May I begin by thanking my hon. Friend for giving me my Union Jack face mask? He sports a similar one.
I am delighted that a motion to allow a sitting Friday on 12 March is on the Order Paper today. This is intended to allow remaining stages of those private Members’ Bills listed in the motion, including my hon. Friend’s Bill, to take place and I hope that the House will support the motion. There have been a significant number of representations, including from my own constituents, but from MPs as well, to bring these Bills back, so I hope that the motion, the solution, will be welcomed by the House. If the House were to make good progress next Friday, it is my intention to offer a further sitting Friday in order to finalise any of the outstanding Bills listed on the Order Paper and then move forward with Second Readings, if any are put forward. I hope that the Lords will find time to pass these Bills if they pass their Commons stages, but that is, of course, a matter for their Lordships.
I agree, as I do on many matters actually, with the hon. Gentleman. He is much missed in this Chamber and we hope to see him back physically in the not-too-distant future. It is a duller and quieter place without his regular sedentary interventions. He may have forgotten, but there was a referendum in 2014 in Scotland, which settled the issue. It seems to me that, in the midst of sorting out a pandemic, getting the economy back on its feet and resolving some little local difficulties going on with the leadership of the Scottish National party, it would be reckless to be proposing a referendum at this point.
Thank you, Mr Crausby—[Interruption.] I did not hear that interruption by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), which is always a great loss because his interventions are some of the most amusing that we ever hear. On this occasion, however, I am going to disagree with him. I do not like clause 31 at all; I think it is fundamentally misconceived. I have tabled a number of amendments, which I hope will improve it—if it is possible to make a silk purse out of sow’s ear.
Let me start by explaining why I do not like the clause in principle. I think there is a danger that it is attempting to give away something that does not actually belong to the state. The Crown Estates belong to the sovereign and are given in trust to the Government at the beginning of every reign. This started at the beginning of the reign of George III and has been recommitted by every monarch subsequently. However, the Crown Estates must return entire to a new sovereign at the beginning of a new reign. It is not possible—it is not right; it is not proper—for the Government to give away the Crown Estates or to put them in such a state that an incoming sovereign could not take them back in their entirety. I therefore have concerns about the underlying principle of clause 31 in that it is seeking to divide the Crown Estates, which ought not to be divisible because of the unity they are required to have at the beginning of each reign.
I also do not like it symbolically because, although I am very sympathetic to the demands of the SNP for more government in Scotland and for more rights for the Scottish Parliament, I think the Crown is more important than the union of Parliaments.
I am very grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s characteristically helpful intervention. What was so wonderful about that bait was the outpouring of patriotic royal fervour that it elicited from my friends in the Scottish National party. I must confess that I was thrilled and surprised when a party that I had thought to have republican leanings turned out, to a man and woman, to contain some of the staunchest monarchists in the land. That is desperately reassuring—
And it is, of course, an even greater honour to give way to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar.
The hon. Gentleman really cannot have it both ways. He teased the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for being inconsistent, because four years ago he had been against the devolution of the Crown Estate and today he was in favour of it. Now he has objected to my being consistent, in that I opposed it four years ago and continue to oppose it today. Either the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is right to have changed his mind, or I am right not to have changed mine. Both cannot be true.
The problem with that view is that it does not respect the rights of property. The Crown is entitled to protection of the rights of property as much as—indeed, some might say more than—anyone else in this country. If even Her Majesty’s property, the property of the sovereign herself, is not sacrosanct and protected, but can be taken for the benefit of the people—whatever that means—no one’s land is safe.
I find the concept of sovereignty coming from the people very attractive. I do not dispute the concept of sovereignty rising from the people to this Parliament, with our sovereign Lady the epitome of it, the symbol of it, the very pinnacle of our society and of our nation. Within that concept, however, all subjects, and Her Majesty herself, have rights of property, and those rights should not be arbitrarily taken away. It worries me that clause 31 is going in that direction in deciding that Parliament can allocate a property right without having established that that property right belongs to Parliament, and that it is for Parliament to dispose of it in the first place.
I am well aware of the difference of terminology in relation to Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I, the “English Queen”.
The Queen of England. The two were different, in a sense, and there is a conception of popular sovereignty in Scotland that may differ from that in England—although it is perfectly possible that the reference to “Mary Queen of Scots” may have been due to concern about having a woman as monarch, and to the fact that in earlier times people were happier to have a King of Scotland than to have a King of the Scots. I am not entirely sure that the hon. Gentleman might not be more in tune with the late John Knox and his “blast of the trumpet”. I myself am not sure that I want that particular trumpet to be blown, because I think that it is a trumpet that sounds a rather wrong note. For once I am sounding more modern than the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar! I think that the issue of property rights is fundamental, and I also think that the Crown is indivisible.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend, who I think is absolutely spot on. The indivisibility of the Crown within the United Kingdom is central to the Unionist case, and I think that if a Unionist Government are willing to divide the Crown, that is a very dangerous step. I would rather give the Scottish Parliament other powers—some of which are the subject of other amendments—than give it this very important power relating to the Crown, which, as has already been pointed out, has been indivisible for longer than the Parliaments have been united. It brought the two countries together, and that was then established firmly in law.
