There have been 29 exchanges between Andrew Bridgen and Cabinet Office
|Wed 12th February 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (53 words)|
|Tue 11th February 2020||Transport Infrastructure||3 interactions (64 words)|
|Wed 27th March 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (100 words)|
|Mon 11th February 2019||Election Law Reform||7 interactions (78 words)|
|Wed 6th February 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||6 interactions (114 words)|
|Wed 9th January 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||2 interactions (3 words)|
|Wed 19th December 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (78 words)|
|Mon 17th December 2018||European Council||3 interactions (57 words)|
|Mon 10th December 2018||Exiting the European Union||3 interactions (49 words)|
|Mon 26th November 2018||Leaving the EU||3 interactions (84 words)|
|Thu 15th November 2018||EU Exit Negotiations||3 interactions (56 words)|
|Wed 5th September 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (31 words)|
|Mon 9th July 2018||Leaving the EU||3 interactions (37 words)|
|Mon 2nd July 2018||June European Council||3 interactions (31 words)|
|Wed 27th June 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (28 words)|
|Tue 17th April 2018||Military Action Overseas: Parliamentary Approval||3 interactions (97 words)|
|Mon 16th April 2018||Syria||3 interactions (69 words)|
|Wed 7th March 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (100 words)|
|Mon 5th March 2018||UK/EU Future Economic Partnership||3 interactions (61 words)|
|Wed 21st February 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (47 words)|
|Wed 10th January 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (82 words)|
|Wed 13th December 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (57 words)|
|Mon 11th December 2017||Brexit Negotiations||3 interactions (60 words)|
|Wed 22nd November 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (48 words)|
|Mon 23rd October 2017||European Council||3 interactions (59 words)|
|Wed 19th July 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (81 words)|
|Wed 5th July 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (65 words)|
|Mon 26th June 2017||European Council||3 interactions (68 words)|
|Wed 21st June 2017||Debate on the Address||3 interactions (39 words)|
The hon. Gentleman mentions the real world, so let us look at the real world in Scotland where the SNP is in power: we have bridges that people cannot get across; we have hospitals that it cannot open; and we have an education system that is failing. That is the record that the Scottish Government and the SNP will have to go to the people in a little over 15 months’ time. I look forward to that election, when what the Scottish Government and the SNP have done to Scotland since 2007 will have an impact on the result.
Thank you very much. I am busy today, Mr Speaker.
At the end of 2020, we automatically take control of our waters. This opens up a sea of opportunity for our fishing industry in Scotland, and across the UK. As I have said before, this Government will work tirelessly with our fishermen and coastal communities across Scotland.
I can confirm that we will no longer be bound by the EU’s outdated and unfair method for sharing fishing opportunities. We will set our own fishing quotas, based on science, and decide who can fish in our waters. I have to say that I share my hon. Friend’s optimism for the future of our industry, and it is an optimism that I have heard time and time again from fishermen and fishing communities the length and breadth of Scotland.
Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows very well from looking at the map, north Wales will benefit from the Crewe link. I might say to the representative from Wales that it is high time that the Welsh Labour Government got on and delivered the M4 bypass at the Brynglas tunnels. If they will not do it, we in this Government will.
Every great infrastructure project is opposed by people at this stage. The M25 had 39 separate planning inquiries. The Treasury was against the M25, and, I seem to remember, delivering the Olympics, and it tried to get rid of Crossrail. Every single infrastructure project is opposed at these critical moments. We have got to have the guts and the foresight to drive it through.
The Brexit deal delivers on the result of the referendum. The hon. Gentleman has a different view from me: I know he does not want to deliver on the result of the referendum. He wants to try and keep the United Kingdom in the European Union; 17.4 million people voted to take us out of the European Union and that is what we are going to do.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. He raises a wider debate about voter registration, and I would not object to its application on the mainland. I see nothing wrong with every single voter having a unique identifying code so that people cannot vote in two places, for instance. I would welcome moves towards that.
Through no design of mine, and for obvious reasons, I have come over the past two years to know, rather too closely, the intricacies of election law. I do not intend my contribution to descend into a personal rant against the Electoral Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service and Kent police, which led me to a three-month trial and subsequent acquittal, but I hope some good can come from my experiences by being a catalyst for the reform of election law, which was recently described by a retired professor of election law, Bob Watt, as a “compost heap”.
