Action Against Houthi Maritime Attacks

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Wednesday 24th January 2024

(6 months ago)

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Earl of Courtown Portrait The Earl of Courtown (Con)
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My Lords, it is the turn of the Cross Benches.

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, in these strikes we have been very careful to take those matters into consideration. That the strikes took place at night also minimised the risk of civilian activity in these areas.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, the House understands why the military action has taken place and the Prime Minister reported that it has had some degrading effect on the Houthi attacks. However, it is the nature of this situation that it is unlikely to be immediately successful and that this could escalate.

I have two brief questions for the Leader of the House. First, at what stage might the Government decide that it would be beneficial to consult Parliament, with debates and votes on what should occur in the future? Secondly, when it comes to diplomacy, a great deal of the sea traffic that is being adversely affected by the current situation comes from the Far East, especially China, and surely in diplomatic terms there is a case—perhaps it is happening—for China to be brought into play to exercise and bring to bear some pressure on, for example, Iran. Are there moves to this effect going on?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, there is an enormous weight of diplomatic activity going on. It is important to note that China backed the UN resolution which called for this activity to stop and to enable lawful traffic on the seas to go ahead. As far as the accountability of Parliament is concerned, I have spoken about it. We also have a Question on the matter from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, tomorrow, which may provide a further opportunity.

The Government are conscious of their duty and of their duty to protect servicepeople who may be sent into hazardous operations. There is also a balance there as to the time and nature of information that can be disclosed.

Parliamentary Democracy and Standards in Public Life

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Thursday 11th January 2024

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, for today’s debate and I am glad to make a contribution to it. Debates of this kind are a bit like taking the temperature of our democracy. I am very interested in all the things that have been said so far, and I need hardly remind your Lordships that around the world today democracy itself is under attack, including in countries we count among our closest allies.

I grew up in a family that for generations had the greatest possible respect for the democratic legitimacy of the elected House of Commons. But I can also say that since being elected to this House, I have come to understand, appreciate and respect the role it plays and the very good work that can be and is done here. Both Houses complement each other, but they are not perfect.

Interestingly, as recently as Tuesday of this week, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of another place conducted its second evidence session and took evidence from former Speakers of this House and others on the size, role, composition and purpose of the House of Lords. We might like to reciprocate by our Constitution Committee conducting an inquiry into the nature, purposes, role and activity of the House of Commons.

I will say a word or two about the legislative process. As others have said, we live at a time of skeleton Bills and Henry VIII clauses, and the result is that Bills can be either absurdly large or ridiculously short. Either way, huge quantities of detailed policy are forced through Parliament by secondary legislation and SIs, which this House theoretically could amend but in practice does not. This is a pressure cooker waiting to burst. The balance of power between the Executive and the legislature—reference was made, of course, to our dear departed, collective noble friend Lord Judge—has gone too far in favour of the Executive.

I will say something about the electoral process. There is something so simple and powerful about the act of marking a cross with a pencil on a ballot paper and putting it into a ballot box, but I regret to say that the integrity of our own voting system has been put at needless risk in recent years. All sides of this House had reservations about the recent measure to introduce ID for voting. The evidence of fraud under the old system was certainly less than the evidence so far of the deterrent effect under the new system. I do not want our country ever to be accused of voter suppression. That is very bad for our democracy—and we have enough threats as it is.

For example, looking forward, many have warned, including our National Cyber Security Centre, that the coming general election will feature AI-generated deepfakes designed to unsettle us. The sophistication of deepfaked videos is such that, to take a random example, you could make a deepfake video of the Leader of the House ardently advocating the return of a Labour Government. I suppose this would be the equivalent of the Zinoviev Letter, whose 100th anniversary we are celebrating this year, but much more powerful because of the effectiveness of the technology and the power of social media to amplify fake messages. The World Economic Forum has just announced that disinformation from AI is regarded as one of the greatest global risks.

My time has run out, but I wanted to say this. like other Members, I enjoy going to talk to schools. Before Christmas, I went to Chiswick School. Its sixth form asked excellent questions, but one of the things that was uncovered in our discussion was cynicism, which I think is the greatest threat to our parliamentary democracy. We all support the principles of Nolan, which are in our code of conduct, but we must protect the new generation of voters from the cynicism that would otherwise undermine their support for the parliamentary democracy we are debating today. I very much hope that the new generation will take comfort from the fact that we need to uphold the greatest possible standards in public life, and that they will benefit from it when the time comes.

