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Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): I was perturbed to hear today that BBC Radio 5 Live could be moved to online content only. While this would relieve the nation from the embarrassment of colleagues in this House playing—to give it a more tasteful title—kiss, marry or avoid on “Pienaar’s Politics”, it could deprive the nation of an outstanding sports and news radio broadcaster. May we therefore hold a debate in this place to address the need for the BBC to continue to be funded, as befits the nation’s broadcaster?

Chris Grayling: The subject of the BBC charter renewal is a very live one. I suspect that many of us have had emails about it. The Government’s view is that we want to preserve the BBC as a high quality public service broadcaster. It will, of course, be a matter for the BBC to decide how best to deploy its resources. We have to ensure, given that it is a levy on households of all different backgrounds and circumstances up and down the country, that the BBC operates cost-effectively and keeps the licence fee as low as possible.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): I notice that the Leader of the House failed to respond to the shadow Leader’s very sensible suggestion that the recess and the Queen’s Speech be scheduled to take account of the EU referendum. Will the Leader of the House give a proper response, especially given that the outcome of the referendum itself could have a major impact on the legislative programme?

Chris Grayling: The point I made in my remarks was that the Government have a full programme and will continue to have a full programme. It is really important that we do not allow the EU referendum to divert us from the very important task of governing the country. We will continue to deliver the right solutions for the country, and we will continue to bring forward the right legislation for the country. We will, of course, consider how best to ensure that hon. Members have the right opportunities to participate in the referendum, but we need to ensure that the governing of the country is not diverted by what is happening.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): My constituents, Mr and Mrs Vaughan, have been waiting four years for an assessment of their continuing healthcare costs for a deceased relative, despite an assurance that the clinical commissioning group had made attempts, with extra resources, to clear a backlog. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement from the Secretary of State for Health on the delays to retrospective continuing healthcare costs assessments, because it is causing enormous distress to my constituents and, I am sure, to many others?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend speaks with his customary effectiveness on behalf of his constituents. This issue affects a number of Members and constituents up and down the country. I will make sure the Health Secretary is aware of the concerns he has raised and ask the Department of Health to respond to him.

Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): What is the view of the Leader of the House on the legal status of the Prime Minister’s European agreement? Does he agree with his successor as Justice Secretary or does he agree with the

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Attorney General, whose view he mentioned earlier? The Leader of the House was the only Lord Chancellor not to be a lawyer. He therefore has an advantage in terms of plain speaking, so who does he agree with: the Justice Secretary or the Attorney General?

Chris Grayling: Fortunately, I am not a lawyer, so I am not going to give the right hon. Gentleman legal advice. I would say what I said earlier—that the view of the Attorney General on behalf of the Government is that it has legal force, but I am sure that this is going to be a matter of lively debate in the weeks ahead.

Byron Davies (Gower) (Con): The Leader of the House will no doubt be aware that, over a short time span, two separate debates took place in Westminster Hall on serious allegations of collusion between banks and valuers in order deliberately to undervalue and then seize assets. Numerous other cases have now come to light, and more than 10 MPs of different parties have written to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills to ask him to investigate. A particular situation, which involved Barclays bank and Lambert Smith Hampton, has led to my constituent, Bryan Evans, losing everything he has worked for over many years, including, recently, his house. Is it not time for a debate on the Floor of the House on these matters so that we can decide whether the Government need to act to ensure that the law is upheld?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is working hard and effectively on behalf of his constituents. He will understand that I cannot comment on the detail of the allegations. I know that the Solicitor General addressed a Westminster Hall debate on this specific case and on the role of the Serious Fraud Office earlier this month. Of course, the SFO, in conjunction with others, has considered these allegations from the outset, and my hon. Friend is well aware of the conclusions that have been reached. If he takes the view that the SFO’s remit should be broader to take matters such as this one further, I would encourage him to bring the matter to the attention of Treasury Ministers when they are before the House next week and perhaps look to bringing back to the Floor of this House a debate on the broader remit of the SFO and the ability of that organisation and others to investigate such matters.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Leader of the House aware that if the clinical commissioning group and the Government have their way, Huddersfield, a large university town, is likely to be one of the only such large towns to have no A&E facility within five miles? Does he agree that we need an early debate on what is going on with these CCGs? Why are we seeing all this pressure on the health service when the Prime Minister said during the general election that he would preserve A&E in the towns and cities of this country?

Chris Grayling: This issue has, of course, affected my own constituency, where it has led to a lively debate for a while. We have entrusted local doctors with decision making about the configuration of services. In my own area, it was certainly the view of local doctors that

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prevailed over plans for reconfiguration 18 months ago. It is really down to the hon. Gentleman’s local GPs and those who control commissioning in the area to decide on the configuration of services. My advice, having been through this myself, is to make sure that he discusses the issue with them and brings their views forward. That is what made the big difference in my area.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): You may like to know, Mr Speaker, that my petition to save the hedgehog has now reached over 19,000 signatures since it was launched two weeks ago. I am fully aware that that is about 80,000 short of meeting the requirement for a parliamentary debate, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that because it has more than 10,000 signatures the Government must write to me to clarify what they might actually do?

Chris Grayling: I congratulate my hon. Friend, as always, on his assiduousness on this issue. I can confirm that he will receive a proper response from the Government. I have a sneaking suspicion that he may make his way to that 100,000 point in order to secure a debate in this House. This week, of course, we have had a cautionary tale, linking some of the themes that sometimes appear in business questions. We talk about superfoods, and we talk about black puddings from Stornoway and Bury. We have learned this week that if we feed meat to hedgehogs, it can have a rather adverse effect on them, as we saw in the tragic case of the hedgehog that has become so fat on eating meat that it cannot even roll itself up.

Mr Speaker: We are all better informed than we were.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): My constituent Lance Bombardier James Simpson sadly lost both legs in Afghanistan, but he has since inspired people by becoming the first double amputee to do an obstacle challenge. He and other brave injured servicemen, however, have found that the NHS cannot cope with their artificial limbs. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health on how the NHS can solve the problem and come up with a better plan to help our brave servicemen and women?

Chris Grayling: I was not aware of this. Those who have served this country and lost limbs in its service are people whom we should admire without reserve. Some of the achievements of those injured servicemen after their return from the front line have been simply awe-inspiring. I was not aware of the problem that the hon. Gentleman has raised today. The Secretary of State for Defence will be here on Monday, but I shall also ensure that the Department of Health is made aware of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns and responds to him.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): I hope that the whole House will join me in congratulating the Mayor of London, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), on his wise decision—much publicised this week—to name Crossrail the Elizabeth line in order to commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday. My patriotic constituents in the village of Worthington would also like to commemorate that event, but they have been hit by the county council with a £400 bill for road closure. May we have a statement

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from the Government on the issuing of guidance to county councils proposing that they waive such charges, as was done during the Jubilee celebrations?

Chris Grayling: I, too, was delighted by the decision to name Crossrail the Elizabeth line, which is a fitting tribute to a magnificent monarch as she approaches her 90th birthday. We should all celebrate all that she has done for this country. I hope that local authorities will be wise and sensible, and will encourage communities to come together to take part in the celebrations that will take place this summer. Let me add that I think this has been a week in which my hon. Friend the Mayor of London has shown great wisdom.

Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab): On 19 February, at North Middlesex hospital, more than 100 patients were told over the tannoy, “Please go home unless you have a life-threatening illness.” Of course, they would have to self-diagnose to be able to make that decision. Some patients had been waiting on trolleys for more than five hours with no cubicle space and no ward beds to go to, while dozens were in a waiting room facing a wait of more than eight hours to be seen.

This is a crisis in A & E provision, certainly for Enfield and Haringey and, I think, more widely, and it was entirely predictable, particularly given that the Government closed the A & E department at Chase Farm hospital in 2013. Many of my constituents sat waiting that night, and they are outraged at this situation. May we have an early debate, in Government time, about the A & E crisis that is affecting Enfield and Haringey and other areas?

Chris Grayling: I do not know about that particular circumstance, but pressures on A & E obviously ebb and flow depending on local circumstances, especially at this time of year, and that this is one reason why we continue to put additional funding into the national health service. I seem to recall that, some while back, the former Health Secretary argued that putting more money into the NHS was not the right thing to do.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I am sure Members agree that we do not discuss Europe enough in this place. May I make the helpful suggestion that we alter the business of the House in order to hold a weekly European Union Question Time? According to my prejudice, the Leader of the House himself would answer the questions. I would then have an opportunity to ask, for instance, “Should the British people, in their wisdom, leave the European Union, would it be this Government who decided such matters as VAT rates on sanitary towels?”

Chris Grayling: It is certainly true that VAT on sanitary towels is currently imposed by the European Union, and I suspect that it would not be imposed by the House of Commons. As for the subject of debates on Europe, the one debate that I am unfortunately unable to have, although I would love to have it, is with the shadow Leader of the House, because he bitterly regretted that we did not join the euro. I would love to be able to debate whether he got that one right or wrong.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): If the Leader of the House casts his mind back to business questions on 28 January, he may recall that on that

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occasion he failed to answer a request from the shadow Leader of the House for details of how he would arrange for parliamentary scrutiny of the changes that the Cabinet Office was intending to introduce to local government pension rules and procurement guidelines for public institutions. He may also know that the Minister for the Cabinet Office decided to announce the second of those changes last week, not in the House but in Israel, during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Given that there is now real uncertainty about what those changes mean, and the apparent conflict between what the Minister for the Cabinet Office considers to be the target of the guidelines and official Foreign Office advice warning of the risks to business of becoming financially involved with illegal actions by Israel in the occupied territories, we are still waiting to hear how all this can be scrutinised. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Minister for the Cabinet Office finally to come to the House, make a statement and answer questions?

Chris Grayling: The Minister for the Cabinet Office will be here on 9 March to take questions. Mr Speaker, you have been generous in granting opportunities to Members of this House to raise concerns in urgent questions, but I cannot remember this subject being raised in that way, so perhaps it is not that urgent.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): When I heard from a constituent that she had gone elsewhere in the country to volunteer as part of her Duke of Edinburgh award, I was, as I am sure all hon. Members would be, delighted at her commitment to this award scheme and to volunteering. However, I was less pleased by the fact that she had to pay a rather large sum for her rail ticket and then discovered that by splitting her tickets she could perfectly legally have paid a lot less. May we have a debate on how such fare information can be much more widely publicised and whether rail companies should be obliged to show the cheapest possible way of getting from A to B?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend the rail Minister would be very much in agreement with what my hon. Friend says, and indeed is working to achieve that. All of us who travel by train will sometimes find a bizarre fare structure and bizarre circumstances, such as finding that the first class fare is lower than the second class fare, or that it is cheaper to split the journey in half. It would be much easier and more straightforward if the information available to the public was obvious, straightforward and demonstrated the cheapest way to travel.

Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Mr Speaker, you will be aware that several times I have called for us to have a debate on serious youth violence and the Leader of the House has advised me to go to the Backbench Business Committee. I was really chuffed when the Committee agreed to have a debate on this, but deeply disappointed that we did not get that time on Tuesday. Many of my colleagues came here to engage in the debate, but were unable to do so. How are we going to ensure that next Thursday the time is protected and we debate this very important issue?

