News

Tobacco and Vapes Bill: free vote blows smoke in Rishi Sunak's eyes - Parliament Matters podcast, episode 30 transcript

12 Apr 2024
©Adobe Stock/Kenishirotie
©Adobe Stock/Kenishirotie

This week the team discuss the Tobacco and Vapes Bill and the fallout from the Second Reading free vote for Conservative MPs. It's still parliamentary ping-pong on the Rwanda Bill: but what is 'double insistence'? A former Labour adviser has suggested that if the party wins the general election Ministers should make extensive use of delegated powers already on the statute book to push their policy agenda through at speed with minimal parliamentary scrutiny. But what are the risks? And we talk to former Foreign Secretary Lord David Owen about the diplomatic dialogue that lay behind his question this week to his successor Lord Cameron.

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 please first check against the audio version. Timestamps are provided above each paragraph for ease of reference.

00:00:00:00 - 00:00:34:17 You are listening to Parliament Matters, a Hansard Society Production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn More at hansardsociety.org.uk/pm. 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, smoke gets in Rishi Sunak's eyes as his personal initiative, the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, splits Conservative MPs in half. 00:00:34:19 - 00:01:05:11 They denounced them at the time, but should Labour ministers now use the sweeping powers Tory ministers have given themselves in this Parliament to push through a Labour government's agenda in the next. And we ask a former foreign secretary how Lord Cameron is doing in his old job. But first the Tobacco and Vapes Bill caused all kinds of problems for Rishi Sunak. 00:01:05:16 - 00:01:28:08 Not in the sense of actually being defeated or even dented in a Commons vote, but because it seems to split his parliamentary party in half. Pretty much half of all Conservative MPs either abstained or even voted against the bill. And this is an initiative, remember, that is personally identified with the Prime Minister, something he was announcing from the podium at his party conference. 00:01:28:14 - 00:01:48:14

So first of all, remind us exactly what this bill does. Yes. So a key feature that people will be perhaps the most familiar with is to increase the age of the sale of tobacco. So the plan is to make it an offense anywhere in the UK to sell tobacco products to anyone born on or after the 1st of January 2009. 00:01:48:16 - 00:02:11:10 So if you were born in December 2008, you'll be able to continue buying tobacco over your lifetime. But if you're born in 2009 or later, you won't. And of course, this is something that has split the Conservative Party because some people feel that having a sort of two tier system of entitlement or right to access tobacco is wrong based purely on age. 00:02:11:11 - 00:02:34:17 Now we have similar provisions in other public policy areas. You could almost imagine a situation where you've got twins and one is born one side of midnight on the 31st of December and the other is born in the early hours of the 1st of January. And one twin can buy tobacco and the other twin can't. And I'm not quite sure what happens if the first twin buys the tobacco on behalf of the second, but I'm sure that the case law will be built out. 00:02:34:17 - 00:02:50:15 And it's this kind of concern about how on earth you would enforce this that was being expressed on the conservative backbenches and has led to quite a number of conservative MPs, you know, it was a free vote, but led a number of them to vote against the bill or indeed to abstain. So that's the first element. 00:02:50:16 - 00:03:14:01 And the second element is then that it will reduce the appeal and availability of vapes to children. Now vapes being an alternative to smoking lower levels of nicotine, but they are seen as an increasingly anti-social product because they're being used quite extensively by particularly young people. They're being sold in sort of attractive packaging. They've been sold in different flavors and so on. 00:03:14:07 - 00:03:37:13 So it's becoming, particularly, as I understand it, a problem in schools, for example. Now, it's already an offense to sell nicotine vaping products to under 18s, but the bill has further provisions in it to reduce youth vaping. And then there's a third element to the bill, which is to strengthen enforcement about sales. So to enable the enforcement authorities in England and Wales, for example, to issue on the spot fines. 00:03:37:17 - 00:04:02:20 So are we going to have gangs of masked inspectors terrorizing vape buyers? I hope not. But these, you know, these kinds of enforcement questions were at the heart of the debate about this may be well-intentioned from the prime minister's perspective. And certainly there's very strong health arguments. There are very strong arguments in terms of cutting the cost, not least to the health service, of the impacts of nicotine addiction. 00:04:02:22 - 00:04:22:00 We were talking about savings in the billions of pounds each year. But the question on the Conservative backbenchers was how on earth do you enforce this? Well, both enforcement and the question of principle was it should you even be doing this? Should adults be told, no, you can't have this? And if they start with this, what next? Will you start banning whiskey? 00:04:22:01 - 00:04:52:08 Will you start banning other things that are injurious to health, high fat foods? Are there going to be limits on the sale of fatty pizzas in a few years time, once this principle has been set in this legislation? So there's a whole sort of slippery slope ism argument floating around to this as well. And as a result, Rishi Sunak has declared a free vote and found that a lot of his troops, given that free vote, don't want to vote for what he's suggesting, which is not catastrophic, but it's certainly uncomfortable. 00:04:52:08 - 00:05:15:22 And you do wonder how much of this is actually got Capital P political overtones in the sense that he's a beleaguered leader facing truly terrible poll ratings. And is this a mechanism by which some of his troops can signal that maybe they want a change? Possibly. I mean, there's also a sort of argument that actually he's in tune with public opinion because the polls suggest that actually this is quite a popular measure outside in the in the country. 00:05:15:22 - 00:05:37:15 Can't imagine he would have done this without a bit of opinion poll testing and focus grouping. And, you know, the other side of the argument is that, you know, Conservative MPs feel that there's still quite a lot of time left in this Parliament if they're going to go to the end of the year. And is this the biggest public policy challenge that they face when they're not making progress with things like the criminal justice bill, They're not making progress with things like housing and so on. 00:05:37:15 - 00:05:59:02

So there's arguments on both sides. It's probably worth looking at the results actually of the vote, because as you say, it was a free vote. So we haven't talked about that on the podcast so far because we've not had one since we started. So it's probably just worth unpacking for listeners what that means. Essentially, MPs are not told which way to vote, so the pressure is not applied by the party whips. 00:05:59:02 - 00:06:21:19 There isn't a party line, there certainly wasn't a government party line. I think they may have been whipping on some of the other parties, but for Conservative MP they weren't told on that, so they could decide individually how they wanted to vote.

