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Functioning of Government

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 7 July 2022

(Urgent Question):To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office, if he will make a statement on the functioning of Government.

Mr Speaker, as the House will be aware, it is widely reported that the Prime Minister is about to make an important statement shortly. I can confirm that it is correct that the Prime Minister will speak shortly. I cannot pre-empt the Prime Minister’s statement, and the House and the nation will hear more imminently. In the meantime, the business of Government continues, supported in the usual way by our excellent civil service. There will continue to be Ministers of the Crown in place, including in all great offices of state. We must continue to serve our country, constituents and the general public first and foremost. It is our duty now to make sure the people of this country have a functioning Government. That is true now more than ever.

The civil service is the foundation on which all Governments function. The civil service continues to support across all Government Departments, and the country can be assured that that will always remain the case—I have spoken this morning to the Cabinet Secretary to that effect. Any transitional arrangements have always been made to allow for the business of Government to continue. There are constitutional mechanisms in place to make sure that that can happen. We await the Prime Minister’s statement, but the House should be reassured that the Government continue to function in the meantime. Any necessary ministerial vacancies can and will be filled; other Secretaries of State can make decisions if necessary. There is a rich reserve of people who are both dedicated and talented, and who remain dedicated to serving our country and their constituents. Calmness and professionalism are now required. Our focus now is fully on the stability and continuity of Government. Now is the time to serve in the interests of our country, as it always is, and of our constituents during the period ahead.

I hate to break it to the Minister, but we do not have a functioning Government. It would be good news for the country that the Prime Minister is to announce his resignation; he was always unfit for office. He has overseen scandal, fraud and waste on an industrial scale, but the chaos of the last three days is more than just petty Tory infighting. These actions have serious consequences for the running of our country. In the middle of the deepest cost of living crisis for a generation, with families unable to make ends meet, a dangerous war in Europe threatening our borders and a possible trade crisis in Northern Ireland, Britain has no functioning Government: no Ministers in place to pass legislation; and Bill Committees cancelled with no one to run them.

Can the Minister confirm whether the 11 Committees due to take place today will go ahead? Without Ministers, what are the arrangements to pass primary and secondary legislation, and who will answer oral questions? How will this Government continue to be democratically held to account? With the new Education Secretary resigning after 36 hours, which must be a record, there is not a single Member in the Department for Education. What does that mean for children taking their exams? What does that mean for the impending childcare cost crisis?

Our British national security is at risk, too, not least because the Prime Minister thinks that he can stay on. With the departure of the Northern Ireland Secretary, only two Ministers are left able to sign security warrants to approve secret service use of sensitive powers. What contingency plans are in place to deal with emergencies in the short term?

The Prime Minister has said that he will stay on as caretaker. How many more months of chaos does this country have to endure? With dozens of ministerial posts unfilled, who on earth will join the Prime Minister’s Government now and how will a half-empty Cabinet run the country until October? Mr Speaker, they will try desperately to change the person at the top, but it is the same old Tory party in government.

I cannot pre-empt the Prime Minister’s statement. The House and the nation will hear more very shortly, but Government and the civil service will continue to function in the meantime. The Business of the House statement will be made shortly, and Members can ask questions of the Leader of the House about the business of this place. The House will continue to function, and Government business will continue to function. Others Secretaries of State can deal with issues for other Departments, constitutionally and legally, in necessary circumstances.

Without wishing to pre-empt the Prime Minister’s statement, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that he can be proud of a large number of achievements of his Government? May I invite my right hon. and learned Friend to pre-empt the Opposition by making it clear that Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron, Tony Blair and Theresa May all left office and were succeeded by new leaders and new Prime Ministers without a general election and that the ship of state sails on?

As I came into the Chamber, we were at 59 resignations and counting. A remarkable amount of leadership was shown by the junior ministerial ranks rather than by many of the Cabinet. I have been longing, since I was elected, for a Cabinet of remainers, but not necessarily of the kind that we have seen, clinging like limpets to a rock.

