Skip to main content

Scrutiny of Secretaries of State in the House of Lords

Volume 747: debated on Wednesday 20 March 2024

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now Adjourn.—(Mike Wood.)

I suppose I ought to begin by wishing my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) a very happy birthday, based on what he was saying about the birthday present he has just received.

Madam Deputy Speaker, as you and other occupants of the Chair often remind us, topical questions are supposed to be short and to the point. But I having been unsuccessful in catching Mr Speaker’s eye during topical questions to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office last week, and following my point of order later that day, he kindly granted this Adjournment debate to explore what would otherwise have been a very short topical question: where is the Foreign Secretary and why is he not answering questions in this House? We now have the opportunity to explore that in a little more detail, and I am grateful to Mr Speaker for that.

We might as well acknowledge at the start that, even though we have more time than might have been expected to explore this issue, I suspect that the Government’s response will be relatively short, and that the Minister will simply suggest that the House must wait patiently for them to publish their response to the Procedure Committee’s recent report on this issue within the usual timescale.

However, that does not change the reality that the appointment of David Cameron as Foreign Secretary in the House of Lords has had immediate and practical consequences for Members of this House, and it raises wider questions about the relationship between the two Houses, the accountability of Ministers more generally, and the kind of precedent that his appointment has set. The Government should be prepared to answer those kinds of questions at any time, and they should certainly have thought some of those things through before the appointment was made. If they are going to smash up conventions by appointing a Foreign Secretary from the Lords, they should not have to hide behind conventions about timescales for responding to Select Committee reports before trying to justify that decision and deal with its consequences.

There are therefore two interlinked themes that it is worth exploring. First are some of the practical implications and consequences relating specifically to the current Foreign Secretary being a member of the House of Lords, but there are also the wider principles involved about how Ministers—especially those who sit in the Lords—are scrutinised by the elected House.

I commend the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. I spoke to him beforehand, and I well understand the issue he brings to the House. There is a clear disconnect between the essence of elected democrats and the scrutiny of Secretaries of State who sit in Cabinet, and moreover the electorate. Does he agree that in order to tackle this issue and ensure that all Secretaries of State are liable to answer to Members of the House of Commons, more must be done to overcome this issue in future and ensure that it does not become a regular occurrence?

I thank the hon. Gentleman—another important parliamentary convention has now been observed with his intervention in the Adjournment debate. I am grateful for and agree very much with the point he makes, and we will look at all that in a bit more detail. Indeed, most of us will be familiar with the context that he started to describe.

The Prime Minister announced on Monday 13 November that David Cameron would be appointed to the House of Lords and would serve as Foreign Secretary. Mr Speaker wrote to the Procedure Committee on 22 November requesting that it explore options for enhanced scrutiny by the House of Commons of senior Ministers in the House of Lords. The Procedure Committee, of which I and some other Members present are members, published its report and recommendations—including the key recommendation that the Foreign Secretary should appear before this House to answer questions—on 17 January 2024. Two months later, we are still waiting for the Government’s response.

As I said in my point of order last week, there have been two sessions of FCDO questions since that report was published, and no sign of the Foreign Secretary. In fact, there have been three sessions of FCDO questions since his appointment, and if the usual rota continues, we can extrapolate that there ought to be another three sessions before the summer recess. FCDO Ministers have responded to 10 urgent questions, including one today, and made eight oral statements since the new Foreign Secretary was appointed. There have been 22 written statements from FCDO Ministers in the Commons, three of which have been on behalf of FCDO Ministers in the Lords, including one in the name of the Foreign Secretary himself. As each question session passes, and as each urgent question is answered or statement made, the accountability gap grows wider, the frustration of Members of this House increases and the absurdity of the situation becomes clearer.

I welcome this debate. As Lord Cameron has agreed, and as has been re-instigated, he is now taking half an hour of questions in the Lords directly to him, not to other Ministers. In the House of Commons we get no minutes and no questions to the Foreign Secretary. That cannot be right for a democratic Chamber, can it?

Absolutely. That is precisely why it is important that we have the opportunity to draw these points to the Government’s attention. Incidentally, I do not know whether he has written it down or said it anywhere, but around the time of his appointment there were indications from Lord Cameron that he would be happy to co-operate with accountability mechanisms, but they do not seem to have been put in place, and I will come back to that.