And 178 Conservatives voted for it, 205 from the other parties. So essentially it went through the second reading because they were support from the other parties. 00:06:21:24 - 00:06:47:07

It didn't get through purely on Conservative votes. 57 MPs on the Conservative side voted explicitly against it. I suppose, the most prominent figures, in cabinet Kemi Badenoch voted against it. Former Prime minister Liz Truss, former leader of the House of Commons and business Secretary of State Jacob Rees-Mogg, the now Deputy Conservative Party Chairman, Jonathan Gullis. The Chairman of the 1922 Committee. 00:06:47:07 - 00:07:09:02 Graham Brady. So there were a lot of big names on the Conservative benches and still quite prominent positions, and this is not comfortable territory for a Prime Minister when the troops don't follow your clarion call. And indeed, quite a number of them go in the opposite direction, and it's even less comfortable when the result of that is that your policy gets through on the votes of the opposition. 00:07:09:04 - 00:07:36:19 Now, very few people were going to actually vote against this. It never looked like this is a measure that could be defeated. But all the same, when the opposition are embracing your policies more enthusiastically than your own side, that's not comfortable at all. No, but I mean, prime ministers, we've been here before on free votes. You think back to the fox hunting bill, when Tony Blair backed a compromise position back in 2000 and I think it was only 8% backed his position at the time on the free vote. 00:07:36:19 - 00:08:06:02 So obviously he was in a better political position than Rishi Sunak finds himself in heading into an election and facing the prospect, possibly after the local elections of a leadership challenge against him. So it is rumored if things go as badly as are expected. But Prime Ministers can survive this and it will probably be a blip. But as you say, what it reveals is that there is quite a significant philosophical difference at the heart of the Conservative Party, and it has become, as we know, an ungovernable coalition. 00:08:06:04 - 00:08:23:11 And this vote really just exemplifies it and brings it out into the open again. And I do wonder if a little further down the road in the consideration of this bill, whether that will mean that when points of detail start coming up at report stage consideration in the House of Commons, if the bill even gets that far because, you know, it may just run into the sands and be quietly forgotten. 00:08:23:13 - 00:08:46:23 But if the bill gets back to the House of Commons for detailed consideration, you could see detailed amendments flying around that the government might find quite uncomfortable. It takes some doing to mention an amendment that both Labour as ardent supporters of this legislation and Tory rebels could both support. But that's what intellectual gymnastics are for. So it's not impossible to imagine that there could be further embarrassments down the line on this one. 00:08:46:23 - 00:09:06:12 And it's interesting to think about once it gets to the next stage, who's going to be on the public bill committee for the bill? Who's going to be proposing the amendments, Perhaps just having a think about free votes because we've not had one for a while. Since 1979. I mean, the House of Commons Library and we've talked about what a wonderful resource they are in the in the past. 00:09:06:12 - 00:09:28:14 And they've delivered again, they've done the work. So I don't have to look at the number of free votes that have been in Parliament since 1979.

As you say, one party might have a free vote doesn't mean, we have a party doing and sometimes it's not clear whether it's necessarily a free vote. The classic free vote issues are on things like abortion and the death penalty. 00:09:28:14 - 00:09:56:10 I think the embryology bill back in the day attracted a free vote as well, because there were philosophical divisions that didn't necessarily run along party lines. Yeah, So ethical or conscience issues tend to be free votes. So there've been 202 since 1979. It was quite a lot. And they used to be in the early parliaments after 1979, nine, ten each parliament and then in the sort of the major administration and then the early Blair parliaments, you got a huge number. 00:09:56:15 - 00:10:18:12 And of course that was about votes on criminal justice bills related to capital punishment, particularly around where somebody had murdered a serving police officer, for example, or we had votes on fox hunting. We had votes on, as you said, the human embryology and fertilization bill, various votes at times on abortion related matters in relation to health bills and public order bills and so on. 00:10:18:17 - 00:10:38:03 And there's also the very unusual circumstance where famously the Commons had indicative votes on all kind of lords reform. There should be and there were different options of the make up of a partially elected, partially appointed House of Lords that basically different percentages of each category and MPs ran through these options and couldn't come up with a majority for any of them. 00:10:38:03 - 00:11:05:16 So it was a little rather chaotic scene, but that was an occasion which demonstrated the perils of giving MSPs that had sometimes. Yeah, and other things that we perhaps don't think about as free votes, but they've been pretty common over the years is actually on how Parliament, how the House of Commons itself organizes its own affairs. And of course, this is where to some extent they came unstuck when they had free votes on things like members' salaries, members’ pay, members’ pensions, members’ office costs and allowances over the years. 00:11:05:16 - 00:11:28:19 And of course we ended up in the mess of the parliamentary expenses scandal, sort of 14 or 15 years ago now. We've also had three votes, of course, on restoration and renewal of Parliament. Yeah, much good that's done though, winning those votes. And the other one, you know, things like chairing of select committees, modernization of the House of Commons rules and standing orders, televising of Parliament itself. 00:11:28:21 - 00:11:48:11 They had free votes on that. And famously on one occasion there was a tie. They couldn't decide. So it's actually an interesting thing to think about in in the next parliament if we do have an incoming Labour government and it does want to do things differently as we open, there is a sort of a program for, we hope, reform of the House of Commons. 00:11:48:15 - 00:12:15:23 Is that something, you know, the offering of free votes on effectively a program of modernization of the commons? Is that something that we will see as a much bigger feature than we've seen in recent years? As you say, that is something we very much hope here at the Hansard Society will happen, that the Commons will get a program of sensible reforms to the way it does business to basically make it a more effective legislative thing is sometimes governments on land keen on having a more effective legislative and me being cynical again. 00:12:16:00 - 00:12:45:00 Well, one vote that's distinctly unfree and has been the voting on the Rwanda bill, this is a subject we can't seem to get away from for more than a few pulls at a time. But the Rwanda bill is currently bouncing between the Commons and the Lords. And as we speak, it's still in mid-air, as it were, between the two houses over the last remaining disagreements over the content of the bill on the really big bone of contention is the idea that Parliament can assert as a matter of law that Rwanda is a safe country. 00:12:45:00 - 00:13:03:24 And that's led to considerable resistance in the House of Lords, The judges and the super laws in the House of Lords really don't like the idea of Parliament legislating what's, in effect, a finding of fact, and that's been bounced back and forth between the Commons and the Lords several times already and is currently in the process of bouncing back to MPs as we speak. 00:13:04:01 - 00:13:28:06 There's also an issue around whether foreigners who've served alongside British forces in Afghanistan should be subject to the Rwanda procedure as well. So there's another quite emotive issue still in play. But the thing that's really causing eyebrows to be raised at the moment is the idea that the Lords might play, as it were, the legislative joker. It's called double insistence, where a bill falls altogether. 00:13:28:08 - 00:13:48:01

