Helen in Parliament

Earlier today I asked the Second Church Estates Commissioner Dame Caroline Spelman what the Church was doing to protect the closure of more rural schools. I saw recently in my constituency how the closure of one Church school was disappointing for the entire Startforth community.

Church school closures in rural areas

Earlier today I asked the Second Church Estates Commissioner Dame Caroline Spelman what the Church was doing to protect the closure of more rural schools. I saw recently in my... Read more

Yesterday I asked the Tory Chancellor what was being done about the threat to mid-level skills in the UK.

Helen challenges Chancellor on threat to mid-level skills

Yesterday I asked the Tory Chancellor what was being done about the threat to mid-level skills in the UK. Read more

Helen has raised the issue of turtle conservation with the Government by asking the following Parliamentary Questions:

  • To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what representations she has made to her international counterparts on ensuring that legislation introduced to protect turtles and their habitat is being enforced.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what funding the Government has provided to projects seeking to protect turtles.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what funding and other support the Government provides for research into the conservation of turtles.

You can read the Government's answers to the questions here

Click here to watch a video of a turtle chambering and here to watch a turtle laying eggs. 

Helen raises the issue of turtle conservation with Government

Helen has raised the issue of turtle conservation with the Government by asking the following Parliamentary Questions: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what representations...


Ahead of Brexit negotiations Helen pressed the need to remain in Horizon 2020.  She also asked the Brexit Secretary if he had yet considered remaining in the European Medicine Agency. Helen will continue to raise awareness of the concerns of local manufacturers including pharmaceuticals such as GSK in Barnard Castle.

You can watch Helen's question on Parliamentlive.tv or read her tribute to those who died in the terror attack on Westminster and her subsequent question below.

"I, too, express my condolences to the families of all those who died, and I wish the very best for those who were injured.

One notable thing about Israel’s trade relationship with the EU is that Israel is part of Horizon 2020. Has the Secretary of State considered whether, after Brexit, we should stay in Horizon 2020 and the European Medicines Agency?"


Helen presses Brexit Minister on remaining in Horizon 2020

Ahead of Brexit negotiations Helen pressed the need to remain in Horizon 2020.  She also asked the Brexit Secretary if he had yet considered remaining in the European Medicine Agency. Helen...


Last night I secured an Adjournment Debate on the proposed closure of Vinovium House and its effect on the Child Support Agency.

You can watch my speech on Parliament TV or read Hansard below.

Vinovium House

08 March 2017

Volume 622

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn

 7.02 pm

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to raise the proposed closure of Vinovium House, the office in Bishop Auckland that administers part of the child maintenance system, with the consequent loss of between 85 and 100 jobs. I have tabled early-day motion 1,001, which hon. Member are most welcome to sign.

To set the debate in context, the reforms to child support introduced by the Tory-led Government in the last Parliament were highly controversial, appearing to rely on good will, which is sadly lacking in all too many cases. None the less, it was agreed that the administration of the old system should continue, so that children could receive their legal entitlements. According to the Department for Work and Pensions December 2016 statistics, there are 1.1 million cases in the Child Support Agency system, and arrears now totalling £3.4 billion. It is vital for those million families—probably 1.5 million children—that this money is recovered and paid to them.

There is no published plan for how the debt cases currently administered at Vinovium House will be administered if the closure goes ahead. The team at Vinovium House had secured the debt work until 2020. In a four-year programme, surely it does not make financial sense to relocate and retrain staff to undertake that work if the current staff will no longer do the job. What exactly is the Department’s plan? How does it intend to run it, or is the plan to let the old child support system wither on the vine, irrespective of the impact on the 1 million families receiving their money?

The staff are extremely well respected. They were a top five office when they administered incapacity benefit. They are currently the highest performing office. They have the highest engagement score. They provide telephone cover from 8 o’clock in the morning until 8 o’clock at night—hours that are not covered in other offices. When the telephone system went down when the announcement was made, the entire national system crashed as it was unable to cope with the volume of calls without those staff. This does not bode well for the future. Child poverty is increasing under this Government, and further delays in Department for Work and Pensions systems for child support will undoubtedly tip some families over the edge.

