I think the simple answer—[Interruption.] No, I think the heckle from the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) is unfair and unkind. It was simply that the tragedy that afflicted Mr Paterson coloured and clouded our judgment, and my judgment, incorrectly. It is as simple and as sad as that.
The Back-Bench amendment that we supported was intended to facilitate the exploration, on a cross-party basis, of the standards system, with a time-limited, ad hoc Committee. However, I regret that the amendment conflated an individual case with more general concerns. That was a mistake. Crucially, the amendment did not carry cross-party support, which is why we have changed our approach.
The Government fully recognise the role of the Committee on Standards in ensuring that the code of conduct reflects and fosters the highest standards of public life. I would like to thank all the Committee members and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for their service. We await the Committee’s report on the code of conduct with interest. The Committee performs an important role in identifying opportunities to improve the standards system, and I note that the Chairman, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), has made a recent, and helpful, commitment to commission a senior judicial figure to advise on possible changes to the process.
I assure all right hon. and hon. Members that I am always willing to discuss this matter further, and I hope to work with Opposition Members constructively on this issue. We all have the best interests of the House at heart and I hope that, setting aside the previous debate, we will work well together in the weeks ahead.
First, the House will always have a debate when it wants to have a debate; that is how our procedures work. They are extremely straightforward and ensure that right hon. and hon. Members can come to this House and make objections, if they so wish, to have subjects debated on the Floor of the House—
They say that a week is a long time in politics, but, as others have pointed out, it has been almost two weeks and it is hard to believe it has taken this long for the Government to sort this out. Something deeply serious has now, frankly, become a farce. First, the Government whipped on the amendment, then they U-turned, then they refused to apologise, then they took a week to decide what to do to sort out what was their own creation, and last night that was toppled by one of their own Members.
It is obviously right that the motion be rescinded. I see a lot of agreement across this House on that— I think the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) is in a minority of one—but that does not solve many of the issues that we have seen in the past two weeks. The Government have not yet properly explained why they chose to whip the first vote and whether they plan to intervene in House business again. I have already said, as have many colleagues, that standards proceedings belong to this House. The Government have authority through their majority, but they do not have the power to make changes to our rules. At the end of the day, members of the Government, like it or not, are Members of this House, equal to those of us who sit on the Back Benches in that regard.
The Government have not yet apologised or explained why they wanted rule changes. Vague regrets for conflating proceedings against an individual and the process more generally are not an apology. I know, as does any parent, that my children often regret doing something wrong when they get in trouble, but that is not the same as an apology for the action itself. As for why members of this Government want to make our standards processes less independent—well, without a full explanation, and with the media stories of wrongdoing over the past week, I think we can leave it to the public to draw their own conclusions.
The Government have not explained why Members with an interest in changes to the voting system, and indeed Mr Paterson himself, were able to vote in the first process. I would argue that this is not due process. That is why I have tabled an early-day motion asking the Government to bring forward a motion for consideration by this House to amend the Standing Orders to prevent it from happening in the future. I ask the Leader of the House whether he supports bringing in such a motion, and if he does not, to explain why.
We only maintain our authority in this House, and reject accusations of corruption, by upholding our democratic ideals. Rescinding the order from 3 November is a vital start, but we need more, and the public need more.
I recognise that my hon. Friend is keen to make sure that Parliament has time to have its say, but we have had almost four and a half hours of debate on this issue already. Our constituents deserve a focus on delivering the promises we made to them on things that matter to them, rather than our spending time here trying to deny things, which would have the same outcome no matter what. How much time does he want to give—10 hours, five hours, 15 hours? When will it be enough?
Order. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to give way, he will give way. I think his slight indication was that he does not wish to give way to Mr Harper. [Interruption.] Well, whether he is right or wrong is totally different to the rules of the House.
I normally have to say that thing—there are all these things we have to say—“It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope)”. I am actually going to defend his position, and critique what he has said. My first critique is that I found the tone in which he spoke to one of his colleagues to be slightly unacceptable as a woman in these proceedings. However, as a woman in these proceedings, I have had call to find some of his tone problematic in the past, so nothing new there.
I love to turn up to these debates and have it out once again, but where I am going to defend the hon. Gentleman is that he is standing in this Chamber defending a position and being barracked for that position—I can understand why; I get it: people want this to go away and I can see why people in this House would want that—when it was the Government’s position 13 days ago. So it is slightly unusual, notwithstanding the fact that he would not take an intervention from the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) while saying that he liked debate. To be fair, it would never have been his position. It is all well and good barracking him and saying we should not be talking about it, but this was the Government’s position just weeks ago, and I think that is important to remember.