If the Lords twice pushed the same amendment was been rejected by the Commons and that is being mooted as a serious possibility in this bill, although personally I find it quite difficult to imagine that Labour peers facing the prospect of being in government within perhaps six months would want to set that as a precedence because it could soon be done to them. 00:13:48:05 - 00:14:09:24 Yeah, and that's the debate that's going on literally as we speak in the House of Lords. So the MPs rejected initially all the amendments that came to them from the Lords on Monday, and only one Conservative MP rebelled and voted against it. That was Robert Buckland, former Lord Chancellor, Lord Chancellor, and he he stood out on on three, I think it was of the of the six amendments. 00:14:09:24 - 00:14:30:12 So the thing that the, the House of Lords also has to consider is not just the extent of their own desire to see these amendments go through, but actually is there any evidence in the Commons that the MPs on the governing backbenchers are listening and attracted by the arguments? Now, as you say, we've had this amendment, which is Lord Hope's amendments. 00:14:30:14 - 00:14:51:24 It's a question of whether Rwanda is safe rather than Parliament, merely declaring it that the government's own independent monitoring committee that's got to be set up as part of the treaty arrangements with Rwanda, that it should consider whether it is safe and it should be the one that effectively certifies it that's already been to the Commons and been rejected and only Robert Buckland has supported it. 00:14:51:24 - 00:15:13:16 So there's not much evidence that that's going to change. I mean, if you had a situation where every time the Commons was forced to reconsider this issue, a few more government MPs decided, no, we can't put up with this will vote for something different, then maybe there would be an incentive to keep pushing. But there's a pretty solid wall of government votes that isn't showing any particular signs of crumbling. 00:15:13:16 - 00:15:29:10 And so you get the question in the in the Lords then, well, what's the point of carrying on with this? Yeah, and perhaps part of the point is just to keep it in play, keep the government from having the political victory of having its bill certainly in time for the local elections. So that might be one thought that's going on here. 00:15:29:10 - 00:15:49:20 But going round and round the hamster wheel to no particular effect just gets a bit annoying after a while. Yeah. And the margins in the House of Lords for these amendments are getting smaller. So, you know, so the reverse is happening. Yeah. So, you know, the Lords insisted on four of their amendments on Tuesday and that the margins of defeat for the Government were the smallest was 17 votes, the largest was 57. 00:15:49:20 - 00:16:12:24 Well even that's significantly smaller than we were seeing before Easter. So the question for the Lords is then, well what do we do as you say? You know, I don't think they'll be sending all four back. Do we send one or two back and insist on the wording of our amendments? So the two that got the biggest margins of victory were Lord Hypes amendments about the declaration of Rwanda being safe, being declared by this independent monitoring committee. 00:16:12:24 - 00:16:44:10 And then this other one from Lord Brown, the Afghans and others who've supported work for British armed forces should not be subject to removal under the Rwanda bill terms. Those are the two. If you were sending them back and insisting on it, those are the two obvious ones that you might insist on. But my sense is that whilst there may be some movement on the cross-benchers, there may be a desire on the crossbenches to give it one more go and really put the pressure on the Government, you know, are you willing to lose a bit on these two issues which are not highly politically contentious? 00:16:44:10 - 00:17:00:22 I mean getting the Afghan forces who've helped British forces, you know, excluding them from the terms of the bill, doesn't seem the kind of thing that's going to erupt in the world a lot. Yeah. And of course, the government political problems in terms of popular opinion, I think I think most members of the public would think it was fairly sensible. 00:17:00:24 - 00:17:18:09 So you can imagine that there could be some concessions there, but the government's just doesn't seem willing. This is part of the reason why some peers are actually willing to carry on fighting, if you like, is that the government isn't responding at all. It's just a flat no to everything they've proposed and that's got a few noble hackles up. 00:17:18:11 - 00:17:37:18 But to the extent that they're going to keep on doing this forever and ever, I'm not so sure. But Ruth, I'm fascinated by this concept of double insistence and the idea that if one house or the other fails on exactly the same amendment twice, a whole bill falls because of it. I mean, what's the logic behind that? Why does that happen? 00:17:37:20 - 00:18:00:01 Well, the convention is essentially, if you send the amendment, the House of Commons rejects it. You send it again. You insist, and the second time in the Commons rejects it. Again, you've essentially reached deadlock. And the whole point about the way parliamentary ping pong with this exchange of messages on amendments between the two houses is supposed to work is a dialog and a negotiation and compromises and concessions are made. 00:18:00:03 - 00:18:30:15 Erskine May the Bible of parliamentary precedent in practice and so on, says there is no binding rule of order which governs these proceedings in either house. So it's actually a convention that you get to double insistence that the bill falls and you can sometimes find. You know, parliamentary ping pong is incredibly difficult to follow the way in which the papers, the amendment papers operate, the way in which it can happen at speed, even for the parliamentarians, it's pretty difficult, let alone anyone outside it always find it a nightmare to report on us. 00:18:30:17 - 00:18:56:02 Yeah, very, very complicated. And you can find a thing happened in. Was it 2004 there was a bill the planning and compulsory purchase bill, where these sort of exchanges between the two houses became, as it was described at the time, overaught. And I think the Lords realized that the Commons had inadvertently committed double insistence on one of the amendments and in effect the Bill. 00:18:56:02 - 00:19:17:17 Therefore by convention should have fallen. But precisely because there are no absolute binding rules on this, basically the House of Lords passed a motion to allow themselves to continue ping pong anyway and eventually reached a resolution. So there are creative ways with the amendment process and the concessions and so on that they can reach a resolution and agree a text between the two houses. 00:19:17:19 - 00:19:52:05 But what we're finding and this has been the problem throughout with the Rwanda bill, we've also seen it on some of the bills, is that that position on the part of the government of listening to and responding to the House of Lords, isn't there, is that simply that the Government is just saying, no, it's not really engaging, it's not willing to offer concessions, it's not negotiating, says almost as if it doesn't think there's anything sensible been said by the House of Lords that it's worth listening to, then says it uses the process to say, in effect, you pay us will time before we, the government will say, if you keep firing these amendments down to 00:19:52:05 - 00:20:14:04 us, we'll keep rejecting them until you run out of steam. And it puts the onus on the House of Lords to back off and to back down as the unelected House. Essentially it's a dialog with the deaf, but the whole idea of using double insistence is a deliberate ploy to kill the bill if the government won't make concessions, I think is a very dangerous precedent, saying a little while ago, I just don't think that Labour would want to set that precedent. 