In correspondence with me, the Minister for Employment said that he has conducted an equality impact assessment. I find that difficult to believe given that 69 of the staff are women and 14 are men. There are also support staff. The one-to-one interviews currently being conducted are a sham. Staff are asked to say whether they want to be transferred to other jobs or to leave on voluntary redundancy, but they are not being told where else they might work.

Quite a few of the staff who work at Vinovium House live in Sedgefield. I have had several emails from staff who have a deep anxiety about the way they have been treated, their futures and where they might be transferred to. This is ​not just an issue for Bishop Auckland and Sedgefield. The staff live all over County Durham, and a lot of families will be affected.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a lot of anxiety, and I will read out an email from someone who works there to explain to the Minister why:

“On the day the closure was announced to us, we were told there would be an option between a job if we were prepared to travel, or an exit package if not—a small lifeline to me that may have cushioned the closure up to my pension age, but the next day the package offer was revoked with a statement that failure to accept a compulsory transfer could result in disciplinary action.”

Will the Minister please tell us exactly what is going on? What offers are being made to people?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this issue to the House for consideration. Surely, if someone has a contract of employment with a Department and that contract is changed, the rights of the individual must be retained. Therefore, should not the option of a package to leave still be on the table? Should not the Government endorse and deliver that earlier commitment?

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I agree, which is why I want to know what is going on in the Department for Work and Pensions.

The underlying issues are travel times and costs, the lack of affordable childcare and the fact that most people who work at Vinovium House combine their job with some caring responsibilities. Many work part-time close to home, as they have caring responsibilities for children or elderly parents. The Tory party claims to be the party of the family. This change will adversely affect at least 85 families and will have a devastating impact.

Let me give one example. I talked to a woman who was very young—well, I think she was very young because she was in her 30s—and a widow with two children. Unfortunately, her partner died a year ago. At the moment, she drops her children off at school, gets to work by 9 o’clock and works until 6 o’clock, but she is given time to pick her children up at 3.30 pm. If she has to go to work in another town or another place, there is no possibility that this arrangement can continue. Her children are beyond three and four years old, when free childcare is available, but are too young to leave at home after school.

One thing Ministers need to bear in mind is the pay. The highest full-time pay is £18,000, and many of these people are on £12,000. They simply cannot afford to take home less, because they have to fork out on travel costs or childcare. There is also little other office work in the area, which is why the DWP is a valuable employer.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) suggested, a third of these people come from other villages round about. There is currently a bus connection into Bishop, but if the Bishop office closes, there is no guarantee people will be able to get transport onwards to other locations. The Department’s Darlington and Peterlee offices are already scheduled for closure. I strongly suggest that the Minister’s officials stop looking on Google Maps and that she send them up to the north to start looking at the geographical problems. Let them try to get a bus at 8 o’clock in the morning to Washington, near Sunderland, or to Newcastle, and get back in time ​to collect children from school at 3 o’clock. It is frankly impossible; it is a five-hour trip, including eight different buses. Of course, there is the massive devastation of public transport. What is being proposed is intolerable for these families.

There are many unanswered questions. The DWP guideline for staff travel times is one hour. How many sites are available for the staff to transfer to that are within an hour’s travel by public transport? What happens to people who received travel costs for three years if they go to work at another site? What happens after that? I suppose they will have to pay for themselves. Is there capacity in other offices nearby to take on these workers? Will they need to be retrained? What will that cost?

I am extremely grateful to the Public and Commercial Services Union for arranging for me to visit the office in February. I met a large number of staff, and they said things like this: “My husband is due to leave the armed forces later this year, so that could be two of us without a job,” “I moved here specifically to be close to my elderly parents,” “There is no childcare for children over 10-years-old,” “I have a child with disabilities, which results in lots of appointments. I couldn’t manage to meet them if I had to travel further afield,” “I’m dependent on my mum for childcare. If I had to leave earlier to travel further, she might not be able to manage, because she is dependent on getting to my children on the bus,” “I’m on maternity leave. I’ve worked here for nine years, and my future is up in the air. Will I have a job to come back to?” “I live in the Dales, where there is limited and often no public transport. How could I travel further afield? If I finished work in Newcastle at half-past seven, it would be physically impossible for me to get home at night,” and “I have a child starting university in September. How can I afford to support my child if I lose my job?”

The Minister must understand that these are significant problems for people. These people are not simply cogs in a machine or units of production; these are real people with real families. Many of the staff said that, in effect, they had to put their lives on hold, because they do not know what the upshot is going to be. They have had to cancel their holidays and things like that.