My assumption is that they were devolved to the Government of the Republic of Ireland, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do when one is abolishing the monarchy. If SNP Members were, in fact, closet republicans—which, given the other arguments that we have heard recently, I do not think they are—it would be perfectly rational for them to argue that the estate should be confiscated from the Crown and should go to an independent Scotland. However, that is not the argument that we are having today. Today, there seems to be broad acceptance in the House that the monarchy should remain part of the Scottish settlement—as well as the settlement for the rest of the United Kingdom—come what may, even if Scotland were to become independent.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman —I was about to say “my hon. Friend”—is bold enough. What he should say, and what I, in logic, would be bound to accept, is that if that is to be determined by one Government, it could be argued that it should be determined only by the Scottish Government in relation to the whole Crown Estate. However, that would not be my argument.
Hon. Members may have got the impression that I am a monarchist; I think there are few things more important in this nation than the monarchical system that we have. None the less I am consistent in my capitalist views; I do not want even my sovereign to benefit from subsidies that are paid by the Government and fall on the backs of hard-pressed people in North East Somerset who cannot afford their energy bills. I am not that much of a monarchist.
One has to be careful of onshore wind turbines if one is at risk of losing one’s head; I believe the heads of bats get regularly cut off by the turbines.
Subsidies are a different point, but I would certainly not want the sovereign grant to benefit from state subsidies. I think that is a very bad method of funding almost anything. The Government picking winners tends not to work and tends to increase costs.
Amendment 126 would merely ensure that the pro rata amount would remain the same, and amendment 125 would mean the scheme agreed by the Treasury and the Scottish Parliament could not be altered to the disadvantage of the Sovereign Grant Act.
As I have said, the Sovereign Grant Act is an extraordinarily good way of funding the monarchy. It means Her Majesty is the highest marginal tax rate payer in the country. The Queen pays a tax rate of 85% whereas nobody else pays more than 45%. The Crown Estates are taken from the Queen at the beginning of the reign and the revenue is then taken to the Government. So the Queen subsidises her own Government throughout her reign. That is not an unreasonable situation, but the Sovereign Grant Act returns it, and that should be protected in any development of devolution.
I wish Doris Day many happy returns, albeit somewhat belatedly, but the hon. Gentleman is not right that all these Scottish taxpayers have paid more tax for 31 years, because some—very distinguished—SNP Members of Parliament are not 31 years old, so certainly have not been paying tax for that long.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in today’s debate, Mr Howarth, and to welcome the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), as the Minister responding. The constitution is always in safe hands when it is in the hands of Somerset, so it is reassuring that he is here to respond.
I want to follow on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) said about amendment 10, on EU funding, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), and to which I have added my name. The appearance of fairness within the referendum is at the heart of what the Government must try to do. The Government, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion. It would be wrong if there was any feeling that the referendum was being held improperly, that undue pressure was being brought to bear, or that funding was directed to one side rather than the other—I say that as somebody who supports the Government’s position—but it would be most wrong if British taxpayers’ money funnelled by the European Union ended up being used to campaign for us to remain subject to the European Union.
It is a delight to give way to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil).
The hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to listen to an excellent debate on that very subject yesterday, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), but I think I would be in trouble if I went through the question of full fiscal autonomy for Scotland in relation to amendment 10 to the European Union Referendum Bill, so I want to stick to the subject at hand.
The European Union has a budget for this. Indeed, we passed a Bill in 2013 that allows for the European Union to engage in political activity and the promotion of the cause and objectives of the European Union. That money flows to institutions within the United Kingdom and that money comes with strings attached. It is money that is given on the basis that the institutions receiving that money support the objectives of the European Union.
No, we co-operate in far too many areas already. I have a lot of sympathy with the SNP’s position in many ways, because it is not entirely different from mine. I want my country, which I view as the UK, to govern herself, and SNP Members want a smaller part of the UK—Scotland, which they view as their country —to govern herself too. It puzzles me that, having got self-government, they want to hand it over to Brussels, but that is a question for them.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s call for lower tax rates. Has he now become a tartan Tory?
I am glad, as an Englishman, finally to be allowed to enter into this debate, because the motion refers to the United Kingdom. It is a great honour to speak in this debate, because the nationalists appear to have a very clever plot, whereby they send their best and brightest people down to Westminster to make us realise how much we would miss them if they went independent. Since entering this House in 2010, I have become more and more pro-Union, simply because of the fantastic speeches we hear from nationalist Members.
Today was a model of its kind. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) gave an absolutely brilliant speech that started with the ancient history of Wales and had the House gripped by his every word. I was sorry that I could not hear the whole speech by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), as I had to go to European Committee A for a moment, but I was relieved that he was not too brief because there was so much to be said, and he was almost still speaking by the time the Committee ended.
The motion itself, however, though presented with panache and oratory, is fundamentally misplaced. It goes completely the wrong way about tackling issues of inequality because it argues fundamentally that we should all be impoverished. It is an argument that says that inequality is the important issue, not how prosperous people ought to be. It mentions the
“underlying trend of rising income inequality”
but the problem is that the point at which income inequality has been reduced has coincided with the recession. Yes, it is easy to reduce income inequality if we ruin the economy. If we make everybody poorer, we can all be poor—and perhaps happy—together. Actually, I think the British people will not be happy if they get poorer; they will be happier if they get richer. It is of no pleasure to me that during the recession, the income of the top decile of income receivers in the United Kingdom fell by 9%, and that of the bottom decile by 2.4%. Although it could be argued that the better off are making a bigger contribution than the worse off, I do not want to see anybody’s income decline. I want everybody’s income to increase, and that requires the economic policies that this Government have followed.
Where I disagree with the hon. Gentleman is when he fails to recognise what those very wealthy people do. By and large, hedge fund managers and corporate tycoons spend their money, and if they do not spend it they save it.
