Parliament Matters – What if they gave a coup and nobody came? The Tory leadership soap opera continued (Episode 17)

26 Jan 2024
Aeroplane at Heathrow Airport. ©Unsplash

The Conservatives are on course for a shattering defeat and need to replace their leader again, says Sir Simon Clarke MP. We discuss the latest in the Conservative Party soap opera and what it means for parliamentary business ahead.

Peers have voted not to ratify the UK-Rwanda treaty. At least they got a choice. The Commons Home Affairs Committee wants MPs to have a similar debate and vote, but the Government is refusing. We talk to former parliamentary lawyer Alex Horne about what is going on and what changes he thinks are needed to improve scrutiny of treaties by Parliament.

And Mark catches up with Dame Karen Bradley, Chair of the Commons Procedure Committee. With a growing number of international hot-spots in danger of fizzing out of control, Dame Karen’s Committee has proposed the Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, should come to the bar of the House of Commons to answer questions from MPs. But how will this work in practice?

Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a Quaker trust which engages in philanthropy and supports work on democratic accountability.

Parliament Matter Episode 17

Please note, this transcript is automatically generated. There are consequently minor errors and the text is not formatted according to our style guide. If you wish to reference or cite the transcript copy below, please first check against the audio version above. Timestamps are provided above each paragraph.

00:00:00:00 - 00:00:29:16

You are listening to Parliament Matters, a Hansard Society production, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn more at Welcome to Parliament Matters, the podcast about the institution at the heart of our democracy, Parliament itself. I’m Ruth Fox. And I'm Mark D’Arcy. Coming up. The Conservatives are on course for a shattering defeat. That's not my opinion, but a Conservative MP.

00:00:29:16 - 00:00:48:23

Simon Clarke, who's been on what now looks like a kamikaze mission this week to persuade his colleagues to dump the Prime Minister Regency C not in favour of an alternative new leader not yet identified. You can deliver a better election result. We'll be discussing what on earth is going on in the latest instalment of the Conservative Party soap opera and what it means for Parliament in the weeks ahead.

00:00:49:00 - 00:01:08:20

Meanwhile, plenty of action around the room during the Government's plan to remove migrants there. This week. Peers have voted against ratifying the rule and a treaty that underpins the whole effort. And next week the Bill that will legalise deportation insist that Rwanda is a safe country to send people to head for its rendezvous with peers in the second reading debate.

00:01:09:00 - 00:01:30:07

We'll be talking to International law expert Alex Horne about what might happen next. And it's a time of great international tensions. I want to hear from the foreign secretary, David Cameron, about the state of the world, the developments in Ukraine, in the Middle East, but he's now in the House of Lords. So the House of Commons Procedure Committee proposed this week that he should come to the bar of the House of Commons to answer these questions.

00:01:30:09 - 00:01:50:11

I submitted evidence on behalf of the Hansard Society to the inquiry saying that this would risk the House of Commons looking ridiculous. So the plan was to mark and like to head out of the studio to Westminster to interview Dame Karen Bradley, chair of the Committee, about why her members think this is a good idea and what now needs to happen if we're ever to see David Cameron back in the Commons answering questions.

00:01:50:13 - 00:02:06:22

Mark made it to the interview. But this is Britain in January 2024 and I spent my time fuming on a delayed train.

00:02:06:24 - 00:02:39:23

You weren't the only person fuming in Westminster this week, though, Ruth. There has been considerable angst amongst Conservative MPs after an intervention by the former cabinet minister Simon Clarke. He appeared in the Daily Telegraph, complete with data from a new set of polling saying that the Conservative Party was doomed unless it changed its leader removed Rishi Sunak and replaced him with an inverted commas true conservative, And this paragon would then be able, with a mere flip of the rest, to solve the problems of the NHS, stem the flow of immigration, legal and illegal, and also cut taxes.

00:02:40:00 - 00:03:13:00

Exactly who this miracle worker is actually going to be remained unsaid. Some strange combination, one imagines of John F Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Queen Elizabeth. The first, perhaps. Who knows? But anyway, the end result of this was much fury amongst Conservative MPs, often expressed in words that really can't be repeated on a family podcast. The criticism against what's happened this week is that the Conservatives lost just look completely self-indulgent, focussed on their own internal problems and not focussed on the issues that are sort of facing the country.

00:03:13:00 - 00:03:27:03

The big challenges and that's been the critique of a lot of the Conservative MPs, both ministers and backbenchers, in terms of what they've been saying in response to Simon Clarke. He's noticeably dropped below the radar. I mean, I don't know quite what the plan was here and how many supporters he thought he might have when he went over the top.

00:03:27:03 - 00:03:44:20

But they rapidly disappeared from view and none of the sort of big beats on the conservative right and the sort of the trusts that it was thought perhaps would be backing him. There was no evidence of support for him. No, no heads popping up out of foxholes, no start opening fire and giving covering fire in his attack on Rishi Sunak.

00:03:44:20 - 00:04:06:21

So at the moment this one is fizzled, but it's not going away because the underlying irritants and the thing that's got Conservative MPs wobbling is the prospect that more than half of them may well lose their jobs when there's finally a general election this year. Of course, Simon Clarke is one of those and hence why he's saying, look, we're facing the iceberg and nobody, nobody likes people warning about this, but he is on course to lose his seat.

00:04:06:23 - 00:04:22:12

He's a red wall seat holder. His Middlesbrough seat is one of those that Labour would have to win if Labour was going to form a government. So he's right there in the firing line and I suspect that his thought is that if I'm going to lose my seat anyway, what have I got to lose by agitating for a change in leader?

00:04:22:13 - 00:04:56:22

Roll the dice and maybe they would succeed in getting a complete change in the political mood. Find some magical figure who could actually transform the Conservative Party position because it's quite hard to see how that happens. But you keep coming back. I think, though, to the horrible level of the polls from a conservative point of view at this stage of the parliament before Tony Blair was elected, in the run up to that 1997 landslide, the Conservatives were polling at around 30%, most in most polls, give or take a couple of percent here or there in this Parliament.

00:04:57:00 - 00:05:19:09

In the run up to this election, the Conservatives are polling in the low twenties. There's even one showing Labour had a 27% lead while the Conservatives were polling at 20. So the Labour lead was bigger than the total of the Conservative share of the vote. And that's terrifying If you're a Conservative MP, you can see not just the traditional marginals, the red wall seats that they took from Labour last time falling.

00:05:19:09 - 00:05:40:11

You can see seats that have probably been blue for most of their history, changing colour at those kind of polling levels. That madness meltdown that is awful for them. So it's not entirely surprising that the Conservative Party is really boiling. But you come back to the point you were making at the beginning. This is all very well. You know, the problem is it is very straightforward to identify, but what's the solution?

00:05:40:11 - 00:06:04:16

Who is this sort of paragon candidate that is going to be able to take over the government? You know, we would be a false prime minister in this parliament. Take on Keir Starmer, go straight fairly quickly, want to seems into into an election. Who is this person as yet unidentified people like Simon Clarke think is going to be able to restore the Conservatives to a degree of popularity, or at least to stem the tide compared to Rishi Sunak.

00:06:04:17 - 00:06:26:12

And that just seems completely unclear. Conservative MP can point to two figures who are not in the House of Commons. It's no use at all, which is no use at all. Who might have they chosen to stay, have been able to change things a bit. One of them is Boris Johnson. Suppose Boris Johnson had been prepared to fight a by election after the recall petition against him in his old Oxbridge seat.

00:06:26:14 - 00:06:47:10

The Conservatives did in the end hold that seat. It was quite a shock to Labour at the time. You'll remember if Boris Johnson had managed to hold that seat and that election might have been rather different if it was all about him and the finding against him, that in light of the comments, but tabling that if Boris Johnson had held that seat, he'd still be in Parliament now and he'd be in a position to kind of come down the hill and assume or reassume the premiership.

00:06:47:16 - 00:07:13:05

So he's one possibility that they haven't got available to them. Another actually that's been suggested to me is George Osborne. If George Osborne had decided to stay in Parliament when the Cameron government fell and Theresa may took over, if George Osborne had been there now, he might have been a choice. You know, if you want a technocratic prime minister who's been a chancellor of the Exchequer to take over the reins of government, surely George Osborne would a Trump.