00:20:14:04 - 00:20:34:20 So I don't think that if someone tried to fire back exactly the same amendment again from the House of Lords as this process unfolds, I'm not sure that that many Labour peers would go for it. And I'm pretty sure that in fact the Labour base will be whipped not to go for it. Yeah, and from, you know, I suppose from Labour's perspective, increasingly now this has been one of Rishi Sunak's big commitments. 00:20:34:20 - 00:20:55:08 He's tied himself to getting this bill as a deterrent to small boat crossings. There comes a point at which it's potentially quite politically useful for them to test actually. Okay, can you get the planes in the air sending people across to Rwanda? Is that the accommodation there? Are they set up to deal with this? And is it actually going to be a deterrent? 00:20:55:08 - 00:21:14:01 And there are some who say that this policy isn't going to work but also practically isn't ready and that the government is going to struggle and it's better to have that out in the open this summer rather than be having some kind of esoteric constitutional argument that most members of the public just won't follow. Well, we'll have to watch as this unfolds through this week. 00:21:14:01 - 00:21:42:10 And who knows, maybe into next. Now, allies in Westminster are increasingly turning to the next election and what happens after it in all sorts of ways. Who's going to be leader of which party? But one of the issues that was raised this week in an article in the Financial Times by John McTernan, who's a very respected former Labour apparatchik, is that a Labour government might use some of the enormous powers that Conservative ministers have granted themselves over the course of the whole Brexit saga. 00:21:42:12 - 00:22:09:00 They've got all sorts of powers they've awarded themselves to, in effect, rewrite laws with little more than the statutory instrument behind them. Power to legislate on the fly over a very wide range of areas. He thinks that the Labour Government should use that power to its fullest extent to get its agenda through as quickly as possible, despite the fact that there was an enormous amount of squawking and furious protest when Conservative ministers awarded themselves these powers in the first place. 00:22:09:02 - 00:22:30:15 Yeah, I mean that that's the risk for an incoming Labour government. But then that's the problem. We find every time we have a change in government. Those who were in opposition who complained bitterly about its lack of scrutiny, the breadth of the powers that ministers were claiming for themselves, and as soon as then they passed through the doors of Number ten, they're quite happy to use those exact powers themselves. 00:22:30:17 - 00:22:49:17 And it does really open you up to enormous cynicism, doesn't it? On the one hand, you have opposition politicians going into government and then doing all the things that they criticized the government for doing. And equally you have the former ministers who've just come out of government now find themselves in opposition, making exactly the complaints that the previous opposition made and without missing a beat. 00:22:49:18 - 00:23:19:12 Yeah, it's and then they wonder why those of us watching on think sometimes they just look like terrible hypocrites and not open themselves up to that charge. And on things like the retained EU law bill, which is the retained EU Law Act now, the comments that were made by MPs on the public Bill committee on the Labour side were, you know, really, really serious complaints about the breadth of the powers, about whether these were legitimate for ministers to be doing in this way, whether it should be primary legislation. 00:23:19:14 - 00:23:37:18 You know, I should know I appeared before that committee, gave evidence to it alongside the government's former head of the government legal services, Jonathan Jones. Jonathan and I were almost doing a tour of all these committees on on this bill and the House of Lords, the Labour peers on the various committees that looked at this, you know, really, really critical. 00:23:37:20 - 00:24:08:20 So to just sort of turn on the head of a pen and say, no, no, well, we're going to use these powers to rush things through, opens you up to that to that level of hypocrisy. But I think for Labour, there's also another risk that I mean, one, it suggests that they've not learned the lessons of the last few years, which is that, yes, I can understand speed is important and I can understand John McTernan argument that an incoming government with a big majority and all the problems it's going to have to face, it wants to make progress quickly and four or five year Parliament is going to pass quickly. 00:24:08:22 - 00:24:32:24 But one of the things that this government, the current Government has found is that he has legislated quickly, has legislated speed and it's often done it badly and sometimes just taking a little bit of extra time to ensure that your policy development processes is thought through, that you've prepared or you have documentation for Parliament so that it can be properly scrutinized really is beneficial. 00:24:33:01 - 00:25:05:15 And it also speaks to, I think, an unfortunate attitude of mine. That's the whole point of Labour going into an election, getting a big majority, having its team in Parliament. Parliament is part of its team, right? It's not the enemy, it's people are in the house of Commons that's its team. Treat them as serious players, treat them as partners, use Parliament, particularly the Commons, particularly things like the select committees as a management tool to help you through those really difficult early years where you're going to need to put pressure on the civil service to get change. 00:25:05:15 - 00:25:25:02 To make things happen. You're going to need to be able to scrutinize some of these these policies and open up and explain to the public once you get your hands on the levers of power and you look at the books and you open up the Treasury numbers and explain that to the public, and politicians in the House of Commons can help you do that. 00:25:25:04 - 00:25:41:04 The temptation here is what I think. It was a kind of performative macho t he look what a ruthless bastard I am kind of approach to these things, you know, this kind of thing you see in Bond films here. Mr. Bond is my world domination plan, and this is the crucial flaw that will enable you to defeat me later. 00:25:41:05 - 00:26:01:08 But I'm too clever to allow that to happen. Yeah, and I think that they're almost in that mode now and can't help thinking it's a mistake to use powers that you denounced at the time as being far too great and far too dangerous and would lead, as you say, to bad government on the fly, because you can do things so easily that you don't actually have to go through even the motions of scrutiny. 00:26:01:12 - 00:26:24:10 Bluntly, if you're afraid to test your ideas on the anvil of the House of Commons, they're not ready and you're not properly prepared. Because if if they are ready, if they are properly prepared, then you should be able to deal with the kind of questions and scrutiny that's going to come up in the House of Commons. At its best, MPs can help you, particularly, you know, the early warning system that they provide through their constituency work. 00:26:24:12 - 00:26:48:00 They can provide you with that early warning of problems and help you manage the political temperature. And yes, you get the opportunity to say, you know we won this big majority, here we are in Downing Street, we’re the Masters now, but the House of Commons is your team. It's not the enemy. I suppose you could argue that these powers have their genesis at a time when the government didn't have effective control of the House of Commons. 00:26:48:00 - 00:27:10:23 A lot of the time during the Brexit saga, particularly when Theresa may had a very small majority, they originated at that time and it was a way for government to kind of push its business through more or less, regardless of the whims and fancies of MPs. But that moment has passed and it's not a good idea to keep emergency powers in effect on the stocks so you can use them in ordinary situations later on that are not emergencies. 