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Chris Grayling: It is, of course, a very important issue. It was unfortunate that on Tuesday, with the extended statement on Monday from the Prime Minister and the volume of additional subjects Members wanted to bring before the House, that that debate ended up being squeezed out. We made sure that there was an early opportunity for the Backbench Business Committee to bring it back to the House, and when we debate it on Thursday, it is much less likely to be under the pressure of time than it was on Tuesday, which was a particularly unusual day in terms of parliamentary time.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): This week has seen the welcome news that the Avanti Schools Trust has secured planning permission for the first state-sponsored Hindu “all-through” school. In addition, Hujjat school, which will be the first Muslim school in Harrow, has also secured approval from the Department for Education and has reached the first stage, thereby ensuring that parents in Harrow will have the opportunity of giving a faith-based education to their children if that is what they want. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for us to have a debate on the importance of faith-based education to allow parents to exercise their choice and ensure that they get the education for their children that they wish to have?

Chris Grayling: I congratulate all in my hon. Friend’s constituency who have succeeded in bringing forward these exciting new plans. It has always been my view that faith-based education has an important place in our society. While it is important that a faith-based school is not a school of one faith, my experience is that the ethos a faith-based school brings delivers a high quality of education, and what is happening locally is very exciting. I am sure he will take advantage of the opportunity to express to the Secretary of State, when she is here shortly for questions, just how important a part of this Government’s policy that work is.

Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): The Government have amended substantially their own Enterprise Bill to include provisions on Sunday trading. Can the Leader of the House explain how Back Benchers who are concerned about the English votes for English laws status of the Government amendments can make representations within the terms of the Standing Orders concerning the effect of new proposals made by the Government?

Chris Grayling: These proposals will, of course, be the subject of debate in Committee and, if Members choose, on Report on the Floor of the House, but the advice that the hon. Gentleman seeks is best obtained from the Clerks.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Can a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to make a statement explaining what action the Government are taking to protect holders of the Lloyds bank enhanced capital notes from enforced early redemption? Several constituents have contacted me to say that they have been forced to close these. That has had a great effect on their planned income and they have received very little protection from the Financial Conduct Authority.

Chris Grayling: I am aware of those concerns, and my hon. Friend is doing his usual effective job on behalf of his constituents. The essence of what he is arguing

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relates to the remit of the FCA and its ability to do the job he would wish in a matter such as this. Of course, Treasury Ministers are here on Monday and I advise him to bring that matter to them, as they are ultimately responsible for setting the remit of that authority.

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): The Leader of the House may be aware of the horrible murder of the Cambridge student Giulio Regeni in Egypt. He disappeared six or seven weeks ago and his body was found horribly mutilated a few weeks later. He is much missed by the academic community in Cambridge, and he was carrying out academic duties at the time. I pressed the Foreign Secretary to urge the Egyptian authorities to explain what has gone on. Will there be an opportunity to discuss the situation in Egypt soon?

Chris Grayling: This was a horrible incident and our hearts go out to Giulio Regeni’s family, his friends and all his colleagues in Cambridge. Although Egypt is a great country, it still faces significant issues and challenges. I will make sure that the Foreign Secretary is reminded of the concerns the hon. Gentleman raises, and I have no doubt that the Government will want to set out an opportunity for discussing matters across the middle east generally, which will give him the opportunity he seeks in the near future.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Tomorrow evening, I will be attending a residents’ meeting in Cleethorpes, accompanied by the Humberside police and crime commissioner, Matthew Grove. He was been particularly effective as a channel for representing his constituents. Ahead of the May PCC elections, may we have a debate on the role of PCCs and how their powers may be extended?

Chris Grayling: Matthew Grove will always have a fond place in the Conservative lexicon as the man who beat John Prescott to that job of PCC for Humberside. That was a matter of huge disappointment to Labour Members—[Interruption.] Clearly, the shadow Deputy Leader of the House is not a fan, but after that victory we will always regard Mr Grove fondly.

Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab): My constituency has benefited tremendously from European Union structural funding, and of course that will not be available if we leave the EU. May we have a statement as to the advantages that EU structural funds have brought to the most deprived communities of the UK? Would the Leader of the House be willing to deliver such a statement personally?

Chris Grayling: Of course we have a debate this afternoon on this area, so the hon. Gentleman may want to take part in it. Those on the Government side of the argument would say that EU structural funds are important, but I am sure that those who disagreed with that view would say that in fact all we are doing is giving money to Brussels in order for those there to give it back to us.

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con): Notwithstanding the debate we have just had on flooding, there is another part to this issue that we hardly discuss at all in this House—coastal erosion.

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This year, there has been more erosion around the UK coasts, because of the storms coming from America, than there has been for many years. May we either have time in this Chamber to debate this or have a statement on the subject? Figures show that up to 74,000 homes could be at risk over the next 100 years, so we need to make plans now to be able to look to the future and ensure that we are successful in tackling this.

Chris Grayling: The importance of the issue has been brought home to us by the extraordinary archaeological work done around the historic port of Dunwich, which was once one of England’s largest towns but which has almost completely disappeared. We understand from that work just how much difference coastal erosion can make. My hon. Friend makes an important point and I suggest that he might like to join others whose constituencies are affected, including those who represent areas on the east coast of England, to secure a debate via the Backbench Business Committee.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP): May we have a statement or a debate in Government time on the extraordinary allegations published by London’s The Times newspaper last week on the treatment of asylum seekers living in Glasgow by Home Office providers Serco and Orchard and Shipman? There were allegations of, among other things, the spraying of air fresheners towards asylum seekers; physical intimidation; and the placing of asylum seekers in uninhabitable housing. Does the Leader of the House agree that such dehumanising treatment of asylum seekers merits Ministers reporting directly to Parliament?

Chris Grayling: No one would condone that kind of treatment of any individual no matter who they are in our society. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which I am sure will have been noted by Home Office Ministers.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Hull City Council is meeting at the moment to set its budget. Since 2010, it has had a cut from the Government of £310 per person, which, considering that it is the 10th most deprived area of the country, is one of the steepest cuts. In the same period, Epsom and Ewell, one of the least deprived areas, has gained £13 per head. Hull has none of the options that wealthier areas have to raise its own money, and has not received a penny of the £300 million that the Government have found for other areas. Can we please have a debate on why the poorest areas of this country keep being subject to cuts by this Government?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Lady needs to remember the huge disparities that still exist in funding per head. Targeting northern towns and cities such as Hull where there are bigger social challenges is important. As a Government, even a Conservative Government with a substantial number of Members representing constituencies in the south with a lower grant per head, we continue to believe that it is important to provide support to those towns and cities.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): The Government’s mobile infrastructure project identified 600 potentially new mobile mast sites, yet by December last year,

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only 15 had been built. May we have a full debate on the failure of the Government’s mobile infrastructure project, which is due to end in March, and on why so many communities that were promised mobile connectivity still lack it?

Chris Grayling: We are making real progress in spreading both mobile coverage and high-speed broadband coverage. We have a way to go. Of course such things are not always the responsibility of Government. It is the operators, not the Government, who build masts. None the less, I continue to believe that we are doing as well as almost all of our major international competitors in ensuring that we have modern communications.

Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): On 7 November last year, I wrote to the BBC on behalf of a constituent with a set of perfectly reasonable questions about its musical output and its relationship with Universal Music. The response I got was, to say the least, disappointing. Not only did it fail to answer any of the questions, it told me that, if I was unhappy with its response, I should take up the matter with the Information Commissioner. I value the work that the BBC does, but it must be open about how it operates. May we have a debate on creating a transparent culture within the BBC, particularly in its relationship with publishers such as Universal Music?

Chris Grayling: Let me make two points. First, the hon. Gentleman can raise that issue next week when the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is in the House. Secondly, we are embarked on just such a debate at the moment on the renewal of the charter. It is for members of the public across the country and Members of this House to bring forward their thoughts about the future shape of the BBC. [Interruption.] Despite the fact that the shadow Leader of the House is, as usual, chuntering from a sedentary position, I have no doubt that, if the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) wants to bring forward further thoughts and present them to the Secretary of State, they will be taken into account.

Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): It was welcome when the Government agreed to change the rules to allow for fair compensation for military veterans suffering from mesothelioma. However, if they are serious about the armed forces covenant, can we now have a statement on why they have still not closed the loophole whereby a small number of veterans diagnosed before December are not covered and are being caused further distress at this most difficult time in their lives?

Chris Grayling: I am not aware of that small number of cases. The Secretary of State is here on Monday, and I will ensure that he is aware of the hon. Lady’s concern. If she wants to bring that matter to him then, he will be able to give her a more detailed response.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The Government’s childhood obesity strategy has been pre-briefed and then delayed not once but five times. The answers that I am getting from Ministers, including the Prime Minister, who cannot even tell me whether he has seen a draft copy of the strategy, have been not worth the paper they are written on. May we have a statement

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as soon as possible outlining the Government’s intentions to publish the childhood obesity strategy and finally break this wall of silence from Ministers?

Chris Grayling: Of course it is the Government’s intention to publish the childhood obesity strategy, but we are also working on getting it right. I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that, when we come to publish that document, when it is ready and we are satisfied that it is the right tool for the job, we will bring it to the House.

Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP): Extraordinarily, the Prime Minister has made 233 appointments to the unelected House of Lords since he was elected, making a seam-bursting total of 826 Members, yet only yesterday many of us here received an email from the Boundaries Commission informing us of a forthcoming review of the Chamber to reduce the number of Scottish MPs from 59 to 53, which will result in the House of Lords being 40% larger than this House. Will the Leader of the House bring to this Chamber an urgent debate on the rough wooing of our democracy in Scotland, where we will have more Tory Lords than MPs apparently representing our country?

Chris Grayling: It is important to remember that this is the elected House. This is the House that ultimately has the final say on matters, and it is right and proper that we have a structure of representation here that represents the balance of the population of the country. It is the case that the Boundary Commission has a remit to align the size of constituencies across the country. That matter is not related to the other place. It is about ensuring that there is fairness of representation in this elected House, which is the one that ultimately decides what happens in this country.

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): My constituent Andy is a freight train driver. He and his colleagues across 11 depots in Yorkshire and the north are under threat of redundancy following the downturn in coal traffic due to the imminent closure of Ferrybridge and Eggborough power stations and the closure of Kellingley pit. May we have a debate in Government time on the secondary impact of these closures, the unemployment that this Government have caused in the supporting industries such as freight, and how we might support those affected to find new and appropriate jobs?

Chris Grayling: Of course it is always difficult when an individual change within an industry costs jobs or leads to closures, but the hon. Lady has to understand that under this Government rail freight has continued to grow, the rail network has continued to receive new investment, and for those in the rail industry there are perhaps more opportunities today than there have been for a very long time.

Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): Edward Paddon, the son of my constituents Fiona and Scott, was just nine days old when he died, in part as a result of group B streptococcus ascending infection. Instead of looking forward to what would have been Edward’s second birthday in a few months, his parents

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are campaigning so that others do not have to suffer as they have. May we have an urgent debate about what can be done to ensure consistent and accurate screening for group B strep so as to prevent any more avoidable deaths of newborn babies?