Death of a Member: Lord Judge

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Thursday 9th November 2023

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, I want to tell your Lordships how glad I am that Lord Judge, with others, secured the total repeal of the wicked laws that turned homosexuals into criminals. When I was a young barrister, I defended a number of them and well remember their pain and suffering. This wonderful man possessed such great humanity.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I met Lord Judge only at the end of his life. I will regard him as a parliamentarian who spoke with such eloquence, precision and brevity on issues relating to the powers between the Executive and the legislature. He was so kind to me as a new Member; I find this reflected in all the things that everyone has said about him so far, and I pay tribute to him for that alone. I am also very proud of a House that can pay such tribute to such a man.

Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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My Lords, like others who have spoken, I corresponded with Lord Judge during his illness. It was mainly about books—he was, indeed, a bookish man—although there was the odd foray into the need for further agitation on secondary legislation. I worried when I sent him a book, because I knew what an erudite man he was, and it was not about cricket or history. It was more frivolous but very important: I sent him Lessons in Chemistry. He absolutely loved it. He wrote back to me about how many of his family he had given it to, including the men in the family as much as the women. The last thing he said was that he was very lucky because he had a father who had instilled in him the importance of the education and empowerment of women. He was a great feminist as well as everything else. He ended that note about his father by saying, “He was a lovely man”. So was Igor.

Security Update

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Monday 11th September 2023

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. I fully endorse all the comments made by my noble friend on the Opposition Front Bench. I declare an interest as a member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy; it involves Members of both Houses, some of whom have been mentioned in the course of press reporting on the case that we are discussing—or not discussing. We are fully aware of the fact that certain countries, such as China, are engaged in what I have heard described as the hoovering up of as much information and intelligence as possible for purposes of their own that may be a threat to us.

The Statement refers to the Official Secrets Act and related legislation. Do I take it from the Leader of the House’s answers so far that the Government take the view that the National Security Act now provides a much more appropriate legal framework for considering a case of this kind? Secondly, we now know of events that took place as long ago as March, but that have only become widely known this week. Is there any connection between this and the fact that the Prime Minister chose to raise with Premier Li at the G20 summit the case that has given rise to this Statement?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the Prime Minister will have an opportunity to discuss the G20 Statement tomorrow, when I fear that your Lordships will suffer the pain of me answering again from this Dispatch Box. Perhaps I can then say a little more, if asked, about the engagement with Premier Li. However, I assure the House that the Prime Minister has certainly addressed the substance of Chinese activity and China’s efforts to undermine our democratic procedures so far as they are concerned.

On the question of the Official Secrets Act and the National Security Act, I would not wish to relate those to the ongoing investigation and was not seeking to do so. Obviously, I referred to the National Security Act, as did the director-general of MI5, as a further building block in the tools we have. That was in response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Newby. So far as the current investigation is concerned, the Met has said that due to the active and ongoing nature of the investigation, it will not provide further details at this stage. It would not be right for me to comment on these reports. A statement was put out by the Metropolitan Police; I refer noble Lords to that statement.

The Importance of the Relationship Between the United Kingdom and India

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Thursday 19th January 2023

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, it was with great sadness that I listened to the valedictory speech of my noble friend Lord Soley. I well remember his election as the Member of Parliament for Hammersmith North in 1979, though I first came across him earlier as a probation officer. I pay tribute to the Lord Privy Seal, the clerks and my noble friends on the Front Bench for having engineered a wonderful parliamentary solution to the problem that was outlined. I saw what a sophisticated parliamentary souvenir he had with the special outing he was given on the annunciator, of a kind that has never been seen before. I wish him well in his retirement. I also congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Minto, and the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, on their maiden speeches. I very much look forward to all they have to say in future in the many years that I know they will have in this House.

It has been 35 years since I first went to India. I had never seen such a difference between getting on a plane at Heathrow and getting off at Calcutta. Before I continue, I want to share my long-standing connection with India, which arises out of the well-known phrase, which has already been used, of the “living bridge” of the 1.6 million people of Indian origin who live in the UK.