If they spent it on wine, that would help the French, rather more perhaps than the English, but that is slightly beside the point. They might spend it on whisky, which will help the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. If they spend money, they create employment and economic activity, and if they save it and put it in a bank, they provide the deposits against which banks can lend. One of the great problems of the banking crisis was that the loan-to-deposit ratio went way above 100%—I think the Royal Bank of Scotland got up to 135%. It is not practical for banks to lend when they are not taking in deposits, because they then become dependent on overnight money, which can be withdrawn much more easily, and has a tendency to be withdrawn more quickly than long-term stable deposits. When the income of the wealthy is saved, it is an economic good.
The hon. Gentleman has taken one bit of what I have said and applied it incorrectly. It is uncharacteristic of him not to listen more carefully, and I will come on to the issue of spending cuts.
The IMF is not full of well-known leftists, but it does seem to be run, by and large, by the French, who have a very different understanding of economics, an absolutely rotten economy, and are the last people from whom I would take lessons. We will not in this Chamber go into the behaviour of the previous managing director—it would shock the viewers of the Parliament channel if they were to consider how Monsieur Strauss-Kahn had behaved. Anyway, I will not be told what to do by people who cannot behave.
I want to come back to the economic benefits of the spending and saving of the wealthy. That is what provides the employment and investment that leads to economic growth, and leads to the rising of living standards for the poorest in society. That is not done by the state. The state can indeed pass money around—it can reallocate money from pot A to pot B—but that does not increase the fundamental size of the pot. It merely reallocates what is already there, whereas the expenditure, saving and investment of individuals in the private sector grows the total amount that is available and therefore leads to cascading wealth.
This is where I must come on to the specific point in the motion calling on the Government
“to halt its further spending and welfare cuts”.
The spending cuts have been essential. The Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have been a model to other countries in how they have behaved. In a cross-partisan moment, I thank the Liberal Democrats for the role they have played. It must have been particularly difficult for them to take these tough decisions, having not been in government for so many generations and facing up to more serious responsibilities than parties in opposition sometimes have to deal with. I think they deserve a huge amount of credit for the support they have given to the Conservatives. Lots of economists, some of them quoted by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, were saying that it was the wrong thing to do. Even the IMF had to eat its words a year after saying that austerity was not the right thing to do. The IMF was wrong and the Government were right. Why was that?
First, when the Government came into office there was a risk that there would be a funding crisis. There was a risk that the Government would simply not be able to raise the money in the gilt market that they needed to pay for the services that the British people wished to receive. That was the first problem. The second problem was that Government expenditure and very high debt crowd out private sector activity. If the Government had not reduced spending, businesses would not have been able to have access to the capital they needed to begin the recovery. The third problem was that by taking money out of the economy, there was a general depression of economic activity as individuals and their families had less to spend throughout the economic spectrum. It was being taken out of productive capacity and used unproductively merely on a money merry-go-round of the state.
This is, again, where I like the fact that the coalition has raised the basic threshold of income tax. I share the ambition of my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) that this should be increased. It is absolutely barmy to tax people on low incomes and then give them their own money back in benefits. Not only do we want to get it to £10,000, we want to get it to the point where people on the minimum wage are neither paying national insurance nor income tax.
The wages that people are paid in this country are set on an economically competitive basis, not just against what goes on in this country but on what goes on in the rest of the world. As a nation, we need to produce goods and services that people will buy. Then, when we have profitability and successful businesses that grow, there will be money to pay people more. We want more billionaires, because billionaires spend money. Who do we think are buying all these Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Jaguars? In Portugal, the people buying them might be quite poor, because it has a special scheme where one can win a car if one buys a cup of coffee and makes the person selling the cup of coffee promise to pay tax, but outside Portugal—in China, India, America and the United Kingdom itself—the people who buy these luxury goods are those who are well off. We need those people to provide the good jobs.
I want to move on to the dead hand of welfare, as it appears that the feeling expressed by those on the Opposition Benches—particularly by the nationalists, although Labour is not a million miles away—is that if a Government take money and dish it out that helps people. I fundamentally disagree. I do not think that it is fair that people who do not work should be better off than people who do. Indeed, I think that is wrong. I do not think that it is fair that people should be trapped in poverty by decisions that the state makes.
One of the noblest things that this Government are doing is the reform of the welfare state. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) that if people are lifted out of state dependency, they can take charge of their lives and become prosperous. They can then contribute to the overall economy. If benefits are set too high and the percentage of its withdrawal is so high that there is no incentive to work, people are trapped.
Once again, I am sorry to say that I disagree with the hon. Gentleman on that specific point. It is much preferable that the state should pay benefits to people who are working and being paid the economic rate for their job.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. There must be fears that if the Bank of England goes on printing money, the printing presses will eventually wear out in an inflationary burst.
There is hope from the Opposition Benches. We heard that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar supported the reduction in corporation tax in Scotland because he thought that it would produce more revenue, more business and more prosperity for Scotland. That is the vision of fairness and of reducing inequality that we should have. It is a vision in which people succeed through their own efforts rather than being trapped by the state; in which people prosper through their own efforts, rather than being held down by the state; and in which people contribute through their own efforts to the growth of the rest of society and the economy, rather than being prevented from doing so by the state and being left unproductive .