00:27:11:00 - 00:27:30:24 Yeah, I mean, we and others warned, continue to warn, ministers that when they put these broad powers into bills, the risk is that they're going to sit on the statute book and they're going to be used by ministers in a future government potentially decades later, in ways that you didn't anticipate and didn't want. And you've got to be aware of that. 00:27:30:24 - 00:27:49:08 You should be more aware of that when you're passing legislation now. But I think a lot of ministers just don't think that far ahead. It's just, you know, I want this bill. I want to be able to do this now. And they don't think about what's going to happen to these powers in ten, 20, 30 years time. So to some extent, I'm not going to have a lot of sympathy with the conservative complaints. 00:27:49:10 - 00:28:06:23 This is what we face in the new parliament. You were warned and the Conservatives always did say, you know, we have to do this quickly because of the nature of the Brexit situation. We haven't got the time to go through the normal scrutiny processes. And, you know, we need these broad powers in order to have flexibility. We don't know how the negotiations are going to play out. 00:28:07:00 - 00:28:27:01 All of that was true and that's why in the end they got the powers, but it was on the basis that it was an exceptional and unusual political situation. It wasn't on the basis that the powers would be used by them or other ministers in in normal business times. Luckily enough, those powers one time limit in any way. 00:28:27:01 - 00:28:47:14 So here we are again. And well, some in the retained EU Law Act, of course, were a time limited. Some of them expire in 2026. But again, this is one of the things I think where John McTernan's argument falls apart a little bit in that there is this assumption that using delegated legislation is something that can be done so much more quickly than passing bills and passing acts. 00:28:47:16 - 00:29:08:05 Well, sometimes it can be, but actually sometimes also the secondary legislation. There are now so many different procedures, so many bells and whistles, the kind of things we call fines, strengthened scrutiny. The fact that some of these retained EU law powers, for example, will be subject to sifting. It's not always true that it's quicker to do it through secondary legislation. 00:29:08:07 - 00:29:40:07 So it depends. And with that Ruth, let’s take a break. We'll be back in a while to talk about David Cameron and his performance as Foreign secretary. Two years ago, Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee, sitting together in the House of Commons smoking room, paid a £1 subscription and so became the first members of the Hansard Society. The challenges facing our democracy are different to those that motivated them to help found the society in 1944, but they are just as urgent. 00:29:40:09 - 00:30:03:19 So to mark this important milestone, we're launching the Churchill Attlee Democracy Lecture, and we're delighted that former Prime Minister Theresa May has agreed to give the inaugural speech on Tuesday 14th of May. She'll reflect on her life in Parliament, drawing on the unparalleled insights she's gleaned during her time as Prime Minister and as a backbench MP with a wealth of experience in the corridors of Westminster. 00:30:03:21 - 00:30:23:23 Her lecture will explore what's wrong with Parliament and why and how it must change. So why not join us as we honor the legacies of our first members, Churchill and Attlee, with what promises to be a thought provoking exploration of the challenges facing Parliament in the years ahead. Go to the Hansard Society website hansardsociety.org.uk and book your ticket. 00:30:23:23 - 00:30:49:15 That's hansardsociety.org.uk. And from one former prime minister to another. We've talked rather a lot in this part about the slightly anomalous position of David Cameron or Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton as he now is serving as Foreign Secretary and based in the House of Lords, and not able to go into the House of Commons to take questions from MPs despite the ominous international situation. 00:30:49:17 - 00:31:10:08 Well, this week saw Lord Cameron taking questions in the House of Lords. He has a regular Question time there and one of his questioners was one of his predecessors, a distant predecessor, albeit in the Foreign Office. Yes. So we've been along to talk to Lord David Owen about his thoughts on the current foreign secretary, what it's like to do the job from the Lords, not from the Commons. 00:31:10:10 - 00:31:31:07 And we even get his thoughts on the idea of Nigel Farage working for a future government as the Trump whisperer. Well, Ruth and I have come to Limehouse, to the home of Lord Owen, Lord Owen of Limehouse, former leader of the Social Democratic Party. Back in the eighties and before that Foreign Secretary as a Labour MP in the 1970s. 00:31:31:09 - 00:31:53:08 And we are talking to him because this week he, as a former foreign secretary, was able to question the current Foreign secretary, Lord Cameron, of Chipping Norton in the House of Lords, because that's the only place where Lord Cameron has a regular scheduled question time. He isn't questioned directly in the House of Commons. Every now and then he appears before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the Commons. 00:31:53:10 - 00:32:14:16 But the Commons is chasing because there's no sort of formal mechanism for them to get their teeth into him. But the Lords does have that mechanism and Lord Owen used it and you were asking him about the need for increased nuclear cooperation with France does not reflect worries about the American nuclear umbrella, the NATO's nuclear umbrella, perhaps providing less protection than it used to. 00:32:14:18 - 00:32:46:21 Yes, it's more than that in the sense NATO has developed a very good structure where the supreme allied commander in Europe is always an American general. And therefore, if action was to be taken in nature area, which required nuclear weapons, he would go straight to the US President and it would be the chain of command within the American military structure. 00:32:46:23 - 00:33:24:22 And that has worked extremely well ever since nature was created. I think we have to face it. We do live in a different climate. This is not just because Trump might win the presidential election. I think there has been a steady, slow drift away from a special relationship with Europe. For the United States, the threat from Russia, the threat from China, even the threat from Iran as being a direct relationship between the president and these problems. 00:33:24:24 - 00:33:55:01 So I'm a great believer in nature, but I'm aware of the fact that Britain and France both have nuclear weapons. And if they were to coordinate it more clearly and keep their individual decision making, but let each other know where that targeting is going so there would be no unnecessary overlap. That would be a good confidence building measure inside NATO's decision making. 00:33:55:03 - 00:34:22:07 It was always there, but it was always dominated by the real and only area of the nuclear decision would come from would come from United States. That is still the case, but less so. And I think that it is a very good thing. And I have always believed in the British nuclear deterrent, but I've also always believed in the French nuclear deterrent. 00:34:22:09 - 00:34:49:02 And after all, we are the two countries in Europe that are nuclear powers. The two countries are on the Security Council as overrides will veto. And we have always worked very closely with Cameron responded to you, but you also had two other former defense secretary, Lord King and Lord Brown both weighing in on the same issue. Did anything really come out of that or was little Cameron's answer really just a sort of holding? 