Accountability is particularly important, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, because we are living through times of significant global turmoil, with perhaps some of the biggest threats to the established rules-based order of peace and security since the second world war. There is no guaranteed or permanent mechanism for Members of this elected House as a whole to directly question and scrutinise the work of the Government’s chief diplomat, their roving ambassador on the world stage, their voice in the corridors of foreign powers: His Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the right hon. David Cameron, Baron Cameron of Chipping Norton.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for bringing forward this debate. Our constituents are writing to us at this time about the challenging situation we see in Gaza, and clearly they want answers from the person who is making decisions. Given the lack of accountability in the system when there could be war crimes being committed—not least by our own country in trading arms—it is absolutely right that we should have the opportunity to scrutinise. Does he believe that we need to ensure that we have a Foreign Secretary who is elected democratically from our country and that they should not be sitting in the House of Lords?

Yes, precisely. The key point is accountability to this elected House, and I will come on to that in more detail. We have been elected to hold the Government to account, and we are being denied that opportunity because of decisions made by the Prime Minister.

Much of this comes down to what the Prime Minister and the Government wanted to achieve by the appointment of David Cameron in the first place. It might have shaken up the world of breaking news and podcast analysis for a few days. It might have signalled some kind of change in direction of the Government’s priorities. It might have calmed the blue wall, even if at the same time it was slightly worrying the red wall. It also sends a strange message to every Conservative Member of this House—perhaps every Member other than the Prime Minister himself—that none of them are good enough or have the necessary skills or experience at this point in time to be the Foreign Secretary. That applies not least to the immediately previous Foreign Secretary. He may have been redeployed to be Home Secretary, but he has still essentially been judged by the Prime Minister not to be the right person for the job.

The end result, as we have already heard in interventions, is woefully inadequate opportunities for Members of the Commons to scrutinise effectively the work of the Foreign Secretary and, by extension, the Foreign Office as a whole. Many of us have a huge amount of respect and regard for the Minister for International Development, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) —not something people will often hear SNP Members say about Conservative Ministers. However, he now has to effectively deputise for the Foreign Secretary in this House, without any additional ministerial support having been provided in the Commons team, as far as I can tell, so by definition he has more to deal with than before. It must stretch him and his team, no matter how deftly and effectively they try to work. No matter how capable any of the Ministers are, none of them can truly answer on behalf of the Foreign Secretary, for the simple reason that they are not the Foreign Secretary. They will not have been in the meetings he has been in, been on the trips he has been on or attended the summits he has attended, so all their answers, all their responses to questions and all their positions outlined in statements are second-hand at best.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), who cannot be here this evening, wrote a powerful letter to the Procedure Committee when it was considering this matter. He highlighted the ongoing situation of his constituent Jagtar Singh Johal, who has been arbitrarily detained by the Government of India for nearly seven years. I have heard from many of my constituents who share those concerns about the treatment of Mr Johal. My hon. Friend’s letter, and his point of order in the House on 10 January, drew attention to what he called the “extraordinary lack of response” from the Foreign Secretary to letters about this case and his frustration about not being able to raise these concerns directly with the Foreign Secretary on the Floor of the House. Such frustrations and concerns were present in other evidence taken by the Procedure Committee and have been heard in other departmental questions, urgent questions, statements, points of order, in Westminster Hall debates and even in interventions right here this evening.

The Procedure Committee considered a range of options and possibilities for enhanced scrutiny of Lords Ministers, particularly the Secretary of State. It looked at previous suggestions of holding question sessions in Westminster Hall or one of the larger Committee Rooms, or convening a special Grand Committee either here in the Chamber or elsewhere, but it came to the conclusion that the simplest and most straightforward way to scrutinise the Foreign Secretary would be for him appear in the Chamber during departmental questions and for any relevant UQs or statements and to answer questions from the Bar of the House.

The Hansard Society suggested in its evidence that there may be some practical and presentational issues with the Foreign Secretary standing, presumably at a lectern, at the Bar of the House while other Ministers continued to answer from the Dispatch Box. I think the word used was “ridiculous”. Perhaps some of us would have some sympathy with that, but it should not be insurmountable. Then there is the question of whether the Lords would need to give permission for one of its Members to appear in the Commons or whether the Commons would need to agree to some kind of resolution to make changes to its Standing Orders. But none of that should be insurmountable. All of these issues, starting with the actual appointment of the Foreign Secretary, are in the gift of the Government.