Today’s announcement from the Prime Minister of his intention to resign comes after two years and 348 days in office, which, by supreme irony, is the same number of days as Neville Chamberlain spent in office as Prime Minister. It is a Prime Minister who achieved Brexit under false pretences, purely as part of his game to achieve entry to Downing Street. In that two years and 348 days, he has left behind a trail of political chaos and economic destruction, leaving any reputation that the UK might have retained as a reliable international partner that stands up for the international rules-based order trampled into the dust. We regularly in Scotland have to put up with patronising lectures about how well our Government are performing, yet in Westminster we have a Department for Education with no Education Ministers, six police forces in England under special measures and a Government who seem utterly paralysed and unable to deal with the major issues of the day. The idea that the Prime Minister can stay on and preside over this until the autumn is utterly risible. How long can this farce be allowed to continue, and how is it right that 300 Tory MPs will get to choose the next Prime Minister over that time while denying the right of 5.5 million Scots to choose their own future?

The Government and the civil service will continue to function in the meantime, as they always have done and as they have done historically.

I thank the Prime Minister for his great service to our nation and to the people of Ukraine. I think people will rue the day he was forced to resign. Is there not a lot to be said for having a smaller Cabinet, fewer Ministers and hardly any parliamentary private secretaries? Can we have a pilot to show how successful that will be?

My hon. Friend makes a perfectly interesting point, but it is somewhat outside the range of my responsibilities.

I have a list here of all the resignations from Government. I will not read them out, but there are plenty of tasty quotes in there that will be of use later on. The Minister cannot sensibly argue that we have a functioning Government when this number of people are missing. There are no Ministers to do statutory instrument Committees and legislation even as we speak. What is the way forward? He cannot just blather at the Dispatch Box when the Government are disintegrating around him.

The business of the House of Commons will continue. There are Ministers to continue in place. I cannot pre-empt the Prime Minister’s statement, but I have spoken to the Cabinet Secretary today and the Government and civil service will continue to function in their public duty.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend and have great sympathy for the position he finds himself in. He and I have had to take some pretty rough cases in court in the past, and he has drawn a few short straws recently in that regard—and done so with dignity, if I may say so. May I ask him just to take this away? Whatever one’s views on the Prime Minister, and while I accept the importance of the continuity of the Government and the fact that there is no need for a general election at all—there is plenty of precedent for that—will my right hon. and learned Friend take away the serious question mark that many have about how long a caretaker Prime Minister can remain in place when there is real concern about whether the Government can be fully and effectively back? Might it not be in everybody’s interest to speed up the transition as much as possible?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. He is right, of course, that a general election is not constitutionally necessary; the Prime Minister was before the Liaison Committee yesterday and said as much. We will await events, but I cannot pre-empt the Prime Minister’s statement.

I am delighted to hear the Minister speaking positively about the role of the civil service. That contrasts rather well with the way the Government in recent years have done nothing but traduce and undermine its position. I must say that the Prime Minister cannot remain as a caretaker. That is just putting the bull in charge of the china shop. This is not all about Ministers and politicians; it is about our constituents and the public services on which they depend and which, for months now, this Government have been unable to deliver properly for them. That is why they all need to go.

The substantive matter that the right hon. Gentleman mentions is not a matter for me, but I will say that Ministers on this Bench and in this House will serve the Crown and this country, as they always have.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his statement. Without wishing to pre-empt the Prime Minister, I am glad he has finally come to his senses and will be making his statement shortly. I am very sad that in the past 48 hours so many right hon. and hon. Friends have felt the need to resign from Government. If those people will not serve this Prime Minister, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to convey to the Prime Minister that it will not be tenable for him to continue as caretaker if he cannot fill the ministerial appointments he needs to?

It is a great relief that we will no longer have a Prime Minister who keeps on saying things that subsequently turn out to be untrue. Will the Minister reassure us that the change will take place in hours, not months, and does he recognise that effective democracy depends on Ministers telling the truth?

The hollow resignations by those who enthusiastically supported decisions such as voting for Owen Paterson show how they were unfit to serve as Ministers in the beginning. But the governance of this country cannot be allowed to fail, so when are these vacancies going to be filled? They must be filled immediately and we cannot allow decisions to be made by other Secretaries of State from other Departments. The country deserves better than that.

The Government will continue to function, and I have spoken to the head of the civil service to that effect.

The Independent reports that the PM and Tory Ministers resigning are entitled to £420,000 of severance pay. At the same time we have a Government gripped by paralysis and we have a cost of living crisis. Can the Minister confirm that they will be forfeiting their right to this, because we do not reward failure?

The matter that the hon. Lady refers to is set in statute, so it is a matter for the law, and that law would have been passed by this House.