I want to propose a better way forward to the Minister. Historically, the jobcentre was in Vinovium House, and it would be much better in the long term if, instead of the medical assessment team moving to the jobcentre in the marketplace, the jobcentre people moved to Vinovium House and held on to the lease with the CSA people. There is already information and communications technology, telephones and security. That move would be much more cost-effective than what is being proposed at the moment.

There is, of course, another aspect: the impact on the rest of the town. I have had a letter from the Auckland Castle Trust. I do not know whether the Minister is aware that a philanthropist called Jonathan Ruffer has put at least £50 million into restoring and regenerating Auckland castle, with a view to building up the tourist industry. The Auckland Castle Trust says that it has moved into the upper five floors of Vinovium House, and it requires that office space until 2020. It has been told that if the DWP moves, it will also have to move, and that will cost it a great deal of money. If it has to spend money moving, it will have less money for the regeneration project that it is undertaking.​

The DWP decision is doubly bad; it threatens unemployment for the 80 people employed by the DWP, and at exactly the moment when the trust is bending every sinew to regenerate the town, the DWP is pulling the rug from under it. The staff are 100% committed to the local area. They have done a lot of work for local charities, and they have counted up how much they spend every week, which is about £2,000. We know from that that local shops will be extremely badly affected and there will be job losses there, too.

I think the Government should take a more holistic approach. The problem is that Whitehall lives in departmental silos, but people do not. I understand the pressure to save money, but I do not understand why Bishop Auckland is always at the sharp end. We have lost our magistrates court. We have lost our driving test centre. We have lost an HMRC officer. For once, if there is going to be centralisation, could it be into Bishop Auckland instead? I simply do not believe that the Minister can find a place where rents are cheaper than they are in Bishop; that is not credible. People in Bishop Auckland feel very strongly about this, and thousands are currently collecting signatures for a petition. As a hard-working, long-serving staff member said to me,

“It’s become about the building not the service and the staff”.

I am sure the Minister will agree that that is not the right approach.

 7.16 pm

I thank the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) for securing this debate. Its subject, as she has passionately and ably outlined, is Vinovium House in Bishop Auckland, one of the Department’s back-of-house processing sites for child maintenance claims. From the outset of the debate, I want to be clear that the services provided by the Department for Work and Pensions matter to millions of people every single day. But for the Department to continue to deliver its critical services and support across the country, it is vital that arrangements are put in place to protect the long-term sustainability of our services.

There is near-universal agreement that the Department for Work and Pensions needs to continue to provide excellent services for its customers while providing good value for money for the taxpayer. Reducing the amount of under-utilised space that the Department occupies is an excellent way of making sure that the Department is delivering value for money, both for those using its services and for the taxpayer.

On 31 March next year, DWP’s 20-year contract, which covers the majority of its current property portfolio of more than 900 sites, will expire. That portfolio includes Vinovium House, in the hon. Lady’s constituency. To put that into context, the DWP currently occupies about 1.5 million square metres of office space, and we must acknowledge that at least 20% of that is under-occupied. The falling claimant count and the increased use of our online services in recent years means that 20% of the money that the Department is spending on rent is going towards space that we are not using. By ​paying only for the space that we need and the services required to operate from it, we anticipate saving £180 million per annum over the next 10 years.

In response to the changing demands facing the Department, we have redesigned our estate in a way that delivers better value for the taxpayer. The expiry of the property contract has presented both a unique opportunity and an essential requirement to review our estate. Let me be clear: this is not about reducing services; it is about taking the opportunity to stop spending taxpayers’ money on empty space so that we can spend more on supporting those in most need.

We have carefully considered the challenges that we anticipate in the Department, but the jobs landscape and the way people work have changed significantly in the past 20 years. The Department’s services always have adapted and always will adapt to social trends. Nearly 90% of universal credit claims are made online, and more of our services are moving online. We want to continue making the most of the opportunities that new technologies present to help best meet our claimants’ needs. It is right that we reflect not only the impact of such a digital revolution on meeting our claimants’ needs, but the realities of a more flexible labour market and the significant falls in unemployment since 2010. The employment rate is at 74.6%—a new record high—and unemployment is down 913,000 since 2010, as the economy has grown. Only by building a more modern and more dynamic DWP estate can we take full advantage of new opportunities and ensure that we have sufficient flexible capacity to allow us to expand in the event of an economic downturn.