The hon. Gentleman and I are co-religionists, and if we are not careful we will start talking about original sin and the imperfectability of mankind. It is true, of course, that there is no perfect man-made system, and that would be an interesting debate for another day, but by and large the markets work better than state direction, which essentially re-circulates money that is created in the private sector. We need a flourishing private sector if we are to help people to improve their standard of living, their lives and their livelihoods, and if we are to take them out of this awful poverty trap. There is great nobility in what the Government are doing. They do not want unfairness; they want fairness for those people and families doing their bit for society, working hard and getting on, and they want to take away the clamping down, the closing down, the almost bankrupting of the country that was being done before.
For those reasons, I oppose the motion. It is fundamentally wrong-headed in all it seeks to do, and I hope the Government stick to their guns and carry on with economic and welfare policies that enable people to become better off through their own efforts.
I beg to move amendment 4, page 1, line 9, after ‘person’, insert
‘who married a person of the Roman Catholic faith’.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker—I am sorry, Mr Hoyle. I will get it right in the end. It is so difficult when people have so many titles, like Her Majesty. It causes confusion, even for those of us who try to specialise in such important aspects.
My amendment is a minor one that is intended to clarify which person clause 2(2) refers to, because we do not want to refer to the wrong person. The amendment refers to a person
“who married a person of the Roman Catholic faith”,
because I am concerned that the part of clause 2(2) that reads,
“where the person concerned is alive”,
could be taken to mean not the person who married the Catholic, but the person who was the subject of that marriage, or indeed the person who was its product.
That is an interesting point. I am sure that Her Majesty’s other realms will consider whether or not the whole of clause 2 is a matter of great concern to them, because Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the other realms do not have established Churches and so need not worry whether or not the sovereign is married to a Catholic. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that it is essentially a matter of concern in so far as Her Majesty is the Queen of England, rather than Queen of the other territories.
My amendment is very narrow. Clause 2(2) reads as follows:
“Subsection (1) applies in relation to marriages occurring before the time of the coming into force of this section where the person concerned is alive at that time”.
Who does that mean? It could mean a person who was excluded from the succession many years ago as a result of marrying a Catholic and who happens to be alive at the time the Act comes into force. Therefore, we might find that we will need to rearrange the whole succession because the clause is not clear about who that person is. I think that the Government’s intention is that that is the person who contracted the marriage to a Catholic. To put a name to it, we are talking about someone such as His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent.
That is an interesting thought, but I think that it is important that the line of succession should be clear and in no doubt. I think that legislation relating to the succession to the Crown needs to be unambiguous and not allow potential risks to come in because of a mistake in the drafting. We want to know who our sovereign will be, to whom we owe loyalty and all such things, and that might not be possible if we do not know the line of succession.
It is also worth bearing in mind that the succession can leap about. We have been fortunate enough in recent generations to have had a very clear succession and large royal families, but we can sometimes get down to a very small number of heirs, and we see that ordinary hereditary titles can sometimes go to very remote cousins, so who is in line to the throne is very important.
Obviously, there are other amendments that I have tabled. I have concerns about the clause as a whole and whether it should stand part of the Bill—
Once again, I am in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. That is why it is so important that we should have proper time for this debate and to debate the full ramifications of what the Government are trying to do. The argument that the measure has been agreed by Her Majesty’s other realms is not sufficient. It needs to have been thought through properly in one of her realms first, before we see whether the other realms will accept it. Yes, there might be a child—a happy event for Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge—and let us hope that that is the case, but there would be no harm in allowing the legislation to be dated from today, even if that birth were to take place. There is no urgency. The succession is apparently very secure: the heir apparent is a youngish man and so is his son.
Of course, the sovereign is also King or Queen of Scotland, which is a very important title.
I do not wish to detain the House any longer, but I think that this is a matter of fundamental importance. We are changing that part of our constitution that is most precious in a rush, as if it is anti-terrorist legislation, and we are not allowing ourselves proper time to consider all the ramifications of what is entailed by Her Majesty’s Government’s position. I therefore hope that the House will consider accepting my amendment to make some improvement to the Bill, although I fear that it still will not allow sufficient time for all one might wish to discuss.
May I say what a particular pleasure it is to see that the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, has tabled a motion for 7 pm so that this debate may continue “until any hour”? It is always reassuring when European debates are not limited by an unnecessary constraint on time, although I note that having done that, the Prime Minister has left the country. Perhaps he does not want to hear hon. Members’ full ruminations on this subject.
I begin by commiserating with Croatia, which has decided that it wishes to join the European Union—an organisation that others may be looking to get out of if they possibly can. One always has a certain sympathy with nations that gained their freedom not so long ago and now wish to hand it over to another body and organisation.
I refer hon. Members to the report by the European Scrutiny Committee, which the Minister touched on. It concerns me that, once again, the European Union is not learning from experience. It always thinks that countries may be ready for something, yet it comes as a nasty shock when those self-same countries are not ready. We saw that with monetary union, which the EU pushed on member states that were not conceivably ready to join. It said that there was an efficient system afterwards to ensure that countries would be brought into line, and that everything would be made to work ex post facto, but that is precisely what did not happen. We see the same with Romania and Bulgaria, which are constantly found to be in breach of their commitments. The European Scrutiny Committee has highlighted various issues, some of which go beyond the Minister’s remarks, while others reiterate his points about the difficulties of Croatia’s membership of the EU.