Chris Grayling: This is an important and sensitive issue on which there are many opportunities to bring forward debates through the Backbench Business Committee or the Adjournment debate system. As I should have mentioned earlier, we now have the largest petition we have yet seen calling for a debate on the Floor of the House relating to meningitis in childhood. I will be discussing it with the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee because I hope that that petition is debated on the Floor of the House, rather than in Westminster Hall.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): May we please have a statement on today’s Ofcom review of Britain’s broadband needs? It pointed out that too many rural communities have a very poor broadband service. This Government must do better.

Chris Grayling: We have made good progress so far but there is still work to do. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will be here next Thursday and will be able to update the House on progress. Compared with many other countries, we are doing pretty well, but as long as there are rural communities that do not have access to high-speed broadband and to modern communications, we will continue to have a job to do.

Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP): Two weeks ago the Leader of the House was unable to answer whether legislation to ratify the Istanbul convention would be laid before the House, citing the Queen’s Speech. If he and his merry men are successful in pulling us out of the EU, will the Government still have the appetite to ratify that Council of Europe convention which aids the protection of women, or do they plan to rescind membership of that organisation also?

Chris Grayling: I have no doubt that if the people of this country vote to leave the European Union, we will continue to play a very active role in the international bodies of which we are part and in the international community as a whole. Whatever happens regarding the future of this country, we will always be internationalists and we will always do the right thing by this country on the international stage.

Steven Paterson (Stirling) (SNP): The incompetent Tory-Labour administration—a coalition running Stirling council—will present its budget this evening. That will include savage cuts to social care across the Stirling area. Given the pressures being put on local government finance by the Government’s austerity agenda and the welfare reforms, may we have a debate on this urgent matter?

Chris Grayling: The overall framework for economic success and for funding in Scotland rests with the SNP. The interesting thing about the fiscal framework this week is that the SNP Government will have to take

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decisions in the future about getting the right balance between lower taxes and public spending, and they will find that it is a whole lot more difficult than they think.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Farmers in my constituency tell me that the basic payments scheme has delivered late and is somewhat chaotic. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State on the performance of the Rural Payments Agency?

Chris Grayling: I am very happy to draw the Secretary of State’s attention to the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. If he would like to write with specific details and examples, that will make it easier for Ministers to look into what is going wrong.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): May we have a debate or a statement on early-day motion 1138?

[That this House notes with serious concern proposals by the Government, published on 6 February 2016 on www.gov.uk, for a new clause to be inserted into all government grant agreements, determination letters, from the new financial year, and no later than 1 May 2016, which states that payments supporting activity intended to influence or attempt to influence Parliament, government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action will not be counted as Eligible Expenditure costs; further notes that the Government itself describes this as an anti-lobbying clause; shares the concerns expressed by many third sector and voluntary organisations outlined in a letter to the Prime Minister dated 11 February 2016, among them the impact

25 Feb 2016 : Column 486 the clause may have on the ability of voluntary organisation to bring real-world experience of service users and evidence-based expertise into the public policy debate, and that those organisations working on programmes receiving any grant funding may be prohibited from speaking to hon. Members about developments in their local area, suggesting improvements to policy or legislatio

n, responding to the Government’

s own consultations, meeting ministers to discuss broader issues and evidence from their programme or even from giving evidence if called by a select committee, and that the clause may therefore have a far broader impact than originally intended; believes the proposals leave the Government vulnerable to accusations of stifling criticism and informed debate about the consequences of its policies; and calls on the Government to urgently reconsider the introduction of this clause.]

It relates to the anti-lobbying clause—the gagging clause—announced by the Cabinet Office just before the recess, with little or no scrutiny or consultation. The clause threatens the ability of organisations and charities in receipt of Government grants to speak out or campaign either for or against Government policy. It should be scrapped immediately.

Chris Grayling: What the hon. Gentleman has to understand is that while in government we have found on a number of occasions bodies that we are funding using taxpayers’ money to lobby us, which makes no sense at all. The Cabinet Office is trying to deliver a sensible regime, and I am sure that he will be able to debate the provision in the way he wishes when it comes before the House.

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Points of Order

12.6 pm

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your assistance in relation to a matter that is of some concern to me. It has been brought to my attention that on Monday, outwith my presence and without notifying me in advance, the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) raised what he described as a point of order, during which he said that I had misled the House. I should make it clear that, notwithstanding his conduct, I have afforded him the courtesy of notifying him that I would be raising this point of order today.

On Monday afternoon I asked the Prime Minister what provision he would make in a British sovereignty Bill to recognise that the principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle that has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law. In the last part of my question I quoted directly the words of a distinguished and now deceased Scottish judge, Lord President Cooper, in the well-known Session case of MacCormick v. Lord Advocate in 1953. The judge’s comments were obiter dicta—that is to say, an expression of opinion not essential to the decision—and therefore not legally binding as a precedent. However, they were an expression of his learned opinion and have been given due weight in the years since. Other distinguished Scottish jurists hold that view. As recently as 2005, in litigation concerning the Hunting Act 2004, Jackson v. Attorney General, Lord Hope of Craighead said in the House of Lords that parliamentary sovereignty is an English principle that Dicey derived from Coke and Blackstone.

It is perfectly in order for the hon. Member for South Leicestershire to disagree with me, particularly if he can vouch his position, but it is not in order for him to say that I have misled the House, especially when I had taken trouble to use my words carefully and was quoting a well-known dictum from Scots law. As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, it is a matter of particular concern to me, given my professional background, that I should not be represented as having misled the House. I am keen to have your assistance in how the record might be put straight.

Mr Speaker: I am extremely grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for notice of her point of order, of which, as she has informed the House, she has notified the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa). By the way, for the avoidance of doubt, I have to decide what is and is not in order; that is simply the constitutional position. I confirm that Members should indeed inform a colleague of an intention to refer to him or her. The point of order raised on Monday by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire was—I think I can so describe it—moderately orderly in form, although, as I noted, it was not orderly in content, and for one quite simple and straightforward reason: it was not a point of order. As a mere politics graduate, I do not intend to adjudicate between two learned Members—I know that the hon.

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and learned Lady is a distinguished QC—on obiter dicta by senior judicial figures, or to give a view from the Chair on Dicey. The hon. and learned Lady has made her point with characteristic force and eloquence. Might I suggest that we leave it there?

Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise a point of order regarding rules of behaviour and courtesies in this House. During Prime Minister’s questions yesterday—at a time when junior doctors are looking at yet another strike in England, and when Scotland may be dragged out of the EU unwillingly or unfairly, based on polls there on the Brexit—we had a spat between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition about a mother’s opinions on behaviour and dress codes, yet SNP Members have been told off for clapping in the House. I raise the issue because we have had a huge number of complaints in the form of emails and phone calls from our constituencies. I wanted to ask for your advice on what the rules of behaviour should be and how they should be implemented, and also on whether the Prime Minister should give the House a full and proper apology for his conduct?

Mr Speaker: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. There is an important distinction here between the content of what is said and the way in which, more widely, hon. and right hon. Members behave. In respect of the first, might I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that it would not be right, or in any way favoured by the House, if the Chair, as a matter of regular course, were to try to intervene to prevent Members from expressing their own views with such examples, or references to people outside the House or to members of their families, as they think fit? I should not get involved in that, and the House would not want me to do so.

However, in respect of the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s point of order—that is to say, on the overall notion of good behaviour—perhaps I can just repeat what I have many times said: the public expect us, or would want us at any rate, to conduct our arguments robustly and, doubtless, with passion, but with respect for the fact that different opinions exist. Loud heckling and organised barracking are widely deprecated outside this House. The notion that there is something clever about it, and that it is all very good fun, seems to me to be completely perverse, and I would very politely say, with no reference to any particular hon. Member, that perhaps all hon. Members, before indulging in noisy heckling, barracking or ad hominem abuse, should ask themselves this: would I be content for my behaviour to be seen and heard by my constituents? It is our constituents that we are here to serve. The point is so blindingly obvious that only a very clever and sophisticated person could fail to see it.

Perhaps we can leave the matter there for today, but I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I rather suspect that the flurry of emails that he might have received about conduct will not be an isolated case— I get quite a lot in my own office.

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European Affairs

12.13 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond): I beg to move,

That this House has considered European affairs.

In just under four months’ time, the British people will face a choice—one that has been denied to them for many years—that we pledged to give them in our election manifesto and that we are now delivering; a choice that will have profound consequences for this country for a generation or more—whether to remain in the European Union on the basis of the deal negotiated by the Prime Minister or to leave.

The last time the British people were consulted on this question, 40 years ago, the answer was a clear yes, but much has changed in that 40 years, and the fact that we are holding this referendum now is recognition of a growing unease at the direction in which the EU has evolved—a growing sense that Europe was pursuing a goal that Britain did not share, and that we risked being dragged into a level of political integration for which few in Britain have any appetite.

For 25 years, I have shared that sense of unease. I have always considered myself a sceptic, and I consider myself a sceptic today. Like most people in Britain, I do not feel any warmth or affection for the EU or its institutions. I am irritated by the tone of much of what I hear coming from Brussels and instinctively suspicious of anything that sounds like a “grand projet”. But we do not live in some ideal world; we live in the real world, and the EU is part of that real world. The question that we have to answer is not: do we like it? The question we have to answer is whether we are stronger, safer and better off in the EU rather than out of it. Stronger, because our global influence is enhanced by being a leading member of the world’s largest trading bloc. Safer, because working together with EU partners strengthens our defences against organised crime and terrorism. Better off, because Britain benefits from having a domestic market of 500 million consumers and the clout that a quarter of the world’s GDP gives the EU in negotiating trade deals.

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): The Prime Minister has said in recent days that his view of the European Union’s impact on our collective security had changed over the years because of his experience as Prime Minister. The Foreign Secretary would probably be thought of by many people as having a Eurosceptic background. Has his experience as Foreign Secretary also changed the balance of his view on the European Union’s impact on our collective security?

Mr Hammond: Yes, it has. First as Defence Secretary, and now as Foreign Secretary, I have seen how, in practice, working together with EU partners is an important tool in our armoury. Of course, the EU will never, in any way, replace the security benefit that we get from NATO; it does a different thing. However, we have seen in the conflict over Ukraine that economic sanctions—which, in reality, are the only practical weapon available to us in responding to the challenge of Russia—when

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properly honed and consistently used by the European Union, will prove to be a very important weapon in our armoury against Russian aggression.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): This Government have rightly been critical of previous Governments for not having an independent audit of our national finances, and they have set up the Office for Budget Responsibility. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. That was a very discordant noise—nothing like as mellifluous as the voice of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), to whom I know the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) will shortly be apologising.

Sir Edward Leigh: Well, back to my theme. We have set up the Office for Budget Responsibility. The Foreign Secretary is rightly doing a sort of cost-benefit analysis of this issue. Why do the Government not institute an independent study, by a genuinely independent body, to go in some detail into the effects of a Brexit, plus or minus, on, say, GNP? That would surely be very useful.