Ultimately, whether the Foreign Secretary comes to answer questions in this House, like pretty much everything else that happens here, is for the Government to decide. The Government can make it happen or they can choose not to make it happen. By choosing not to do so, they will send a message about exactly what kind of regard they have for this House, for the mandate we have for our constituents and, therefore, for our constituents themselves.

We can recognise that the appointment was not totally without precedent. The Procedure Committee’s report and the very thorough and helpful Library briefing on the subject both list various examples of Ministers and Secretaries of State who have served in the Lords in recent and not-so-recent times, but that does not mean that those situations were not also sub-optimal in how the Ministers were scrutinised and held to account. There have been some attempts to distinguish between Secretaries of State for various Government Departments and those that have been considered great offices of state. However, the concept of a “great office of state” is not written down anywhere, and any Prime Minister at any time could choose to change or divide the responsibilities of the Treasury, Home Office or the FCDO, which not so long ago was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before one of the many former Prime Ministers we have had in recent years merged it with the Department for International Development.

In each case where a Secretary of State has been appointed in the Lords, whether that was Lord Mandelson as Business Secretary or Baroness Morgan as Culture Secretary, the governing party at the time said that it was all fine and there were lines of accountability to the Commons, and the official Opposition at the time were suitably outraged and said it was an appalling state of affairs that would never happen on their watch. That tells us a lot about the interchangeability of the two major parties in UK politics and the imperative of any incumbent Government of whatever colour to maintain the established status quo of constitutional convention and practice.

Perhaps that starts to get us to the broader points of principle at play and the broader question of whether the Government and the Prime Minister, or indeed any past or future UK Governments and Prime Ministers, really care all that much about scrutiny by this House and the role of the Commons more generally. The established principle in this Parliament and the devolved institutions is that the Executive is drawn from, and accountable to and through, the legislature. There are plenty of examples around the world where members of the Executive—the equivalent of Ministers and Secretaries of State—are not drawn from the legislature. In many of those cases, however—we think particularly of the United States—there is an incredibly thorough vetting and approval process. Appointment hearings in the United States Senate can take days or weeks, even for relatively junior appointments.

Closer to home, in Scotland’s Parliament—indeed, we saw it happen today in Wales with the appointment of the new First Minister—the appointment of Scottish Government Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers must be agreed to by Parliament before they are approved by the King. Incidentally, that includes the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General for Scotland, who are not Members of the Scottish Parliament but appear in its Chamber, which is designed to accommodate them, so they can sit or stand and answer questions and be held to account by the elected Members.

A process for approval of Ministers by a vote of the legislature could quite easily be adopted in this Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) tried to introduce something precisely to that end through a ten-minute rule Bill in a previous Session. In some respects it ought to be a formality, because if the Government can command a majority that accepts the Prime Minister’s decisions about ministerial appointments, it should be able get those appointments through. At the very least it would allow some public deliberation and questioning about the wisdom of individual appointments and the relevant experience, suitability, and perhaps outside interests, of Ministers-designate. I am sure that people might have had questions about the Foreign Secretary’s outside interests upon his appointment. Such accountability is not something that a Government confident in their decision making and command of a majority in the House should be afraid of.

There have also been questions about reciprocity: if Ministers who are Lords are to appear before the Commons to take questions, should Ministers who are MPs appear before the Lords? On the face of it that might not seem an entirely unreasonable question, but it comes back to the point about accountability, which is relevant to the intervention from the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). Members of the House of Lords have been appointed to their positions for the rest of their lives by the Prime Minister of the day, or perhaps because they are a bishop in the Church of England or someone’s ancestor. Members of the House of Commons are accountable to their voters. Our constituents make a choice about who should represent them and we make representations on their behalf, not least by asking questions of Ministers—that comes back to the point made by the hon. Member for York Central.

The question of whether the Minister is elected is slightly beside the point. In this debate, I do not expect a response from the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) on behalf of the people in his constituency; I am putting questions on behalf of the people of Glasgow North to the Government, and I expect and look forward to a response from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office. As the hon. Lady said, our constituency inboxes are full of huge issues, none bigger at the moment than the situation in Israel and Gaza and the need for an immediate ceasefire. However, there is no way for any of us to put those views directly to the Foreign Secretary. I have no method of putting that point on the record directly to him, and of receiving a response on behalf of the people of Glasgow North.