We have two key statutes: the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, often referred to as the PPERA; and the Representation of the People Act 1983, often called the RPA. The PPERA was enacted to reflect the reality of modern politics, and it created the Electoral Commission, a statutory body with powers over election processes and guidance setting for candidates, agents, political parties and, importantly, local authority electoral staff.
The Electoral Commission has a budget of £17 million and employs 134 staff. It oversees and controls national party spending, donations and reporting and the regulation of third-party campaigners, among other things. Members may not be aware that it is from the PPERA that ballot papers have thereafter had the candidate’s name and the logo of the national political party for whom they are standing. That was a recognition of the reality that the electorate vote for political parties. Few of us in this House would be so bold as to claim that the electorate vote for us solely as individuals—if only that were true; they vote in larger part for the party messages, for the perceptions they have of party leaders and for the national party manifestos. This legislation set spending limits of close to £20 million for registered political parties to spend across the UK in the regulated period of a year prior to a planned and forecast election as envisaged by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.
We then have the law that is more relevant to us. It is relevant to candidates and agents across elections, no matter what their type, be they parliamentary, Assembly Member, council, mayoral or police and crime commissioner elections. I refer to the Representation of the People Act 1983, which is the legislation I would like to focus upon this evening. I wish to focus on two small sections—sections 90C and 90ZA. It was on the construction and interpretation of these two sections that the entire case against me was founded, and it is from these things that we need to learn and change. In broad terms, the 1983 Act governs candidates’ returns, spending limits, timings, agents’ and candidates’ responsibilities, and, importantly, various offences, notably against those not authorised to spend money on a campaign. There is a clear prohibition in section 75 of the Act, with punitive criminal sanctions against those who spend without the authority of the election agent.
Those small sections are detailed and they are often not understood, so I will advance to the House what they mean. Section 90ZA explains the common meaning of “election expenses”. Subsection (4) outlines the concept of “incurred and authorisation”, and this accords to the long-held view that election expenses can be so only if incurred or authorised by a candidate or agent. This interpretation, relied on by all political parties, has roots going back to 1868 legislation in another form. If not authorised, an offence can be committed by the person incurring expenses under section 75 of the Act. This seemingly clear interpretation was to prevent those who might want to interfere with an election from doing so—or else face criminal proceedings. It also provided candidates and agents with the power to control what is spent on the campaign they are legally responsible for.
Section 90C explains what to do if goods, services or facilities are provided free or at a discount, for instance, where a friendly printer provides printed material, perhaps as a party supporter. It is clear and people fully understood what it was there for; the concept was simple. The section dictates that the item, service or facility given free or at an undervalue should form part of the election expense return at a proper market value rate, subject to some simple de minimis rules.
My case passed through a long trail of court interpretations before criminal trial. At an early application to dismiss, which was rejected, we argued that the normal interpretation of section 90C—the discount or free provision—could apply towards a candidate’s election expenses only if such a good, service or facility had been properly authorised in the first place by the candidate or agent under the normal authorising provisions of section 90ZA. It has long been the understanding of colleagues in this House and experienced election law Queen’s counsel, some of whom write the textbook on election law, that the rules always intended that agents were responsible for the finances of election campaigns. Candidates will be focused on meeting electors and winning votes during the campaign period—we will all be familiar with that. The law intended agents to be involved in all the spending decisions in a campaign, either by spending themselves or permitting someone else to spend on their behalf. They, or the candidate, are meant to authorise any spending on the campaign, so that all expenditure goes through them. As a result, the agent is then liable to produce a full, “true” return of all this spending and be responsible for keeping within the legal spending limits.
The Act also takes steps to try to ensure that others are dissuaded from spending on an election campaign without this authorisation from the agent or candidate. Section 73(6) and section 75 provide for offences for people who make payments for the campaign or who spend on campaigning without the agent’s express permission. Anyone spending or making such payments without authorisation—written authorisation should be the norm—risks committing an offence. If others are willing to take the risk of committing an offence by spending or paying expenses without authorisation from the agent, that would be a criminal matter for them. This does not mean there is a free pass for people to flout spending limits by simply refusing to give authorisation for spending which others decide to incur anyway. So it is clear that the baton of the risk of illegal activity passes from the agent or candidate to the individual deciding to incur the unauthorised expense. We all have some strong and great supporters in our constituencies who are keen to help, but I expect that none would flout the wishes of the candidate and agent and decide to place themselves in jeopardy. Then there is a deterrent to third parties incurring expenses without authorisation.