In every case where change is proposed, including that of Vinovium House, we have sought to minimise disruption and to listen carefully to those who might be affected. As I have already said, Vinovium House is a back-of-house processing site for child maintenance claims. It is a comparatively small processing site, which has total capacity for only about 135 people, and is currently only 64% used. As a result of modernisation and efficiencies, the Department’s Child Maintenance Service now takes fewer people to deliver than it did previously. Across the whole of the DWP estate, there is significantly more capacity than is needed, and it is only right that we consider our options.

Delivering a modern and dynamic service to claimants requires modern and dynamic working environments, and we are striving to work towards that as part of our vision for the DWP in 2020. Our aim is to maintain and improve the services offered across the country, and we recognise how important DWP staff are to achieving that aim. In fact, DWP staff are our most valuable resource. It is as a result of their immense effort that the Department is able to provide such a high level of service to our customers. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point out the high performance of our staff at this location and to comment on the office’s top-five rating. I recognise and celebrate how great our staff are, and I reassure her that our staff are our highest priority. My colleagues and I have been clear that the proposals put forward for the DWP’s redesigned estate do not mean a reduction in the number of frontline staff. In fact, we are recruiting, and we expect to have more work coaches in every nation and region in March 2018 than we have today.​

For staff at Vinovium House, we are currently working through options with each individual, identifying relocation opportunities in the event of closure, but most of all, listening carefully to them to understand fully the impact on staff. To that end, every member of staff has been offered a face-to-face meeting with their manager as part of the current consultation. This will allow us to hear the opinions of any of the staff members who would be impacted by the proposed changes. We are listening to the views that the staff are expressing. The hon. Lady was good enough to write to the Department in advance of this debate, and she has highlighted in her letter and this evening the concerns that the staff have already raised. I want to reassure her that we are taking those concerns very seriously indeed.

In the event of site closure, the Department has already made a commitment to support anyone who chooses to relocate, including the payment of additional travel expenses for up to three years. However, the fact remains that the Department has significantly more capacity across its network than is needed to serve the needs of child maintenance group clients.

Vinovium House in Bishop Auckland accommodates a team of Child Support Agency staff working on the 2003 scheme cases. These staff ensure that compliance is maintained on ongoing cases. We recognise the vital importance of compliance and of as many children as possible benefiting from the maintenance they are owed by their non-resident parent. Although we do not envisage this, should the closure of Vinovium House result in a shortfall of staff, we are committed to deploying appropriate resources to make sure we continue to keep the money flowing for the children.

Before the hon. Lady moves on to another aspect of this problem, may I say that when someone phones up non-resident parents to get them to pay the money that the parent with care is entitled to receive, they have to have a bit of a negotiation. It is not like applying for child benefit—I agree that people can apply for child benefit online—because, as she must know, such discussions are particular, personalised and specific. All this about being able to do it online is irrelevant to the work done by these people in this office.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I have sat with Child Maintenance Service officers, listening to the calls that they make to non-resident parents. My first visit as a Minister in the Department for Work and Pension was to the north-east. I went to Cobalt House and saw the child maintenance service in action. I have also been to the compliance unit in Hastings. She is right that those discussions are not easy—they are negotiations. That is something the staff made very clear to me. I want her to understand that one of my highest priorities is ensuring that we keep the money flowing to the children who are owed it by their non-resident parents.​

I emphasise the need to cleanse the cases on the old CSA system that we are transferring to the new CMS caseload. While compliance work is immediate and happens, the arrears cleanse process can be undertaken as resources are available. We will, therefore, be able to flex our rate of cleanse in line with the amount of resources needed, to ensure that compliance work is not affected.

The overriding story to be told about the child maintenance group is one of immense improvement. All ongoing maintenance liabilities, like those managed by Vinovium House, will be managed by the child maintenance service once all case closure is complete. We are seeing non-resident parents contributing to maintenance liability in seven out of eight cases. That has resulted in nearly 90% of the money due being paid towards the liability. Arrears growth is slowing and is down to 13% of total liability from 17% in 2015. Those figures reflect the Department’s commitment to improving the performance of the child maintenance service.