I want to go over a couple of things. The idea of natural justice seems to be incredibly in the eye of the beholder. As somebody who has worked in the justice sector for nearly two decades now, I find it something that is never ever said about victims. Victims are never asking for natural justice, one notes. Natural justice is terminology that always gets pulled out when people do not like the result of something that has happened, I find.
I feel that what happened in this case absolutely was natural justice. The right hon. Gentleman—sorry, Owen Paterson—was entitled all the way through to defend his case. The Leader of the House spoke earlier about his mind being clouded by the tragedy that had occurred. I have some sympathy for that, except that is not a mitigation ever offered to any of my constituents in immigration tribunals or welfare tribunals. Dreadful things that have happened to them would never be taken into account. It is difficult when the Government’s policy is to mitigate against only some people and to cloud their minds against only some people.
In this case, all the way through the Member was entitled to defend himself, and defend himself he did, considerably better than lots of Members in this House who do not have £100,000 contracts would have been able to do. Let’s not even get started on access to justice outside this House—welcome to almost every family court in the land, where people are defending themselves—but he was able to access legal representation all the way through. That is undeniable, and it was not just legal access. Let’s face it, Owen Paterson will have had considerably better access to law, silks and fancier lawyers than most people in this House, so let us not pretend that he was completely and utterly blindsided by this process and that it was not handled fairly, because it absolutely was.
I have some sympathy with the argument about appeals, and I am more than happy to take part in any debate about how that appeal system might work. My personal view is that the system used by the sexual harassment process that we set up, with judges sitting over it, is one that I would not mind seeing in place, although I have to say that people should be wary: the judges are very robust, they are very detailed and they cross-examine the evidence. In those cases, I have never once seen it come down on the side of the Member. In fact, there are former Members of the House who are no longer sitting here because of what the appeal said. Unfortunately, following the appeal in one of the cases, the Member still sits in here, regardless of the loss of members of staff from this place—that is the hon. Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts).
I want to say a tiny thing for the public about transparency and how these things work. I feel a little bit for the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom). The way that these things work in this House usually is that the Government find a Back Bencher who has credibility and make her take a measure through—it is often a “her”—on behalf of the Executive, and that is what happened last time. She has been totally sold down the river and her credibility, which was good on these issues, has unfortunately been damaged by the Executive.
It is important to recognise that some people had to go into work to do their job properly, for security reasons or to ensure the integrity of systems, and the DVLA was one of those organisations. We are now getting back to work and people are going back to their offices, which is a thoroughly good thing.
My hon. Friend raises an important point: people must be entitled, in all circumstances, to defend themselves, and it would be unfair to penalise somebody who believed they had acted in good faith for that belief. The assumption must very often be that Members do act in good faith. That is not to say that we do not make mistakes, but to defend oneself must be a natural right of Members of Parliament.
I am not entirely sure who my right hon. Friend receives his emails from. It may be from certain conspiracy theorists who think all sorts of things are going to be discussed in this House. I remind him of what I said about Thursday: there will be a motion relating to the second report of the Session 2021-22 from the Committee on Standards, followed by the remaining stages of the Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill, and then a very important general debate on the legacy of Jo Cox. If my right hon. Friend wishes to be here earlier in the morning, he can, of course, hear my business statement, which will update him on any further business.
Those matters are matters properly for the Speaker rather than for me, but it may be possible that we could have an interesting discussion on the meaning of the word “forthwith”. I seem to remember that that topic exercised the House to a considerable degree in a previous Parliament.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that extremely sensible point. I would not want to trespass on the exclusive cognisance in their own fields of the various other Parliaments, but if it were thought useful I could certainly ensure that copies of what we propose were sent on an information basis. I am looking at both the SNP and the DUP in the hope that they would not think that that was an impertinence and an attempt to interfere. If those proposals were of use, however, I think that that would be a sensible thing to do.
The ICGS will be streamlined with the removal of the right to seek a review of the draft formal assessment, which is a current means for a complainant to request review when an investigation concludes that the case is not upheld. The factual accuracy check will now be the single point at which both parties, complainant and responder, can correct inaccuracies in the report. The system that we have had until now, which combines a factual accuracy check and a review, has resulted in substantial delay in some cases. We have debated the need for investigations to come to a conclusion more speedily on a number of occasions, and this straightforward measure will help to achieve that.