Mr Hammond: The problem with the challenge my hon. Friend presents—it is going to be a recurrent theme in this debate, I suspect—is that we simply do not know what the counterfactual is. We do not know what Britain’s situation outside the European Union would be. We do not know whether a deal could be negotiated with the remaining 27. We do not know what free trade agreements could be negotiated with other parties, and we do not know on what timescale those could be achieved. We do not know what damage would be done to our economy in the meantime. I fear that the objective analysis my hon. Friend is seeking might be very difficult to achieve.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Foreign Secretary is advancing the case of the economic benefit of Britain’s membership of the European Union, and he may like to hear the verdict from Britain’s manufacturing industry. Yesterday, at the Engineering Employers Federation, I took part in a debate with a senior member of the Vote Leave campaign, at the end of which 800 of Britain’s manufacturing companies voted by 83% that they would prefer Britain to stay in the European Union. That is what is happening in the real world among real people who make real things for Britain’s benefit.

Mr Hammond: I am unsurprised by the figure that my right hon. Friend quotes, because in the world of manufacturing, where supply chains are increasingly complex and internationalised, the operation of the single market, and particularly the operation of the customs union, will be increasingly important to the competitiveness of British businesses. There are substantive reasons that business can see for remaining in the European Union, but there is another reason over and above that: business hates uncertainty, and the one thing that is becoming crystal clear is that whatever the end state might be if there were a British exit, for a period of years—perhaps many years—there would be very significant uncertainty, and that would act as a chilling effect on investment, job creation and business confidence in the United Kingdom.

Several hon. Members rose

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Mr Hammond: I will take one more intervention and then I must move on.

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP): I appreciate that the Foreign Secretary is just a couple of minutes into his speech, but in the opening minute we heard a series of negative words used to describe our relationship with the European Union. I think I might have heard the words “suspicious” and “sceptical”. I wonder what our friends in France and Germany might be thinking as they watch this debate when somebody who is apparently in favour of our being members of the European Union is using such language. Coming from the in campaign, is this the type of debate that we can expect in relation to our relationship with Europe?

Mr Hammond: I think it is important that our friends and partners in Europe understand—I say this to my colleagues very regularly—that for the great majority of people in this country there is no passion about a European vision. We find in some European countries genuine passion for the idea of Europe, but that is not the British way. Lots of people in this country believe that we should remain in the European Union because it is good for Britain and good for our economy—because we are stronger, safer, and better off. That is not the same as being passionately attached to some idea of a European vision.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Hammond: I am going to make a little progress, if my right hon. and hon. Friends will allow me.

The PM’s pledge was to engage with our partners in Europe to agree a series of reforms to get the EU back on track and to change the terms of our membership to protect our interests, and then to put the question to the British people. He has delivered on that pledge.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hammond: I will in just a moment.

So the question is this: should we stick with what we know, bank the gains that the Prime Minister has brought back from Brussels, and continue to fight from the inside for reform, or should we take a leap into the dark? For me, the answer is clear: I am a sceptic who will vote with my head to remain because I know in my heart that that is what is right—what is best—for Britain.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): I share the Foreign Secretary’s view that what the Prime Minister has returned with is better than what we had before, but will he say something about the legal of status of the agreement, particularly the assertion by the Lord Chancellor, no less, that it is not legally binding? I respect the fact that the Lord Chancellor takes a different view from the Prime Minister, but how can his position as a senior legal Minister for the Government possibly be tenable when he is arguing that the deal is not legally binding and the Downing Street position is the precise opposite? Surely his position is untenable and Cabinet collective responsibility has been stretched too far.

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Mr Hammond: As the hon. Gentleman will know, the principle of collective responsibility has been suspended in respect of this debate to allow Ministers to express a different opinion from that of the Government. Our position is clear: this is a legally binding agreement. It was registered yesterday at the United Nations as a treaty. The overwhelming majority of qualified legal opinion recognises that it is a legally binding international law decision.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Hammond: I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) and then I must make a little progress.

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend explain what effect registering the document at the UN has, and on what basis he says that any of this is legally binding?

Mr Hammond: I am not a lawyer, so it is not a question of the basis on which I say it is legally binding, but there has been a plethora of qualified legal opinion supporting the view that it is a legally binding decision. Registering it at the United Nations records it as a treaty-status international law obligation. The document will be taken into account by the European Court of Justice, whose own decisions in the Rottman case have established that it must have regard to interpretative decisions by Heads of State and Governments. The document itself makes it clear that it is legally binding.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hammond: I am going to make a little progress.

Let me recall what we set out to achieve and what has been delivered. First, we set out to protect British jobs and ensure a level playing field in Europe for British business, because the creation of the eurozone and the greater level of co-ordination needed between eurozone countries created a very real risk either that non-Eurozone countries such as Britain would be dragged into integration that we do not need and do not want, or that our businesses would suffer discrimination because of our decision to retain our own currency. So alongside the crucial exemption from steps of further integration, we needed to negotiate clear safeguards for the pound, the exemption of British taxpayers from eurozone bailouts, protection against discrimination for Britain’s world-leading financial services industry, a clear role for the Bank of England, and a clear commitment that we will have a full say in the functioning of the single market while not being part of the single currency. This deal delivers all those demands in a legally binding agreement, underpinned by the commitment by all EU member states to enshrine those UK safeguards in treaty change.

Sir William Cash rose

Mr Hammond: I thought my hon. Friend might take his cue from my using the words “legally binding” again.

Sir William Cash: But what the Foreign Secretary is not doing is using other words that are part of this package—not only “legally binding” but “irreversible”.

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As he knows, the question of whether this is irreversible is highly contentious. It is clear from the evidence that has been received, and indeed from the European Scrutiny Committee’s report, that it is not irreversible.

Mr Hammond: I have to disagree with my hon. Friend. The decision is irreversible unless Britain chooses to allow it to be reversed, because it could be reversed only by all 28 member states agreeing. I can assure him that, certainly for as long as this Government are in office, Britain will never agree to that happening.

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this morning’s BBC interview with the former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was very useful? He explained that Denmark’s opt-outs with the European Union are based on exactly the same type of legal basis and have not been reversed in the years that they have been in place.

Mr Hammond: The hon. Lady is exactly right. The Danish agreement has been in place for 23 years and continues to serve Denmark extremely well.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hammond: I am going to make a little progress now.

The second area we set out to address was Europe’s impact on competitiveness. We have achieved a commitment to completing the European single markets in services—a key area for Britain given the importance and competitiveness of our services sector—in digital; in energy, to ensure greater competition and lower energy bills for British households; and in capital, ensuring greater access to sources of finance for our entrepreneurs. We have also delivered a clear commitment to prioritising international trade agreements with the largest and fastest-growing economies across the globe, with the potential to boost our economy by billions of pounds a year; and agreement to cut the burden of EU regulation on business, with specific targets to be set for key sectors. That builds on a programme of work that the Commission is already undertaking, which has already slashed by 80% the pipeline of regulatory proposals, and bakes the deregulatory approach into the DNA of the European Union.

The third area in which this deal delivers is in ending the abuse of the principle of free movement to work in order to access the benefits of our welfare system, which are paid for by hard-working British taxpayers. We have already ended access to unemployment benefits and social housing for new arrivals and limited their time in which to find a job to six months. The package agreed last Friday gives us new powers to exclude criminals from EU countries, and stops EU nationals dodging British immigration rules to bring family members from outside the EU to live in Britain.

Under this agreement, we can apply our rules, including on minimum income and English language competence. It ends the unfairness of child benefits at British rates being sent to children living in countries with much lower living costs, and it gives us a new seven-year emergency brake to ensure that EU migrants will not

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have full access to in-work benefits until they have been in the UK for four years, answering the perfectly reasonable question: why should people take out when they have not paid in? Under this new arrangement, they cannot do that—no more something for nothing. Taken together, this is a package that will address the concerns of the British people about abuse of our benefit systems and erosion of our immigration controls.

Mr Rees-Mogg: On child benefit, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the agreement does not meet the promise set out in the Conservative party manifesto, which said:

“If an EU migrant’s child is living abroad, then they should receive no child benefit or child tax credit, no matter how long they have worked in the UK and no matter how much tax they have paid”?

That has not been achieved. It is a failure.

Mr Hammond: As I have said before in this House, any reasonable person will look at the package that has been delivered. We have been clear from the outset that tackling abuse of our welfare system is about reducing the pull factor that makes the UK a target for inward migrants because they can get their wages topped up with a variety of benefits. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Although my hon. Friend can pick on a specific part of the package, I think that most reasonable people will want to look at it in the round.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP) rose

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP) rose

Mr Baker rose

Mr Hammond: Let me make a little progress. The fourth area in which this deal delivers concrete change is in protecting us from political integration under the mantra of “ever closer union”. The British people have never believed in political union and have never wanted it, and now there is a clear and binding legal commitment to a treaty change to ensure that the United Kingdom will never be part of it. That is a crucial change that alters fundamentally the UK’s relationship with the EU, setting out clearly, in black and white, that the UK’s destination will be different from that of the rest of the EU.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The promise on child benefit was in our manifesto, so what will people think of the 2020 Conservative manifesto if we promise things we cannot deliver?

Mr Hammond: The Prime Minister gave a commitment to go to Brussels, to negotiate hard and to bring back the very best deal that he could achieve. That is what he has done. I think that people will look in the round at the commitments that were made and what has been delivered. In the end, it will be the British people who give their verdict on that package.

Patrick Grady: The Foreign Secretary has talked many times about the opinions of the British people, but does he not accept that there is a divergence of opinion across the United Kingdom, with a clear majority in Scotland in favour of remaining in the EU and

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considerably more sympathetic to the European project? I grew up in the Scottish highlands, where there are bridges and roads that simply would not exist without the gold-starred blue flag pinned alongside them. There is a lot more sympathy and appreciation among the people of Scotland for the positive things that the European Union has achieved.

Mr Hammond: This is a UK-wide question and a UK-wide referendum. I sincerely hope that when the dust has settled and the counting is done, the hon. Gentleman will discover that a significant majority of people across the United Kingdom believe that Britain is better off, stronger and safer inside the EU. When the debate plays out, however, I hope he has a stronger argument than, “They bunged us a few quid to build a road”, because, frankly, that is not a sustainable argument across the European Union as a whole.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Hammond: I am going to make a little progress. I am happy to take interventions, but in doing so I am conscious that I am eating into the time available for debate.

We have also set out to strengthen the powers of this Parliament and of the British people. In the last Parliament, we legislated, through the European Union Act 2011, to ensure that no more powers could be handed to Brussels without the explicit consent of the British people in a national referendum. That Act introduced a vital check on the one-way ratchet of the transfer of powers from Westminster to Brussels.

This deal goes further, breaking the ratchet once and for all, with a new mechanism to return powers from Brussels to national Parliaments. For new legislation, the UK Parliament, working together with the other national Parliaments, will be able to permanently block proposed EU legislation that a majority of them do not want, through a red card system.

The declaration, signed by all 28 member states, that we secured at the European Council last Friday is, as I have said, legally binding in international law and has already been registered as a treaty at the United Nations. Authoritative legal opinion is clear on this point. It cannot be undone without the consent of every single member state, including Britain. The agreement commits all member states to changes, in due course, to the EU treaties to enshrine the protections for Britain as a non-member of the eurozone, and to confirm explicitly that ever closer union does not apply to the UK.