00:07:13:05 - 00:07:27:04

Rishi Sunak Well, you got a choice that you got competence on the part of George Osborne. And whether you agree with these policies, I think most people accept that he was sort of technically competences. As an MP and a minister, I don't think people would necessarily say the same about Boris Johnson, but you've got you've got quite a popularity.

00:07:27:09 - 00:07:46:12

George Osborne got booed at the Olympics, for goodness sake. I mean, this is the man who's most associated with austerity. The political context in 2024 is not the same as 2019. Boris was up against Jeremy Corbyn deeply unpopular. You know, we've had party gate perceptions of Boris and what went on are not the same as they were a few years ago.

00:07:46:14 - 00:08:08:22

And I think really, if popularity and support is your problem in the red wall, I'm not. I'm struggling to see how even George Osborne is a solution to that. But at the end of the day, these are all just completely politics. Yeah, yeah, they're not in Parliament. It needs to be somebody who is in the House of Commons and until they find that, then as you say, it's fantasy politics.

00:08:08:22 - 00:08:40:13

And this has all the the polls are a sort of reflection of sort of 1996, 97. But the internal politics and the governing party have all the air of 2000, nine, ten in Labour. yes. And Gordon Brown there. I mean, this is Simon Clarke. It has all the senses, the Geoff Hoon and Pat Hibbert effort to unseat Gordon Brown in favour of I think it was David Miliband that literally spoke to a Labour MP who remembers those days and was saying exactly that to me, that at the time the Gordon Brown government just couldn't find a way to get on the front foot.

00:08:40:13 - 00:09:01:03

Events kept derailing it, things kept going wrong, the internal coups against it. There were several, if you remember, failing, but each time they put another dent in the credibility of his government and this Labour MP said in the end, and this is almost the worst thing for the Conservatives, he was beginning to feel a bit sorry for them because he knew what that was like.

00:09:01:04 - 00:09:23:14

Fatal, absolutely fatal. When people start looking rather pitying, look at the worst case scenario. Well, we'll have to see what happens in the coming days. Watch out for the by election results. Watch out for the reception of Jeremy Hunt's next budget, because those are the inflection points where something might make a difference, for better or worse, for the government we're talking about by elections.

00:09:23:14 - 00:09:43:13

There's an interesting development in Rochdale. So we talked last week about the sudden death of Tony Lloyd, the Labour MP who held the seat. Labour's moving pretty quickly to get the candidate in place for a by election and a really interesting development that Palwal political commentator for the online newspaper. He comes from Rochdale, so he's that local candidate.

00:09:43:13 - 00:10:00:02

But Michael Crick, we had on the programme a few weeks ago saying that so many of this elections are about local candidates. Paul's from Rochdale. He's thrown his hat in the ring to be a candidate. And we'll hear in the next few days whether he whether he gets it. Yeah, it's a paraphrase of the song. It's Hard to be a baby journalist in Rochdale.

00:10:00:04 - 00:10:17:19

Yeah, I do wonder about this. I mean, you remember Ian dumped who we had on the poll recently, was talking about. I asked him, would you go for a seat in Parliament? He said, No, I want to be a journalist. And I think it's dangerous to have crossover between journalism and politics, where people move effortlessly from one to the other.

00:10:17:21 - 00:10:42:14

And I do think there's an issue here for Paul. I mean, he's a much respected journalist. I've dealt with him myself on many occasions. He knows his staff. He's a very effective operator in the Westminster press environment. But once you declare colours, I don't see how it's that easy for you to go back. And, you know, if he didn't get selected for this job, could he then go back to the eye and resume his job as chief political commentator, where anyone is thinking to themselves, Well, hang on a minute, you want to be a Labour MP?

00:10:42:16 - 00:11:02:17

So there's that difficulty. I suspect he may have a pretty good feeling that he's going to get that nomination so that problems not going to arise. But the second thing is that when people do this switch from journalism to politics, it does make people re-evaluate what you've said as a journalist and start looking for moments when maybe you were subtly throwing over the other side.

00:11:02:19 - 00:11:23:02

So be very, very careful. As a journo, I just feel uncomfortable with people moving between these twin worlds. The interesting thing that if he does get it, I mean, his colleagues in the in the press gallery are going to have him in my sights. The press pack enjoys having a go at one of their own because he's gone off the reservation.

00:11:23:04 - 00:11:41:21

And I do share some of the reservations you have. But I also kind of slightly admire it because it is a huge leap and as you say, it could fundamentally alter his career now and he doesn't get it, but he's basically said, I want to go from the observer to actor. I feel I can do something on behalf of the community that I come from.

00:11:41:21 - 00:12:04:20

And I was a huge Rochdale Football Club fan and tends lots of our games. So I did kind of admire it because somebody who has watched Parliament watch politics for so long as he has, it's easy to become cynical, easy to look at all the problems and criticise the players in the arena, the politicians, the MPs to decide that actually you're going to take that leap of faith in the hope that you might get this election.

00:12:04:20 - 00:12:41:16

I kind of slightly up my right and if it does get to be a Labour MP, I imagine he'd be going places. Yeah, well one of the other big events this week was the latest incarnation of a piece of legislation that keeps popping up every few months. The Northern Ireland Executive Formation bill. This is a kind of legal mechanism for postponing holding elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is supposed to happen if the Assembly isn't functional, if one of the parties is blocking its function as in this case, by refusing to help elect a speaker and the Northern Ireland Assembly has been paralysed for quite a while now, which means that all sorts of

00:12:41:16 - 00:13:12:01

issues that it should have been grappling with about the Government of Northern Ireland haven't been dealt with. There were problems with its health service. There are public service strikes in Northern Ireland. There's all kinds of things that in the course of normal politics they'd be getting to grips with and once again, they're postponing those elections for another few weeks in the hope that the rolling crisis in Northern Ireland politics, which centres on the DUP, the main Protestant party, and Northern Ireland's objections to there being a sort of semi border across the Irish Sea in the hopes that somehow that can be resolved.

00:13:12:03 - 00:13:47:17

There was quite a passionate debate this week in the Commons about all this. Ruth Yeah, passionate on the part of the DUP leader. Jeffrey Donaldson. It was interesting, a number of the journalists who covered Northern Ireland regularly said they've never seen a speech like that from him. But what was shocking and perhaps wouldn't be so shocking for people in Northern Ireland, but certainly sitting in London where I was, it's shocking and it brings home to you the pressures of those who are politicians in Northern Ireland is Jeffrey Donaldson talks about the fact that he had been threatened by loyalists who are clearly concerned that the negotiations going on with the government, that the DUP leader

00:13:47:17 - 00:14:17:15

might be coming under pressure to go back into Stormont to get the Northern Ireland Assembly running again before they get what they want, which is an end to these checks on goods travelling between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland as a result of the deal. That was a Northern Ireland protocol. Yeah, and of the Windsor Agreement amendment to that, that was done by the Government and to hear a MP say I've been effectively threatened by loyalist paramilitaries was very shocking.

00:14:17:17 - 00:14:36:24

What was interesting was the degree of solidarity in the chamber with him and for him and really good speech by the SDLP, the Social Democratic and Labour Party leader in Northern Ireland, Calum Eastwood, who says, Look, I don't agree with Jeffrey Donaldson on much. In fact, he drives me mad, he says at one point in his speech. But I accept that he comes from a point of principle.

00:14:36:24 - 00:15:01:02

I accept that he believes in what he's arguing for and these loyalists who are threatening him are not. He uses the phrase they're not fit to lace his boots, ever. So it was a really interesting, you know, across the political divide within Northern Ireland, which can obviously be very, very difficult and contentious. It was an interesting moment of politicians who face threats in different ways on a regular basis, just building certain solidarity, doesn't it?

00:15:01:08 - 00:15:21:07

And columnist would make the point that it's important for politicians throughout the House to stand in solidarity with Jeffrey Donaldson, even if you don't agree with him. But actually for the democratic process, there is something bigger at stake here, and it's very heartening to hear that said, across the party divide in Northern Ireland, it seems incredibly important to me that that should be said.