I would highlight Croatia’s 2,000 mile border. My concern is not Croatia’s 4 million population, but that lots of people can get through a border, as we have seen in Greece. Unless a country has a rigorous system of citizenship in the first place, people can establish rights to be members of it, or pretend to have done so. Once they are inside the EU, they can come waltzing into England without so much as a by-your-leave, as they can into Scotland—I am pleased to see so many of our friends from the Scottish nationalist party in the Chamber for the debate.
Not nationalist? I do apologise.
If a country has weak borders, it undermines the free movement of people within Europe.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is as flattering and charming as always, but it is good enough for the Irish, who got some serious concessions. The concession on taxation is a very important one. It establishes that taxation is not to be set at the European level. In fact, it is clever of the Irish to have got it, because Lisbon is bringing in an awful lot of things by the back door and the Irish have managed to close that back door, or the stable door as one may like to call it.
I know it is implausible that the Irish could have been more adept than people living in Na h-Eileanan an Iar, but they did indeed manage to get something by virtue of having a proper democracy that required a referendum on the treaty of Lisbon, to which the Irish people had the sense in the first instance to say no, but then they were bullied by Europe into saying yes at a later stage, with some guarantees. If we had had a referendum, I think that the British Government might have been able to get some pretty serious guarantees.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) asked whether I really believe that the Government could have negotiated concessions for the United Kingdom. Yes, I absolutely do, because the European Union wants the Lisbon treaty to function fully; the Lisbon treaty only functions fully with the Irish agreement, because it had to be agreed by unanimity; the Irish agreement was conditional on the protocols given in the Croatian accession treaty; and therefore it follows that if the United Kingdom had insisted on concessions to us that would have let the Lisbon treaty carry on for everybody else, we would have been in a very strong negotiating position to achieve them. That is probably still the case.
I want to return to the general rejoicing at the socialists having become a new Eurosceptic party, as, of course, they were, rather less successfully, under Michael Foot not so many years ago. As a Eurosceptic party, they voted last week to stop spending more money in the European Union. It occurs to me that the Bill could be amended to say that it will come into effect only at the point at which our full rebate—which was given away by our Labour friends when they were last in government—is restored. Now that the Labour party is so committed to cutting expenditure in the European Union, it would almost certainly be willing to support such an amendment, so we can use this Bill on the Floor of the House to achieve the reduction in spending that so many Members of this House showed that they wanted last week. Indeed, I think it is the united will of the Conservative party that less money should go to Europe.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He makes a crucial point, which we will discuss further in our second debate, in which we will see that eurozone votes, as a qualified majority, are able to outvote everybody else, which seriously diminishes the UK’s voting power, as does this Bill. By adding another member state, we will go from 17 to 18 recipient, mendicant countries and 10 that pay in. It also means that one more part of the qualified majority will be against us and for more spending and for the ratchet of Europe.
We need to be very cautious about what we do when we do not get anything in return—that is my main point. I am quite happy to welcome other nations to the European Union, if they really want to join. I understand that the Scottish nationalists might want to rejoin. I thought that the great argument for Scottish nationalism was that they would be free from Europe as well, but that is not the way they are going. We are not getting anything in return.
I wish to speak to my amendments 3 and 5, and to speak more broadly to some of the other amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope). However, I hope that I do not do so at such length that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) decides to move a motion to get me to shut up—the Commons equivalent of the Lords procedure to move that
“the noble Lord be no longer heard”.
We have just heard from the Minister, and I listened to him with great interest.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question; it is always good to have an intervention from him. I did manage to understand the Minister—or at least, I think I did—but I was shocked by what I heard. Once again, we heard that this House must be craven in front of the great power that is the European Union. We cannot even set our own time any more without the say-so of our friends in Brussels, and that is a pretty sorry state to have got into.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, as he so often does. Na h-Eileanan an Iar is enormously well represented in the House, and it is one of the great arguments for maintaining the Union that he should continue to have an audience here for his wise words. I wanted to propose the introduction of Somerset time, a new time zone for the world, which the Europeans could come over to. Sadly, however, my amendment was not selected, for reasons that I fail to understand. The mysteries of this place to a relatively new Member remain manifold.
I should like to speak briefly to amendment 59 before I come to my own amendments. It is a wonderfully wise amendment, because it understands that in the winter there is a shortage of daylight and that Greenwich mean time has the great advantage—a somewhat old-fashioned one, perhaps—of the sun being at its highest point at noon. This gives us an even balance of sunlight during the course of the day.
As always, my hon. Friend makes a wise and pertinent intervention.
There has been one occasion in history on which daylight was extended. Those hon. Members who are up on their Bible will remember their studies from their student days. They will recall the book of Joshua, chapter 10, verse 13:
“And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven and hastened not to go down about a whole day.”
That is really what amendment 59 is all about. It is about accepting what verse 14 goes on to say, which is that that happened only once; it was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. God allowed the sun to stand still in the heavens on that day only, and never again.
There is absolutely nothing that we can do about that. No great Act of Parliament or—dare I say it—regulation from the European Union can create more daylight. We are therefore faced with a simple choice in the winter. Do we get up in the dark and have teatime when it is a bit brighter, or do we have murky, dank, dark mornings—I am sorry, I meant that the other way round. Do we instead get up with a spring in our step and go to work with enthusiasm, full of beans and ready to face the world, and sacrifice a little bit of daylight at teatime?
In seeking to leave us on summer time, my hon. Friend’s amendment would allow all the supposed advantages to be investigated, including having an extra hour of daylight in the evenings so that people could have their barbecues and all that sort of thing, but it would not upset the mornings. That is particularly important for our friends in Scotland, which is why I want to mention amendment 23.