Mr Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way a second time. He phrases himself incredibly carefully. He says, quite correctly, that the agreement is binding in international law, which is not justiciable, but it is not binding in European law, where it has only to be taken into account by the European Court of Justice. Nor is it irreversible, otherwise section A(7) could not say:

“The substance of this Section will be incorporated into the Treaties at the time of their next revision in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Treaties and the respective constitutional requirements of the Member States.”

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If it requires the respective constitutional procedures of the member states, that means that if they are not followed, it will not be implemented.

Mr Hammond: In the Rottmann decision, the ECJ itself made clear that it had to take account of a decision of this nature. I say to my hon. Friend and others who repeatedly make points about the legally binding nature of agreements that we are having a substantive debate about the future of Britain, in or out of the European Union. We have a package that has been agreed by all 28 countries and endorsed by their Heads of State and Government. It is not only legally binding, it is a solemn political commitment. I advise colleagues to address themselves to the substantive issues that we are debating, namely Britain’s place in the European Union and what the world would look like from the perspective of a Britain outside the EU.

Sir Gerald Howarth: I want to take the Foreign Secretary back to the serious substantive point that he made at the outset of his speech. He and the Prime Minister claim that somehow this deal enhances the security of Europe. By asserting that the EU has a role in the defence matters of Europe, they are going down an extremely dangerous line, playing into the hands of those such as Mr Juncker, supported by Chancellor Merkel, who want an EU army. There is a real risk that NATO will be undermined. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister should address that issue, rather than have a junior spin doctor in No. 10 twisting the arms of former senior military officers to sign a letter to The Daily Telegraph, from which two signatories have already resiled.

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend, who served with me in the Ministry of Defence, will know that no one is as alert as I am to the risks of undermining NATO’s crucial role in underpinning the defence of western Europe. We have always been very clear that any role played by the European Union in our defence must be complementary to, and in no way undermine, the role of NATO. I remind him that, when we took part in the counter-piracy operation to interdict terrorists pirating ships crewed by British citizens off the coast of Somalia, it was led by a British admiral based in Northwood, but it was a European Union mission that carried out the task. We have to look for roles in which the European Union can augment our security and safety. We are seeing that across the piece in organised crime and counter-terrorism. We see it today, and we have seen it in past years.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con) rose

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con) rose

Mr Hammond: I will make a little progress, if my hon. Friends will allow me.

These changes, taken together with our existing opt-outs from the euro, from Schengen and from justice and home affairs measures, give Britain a special status within the EU; indeed, it is a unique status. That gives us the best of both worlds: a seat at the table to protect our interests, but a permanent opt-out from those areas

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of the EU that we reject—out of ever closer union and political integration, out of Schengen, out of the euro and out of eurozone bailouts.

This is a significant package, delivering the substantial, legally binding and irreversible changes that we promised. But let me be clear: no one is suggesting that it solves all the problems of the EU. The deal is not the end of the reform of the EU, but it is an important step on the road.

No matter which side of the debate we are on, I hope that we will at least be able to agree across the House that the decision will be one of profound significance for the future of our country. It will be a choice that determines our trajectory for a generation or more. Let me be clear; the Government will respect the outcome of the referendum, whatever the result. There will be no second referendum. The propositions on the ballot paper are clear, and I want to be equally clear today. Leave means leave, and a vote to leave will trigger a notice under article 50. To do otherwise in the event of a vote to leave would represent a complete disregard of the will of the people. No individual, no matter how charismatic or prominent, has the right or the power to redefine unilaterally the meaning of the question on the ballot paper.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary is absolutely right to make it clear that this is a one-time referendum and that the decision is in or out. If it is out, I think that the British people need to know what they would be going out to. Does he agree that it is about time the vote leave-ers set out precisely their vision of Britain outside the European Union?

Mr Hammond: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am about to come to that point. I hope that my remarks might provoke some of my hon. Friends to put some flesh on the bones of what leaving might mean. I will say something about the consequences of, respectively, a vote to leave the EU and a vote to remain.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr Hammond: Let me make my point, and then I will happily give way to my right hon. Friend. A vote to leave is a vote for an uncertain future. That is a simple fact. That uncertainty would generate an immediate and negative reaction in financial markets; on that, all market commentators agree. Indeed, the mere possibility of a leave vote will have a chilling effect on business confidence even before the referendum.

Mr McFadden: It is already happening.

Mr Hammond: As the right hon. Gentleman suggests from a sedentary position, we have had a foretaste of that this week in the currency markets.

A vote to leave would trigger a fixed two-year time period under the treaty for the UK to negotiate the terms of our exit from, and our future relationship with, the EU. We would, of course, seek to reach agreement with the other 27 member states during that two-year period. In the meantime, however, we would be able to offer British businesses that wanted to invest

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no assurance at all about their future access to EU or other markets. We would have nothing to say to Japanese, American or Chinese companies that come here looking for a base from which to produce for the EU market. That would be truly a leap in the dark, and the effect would be to put the economy on hold until the negotiations were completed. At the end of those two years, there is no guarantee that agreement would have been reached, but our exit would be automatic unless every single one of the remaining member states agreed to an extension of the negotiating period.

Nick Herbert: My right hon. Friend is rightly drawing attention to the potential impact of Brexit on our economy, but may I take him back to the issue of security? It was suggested earlier that there would be no adverse consequences for security from our leaving the European Union, because we would remain members of NATO. Did he hear the remarks this morning of the former Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Rasmussen, who said:

“If the UK were to leave the European Union, the voice of the UK would be weakened”?

He conclude:

“I would strongly regret if Britain were to leave the European Union. A lot is at stake when it comes to security.”

Should we not listen to former Secretaries-General of NATO, as well as to former military commanders, and have some respect for their views?

Mr Hammond: Mr Fogh Rasmussen is not merely a former Secretary-General of NATO, but a former Prime Minister of Denmark. That country can tell us something about the binding and enduring nature of protocols that are made in EU negotiations. It is important to acknowledge that security comes in different parts: military security and defence, but also security against organised crime and against terrorism. The EU makes its most important contribution to our overall security in the latter two.

Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): The Foreign Secretary invokes article 50. Before notification was given under article 50, given that the referendum is an advisory one in terms of the constitution, would there be a vote in Parliament? Would there also be a vote in the Scottish Parliament, given the impact on devolved competencies under the Sewel convention?

Mr Hammond: The Government’s position is that the referendum is an advisory one, but the Government will regard themselves as being bound by the decision of the referendum and will proceed with serving an article 50 notice. My understanding is that that is a matter for the Government of the United Kingdom, but if there are any consequential considerations, they will be dealt with in accordance with the proper constitutional arrangements that have been laid down.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I rather concur with the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), because I think that before the Government could move to any action as a consequence of the referendum, it would be essential for Parliament to debate the matter and for the Government to obtain consent from Parliament.

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On the question of what happens if we leave, may I enlighten the Foreign Secretary? First, there is no obligation to go for article 50. Secondly, we would be taking back control over our borders, our laws and the £10 billion a year net that we give to the European Union. It would buy us plenty of options, which the Government seem determined to prevent us even from discussing.

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend raises again the suggestion that there is no need to treat an exit vote as triggering a notice under article 50. He seems to suggest that there is some other way of doing it. He raised the question on Monday and I looked into it, because he caught my imagination, but I have to tell him that that is not the opinion of the experts inside Government and the legal experts to whom I have talked. We are bound by the treaty until such time as we have left the European Union. The treaty is a document of international law, and Ministers are obliged under the terms of the ministerial code to comply with international law at all times.

The UK’s current access to the single market would cease if we left the EU, and our trading agreements with 53 countries around the world would lapse. It is impossible to predict with any certainty what the market response would be, but it is inconceivable that the disruption would not have an immediate and negative effect on jobs, on business investment, on economic growth and on the pound. Those who advocate exit from the EU will need to address those consequences—the substantive consequences, of the kind that the British people will be most focused on—in the weeks and months of debate to come.

I want to say something about the environment in which the putative negotiations would be conducted, because it is crucial to understand how difficult the discussion would be.

Over the past 18 months, I have got to know pretty well my EU counterparts, and in many cases their senior officials, as well as the opposition figures in most of their countries and key figures in the Commission and the European Parliament. There is, perhaps surprisingly, an overwhelming consensus among them about the importance of Britain remaining a member of the EU. However, they, too, are politicians: they, too, have constituents to whom they are having to explain, even now, why Britain adds so much value to the EU that it has to be allowed a unique and privileged set of arrangements that are not available to any other member state. They have, collectively, already invested a lot of political capital in delivering on Britain’s agenda. I tell the House, frankly, that if we reject the best-of-both-worlds package that has been negotiated by the Prime Minister and if we reject the unique and privileged position in the European Union that is on offer to Britain, the mood of good will towards Britain will evaporate in an instant. That would be our negotiating backdrop. To those who say they would have to negotiate—

Mr Nigel Evans: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr Hammond: I will in a moment, but this is important. People are talking about a negotiation that we might have to have with 27 other member states, and it is important to think about the mindset of those 27 other

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member states as they go into such a negotiation. To those who say that they would have to negotiate a sweetheart trade deal with a UK outside the EU, I say this: there will be no desire at all among the political elites of the remaining 27 member states to help an exiting Britain show that it can prosper outside the EU. On the contrary, they will interpret a leave decision as two fingers from the UK, and we can expect precisely the same in return. The idea that they will go the extra mile to ensure that Britain can remain a destination for foreign direct investment to serve the EU market or that our financial services industry can compete in the European market on a level playing field is, frankly, fantasy land.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Hammond: I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mark Pritchard: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary—

Mr Jenkin: Rent an MP!

Mark Pritchard: I am showing respect, and I am sure my hon. Friend would want to show respect as well. I think if you insult people, you have a weak argument.

Does not the United Kingdom have a veto over foreign policy in Europe? If we were to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom would have less influence, by definition, on European Union foreign policy, and it would be more likely that European Union foreign policy was dominated, for good or bad, by France and Germany.

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend is right. These are the complexities: obviously, if were outside the European Union, we would not be bound by any foreign policy of the European Union, but, equally, we would not have any influence and, in this case, that influence is decisive because of our veto over that policy. It is a judgment, and people will have to weigh up the pros and cons.

Richard Drax: The Foreign Secretary used the expression “the political elites”. He slipped into using it just naturally. The political elites are the main problem, because they ignore the voter. If that goes on, it will just happen more and more.

Mr Hammond: Rather to my surprise, I agree with my hon. Friend. I shall use the phrase “the political elites” again in my speech, because he is absolutely right: there is a gap between what the political elites in some European countries are thinking and what their voters are thinking. However, on the subject we are discussing—a putative negotiation on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union—the reality is that our negotiators would have to engage with those political elites.

Mr Nigel Evans: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr Hammond: I will in a moment, but I want to make a little more progress.