00:15:21:13 - 00:15:47:04

I don't have a vast amount of knowledge and understanding of Northern Ireland politics. I would dread attempting to make any kind of pronouncements about where it's going. But what I think I can say is that the longer the Northern Ireland Assembly isn't there, the greater the temptation is for people in the Commons to start doing things to Northern Ireland, legislation to intervene in policy issues and these executive formation bills have been used as a vehicle for.

00:15:47:04 - 00:16:11:14

That's one of the reasons that abortion services are now available in Northern Ireland, is because amendments were made to a previous version of one of these bills. So there's an intensifying temptation, if you like, for British politicians to intervene in the affairs of Northern Ireland. And more than that, there's a huge amount of pressure now, I think, on the Northern Ireland Secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, to start trying to solve some of the problems that are really beginning to fester in Northern Ireland.

00:16:11:19 - 00:16:32:05

Yeah, absolutely. So picking up this sort of EU related tension again, there's an interesting report come out this week on the Government's programme, an update on the Government's program to reform retained EU law, which in fact now we actually, from the 1st of January should be calling assimilated law, but we got used to calling it retained EU law or rule for short.

00:16:32:07 - 00:16:52:02

You remember last year there was a very contentious bill retained EU Law Revocation and Reform Act, which in its initial incarnation under Jacob Rees-Mogg as the Secretary of State, the plan was to revoke all retained EU law on the statute book, end of it away at a stroke. Yes, or all of it. Thousands of pieces of it can debate.

00:16:52:02 - 00:17:15:00

Not when she took over as Secretary of State saw sense and was quite pragmatic about this. She's a you know, she's a Brexiteer as well, but a more pragmatic approach. And she said, no, we can't do that because we don't know exactly how much of this law there is, where it is. And the legal and policy risks of sweeping it all away without truly understanding the consequences that would flow from that is too great.

00:17:15:00 - 00:17:35:12

So we're going to get rid of some laws that we know we can do without, but we then going to have a regulatory reform programme look at this, this body of legislation and then decide over a longer period what to do with it. So they had to sort of sift through it case by case rather than just assume that it was also vexatious nonsense that could actually just be swept away in a single movement.

00:17:35:13 - 00:18:03:24

Yeah, and the government agreed to an amendment to put in statutory reporting requirements every six months. Now, this was actually something that I'd recommended when I gave evidence to the public Bill committee in the House of Commons on this bill at the the early stages of the of its scrutiny before committee not came in because I understood Jacob Rees-Mogg's argument, the bureaucratic inertia would mean in Whitehall that they'd never get this review and reform of the legislation done.

00:18:04:04 - 00:18:24:09

Civil servants would always have other priorities but just wouldn't make progress. So one of the things I suggested and others picked up is that you put these sort of reporting lines into the process every few months so that departments, the government as a whole has to report to Parliament on the progress that they're making. And that sort of provides a bit of external pressure on Whitehall to get things done.

00:18:24:11 - 00:18:44:16

So an amendment was eventually brought forward in the Lords for this and the Government produced its report this week. Right up against the deadline is the last day. Statutorily they could do it to write the publication and I think it's fair to say it's gone down like a lead balloon with the European Scrutiny Committee in the House of Commons, which is the committee that's assigned to scrutinise this.

00:18:44:18 - 00:19:05:06

And this is where another character enters our drama in the shape of the patriarch of Euroscepticism, Sir Bill Cash, who chairs the European Scrutiny Select Committee, who is, to put it mildly, not amused. He's not impressed. So within about 48 hours of this report coming out, there was a five page letter had been sent off to. He made not only five, only five.

00:19:05:12 - 00:19:25:05

I think it was I think it was five. And he basically demanding that she appear before his committee before Easter to discuss this. And he basically says, we read the report with deep concern. He's concerned about the lack of ambition as he sees it. He's concerned about the lack of resourcing to get behind this in order to get the benefits, as he sees it, of Brexit.

00:19:25:05 - 00:19:57:12

He talks about it being a technical rather than a substantive policy review process. So that's going to be potentially another round in that committee because her previous appearances before that committee been pretty robust in standing up to them about the pragmatic nature of this process, the need to take take this review process quite seriously. And it used to be said again that he would cross the street to have a fight I think can be bad knocks very much in the same mould and I don't think she's necessarily going to take too kindly to being hacked.

00:19:57:12 - 00:20:22:15

Advisor Bill Cash about this. So it could be quite an entertaining parliamentary occasion, this one. But the interesting thing is it goes back to the madness of the initial proposal and why I think she was both brave and right to change the Government's approach is the government provided a dashboard of all this, retained EU law now called Assimilated Law, and they've discovered, according to this latest report, another 1700 pieces.

00:20:22:17 - 00:20:55:14

So, you know, she's down the back of a cushion on the sofa. Yeah. So so that that expands the scope of what they're going to have to look at more resourcing required. But it rather proves the point that the initial plan was bonkers. There's also the thought that this could well turn into a factor in any future conservative leadership contest can be Badenoch is distinctly likely to be a contestant if there's a post-election leadership contest for the party and having sort of blasphemed against the central tenet of the hard Brexiteers faith that all this stuff is meaningless and can just be swept away could cost her then.

00:20:55:16 - 00:21:15:19

Yeah. And it goes to the heart of the debate about the pace of divergence from from the EU. Another thing, Mark, just just to talk about, I think what's really interesting this week and quite rare was there was a a bill went in to select committee, the Holocaust Memorial bill. It's a hybrid bill. It deals with what's called public and private interests.

00:21:15:21 - 00:21:36:16

But it's a it's an intriguing and little known element of parliamentary procedure in which the public have an opportunity to make representations to parliament during the passage of the legislation that affects their interests. And the reason I'm raising it is because it was it's an important proposal to build a Holocaust memorial and learning Centre in Victoria, Tower Gardens right next to Parliament.

00:21:36:18 - 00:22:11:20

But a lot of opponents of the bill are from the Jewish community and this week we saw people giving evidence who had been in the Holocaust, people who had been held in Auschwitz and Terezin. That and a number of them described the proposals as idiotic. The idea of putting a Holocaust memorial centre in Victoria Gardens was that people kind of come out of it and immediately see the buildings of Parliament in front of them and think to themselves that democracy is a safeguard against genocide, that democracies don't do genocides, and that therefore there's a really important symbolic linkage there.

00:22:12:01 - 00:22:29:14

But the problem is it's a very small site. You can't get a really large, substantial education centre there, even if half of it's underground, which it will be. So it's an extremely difficult proposal to realise physically and there are a lot of people who argue that maybe it's the right idea in the wrong place and you need a different site with more room for expansion.

00:22:29:19 - 00:22:46:16

Perhaps incorporating the Museum of Jewish History. So there's a lot of controversy around this and there's definitely a lot of heat as well. Yeah, this sort of emotional reaction, this sense of, you know, it's not going to be big enough to be a truly effective learning centre, but it's going to be so big for the site that it's going to overwhelm everything else in there.

00:22:46:22 - 00:23:07:23

And in Victoria Tower Gardens you have the Boxster Memorial, which is a memorial to the anti-slavery campaign and the feeling that that sort of getting pushed aside and there's arguments about security, is this going to give rise to more security problems for the Westminster area, particularly in the current context? So concerns have been raised about that as concerns about government overriding the planning process.

00:23:08:04 - 00:23:32:13

So it's a really interesting bill to keep an eye on. But the evidence this week was just you know, it was but it was both emotional and powerful. You know, there was a parliamentary first this week when the House of Lords voted that the government should not ratify the Rwanda Treaty, the treaty that underpins it scheme to deport migrants to Rwanda as a deterrent to people coming over to this country in the first place on those small boats.

00:23:32:15 - 00:23:56:09

The laws haven't done anything like that before and it's based on a recommended action from their International Agreements Committee. But much more needs to be done to check that Rwanda is indeed a safe place for migrants to be sent, and that in turn mainlines into the forthcoming Rwanda bill due for its second reading debate in the Lords on Monday, which is the bill that will authorise the whole process of those deportations and removals.