It was an enormous honour to serve as a Minister in the Home Office until yesterday, tackling violence against women and girls. I know that is a cause that all Members of this House care deeply about. While we are discussing these matters, victims of rape, sexual assault, stalking and spiking continue to deserve justice and they will continue to be victims of crime. Will my right hon. Friend give his continued support to the vital work of Operation Soteria and the rape review. Will he join me in putting on record my thanks to Detective Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, Chief Constable Sarah Crew, Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe and many other serving senior police officers who I know will capably continue to drive forward this work? Will he also thank the civil servants in the Home Office who I know will continue to do this essential work?

I understand it is good to get that on the record but there are a lot of other people I have got to try and get in.

I will do as my hon. Friend says. I commend her for her championing of this very important area. The rape review and the work thereof should of course continue.

There have been times occasionally when Prime Ministers have been temporarily incapacitated. There has never been a period in British history where a Government have been incapacitated across every Department of State. We have just heard how the secret services are being undermined by the current situation, putting national security at risk. At what point are the Government going to actually start functioning again?

The Government are functioning. I have already mentioned to the House that the great offices of state are still in place. The hon. Gentleman refers to our security and intelligence services. The Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary are in place.

What provisions are being put in place for the continuing operation of the EU-UK Partnership Council and the specialised committees over the coming months?

I think my hon. Friend knows that I attended a meeting of the EU-UK Partnership Council in Brussels recently. The functions of Government, including in the international sphere, will continue apace.

Before the House—before both Houses—there are two major Bills affecting Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is about the Prime Minister’s own decision, while the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill is very much the now-resigned Secretary of State’s province. Can we have absolute clarity, at this critical moment in the history of Northern Ireland and its relations with both the rest of the UK and Ireland, that we will get some sense from this Government about how we take these important matters forward?

I am particularly conscious of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, to which I think the hon. Gentleman is referring. The Leader of the House will be doing the usual business questions session soon in this House.

This latest Conservative party psychodrama only emphasises what many of us already know: the UK is a failed state. This Government have shown contempt for devolution. The Prime Minister’s successor will treat the electorate of Wales with the same disdain, and in this Palace the circus will roll on. Does the Paymaster General not recognise that surely now is the time for a new constitutional settlement for these islands?

The right hon. Lady frequently traduces this country. I disagree with her—I could not disagree with her more strongly. She has a separatist agenda, of course, and she wishes for the country to split, but in my view this country is the greatest country on earth.

On the anniversary of 7/7, security is of paramount importance to all in this House. With no Security Minister, a depleted Cabinet and a Home Office that was struggling prior to this chaos, what assurances can the Paymaster General give us that the intelligence agencies are receiving all the full ministerial and legal engagement and sign-off in a timely way to keep us all safe?

I cannot discuss the security arrangements of this country from the Dispatch Box, but the Secretary of State for the Home Department is in place and is responsible for the arrangements appertaining to the security services of this country.

I suggest that the Paymaster General look up the meaning of “functioning”, because his Government are not it. Will the Paymaster General confirm whether the now former Secretary of State for Education, the right hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) will be getting the standard severance package for Secretaries of State of three months’ salary for a job that she did for just 36 hours?

The Members of Parliament who have eventually forced out the Prime Minister and who blindly stood by him during the no confidence vote have not miraculously found their principles or their voices, but are doing so out of their own naked self-interest. Does the Paymaster General agree that a damaged and failing Prime Minister should go immediately and not hang around like a bad smell until the Tory conference in the autumn?

I cannot pre-empt the Prime Minister’s statement, but the business of Government will continue functioning as normal.

It is good to see the Paymaster General here—one of the last remaining living crew on the ghost ship HMG. In an effort to assist the burden of the skeleton crew who remain, we would like to arrange for the signing of a section 30 order to begin the process of moving some of the functions of government to a fully functioning set of Ministers in Holyrood.

No matter who forms the Government of this country, the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is of paramount importance, as the people of Scotland themselves decided in the referendum in 2014.

The current situation is clearly unsustainable. As we heard earlier from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), it is damaging crucial decision making and harming our reputation abroad. Could the Paymaster General please take this back to the Prime Minister, urge an urgent resolution and inform the House as soon as possible?

Clearly the idea of the Prime Minister continuing as a caretaker will be worrying many people, but it is interesting to hear from the BBC that MPs are privately briefing that they are worried, perhaps half-jokingly, that the PM might take us to war to avoid leaving office. What will be done to ensure that the Opposition can hold to account a caretaker Prime Minister who has lost the faith of the country and his Government?

I recommend to the hon. Lady that she does not listen to gossip and rumour. The fact of the matter is that responsible government in this country will continue.