In addition, any market access we agreed with our former EU partners would come at a very high price. We know that because we know what the basic models are for access to the single market for non-EU member states. We can look at Norway: pay up as if you were a

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member state, accept all the rules as if you were a member state, allow full free movement across your borders as if you were a member state, but have no say, no influence and no seat at the table; or Switzerland: spend eight years—

Mr Jenkin: It’s silly.

Mr Hammond: My hon. Friend says it is silly, but it is a fact that that is where Norway is today. It is a fact that it took Switzerland eight years to negotiate piecemeal access to the single market sector by sector, and it has had to accept three times as many EU migrants per capita as the UK. That surely cannot be the future for Britain that the leave campaign seeks: it is literally the worst of both worlds.

Mr Nigel Evans: I am interested to know my right hon. Friend’s judgment on the character of our fellow EU countries. Is he really saying that Germany would be so vindictive and spiteful that it would cut off its nose to spite its face? According to a House of Commons Library paper, we export £43.3 billion of goods and services to Germany and it exports £70.6 billion of goods and services to us, which is a deficit of £27.3 billion. Is he really saying that Germany is so vindictive and spiteful that it would close its door to that?

Mr Hammond: I want to make two points in response to my hon. Friend. He is of course absolutely right that Britain has a substantial deficit in trade in goods with the European Union. If all he is seeking is a free trade agreement for trade in goods—

Mr Evans: Goods and services.

Mr Hammond: I am talking about trade in goods. If that is all my hon. Friend is seeking, it would be relatively simple to negotiate, but Britain will need much more than that if we are to get a fair deal for Britain’s businesses and to protect British jobs.

I want to make another point to my hon. Friend. He is of course right that economic and business voices from across Europe would argue for a free trade deal of some description with the UK. However, the political elites would look over their shoulder at the effect of a British exit and at their political opponents in their own country, and they would be fearful that what they see as contagion might spread. They do not wish to do anything that would help us to demonstrate that Britain can succeed outside the European Union. That is a simple political fact. Everyone in the Chamber is a politician, and we all know how such a calculation works: when the chips are down, they will protect their political interests.

Emma Reynolds: Does the Foreign Secretary agree that those who advocate that we leave express a big inconsistency? On the one hand, they say, “When we are in the European Union, we can’t get anything we want”, but on the other hand, they say, “If we come out of the European Union, we will have precisely what we want”.

Mr Hammond: The hon. Lady has put her finger on it. That is what this debate will hinge on. Those who propose that we remain argue that we should stick with a proposition we know and understand, and lay on top

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of that the additional benefits that the Prime Minister has gained for us in the negotiation. Those who propose that we leave do not know—because they cannot know—what they are proposing to the British people. They can tell us what they would like to achieve and what they would hope to negotiate, but by definition they cannot know until afterwards and the British people cannot know until afterwards what proposition they would be voting for.

Mr Jenkin: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hammond: No. I want to move on to setting out what I see as the consequences of Britain deciding to remain.

If Britain decides to remain a member of the EU, I want it to do so with the mindset of a leader. Having renegotiated the terms of our membership and secured the protections we need against further integration, we need to be a loud voice in the EU. We need to exercise our influence as Europe’s second largest economy and the recognised leader of its reform movement. We need to stop seeing ourselves as passive victims of the EU, and start to see Britain for what it is—one of the most powerful and influential member states, and one to whom others look for leadership in keeping the EU on track as a competitive, outward-looking, free-market union that is engaged with the challenges of a globalised economy.

We can take on that role because Europe is changing. There was a time when Britain, with its sceptical approach to the European project, really was in a minority of one, but the political balance across the EU is shifting away from an unquestioning acceptance of the inevitability of “more Europe” to an engaged scepticism—a desire for the EU to focus on where it can add value, leaving the member states to get on with their own business where it cannot; and a recognition of the benefits of membership, with an increasing focus on the costs and a healthy pragmatism about the limits to what the EU can deliver. In Denmark, Finland, Poland, Hungary and other Baltic and eastern European member states, we increasingly find like-minded partners who share our vision of Europe. Even in the Netherlands, one of the founder member states, the mood has shifted sharply. In that country, there is a slogan that rather neatly sums up what I think most people in Britain think about the EU: “National where possible, Europe where necessary.” Across the continent, the population, as opposed to the political elites, has become more sceptical about the EU and more focused on the need for reform and accountability.

Jim Dowd (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab): On the very point that the Foreign Secretary has just made, has he noticed that an increasing number of EU member states are looking enviously at the deal that Britain has managed to secure—I will leave the qualitative judgment to others—and seeing that this is a route that they want to take advantage of, because there is a huge appetite for reforming the European Union to ensure that it serves the people of Europe and not just the political elite?

Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman is right and that is my case: Britain can lead that reformist tendency within the European Union, which is subscribed to by

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more and more member states and by the populations in even more member states where the political elites have not yet woken up to the new reality.

Let us be clear with our neighbours that although the package agreed in Brussels last week is a big enough step forward to allow us to recommend to the British people staying in the EU on these special terms, they should not for a matter imagine that a UK recommitted to EU membership will rest on its laurels. They should expect to deal with a UK that fights continuously at the head of a growing phalanx of like-minded member states to keep the EU on the track of reform and competitiveness. They should expect us to police rigorously the delivery of the promises that have been made on deregulation, the repatriation of power, eurozone fairness, single market progress and trade agreements.

The choice for Britain is simple: a leading role in a reformed EU or a leap in the dark to negotiate from a position of weakness with the 27 member states we have just snubbed; driving the expansion of the single market and EU trade agreements from within or watching from outside as the rules of the market are shaped by the interests of others.

The special status that Britain has on offer means that we can have the best of both worlds. We can be in the parts of Europe that work for us and permanently out of those that do not. We can influence the decisions that affect us, shape the world’s largest market and co-operate to keep Britain safe, strong and better off, with the status of our pound and the Bank of England guaranteed and our exclusion from eurozone bail-outs confirmed. We will be out of the passport-free Schengen area and permanently protected from further steps of integration towards a European superstate, and new commitments will be made and mechanisms established to reduce burdens on business and return powers to member states. Of course there is more to do, but as we move towards the referendum, this Government have no doubt that on these terms, the United Kingdom is safer, stronger and better off inside a reformed European Union.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The House has tested the Foreign Secretary with a great many interventions this afternoon, and he has been patient and courteous in answering them fully, but it has taken considerable time. I warn hon. Members who have in their heads or in their hands long speeches that they intend to deliver that I will have to impose a time limit on Back-Bench speeches of nine minutes later in the day.

1.4 pm

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): Almost 41 years ago, this House debated the terms of a renegotiation of our place in Europe prior to a referendum of the British people. On 7 April 1975, this is what the opening speaker in that debate said:

“for many hon. Members, as for millions outside the House, the issue is not limited to an assessment of the outcome of the renegotiations. Many…have already made up their minds…There will be a substantial body of opinion…who believe…that Britain

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should be in the Community for the greater economic good of Britain in a changing world…Equally there is a substantial body of opinion which is fundamentally opposed to British membership and which holds that no possible renegotiations could have changed the nature of the Community sufficiently to enable it to support British participation.”—[

Official Report

, 7 April 1975; Vol. 889, c. 821.]

Those were the words of the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who, incidentally, gave the British people a decision about their place in Europe. Those words remind us that some things never change, although then it was the Labour party that was split over our place in Europe and the Conservatives who were united, whereas now there has been a complete reversal of roles. History is repeating itself in mirror image.

I almost felt sorry for the Prime Minister on Monday as Members listened—

Sir Edward Leigh: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Hilary Benn: Of course.

Sir Edward Leigh: As we are talking about history, can we at least agree that the right hon. Gentleman’s late, lamented and great father and Enoch Powell were right during those historic debates in the early 1970s that this was a unique endeavour and that what we were signing up to in the European Communities Act 1972 was quite unlike any other treaty, because it established the supremacy of the European Court of Justice over this House? Can we at least agree that there is no halfway house—we are either under EU law or we are not? That is what this referendum is about.

Hilary Benn: Indeed, that is the case. The reason why the Labour party—not the Conservative party—decided that the British people should have their say was precisely because that kind of transfer of sovereignty is a decision that should rest not with this House of Commons, but with the British people. The British people made their choice and decided by a significant margin to remain in the European Community.

I was talking about the Prime Minister’s reception on Monday. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) is fond of describing some right hon. and hon. Members as the “desperate to be disappointed”. It is fair to say that on Monday, those people were indeed disappointed, because they were never going to be satisfied.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman gives the impression that the Labour party is completely united in its position, but that excludes the public statements of some of his colleagues that they are in favour of leaving the European Union and the many Labour organisations around the country that are already campaigning for us to pull out.

Hilary Benn: I am not sure that I will bow to the hon. Gentleman’s alleged greater knowledge of the opinion of Labour organisations up and down the country on the European Union. If one looks at Labour Members of the House of Commons, they overwhelmingly support Britain remaining in the European Union, as we shall hear in their contributions later, and if one looks at the trade union movement, there is strong support for

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Britain remaining, for reasons that I shall come to later. The truth is that we have changed our view, and that strengthens our argument for remaining in the European Union.

The Prime Minister was never going to come back with a deal that he did not feel able to recommend because, as we know, he did not want the referendum in the first place and was forced to concede it only by the turmoil and disagreement on his Benches. The deal does contain some useful and important changes, some of which we called for. The red card, as the Leader of the Opposition reminded the House on Monday, was a commitment in our election manifesto. There is protection for the pound because we are not in the euro, and it was the last Labour Government that took the decision not to join the euro—and how wise a decision was that? We support reforming the sending of child benefit to children living in other European countries, and the establishment of the principle of fair contribution, namely that those coming to work in this country should pay in before they receive in-work benefits.

The choice that the British people now face will rest not on the terms of this renegotiation, but on something much bigger and more important: how will our economy and trading relationships, and our prospects for investment, be affected by taking a step into the unknown; how do we see ourselves as a country; and what is our place in the world and in Europe now and in the years ahead?

Patrick Grady: What is the Labour party’s position on whether it would be appropriate for Scotland to be taken out of the European Union against its will?

Hilary Benn: The Labour party’s position is to respect the decision that the Scottish people took in the referendum when they rejected independence. We are one United Kingdom, and the decision will be taken by the people of the United Kingdom. Labour Members are clear that we support Britain remaining a member of the European Union. We held that view before the renegotiation, and we hold it today. The European Union has brought us jobs, growth, investment and security, and I argue that it gives us influence in the world. Before exploring each of those benefits in turn, let me briefly address two essential arguments made by those Conservative Members who think that we should leave—namely, sovereignty and taking back control.

Sir Gerald Howarth: The right hon. Gentleman said that the EU has brought much in the way of prosperity and jobs, and that does apply to the United Kingdom. Sadly, however, it does not apply to other countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, which are also members of the EU. Why are they suffering so much unemployment and low growth, while the United Kingdom is prospering? Is the difference that we, as well as being members of the EU, are led by a Conservative Government?

Hilary Benn: I am afraid the hon. Gentleman will not tempt me to agree with him on that particular observation at all—[Hon. Members: “Go on!] No, I will not be encouraged to do that. I will, however, make an argument about the precise way that the benefits that I have just described have been brought to us because of opportunities given to us by membership of the European Union.