My mother-in-law was Indian. In fact, she was born 100 years ago this very year—although, bless her, we never found her birth certificate. She had such a haphazard attitude to paperwork that it caused a lot of trouble in her life and to us. Her great wish was to come to Britain and become a philosopher. After the Second World War, she was able to get here; she eventually taught philosophy at the University of Sussex and wrote books in English and Bengali, the most readable of which, by far, was her own personal story, The Story of a Female Philosopher. She married not long after the Second World War, and therefore my wife is half-Indian. It follows that my children, Emily and Daniel, are very proud of their Indian heritage—as am I—and, as we speak, my daughter is taking part in a literary festival in Jaipur.

That is not the only reason that I have a connection with India, and I hope that the House will not mind if I explain why. In the interests of transparency, I point out that, nearly 100 years ago, one of my grandfathers was the Secretary of State for India in the Labour Cabinet of 1929. When I was young, my grandfather and my dad told me about the visit of Gandhi in the 1930s; my grandfather had arranged for him to be invited to the second Round Table Conference. When Gandhi arrived in Britain, he was besieged by the British press, who asked him, “Mr Gandhi, what do you think of democracy in Britain?” He replied:

“I think it would be a good idea.”


Things have changed since then. As other noble Lords have said, India is the world’s largest democracy and is projected to overtake China as the world’s most populous country and become the third-largest economy before 2040—it is already the fifth.

Time is very short, so I just want to make a couple of quick points. Whatever the future holds, the historic colonial era mindset, which is still observable around some opinion-formers in the media in the UK, must play no part in our future relationship. We must have a relationship of regard and respect. One thing that I hope we will achieve is to make India a permanent member of the United Nations; that has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Swire, and I fully agree. The other thing that I wanted to say was to emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Patel, did in his speech, in talking about the connections in science between the UK and India. I endorse the biennial ministerial UK science and innovation council and hope that we can play an increasing part in co-operation on satellite technology and even on civil nuclear power. However, it is the migration and mobility partnership that is one of the most important areas. Reference has been made to the young professionals scheme, allowing people to come in, and I hope that the Minister will confirm in his remarks that this scheme has now officially been implemented.

My time has run out, unfortunately, but I just point out that Indian students have a choice. They do not have to come to the UK; they can go to America, Australia or Canada. I thank with great gratitude the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for having initiated this debate, enabling me to make a brief contribution, because it is a very good time to have a debate about our future relations. I hope that this debate will improve them.

Democracy Denied (DPRRC Report)

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Thursday 12th January 2023

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I wish I could say that it is a pleasure to take part in this debate. In a way, because of the nature of the subject and where we are, it is not—but it is a very necessary debate. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who has great expertise in this area. The House owes a great deal to him and to many others with knowledge far greater than mine. I congratulate the two chairs of the committees concerned on the way in which they produced the reports and introduced them. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Prentis of Leeds, who is not in his place, on his excellent maiden speech. I am sure he will play a very big part in the life of this House. His analysis of the loss of public trust in institutions is very pertinent.

When I reflected on the number of names down to speak in this debate, I found myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who said earlier that it was a surprise—I took it as an encouragement. Today’s debate is just another example of the underlying issue of how we are governed. I personally think that this is the real importance of today’s debate, and the real importance of the subject. I am one of those who takes the view that the way in which we are governed is not good enough, and the content of these two reports well illustrates some of the problems. The more Members who take an interest in this the better, because something is going wrong. The balance of power between the Executive and the legislature has for some time been changing, to the detriment of the legislature—both this House and another place. The two reports help to explain how.

Both reports are excellent. I commend the Members, clerks and staff for producing them. I am tempted to say that these are also two excellent examples of titles of reports. When I first saw them laid out in the Royal Gallery over a year ago, I thought here are two committee reports that pull no punches. I am sorry that it has taken quite so long for us to debate them. However, that is a refrain that I have often heard in the short time in which I have been here.

The reports paint a picture of the erosion of parliamentary supremacy. Their analysis is broadly correct. When I ask myself how we have arrived at this situation, the answer is over quite a long period. I do not blame this particular Government, as much as some other noble Lords might, for the situation that we are in today, because all Governments are tempted by the easier life that they can have if their legislative objectives can be met by minimising the parliamentary scrutiny that would normally accompany and apply to Bills.