The judge in an early part of my ordeal did not agree with this long-held interpretation and interpreted that the legislation should mean that anything used to the benefit of a candidate or to denigrate their opponent, used either by the candidate or, more worryingly, simply “on their behalf”, should be included in a candidate spending return, regardless of whether it was authorised or not. This was appealed to the Court of Appeal, in front of the Lord Chief Justice. That appeal was successful and the normal ground was seemingly restored.
The Crown Prosecution Service, with the Electoral Commission attaching itself as an interested party, appealed the Appeal Court decision to the Supreme Court. That appeal was heard on 23 May 2018, with judgment given on 25 July last year. In summary, that decision overturned the Appeal Court decision and has to stand as the ultimate authority on the interpretation of sections 90C and 90ZA of the 1983 Act.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as he has encapsulated the issue in a few brief sentences. I will be expanding on that in the remainder of the debate.
The Supreme Court decision ruled that under section 90C free goods, services or facilities for the “use” or “benefit” of the candidate, arranged either by them or on their behalf, must be included in an election return. In addition, and this goes to the point made by my hon. Friend, authorisation or even, it would seem, full knowledge of the candidate or agent is not required, and only active refusal might—I stress might—be the only possible defence. It is difficult to see how that could be done if the candidate or agent is unaware of the matter concerned or the costs involved.
The Electoral Commission does not come off unscathed by that Supreme Court judgment. Paragraph 28 of it states that
“the Electoral Commission's helpful guidance documents issued over several years, whilst they certainly both address the question of apportionment of expenditure between party and candidate, and deal with the concept of free or discounted services, nowhere appear to alert readers to the possible link between them, nor to the application of the notional expenditure rules to what must sometimes be a difficult exercise of separating local from national expenditure.”
Let us overlay that statement about the Electoral Commission with some of its own written output on the launch of a consultation on a new draft code of practice on 10 September 2018:
“We hope these Codes will make it easier for you to submit your own or your party’s returns, simplifying the process and removing any blurred lines that there might have been”.
It goes on:
“In responding to this consultation you’ll help us to further demystify the process and remove any confusion that you or your party may have over the process of campaign reporting.”
So, we have an acknowledgement by the Electoral Commission of problems in election law and it was admonished, to a degree, by the Supreme Court.
The only reference in the draft code published in September last year to the Supreme Court judgment is a single paragraph on page 4 of a 23-page document, which is as yet without statutory force. That single paragraph says:
“This notional spending falls to be declared as election expenses in the candidate’s return even if the items provided have not been authorised by the candidate, the candidate’s agent or someone authorised by either or both of them, R v Mackinlay and others (Respondents), UKSC 42, 25 July 2018.”
That is it: this fundamental change in interpretation encapsulated in a few lines in a draft code of practice, with no guidance as to what it might mean in practice. If the hope was, to use the Electoral Commission’s words, to demystify and remove blurred lines, the Electoral Commission has comprehensively failed.
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I am not in a position to set that out on the Electoral Commission’s behalf, because it ought to speak for itself. I do not intend that to be a weaselly get-out, but these codes are the work of the Electoral Commission, and it is for the Electoral Commission to hear these concerns, respond to them accordingly and, in due course, lay the codes before the Commons, and I will come back to that.
I quite agree, and I hope that that has been clear from the words I have used and repeated tonight. It is in all our interests—I say that in the widest possible sense of the democracy of which we all have the privilege and honour of being part—that these rules are clear. I simply meant that I am not in a position to answer in detail the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) about paragraph x, y or z of the code, because that information is available to the House from a different source, and the House should scrutinise that for itself.
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I have been asked to reply, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Northern Ireland outlining the Government’s commitment to the people there and our plan to secure a Brexit deal that delivers on the result of the referendum.
I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in welcoming today’s announcement that the next meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government will take place in London in December 2019. This is fitting, as 70 years ago this year, the United Kingdom, led by those Atlanticist champions Clement Attlee and Ernie Bevin, was one of the alliance’s 12 founding members and London was home to the first NATO headquarters. We will continue to play a key role in NATO as it continues its mission of keeping nearly 1 billion people safe.