We have made a number of changes in line with the recommendations of the Henshaw report. We have simplified the administration of the service; we have made our calculations faster and simpler through the use of HMRC income information; and we have introduced new applications in a staged pathfinder approach to ensure smooth delivery of the new scheme. All of those measures have put collaboration between parents and increased parental responsibility at the heart of the child maintenance service. I am proud to say that, according to the latest figures, approximately 250,000 children are benefitting from maintenance, in part due to the excellent work of the DWP’s child maintenance service.

The proposed changes—I emphasise to the hon. Lady that they are proposed changes—are the result of careful analysis and planning. I appreciate the hon. Lady’s concerns about the proposals and thank her again for this debate, but the rationale for them is very clear: Vinovium House is currently only 64% utilised and across the whole DWP estate, 20% of the occupied space is underutilised. We are striving towards a more modern, dynamic DWP estate. That will ensure that we continue to have sufficient flexible capacity and to deliver the best services we can to our customers. To that end, we are considering whether the work currently undertaken at Vinovium House could be redistributed across the existing DWP network. In the event that that course of action is required, we would expect it to have no impact on the services we continue to provide to child maintenance group users. It is important to stress again that the closure of Vinovium House is still only a proposal at this stage, and we are continuing the consultation process with our staff to assess how each of them might be affected.

Question put and agreed to.

 7.28 pm

House adjourned.

Helen holds DWP to account over proposals to close Vinovium House

Last night I secured an Adjournment Debate on the proposed closure of Vinovium House and its effect on the Child Support Agency. You can watch my speech on Parliament TV or read Hansard below....


Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab) (To watch my speech visit Parliament TV.

Under our local sustainability and transformation plan, there is a proposal to close the A&E department at Darlington hospital, which would be an unutterable disaster for my constituents. We are continually told that the purpose of the STP is to improve services, but I really wish the local NHS managers would stop pretending. ​They have also told us that by 2020 there is going to be a funding shortfall of £281 million, so nobody believes it is about improving services; everybody believes it is about managing on limited resources.

I appreciate that pressures on the health service are increasing because of the ageing population, but this level of austerity in the health service is unnecessary. The British economy is bigger now than it has ever been; it is 14% bigger than it was in 2010. Other hon. Members have pointed to the disparity between spend in the UK, which is $3,235 per capita per year, and in Germany, which is $4,800 per capita per year. In the UK, there are 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people, whereas in Germany, the figure is 8.3. It does not need to be like that.

I wish to focus on the needs of rural communities, which we have not spoken about this evening. Were the A&E department in Darlington to close, it would be an extremely serious problem for the people to the west of Darlington, and at the top of Teesdale. People are already travelling 30 miles to get to hospital. The response times of the North East ambulance service are not what they should be. People often wait 20 or 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, which means that it could be an hour before they get into the hospital.

One of my local councillors has done an absolutely brilliant piece of analysis, looking at the journey times that would be needed were people to have to go to the James Cook university hospital in Middlesbrough. At the moment, someone living in Bishop Auckland would take 25 minutes to get to hospital. It would go up to 39 minutes. If they live right up in the top of the dale, the journey time is 39 minutes. That would go up to 64 minutes. The STP managers running the review say that they want to treat cardio-vascular and trauma patients in specialist centres where a critical mass of staff can maintain their skills. That sounds reasonable enough, but my constituent, Judy Sutherland, asked them, “What proportion of emergency journeys are not cardio-vascular or trauma cases?” The answer was 94%. So, for acute asthma, adrenal crisis, anaphylactic shock, appendicitis, diabetic coma, meningitis and renal failure—the list goes on—there would be no benefit to being in a specialist centre.

The extra mortality from the longer travel time goes up quite dramatically. In Bishop Auckland, it goes up by 2.4%, Barnard Castle by 3%, and in Middleton in Teesdale by 3.2%. That is why the pretence that this is about improving the quality of healthcare is not believed by my constituents. They are tired of being told that services should be nearer to home when, in fact, they are being pushed further and further away. There is a question mark over the Richardson community hospital in Barnard Castle. The A&E and the maternity services have been taken out of the hospital at Bishop Auckland. When that was done, we were told that it would be absolutely fine, because people would be able to go to the Darlington A&E, but now that A&E is under threat. People in rural communities are facing this constant process of attrition.