My hon. Friend makes an extraordinarily good and wise point. People sometimes see things happen and figures change, and then claim that A led to B. Somerset county council switched off all its speed cameras and the number of accidents fell dramatically, but, much as I dislike speed cameras, it seems unlikely that in that instance A led directly to B. We should be enormously careful about advancing arguments based on theoretical statistics relating to what might happen when there is a strong general trend.
The key issue—I now return to the subject of amendment 59—is that of what people like. Why do we not learn the lessons of history? We have tried this before. We tried it during the war, but people did not like it, and as soon as the war ended we got rid of it. If it had been such a fantabulous idea, we would have retained it in the later 1940s, and in the 1970s.
Let us consider Portugal, our oldest ally and our ally since the treaty of Windsor in 1386. Portugal made this mistake. The Portuguese erred: they decided to abandon the proper time, as set by the sun, and get closer to Europe. That failed, and they reversed their decision.
I am grateful for that invaluable intervention. I am sorry to say that I think that merely discussing this issue causes irritability among some hon. Members.
That brings me to amendment 23, which requires the consultation to include representatives from England—in brackets, Somerset—Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
That is an extremely important point. If one is a Unionist—if one believes that this is one great country consisting of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and that we should be united as a single people—one has to maintain that if the poorest crofter in Na h-Eileanan an Iar is inconvenienced for a ha’porth of extra business in Cornwall, that is most unreasonable, because it has a disproportionate effect on our friends and allies in Scotland.
My hon. Friend has already heard me say that China is very big. It must be acknowledged that the United States is also quite big, although not as big as China. For a huge country to operate different time zones is one thing, but when I proposed that Somerset should have its own time zone—because it struck me as perfectly rational that time should be set from the centre of the universe—my proposal was considered slightly eccentric. It was felt that the United Kingdom should not be divided in that way. I do not see why, if this is not considered appropriate for Somerset, we should suddenly do it to Scotland.
I also think it hugely important symbolically to our standing as one country for there to be no difference in time in different parts of that country. The Bill, as it stands, seeks to ignore the Union for the sake of some rather narrow and selfish benefits that are, in fact, trivial in comparison with the great history and breadth of our country’s tradition.
As it happens, I think that it would be good manners to consult the Republic of Ireland as well, because the Irish economy is very dependent on the UK economy. I should like to see that covered in the Bill, although it is not mentioned in the amendment. As I have said, a rather selfish approach has been taken .
I wonder whether my hon. Friend has considered fully the problem of the European Union’s not allowing us to proceed with the amendment under its directive. Does he feel that a “notwithstanding” clause might have been helpful to overrule the European Communities Act 1972?
I wonder further whether my hon. Friend thinks that if we did have a big fight with Brussels over this, it would increase the happiness of the nation.
Is not the obvious answer to the Minister that the Government could carry out a study any day of the week they felt like and do not need an Act of Parliament to do so?
Had I been a Member of Parliament at the time, I would have opposed leasehold reform. I thought that it was an outrageous attack on property rights, and I would have taken the same view had I been a Member of the Scottish Parliament. I think that property rights are of overwhelming importance, and that the new clause is genuinely dangerous in seeking to undermine them.
As I was saying, my three reasons for opposing the new clause are the attack on property rights, the attack on the Crown—that mystical union of Crowns that we have had since 1603—and the loss of revenue for the English. I feel that I must stand up for the people of North East Somerset. They do not benefit from as much spending per capita on the health service, the police or education as those north of the border. I accept that, because I believe in the Union and I think it a price worth paying, but the price must be fair. The revenues that are ultimately the revenues of the state must come centrally, and must be shared out proportionately. When the Scots start asking “Why do we not have Crown Estate revenue for the territory and the sea around Scotland?”, I may respond by asking why people living in London do not say “We will have the revenues from the Crown Estate in London, and we will not allow any subsidy to be given to Scotland.” That, I think, would make the Scots rather upset. A good deal more money comes from places such as Pall Mall, which is owned by the Crown, than from the seashore.
I said earlier that I was against Scottish independence, because if we had it we would not benefit from such helpful and informative interventions as the one that we have just heard from the hon. Gentleman.
For the benefit of the Committee, I should say that the hon. Gentleman himself was my teacher.
The reform of the other place will be a matter of great interest, although it is worth bearing in mind that the 1911 Act specifically states that it is to be in place only until the other place is reformed. When that time comes, this House will no doubt want to bear in mind how that Act can be reformed in response to the reform, depending on what is done to the other House. Some hon. and right hon. Members, and indeed some hon. and right hon. Friends, might be concerned about the powers that this House would lose if the 1911 Act were reformed wholesale.
New clause 3 has another important purpose. Lord Justice Laws, in the Thoburn case, which was well known in the popular press as the metric martyrs case, developed a doctrine of constitutional laws, in which he included devolution to Scotland. He would no doubt also regard an independence Act, too, as a constitutional law, which will be of interest to the hon. Gentleman who represents the Western Isles—I am afraid that I must still pronounce it as such, but I hope to learn. The European Communities Act 1972 is viewed as a constitutional Act, as is the Bill of Rights. Lord Justice Laws argued that those have a special place in the legal hierarchy and cannot be amended by implication. That means that they cannot be impliedly repealed, but only specifically repealed. That was quite a constitutional leap and a novel concept, but one that I think Governments have found useful, because it eases their path when changing other laws.