00:23:56:11 - 00:24:18:14

And the key point of the bill is that it declares Rwanda to be a safe country as a matter of law, and that point can't be appealed against and therefore it's much easier in theory to stop the courts stopping migrants being sent there. Well, with me to discuss all the implications of this, Alex Horne, who's just written a report for the Centre for Inclusive Trade Policy at Sussex University about the whole treaty process.

00:24:18:16 - 00:24:43:04

Alex, what did you make? First of all, the International Agreements committees report on this, that the recommendation that this treaty should not yet be ratified. The report was both very comprehensive but also rather clever, because what we actually saw in the report was the committee listing out the commitments that this treaty was meant to include to make sure that people who were sent to Rwanda were treated fairly and in line with the law.

00:24:43:06 - 00:25:07:17

And all of that was designed to meet the concerns expressed by the Supreme Court back in November. And what the report suggested was that the government should not ratify the treaty until those safeguards are in place. So it didn't say, well, you shouldn't ratify it all. It wasn't being obstructionist in that way. It was basically saying these are safeguards that you, the government have said are necessary so you can keep your own promises.

00:25:07:18 - 00:25:30:06

This. Yes, exactly. So. And the government was obviously very resistant to this, but it's probably not the most sensible approach on that part, I think. And it's also a very unusual thing, though I don't think there's ever been a case before where the House of Lords has said a treaty shouldn't be ratified. The House of Lords has no formal powers to stop a treaty being ratified for a start, but it's never said before to a government, don't ratify this treaty.

00:25:30:11 - 00:25:51:20

That's right. I mean, the legislation we're talking about, the Constitution, the Reform and Governance Act, gives powers to both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Commons has theoretical powers to delay the ratification of the treaty. Very theoretical indeed. So the House of Lords can also passed a motion not to ratify under the legislation, but the Government isn't bound by that.

00:25:51:20 - 00:26:09:15

It merely has to give reasons to the House of Lords as to why it is going to ratify the treaty in any event. Another interesting aspect of this, Alex, is that the House of Commons is being denied the opportunity by the Government to do what the House of Lords has just done, which is to debate the treaty. So the Home Affairs Select Committee reported on it.

00:26:09:15 - 00:26:32:23

It said to the Government, We'd like you to make time so that MSPs can discuss it. The government say no. Yes, exactly right. And I think that's very shortsighted of the government for two reasons. First, it essentially had an opportunity, given the majority that it has in the House of Commons, to simply have a vote there and then go back to the Lords and say, well, the Commons are entirely happy with this treaty and say you should give way.

00:26:33:00 - 00:27:01:12

By not doing that, I suspect that it will give the Lords further reasons to object to both the ratification of the Treaty and the Bill next week. The second reason is that it shows up to everybody the weaknesses of the treaty scrutiny system more generally. If the ACT says that the House of Commons ought to have a power to delay ratification of a treaty, but the government of the day is able to make that discretionary, it really means that it's completely toothless.

00:27:01:14 - 00:27:20:05

And this, of course, is because the government controls the order paper, the agenda of the House of Commons in the way that it doesn't in the Lords. That's exactly right. And so although there's this power on the statute book, there's no obvious way in which it can be exercised unless the official opposition happened to have a day in which they can specifically hold a debate.

00:27:20:07 - 00:27:38:16

And the official opposition might decide that it didn't want to go into those particular waters, in which case the House of Commons is left sort of marooned, really not with one exactly able to debate these things. You have a cross-party select committee here asking for a debate. So it's not the opposition, it's not, you know, some minor party in Parliament, it's actually the Home Affairs Select Committee.

00:27:38:16 - 00:27:59:00

And they didn't split on the report, did they? So they were all agreed there wasn't a vote sending. Some of the Conservative MP didn't say no, we're not in favour of this. They all supported and that number included Lee Anderson for a start. And it's worth noting the Government got the bill through, which is obviously a separate matter, but it got their bill through by 40 odd votes and the treaty is actually much less contentious.

00:27:59:00 - 00:28:18:01

The treaty is not seeking to oust judicial review and say that land is a safe country and all of these things. The treaty is actually there to try and provide some of the safeguards that would operationalise all of this. This is one of my bugbears with the way the government approaches these things and has done for a number of years that their answer to the Home Affairs Select Committee is essentially, look, we've just had the bill.

00:28:18:01 - 00:28:37:09

We've had several days of debate in the committee of the Whole House, in the chamber. We've debated this ad nauseam. We don't need to discuss it any further. He's gone to the Lords. But treaty text is different to a bill. Text you're talking about to two distinct things, and they sort of merge them together and say, Well, we've had general discussions about this issue, that's fine.

00:28:37:11 - 00:29:03:12

And you say that undermines the purpose of the act that Parliament has already passed about giving the Commons the opportunity to discuss things. Yes, I think that's exactly right. I mean, this is a contentious treaty, but it doesn't do the things that the bill does, as I said. So I think because it's putting in place safeguards, the Commons really ought to have had the opportunity to discuss those safeguards, to say, well, how you going to put them in place before you operationalise all of this?

00:29:03:12 - 00:29:34:14

And the fact they haven't had the chance to do that, I think is really problematic. And all this is is an appetiser to the main event, which is the House of Lords sinking its remaining teeth into the actual round table, a process which only begins next week. This is the second reading debate coming up on Monday. There is a motion down from, I think the Liberal Democrat peers to deny the bill a second reading, but that's probably not especially likely to come true, largely, I think, because I don't think the Labour Party would be prepared to sink a government bill at second reading in the House of Lords.

00:29:34:14 - 00:29:56:02

They don't want to sent in that precedent shortly before they're hoping to be in government because it might be done unto them. That's certainly what I understand. My impression is that what we're going to see here is the Lords possibly emboldened by the fact that the Government's likely to ignore the motion that they passed in relation to the treaty will then seek to provide amendments to the bill which would do similar sorts of things.

00:29:56:04 - 00:30:30:24

My suspicion is that what we'll see here is delay votes on a whole plethora of different types of amendments, probably to the ouster clause, which says that the courts aren't allowed to consider the safety of Rwanda. Also notably, whether or not Rwanda is complying with the treaty, which looks problematic to me. We're also probably going to see the Lords objecting to the clause which relates to the powers of the Strasbourg court to issue what are known as interim measures, and that may well use the famous pyjama injunctions where people are woken up at midnight to rule on whether or not a particular individual should be removed.

00:30:30:24 - 00:30:51:11

Miranda. Yes, that's right. And I mean, one thing which we haven't seen discussed a great deal, but which I think people might want to consider, is whether or not Strasbourg is going to look at this scheme rather differently, because what you're essentially doing is saying, well, we're going to remove these people to Rwanda, where the European Convention on Human Rights doesn't run.

00:30:51:13 - 00:31:15:18

That's a different point that I imagine the Strasbourg court may well want to consider, whether it's reasonable to take people out of the jurisdiction of the convention before you've really properly heard what their case actually is. So there's quite a lot of potential changes that they're Lordships might make to the Bill and when they've made them, when they finally got this bill through the process in the Lords, then bounces back to the Commons so MPs can consider any of the changes they've made.

00:31:15:20 - 00:31:29:13

And this is the bit where you get the kind of face off between the Government and the House of Lords. The Government will use its majority in the Commons to try and overturn most of those changes. I imagine it doesn't sound to me like there's any changes that are likely to be made that the Government would want to accept.

00:31:29:16 - 00:31:49:19

I would agree with that entirely. And I mean, when we get back to the Commons, what you will see there is whether or not the centrist conservatives, if I can put it that way, will then accept any of those Lords amendments. What we've seen so far is 60 odd members of the Conservative Party voting in favour of toughening up the bill.

00:31:49:19 - 00:32:05:07

But we also know that there's a group of people who are quite concerned about the contents of the bill and may well not necessarily vote with the government when those amendments come back. I mean that seems to be one of the difficulties the Government might have is that some of its employees might be rather uncomfortable with the content of the bill.