00:34:49:02 - 00:35:20:14 Yeah, a very interesting idea kind of answer, I think. So. This didn't start the day before yesterday. It started about, I would say now eight or ten weeks ago when I was put to me by somebody who worked with me in the Foreign Office that we needed to do more to encourage Franco-British cooperation over nuclear weapons. And they were not sure whether the French were ready to do that. 00:35:20:16 - 00:36:00:09 So an elaborate procedure took place. A former foreign secretary in France, Monsieur Vedrine, was contacted by me and a dialog and exchange of letters about the question of principle whether Macron would be ready to consider more formalizing of the relationship and showing Europe that France and Britain on nuclear weapons was this one. And therefore, if there was to be any major change in the American nuclear relationship within nature, it would not matter very much. 00:36:00:11 - 00:36:27:06 And I found a readiness to do so. Mr. Vedrine was very helpful and correspondence and that all went to Cameron. So Cameron knew exactly what had happened and where we were on things, and I thought he showed a thoughtful reply which would I think go down well in France. What do you make of Lord Cameron? So obviously his appointment was greeted with some astonishment. 00:36:27:06 - 00:36:57:07 He carries obviously a lot of political baggage with him into the Foreign Office, but he's been given quite a free rein by Rishi Sunak. He's concentrating on domestic matters. As a former foreign secretary, given the nature of the problems we're facing internationally, what do you make of his performance and particularly in the Lords? Well, I think he was rather conventionally viewed that I didn't like the idea of a foreign secretary being in the House of Lords and that the real place for the Foreign Secretary was in the House of Commons. 00:36:57:09 - 00:37:23:17 But given all that you've mentioned, the circumstances are exceptional and I think it's worked and I'm rather impressed by the adaptability of the House of Lords to this. It's been done before. I mean, when Mandelson was a Cabinet minister in the Lords, they introduced this idea that you could be questioned in the House of Lords. So it's not without precedent. 00:37:23:19 - 00:37:56:19 But I think that if you accept that having sunak with not a lot of experience foreign affairs being reinforced by a Foreign secretary who was previously a Prime Minister was actually good for Britain, that has been demonstrated and I think the House of Lords has accommodated itself to that. And I think that some people and I'm sure that I'm not the only one who is more inclined to attend because he's there. 00:37:56:19 - 00:38:31:15 And I now I barely go to the House of Lords. I think places are a joke. I don't approve it, but given it's there at the moment, I think you have reinforced the effectiveness of the British Government by having Cameron in with the authority of a former prime minister. I think he's helping Sunak That may well be true, but don't we also undermining democratic accountability to the elected House of Commons, given that, let's say, you know, in the last week, if events had taken a different turn in the Middle East, MPs wouldn't have that opportunity to question him. 00:38:31:17 - 00:39:07:06 I agree with you. I mean, I'm a believer in the House of Commons as the Democratic chamber and if you were to reform the House of Lords, I think there are many ways you could do it. But I think effectively you should start off by abolishing the name and stop calling people lords and stop having the outrageous way in which they are appointed, depending on friendships or money or bullying or commitments made by previous prime ministers, we'd be much better to scrap it and then start again. 00:39:07:08 - 00:39:36:10 And I quote, If I was an MP, I'd been on my feet objecting to the Foreign Secretary being in the House of Lords, and I still do. But I live with reality and the reality is this is there any way of injecting that degree of knowledge into Sunak's government? And I think it's proving its worth. What are the pitfalls for David Cameron of operating within the House of Lords rather than the House of Commons? 00:39:36:10 - 00:40:07:23 Is there a danger he could become detached from the opinion of MPs that he could easily not spot a developing political crisis or change of mood? I think there are definitely disadvantages, but in the present circumstances I also think there are some advantages you have injected into the government a sophisticated brain and a knowledgeable Prime Minister who is still young, and I think that has been a huge hope and circumstances in the world at the moment. 00:40:07:23 - 00:40:46:05 A pretty dangerous and I think he's been in value. He has been very outspoken about Gaza and what's happened there. And I think he carries some weight. I mean, I take a view of him as prime minister, very critical, I think, walking off and the morning after the referendum was an outrageous and irresponsible political act. I was and still a confident Brexiteer, but we never, ever discussed how we would come out and we all knew Conservative and others Labour. 00:40:46:05 - 00:41:14:24 In my case, I still basically am expected Cameron to go on as Prime Minister for a few weeks, establish machinery for looking at the options and keeping the civil service on board for presenting the Cabinet and effectively the country with alternative ways of handling the exit. And it was devastating that he went. And then you had a new Prime minister who called an election and then virtually lost it. 00:41:15:01 - 00:41:41:08 And we had an awful period of four years when Parliament couldn't make up its mind and Britain had no policy on Europe or anything else for a while. So I think Cameron has got serious criticisms, but they bring up their point. It was a clever one and I think he will be shown to been rather effective during this fairly short time in which he would be Foreign Secretary and the Lords has been the vehicle for it. 00:41:41:10 - 00:42:13:15 Not a satisfactory vehicle, but better than nothing. What do you make of how Parliament generally, and particularly the House of Commons, considers foreign affairs international matters these days compared to to your day? I think they're still pretty attentive to the big issues. And it's not just a ritual. I mean, there's no doubt that the Prime Minister had to make some decisions over last weekend which couldn't come to Parliament, and I thought the Leader of the Opposition, Starmer, handled that well. 00:42:13:15 - 00:42:45:08 He didn't make petty points. There was no time to bring Parliament back and you have to trust the fact that you took some decisions without full parliamentary authority. And we have got a flexible parliament and everybody realized that that was the fact and there was practically no real criticism that he had acted without parliamentary authority. We have always maintained that in extremists in crisis, a Prime Minister can act and come to parliament afterwards to explain it. 00:42:45:10 - 00:43:08:05 But they've got to be very careful about doing that and not use some vague excuse about it. But here there was an absolutely clear cut case where events had taken place very, very dangerous. And it was right. He came to the House of Commons as soon as he could. Backtracking again to the position of David Cameron is, is there a danger that he's actually outshining his boss on the world stage then? 00:43:08:05 - 00:43:32:16 Actually, there's a there's a lot of wattage from someone who's junior to the prime minister outshining the prime minister himself. Maybe Cameron themselves could wash that, but Sunak appointed him, and I think sooner he realized there was a weakness in foreign policy and he wanted to cover that issue. I didn't know who suggested to some people say William Hague, that I don't know. 00:43:32:18 - 00:44:11:04 But I think it was very clever and I think that it's meant the overall width and the knowledge base of the government is being greatly improved. What's your take on Labour's position on foreign affairs? I'll be well tooled up to deal with the foreign policy crises that will be approaching them. Fortunately, Starmer, who got himself to identify with Israel and I think he had shown an undue bias in my view, in favor of Israel's position over Gaza that was sensed by the Labour Party, sensed actually in the constituencies exploited rather cleverly by the Scottish Nationalists. 