Peter Heaton-Jones (North Devon) (Con)

I have similar challenges in my rural constituency of North Devon. The STP is looking at the same issues that the ​hon. Lady is raising, and they, too, will lead to long travel distances. As Ministers know, that is something that I have raised with them and brought up in this House on a number of occasions. Does the hon. Lady agree that the challenges that the STP is trying to address have not happened in the past 18 months or the past six years; they have built up over many years and over many different Governments?

Helen Goodman

The proposal to close Darlington A&E has come up only under this Government. It was not proposed under the coalition Government or the previous Labour Government. This Government must take responsibility for what is happening now.

On Saturday, I went to Alston in Cumbria. The people there are also running a campaign to stop their local hospital closing, because they will then have to go to Carlisle, which is 34 miles away. That is a long way, especially in Cumbria, where the weather is absolutely terrible and the road is often blocked. Ministers need to take more account of this big rural issue. People in Alston are also worried that there will be a cynical saving—the hospital in Copeland—and that they will face even bigger cuts. Perhaps the Minister will give us an assurance about that. The interaction between health and social care is well understood. We all know that cuts to social care mean a worse quality of care and less time for individuals.

Maggie Throup

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Helen Goodman

I would rather not because of the speaking limit.

Cuts also mean pressure on the NHS. Durham has faced really big cuts to social care. Between 2011 and 2017, it has had to make £186 million of savings. Child and adult care services comprise 63% of the total budget in the area, and adult social care cuts have been £55 million. The much vaunted precept only raises £4 million, and we have another £40 million of cuts to come. Even taking into account the better care funding, cuts by 2019-20 will come to £170 million. That means that there will be no social care in whole villages in my constituency. We are told that the Chancellor is minded to do something about it. Will he make up the full £4.6 billion that was cut in the last Parliament?

We have discussed the long term, which we do need to think about. The discussion about social insurance is important and significant, but we should also think about which institutions we would be asking people to put their money and their savings into. A lot of private sector organisations are, frankly, ripping people off with fees of £600 and £900 per week, even in my constituency in the north, where costs are not the highest. With fees like that, we do not even see highly trained people with expertise in dementia, but the same workers on minimum wages with low levels of training. We need to look at a stronger mutual approach and cut exploitative private sector contractors out of adult social care.


Helen calls on government to take responsibility for crisis in health and social

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab) (To watch my speech visit Parliament TV. Under our local sustainability and transformation plan, there is a proposal to close the A&E department at Darlington hospital,...


I spoke in yesterday's debate on amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. I spoke about new clauses 29 and 33 tabled in my name.

You can watch my speech here.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)

It is as pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I should like to speak to new clauses 29 and 33, tabled in my name and those of other right hon. and hon. colleagues.

The Secretary of State—who is not here for this debate—said with his usual braggadocio that he would produce a Bill that was unamendable. Today, we have a list of amendments that is 145 pages long. The ratio of lines in the amendments to lines in the Bill 580:1, which must be an all-time record. It is certainly a tribute to the productivity of hon. Members on this side of the House. However, the chutzpah of the Secretary of State was exceeded by the civil servant who wrote paragraph 14 of the Bill’s explanatory notes, which states:

“The impact of the Bill itself will be both clear and limited”.

No. The effect of the Bill is not clear and it is certainly not limited. The fact that hon. Members have tabled so many new clauses and amendments demonstrates why this debate on parliamentary scrutiny is so important.

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince), whose constituents voted leave in the referendum. Mine did too, and his speech was the perfect introduction to my own. I want to describe why it is also in the interests of those who voted leave that we should have proper parliamentary scrutiny. The referendum campaign was won on the slogan of taking back control and bringing back parliamentary sovereignty. We cannot do that without having proper parliamentary scrutiny.

New clause 29 is perfectly simple and straightforward: it proposes a quarterly reporting system during the negotiations. That would give the House a structured approach. The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) complained about new clause 3—which was ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook)—saying that it would create problems of justiciability. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the requirement to produce a report once a quarter is not such a high or complex legal bar, and that it would not lead to extremely long litigation. It is a simple, practical measure.

Sir Oliver Letwin

Does the hon. Lady imagine that there would be no court cases about whether such quarterly reports conformed with the appropriate procedure? Is she aware of the chain of jurisprudence in judicial review that leads to the possibility of that kind of contest? What does she think would happen if the courts started intervening in the matter of whether the reports met the requirements of her new clause?