If we have developed this new view of constitutional laws that are superior laws—a sort of law greater than the ordinary Bills that this House and the other place pass—it seems to me that it would be better if that were decided by Parliament, rather than by the courts at a later date. That is one thing that the new clause would at least indicate. It would say that a Bill is so important and relevant, because it will determine how elections will be carried out, that it cannot be amended except with specific approval. Clearly, it would therefore be difficult for it to be impliedly repealed.
That brings me to the nub of the matter, and of the new clause. Constitutional change is the most important duty of this House, because when we change the cycle of election we change it in a way that means that we could have very different Governments. Just think what might have happened if we had had a general election in 2007. Who might have won if that had been the electoral cycle?
The right to an election is the fundamental right of the British people, with their democratic ability to decide who forms the Government, so can it possibly be right for one Government to come in and say of a Parliament, “It’ll be five years,” the next to come in and say, “Oh, actually, four years would be better,” and the one after that to say “Six,” which would still be covered by the exemption from the Parliament Acts, and to play around with the constitution—with the democratic rights of the British people—in a way that involves no checks on them and no ability to say that that is now the settled will of Parliament and of the British people?
I think that in the House of Lords, as it currently is or in any reform of it, we have absolutely the right body to say, as the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) suggested, “Hold on. You did not have this in a manifesto. This is an inappropriate way of changing our constitution, without the consent of the British people and without a referendum, which might be a better way of doing it, so we are blocking you until you have had a referendum—until some big constitutional result has been found.” The Lords have done that before.
The House of Lords has been a block on constitutional reform, and that is a good thing. Some hon. Members might think that a peculiar thing to say, but it means that reform is properly thought through and developed. I am not going to go back to the exclusion crisis and Lord Halifax’s wonderful speech to prevent the Exclusion Bill going through, but that was a very early example of the House of Lords taking a strong constitutional stance, protecting the rights of an hereditary monarchy to follow the correct path and—the bonus from my point of view—being very pro-Catholic. Certainly, however, before 1832 the House of Lords blocked every reform, and it did so until it was clear that the whole of the British people wanted such reform to take place. Indeed, the Duke of Wellington realised that for the King’s Government to carry on, reform had to take place. After he put metal shutters in Apsley house because of the riots that had occurred, he knew that reform had to take place.
In 1911 even Lord Curzon eventually decided that the reform Bill had to go through, rather than having the House of Lords flooded with a whole new batch of peers who would have pushed it through—[Interruption.] They were Liberal peers. Most of them, however, become Conservative over the generations; it is the great advantage of the hereditary system. The Bill was deeply opposed. Lord Willoughby de Broke was one of the great leaders of the opposition to that reform, and the House of Lords has had that job and done it extraordinarily well, making sure that our constitution changes not as it has done in recent years—which is a grave error—according to the will of a small clique in Downing street, but because within it there has been some important flaw that, with the support of the whole British nation, has needed improving.
I do not think that my new clause will make this Bill perfect, because one cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but it would at least make this sow’s ear one that could not be chopped up into sausages.
I have been enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech enormously. I think that he has identified the nub of the problem, which is simply that there is not enough daylight in the winter, and there is remarkably little that Government—or even a sovereign Parliament—can do about it.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for paying tribute to Lydia Menzies, who was a very valued member of the House staff and a distinguished Clerk. She served on several Committees, including his, and was in the Table Office for a period, and many Members will have come across her there. I have always found that the Table Office provides a wonderful service in helping Members to avoid mistakes and to enable them to craft their questions in a way that will be orderly, and she was very helpful to me when I was visiting the Table Office. She was seconded for a period to the Department for International Trade, so also had some experience of Government, and she was also a great teacher and source of inspiration to colleagues. Her early death is a great loss to the House service, and I pass on my condolences to her husband, Greg, and to her daughter, Orla.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, by the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Madam Deputy Speaker—I got it right this time and actually noticed that there had been a change of Chair—I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the point that she raises. It is important to have a degree of certainty, so I reiterate that it is proposed that the measures would be in place until 30 March. I think that is the right approach to take. I do not want to pre-empt the decision that will be made in March, because—who knows?—we could be in a very different position by then, but I assume that if other virtual participation continues at that point, if we are still in the midst of the pandemic, it would be reasonable to continue with such proposals as are likely to be brought forward in the near future.
It is nice to see the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar back and smiling at us. We missed him greatly in the debate last week on parliamentary boundaries. As he was not there, I do not know if he noticed that I proposed that his seat should be made permanently in his honour, as such a fine representative of his good constituents. However, as regards to whether we are in the 18th century or the 21st century, it is important that Members of Parliament have the opportunity to meet Ministers, speak to Ministers, lobby Ministers, speak to each other, lobby each other and raise their complaints. I think we need to be physically present to do that. The hon. Gentleman makes an enormous contribution, normally on a daily basis, to this House, when he sits in his usual place and lobs in little grenades of wit and wisdom that keep Ministers on their toes and Opposition spokesmen paying attention, so the sooner he is back here the better. [Interruption.] I am being heckled by his own Front Benchers. I am not sure they are as keen to have his wit and wisdom as I am.
Indeed. What is being done is ensuring that things open up in a progressed way so that the lowest risk activities open first and the higher risk ones open later to ensure that it is safe to do so. The programme being followed is being followed very safely and seems to be working. I said earlier that some further openings will happen in mid-July and that is now not very far off, so there is good news coming. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to be championing those businesses. They want to get back to business. The Government want them to be able to get back to business, but it has to be safe.