00:32:05:07 - 00:32:37:06

But my impression is that those who feel the bill is too tough get a kind of grip their teeth because of the political salience of this, and they'd rather not have some massive pre-election meltdown in the Commons that damages the government even more at such a delicate moment. I think that may well be right. I mean, all of this is going to be sort of facing game some time after Easter, I guess, when ping pong is finishing and we'll have to see whether or not members vote with their conscience or whether or not they vote entirely on party lines.

00:32:37:08 - 00:32:58:13

As you say, I think the Labour Party is being slow to say that it will make objections that would lead to the loss of the bill. So we'll have to wait and see after ping pong whether they stick by that or whether they take the view that this plan looks hopeless. This is the famous parliamentary ping pong. Whether the bill bounces between the two houses until some kind of agreement is reached over its final wording.

00:32:58:15 - 00:33:21:20

And I get the impression that at some point there will be a climbdown in the Lords. There's only a number of times that the Commons can bounce a bill back to the Lords and say We're not accepting the changes you make before peers decide, Well, hey, they're the unelected house. Ultimately it's their call. That's right. Although we have seen big objections in the Lords to things where there are questions of constitutional law and human rights in the past.

00:33:21:22 - 00:33:45:11

Yeah. I'm thinking of things like the justice and security measures around secret courts and those sorts of things. I do think this Rwanda scheme falls somewhere close to that, where there will be people that have serious concerns about potential breaches of international law. And I guess the question is whether they try and weaken the bill in those areas rather than simply trying to object to the whole thing.

00:33:45:13 - 00:34:05:13

So this sort of brings into play in terms of the timescales and we've highlighted, you know, the laws more likely to delay rather than two to stop the bill going through. How many rounds of ping pong we think they might go for. So on a normal bill, you might get a couple of rounds, but there's no formal limit to the number of occasions in which they can batted back and forth.

00:34:05:15 - 00:34:35:14

I think this is where it also becomes interesting in terms of positions of the parties. I mean, the Conservative Party, it's the biggest group in the House of Lords, but about 100 or so of their peers did not show up this week for the vote on the International Agreements recommendation around not ratifying the treaty. So it could well be that certain amendments will go through because conservatives either don't show they've abstained or they're just not there because they don't want to participate, they don't want to vote against their own government, but they don't want to stand in the way of the amendments either.

00:34:35:15 - 00:34:53:06

But yeah, I mean, how many rounds I know finger in the wind stuff, but how many rounds do we think they might get? Because once we get past second reading this coming weeks as then what the be a couple of weeks before we get into the next committee stage and then you've got a couple of a few days of committee, perhaps a day, day and a half, two days of report.

00:34:53:10 - 00:35:09:04

Third reading in the Lords, which usually takes some place, is a more substantive process than in the Commons at that stage. And so you're a few weeks yet before you get to ping pong. But when we do get there, the government can schedule proceedings in the House of Commons on it pretty quickly and send it back to the Lords.

00:35:09:04 - 00:35:37:07

But this is where some delaying tactics might come into play. I think that's right. And you've got to think even if the government gets their bill, the bill as it's currently drafted, does provide for individuals to be able to get to our domestic court citing their own individual circumstances. So it's quite likely that there will be a court challenge even if the bill is passed and it's pretty inevitable that those people, even if they lose the domestic court challenge, will go to Strasbourg and ask for their removal to be delayed.

00:35:37:09 - 00:36:00:24

All of this may well be happening in the run up to a general election. I'm guessing that we wouldn't see any court cases until maybe May or June, given the timetabling for this bill. And at that point, I guess ministers will be placed in quite a difficult position as to what they would do if the Bill is indeed civil servants, if they're instructed by ministers to proceed with the removal of someone to Rwanda.

00:36:01:01 - 00:36:29:21

Yes, exactly. So I mean, that would pretty much inevitably be in breach of international law if the Strasbourg court had issued interim measures. Obviously, it's not inevitable that they would do that. There have been some moves in Strasbourg to review the use of interim measures to make sure that they're only used in appropriate circumstances and that they're not made by nameless judges, but rather that there's an opportunity for the government to be involved in hearings and so forth.

00:36:29:23 - 00:37:01:03

But I think all of this is at a very sensitive time. And there's obviously also the question as to whether or not at some point the government believes that it's in its interest to run an election campaign where it simply blames the courts. The domestic law in Strasbourg. Exactly. So much like in 2019. So, Alex, we've we talked in terms of this bill, you know, the problems the Constitutional Reform Governance Act provides for 21 days sitting days for both houses to consider a treaty.

00:37:01:05 - 00:37:22:05

We've heard that the Commons has a problem with that because it isn't in control of its own agenda. So MPPs can't get the debate in order to have the opportunity to discuss the treaty. The laws can, but it's can be overridden by the government because it only has to lay a statement before the House to why it's perhaps going to ignore the wishes of the House of Lords.

00:37:22:07 - 00:37:46:06

You've published this week a report setting out some proposals for how we could improve this process, because of course we're talking about a treaty here that deals with with illegal migrants and sending them to Rwanda. But treaties very wide range of policy issues that they can consider, including some major trade agreements, which of course, following our departure from the EU, is incredibly important in the context of our future economic prospects.

00:37:46:08 - 00:38:08:01

Talk us through what sort of proposals you and we should talk about. Your co-author, Holger Westmore. He's also a former advisor to to the House of Lords Committee. What you're proposing? Well, what we have here is a report which in some respects looks at trade agreements but is rather more holistic in terms of looking at what's going wrong with treaty scrutiny in Parliament.

00:38:08:03 - 00:38:27:10

And we interviewed quite a lot of the players. What we found is that, first of all, the underlying legislation, the Constitutional Reform and Government Act, or CRAG, as it sometimes referred to, is really not fit for purpose. There are lots of loopholes. And Acuna It's not just about whether or not Parliament gets a vote on the underlying agreement.

00:38:27:10 - 00:39:02:22

There are also problems in relation to the fact that amendments to treaties aren't necessarily caught by any scrutiny procedures. The Government can make reservations to treaties without the consent of Parliament. The government can enter into other sorts of international arrangements, often called memoranda of understanding. Without even notifying Parliament. It's doing this. We saw that actually with the Rwanda deal, the Rwanda arrangements actually show up the whole panoply of problems with what we've got here first all, it was a memorandum of understanding that entered into force immediately and there was no obligation for it to be put before parliament any way at all.

00:39:02:24 - 00:39:25:16

Exactly. Then they've come back with the treaty, but they don't want to abide by what the House of Lords have said. They're not giving the House of Commons a vote. So we're seeing the whole gamut of issues arising with this, with this agreement. But with the more complex trade agreements, you end up with other types of issues. So for example, you can amend trade agreements quite frequently and joint committees that are set up by the parties.

00:39:25:18 - 00:39:49:24

But those amendments don't come back to Parliament at all. The parties being the individual countries are exempt. Yeah, that can be an issue. We saw that with the agreement with the European Union that the issues relating to Northern Ireland were taken away and agreed by way of an amendment to that agreement which was really quite significant. But Parliament didn't get much of a say in on that at all.

00:39:50:01 - 00:40:22:20

So there are lots of these issues. The report itself, the primary conclusion then is that there should be a mechanism in the House of Commons where it gets to examine and vote on significant treaties, the sort of call in process why we said this was important, we ought to have it on the floor of the House. Exactly. So and I think that's where we think things have to start, because without a mechanism where parliament gets a say, the government will be able to ignore any other concerns that it raises.

00:40:22:20 - 00:40:51:06

But by giving it the possibility of something that looks like a consent vote, we would see a lot more engagement with Parliament. An example of that is what happens in the European Parliament under the European Treaties, the European Parliament has a consent vote on most significant arrangements that the EU enters into and as a result of that you see it given information and you see it having somewhat of a say in the proceedings that go on, it goes into committees.

00:40:51:08 - 00:41:12:10

This is completely absent from our proceedings at the moment in the House of Commons. There is not a single select committee that's primarily responsible for treaties. All of this work is done in the Lords. And whilst the Lords is really good at this sort of detailed interrogation of these sorts of commitments, it's not the Democratic House and the government can ignore it.