The Government’s position is clear. We said to the British people in 2016 that we would accept their vote as decisive. The duty of politicians is to implement the result of the referendum and not to suggest that the public got it wrong and, I think, undermine trust in democracy.
We have been clear that Parliament will have a meaningful vote on the deal, and we have set out when that will be. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the Scottish economy. If he is concerned about the Scottish economy, why have the Scottish Government taken measures that mean people in Scotland earning £27,000 or more will be paying more tax than they would in the rest of the UK? That is not good for the Scottish economy, and it is not good for the people concerned.
I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed about this issue. The question of land reform was one I raised with President Ramaphosa when I visited South Africa in August. We recognise the concern there is and the need there is for land reform, but President Ramaphosa has consistently stated that violent and illegal land seizures will not be tolerated and that the process should be orderly within South African laws and take into consideration both the social and economic impact. We want to see a process that is fair and, while it recognises the need to deliver on land reform, does that in a way that is fair to all South African citizens.
I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Bill that the Scottish Parliament brought forward that challenged the changes made in relation to the withdrawal Act. On the relationship between the withdrawal Act and the decisions of the Scottish Parliament in relation to Scotland, SNP Members and, indeed, the Scottish Government were aware of the position when they brought that Bill before the Scottish Parliament.
I am interested in the historical link my hon. Friend draws on this matter. I recognise that he and others have concerns about the backstop, and I continue to work to provide the assurances that I hope would enable him to accept a deal and make sure that we leave the European Union with a deal.
I said earlier that nothing is off the table. There are a range of ways in which I believe we can find assurances for Members of this House. The task is to find sufficient reassurance that gives the confidence to Members of this House that the backstop will not be indefinite.
We will not be revoking article 50 or asking for the extension of article 50, and we will be leaving the EU on 29 March next year.
Obviously, the arrangements in relation to the backstop and for the backstop ceasing to apply are those that are set out in the withdrawal agreement, and of course that does potentially end in the arbitration arrangement. Of course, in terms of the future relationship, the role that is had by the EU and by individual member states will depend on the precise legal form that that agreement or agreements take. But of course if there are areas that are of mixed competence then there would be a role for national Parliaments. If it is only one of EU competence, then of course it is under the sole competence of the EU.
We will ensure, in advance of the time at which people take their decision in relation to the meaningful vote, that proper analysis is available to enable people to make a judgment between the deal that is being proposed and alternative arrangements.
I note the way my hon. Friend carefully tried to weave into his question various references to matters that are perhaps not entirely relevant to the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. Every Member of this House will have a decision to take when the deal is brought back. I believe it is important that we have a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people, which I believe the deal does, but in a way that protects jobs, people’s security and, of course, the integrity of our United Kingdom.
First, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who I know has taken a passionate interest in this subject; we have talked about it before. She will of course be aware that Northern Ireland has won serious medals at the Commonwealth games for boxing. The issue itself is a devolved matter, and is also an issue for individual athletes and their governing sporting bodies to take up. As far as the boxing association of Northern Ireland is concerned, I suggest that it continues its dialogue with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
We have put forward a facilitated customs arrangement. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the details of the various models that were proposed, he will see that his question is not entirely factually correct. However, we will be negotiating such matters with the European Union.
The proposals would not prevent free trade agreements with those countries, but there is a challenge for us in relation to the United States and standards. We have always supported a single standards model, but the United States has a multiple standards approach, so that would be an issue. However, this deal enables us to sign trade deals around the world.
The Cabinet will meet, and the Cabinet will reach an agreement on this important matter, which is in our national interest.
In fact, the majority of the time at the Council was spent discussing migration. It is important, because this is an issue that affects the whole of Europe. We have seen movements coming into Europe before the date to which my hon. Friend has referred, and, indeed, after it. We now need to ensure that we are taking some of the steps that the UK encouraged the EU to take at an earlier stage in relation to, for example, further action upstream. That is, I think, the best way in which to ensure that we do not see people in the hands of people-smugglers, making perilous journeys and risking their lives.