Our basic legislative process has the great merit of being able to change things. In the debate about secondary and tertiary legislation, part of the problem we face is that this House and Parliament as a whole do not have the ability to change anything. In the pressure cooker that is building up, something has to give.

I sometimes ask myself whether I am the only Member who sits here and thinks that the only way in which this or any other Government are going to pay any attention to this House regarding a statutory instrument is by voting it down. That would make people sit up and take notice. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, referred to it as nuclear war, and I can understand why he said that. It would be a great shock to the system. I am fully aware that this is one of the issues in which the interests of both Front Benches are greater and have more in common than those of the Front and Back Benches of each side of the House. One day, the Members opposite who I gaze at are going to be sitting on these Benches, and my colleagues will be sitting on those Benches. We all know that a future Government of a different kind will not want to feel that this House votes down an SI. That is all very obvious, but we must counter the insidious shift in the balance of power between the Executive and the legislature.

Looking back, we see that ever since the English civil war Parliament has been trying to gain, and has gained, powers from the monarch, resulting in the constitutional monarchy that we have today. But that is not the end of the story—far from it. Powers once exercised by the monarch are, in effect, exercised by the Prime Minister, and the balance of power has shifted to an Executive who increasingly find Parliament to be an inconvenience and not a partner.

I have read the Government’s response to the report and can therefore anticipate what the Leader of the House will say in his speech. I join others in saying that the Cabinet Office rules should be rewritten entirely in line with the reports. I say again that, whatever the future solution to some of these problems is, it lies in this House’s power to amend.

Finally, I do not know how much interest in our debate will be taken outside the House but I wish that a debate such as this could be livestreamed into schools, colleges and universities where politics is taught, because people need to know that the debate about our parliamentary democracy is live; it is still going on, not somehow fixed in aspic. On the contrary, the debate is a living thing and, for that reason, I very much commend these reports and welcome today’s debate.

Cabinet Manual: Revision (Constitution Committee Report)

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Friday 16th December 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this debate and have looked forward to it with the same sense of excitement that has just been expressed. I commend the Select Committee for its excellent report and my noble friend Lady Drake for the clear and comprehensive way in which she outlined its contents.

I hope the House will allow me to start with a personal tribute. In the short time since I was elected to this House, this is the first time I have had the pleasure of seeing the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, in his place. I hope I might call him my noble friend because, over many years, he has been one of the astute observers of what we might call the Westminster village, and his expertise and analysis has been universally acknowledged. His books and writings have made a tremendous contribution to our understanding of the constitution. I find, after the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that I am not the only person in the Chamber who feels that the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, and Walter Bagehot would have found in each other the same sense of expertise in analysing the political world in which they lived. The way in which the noble Lord has promoted the “good chaps” theory of government is so important, particularly when we have lived through a period when that has been so severely breached, and we are still living with the consequences today.

I am not a member of the Constitution Committee, nor a former Cabinet Secretary or Minister. I am a Back-Bench Member of this House, but I am taking part in this debate because I have an interest in how this country is governed—this debate, if nothing else, is about how the country is governed.

I went to talk to a sixth form not all that long ago. I brought along a copy of the Cabinet Manual and said, “Here you are: you might like to look at this because it explains, in ways you may not realise, how this country works—or is supposed to.” I regret to say that they had never heard of it. Yet I feel that the document, and the updated document we all hope will result from this debate, should be available in schools, because it is part of our constitution.

I pay tribute to Gordon Brown for having been the one who, as Prime Minister, triggered this and to the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, for having drafted, written and produced it. The then Prime Minister of course continues to have an interest in the architecture of our constitution, and we will hear more about that in the future. I note that it is the view of the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, that the lack of an effective enforcement mechanism means that contravention may be merely political—there is no sense in which there is anything more formal than that. Of course, “merely” political can encompass a great deal of things. I am taken back almost 50 years to when I first came across a then secret document, Questions of Procedure for Ministers, which was a precursor to the Ministerial Code. I can report that it of course caused a great deal of tension between the then Prime Minister and a member of the Cabinet. Noble Lords do not have to listen to my account of it; they can read all about it in someone’s diaries.

I congratulate the committee on its report. It is not very long, but it encapsulates all the major issues arising. I hope that today’s debate will help to shape the way in which the Cabinet Manual can be updated and retain its role as a valuable document.