Another important recommendation concerns the introduction of a time limit for non-recent cases. That will apply only to bullying and harassment cases. The new timeframe will be brought in a year from now, applying to new complaints arising from 28 April 2022. From that date onwards, people can report an incident of bullying or harassment up to one full year after it occurs. That compares with the three-month deadline for claims to an employment tribunal, so the House is once again setting a standard higher than that expected in external workforces. Given the particular nature of sexual harassment cases and the understandable reality that people often need longer to feel able to bring forward such a case, there will be no time limit for those cases.
In addition to the changes recommended by the review, further technical changes are proposed to the policies and procedures, including making it clear that although bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct are defined in the same way across the parliamentary community, the Commissioners for Standards in both Houses are responsible for overseeing investigations, so there are some procedural differences. Other recommendations include aligning the language of the two policies and procedures more closely; amending the procedure documents to be clear that they provide an outline only of the procedure; making it clear that complaints can be made of any former member of the parliamentary community; including in the bullying and harassment policy that victimisation is an aggravating factor, as included in the sexual misconduct policy; and finally, including information on data protection.
I would like to provide some reassurance about whether the changes set out in the motion would have retrospective effect. For the majority of changes to the text of the policies and procedures, the question of retrospection does not arise. Some of the changes are purely linguistic—for example, the change in terminology from “case manager” to “independent investigator”, to ensure that the documents reflect the terminology used by those involved in the process, or the change from “reporter” to “complainant” in sexual misconduct complaints. In those cases, it would not be meaningful to talk about retrospection.
Other changes have been made to reflect existing practice. For example, the factual accuracy check, which was introduced as a procedural step some time ago as a matter of fairness to both parties, is now expressly referred to in the documents. Other changes have been made to clarify the language and to amend defects in the drafting to ensure that the documents clearly reflect the policy intention at the time they were made. It will be for the decision maker to decide how to apply the policy in cases already under way, considering both the language at the time and the intention. I will repeat that for the benefit of the House, because it is a fundamental point: it will be for the decision maker to decide how to apply the policy in cases already under way, considering both the language of the policy at the time and the intention. For Members or former Members, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards makes the initial decision, which can then be appealed to the independent expert panel in accordance with the IEP’s own procedures. For former staff, the house service is the decision maker, and for Members’ staff, the decision maker will be the Member.
There are also some minor changes where it is fair and reasonable to apply the changes—
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The issue is that it is not at this stage clear what decision the decision maker would make on the language that is currently used in the light of the policy that was adopted by the House. What we are passing today does not change the ability of the decision maker to make a decision on the language of the policy at the time. It is not an attempt to say that the decision maker must follow a new set of words or an old set of words. It is for them to look at what was there at the time both in policy and in terms of language and decide what the right decision is.
It is not for me to say what decision the decision maker should come to, but the decision maker should base any decision on the language of the policy at the time. It would not be fair to make a decision on our clarification ex post facto. I hope that is helpful to the House.
My hon. Friend makes a point that is sorted out by the fact that there is an appeals system and a senior body that can, on appeal, determine this, which I imagine other decision makers would then want to follow. It is not the same as a court, but it is not entirely dissimilar. Lower courts can make a decision, but ultimately there is an appeal body that will make a decision that we would then expect the lower-down decision makers to follow. I do not think that the problem he outlines would last, because there is a proper appeals system to the independent expert panel, which, very much at the request of Members across the House, contains very serious legal expertise, so that we can ensure that in all these cases, natural justice is done and it is fair to both complainants and respondents.
Alison Stanley carried out a very thorough review and spoke to a number of people across the parliamentary estate to get their views and to get a full understanding of how the overall system was working. She drew her conclusions from that and made recommendations to the Commission, the bulk of which will be implemented if the House decides to support tonight’s proposal. When discussions are held in confidence, it is unfair retrospectively to undermine that confidence, so I could not give the commitment that the views given to Alison Stanley should be made public, because the views were not solicited on that basis.
The independent expert panel is available for appeals for people who get caught up in the ICGS system. If any conclusion is made, I believe people have the right to ask to appeal to the panel. Not all appeals are guaranteed, but there is a right to ask for one. As far as I am aware, that applies to anybody who comes up within the system.
Let me come to the other minor changes. The original documents were clear that confidentiality is central to the process, but they made reference to the possibility that either a complainant or a respondent might wish to discuss the matter with a small number of people to seek practical support. Those mentioned were managers and HR services or other relevant parties. The new version refers expressly to trade union representatives and party Whips, because concerns were very reasonably raised that the document should make it clear that a Member who discussed his or her case with a Whip would not be in breach of the requirement of confidentiality. That clarification is relevant in all cases, whether or not the complaints procedure has already begun.