That leads us not just to questions about the scrutiny of Lords Ministers by the Commons, but to the role and purpose of the second Chamber, the accountability of unelected parliamentarians, the relationship between both Houses and the relationship between the legislature and the Executive. That goes back to the point that I, and many others, have made before: meaningful reform of the Lords is not possible without meaningful reform of the Commons. Meaningful reform of the Commons would mean the Government—in particular, the Prime Minister—giving up significant powers of patronage, appointment and executive control. Neither of the main parties wants to give that up once it has achieved power.

There is a reason why the Labour party has been promising and failing to deliver meaningful reform of the House of Lords for over 100 years. Giving up the power to directly appoint Members to the House of Lords would be a significant diminution of the Prime Minister’s powers of patronage. Fully or even partially electing the Lords would inevitably challenge the assumed supremacy of the Commons. The first priority of any UK Government on acquiring power is to retain that power; that will not change after the next election, no matter the outcome.

The Minister will tell us all to wait patiently for the Government’s official response to the Procedure Committee’s report, and perhaps even tell us that it will be published soon or before the recess. We can take a pretty good guess at what it will say. If the Government wanted the Foreign Secretary to appear before this House at departmental questions or at any other point, they would have already made arrangements for that to happen.

Constituents in Glasgow North, some of whom were represented by the hon. Member for Rochdale (George Galloway) once upon a time, will look on with confusion, disappointment and increasing disenchantment. The Scottish Parliament is not perfect, but its procedures for scrutiny of Ministers and accessibility to the wider public are light years beyond what is in place in Westminster. Just as there is reason why the Labour party has repeatedly failed to reform the Lords, there is reason why the SNP refuses to take seats in the unelected House.

When Scotland becomes independent, perhaps there will be some kind of second Chamber of Parliament, or a stronger system of participative and deliberative democracy through citizens’ assemblies to explore proposals before the legislature takes them forward. Whatever the shape and form, it will be decided by the people of Scotland, who are and always will be sovereign in Scotland, irrespective of the conventions and traditions of Westminster. A Foreign Secretary in an independent Scotland—certainly one with an SNP Government—would work to uphold peace and human rights around the world, invest in poverty reduction and tackling climate change, and represent a country proud at last to be free of nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

The longer Westminster diverges from that vision, transparency and accountability, and the more Prime Ministers, of whatever flavour from whatever wing of whatever party, think they can avoid scrutiny by elected parliamentarians and appoint their friends, donors and allies to positions of power without consequences, the more the people in Glasgow North and across Scotland will come to realise the difference that we can make and will make with independence.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), my successor as the Member of Parliament for the most educated place in Britain. It was once said that the Glasgow Hillhead constituency had the highest pro rata subscription rate to the New Statesman of any constituency in the land. He showed it in the erudition, albeit on a rather Ruritanian state of affairs, of his contribution. I am grateful to him for securing this debate and for giving me time that might otherwise have been appropriated by him to make this contribution.

“Some chicken, some neck,” Mr Churchill famously said. To paraphrase Mr Churchill, some Secretary of State, some time. This is not comparable to Peter Mandelson being the Business Secretary in the House of Lords; this is a time of great international peril, where foreign affairs is undoubtedly the biggest single item in our inboxes. It must be true: there are millions on the streets. Well, it is certainly true of my inbox. There are millions on the streets about Britain’s foreign policy. There are demonstrations daily and weekly all over the country. People are seized of our role in international affairs. I have never known a time like it—and there cannot be many Members in the House who have participated in more foreign policy issues, from the 1980s until now—when our people are so occupied, and many are preoccupied, by our role in the world.

What I am about to say is in no sense disrespect for the current occupant of the Foreign Secretaryship. Quite the contrary: he is a big improvement on his predecessor, and he is a cut above his likely successor. I do not demur at all from the idea that Lord Cameron is a skilled international diplomat. Our problem, as a country which is forever lecturing other people on the quality of their democracy, is that we now have an unelected head of state, an unelected Prime Minister and an unelected Foreign Secretary, the second most important piece on the Treasury Bench. That is Ruritanian. It is actually rather absurd if you start to consider it.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North was adumbrating the possible outcomes of a lectern being erected just at that white line there. The microphones would need to be adjusted and faced that way instead of towards you, Madam Deputy Speaker. That is ridiculous. If there was a will, there would be a way. The silence from the Government in response to the Procedure Committee’s beseeching of them to find a solution to this situation is eloquent, as such lengthy silences always are.