I hope that the House will not mind my regretting that it has taken a year and a half for this debate to come forward. I know that that is the fate of many Select Committee reports. Nevertheless, you could argue that the delay has enabled us to have an even more rounded view of the areas in which the Cabinet Manual needs to be updated. After all, since the Select Committee report was originally published, we have had three Prime Ministers and countless other examples of Ministers changing, with the greatest number of Ministers in a department in a single year. We have, I think uniquely, two resignation honours lists pending, and in an updated manual a place might be found for what you would do about that.

However, there is a broad consensus, which I endorse, that the most appropriate time to bring to a conclusion a review of the Cabinet Manual is in the gap between one Parliament and the next. That is certainly more sensible than doing it over the Summer Recess. Can you imagine someone trying to do it in the Summer Recess of 2019 or 2022? They would have found that most of their work was outdated by the time they had finished it.

I note that the Leader of the House, in his then capacity of Minister of State in the Cabinet Office, has said that the Government intend to publish an updated manual before the end of this Parliament. I wonder whether it will be sneaked out on Christmas Eve in 2024—we shall have to wait and see. There are a range of issues that the committee has identified as important enough to be included. A prime example is the repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which I never liked or supported, and the way in which we have restored the essential flexibility to our parliamentary democracy. There are other examples as well. I cannot be the only Member of this House to take the view that the attempt of the then Prime Minister to prorogue Parliament for six weeks in 2019 was an astonishing breach of every convention encapsulated in the Cabinet Manual. There was nothing remotely “good chaps” about that.

Another example—there are several, and some have been mentioned in other speeches—obviously, is the effect of devolution in the 10 or 11 years since it took place. There is the fact that, in triggering Article 50, Parliament in the end needed to be involved; that needs to be reflected in the manual, too. Parliament’s role in agreeing military conflict and treaties needs to be updated. There are the obvious changes as a result of our leaving the European Union, some of which we do not yet know. I might add a couple of extra vignettes for the House. One was the need to update paragraph 1.8 of the Cabinet Manual, relating to counsellors of state, which, as the House knows, had to be updated because it was realised that the definition of “counsellors of state” as the next four people in line to the throne had become unworkable in the current circumstances. Anyway, we have now changed that and put it right. It might even refer to efforts to influence the size of the House and reduce it.

I know that it has been the opinion of many distinguished Cabinet Secretaries that this is an executive document and ultimately the preserve of the Prime Minister, but that should not preclude Parliament—and I mean both Houses—from playing a meaningful role in updating it. It is essential that Parliament updates it; the appropriate committees should have the right to be consulted and should reach a view on what the proposed update should be. I hope that the Leader of the House in his reply will at least convey an assurance that that will be undertaken.

Finally, I personally hope that one result of this debate will be to inject the Cabinet Manual with a renewed lease of life. I do not want it to be a polaroid snapshot; I want it to be a valuable document that continues to play a useful part in our efficient constitution, and not let it decay into becoming part of our dignified constitution.

Baroness Barker Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Barker) (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, is taking part remotely, and I invite him to speak.

Counsellors of State Bill [HL]

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert—
“(c) on the death of a person named in paragraph (a) or (b), any person named by His Majesty the King by Order in Council.(1A) A statutory instrument containing an Order under subsection (1)(c) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I will not unduly take up the time of the Committee in introducing this amendment because my sense is that there are many Members who would not necessarily want to waste scarce parliamentary time unnecessarily.

My amendment is simple and straightforward: it proposes that, once the Bill has reached the statute book, if a Counsellor of State dies then the King may provide a replacement. It does not say the King has to do so; it simply says that he may if he wants to, and proposed new Section (1A) in the amendment provides the mechanism for doing so with the suitable involvement of Parliament. That is it.

The amendment is designed to be helpful. After all, the Bill is before us because the King has suggested that changing the Regency Act 1937 would be helpful to him in the discharge of his duties, and has asked us that two new names be added for life to the list of Counsellors of State. The Committee will know that both Princess Anne and the Earl of Wessex have already served in this role in years gone by.

As the Leader of the House said at Second Reading, it is the custom and practice for Counsellors of State to act in pairs, and he gave several examples in his speech. We saw that with our own eyes at the State Opening of Parliament when the Prince of Wales, as he then was, and Prince William, as he then was, acted as Counsellors of State and made it possible for this Session of Parliament to be opened. I believe that is the only time that Her late Majesty the Queen ever delegated these functions to Counsellors of State because of illness.

