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Departure of the Previous Home Secretary

Volume 824: debated on Thursday 20 October 2022

Commons Urgent Question

My Lords, the answer to the Urgent Question is as follows:

“I am sure that the right honourable Member is aware that breaches of the Ministerial Code are a matter for the Cabinet Office, not the Home Office, and that is why I, not the Home Secretary, am here to answer the Urgent Question. The Prime Minister took advice from the Cabinet Secretary, as we saw from her letter, and she is clear that it is important that the Ministerial Code is upheld and Cabinet responsibility is respected. The Prime Minister expects Ministers to uphold the highest standards. We have seen her act consistently in that regard.

These were breaches of the code. The Prime Minister expects her Ministers to uphold the Ministerial Code, as the public also rightly expect, and she took the requisite advice from the Cabinet Secretary before taking the decision.

I am mindful that it is not usual policy to comment in detail on such matters, but, if some background would be helpful—I appreciate that much of this is already in the public domain—the documents in question contained draft government policy, which remained subject to Cabinet Committee agreement. Having such documents on a personal email account and sharing them outside of government constituted clear breaches of the code—under sections 2.14 and 2.3, if that is helpful to look at. The Prime Minister is clear that the security of government business is paramount, as is Cabinet responsibility, and Ministers must be held to the highest standards.”

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for repeating the earlier statement about the crisis in government. I had intended to ask a number of questions about the resignation or sacking of the Home Secretary and, indeed, ask whether he could say anything more about the resignation or sacking of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have had one of the shortest-serving Chancellors of the Exchequer in history, the shortest-serving Home Secretary ever and now, as we were sitting in the Chamber waiting for the statement, the Prime Minister has announced her resignation.

What an utter shambles this Government are. Crisis after crisis is heaped on this Government and yet, who is paying the price for that? It is the people of this country, who are seeing food prices go up and increased fuel bills, and they do not know what is happening to their mortgage payments. The Government think the answer to all this is to reshuffle the deck chairs on the “Titanic”. Perhaps the noble Earl is answering questions today because he is the only member of the Government left. This is not a game of pass the parcel, whereby the office of Prime Minister is in the personal gift of the Conservative Party, which can keep passing it on like it is Buggins’s turn. That is not how it works.

I said yesterday at the Dispatch Box on another issue that the Prime Minister’s job is one of the most important in the country. It is a job that brings enormous responsibility, particularly when the country is in such a state. This Government now have no mandate to govern. Replacing the top person with another top person who has been around the Cabinet table for all the years that have led to this crisis will not address it. The next Prime Minister who serves this country needs to have the consent of the British people. It is a straightforward issue: no Government should be able to govern without consent.

This morning I did an interview on BBC Essex with a very articulate and distressed member of the Conservative Party and a Liberal Democrat. The lady from the Conservative Party came on to defend the Government and say that there should not be a general election. She had changed her mind overnight after the shenanigans in the other place. So, there are a number of questions to be asked about the resignation of the Home Secretary, but there is a greater and more fundamental question that the Government need to address as a matter of urgency. There is no mandate for this Government any longer. It is not just a case of taking one person from the top and putting in someone else. Each time we have seen the change, there has been a fundamental shift in policy. This is not what the people of this country voted for. It is time for the Government to seek a mandate, move over and let somebody else run the country who can do it better.

My Lords, I note what the noble Baroness has to say on various issues that are not really relevant to this exact Urgent Question. She mentioned the situation relating to the former Home Secretary and the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. The fact is that it was clear that there was a breach in Cabinet confidentiality and a breach of the Ministerial Code. This was accepted by my right honourable friend the former Home Secretary, who immediately resigned. As far as my right honourable friend the former Chancellor of the Exchequer is concerned, as noble Lords know, the Prime Minister can request a resignation for any number of reasons. Details of the former Chancellor’s resignation were shared in the exchange of letters last Friday. These are different cases with different causes.

My Lords, it is blindingly obvious from the former Home Secretary’s resignation letter that the underlying reasons for her departure from the Government were fundamental disagreements within Cabinet on fundamental policy issues. How can the Conservative Party continue when even members of the Cabinet are fighting each other? Now that two Prime Ministers have resigned, how can this Government continue to treat the electorate with contempt by refusing to call a general election? When will Conservative MPs do their patriotic duty, put country before party and trigger a general election?

My Lords, I am afraid I will make the same comment that I made in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, on the relevance of that to the Urgent Question but I note what the noble Lord has said.

My Lords, first, I agree with everything that my noble friend the shadow Leader of the House said. Secondly, although it is water under the bridge, if I may ask about the actual Statement, I understand the point made that there was a breach of the Ministerial Code but can the noble Earl tell the House exactly how this came to light?

My Lords, as I understand the situation, my right honourable friend the former Home Secretary shared a document with somebody outside government and realised her error. I also understand that another individual was copied in on her email and brought it to the attention of the powers that be.

My Lords, can my noble friend assure me that there will be a full Statement in your Lordships’ House on Monday? I feel very sorry for him. He is not in a position to give details and always behaves with impeccable courtesy to the House. But we need a full a Statement on Monday, coupled with an assurance that the choice of the leader of the Conservative Party in another place will be taken by the Members of the other place and nobody else. The absurd election procedure we went through recently did infinite damage to the country and to the reputation of democracy in general. It is important that this is resolved; it is then of course up to the new Prime Minister to take into account the points made from the Opposition Benches this afternoon.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Cormack asks whether a Statement could be made on Monday. Of course, I cannot promise that. I am sure that if there is anything that the House is required to be aware of at some stage, it will be informed of such. I will pass on those comments to my noble friend the Chief Whip. My noble friend also talked about the election of a new leader of the Conservative Party; that is, of course, up to others and is more of an internal matter.

My Lords, if a Prime Minister resigns on a Thursday afternoon, why does this House have to wait until Monday for a Statement from the Dispatch Box? Who is running this ship for the next three days?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Snape, asks who is running the ship. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister stays in post as Prime Minister at present and the House will be made aware of any information that it should be made aware of in due time.

My Lords, to be politically neutral, I have a question of a different kind. I do not want to diminish what has been said, but we are going to have a new Prime Minister and then another, and then maybe an election and another Prime Minister. There could be a whole series of Prime Ministers. Can we go back to the question of the Ministerial Code and take this opportunity to have a look at the extent to which the Prime Minister of the day is in charge of that code and its enforcement?

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for his comments. He makes some very valid points and I will of course pass them on to the relevant Minister in the Cabinet Office.

My Lords, perhaps I may ask two brief questions. First, and this is directed not just to the Minister but to members of his party, if they have not done so, will they consider looking at the video of Sir Charles Walker, which is on BBC News at the moment, talking about the current state of his party and some of the people who have risen well above their pay grade? Perhaps they might look at it and consider it carefully. Secondly, may I have some advice? I am coming in tomorrow morning as part of a “Learn with the Lords” session to speak to no fewer than four schools. I would be grateful for any suggestions as to the sort of answers I might give to some of the questions I might receive.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell, has been in the House for some years. He will be very much aware of the great work their Lordships do on the scrutiny of legislation, debating issues and holding the Executive to account. So I will not be able to tell the noble Lord how he should respond to this group of schoolchildren but I am sure he will do it very well.

As for the matter relating to my honourable friend Sir Charles Walker, I am sure many people have viewed that video because I think it is on social media.