to do. So in my view, the Government are not interpreting the Humble Address as passed by the House. A position statement can exclude that part of the advice that states that the Government may or may not be acting appropriately, or the consequences of the way in which the Government act. We need clarity and transparency. This is in the national interest. We govern in the people’s name, not in our own name.

And there is no economic analysis on what we are going to vote for. There seems to be an economic analysis on every other model, except the ones on the deal. If the Government are prepared to do that, which shows that we will be in a worse position unless we stay in the EU, the Government should publish the legal advice in full. Could the Leader of the House go back to the Cabinet and confirm today that, as a member of the Privy Council, she will follow the directions of Her Majesty and provide the legal advice, as requested? Otherwise the Government, like Zuckerberg, will just be treating Parliament with contempt. That is what is going to happen.

I turn the Leader of the House’s attention to the statutory instruments. According to the Government’s own deadline, as set out in the 25 October letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris)—I do not think he is in the Chamber—they have until tomorrow to lay almost 50% of the Brexit SIs that they said they would lay in November. The Government have so far laid only 73 Brexit SIs in November, which is well below the 150 to 200 they said they would lay this month. We have had 55% of the time and only 22% of the SIs have been laid. Can the Leader of the House please say whether the Government will be on track to meet their own target?

In her statement on Monday, the Prime Minister said of her deal: “It takes back control of our borders, and ends the free movement of people”. She said that right at the start, as one of the most important parts of the deal, yet can the Leader of the House say when the immigration White Paper will be published? The Prime Minister was asked and she could not respond. All we have had so far is the Migration Advisory Committee’s report.

The Prime Minister also said that she has a shopping list that is longer than the Opposition’s six tests, but she failed to say that a growing number of British citizens are taking their shopping list to food banks. The Opposition have a shopping list of our own for how we want to transform society when we are in government, and ending child poverty is at the top. I hope that the Leader of the House will remind the Prime Minister that the Leader of the Opposition has written to her about the report of the United Nations representative, Professor Alston, on his visit to the UK. I know the Leader of the House will be interested, because Professor Alston mentioned Northamptonshire in his report. He described the Government’s approach to social security as “punitive” and “mean-spirited” and he highlighted the hardships facing disabled people. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) wanted to remind us that yesterday was the United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons.

Welfare has been cut since 2010 and £28 billion has been cut from social security for disabled people. Disabled student’s allowance has helped many students find their talent—rather than restricting it as the Government have done. The Government are asking students to stump up £200 before they even get DSA. When will the Government publish the evaluation of the impact of recent changes to DSA? It was due to report in late summer. The Leader of the House is a fan of “Game of Thrones.” Now that winter is coming, can we have that evaluation report?

Last week I mentioned Harry Leslie Smith, who was not well. He has since died, and so has Baroness Trumpington. They were the world’s oldest rebels. Let us hear what Harry Leslie Smith said: “We have become enamoured by the escapism populist politics provides, where we can fit the blame of our woes on migrants or big institutions”.

He also said: “We have resisted the darkness that comes to societies that are decayed by their contempt of democracy”, whether outside or in this House. I want to mention those who have shone a light into the darkness, following Harry Leslie Smith, particularly those who won at the Political Studies Association awards on Tuesday: Amelia Gentleman, who shone the light in her work on Windrush; Carole Cadwalladr, who has shone the light into the darkness of our democracy; my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who was politician of the year; and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who was parliamentarian of the year. This House applauds and salutes them.