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Functioning of Government

Volume 823: debated on Thursday 7 July 2022

Commons Urgent Question

My Lords, with the leave of the House and as I am required to do, I shall repeat as a Statement the Answer given by the Minister for the Cabinet Office to an Urgent Question in the other place. The Answer is as follows:

“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. This is true now more than ever.

The Civil Service is the foundation on which all Governments function. The Civil Service continues to support all government departments, and the country can be assured that this 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 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.”

Of course, my Lords, since that Statement was delivered in the other place, the Prime Minister has now made his statement on his intention to stand down as leader of the Conservative Party. Noble Lords will also have seen that Cabinet appointments have been made.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for doing that. He is quite right that the Prime Minister, in his extraordinary statement, has stood down as the leader of the Conservative Party, but what people across the country just do not understand is how his MPs can be absolutely clear that he is unfit to lead the Conservative Party yet they are prepared to allow him to remain in Downing Street for at least another three months, where he is appointing a new Cabinet and new Ministers and that Cabinet is meeting this afternoon. Boris Johnson has not changed one bit. The qualities that his MPs are now saying make him unfit to govern were there when they voted for him to be Prime Minister.

Does the Minister agree with John Major, who has just written to Sir Graham Brady to say:

“For the overall wellbeing of the country, Mr Johnson should not remain in Downing Street”?

Anyone who listened to the statement in Downing Street would have been quite surprised that the Prime Minister has no concept that he has done anything wrong. He described the decision to remove him as “eccentric”.

With so many of these new Ministers—some of them are old, recycled Ministers—being put into the Cabinet and into ministerial jobs having already described the Prime Minister as untrustworthy and incompetent and having stated that they have no confidence in him, how can such a dysfunctional Government even attempt to govern?

The Minister will be aware that in the other House Bill committees have been cancelled, and in this House, as seen in the Schools Bill, the Procurement Bill and the Delegated Powers Committee report on the protocol Bill—I do not know whether he has yet seen it, but it is devastating—the Government already do not have a grip on legislation. With these new Secretaries of State appointed by the lame duck Prime Minister, what will the impact be on legislation planned for this House—or is it the case that, with the Prime Minister still in Downing Street, and as so many of us fear, there is no real change at all?

My Lords, there is a good old tradition of decency in our country that one does not dance on the grave even of a fallen enemy. The Prime Minister has announced his resignation as leader of the Conservative Party, and appropriate arrangements will be put in place. When the Labour Party forced out Tony Blair without an election, Mr Blair remained while his successor was being put in place. The noble Baroness opposite should know that it is a perfectly normal and proper constitutional arrangement for the Queen’s government to be carried on and for the outgoing Prime Minister to remain until such time as he or she is in a position to recommend a successor to Her Majesty the Queen. Not to proceed in that way would involve Her Majesty the Queen in invidious decisions in relation to who might succeed, which is not something that should happen in this country. The constitutional arrangements which are in place, and have been in place, will be followed. As the Prime Minister said today, as soon as the leadership is determined and the chosen successor is clear, he will resign.

My Lords, of course Her Majesty’s Government need to go on during this moment of very considerable external economic and political difficulty, but does the Minister accept that a great deal now needs to change? I see that the Daily Mail is still attacking any alternative to this Government as a “coalition of chaos”. However, the chaos that this Government have succeeded in creating with a single party seems to make that a very difficult case to put forward.

The relationship between government and Parliament needs to change. The attitude of government to the conventions and constraints of our unwritten constitution needs to change sharply. The relationship between government and the civil servants needs to change. If the noble Lord continues in office—with perhaps a new Minister in the Commons responsible for the constitution—will he insist that constitutional behaviour must absolutely be part of what the next Government do and that some constitutional change is essential to bring back confidence in public life?

My Lords, the Government will continue their work to deliver the programme on which they were elected. We set out our programme for this Session in the gracious Speech. The Government remain in action, and the Leader of the House of Commons has announced a forward programme for business in the other place. The usual channels have announced the programme for this place, and I look forward to day three of the Procurement Bill on Monday in Grand Committee.

My Lords, we are entering an incredibly dangerous period internationally —in fact, we are in it already. In the next two or three months, the threats to our national security and prosperity will be on the verge of existential, so we need steadier government. I agree that there is an obvious need for all politicians and political parties to calm down a bit and allow procedures to fall into place. However, I am genuinely interested in how filling the ministries is going to work. Will the Secretaries of State who resigned get their seals back? Did I get that hint in the Statement? How are details of that kind going to be managed? Will the dismissed Ministers be reinstated, or will there be a new list to replace those who were dismissed? We would like to know, because we need calm government for the next three months of incredible danger.

I do not agree with the tenor of the remarks of my noble friend. The announcements on Cabinet appointments were made this morning, and the list is available. It is not the case that all who were in office before will be returning to office—some may and some may not; this is a matter for the Prime Minister. But the Cabinet posts have been filled already.

My Lords, following up the question of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, surely the transitional process can be quickened up; it is not written in stone that it should last for three months. It must be possible to allow the constituencies to have their say much more quickly—it is very important that they have their say. It is much better to do that than to try to find some substitute figure to come in as an alternative Prime Minister. In any event, we have far too many people playing in this game. Why do we not just quicken up the process?

I think many of us would agree with my noble friend’s sentiments. I have set out the constitutional position which always applies when a Prime Minister resigns—it applied when Mr Cameron went, when Mr Blair went and when Mrs May went. The Prime Minister will continue until a successor is in place. I agree that that should not take too long, and I also agree that the would-be candidates should be examined to some degree. The position in the parliamentary party is a matter for the 1922 Committee, not for me. I believe an announcement will be made shortly. Ditto, as far as the Conservative Party is concerned; I am sure the announcement will be made. In so far as I as an individual have a view, I agree with my noble friend’s sentiments.

My Lords, it is not normal—in fact, it is quite unusual—for a Prime Minister to resign on the back of 50 ministerial resignations that pushed him out. What happens to those Ministers, some of whom have been in office for a day or two only, or have been reappointed? Do they get their full redundancy money?

My Lords, obviously that is covered by statute. So far as I understand it, if the Prime Minister, or a Prime Minister, chose to reappoint a Minister within three weeks, they would not receive a severance payment. In the case of someone who has been there briefly, I believe there is a statutory requirement, but I understand that in the case of the individual concerned—I will correct the record if this is not correct—she has indicated that if she were given money, she would give it to charity.

My Lords, apparently, for weeks, if not months, we will have a half-time Government on full-time pay. Further to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, these resignations were not by virtue of the performance of the Ministers concerned, and nor were they were removed from office because of performance. They chose to resign because of the choice of leader of the Conservative Party. Is it therefore not outrageous that taxpayers will be paying, according to the BBC, up to £420,000 in severance pay? Surely, there is discretion within the regulations to allow this to be offset, simply because it is to do with Conservative Party management and not the performance of government. The taxpayer should not be paying this.

My Lords, there is not a part-time Government; there is a full-time Government, and the work of the Queen’s Government will carry on. Regarding the position on severance pay, some of these Ministers may come back to public office, some may not. There is a statutory position which has applied under successive Governments, and that will be applied according to the law and under the guidance of the Cabinet Secretary.