With the resignation this morning of the Secretary of State for Education, following that of her entire Commons ministerial team, the Education Committee did not even have the chance to ask about her plans. It has become abundantly clear to almost the entire population that for months, if not a few years, the only functioning cabinet in No. 10 Downing Street has been the drinks cabinet. When will the remnants of the Government Front Bench team accept that they have been in collective denial for far too long?

I think the hon. Gentleman asked a rhetorical question, but I will say that the Government will continue to function as the country would expect.

I am looking at many Tory MPs in the Lobby and everywhere using the word “sadness”, but each and every one of them upheld the Prime Minister and let him carry on. He should have resigned when partygate happened, when Durhamgate happened, when his ethics adviser resigned—he should have resigned a long time ago. Each and every one of them kept him here and now they are trying to take the moral high ground when he is finally on his way out. I will not feel sorry for them. Mr Speaker, how can the Opposition hold Ministers to account when there is not a governing Government?

The people who put the Prime Minister in place are the 14 million people who voted for the Conservative party at the general election.

This is one of the greatest crises that any of us can remember. In the national interest, surely we should work across the Benches to sort it out, even for the short period until recess. I do not want any laughter, but I have a great deal of experience in education. There is no Education Minister, so on a short-term basis, I would be happy to help. [Laughter.] Unpaid! Our constituents would want us to work together across the Benches, to forget these petty politics and to get the Government working again.

I thank the hon. Gentleman, but his services are not required, because there are a plethora of talented and dedicated individuals on the Government Benches who will serve in the Government.

For many people in Scotland, the outgoing Prime Minister is Westminster personified: backward, unfit for purpose, delusional and in disgrace. Just like the Union that he is the Minister for, the Prime Minister is isolated, broken and bereft of ideas. His time is up. The party is over. Can the Minister tell me whether there will be a leaving do in No. 10 tonight? We will be raising a glass in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill.

Given that a majority of Government MPs now say that the Prime Minister lacks the integrity and honesty required for that post, can the Minister explain what the basis is for the Prime Minister to stay in post for a further three months?

I recommend that the hon. Gentleman awaits the statement that is due from the Prime Minister shortly.

The Minister will be aware that our constituents contact us about extremely important matters when they have explored every other avenue to get a resolution to their problems, and we then write to Ministers on their behalf. I am concerned on their behalf about what this situation means, not only for the casework that we have already sent to Ministers, some of which is of extreme importance for people’s health and survival, but for future casework. It is untenable that the Prime Minister should stay on until the autumn, so will the Minister please explain how we can have a situation where there is no functioning Government but the Prime Minister thinks that he can stay on?

There is a functioning Government and a functioning civil service, which will continue to do its duty in supporting the operation and functionality of the state as it always has.

The Government are telling us not to worry about whether a Government elected with a majority of 80 two years ago can carry on functioning because we have the civil service, but levelling up is a Government priority. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is before the House of Commons at the moment. If the Government are functioning, can the Minister tell us whether the Committee is going ahead in 26 minutes’ time?

There is a business of the House statement in the usual way, and the hon. Member will be able to ask that question of the Leader of the House of Commons.

The Minister speaks about responsible government, yet we have had nearly three years of totally irresponsible government. My constituents are suffering massively. Surely the moral thing to do is not to look to the constitution, but to go to the country, call a general election and let the people of this country decide—not just on the Prime Minister, but on the rotten lot of bankrupt Government we have had for the past two and a half years since the last election. This is not about the constitution; it is about what the people of this country need. That is responsible government, and they are not going to get it from his side, even with a change of Prime Minister.

The business of government will continue functioning as the public would expect it to do. I reject the characterisation that the hon. Member makes, and I suspect that the vast majority of the general public in this country would also reject that characterisation.

The Prime Minister should be making the statement in this House, frankly, not anywhere else, so that we could question him about the functioning of government. I think, Mr Speaker, that you would prefer that as well. Let me just ask the Minister this. There are two major crises at the moment: one is the cost of living crisis, which is facing many millions of families; and the other is the situation in Ukraine and across NATO. There is a real possibility that a Government might have to deploy further troops in the next few months, for proper reasons. A caretaker Government cannot do that—it simply cannot: the rules forbid them from doing that. Yet I fear that this Prime Minister—the disgraced, deselected Prime Minister—will be more dangerous in these next three months, if he is allowed to have another three months, than he has been in the last three years. Can the Minister please make sure that we have a proper Government soon—in other words, before the summer recess?