Where there is a real change to the policies and procedures, I am happy to confirm that the changes are not being applied retrospectively. In particular, the new one-year time limit on complaints of bullying and harassment will not be applied to any complaints made before 28 April 2022, and that is clear from the text before the House. Alison Stanley also recommended the removal of the complainant’s right of review because of the degree of overlap with the factual accuracy check. Any complainant who has made a formal complaint before the House’s approval of the amended texts will continue to be able to request a review on the grounds set out in the existing documents, namely that the procedure was flawed or that substantial new evidence has become available.
The purpose of all the changes we are debating today is to ensure that the ICGS is an effective, efficient, clear and comprehensive system for complaints and support. These alterations will make a difference to the running of the scheme and will help us to make progress towards real and sustained culture change in Parliament—something I know Members across the House are keen to continue to champion and support. I commend the motion to the House.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that. I think he missed the earlier discussion about the lack of clarity around that, but it should not be the case that current cases are subject to a changes of rules. To me, that is a breach of natural justice. We cannot have different decision makers applying the rules as they interpret them. In my view, we cannot have changes in procedure to cases, because each case will be dealt with differently, but as it was set out—as the hon. Member for Christchurch read out paragraph 4.3—it is fairly clear that there are the two limbs and therefore that any changes should apply to future cases.
I do not have an issue with clarity. In fact, I think it is really helpful to see the thinking behind why the changes are being made, so unless there is some confidentiality issue, I do not see any problem. We are here discussing this, and we are not getting any clarity on it—certainly not from the interventions, or from the responses. There is no clarity on this, and I wish there were. There could be. That actually helps to make a system much fairer and work better, so I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
Let me move on to the next part of the Stanley report. She found in her review that those with a BAME—visible minority—background were less likely to have used the ICGS helplines compared with their white colleagues. She was concerned that several surveys
“carried out across Parliament have indicated that these groups are more likely to report that they have experienced bullying and harassment, sexual misconduct or discrimination.”
Despite that finding, there are no specific recommendations in the report that try to remedy it. Certain things have been remedied, but not others. In the light of the current climate, with Black Lives Matter, they should be considered.
Interestingly, in the introduction to its 2019 report “Stand in my shoes”, which has been published again on the intranet for Stephen Lawrence Day, ParliREACH stated that its findings confirmed its view that
“there is insufficient focus on and actions to challenge racial bias (both conscious or unconscious), and that many BAME”—
“staff expend effort each day to defend their right to work in Parliament and to progress through the organisation.”
It found that only 54% felt
“confident…to raise issues of concern”,
and 56% felt “comfortable being themselves”.
We know from other regulatory bodies that regulate professions, such as the General Medical Council and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, that BAME—visible minority—figures are over-represented among those complained about. The Alison Stanley review recommended that
“demographic analysis of the Helpline usage statistics”
“carried out as soon as possible”.
I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that that is undertaken, because it is unclear whether that recommendation has been implemented, or whether there are any other measures taken to address this issue.
I want to draw hon. and right hon. Members’ attention—they may not be able to see this in some of the reports—to the costs of the ICGS. Its budget for 2021-22 is £1.8 million. We have investigators. I recall from the start of setting up the ICGS that we wanted it to be as fair as possible. Some 28% of those investigators are police officers: these are not criminal matters, although if they are criminal they should go to the criminal justice system, and that is what they are there for.
I think there are many barristers on the Attorney General’s panel, even the C panel, who are not very expensive—they are quite cheap—who could do the investigations cheaply and weigh the evidence in a proper way in a fair system. In the end, we all want a system that works. We want to stop bad behaviour. It is in all our interests to have a fair system that is transparent so that we abide by the rules of natural justice and we get justice for all. In that sense, I support the motion.
As there will not be another opportunity to do so unless the Leader of the House schedules more business, I want to say a few thank yous at the end of the day. The Parliamentary Digital Service is getting us all back to Parliament. We have a message from PDS to turn off and turn on our computers. It is showing us what to do as more people return to the estate. I specifically want to thank Ian Doubleday in Norman Shaw South, who has been really helpful in enabling Members to come back, and in keeping us and Members’ staff safe.