00:41:12:16 - 00:41:30:21

So what you've got is in effect a process of below the radar rubber stamping. If I'm going to mix my metaphors horribly. I think that's right. I mean, you see the work of the International Agreements Committee in the House of Lords. It's really detailed. It's very effective. It was established only a couple of years ago, and we've already seen the unprecedented vote on the Rwanda bill.

00:41:31:01 - 00:41:49:06

I think they do a great job, but it's not effective. It's sort of scrutiny without accountability. You get something on the record saying we've got real concerns about this and then that's the end of the process. One of the things that is a feature of how the government behaves towards parliament, they don't show much information if they can avoid it.

00:41:49:08 - 00:42:10:09

There's no discussion much about its negotiating mandate when it's going into a treaty negotiation means that's not true of all opponents around the world. There's often a quite different process, and opponents are more engaged, not least because it helps set the parameters and both the government and the other side knows what our parliament is willing to accept or not.

00:42:10:11 - 00:42:37:14

Westminster feels like it's behind the curve on this. Yes, absolute. We're in a situation at the moment where Parliament only gets to see these treaties once they've been signed and there's an awful lot of negotiation that goes on behind the scenes, particularly with the trade agreements which can take years to put in place. But you'll get quite bland statements that are published on the website saying, okay, well we're on to the fourth round of negotiation and seven issues were discussed and and that was it.

00:42:37:14 - 00:43:03:06

But you don't really get any feel for where the areas of conflict might be, what concessions might have to be made and at the outset, even what the negotiating mandate is, what's included and excluded and what the government might see is its red lines. You just hope that it will actually be quite helpful for ministers and other UK negotiators if they could point to a parliamentary debate and say, look, our parliamentarians made it quite clear they could possibly put up with this, you've got to move on that.

00:43:03:11 - 00:43:25:11

Otherwise it's no deal. Yes. And I think that's one of the ways in which the European Parliament leverage is the fact it has this consent vote and this right to information that it can reasonably say, if you don't do this, there are going to be problems. And we have seen problems with certain types of trade arrangements going through that process where either they haven't happened or they've been delayed quite significantly.

00:43:25:13 - 00:43:45:13

Can I ask a question for our listeners? So we've talked about in terms of the Rwanda deal, you have the negotiating mandate, you do the negotiation an agreement is reached, the minister has signed the deal. Now we're saying in the House of Lords, we don't want you to ratify this. This deal, this treaty. What's the difference between signature and ratification?

00:43:45:13 - 00:44:08:03

What does ratification mean? I mean, ratification is where you've got to when you want to bring the thing into force. Signature is essentially bringing the negotiation to an end and agreeing the text. And then people have to go through their own democratic processes which will differ in each state party. We obviously have the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act, but many other countries will involve their parliament much more clearly than we do.

00:44:08:05 - 00:44:29:23

We operate in what's known as a dualist system in legal terms, and so our government has prerogative powers to ratify the treaty. And we'll say, well, it's all right because this doesn't take effect unless you pass the domestic legislation to implement it. But an awful lot of treaties don't need primary legislation. We probably put through 20 or 30 treaties a year.

00:44:30:00 - 00:44:49:24

We don't see 20 or 30 pieces of primary legislation implementing them. So that's one of the other problems that essentially the government says, okay, you've got the your sort of operating mandate here in the legislative process, but actually a lot of these things can be operationalised by secondary legislation. And we all know that security legislation is subject to very limited scrutiny.

00:44:50:01 - 00:45:19:22

Yes. Don't get me started on that. We'll be here forever. Yeah. So you've got all these proposals to give Parliament a much more substantive role in making international agreements and influencing the detail of them even before the agreement is finally signed. Is there any chance at all that any government is actually going to implement this? Because it's fantastically convenient for ministers not to have to go through all this rigmarole of Democratic consultation and just sign on the dotted line and have a process that railroads the stuff through Parliament with as little fast as possible.

00:45:19:24 - 00:45:40:09

I think you're right. I think that there's very little chance that the current government is going to do this, but it is one I do know it's worth bearing in mind that treaties, unlike domestic legislation, are sort of binding on future parliaments in a way where it's much more difficult to change them because you then need the agreement of the other state party.

00:45:40:11 - 00:45:59:01

So there is really an interest in terms of getting both sides of any debate on board with a new international agreement, because otherwise you might be stuck with it. We saw that with the debates around the Northern Ireland protocol, for example, where, you know, there hasn't been buy in from everybody and it's been a contentious issue now ever since.

00:45:59:03 - 00:46:23:08

So I do think that there is an argument that if you want to legitimise these treaties and make sure that everybody is going to want to keep to them going forwards, that involving Parliament and making sure that you have a vote in Parliament so that at least a majority of parliamentarians agree to what's in the treaty rather than just having a look at some implementing legislation would be beneficial to the UK as a whole.

00:46:23:10 - 00:46:49:16

It also allows input from the devolved legislatures and the devolved governments in a way that we don't see at the moment. And I think that's another issue which the report highlights that essentially treaty ratification is a very Westminster centric process and because it's the government of the day that is dealing with this, you have even less input from devolved administrations and governments than you might with domestic legislation.

00:46:49:20 - 00:47:05:01

And this will be quite straightforward to implement really. I mean, it would be changes to standing orders, it would be within the remit of the House of Commons to set up the structures and then the government, the government to work with them. It doesn't require new legislation. It's not going to require massive amounts of new resources. You can do it one of two ways.

00:47:05:01 - 00:47:30:21

You can either do it by way of establishing a new convention, which could be done exactly that way, or you could make a very minor amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act saying that where whichever committee it might be highlights a significant agreement, it's subject to a consent vote. It could be done either way, but I don't think it would require either a great deal of implementation in Parliament, nor for the government to do a great deal.

00:47:30:21 - 00:47:48:03

I think we'd be looking at a vote on maybe one or two treaties a year. We're not talking about a huge commitment. I mean, the issue for the government is obviously they're going to be the most contentious treaties, but that's why I think parliamentary buy in is actually really important. With that, Alex, thanks so much for coming in.

00:47:48:03 - 00:48:09:18

We really enjoyed it. And there's a box you can see for a new government to reform things. Thank you very much. Okay, Mark, I think we'll leave it there for for for a minute and we'll come back with your interview with Karen Broccoli about David Cameron in the House of Commons. If you're enjoying the pot and think like Mark and I do, that Parliament matters, why not join the Hansard Society?

00:48:09:23 - 00:48:28:23

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00:48:28:23 - 00:48:57:21

Each week we bring together the best news and stories about parliaments here in the UK and around the world. You can join by going to Welcome to Westminster to the office of Karen Bradley, the Conservative and former Cabinet minister who now chairs the Commons Procedure Committee. And she and her committee have been detailed to solve a slightly knotty problem that's arisen out of the appointment of David Cameron to the House of Lords to serve as Foreign Secretary.

00:48:58:02 - 00:49:25:08

Catherine, Why is that an issue that requires creative thinking by your committee? Well, we were asked by the Speaker to look into this because it's the first time for 40 years that one of the great offices of state has been occupied by a member of the House of Lords and our constituents in the House of Commons, those of us who were elected by the electorate to come to the House of Commons and represent them want to know that can ask questions and scrutinise and get the answers they're looking for.

00:49:25:10 - 00:49:43:20

And that's very difficult for us in the House of Commons when the Secretary of State is based in the House of Lords, and it's not as if the world is a quiet place at the moment. So there's plenty to ask about in terms of Ukraine and the Middle East and the situation of the Red Sea and all the other international crises that are bubbling away across the globe.

00:49:43:22 - 00:50:06:21

So MPs want to be able to question David Cameron. What did they do when Lord Carrington was foreign secretary in the early eighties under Margaret Thatcher? Because I don't think there was any thought of him having to come to the Commons chamber. Well, at that time, a formal deputy foreign secretary was appointed by the Prime Minister. So there's someone in the House of Commons who attended Cabinet and was officially the Deputy Foreign Secretary.