The Bill before us will solve the immediate problem and my amendment seeks only to avoid another, and to save some time. If one of the new Counsellors of State proposed in the Bill were to predecease the King, action would have to be taken again. We might even have to have a new Bill. Why? Because, as the Committee well knows, underlying the Bill is the fact that at least two of the existing Counsellors of State would not be publicly acceptable in the role that they would then have. That is why the King has recognised that there is a problem and why he has suggested the solution outlined in the Bill. My amendment is designed merely to help the King in future, and I commend it to the Committee.

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
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My Lords, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee reported on the Bill in terms that are regrettably rare nowadays. It said:

“This Bill contains no delegated powers.”


The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has not had the opportunity here to complain about delegated powers, and I am very pleased about that. I should be very sorry to see a delegated power introduced at this stage, particularly a delegated power conferred on His Majesty. In 1867, Walter Bagehot wrote that the monarch has three rights—the right to consult, the right to encourage and the right to warn. The monarch has no right and no power to produce delegated legislation. I can think of no precedent for the Crown having a delegated power—certainly not since 1689.

Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, presses his amendment with good intent. He has expressed his views at every stage of this process with the utmost civility and courtesy. I thank him for that.

I understand that, from his perspective, he seeks to add a certain flexibility or, as he would see it, some insurance to the system. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, implied in his important intervention, it would add further rigidity, novelty and potentially delay to the procedure. The steps in the amendment are not required and they are unwelcome. The amendment goes considerably further than the limited modification proposed in the Bill. As I submitted to your Lordships at Second Reading, the nature of this Bill flows from a message from His Majesty. I think it was the feeling of the House at Second Reading that the Bill is appropriate and proportionate to the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

The noble Viscount is proposing a wider change to the underlying architecture of the legislation. As indicated in the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, it would grant the sovereign a new authority—one which was not referenced in the King’s message—but does not indicate on what basis any such decision would be made. It would also introduce a novel parliamentary process into these matters. In this respect, it is a departure from the current framework and the proposition before us, and the Government do not believe that it is necessary or desirable.

I repeat that the Government believe that the approach suggested in the Bill is a reasonable and practical solution in the current context. The Bill as currently drafted will create a sufficient pool of counsellors who will hold this role for their lifetimes. As the noble Viscount will understand, with the effluxion of time, the order of succession will evolve and so will the situation once this Bill becomes an Act.

Although I acknowledge the spirit in which this amendment is tabled, the history of the Regency Acts demonstrates that it is a challenging task for Parliament or any legislator to predict the future. I suggest that we do not seek to do so here but seek rather to respond to the task at hand and proceed in the light of the message that the sovereign has sent us. It indicates his wishes and, I feel, the wishes of the House, that this practical, limited and moderate approach should be taken at the present time. I urge the noble Viscount to withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I would say only that it has almost been worth it to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I of course beg leave to withdraw my amendment. I hope that this Bill will succeed in its intention. Time will tell how events will turn out in the future.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Counsellors of State Bill [HL]

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Lord Privy Seal for his comments. This Bill has been a learning curve for many in your Lordships’ House. In conducting our debate, we have reached a sensible conclusion which concurs with the wishes of His Majesty the King. This Bill is a proportionate, moderate measure, which has the support of this House. Other issues may arise in due course that the House will wish to look at. This is not something that happens every day. I thank the noble Lord for his courtesy in engaging with the Opposition at all times about the detail of the Bill. We greatly appreciate it. We also thank those officials who have worked on bringing this Bill to the House.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I echo the comments of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. I thank the Minister for the way in which he has dealt with all the issues and for the way in which he has taken the Bill through the House. It is not every day that a Bill goes through in three days. I also thank him for his personal courtesy to me, not least with regard to the amendment that I moved earlier. It is quite clear that he and others would have preferred it if I had not tabled it at all.

We have waited 70 years for a Bill of this kind. I am tempted to say that, having waited 70 years for a bus, I hope, on this occasion, another one does not come along at once. I hope that this Bill will succeed in its purpose and provide the resilience for the constitutional arrangements to which the noble Lord and others have referred. In the fullness of time, we may have to come back to it, but I hope this is not for a very long time. Meanwhile, I wish the Bill well. As has been said before, it is not often that Bills go from this House to another place. It will do the other place no harm to find that this Bill reaches them from this direction, rather than the other way around.