We have a situation where daily, if not hourly, new and dramatic foreign policy developments are occurring. Just this day, for example, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that the port being built in Gaza with the rubble of the homes destroyed in the bombing, including the skulls and the bones of the people destroyed with the houses and lying unburied under the rubble, is being built for the deportation of millions of Palestinians from the territory—an act of ethnic cleansing of the foulest kind. We would have expected a statement from the Foreign Secretary in the light of such a dramatic development, but statement came there none, and good has come there none. His able deputy—and I share the hon. Gentleman’s feelings for the Minister of State; he is a fine man, and I have known him for a very long time—cannot possibly cope with all this workload as, effectively, Lord Cameron’s deputy in this place, his vicar on earth; but even if he could, he would still not be the Foreign Secretary. We cannot continue to be a democratic country—

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be brief, because it is very unusual for a Member to come in after an Adjournment debate has started and then to intervene. Let me add that it is important for everyone who does intervene to stay until the end of the debate.

Thank you for that strict reminder, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if he or I were to secure an urgent question, the same principle would apply and the Foreign Secretary would not be here?

Indeed, could not be here—for reasons which are what? Are they about architecture? Kindly guide me with your eyebrows as you normally do, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I am going on for too long; I am not entirely sure about the timing of all this.

As a matter of architecture, for a democratic Chamber to be bereft of the presence of its principal diplomat and the country’s principal diplomat, at a time of massive international tension, is completely absurd. On this day in 2003, our country went off to fight the most disastrous war that we have fought for well over 100 years. It was a disastrous decision, but at least it was a decision that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary of the day were ready to, and had to, defend each and every single day. The debates—not many of us who are here now were involved in them, except thee and me, Madam Deputy Speaker—were of the fiercest and most urgent kind. But we may now be on the brink of world war three. Little Macron may be about to march his legionnaires into Odesa, creating the gravest international crisis since the second world war, and we will not be able to question our Foreign Secretary about it. We will have to wait for the morning editions to learn what the Government intend to do.

War in Ukraine, war in Gaza, maybe war against Iran, war in the Red sea, war everywhere; Foreign Secretary, nowhere—nowhere, at least, where he can be questioned by the people in this country who are elected to question him. That is the point, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is our duty to hold Ministers to account, but by definition, in this situation we cannot hold the occupant of this office to account. We talk about great offices of state. At such a time of high tension, there can be no doubt that the second most important office of state in Britain today is that of the Foreign Secretary, but he is outwith our reach. We cannot, as we once did, rub shoulders with him in the Division Lobby; we cannot even see him in the Members’ Tea Room. We cannot bump into him in the Corridor. We cannot in any way impress on him that millions upon millions of our fellow citizens and our constituents have this or that concern or point of view on the great issues of the day. This is untenable, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am seeking to inject some note of urgency and passion into this because it is an untenable situation.

I wish that it had been possible to find one Conservative Member who was capable of being Foreign Secretary. It would have been much easier, and this debate would not be happening, but none of them was up to the job. It is therefore immediately incumbent on the Government to bring forward a solution whereby we are able to look in the eyes of the second most important politician in the state and press upon him the political preoccupations that occupy the concerns of millions of us.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rochdale (George Galloway). I agree with every word he said, and I am not sure that I have ever been in a position to say that.

I rise to make a few observations about the Procedure Committee’s report, which was not an easy one. I do not think that any of us came into this place with the idea that we would willingly invite Members of the House of Lords to come and sit on these green Benches and address us, and I do not think that any of us want to accidentally encourage this Government or future ones to appoint more Secretaries of State in the House of Lords because they can get away with it. Finding a bit of accountability does not make it all right. However, the simple fact is that the Government appointed somebody from the House of Lords as the second most important member of the Government at probably the most dangerous time in the world in my adult lifetime, resulting in a situation whereby we cannot question him or impress our views on him before he goes around the world, and we cannot hear from him about what he has said at all his meetings.

I actually think that the appointment of Lord Cameron was a very good one. He is an incredibly able politician and, from the look of it, he has been working incredibly hard to represent our national interests around the world. I will not criticise the individual who has been appointed, but surely the Government can see that this is not a tolerable situation for the elected House to be placed in.