00:44:11:06 - 00:44:39:22 So I think that is meant that Starmer has got a more realistic view of the world, and I think he's no longer locked in an automatic support for Israel. It's a very good thing. And speaking of left field appointments, David Cameron is one example. Might another be Nigel Farage in the future at some point? I mean, especially Britain's faced with President Trump, might it be an idea to have someone who's proved to be an international ally of President Trump as Britain's ambassador to Washington? 00:44:39:24 - 00:45:00:17 Would he be representing us to Trump or would he be representing Trump to us? Well, I've talked about that. And it's I made it pretty clear that I thought being ambassador was not the right place, but I wouldn't be at all against a structure in which if the Tories were going to be reelected, but I don't think they will be. 00:45:00:19 - 00:45:31:15 You could have points Farage to be a minister in the Foreign Office, to be in the House of Lords, and he could be given special responsibilities for North America, United States and Canada, and he would be used then by the Foreign Secretary and by the Prime Minister when it was necessary to have private discussions with President Trump. And I would see that as a perfectly natural thing. 00:45:31:17 - 00:45:58:23 Many people have put in Washington, they're political appointees and they've done extremely well. Prime ministers have done it. I did it with Peter Jay. I wanted to have a younger and more intelligent person who could establish relations with the new administration of President Carter, and he was playing tennis with his security advisor within a few months and forming relationships with them that none of would conventional. 00:45:58:23 - 00:46:23:09 And it helped actually, although it was an embarrassment that he was married to the Prime minister's daughter. And we had a very good relationship with the Carter administration right from the beginning. And I think it was very helpful to have Peter over. So I'm in favor of use every flexibility you can. And if you have the accident of history, the very obvious, he has a very good relationship with Trump. 00:46:23:15 - 00:46:45:21 Use it. But I wouldn't make him an ambassador. You need a professional person who can deal with all the many, many serious things that come and go in an embassy, which Farage is not ideally place to be, but you can certainly put him with responsibilities for, as I say, Canada and America under a Foreign secretary and actually be use him in the House of Lords. 00:46:46:02 - 00:47:09:16 I think he'd be very good at it. David Owen, who served as Foreign Secretary in quite a distant era now from 1977 to 1979. Well, Mark, since we recorded that interview, the government has actually now given its response to the Procedure Committee recommendations that David Cameron appear at the bar of the House of Commons to ask questions. And I think it's fair to say the answer is no, no, On what basis? 00:47:09:18 - 00:47:30:07 Well, there are a number of reasons. So they say that the preferred format for scrutiny of the Foreign Secretary for nonmembers of the House of Commons is by select committees. Of course, we know that little Cameron is appearing before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, where we spoke a few weeks ago with Alicia Kearns, the chair of that committee, but not nearly as much as they want know. 00:47:30:09 - 00:47:54:04 And he hasn't appeared there since the 9th of January. They talk about the fact that the use of the power of the House of Commons is entirely untested, which is true. But that's because, generally speaking, foreign secretaries are not appointed from the House of Lords. They say the proposal could have an impact on the complementary nature of both Houses and it could lead to calls for parity between the houses with a provision for Commons ministers to answering the Lords. 00:47:54:04 - 00:48:12:06 Well, frankly, I think that's just nonsense. I mean, the House of Commons could just turn around and go back to the to the House of Lords and say no, I mean this is about accountability to the Democratic House, to it, to elected MPs. They say the proposal might risk a Secretary of State in the Lords facing a higher scrutiny obligation and Secretaries of State in the Commons. 00:48:12:07 - 00:48:30:11 Well, yes, I mean, in some ways that's the purpose, because if you want to, if you want to appoint your Secretary of State in the Lords, then I'm afraid that's a price that you're going to have to pay. And the Foreign Secretary at a time of any number of global crises is someone who MPs clearly do want to talk to quite a lot. 00:48:30:13 - 00:48:54:00 Yeah, and I think it's interesting that the Procedure Committee has met today as we're recording and the chair of that committee, Karen Bradley, who you spoke to about the proposal a few weeks ago, is clearly not impressed and says, you know, it's it's not not acceptable really, that the members, the elected members cannot ask questions about things like Gaza and Israel situation in Ukraine on behalf of their constituents. 00:48:54:02 - 00:49:17:17 I do wonder if the ultimate reason that this proposal isn't going to go ahead is that the government may feel it doesn't have much of a shelf life left, can't really be bothered to engage with this kind of thing, and is going to leave that hot potato for Keir Starmer and Labour government perhaps after the next election, should he appoint any senior ministers from the House of Lords who MPs might then want to question. 00:49:17:17 - 00:49:38:10 So I suspect his Foreign Secretary won't be a member of the House of Lords. It's probably going to be David Lammy, barring some intervention by the electorate. But all the same, you know, I think this is simply something the Government doesn't feel it's got the headspace for at the moment and shrug shoulders and move on. Yeah, and you know, we said a number of times that we thought they'd try and kick this into the long grass. 00:49:38:16 - 00:49:57:00 I have to say it makes a bit of a mockery of the claims at the time of his appointment that they would, you know, he was open to scrutiny. He was committed to scrutiny. He's making a minimal number of appearances before the Foreign Affairs Committee. And, you know, the rest of the MP, the hundreds of employees on the in the Commons chamber can ask him questions. 00:49:57:02 - 00:50:19:15 Seems on this occasion the longer grass is at least head high. And with that Ruth, I think we're done for this edition. Yeah, look forward to seeing you again next week, Mark. See you then. Well, that's all from us for this week's episode of Parliament Matters, please hit the follow or subscribe button in your podcast app to get the next episode as soon as it lands. 00:50:19:15 - 00:50:48:05 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. What do I know about algorithms? You know, I write my scripts with a quill pen on vellum and then send it in by carrier pigeon. Well before we go, a quick reminder also that you can send us your questions on all things Parliament by visiting hansardsociety.org.uk/pmuq. 00:50:48:07 - 00:51:17:13 We'll be discussing them in future episodes, including our special Urgent Questions editions dedicated to what you want to know about Parliament. And you can find us across social media @HansardSociety to get more content related to the show and the wider work of the Hansard Society. Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. 00:51:17:19 - 00:51:29:08 For more information, visit hansardsociety.org.uk/pm or find us on social media @HansardSociety.