00:50:06:21 - 00:50:24:23

And I think anyone who knows the civil service in the way that private offices work, etc. will know that an office of a Deputy Foreign Secretary is very different to the office of a Minister of State attending Cabinet. It has a certain relevance within the departments and it will be listened to. But I think also times have changed.

00:50:25:00 - 00:50:50:01

When we were talking 40 years ago under Lord Carrington, some time as Foreign Secretary, there wasn't the same visibility, there wasn't this podcast, for example, there weren't websites that were printing constantly. The questions that MPs have asked. So that visibility and that desire to engage with our public to make sure the public are properly engaged with politics is in a very different place than it was back 40 years ago.

00:50:50:04 - 00:51:10:16

There was no email was there's no Internet. You know, if your MP turned up once a fortnight in the constituency, the brass band would play. Nowadays, MPs in their constituencies constantly. We are always on the doorstep, we're always talking to people, we're always finding out what their concerns are. And we received thousands and thousands of emails from people who want us to get questions answered for them.

00:51:10:18 - 00:51:29:16

And that's a really different situation than it was 40 years ago. So if David Cameron is to be questioned by MP, what are the options? I suppose those appearing before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, perhaps more regularly than he would if he was in the Commons, But what else might be tried? So there's both the foreign affairs Committee and the International Development Committee.

00:51:29:16 - 00:51:50:15

Of course, we've got two committees which his department cover, and so we would expect, of course, the Secretary of State to attend those two committees. But you've got to bear in mind that those select committees are made up of 13, maybe 15 members of parliament. They usually have real expertise in areas and they won't necessarily really be asking questions their constituents supports, puts them.

00:51:50:19 - 00:52:11:08

They'll be asking the questions that they as the subject experts want to talk about. Now, the other alternatives and our predecessor committee, actually, when Lord Mandelson and Lord Adonis were both secretaries of state before the 2010 election that had recommended a question Time in Westminster Hall and we did consider Westminster Hall, that's our second chamber, which we call Westminster Hall.

00:52:11:08 - 00:52:29:16

It's the gram committee room up the stairs of Westminster Hall, and we did consider using that room and people might be aware of that from that's the room that the petitions are debated. So when we have those 100,000 signature petitions, they get a debate that's in Westminster Hall. But anyone who's those debates will know this is not a big room.

00:52:29:18 - 00:53:01:03

Maybe 45, 50 members could be that very small amount of public gallery space, certainly not much room for journalists. And I think the idea that we would have to ballot members in advance as to who could ask the Foreign secretary questions, meaning that any immediate questions couldn't be pulled, you know, one of the great benefits of our system that we really felt during COVID was the ability for any member to come into any Question Time and Bob and try and get called and a constituency matter is just arisen the ability to Bob and raise that matter on the floor.

00:53:01:06 - 00:53:16:12

So this is standing up and down and you see it standing up and down, as you say, is the bit that makes sure that you're leg muscles get exercised every day. But that's really important. Catching the speaker's eye, even though you're not in the order paper, is really important. Now, we couldn't do that with Western intelligence simply wouldn't be possible.

00:53:16:12 - 00:53:34:17

It'd be like going back to Question Time, as we had in the pandemic, where we'd have 40 or so members pre balloted chosen in advance with the Secretary of State, knowing exactly he was asking questions and therefore probably being able to guess what questions they were asking. Now, the final option, of course, was to use one of the committee rooms to do a similar thing in the committee room.

00:53:34:17 - 00:54:00:08

Committee room 14 is our largest committee room. You've probably seen it when the 1922 committee announces the results of the ever more frequent conservative leadership elections. And but you will know more from that that it's, again, not a big room. It's a much bigger room than Westminster Hall, but it's not massive. It probably accommodates 80 members. And again, the space for the public and the press to be in there is extraordinarily limited.

00:54:00:12 - 00:54:19:01

So the only place really set up for all members be able to ask questions and for the public and the press to be able to see what's going on is the place that was set up to do it, which is the House of Commons chamber. So then we have the option then of David Cameron coming to the House of Commons to answer questions.

00:54:19:01 - 00:54:46:13

And there seems to be a lot of concern in the report the committee's just published about the idea of him standing at the dispatch box like any other Minister or the Prime Minister, or indeed taking questions from them. That seems to be a bit of a taboo. What's the problem with doing that? Well, I think the Commons chamber, the actual chamber is restricted to elected members and you will know, as you know, you'll have done tours yourself, know when when a tour group goes round your seat, signs on all the seats.

00:54:46:17 - 00:55:08:20

Do not sit here. You cannot sit there being elected, having that returning officer saying your name and giving you the envelope that we all get on polling night that says you have been returned as the member of Parliament is a big deal. It means that you have special privileges, you have parliamentary privilege. For example, which you get as a result of being elected and all the other things that go with it.

00:55:08:22 - 00:55:32:06

And so, yes, it is possible for someone who isn't an elected member to sit on those seats and speak at the dispatch box. But we felt that that was just testing our constitutional position a little too far. We felt that there was a there are threads you can pull that sometimes and that the whole hem comes undone and you lose your jumper.

00:55:32:08 - 00:55:54:09

We didn't want to be in that situation, but what bad things would actually happen? I don't quite follow what the consequences of this might be that are so bad that it has to be avoided. Well, I just think it's the start of the of potential problems. We don't want to lose this very privileged position that members of Parliament have that comes as a result of our election.

00:55:54:09 - 00:56:17:14

The ability to speak in the House of Commons without fear or favour, the ability to use parliamentary privilege to represent our constituents as as possible. These go back to the 1300s, these privileges. They're not written down, they're not law, they're not something that's given to us. So that ability, that right to govern ourselves and to be that place where we can do the work is the most effective way we can.

00:56:17:19 - 00:56:38:15

We just felt there was a risk and there is always a risk of anything we do here, by the way, has a risk of it making it easier for the government to appoint more secretaries of state in the House of Lords. And that's not something we want to see. We don't want this to be the norm. I personally, I'm very, very fond of David Cameron and I think he will be is an excellent Foreign secretary, so I have no problem myself with this appointment.

00:56:38:15 - 00:57:02:10

Some people even think he's virtually the de facto deputy Prime Minister. Well, I wouldn't go I wouldn't comment on that. I would just say I think he's doing an excellent job. And there it is. You can see some real benefit to having a foreign secretary who's not accountable to their own constituents because they have the ability to travel and again, to be able to operate and work in a way that perhaps isn't thinking towards the next election in the way maybe some foreign secretaries have had to do.

00:57:02:16 - 00:57:22:16

However, there is still this worry that more secretaries of state will be put in the House of Lords and that the House of Commons will lose relevance and the ability to do our job, which is represent our constituents. So on balance, and it was a balanced judgement, we could have gone for dispatches, but we felt like going to the dispatch box was just a step too far.

00:57:22:16 - 00:57:43:00

We're taking quite a different approach anyway in saying coming to the bar of the House, that's a different approach from our predecessor committee. We didn't really want to go further than that. So now we get on to the solution that you are proposing, which is that David Cameron will, at his regular Question time, turn up at the bar of the house of Commons, the entrance to the chamber.

00:57:43:06 - 00:58:05:22

You stand on that kind of line that only MPs are supposed to cross. There'll be a lectern, I suppose, or a chair and. He will sit there and take peace. Questions? Yes. So his is about once every six weeks. And actually, if you look at the number of question times coming up before the possible general election at some point this year, there's not very many left, I think for maybe yes, possibly five.

00:58:06:00 - 00:58:24:22

So there's not many question time's left. So I think we felt that it was important that he should attend those questions and that he should also give statements and urgent questions that were appropriate for Secretary of State to take and most urgent questions aren't taken by Secretary State. Many statements aren't taken by Secretary of State. So we're not talking about everything.

00:58:25:02 - 00:58:56:07

But we do think that at this very difficult time and with the office that he holds, that it is important this is accountable to parliament. So, yes, that that was what we recommended. Is there a danger that this arrangement might look so clunky that it ends up making the House of Commons look a bit ridiculous? You know, everyone having sort of turn their heads like spectators in Wimbledon between, Mr. Speaker, at one end of the chamber and the foreign secretary taking questions at the door of the house and the other and sitting behind a temporary lectern with a temporary chair, it all sounds a bit uncomfortable and may look a little bit absurd.