The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar makes his own argument for bringing Parliament back. May I say how much we miss him? Normally, we have some entertainment and forthright debate. We have the people of Na h-Eileanan an Iar beautifully and brilliantly represented. Whether the subject has anything to do with the hon. Gentleman or not, there is always a cat call or a few words of wisdom coming forth. Now, what do we have? We have some silent mutterings. He is on mute and we miss his dulcet tones. We want him back. He is the great argument for Parliament coming back physically.
No. I must confess that the logic of that point defeats me, and it seems that it defeats most Members of this House. This will be the third time that the Government have offered a general election, so we are clearly willing to have one. We are willing to take our case to the British people. Why? Because we are confident that our case is strong, just and right. The reason why the Opposition are so afraid of an election is because their case is weak, wobbly and futile.
I am afraid that that reminds me of the joke about the time that one should go and visit the dentist, which is, of course, at two thirty. But the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] Somebody laughed. Thank you so much. These sort of jokes amuse my children. We cannot possibly want to remove the teeth of Prime Ministers unless they are rotten, but the Prime Minister has a fine set of gnashers with which to bite through these difficult problems.
I beg to move,
That this House shall sit at 9.30am on Saturday 19 October and at that sitting:
(1) the first business shall be any statements to be made by Ministers; and
(2) the provisions of Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings), with the exception of paragraph (4), shall apply as if that day were a Friday.
The good news is that I do not intend to detain the House for long. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) seems delighted that I will be brief.
As Members will be aware, 19 October is a day of jubilee and song, because it is the anniversary of the birth of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who, on a very rare occasion, is not in his place. Other than wishing him a happy birthday, we have to deal with the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, in which Parliament has given the day additional meaning. It has set down a series of requirements that, if we are to leave the EU on 31 October, need to be fulfilled by this House and can only be fulfilled on Saturday, because the European Council will not have finished until the day before. I am sure that many Members can think of other things to be doing on a Saturday rather than coming here, but I admire their diligence in accepting that the basic principle is right. As I have said before, to meet three times in 70 years on a Saturday is not unduly onerous.
The right hon. Lady raises an interesting question. There are any number of impact assessments that people have made, but let me give her my assessment of what will happen when we leave the European Union: it will be a golden age for the United Kingdom when we are free of the heavy yoke of the European Union, which has bowed us down for generations and made us less competitive, less efficient and higher-cost. All of that will be gone, and we will be singing hallelujahs.
I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman, who I thought was a feisty highlander, calls for capitulation. [Interruption.] All right, the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) is even higher. Her Majesty’s Government have not capitulated, in the same way as the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar would be the last person to capitulate. The Government have, in fact, succeeded. We will be out of the customs union and out of the single market, and Northern Ireland will be in a single customs union area with the United Kingdom as a whole. This is fantastically exciting and a very important development.
I always thought one was in the habit of drawing a bath, rather than running a bath, and I am sure that the House would be most capable of drawing a bath. To come to the hon. Gentleman’s main point, we are waiting upon events. There is a European Council taking place on Thursday and Friday upon which the events on Saturday will depend. It seems to be relatively—
The hon. Gentleman heckles, elegantly and loudly as always, saying that today is Tuesday— I know today is Tuesday, and it will be followed by Wednesday and a European Council on Thursday and Friday. Things will be decided at that Council that will allow us to decide whether we need to meet on Saturday.
I make an exception for the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, which, for geographical reasons, has slightly fewer constituents, but they are some of the finest people in this country. I would not quite say they count double, but they are heading in that direction. When this matter was being debated some years, I thought we should create a rotten borough for him, because he brings so much levity and pleasure to the House through his interjections.
I am sorry to say that the most obvious understanding of the ordinary use of the English language, which normally the hon. and learned Lady is pretty good at, makes it quite clear that the two statements are entirely compatible. The Prorogation is the normal Prorogation to have a new Session; it is not to stop debate on matters related to the European Union.
On 16 August, I was at Lords watching a game of cricket, unless it was one of the days when it rained. On the WTO issue, our trade with the United States on WTO terms—I know that the hon. Gentleman is expert in these matters—has grown faster since the creation of the single market than our trade with European Union.
Parliament has done its correct duty—admittedly assisted by you, Mr Speaker—in ensuring that there were six hours of debate yesterday and a further three hours of debate today, but these constitutional issues are not new. Indeed, this matter is at the heart of the Glorious Revolution, and one of the clauses of the Bill of Rights, which is still our law, states that
“the raising or keeping a standing Army within the Kingdome in time of Peace unlesse it be with Consent of Parlyament is against Law.”
That is why every five years an Armed Forces Bill is passed—to ensure that the armed forces that are available to the Executive are approved by Parliament.
This last happened in 2016 when the Armed Forces Act was renewed. On that occasion, the Bill passed Second Reading without a Division, and it passed Third Reading without a Division. There was uniform consent in this House that the armed services should exist on a similar basis to that on which they have existed since 1689. The Leader of the Opposition did not choose to put down an amendment to put any limits on how the armed services could operate. He did not choose to put down an amendment to say that the Government could not act without the specific consent of Parliament. At every stage, the Bill was passed, and it recognised the proper constitutional settlement and the separation of powers. An Executive and a legislature are different things and have different responsibilities.
As hon. Members know, I have the highest respect for the leader of the Scottish National party in this House—the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford)—but I think that he made an error in his speech when he suggested that this House ought to give pre-approval, because the job of the House is to hold the Executive to account, not to try to run the Executive by remote control.