Yes. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s constituents to this place. I hope that they will find things of interest to them during National Democracy Week, and that the resource packs that are available to all parliamentarians will enable them to make the most of it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. For too long, unions in the public sector have received taxpayer funding for an activity that is inadequately controlled and poor value for money, which is why we are introducing transparency in respect of facility time. We believe that proper management could save our taxpayers up to £100 million.
I have already made reference to the 2016 written ministerial statement, which set out the position. I stand by that and suggest that the hon. Lady looks at it. I thank her for her comments about the armed forces; their professionalism and bravery are beyond doubt.
The record of the last Labour Government on housing was described as a crisis, bringing misery and despair. Who said the last Labour Government’s record was bringing misery and despair? It was the Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman said that Labour did not have a good record on housing, and I agree. It is the Conservatives who are delivering the homes the country needs.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend has raised the example of North West Leicestershire, and we are very happy to join him in acknowledging the example it is setting. Of course, the figures he quoted contributed to the 217,000 new homes built across the country last year, which was the best year bar one in the last 30 years in terms of the number of new homes, but there is more to do. That is why we have rewritten the planning rules and had measures in the Budget to make money available and help people on to the housing ladder through the Help to Buy scheme. Once again, as he mentioned, it is the Conservatives in government who are delivering the homes that people need.
We are working to ensure that our five tests are met.
I am clear, and have said several times, that the relationship we already have with the EU is such that we are in a different position from Canada. We can have a free trade agreement and economic partnership that goes well beyond that which the EU negotiated with Canada.
I am afraid that that is not good enough. Forgive me—I have to make instant judgments. If the Prime Minister wishes to issue some sort of response, she is free to do so, but she is under no obligation. No? Then I call Andrew Bridgen.
I thank the hon. Lady for welcoming me to my new responsibilities. I repeat to her what I said in my initial response: the Electoral Commission concluded that, although there were problems in a number of specified constituencies, overall the 2017 general election was successfully delivered. The Government are committed to strengthening our electoral processes. As part of that, we are planning to run pilot schemes in a number of local authorities later this year to test requirements for voters to present ID before voting. We will look seriously at recommendations to us from the Electoral Commission on these matters.
Every application to the electoral register is now subject to identity verification checks, making our system more secure than before. In late December, the Government laid draft legislation aimed at further improving the registration process, including addressing recommendations from the Pickles review of electoral fraud.
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns and am glad that he has brought those examples to light. I understand that, following the examination of these reports—or perhaps of reports other than those to which he refers—the Electoral Commission has stated that there is
“a lack of evidence of widespread abuse.”
None the less, we will continue to work with the police and the Electoral Commission to reduce the risk of double voting.
My hon. Friend rightly points out that leaving the European Union provides new opportunities. We want a frictionless trading arrangement with the EU so that we can negotiate trade deals with other nations around the world. Since the referendum vote, Wales has attracted some of the most remarkable inward investment projects, and we are continuing on that basis.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that important point. He recognises that Wales voted to leave the European Union, as did the UK, and that we have an obligation to respond properly to that result while also respecting the constitutional settlement. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill does that, but we are working closely with the Welsh Government to ensure that it meets Wales’s needs.
We are leaving the European Union and we will be able to make decisions of that sort for ourselves in future.
The hon. Gentleman raises a serious point. There is no evidence of any successful attempt to interfere with our electoral processes. Indeed, it is particularly difficult to have a cyber-attack against an electoral system that requires voters to put crosses on pieces of paper using small pencils, so that undoubtedly old-fashioned system is very effective against cyber-attack.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The National Cyber Security Centre, along with GCHQ, has established a programme of assessment and certification. Some 20 degrees have been certified, most of which are one-year postgraduate master’s degrees in cyber-security, and 14 universities are now academic centres of excellence in cyber-security research, precisely so that we can maintain a pipeline of skilled people to help our cyber-defences.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and in fact some of the work being done on contingency arrangements will apply regardless of the nature of the outcome, whether there is a deal or not a deal.
That may well indeed have been the case. I know the Leader of the Opposition was in town at the time, and of course what he was doing was basically saying to the European Union that he would be willing to take any deal, at any price. That is not the position of this Government.