I pay tribute to one of our senior doorkeepers, Ray Mortimer, who has been here since 2003. He has led the Speaker’s procession for eight years, and the procession to the Lords during state opening twice. He has been through six Serjeants at Arms and three Speakers, and is on his fifth Prime Minister. His good friend, mentor and boss—in capital letters—Phil Howse said:
“Ray has been a superb asset not only to the doorkeeper team but to the House, dedicating the past 18 years to delivering fantastic service. His colleagues will miss his knowledge and guidance to the team. He is going from one house of drama”—
“to another, the Marlowe theatre in Canterbury. We wish Ray and his wife Sam good luck and all the very best for the future, and thank him for his amazing public service and the loyal service to the House of Commons.”
I am sure the whole House agrees.
From me, on a personal level, and just as the Leader of the House said, Ray is always good fun. He is always ready with advice about what is going on in the Chamber. He is extremely supportive of Members, all our work and the smooth running of the Chamber. He is always smiling and in a good mood. We will remember him as our little Ray of sunshine. Thank you, Ray, from all of us.
Would it not be helpful if the Leader of the House, when he sums up this debate, made it absolutely clear that in the case of historic allegations, if the subject of that complaint is no longer a passholder, then that complaint should be judged firmly on the rules of the time?
May I associate myself and my party with the comments made by Madam Deputy Speaker, the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House in paying tribute to Ray? [Interruption.] He has changed, just like that! It goes without saying that all of us in this place, who have the use and the benefit of the experience of all the Doorkeeping staff, find that they are just such a resource and provide such guidance, especially for Members when they first come here; they help us with basic things such as finding our way around and how the place works. They really are an amazing team, so I add my thanks and tribute to Ray and all the Doorkeeping team, and I certainly wish Ray all the best for his new endeavours.
I also largely echo the comments made by the shadow Leader of the House, as we very much support these amendments, the intention behind them and what we are looking to achieve. I add my thanks to Alison Stanley for the review that has been conducted. No one deserves to be victimised, bullied, disrespected or harassed in any workplace, let alone in a Parliament, and we certainly should not be tolerating any form of sexual harassment or assault of any kind. So the processes we have in place and the review certainly help in that regard.
We have certainly found that the fact that there is no cut-off date now for sexual misconduct cases is a real, positive step forward. I agree that we perhaps need to look again at the time limitations on other incidents, because that needs further review, but, as with all of these things, this process needs to be organic. It needs to be able to adapt as it moves forward. What we agree tonight cannot simply be what it is for ever more; it needs to adapt to circumstances as we move forward. At a time when trust in politicians is at an all-time low—there is no hiding from that—it is crucial that we do everything we can to enhance that trust with the public, who send us here to do a job. They send us here to represent them, to be upstanding citizens and to do our bit to move things forward. I do not think it is unreasonable to expect that we should all be held to the highest possible standards on dignity, courtesy and respect. It should not detract from anything that we do that we put in place the measures before us tonight.
As I understand it—though it may be better to seek wise clerkly advice on this point—if the Committee of Selection were to approve members for the Committee, the Committee could go ahead, and then my right hon. Friend’s Bill would be ready for the point at which we bring back Fridays, which, as I said, I look forward to doing at the earliest opportunity, when it is possible and practicable.
I think my hon. Friend is saying, “Not my will but thy will be done”—essentially, that is his point—but I think the commitment is a sensible one. There is limited time, and therefore we should bring back something when we can actually do it rather than going through the motions again and again. That is why we have not reset dates for private Members’ Bills on Fridays, because we have reset dates now several times, and we have found that we have had to re-reset dates because, when we got to the new dates, it has turned out not be practical to sit. Therefore, I think this is the most sensible way of doing it, but I reiterate my reluctance. This place is here to scrutinise, to hold to account and to ensure that our constituents are represented. Anything that reduces scrutiny is something that no Leader of the House should ever wish to do.
We shall be supporting both resolutions on the Order Paper tonight. Given the rising infection rates and the fact that our national health service is on the verge of being overwhelmed, it would be irresponsible not to support any and all measures that limit physical interaction in this place. We have a duty of care not just to Members, but to the staff who work in the Palace to ensure that their health is protected. I think we also have something of an obligation to lead by example when it comes to enduring some inconveniences ourselves, when we are asking people throughout our countries to endure much more severe privations.
I have two questions tonight. First, do the measures go far enough in limiting physical contact? Secondly, are we making enough use of the technological alternatives to physical meetings? I think that the answer to the first of those questions is no; there is more that we could do. I honestly believe that there is nothing that we need to do in terms of fulfilling our legal and democratic mandates that requires our physical presence in this place, and that it would be possible to have all our proceedings conducted online. I know that that is a step way too far for many people in the House, and perhaps in the Chamber tonight, but there are steps that we could take along the way to that.