00:58:56:09 - 00:59:15:14

Well, I think we have to give these things ago. I think we have to try and see how we can make this work. There isn't a perfect solution to this issue. And I mean, we talked earlier about the dispatch box elsewhere. It's not actually common for members of the government to also be members of parliament. In most places around the world.

00:59:15:14 - 00:59:38:14

In most countries, ministers are appointed by the president or the prime minister, and they're very rarely actually members of parliament. And they come to the parliament sometimes to answer questions, sometimes they don't. I mean, there's a risk if we start saying, well, a member of the House of Lords can start coming and using the dispatch box. Well, actually, why don't we appoint this, this expert minister who is a, you know, an expert business person, and they could come and be the secretary of state for business.

00:59:38:18 - 00:59:55:18

They don't have to be a parliamentarian anymore because we're letting people come to the dispatch box who aren't members of the House of Commons. I mean, there are real risks around this. I'm not saying that would happen, but I just think there are risks. And so we've gone for a solution that we think is the best outcome in the situation.

00:59:55:20 - 01:00:11:08

We will have to see how it works. I think that the House of Commons authorities and the staff there are pretty darn good at making things look good and we managed it during lockdown where we had those screens. I don't think people looked at the House of Commons chamber at that point and said, You look utterly ridiculous. I think.

01:00:11:08 - 01:00:30:12

I said, Well, at least you're still working and you're making it work in this very difficult time. And I hope that they will have same reaction. Was there any other objections? Yes, And actually in private conversations, etc., there were people who were very reticent about the idea of using the power of the house. And there was a very senior member of the House of Lords.

01:00:30:12 - 01:00:48:20

I won't say who it was because it was a private conversation, but they made the point that the boss of the house is someone we should be careful about because that's the place we bring the rogues. And I think we should also say that actually this did happen in the past. And the Duke of Wellington famously came to the bar of the house to report on one of his latest campaigns.

01:00:48:20 - 01:01:05:18

And if you go to the National Portrait Gallery, you can say an excellent picture of it, of his appearing and I think really probably receiving plaudits from the commoners, telling him what wonderful work he was doing. So this isn't the first time it will have happened. It's a slightly distant precedent because that would be, what, 18, 12 or 1814, I think.

01:01:05:18 - 01:01:22:06

Yes, but it has happened before. So I don't think we should see this as completely new or unique. I think we should see this as just a development of precedents that have happened. So it's not uncommon for Parliament to go back many hundreds of years to find a precedent now for this to actually happen. I mean, you've recommended it in your report.

01:01:22:06 - 01:01:40:17

The Commons presumably has to pass a resolution accepting a report and maybe the House of Lords has to pass a resolution allowing David Cameron, the Lord Cameron, to do that. Do you think there's a danger that the traditionalists in either House might decide that they didn't like the sound of this blurring the distinctions between the two houses of Parliament?

01:01:40:17 - 01:01:54:19

Well, you make a really important point there, Mark, which is about this is what we think in the House of Commons. Now we're reporting on how we manage our procedures in the House of Commons, and we enable the members of the House of Commons to do that job. That's what our job is as the House of Commons Procedure Committee.

01:01:55:00 - 01:02:15:23

But we can't speak for the House of Lords, and the House of Lords will have its own view. And you're absolutely right. The House of Lords has to give permission for members of the House of Lords to appear in front of even Commons select committees. Now I don't think there's any sort of motion that's passed on every occasion, but I'm quite sure there are many members of the House of Lords who will feel uncomfortable about this and it will be a matter for the House of Lords.

01:02:16:00 - 01:02:34:16

There's another issue, of course, which is timings. So if the Foreign Secretary delivers a statement by convention as a member of the House of Lords, that statement should be given first to the House of Lords. Now if the House of Lords isn't sitting till 230 and the House of Commons is sitting is 1130, that means the House of Commons might have to wait some time to hear the statement.

01:02:34:20 - 01:02:58:08

Many of these things are new and are going to be something we're going to have to work through. But let's see what people say if we get the chance to have a comment on this. Let's see what the traditionalists and others might think of it. But I think from our point of view as the House of Commons Procedure Committee, we wants to make sure that the members of the House of Commons have the chance to represent their constituents in the most effective way.

01:02:58:10 - 01:03:22:06

Is it your expectation that the MPs will actually approve the arrangements you're proposing? I hope they would, because this is a cross-party group of MPs and it was a unanimous report. There was no vote, there was nobody dissenting. Everybody who's read the report and is part of the committee has agreed to the report as it stands. So I don't think that there will be anybody who is against what we're saying from the Procedure Committee point of view.

01:03:22:08 - 01:03:42:24

Let's see whether there are some in the House of Commons who may have different views, but I would be surprised. It's part of the reason that you might be able to soothe traditionalists so worried about these questions that, as you say, it's a temporary arrangement, less an election coming. This might be employed four or five times at the outside before the starting gun is fired for the next general election.

01:03:42:24 - 01:04:03:14

So to some extent, it's no big deal and it may even be considered fairly temporary. And that's one of the reasons we have recommended that there should be a pilot. We shouldn't do this as a permanent change. This should just be till the election. Let us see how it goes. As I say, I said earlier, we don't want to get to a situation where the government is encouraged to put secretaries of state in the House of Lords.

01:04:03:14 - 01:04:25:14

We would much rather secretaries of State in the House of Commons, but we do accept that constitution and there's absolutely nothing wrong with the Prime Minister doing what he's done and the King approving that appointment. Karen Bradley, thanks very much for joining us on the pod. Thank you. Well, we're back in the studio and I think we've just got a few minutes to look ahead to what's going to be happening in parliament next week.

01:04:25:14 - 01:04:43:03

So few things that took my eye. We've got a debate on Monday and e-petition debates over a quarter of a million signatures on whether the prime Minister should call an immediate general election. I think of this as the. For heaven's sake, make it stop debate. There's an awful lot of people out there who just think the time has come.

01:04:43:05 - 01:04:59:13

But obviously the timing's in the hands of Rishi Sunak and he'll be the one who chooses the moment when the country finally does have a chance to give its view in a general election. And then on Tuesday, we've got Foreign Office questions. Now, I don't think it's going to be Cameron. No, no, there's not going to be time to sort all that out.

01:04:59:19 - 01:05:16:10

But one of the things to look out for, we're expecting a decision perhaps by the International Court of Justice on its interim decision about whether or not there should be provisional measures against Israel in its genocide case that's been brought by the South African government. Be interesting to see if there are any questions that arise typically out of that.

01:05:16:12 - 01:05:35:11

But then Wednesday, a big debate to look out for on the Welsh Affairs Committee, scrutinising the decision by Tata Steel to close their blast furnaces in Port Talbot, which of course has huge implications for the community, that because of the loss of jobs, not to mention huge implications for British industrial policy, because we're one of the few major industrial nations that doesn't make its own steel.

01:05:35:13 - 01:06:02:15

Plus, there's one very interesting Lord's question I'm keeping an eye out for a question about private equity funded social care providers and whether some of these providers funding is so delicate that there could be a risk to the public purse because the government might have to pick up the bill if some of these organisations fold it up. And that could be another problem on the lap of the next government.

01:06:02:17 - 01:06:22:19

Well, that's all from us. For this week's episode of Parliament Matters, please hit the follow or subscribe button on your podcast app to get the next episode as soon as it lands and help us to make the podcast better. By leaving a rating or review on Apple or Spotify and sharing your feedback, our producer tells us it's important for the algorithm to give the show a boost and tell us more about the algorithm.

01:06:22:21 - 01:06:46:02

I know about algorithms. You know, I write my scripts with a quill pen on vellum and then send it in my carrier pigeon. Well, before we go, a quick reminder also that you can send us your questions on all things Parliament by visiting Hansard Society. Dot or dot UK slash PM YouTube. We'll be discussing them in future episodes, including our special Urgent Questions editions dedicated to what you want to know Parliament.

01:06:46:06 - 01:07:22:05

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