We have a proper Government, and proper government continues. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that he talks about the cost of living and Ukraine, but I have hardly heard him or his hon. Friends speak of those subjects over the past six months. They have mostly been talking about personalities. It is this Government who have been getting on with the business of representing the United Kingdom in international fora and have led the way on Ukraine and, when it comes to dealing with the global cost of living crisis, having been doing that too.

Wow! What was that response to this urgent question? Is the Minister tired of propping up this Prime Minister and defending the indefensible? Minister, where was your letter? Did it get lost with your backbone?

Today, it appears that a number of Bill Committees on issues of the utmost importance will be cancelled—from national security to levelling up, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has raised, and tackling fraud—because there are no Ministers to attend them. The Minister says that the business of the House will continue, but it will not. It obviously is not doing so if Committees are being cancelled. In no other workplace would such crucial work go undone. Can the Minister explain why his Prime Minister and why his party think this is acceptable?

I say to the hon. Lady, as I have said before, that the legislative business of this House is a matter for the Leader of the House of Commons, who holds a Cabinet position and is in place. He is shortly to have his weekly question-and-answer session in this House, and she will be able to take advantage of that.

The Prime Minister has brought his office into disrepute. Our country should not have to put up with it any longer. Will the Prime Minister be leaving No. 10 this weekend?

The Times reports this morning of Downing Street being like a bunker with gallows humour. This is no surprise really, given the Prime Minister’s track record. The Prime Minister is now set on staying in post until after the summer. If this happens, is the Minister concerned about what further damage the Prime Minister will do?

The hon. Member will need to wait for the Prime Minister’s statement later today; I cannot pre-empt what that statement will be.

Away from this place, our constituents are waiting for answers from this Government. My constituents Lisa and Mark Rutherford and Caroline Curry had their precious children taken from them in the Manchester Arena terror attack. Due to archaic legislation, they cannot register their deaths. The Ministry of Justice advised that an answer on a possible change to that legislation was imminent. Given that the Government have collapsed, who will give them an answer and when?

I am very sorry to hear of the appalling bereavement suffered by the hon. Lady’s constituents; it is an unimaginable loss. I would like her to convey my sympathies, and the sympathies of the entire Government, for that. In answer to her question, the functioning of government continues: the civil service supports Ministers in place, Ministers are in place to support the functioning of necessary government, and that will continue.

May I point out to the Minister that we do in fact have functioning government within the United Kingdom: we have a functioning Government in Edinburgh and we have a functioning Government in the Senedd in Cardiff? Where Government does not function across these islands, in Westminster and in Northern Ireland, they have one thing in common: the dead, malign hand of this Tory Government. What possible confidence can the people of these islands—the people who want to stay in this broken Union and the millions of us who do not—have in who is coming next, because they all stood by and watched what this Prime Minister did for six months or more?

It is the Westminster Government who represent this country, and the Union of the United Kingdom will continue apace despite the hon. Gentleman’s opposition to it.

The Minister praises the civil service while planning to cut 91,000 of them. I echo his praise, but they cannot be expected to cover for the lack of Ministers or, for that matter, for the British people’s lack of confidence in this dysfunctional Government. So will he say whether the missing Ministers will be replaced, and does he accept that they are all tainted by the prime Minister’s disgrace and that what is needed is a fresh start?

Ministerial appointments are not a matter for me, but the functioning of government will continue apace.

In 18 minutes I am due to sit on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill Committee, as set out on the Order Paper. The Leader of the House will not have been before the House at that point, there are no Ministers, there is no Secretary of State, and there is a Prime Minister in office but not in government, so can the Paymaster General let me know whether that Committee is going ahead—now in 17 minutes—and when it is due to recommence if it is not going ahead then?

I am unable to answer the hon. Member’s question. The Committees of this House will continue in the normal way of business.

The majority of those who left the Government have referred to the Prime Minister’s lack of integrity, honour, honesty and competence. They surely cannot return to work for such a man, even on a temporary basis. To get a functioning Government, we need a full set of Ministers and we need a swift transition. Will the Paymaster General at least convey that message to No. 10 and to his Cabinet colleagues?

It is up to each individual to decide how best to serve in Government or not, and the functioning of Government can and will continue. Having spoken this morning to the Cabinet Secretary, I can say that there are a multitude of Ministers and a plethora of items on agendas that will continue to be dealt with, with the support of the civil service, as I have said.