Helen Goodman

First, it is not clear that such cases would get leave of hearing. Secondly, any such case would be dismissed straight away, so long as the Government had abided by the requirement to produce quarterly reports. There simply would not be a case to answer. This is a simple and straightforward proposal.

Sir Oliver Letwin

So does the hon. Lady think that the Government would satisfy the conditions of her new clause if they simply produced one line saying, ​“This is our report”? Or does she believe that it would have to be an appropriate report? If that were the case, could not a court decide whether it was appropriate or not?

Helen Goodman

As the Chairman of the Select Committee said earlier, when we got into a discussion about the requests from the Opposition Front Bench, the nature of the report would be a matter for the Government. I am sure that the Government would behave in a reasonable manner if this provision were in the legislation.

As I was saying to the hon. Member for Colchester, my constituency voted leave. I voted for the Bill on Second Reading so that the Prime Minister would have the power to trigger our intention to withdraw from the European Union under article 50. However, the political legitimacy stemming from the result of last summer’s referendum does not extend to giving the Government a blank cheque for their negotiating objectives or for the way in which they conduct the negotiations. Everyone is clear that this will have major constitutional, political, economic and social implications for our relations with other countries and for the domestic framework of our legislation.

Given the lack of clarity, and the fact that there was no plan, I have consulted my constituents on their expectations and hopes, and on how they want these decisions to be taken. I wrote to 5,500 of them, and I held six public meetings. They felt strongly that they wanted Parliament to be involved. In fact, some of them thought that the negotiations should be conducted by a cross-party team. I said that I did not think that was terribly likely—

Anna Soubry

Given the quality of your Front Bench.

Helen Goodman

Let me tell the right hon. Lady about the views that were expressed in my constituency, even though they might be different from those being expressed in her own. When we discussed the social chapter and people’s employment rights, my constituents said, in terms, “You can’t trust the Tories.” It is because of that feeling—[Interruption.] Those were their words, not mine. It is because of that feeling that we need to have parliamentary involvement in the way this process is carried forward.

The Government have reluctantly come to the House with this Bill. I first requested that Parliament be involved on 11 July in an urgent question on article 50. The Government resisted, as everybody knows, and only came to the House because they were forced to by the Supreme Court. Some Government Back Benchers say that the negotiations are far too complex to do openly—the right hon. Member for West Dorset talked about 3D chess, for example—but I take the opposite view: it is precisely because the negotiations are complicated and multifaceted that lots of people should be involved.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)

The vast majority of the amendments—I think I counted 30—tabled by members of the Opposition basically call for a report within 30 days of the Bill coming into force setting out the Government’s approach in the negotiations. Does the hon. Lady imagine that Europe will publish reports on every one of these issues, setting out its approach in the negotiations? That would surely be giving away too much.​

Helen Goodman

Had the hon. Gentleman been in his place to hear the fantastic speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), he would understand why my hon. Friend was proposing all those reports. I am speaking to new clause 29, which is about quarterly reporting by the Government once the negotiations get under way.

Another slight misconception among Government Members is that there is some best deal, but there is clearly no objective technical standard test. What is best in the constituency of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) might be different from what is best in my constituency. I am not casting aspersions on the motivations of Government Members; I am being realistic. When the Prime Minister talks about building a better Britain and doing what is best for the country, I am sure that she is being completely sincere, but she stood in a general election in Durham in 1992 and received half as many votes as the Labour candidate. The truth of the matter is that the process is complicated and there are different interests. Parliament, which is the sovereign body of the country, should be able to participate fully in that process, and scrutiny is the basic first brick of it.

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con)

The net effect of the hon. Lady’s new clause is that the High Court, not Parliament, would decide on the adequacy or otherwise of the reporting. She would be ceding authority not to this place but to the independent High Court, which is contrary to what she is trying to achieve.

Helen Goodman

Look, I am sorry that Government Members feel so bad about losing the Supreme Court case last month. It is a shame. The Government were foolish to appeal after the High Court judgment. However, the fact that they have lost one case does not mean that they should become obsessed with the risk. It is as absurd as saying, “Well, we should stop having parliamentary questions for every Department once a month because they somehow undermine the Government.” Take Defence Question Time, for example. It happens every single month, but it does not undermine our security; it holds the Government to account. It is because the negotiations are so important that the Government should report back. I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not here. Unlike some Government Back Benchers, I think he understands that this is not a technical issue; it is a political process. Involving Parliament and having proper parliamentary scrutiny is the right thing to do to build a national consensus, which the Government state is their aim in the White Paper.