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On sovereignty, the original decision to join the European Union was taken by the sovereign House of Commons, and confirmed by a sovereign British people in the 1975 referendum. All treaty changes that followed, including those that introduced qualified majority voting, were agreed by Conservative and Labour Governments, and approved by the sovereign Parliament. That tells us that we have chosen as a sovereign Parliament to work with others in Europe for a purpose: to achieve things that we think benefit us and our neighbours.

The second argument is about taking back control, and for some I think this is a belief that Britain standing alone would somehow have the voice that it possessed 50 years ago. We must be honest with each other. We live in a different world to the one that gave birth to the European Coal and Steel Community after the end of the second world war. We have witnessed the end of empire, the creation of the United Nations and the European Union, the formation of NATO, the end of the cold war, and the collapse of the Berlin wall. We have lived through an era that has seen the rise of new world powers, alliances, conflicts, threats, and the blistering pace of technological change that is revolutionising our economies and shrinking the way that we perceive our world. We cannot turn the clock back, and to argue that we can is to mislead ourselves and others. We can, however, use the qualities that we as a nation are blessed with to make the most of the opportunities that this new world presents to us, and that is exactly what our membership of the European Union helps us to do.

Look at the strength of London as a financial centre. Look at the openness and diversity of our society, and our talent for creativity. The UK computer and games industry—not one I am particularly familiar with—did not even exist 40 years ago, but it now generates £2 billion a year in global sales, and supports nearly 30,000 jobs. Consider the worldwide reach of the English language. All those things help to make us the fifth biggest economy in the world.

Mark Pritchard: When we think about the City of London, we often think of bankers, and unfortunately of some of the high and perhaps disproportionate banking bonuses. However, banking is a necessary part of this country’s economy. Indeed, the pensions of this country are often found in the City of London, and they affect every single person up and down the land. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that an exit from the European Union would make it more likely that banks, institutions and pension funds would go to Frankfurt rather than London?

Hilary Benn: I agree that there are real risks, and the Foreign Secretary rightly made that point in his speech. It is perfectly legitimate to point out those risks, which even the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) acknowledged in his article in The Daily Telegraph, and we should take that important consideration into account. In truth, almost half our exports go to Europe precisely because we are part of the single market, and we must think about supply chains and services. We also export all the way around the world, in part because of deals that the European Union has negotiated with other countries.

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The EU either has or is negotiating trade agreements with 90% of Commonwealth countries. I have heard it argued that being in the EU prevents us from having better trading relationships with other members of the Commonwealth, but that is not the case. Given that we are part of this huge market of 500 million people, why on earth would we want to exchange the certainty of deals that we currently have for the uncertainty of deals that we might not secure? As we have heard—the Foreign Secretary made this point forcefully—we already have good trade deals, and our only alternative examples are those such as Norway, but even the Norwegians say to us, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” I think the British people will look at that and say, “That looks like a pretty bad deal to us.”

In the late 1980s, when Mrs Thatcher was busy taking away trade union rights in this country, one reason that the British trade union movement changed its view was because it saw there was an opportunity for workers’ rights across Europe. The EU helped us to deal with some of the consequences of global change by protecting workers in every European country. Those protections include paid holidays, the right to spend more time with a new-born child through improved maternity and paternity leave, limits on working time, and better protection for agency and temporary workers. Those are striking examples of how, by working together across Europe, we can protect workers and prevent a race to the bottom.

Daniel Kawczynski: The right hon. Gentleman has campaigned for many years on behalf of Africa and trade with Africa, and supporting prosperity there. What does he say about the protectionist policies of the European Union, which prohibit and make trade with Africa more difficult?

Hilary Benn: When I was International Development Secretary I argued precisely that Europe should change its policies, including the common agricultural policy. I shall say something about development a little later in my speech, because that too is a really strong argument for remaining part of the European Union.

Mr McFadden: Before my right hon. Friend moves on from the list of employment rights that are guaranteed at EU level, it is important to point out that when those who would take us out of the European Union attack EU red tape and bureaucracy, they are usually talking about precisely those rights. For example, the right to equal treatment as a part-time worker and so on—those are measures of justice in the workplace, not needless bureaucracy.

Hilary Benn: I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. Indeed, when one of the Ministers who advocates Britain’s exit from the European Union was asked on television at the weekend to provide an example of red tape, he referred to health and safety. Health and safety is not red tape, a burden or regulation; it is about protecting British, German and Spanish workers when they go to work in the morning, to make sure that they can do their jobs safely and securely. If we voted to leave, we could end up with a double nightmare. Unfortunately, there would still be a Conservative Government in this country and, given past records, I am not entirely sure that I would trust them to ensure that we keep the rights we currently have.

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There is an even more important reason why we should remain a member of the EU: Britain’s influence in the world is strengthened by our membership. It promotes interdependence through trade and advances our economic security, because it works to tackle conflict and other global challenges, and it helps to protect us from crime and terrorism. There is nothing patriotic about diminishing the United Kingdom’s ability to make its voice heard by other nations. Stumbling out of Europe and pulling up the drawbridge would serve only to harm our position and influence in the world.

The global economic crash of 2007-08 shook the public’s faith in the ability of Governments, regulators and institutions to protect them. What it really brought home to us is the need for more, not less, co-operation with other countries, and stronger multilateral institutions, not weaker ones. If we are going to deal with the problem of big companies that show an aversion to paying tax, Europe is a very good place to start.

We should also acknowledge that the growth in the number of member states of the EU has been a very powerful force for change for the better on our continent. The prospect of membership offered the former communist states of central and eastern Europe a really powerful incentive to meet the conditions for joining. They were creating an alliance built on the values of democracy, respect for human rights, free media, the rule of law and individual freedom. As the Foreign Secretary made clear, that also helped us to be stronger in facing up to aggression and problems around the world. There is no doubt that the sanctions agreed against Russia have had an impact. They are biting. Although the Minsk agreement has not been fully implemented—the conflict is frozen—it was precisely because Europe was united and determined that we were able to have that impact. Let us be absolutely clear: Russia would see Britain’s exit from the EU as a sign of our weakness. It would see it as a sign of European weakness at the very moment when, in the face of that threat, we need to maintain our collective strength. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) wants to intervene, I will of course give way.

The deal with Iran is another really good example. Europe came together in solidarity and achieved something that many people thought would not be possible. We have heard reference to the action, through Operation Atalanta, to deal with piracy off the horn of Africa. Look at the sanctions on Burma. We are just about to see something we never thought possible: Aung San Suu Kyi’s party taking power by democratic change. Europe’s voice in saying that what the previous regime had done was not acceptable was a powerful force for good in the world.

These collective displays of solidarity remind us of the power, working with our European allies, to do good. I have to say the current problems in Syria remind us of our failure in that particular conflict.

Wes Streeting: In the event of a leave vote, there are only two possibilities: either we want to remain part of a single market and are therefore subject to pretty much exactly the same rules as we are now, in which case what is the point of the referendum; or we seek not just to realign our trading approach towards the rest of the world, but realign British foreign policy away from the democracies of western Europe and the north Atlantic

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to the dictatorships of the east. Surely that would not be either in our national interests or in the interests of western liberal democracy. I cannot understand why so many Conservative Members, who expect us to go out to bat for Britain at European Council summits, somehow expect our fellow European states to do anything otherwise in the event of a leave vote, in which case we will be punished.

Hilary Benn: I agree completely with my hon. Friend. I have just tried to demonstrate to the House the benefit that working with our European allies in trying to be a force for good in the world has brought. I was just in the process of saying that Syria is a terrible example of the world’s collective failure. Like the Foreign Secretary, in his comments at Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday, we hope very much that the ceasefire will be implemented and upheld. However, that really depends on Russia, hence the point that I was making earlier.

What every single one of these examples teaches us is that we need stronger, not weaker, international co-operation. At this moment in this century, it would be extraordinary folly for our country to turn its back on this vital international alliance if we wished to help shape world events. That is why Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary-General of NATO, said:

“Britain is a global player and a strong EU will also make sure that NATO has a strong partner in the European Union when we are facing the same security threats”.

Sir William Cash: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Hilary Benn: I will give way one more time, but then make progress because other Members want to speak.

Sir William Cash: On the broader foreign policy question in relation to Russia and all that, would the shadow Foreign Secretary like to comment on whether he thinks the Budapest agreement in the 1990s was a good idea?

Hilary Benn: To be perfectly honest, I am less interested in what happened in the 1990s. I am more interested in what is going to happen in 2016, which is the big decision that the British people will have to take. I argue that our national security is served by our membership of both the EU and NATO. Co-operation across Europe is essential if we are to deal with terrorist threats. The European arrest warrant is a really good example of that. The case of the failed 21 July 2005 bomber who was returned here from Rome, where he had sought to escape British justice, demonstrates the benefit of working with our allies. That is why the director of Europol, Rob Wainwright, warned recently that British exit would

“make Britain’s job harder to fight crime and terrorism because it will not have the same access to very well developed European cooperation mechanisms that it currently has today”.

Richard Drax: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Hilary Benn: No, I am going to try to bring my remarks to a close.

Underlying all those questions is the greatest challenge that the peoples and countries of the world face at the beginning of the 21st century: how do we come to terms with, and deal with, the interdependence of human beings?

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Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): On that point, and as it is the first time I have tried to intervene, will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Hilary Benn: Since it is the hon. Lady I will give way, and then I am going to bring my remarks to a close.

Caroline Lucas: That is incredibly kind of the right hon. Gentleman. Just before he does bring his remarks to a close, I wonder whether he agrees about the importance of the EU when it comes to the environment. That has not been mentioned yet today, rather oddly, but the cross-border nature of environmental degradation means our involvement in the EU is more important than ever on everything from clean beaches, clean air, clean seas and a clean world.

Hilary Benn: I agree absolutely with the hon. Lady. The blue flag beaches are a really good example. We will not have clean beaches in Britain if we are not dealing with sewage coming from other European countries and vice versa. I shall make a point about climate change in a moment, on which Europe is absolutely vital.

The House is only too well aware that there are 7.2 billion people in the world, with 11 billion forecast by the end of the century. If we look at what has been happening on our continent in the past few months, we see the flow of refugees and Schengen under strain. That has tested Europe’s solidarity to the limit, but let us pause for a moment and imagine what the situation would be like now if the European Union did not exist. The truth is that it does not matter whether people are moving across the globe to flee persecution for a better life or to flee climate change. We are still going to have to deal with the consequences. We have not just a moral interest in dealing with climate change, poverty and conflict; we have a practical interest in doing so. From my experience as a Cabinet Minister, I can say that the fact that European countries came together in the run-up to Gleneagles and said, “This is what we are prepared to commit to” helped to unlock commitments on more aid and debt relief for the developing world. The fact that Europe went to climate change summit after climate change summit with a commitment it was prepared to put on the table, in the end, helped to unlock the deal in the Paris.