Parliament Matters is supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

Parliament Matters is supported by a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a Quaker trust which engages in philanthropy and supports work on democratic accountability.

Subscribe to Parliament Matters

Use the links below to subscribe to the Hansard Society's Parliament Matters podcast on your preferred app, or search for 'Parliament Matters' on whichever podcasting service you use. If you are unable to find our podcast, please email us here.

News / Democratic decision-making in health emergencies: Learning the lessons of the Covid pandemic - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 37

This week we have a compelling conversation with human-rights barrister Adam Wagner as we delve into the findings of the Independent Commission on UK Public Health Emergency Powers. Just before the general election was called, the Commission published its final recommendations, aiming to reshape law-making in the event of a future health emergency in the UK.

31 May 2024
Read more

News / General election called: What now for Parliament? - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 36

This week, we dive into the unexpected political shake-up in Westminster, where Rishi Sunak’s decision to call a general election has thrown Parliament into turmoil. The Prime Minister’s surprising move to hold the election in early July, rather than waiting until Autumn, has sent shockwaves through the political landscape.

24 May 2024
Read more

Briefings / General election rules and regulations: what has changed?

With a general election on the horizon there has been a spate of new legislation and regulations to implement changes to the way the election will be run, with consequences for voters and electoral administrators. Parliament has not always had a role in approving these changes. This briefing sets out the core changes to the electoral process that have been implemented since the last general election in 2019, the role that Parliament has played in scrutinising and approving them, and the risks arising from these changes.

26 Apr 2024
Read more

Support / 80th Anniversary Appeal: support our work to make Parliament more effective

Faith in parliamentary democracy is waning at a critical time as we confront domestic and international challenges that are as significant as any the country has faced since the Society was founded 80 years ago.

11 May 2024
Read more

News / Democracy is in danger, warns Theresa May - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 35

In a powerful Churchill Attlee Lecture commemorating the Hansard Society's 80th anniversary, former Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a stark warning about the state of democracy. She expressed grave concerns about the waning trust in democratic institutions, particularly among young people.

17 May 2024
Read more