New clause 29 is simple and straightforward and would require a quarterly reporting system during the negotiations. While the Select Committees are doing fantastic work in considering particular issues in great detail, it is extremely important that the whole House gets a regular opportunity to see how things are going and to provide the perspective of the different communities we represent. Out of necessity, I drafted new clause 29 without having seen new clause 3, which is obviously tougher than new clause 29, so some people will prefer one over the other.

 7.45 pm

New clause 33 would require the Prime Minister to set out how the UK will have control over its immigration system. I tabled it because that is the major concern of ​many people, leave voters in particular, so it seems right to refer to it in the draft framework and negotiating objectives that we must prepare for our future relationship with the EU. However, I want to make it clear that while that was a factor for some constituents in how they voted, they were equally committed to providing security for EU citizens in this country. I added my name to new clause 57, tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), because those things are completely consistent. I would like to say more on that, but we have only a short amount of time.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con)

The hon. Lady refers to guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens, and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who is not in his place, stated the legal position. The Government could make that guarantee tonight, saying that my hon. Friend was correct, by stating that those rights would be grandfathered straight into the Immigration Act 2016. That may not be the preferred method for many in this House, but it would effectively guarantee EU citizens what they want. Does the hon. Lady agree?

Helen Goodman

I have not thought about that in as much detail as the hon. Gentleman, but it will be interesting to see what the Minister says when he responds to the debate from the Dispatch Box tonight.

As I was saying, we should have proper, structured scrutiny, and I am disappointed that we do not have slightly longer to consider all these matters in more detail.


My speech on amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill: Clauses 29 and 33

I spoke in yesterday's debate on amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. I spoke about new clauses 29 and 33 tabled in my name. You can watch...


Ahead of this afternoon's publication of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill 2016-17 Helen pressed the Government on when MPs will be able to consider the value of existing EU agencies and the cost of setting up replacement Britiish agencies.

"The Secretary of State has repeatedly said that he can maintain flexibility and give the House a say through the great repeal Bill, but that only covers things in legislation. When will the House be able to consider the value of the EU agencies and the cost of setting up new UK ones?"

The Minister was unable to provide a timescale for this important discussion.

You can watch Helen's question here.

Helen presses for discussion on the cost of replacing EU agencies

Ahead of this afternoon's publication of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill 2016-17 Helen pressed the Government on when MPs will be able to consider the value of existing EU...


Following today's ruling by the Supreme Court that the Government must allow MPs a vote on the triggering of Article 50 Helen pressed the Tory Brexit Minister to ensure that enough parliamentary time is given to debate and amend the Article 50 Bill.

Helen said: "We have 66 days left to go. How many days is the Secretary of State planning to give this.”

A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn said: “Labour respects the result of the referendum and the will of the British people and will not frustrate the process for invoking Article 50.

“However, Labour will seek to amend the Article 50 Bill to prevent the Conservatives using Brexit to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe.

“Labour will seek to build in the principles of full, tariff-free access to the single market and maintenance of workers’ rights and social and environmental protections.

“Labour is demanding a plan from the Government to ensure it is accountable to Parliament throughout the negotiations and a meaningful vote to ensure the final deal is given Parliamentary approval.”

Helen presses Brexit Secretary to ensure proper parliamentary debate on Article 50 Bill.

Following today's ruling by the Supreme Court that the Government must allow MPs a vote on the triggering of Article 50 Helen pressed the Tory Brexit Minister to ensure that...


Today I asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury "The most useful thing that the Treasury could do for small manufacturers in my constituency is announce an objective of staying in the customs union. Up to now, the Treasury has been a beacon in saying that it wants decisions based on analysis, not on rhetoric and ideology. Can the Business Secretary assure the House that that is still under consideration?"

You can watch my question here.


Helen calls on HM Treasury to consider staying in the Customs Union

Today I asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury "The most useful thing that the Treasury could do for small manufacturers in my constituency is announce an objective of staying in the...

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