We said that we would no longer be a member of the single market because we will no longer be a member of the European Union and, as the European Union says consistently, its four pillars are indivisible. Therefore, the fact that we do not wish to be subject to other issues, like the European Court of Justice and free movement requirements, means that we will no longer be a member of the single market. At the end of the two years, when we have negotiated the end state deal, there will be an implementation period for that deal, but we are very clear that at the point at which we reach the end of the negotiations, we will be out of the European Union.
5. What steps the Government are taking to tackle electoral fraud. 
The Government believe that electoral fraud is unacceptable on any level. We have a clear path to building a democracy that is both clear and secure, and we will work closely with key partner organisations to deliver a comprehensive programme of work for reforming our electoral system and strengthening electoral integrity.
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The IER digital service operated by the Cabinet Office checks the details provided by the applicant, including their national insurance number, against government data before passing on the application to the relevant local electoral administration teams.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. People deserve to have confidence in the security of our democratic system of elections. Voter ID has been in place in Northern Ireland for decades, and the use of photographic ID was introduced in 2003 under the previous Labour Government. The Electoral Commission has consistently called for use of ID in polling stations to protect the integrity of the polls. The Government will conduct voter ID pilots in the local elections in May 2018 to enable us to learn what works best, and to ensure that we develop a system in which there is full public confidence.
There was a significant discussion on counter-terrorism and the need for us to co-operate in dealing with this issue. We focused, as I said in my statement, on issues around the internet and on the way in which it is used to promulgate hateful propaganda and to allow terrorists to plan and to have a safe space. We are united in our wish and our determination to take action with the tech companies to ensure that this cannot happen in the future. On the hon. Lady’s last point, I would simply say that across the whole House we are clear that there is no place for hate crime or hate speech in this country.
By tradition, at the beginning of each parliamentary Session we commemorate the Members we have lost in the previous year. Sadly, this year must also mark the passing of those we have lost in horrific events in recent days and weeks. The fire at Grenfell Tower in west London has killed at least 79 people. What makes it both a tragedy and an outrage is that every single one of those deaths could have been avoided. Something has gone horrifically wrong. The north Kensington community is demanding answers, and it is entitled to those answers. Thousands of people living in tower blocks around the country need urgent reassurance, and the emergency services—especially, in this case, the fire and rescue services—deserve our deepest respect and support.
I also want to pay a very warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad), who in recent days has demonstrated so clearly why her local community put their faith in her. Her determination to ensure that every family is rehoused locally is an exemplary work of a dedicated Member of Parliament, and we welcome her to this House. Lessons must be learned in the public inquiry, and a disaster that never should have happened must never happen again.
The terrorist attacks in Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park took innocent lives, causing dozens of injuries, and traumatised hundreds of people, with wilful and callous disregard for human life. The attack in the early hours of Monday morning in my own constituency is a reminder to us all that hate has no creed, that violence has no religion, and that we must stand up to hatred—whoever the target—and stand together against those who would drive us apart. Last night, hundreds of people assembled alongside Finsbury Park mosque to give just that message—from all communities and all faiths.
Our communities and our country are strongest when we are united. As our late colleague Jo Cox said,
“we…have far more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 675.]
It is just over a year ago that Jo was taken from us by someone driven by hatred. Jo was driven by love and by an infectious energy. It was in the spirit of that energy and passion for people, life and justice that so many events were held in her memory around the country last weekend, including one in Muslim Welfare House in my constituency, near the site of the vile attack that happened a day later. They held a great get-together at the weekend. We should remember Jo and thank her, and make sure these great get-together events do continue year in, year out to unite our local communities.
Earlier this year, we also lost the Father of the House, Sir Gerald Kaufman, who had served his constituents for nearly 47 years, and previously worked for Harold Wilson in Downing Street. Gerald was an iconic and irascible figure in the Labour party. He came from a proud Jewish background and campaigned to bring peace to the middle east throughout his life. It was my pleasure to travel with him in that quest to many countries in the region, and I loved the very many lengthy conversations I had with him—in fact, nobody ever had a short conversation with Sir Gerald. Gerald and Jo will be fondly remembered by all who knew them and worked with them.
I want to congratulate the mover and the seconder of the Queen’s Speech. First, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) on his speech. My mother told me of the joy of Greenham Common—she was there, and I went to visit her—and I hope that he will understand the deep love of humanity that motivated all those women and others to go to Greenham Common during those days.