We could limit the amount of time that was spent in the Chamber, perhaps by looking at a two or three-day week. As the Chair of the Procedure Committee has just said, we could certainly ensure that all Committee meetings, including Delegated Legislation Committees and Bill Committees, were able to meet virtually. As other Members have said, we could also switch back on the remote voting system so that people were not required physically to be present in order to discharge proxy votes.
As to the question of whether technological alternatives are being deployed enough, again, I do not think that they are; more could be done. I say that in no way as a criticism of the efficient and effective staff working in our digital services and broadcasting departments, but I think that the context that we have given them to work with is not sufficient. I honestly believe that we are looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. In most of these discussions, we talk about virtual proceedings as an adjunct—an add-on—to the physical meeting, not as an alternative to it. Therefore, we are concerned to find a space that is safe or which can be made safe for a physical meeting, and we then deploy the technology to allow others to join remotely.
Another way—a better way—of doing it would be to move the entire meeting on to the virtual sphere. If we were committed to doing that, we could bring back Westminster Hall debates much quicker. It is not as good, Mr Speaker. I am looking at a white dot in the middle of my computer and trying to imagine that I am having a discussion with other human beings. It feels extremely strange, but it is better than nothing, and it is better than putting our health and the health of others at risk.
I implore and beseech the Leader of the House, the Government and those responsible for this to stop looking at these debates in such a last-century fashion, to come up to date by taking a more modern, imaginative and creative approach, and to deploy the technology fully, so that we are able to conduct our business of democratic scrutiny and not see that compromise, but without the need to meet physically and therefore to spread this contagion.
I think we will leave it that the amendment will not be moved.
Question put and agreed to.
That, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 10 (Sittings in Westminster Hall) and the order of this House on 23 September 2020, there shall be no sittings in Westminster Hall with effect from Thursday 14 January until the House otherwise orders.
Can I just say to everyone that the Commission of this House takes seriously its role as an employer and its duty of care to all who work here? At its most recent meeting, as has been the case many times before, we have been guided by Public Health England’s advice. We want to do everything in our power to make our workplace as safe as possible for both Members and staff alike, even if at times that means we have to put some limits on our activities, which goes against all our instincts as parliamentarians.
I am thinking of the tragic loss of one of those people who serve this House, so at this time my thoughts are with their family and their colleagues. All I can say is that it is not a great time for this country—it is a sad time—and as soon as we can, I want this House back to normal. That is an assurance from myself, as well as from the Leader of the House.
I am so sorry I was not clear; I thought that everybody knew that “da-da-da-dah, da-da-da-dah” was the fifth symphony. It was, of course, used as the signature tune of the BBC during the second world war to indicate that freedom was coming to Europe. As regards fishermen, the deal delivers for our fishermen. It recognises UK sovereignty over our fishing waters and puts us in a position to rebuild our fishing fleet and increase quotas in the next few years. There will be a rapid increase in quota—an uplift of up to 25%—by the end of five and a half years, beginning at 15%, before annual negotiations mean we can steadily increase beyond that point. In addition, £100 million will be spent in a programme to modernise the fishing fleet and the fish processing industry, so this is a great new opportunity for fishing. As the Prime Minister said in his speech earlier, it is putting right the wrongs of the common fisheries policy. May I finish by wishing my neighbour in Somerset a very happy new year? I am sorry that both Bath and North East Somerset are going into tier 3 from midnight tonight, or one minute past midnight tomorrow morning, but at least we will be able to have happy celebrations among ourselves.
The official Home Office line is that the Home Office is disappointed with the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, as it has a duty to protect the public by removing foreign criminals who violate our laws, and that is obviously right, but I would say to my hon. Friend that there is one fundamental difference between the ECJ and the European Court of Human Rights: ECJ judgments became our law automatically, but judgments of the European Court of Human Rights have to come through Parliament at some point to make our law compatible, but that ultimately is a choice. He will remember that was a choice we were very reluctant to make over voting rights for prisoners. The European Court of Human Rights has a different status—a lesser status—and the great protector of human rights in this nation is this House of Commons, not any court outside the country.
This is a matter of considerable concern to the Government, and the Government have been raising it with the Nigerian authorities. I will pass on the details of the hon. Lady’s question, because we must do whatever we can to ensure religious toleration across the world.