The Procedure Committee tried to come up with some sort of solution that gave us a bit of accountability, accepting that we could not find a perfect solution. We started with our predecessor Committee’s views on the appointments of Lord Mandelson and Lord Adonis back in 2009. The Committee recommended having question sessions in Westminster Hall every couple of months, but the problem we had with that is that Westminster Hall is not big enough. If Lord Cameron were to appear in Westminster Hall to answer general questions about foreign affairs, or even on a single topic, we might find that substantially more MPs would want to ask questions than could be safely accommodated, which would equally apply to any Committee Room in this place. Then we would have to work out whether we would have balloted questions in advance, which is not generally done in Westminster Hall. We would have to put in place a whole load of arrangements that we have never had before for the relatively short time left of this Parliament.

I hope that Lord Cameron is Foreign Secretary for a long time, which would mean that such arrangements are needed for a lot longer, but if we rule out Westminster Hall and any Committee Rooms, the only thing we are left with is conducting question sessions in the House of Commons Chamber. We did not have general support for the idea of having a Member of the House of Lords sitting on a green Bench and addressing this House from the Dispatch Box, and there is not a great deal of precedent for that. It leaves only the Bar of the House as the place to conduct such sessions. We even talked about the idea of Lord Cameron beaming in from the screen, like President Zelensky did or like Boris Johnson did when he was answering Prime Minister’s questions when he had covid. Not having the Foreign Secretary here, so that we could look him in the white of his eyes, would have been imperfect too.

If we believe that this House should have some level of scrutiny of the Foreign Secretary, there is no alternative to it taking place in this Chamber, and the Procedure Committee came up with the least bad option of that happening at the Bar of the House. We would have no problem with the Government saying, “Let’s have him on that Bench and at the Dispatch Box,” but it would be equally imperfect to have him here for general Foreign Office questions. We could have recommended that he come here for a dedicated half-hour question time, like he does in the House of Lords. The problem is that that would give the one Secretary of State in the House of Lords greater accountability in the House of Commons, because he would answer questions for a whole half an hour a month, whereas any other head of Department probably answers only a handful of questions in their half an hour of question time. We could then have more scrutiny of the Secretary of State in the Commons than in the Lords, which would not be perfect either.

All the options we have are terrible, but this was not the starting point of the Committee or the House; it was the position we were put in by the Government and we were trying to find the least bad way of fixing it. I hope the Minister does not resort to nit-picking about individual ideas. I hope he engages with the general principle that if the Government choose of their own volition to have one of the great offices of state held by someone who is not a Member of the House of Commons, there should be opportunities for the House of Commons to have regular scrutiny of that individual. We should be able to question them on what they are doing and try to impress on them the views of this House, so that they can present them around the world.

Alternatively, should we just leave it and accept that this is the way it has always been, given that Ministers in the Lords do not appear in this Chamber? I think that the balance we need to strike is that if someone of that seniority is dealing with issues of the level of importance we are seeing at the moment, we have to find a way forward in this situation. I have great regard for the Minister for Development and Africa, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), but with the best will in the world, he is not the Foreign Secretary. We need to be able to question the Foreign Secretary on the big issues.

Hopefully the Minister will give us the good news that the Government have come up with a preferred way for this to work, so that we can get on with this rapidly. That is what a modern democratic Parliament has every right to expect. If we are going to have Ministers in senior positions who are not Members of this House, we must find a way of scrutinising them, as is done in nearly every Parliament around the world that appoints Ministers who are not in that Chamber. They find a way to do it. This is not rocket science, and it is not without precedent. We can find a way of doing it, so let’s get on and do it.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) on bringing forward what is a genuinely interesting and surprisingly well-attended Adjournment debate. I think it is the best-attended Adjournment debate I have taken for some time. Were I in mischievous mood, I would gently refer him to the answers that I gave him on 18 November, 29 February and 12 March and resume my place, but alas mischief eludes me and I will give him as full an answer as I can.