The final argument, which was the founding argument of the European project, is the fact that it has brought peace to a continent that for hundreds of years was scarred by war. Anyone who has walked along the rows of graves from the first and second world wars—what I would describe as the flower of two generations of Europeans—will see that some bear names and show how young they were. On other graves, there is no name at all. The gravestone simply reads, “A soldier of the Great War. Known unto God”. Nobody knew whose father, uncle, nephew or brother lay beneath those immaculately tended graves.

The one disagreement I have with the Foreign Secretary was when he said he felt no passion for Europe. I think we should be passionate about the greatest achievement of the European project, which was that by bringing nations together, originally through coal and steel, we would make future war, in the words of the Schuman declaration,

“not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.”

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The British people have to make a choice between the fear that we have somehow lost our identity, our influence and our place in the world because we are part of the European Union, and our experience that being in Europe has actually amplified, extended and increased Britain’s voice in the world, through which process the British people have benefited economically.

I have changed my views since 1975. I have been on a journey, and the party of which I am proud to be a member has been on a journey. We live in a changing world and if we look at that world, we see that the case for Europe is stronger now than ever. The story of Britain over the last century is one of a nation that has been at the heart of world affairs. It is the story of a country that has been at its best when we have been outward looking and confident. In the 20th century, we helped to build the institutions that have given us the chance to make progress: the UN, NATO and the EU. In the 21st century, we cannot reduce our influence—we cannot shut the curtains, close the door and hope that the rest of the world will go away.

This choice is ultimately about whether we face the future with optimism, or not. I believe that Britain’s national interest is best served by remaining part of the European Union, and I hope that the British people will come to that decision, too. It is now their choice.

1.31 pm

Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): Let me first congratulate the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on their speeches. I warmly congratulate the Prime Minister and his negotiating team on their courage and tenacity. I include especially my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who had to bear much of the heat and burden of the day. This was a remarkable achievement, and I wish it well. As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central said, it is now for the British people to have their say, and have their say they will.

This is the 70th anniversary year of Churchill’s speech on the cause of a united Europe at Zurich on 19 September 1946. It has always struck me as ironic that that speech has been claimed by both sides of the European argument as being some sort of holy grail. I am daily on the receiving end of some vile emails and whatnot from people telling me that I am a traitor to my grandfather’s memory.

Mr Baker: I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. May I say that although I disagree with him profoundly on this issue, I regard him with the utmost respect? He has held these views for a very long time with complete sincerity, and people disgrace themselves by their insults.

Sir Nicholas Soames: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend.

Of course, Churchill’s was a speech of great prescience and great vision. It was also a speech of the most profound analysis. Unlike most other hon. Members, I would like to reflect at a little more distance on Britain’s

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experience of the European Union and, in particular, my party’s long-standing commitment to the European cause.

It is worth the House reflecting for a moment, Madam Deputy Speaker, on the tragedy of what Europe must have looked like in 1945. It is only the winking of an eye in terms of time and history. It was only 71 years ago that the Germans surrendered to the allies and signed the instrument of surrender. It was only 70 years ago that the Russians drew down the iron curtain on a broken and suffering eastern Europe. Behind that line, in the wicked grip of a ruthless regime, lay all the great capitals and states of eastern Europe—Warsaw, Prague, Berlin, Bucharest and Sofia.

Most of the rest of continental Europe lay shattered and broken, after six years of war, for the second time in 25 years. There remained a vast mass of bewildered human beings, who gazed forlornly at the wreckage of their homes, their nations, their lives, their families, their possessions and everything that they loved. But from that awful scene of desolation, sadness, ruin and despair a little over 70 years ago, something truly remarkable has been achieved, which has brought freedom, security and prosperity way beyond the dreams that anyone alive at the time could ever have contemplated.

Not only have the sovereign states of Europe risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes of two world wars, but they have created of their own free will a European Union of 28 members comprising the biggest and most powerful single market in the world—one of 500 million people—in which we travel with our fellow Europeans in prosperity and peace in an era of constantly expanding co-operation, prosperity, security, safety and freedom.

When the cold war ended and the Berlin wall came down on that glorious, cold 9 November 1989, the Warsaw pact collapsed into dust without a shot being fired. Most of the eastern European countries joined the European Union, and most of them also joined NATO. Indeed, only six countries that are members of the European Union are not members of NATO.

Why did they join? Because the Europe and the NATO that they joined were and are prosperous, secure and free, and they wanted as soon as they could to find shelter in the institutions that had benefited from a period of peace, stability, freedom and security unprecedented in 1,000 years of European history. They hoped that it would protect them from a still predatory Russia. There is no argument but that the EU was absolutely central to those developments, and it is a very great credit to our country that we should have played such a leading role in seeing all this through.

The European Union has achieved a very great deal, but it cannot and it must not allow itself any self-congratulation in these very difficult times. Although we can see that the ice has melted on the landscape of the second half of the last century, and that power in all its forms has shifted and is shifting rapidly and unpredictably, we know how inadequately most of the institutions of the European Union have coped. This must be remedied.

As we look across Europe at all the achievements it has to its name, the pervasive mood is one of insecurity, lack of confidence and lack of optimism. Those characteristics are not found only in Europe. The troubles of Governments everywhere speak to the anxieties of

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their electorates and, sadly, to the mistrust in their politicians, their institutions and their leaders. The public across Europe know only too well that the world of easy answers, instant solutions and declaratory statements is a construct of fools, politicians and the media. As power shifts so rapidly and unpredictably, one might almost believe that we are today at the start of a new history.

Nowhere are these difficulties, insecurities and lack of understanding more obvious than in this country of ours. I am always wary of trying to work out what Churchill might have thought today, because I think it is an impertinence to do so. The one thing I absolutely know is that as the world has grown bigger for Britain, the opportunities greater, the chances more glittering for our commerce and our people, so the people who practise politics and government in this country, and especially those who write about it, have a sadly cramped and limited view of Europe and the rest of the world.

In this campaign, one of our most important tasks—all of us, whatever side we are on—is to remind our fellow citizens that we share a region, a climate, much of our history and demography, our economic space and our culture with the countries of the European Union, something that Churchill pointed out very clearly in his Zurich speech. Our business corporations, our leisure time, our intellectual and cultural life are all intertwined with Europe’s. We face shared problems in endless comparable ways. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) rightly mentioned all the environmental issues on which Europe has been extremely effective.

However, our political and deeply shallow media do not engage with any of that, or, as the right hon. Member for Leeds Central pointed out, with the interests—vital to us—of our European partners, allies and friends. At least, that was the position until very recently. Now the media have finally woken up, like the great, slack monster they are, to the awesome prospect of combat, newspaper sales and competition as each side of the argument tries to persuade our fellow citizens of the right way.

I rejoice at the Prime Minister’s extraordinary achievement in Brussels, and I commit myself to making the same case to the best of my ability whenever I have an opportunity to do so. I am struck by the scale of support for the European Union from British commerce and businesses both large and small, and especially—in an important letter, published in The Daily Telegraph yesterday—from four former Chiefs of the Defence Staff and other former service chiefs, who drew attention to the great importance of the EU in the security sphere.

I believe that the case to remain is overwhelming on all fronts, but there is no point in pretending that the European Union does not face many major challenges that it has to find a better and more effective way of resolving. The refugee crisis, for example, has made the EU look deeply ineffective and purely reactive. It is clear that Schengen cannot survive without the most dramatic reform, and that the external borders of Europe need to be strengthened rapidly. None of us can feel happy that the European Union, which has brought such great stability to much of the European continent, now appears to be weak and uncertain. Its unpopularity matters, and it is damaging.

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My hope is that our Government will seize the moment, and that, having rediscovered the great value of extremely energetic and skilled diplomacy, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Minister for Europe and others will really push ahead in the EU to drive—along with like-minded colleagues and friends—the big reforms that Europe must swallow. They will find willing friends who want to do the same. There is a huge agenda to which Britain can play, and in which it will play a leading role. On economic reform, on security, on energy, on defence and on foreign policy, there are practical and radical steps that can be taken.

May I finally indulge myself, Madam Deputy Speaker, by recalling the end of Churchill’s great speech to the Congress of Europe in The Hague in 1948, remembering that the founding fathers of Europe, with a noble vision, built this astonishing edifice on firm and very lasting foundations? This is what Churchill said at that conference:

“A high and a solemn responsibility rests upon us here this afternoon in this Congress of a Europe striving to be reborn. If we allow ourselves to be rent and disordered by pettiness and small disputes, if we fail in clarity of view or courage in action, a priceless occasion may be cast away for ever. But if we all pull together and pool the luck and the comradeship—and we shall need all the comradeship and not a little luck…and firmly grasp the larger hopes of humanity, then it may be that we shall move into a happier sunlit age, when all the little children who are now growing up in this tormented world may find themselves not the victors nor the vanquished in the fleeting triumphs of one country over another in the bloody turmoil of…war, but the heirs of all the treasures of the past and the masters of all the science, the abundance and the glories of the future.”

Those of us who fight the good fight to remain will do so with confidence, but also with humility and profound respect for those who hold long-standing views that are very different from ours, and in the sure knowledge that this issue is about the fundamental place in the world, for a generation to come, of a confident, open, engaged, pro-European Great Britain. Faîtes courage!

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. Before I call the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), who is, of course, not subject to a time limit, I must warn Members that Back-Bench speeches will be limited to nine minutes.

1.45 pm

Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames). I have not always found myself in such agreement with him over the years for which we have been in this place—if I remember correctly, we were elected on the same day back in 1987—but I am delighted to follow him today, not just because we are going to be on the same side in this referendum campaign, which may be another first, but because of the nature of the argument that he pursued in his speech. I am convinced that, from the “in” point of view, the argument must be presented at that level. It must be about the big issues, the things that really matter, if we are to get people out of their homes and into the polling stations to vote for continued membership of the European Union.

Perhaps I should not tempt my luck, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman’s “hommage” to his grandfather’s achievements might spread to one of the other institutions

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in which he exerted a substantial influence: the Council of Europe—along with the European convention and the Strasbourg Court—in which 47 countries have been brought together in the cause of human rights. That was one of the achievements of Winston Churchill, and, indeed, the Scottish lawyer David Maxwell Fyfe. I trust and believe that we can count on the right hon. Gentleman’s support when that battle is waged in the not too distant future.

I mentioned the level of the right hon. Gentleman’s speech. Let me appeal to the Foreign Secretary and, through him, the Prime Minister. As I tried to explain earlier this week, when we look at the politics, we see that it is inevitable—numerically, arithmetically—that if the case for Europe is to be won, the bulk of the votes that will win it must come from the Labour party, the Scottish National party, the Green party and Plaid Cymru. I would have included the Liberal Democrats, but, although they are the most pro-European party, as they constantly remind us, they seem today to have deserted the cause—momentarily, I hope.

The reason for that is simple. In last year’s general election, the Conservative party achieved 37% of the vote. Even if the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are successful in carrying a majority of that vote into the “in” camp in the coming referendum, as I hope they will, that will represent roughly 20% of the electorate. To win a referendum, as I know only too well, it is necessary to achieve not 37% or 45%, but more than 50%. Arithmetically, the bulk of that winning vote—as I hope it will be—will come from people who voted for Labour, the SNP, the Green party and Plaid Cymru, on the progressive side of politics; and that affects the way in which arguments must be presented.