It is a matter of great concern that speeches are much too short. I know that Members of the House would like speeches to go on for many hours as they used to in the 19th century—particularly those of my hon. Friend, who has made some spectacularly long speeches in my period in this House and done so with great panache and verve. I agree with him that scrutiny is fundamental, but I can assure the House that we will not be sitting on Christmas Day.
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point, but I also make the point that this is the Parliament of the nation, and we should be deciding the guidance for what our citizens have to do, rather than it go through by edict or statutory instrument without proper debate. We need to be debating these issues and we are not doing so. At the moment, I do not think this House is in a position to call itself a proper Parliament. If we are to proceed in this way, the House ought to consider the motion on a more regular basis with a debate, and the Government should on those occasions put forward the reasons why we should stay as we are. As many Members have said, there are many big issues out there that we should consider, and I think that Parliament is going down a cul-de-sac by supporting this motion.
I am extraordinarily keen that the House should get back to normal operation. Hon. and right hon. Members may remember that when we reduced the hybrid Parliament on 2 June, it was perhaps not the most popular motion I have ever brought forward to this House—that there was at that point considerable reluctance to limit hybridity. But I thought it was fundamentally important that we set the lead for the nation. We have in fact been back at work in this place since the beginning of June, and we have been primarily physical from that point; and I think that has led the way.
I would encourage hon. and right hon. Members to look at what the motion actually does, rather than what they fear it does. We have the limitation on Members sitting in the Chamber, being physically present, but that is under a motion that says, under “Participation in Proceedings”:
“The Speaker…may limit the number of Members present in the Chamber at any one time”.
That does not set the number at 50; the number is not set in stone. These arrangements—the little cards that replace our prayer cards—are not under Standing Orders; they are at the discretion of Mr Speaker, on the advice of Public Health England. The Commission discussed with Public Health England, the last time they visited us, how we could change that; how, with the change to three and a quarter feet, we could have more people in the Chamber, and the Commission said we could do that, on the advice of Public Health England, if we made our speeches sitting down and wore masks. Now, I must say to this House that my personal opinion is that it would be far worse to allow a few more people in here, and to sit down with masks on our faces to try and orate, in a most ludicrous fashion.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) is one of the most distinguished orators in this House, and I think he did himself a disservice when he said that his speeches were received now, in this Chamber, as if it were a very quiet Adjournment debate. I think that, with 50 in the Chamber, Members can have an effect on the mood of the House. Yes, it is not the same as that packed and bustling Chamber that we get for the Queen’s Speech and Prime Minister’s questions, but look around: here we are, on a Wednesday afternoon, and the House is not full. There are spare seats, even with social distancing. Many of the people who watch our proceedings know that actually, with a few exceptions, this is broadly as full as the Chamber usually is. It is not that all the 400-odd seats are taken every day; it is that there are a few occasions when the Chamber is full, and those few occasions, I absolutely accept, are less exciting than they normally would be. But it does not mean there is no holding to account. It does not mean there is no representation of our constituents.
Criminal activity is always wrong, and the police need to have the resources to enforce the law. Therefore, I can give the hon. Gentleman the good news that of the commitment to employ 20,000 more police officers we now have achieved 3,005 of them, so the numbers are going up. This is about enforcing the law as it exists and we could not have a more doughty champion of law and order than my right hon Friend the Home Secretary.
The problem is that if we spend too long doing all this, by the time we have done it we have moved on to the next stage of the lockdown. We have to move at a pace to ensure that things happen in a timely manner, and I am a bit surprised that my hon. Friend is calling for bureaucratic folderol, rather than getting on with things—this is out of character for him. We need to do things properly and one sector or another will do it differently, but, as the opening up takes place, people must to some extent use their own wisdom to work out what they have to do.
I am afraid I am going to take my time to ensure that I am putting the case of Members of the Scottish National party. The reason I mention Singapore is because people were going into church and getting covid-19 from people who had been there in the days before. These are serious matters and they deserve to be properly aired.
The UK Parliament’s Select Committee on Procedure has called for remote voting and participation to remain an option for as long as the pandemic continues, and that should be the position we adopt. The Committee has outlined significant deficiencies in the plans and concluded that virtual participation should be allowed to continue while coronavirus restrictions are in place to allow MPs who are not able to come to Westminster, because of the continuing restrictions caused by the pandemic, to contribute to debates and represent their constituents.