I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for taking time out from his considerable responsibilities—looking after his extensive property portfolio and tending to his directorship of UK Water Partnership. I hope a Labour Government may soon be able to come to the aid of his Newbury constituents by taking water back into public ownership, and to the aid of his tenants by ensuring there is a responsibility on landlords to ensure that all homes are fit for human habitation.
I know the right hon. Gentleman will also continue diligently to pursue his other interests in Parliament—his interests in defence, Africa and rural affairs. I do agree with part of what he said, when he spoke of the need for us as a country to adhere to all the agreements on climate change issues around the world, and I thank him for that part of his speech.
I turn now to the seconder of today’s Loyal Address, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), whose speech was typically articulate and very erudite—after all, he is a former winner of “University Challenge”, so he would be able to make such a speech. He mentioned Benjamin Disraeli, and I welcome that, because Benjamin Disraeli once said, “If I want to read a book, I write one.” It seems that the hon. Gentleman has taken that maxim to new levels, writing or co-writing six books during the seven years he has been a Member of this House. I have been looking through the back catalogue of his books, and one book absolutely stands out—it is a must-read. It is absolutely apposite to our times, and I hope it is reprinted. It came out in 2011, and it was called “After the Coalition”. I do not want to cut across any of his present literary representations, but perhaps a sequel may be in the offing—although I understand that the latest coalition may already be in some chaos.
Nothing could emphasise that chaos more than the Queen’s Speech we have just heard: a threadbare legislative programme from a Government who have lost their majority and apparently run out of ideas altogether. This would be a thin legislative programme even if it was for one year, but for two years—two years? There is not enough in it to fill up one year.
It is therefore appropriate to start by welcoming what is not in the speech. First, there is no mention of scrapping the winter fuel allowance for millions of pensioners through means-testing. Can the Prime Minister assure us that that Conservative plan has now been withdrawn? Mercifully, neither is there any mention of ditching the triple lock. Pensioners across Britain will be grateful to know whether the Tory election commitment on that has also been binned.
Older people and their families might also be keen for some clarity around the Government’s policy on social care—whether it is still what was originally set out in the Conservative manifesto, whether it is what it was later amended to, or whether it is now something else entirely. I am sure it is just a matter of historical record, but on looking at the Conservative website today, the manifesto has been taken down in its entirety. It apparently no longer exists. The Prime Minister might also like to confirm that food is not, after all, going to be taken from the mouths of infants and that younger primary school children will continue to receive universal free school meals. On the subject of schools, there was nothing about grammar schools in the Gracious Speech. Does the Prime Minister now agree with her predecessor that
“it is delusional to think that a policy of expanding”
“number of grammar schools is either a good idea, a sellable idea or even the right idea”?
The good news may even extend to our furry friends, if the Prime Minister can guarantee that the barbaric practice of foxhunting will remain banned in this country.
The Government have recently embarked on what are likely to be very difficult negotiations concerning Brexit, which the whole House will want to scrutinise. Unfortunately, there have been some leaks, with the other side in the process expressing dismay at the weakness of the Government’s negotiating skills—but that is enough about coalitions of chaos with the Democratic Unionist party; we must get on to the even more crucial issue of Brexit. Labour accepted from the beginning that the decision of the referendum has been taken—we are leaving the European Union. The question is how and on what terms. The Government could have begun negotiations on a far better footing had Ministers accepted the will of the House in July last year and granted full rights to European Union nationals living in this country. I hope now that this minority Government will indeed listen to the wisdom of this House a bit more and work in partnership with our European neighbours.
I am not sure the hon. Gentleman was listening very carefully to any of my many speeches in the general election campaign. I made it clear that we would negotiate sensibly and fairly with the European Union and bring the results of those negotiations back to this House.
It is in all our interests that we get a Brexit deal that puts jobs and the economy first. No deal is not better than a bad deal: it is a bad deal and not viable for this country. We need full access to the single market and a customs arrangement that provide Britain, as the Brexit Secretary has pledged, with the “exact same benefits” as now. Neither must arbitrary targets for immigration be prioritised over the jobs and living standards of the people of this country. Let us decide our immigration policy on the basis of the needs of our communities and our economy, not to the tune of the dog-whistle cynicism of Lynton Crosby or the hate campaigns of some sections of our press, whose idea of patriotism is to base themselves in an overseas tax haven.