Obviously the Government are considering the very good and serious report into this situation from the Procedure Committee. It is not an anomalous situation—it has arisen before—but it is right that we should consider it in a modern light. In the meantime, while we are waiting for the Government’s full consideration, there are a number of ways in which the Foreign Secretary is being held to account by Parliament as a whole. In the House of Lords, he answered questions on 21 November, 5 December, 15 January, 16 January, 13 February, 12 March and 15 March.[Official Report, 18 April 2024; Vol. 748, c. 5WC.] (Correction)

I know that the House of Lords is not a place where the Scottish National party goes to play. As the hon. Gentleman knows, because we have debated this on a number of occasions, I think that is a great shame. I understand that the party’s plans and vision to break up the kingdom failed—with the support of the Scottish people, I am pleased to say. After that juncture, SNP Members would have done well to accept that that was a once-in-a-generation vote and that they were plausibly going to be here for some time if people continued to elect SNP Members to this House. It would therefore have been wise of them to stick a few people in the upper House so that the views of their party and that part of the electorate could be represented in that part of Parliament. They chose not to. Consequently they are now unable to question the Foreign Secretary when he stands to answer questions in the Lords, but that is their prerogative.

The Minister will know that our constituents’ voices will not be heard in the other place, and that it is us who are elected to bring those voices forward. On 17 October, the Foreign Secretary at the time invited all Members of this House over to the Foreign Office to ask questions. Could the Minister explain why the Foreign Secretary has not made himself available, even in an informal way off the record, so that Members of Parliament from the House of Commons can scrutinise him over his decision making?

The hon. Lady will have an opportunity to ask that question of the Foreign Secretary’s colleagues when they next come to the House. I cannot answer the particulars because they pertain to the Foreign Office.

In the meantime, there will be opportunities to ask questions of the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). Although it is true that he is not the Foreign Secretary, he is in the Cabinet and is bound by collective agreement. He sits in discussions at the highest level on all matters relating to foreign affairs, and he has answered questions in this House on 14 November, 21 November, 27 November, 7 December, 11 December, 12 December, 19 December, 8 January, 10 January, 24 January, 26 January, 29 January, 30 January, 21 February, 27 February, 28 February, 12 March and 19 March. Members of this House have had opportunities to ask questions of him—a man who sits in Cabinet and who knows the Foreign Secretary’s mind. I am sure he will be very grateful to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow North about his workload, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend is a very capable individual, as the hon. Member for Rochdale (George Galloway) said, and workload is not a problem from which he suffers.

While we await the Government’s response to the report, it is possible for Members to write to the Foreign Secretary. I know that the hon. Member for Glasgow North has written to him once and, having done so, I assume that he asked all the questions he would like to ask. If he has not, he is welcome to write a second letter.

There is a broader point that I raised with my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) when I was before the Procedure Committee, which is that there is an historical dimension that works with the grain of what the Committee is saying. This issue first arose, as you will probably know from your history lessons, Madam Deputy Speaker, in 1674, when the Commons chose to summon two peers, the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Arlington, to answer questions—the Duke of Buckingham because he was considered to be lascivious, wicked and scandalous in his lifestyle, and the Earl of Arlington because he favoured papists. They were admonished by the Commons and sent on their way.

The response of the Lords was to point out that their House, too, had privileges, and that it is not within the power of the Commons to forcibly summon Members of the House of Lords to the Bar of the House. The Lords passed a Standing Order that said that Members of the House of Lords could not be summoned here.

However, it was still clear that Members of the House of Lords could be invited, and there have been a number of instances in which Members of the House of Lords have been invited to this House and have answered questions. In 1779, the Earl of Balcarres and Earl Cornwallis were brought here to answer questions about the Army’s conduct during the American revolution. In 1805, Lord Melville came to this House at his own request, having been impeached—he asked that the House gave him an audience. Lord Teignmouth was questioned twice about Indian affairs in 1806 and 1813. More famously, the Duke of Wellington came to give an account of the peninsula war in 1814. I raise these points because we are all aware that there have been moments in not-so-recent history when commoners have come to the Bar. The last was in 1957, when Mr Junor was summoned over an issue in the press.

My point is that if the Commons wants to, it is capable of inviting a Member of the Lords to come to answer questions here. To a certain extent, history places the solution at the disposal of the hon. Member for Glasgow North: the Commons could invite the Foreign Secretary now to come to the Bar of the House to answer questions. However, I appreciate the hon. Gentleman is looking for something more routine, and for that I am afraid he will have to wait until the Government respond to the report.

In conclusion, it is right that we have this debate; it is important that there is scrutiny of the Government and of the Cabinet, and that is what this Government seek to provide.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.