Counsellors of State Bill [HL]

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, this is a necessary Bill, and it should pass. It is also the case that we know why it is necessary. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, who speaks with such experience and authority in this area.

The monarch cannot always be available to perform his or her duties, and by long tradition over centuries, enshrined most recently in statute, others have been appointed from within the Royal Household to assist the sovereign. The duties cover things such as those listed by the noble Lord, including Privy Council meetings, signing relevant documents, receiving ambassadorial credentials and so on, but they do not include appointing Prime Ministers, dissolving Parliament or conferring peerages.

Under the existing Regency Act 1937, as the Leader of the House outlined, there are currently five who hold the position of Counsellor of State: the Queen Consort, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Duke of Sussex and Princess Beatrice. I think that there are many people in this country who would find this current list a curious mixture. Many would say, “Well, why isn’t Princess Anne and Prince Edward on it?”, which of course is why we are here today. That is because the current list, under the formula of the 1937 Act, bases Counsellors of State on the next four adults in the line of succession. It is clear that neither the King nor the Government want to change the definition of the line of succession to the Crown, or its relationship to those who are eligible to serve as a Counsellor of State. Yet, for reasons that we know, the current system is untenable, which is why we have this Bill.

When I first raised the issue at the beginning of the year, it was already clear that there were elements of Her late Majesty’s reign that had a regency about it. Her Majesty had reached a great age and was increasingly unable to fulfil some of the constitutional functions that she had performed with such distinction for decades. Earlier this year, the Government announced that they had no intention to change the Act, but events unfolded—the Leader of the House referred to the single most decisive occasion, which was the opening of this current Session of Parliament—which were only made possible by virtue of the operation of the Regency Act. We know that Her Majesty’s final constitutional act was to appoint a new Prime Minister, something that only a monarch can do. I am one of those of the opinion that she deliberately held on because she knew that that duty lay ahead of her.

As the House knows, I raised the matter on the Floor of the House on 24 October, and my Question swiftly unearthed the news that the King—and, by all accounts, Her late Majesty as well—had also begun to realise that, in future, the existing arrangements would not work because they would not be publicly acceptable in the case of two of the existing Counsellors of State, one of whom has left public life and one of whom has left the country. So, when the King sent his message to your Lordships’ House a week ago, I think it reflected his own recognition that the current position is untenable. He has shown an important sensitivity to public opinion and is to be commended for it.

Over the centuries, Parliament has passed Regency Acts to deal with all manner of circumstances, and the Leader of the House alluded to some of them. The regency Act 1811 provided that Prince George could act for his incapacitated father, King George III; the Regency Act 1830 provided for what would happen if the King died before Victoria had reached the age of 18; the Lords Justices Act 1837 provided for what would happen if Queen Victoria died without legitimate children succeeding her; the Regency Act 1840 provided for what would happen if Queen Victoria died so that Prince Albert would, in effect, take over until such time as their eldest child reached 18; the Regency Act 1910 provided that, in the event of the death of King George V, Queen Mary would rule as regent. In fact, the Regency Act 1937 broke this pattern, because it established, as it were, a mechanism for defining who Counsellors of State would be in relation to the line of succession to the Crown, which we know.

There is a long history of Parliament taking pragmatic action, and the Bill before us today, as has already been said, does the simplest possible thing to address the problem: it simply adds two names to those defined under the Act. I think that it will be widely supported; it is the easiest and most straightforward thing to do. It is, however, a quick fix, and it does not entirely provide a solution to what may happen in the future. If, for example, Princess Anne or Prince Edward were themselves to become unavailable, through circumstances such as illness or worse, the law would immediately need to be looked at again and we would have another Bill before the House. Would it not be better if the Bill provided a sort of updated formula for identifying who can become Counsellors of State depending on circumstances, which is, in effect, what the 1937 Act tried to do?

The Leader of the House said that the start of a new reign is an appropriate time to reconsider the resilience of our constitutional arrangements in support of the monarch, and he is right. But it may be possible that we can spend a short time in Committee exploring an alternative approach, especially in relation to what happens if something happens to the two Counsellors of State that the Bill proposes we add today. In the meantime, I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.