The Government’s decision to ignore the cross-party consensus to retain hybrid proceedings and to plough ahead with plans to force hundreds of MPs to physically return to Parliament was widely criticised. The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents security, catering and support staff in Parliament, said that the part-virtual system had worked well. General secretary Mark Serwotka said that it was
“strange why the government is in a rush to change course when a second covid spike is such a strong possibility”.
The Electoral Reform Society branded moves for MPs to vote in Parliament “beyond a farce”. The Leader of the House argued that democracy would once again flourish, having been curtailed under the hybrid system. That is simply wrong. [Interruption.] I am getting a bit fed up with remarks from Conservative Members about this being “self-indulgent”. I will tell them what is self-indulgent: MPs being dragged here when we know that the hybrid system works, and MPs being disenfranchised by the Government. That is self-indulgent.
While MPs are shielding and unable to travel to Parliament, we are experiencing a democratic deficit imposed by the UK Government. It is wholly wrong that we are in this position. I hope that we can achieve a resolution that will see us return to a hybrid Parliament that allows all our colleagues to participate in questions, statements, debates and voting from the security of their homes. We should be in a position whereby we can do our jobs and protect everyone else by staying at home and doing the right thing.
I speak as a traditionalist. I am a Whip. My right hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) and for Tynemouth (Sir Alan Campbell) have constructed my DNA in this institution. I am therefore very much a traditionalist. However, the system does not work. The Mogg conga, as it is now being deemed, through the House into Westminster Hall, is the result of the Government’s not tabling the relevant motion before the recess. It is the responsibility of the Leader of the House, no one else. According to some who have been briefing, even No. 10 did not realise what the Leader of the House was doing on the day before the recess. It would be helpful to know the right hon. Gentleman’s view on that because No. 10 does not seem to know what is going on.
The point is that this is about disenfranchisement. There are Members who have to shield but who are not vulnerable. Most Members I know who are shielding are far from vulnerable; they are honourable, hard-working, decent people, but like many people in this country, they are taking the advice of their clinicians. It is also a fact that some Members are the partners of key workers who no longer have childcare and who therefore have to be at home to look after their children. This is about the Leader of the House introducing a system that is no longer equal, and that is deeply unfair.
I want to use my remaining minute and a half to bust some of the myths mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley). I pay tribute to her as the Chair of the Select Committee, of which I am proudly the minority ranking member—I think that is how some people think of it—as the vice-Chair. [Interruption.] I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) that that was just a joke. He never normally likes my jokes. I want to bust a myth for the Leader of the House: there has been no delay in bringing forward Bills for Public Bill Committees. There are four rooms in the House that could be used, and there is a maximum of four or five Bills currently being debated on the Floor of the House that will go through to Committee. It is the Government who have prevented the Bills from going into Committee, not the Opposition Whips Office.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments with regard to the digital voting, and for the tribute he paid to the House staff for doing that. I re-emphasise its temporary nature. We have proceeded with almost unanimous consent to achieve a hybrid Parliament. We would not have done so had people thought this was a sleight of hand—a prestidigitation—to try to change our procedures on a permanent basis. It has been important to maintain the good will of all parliamentarians.
As regards the statement on Sunday, I think the Prime Minister’s answer at Prime Minister’s questions was the right one. Although the week starts on a Sunday, the business week starts on a Monday, therefore the announcement is being made in preparation for the business week on a Monday. It is therefore the right time to do it, but I can confirm that there will be a statement on Monday. [Interruption.] I notice some giggles in the Chamber, although, Mr Speaker, I am not sure I am meant to notice the giggles emanating from the Chair. It slightly surprises me, because I do not think there are any plans for the House to meet on Sunday.
As regards the hybridity of this Chamber, this House must lead by example. The Government have set out in their guidelines that those who cannot work from home are entitled to and ought to carry on working, especially those in crucial roles. To pretend our democracy is not crucial undermines and undervalues the whole purpose of our democracy. What goes on here—the holding to account and the legislation—is essential, and when we are asking other people to work and to go to their places of work, we should not be ones who are exempt from that. I am glad, therefore, that we have made a hybrid system work.
One of the reasons why everyone likes and admires my hon. Friend so much is that only he would think up the question of asking how many questions had not been answered. It is a splendid question that should be asked regularly, although most politicians might not be able to give an accurate answer. It is really important that written questions and named day questions are answered. I would, however, ask the House to have some sympathy for the Department of Health and Social Care under these very extraordinary circumstances. Whereas I would normally go in with all cudgels waving, I think with that particular Department under the current circumstances, a degree of latitude is allowable.