My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and to be in a position to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie, on her marvellous maiden speech. I too thank the Minister for the thoughtful way in which he introduced this debate and in so doing declare my interest as chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. The period between 2017 and 2019 made vivid the severe limitations of that legislation. Keeping a powerless Government in power against their will, exacerbating tensions between the Executive and Parliament and, indeed, the Executive and the courts, and drawing the Crown into potential controversy—a seriously dangerous situation—were the unintended consequences of that legislation.
We have heard about the important Dissolution principles that have been established in preparing the way for the repeal of this Act and legislation that will follow. I think all noble Lords agree that it is essential that the Prime Minister of the day enjoys the absolute confidence of the other place to remain in the position to form a Government, and it is absolutely correct that all involved in the political process ensure that that the sovereign is not drawn into party politics.
However, much has happened in addition in the period since the enactment of that Act. Much of what has happened has drawn on provisions in that statutory framework, the interpretation of other statutes and other long-standing legislation. We have heard from my noble and learned friend the Convenor about Article 9, for instance. Therefore, this Parliament has to be certain that all that happened—the new precedents and the new conventions that were established in that period—will also be addressed responsibly and sensibly to ensure that we do not find ourselves with new unintended consequences as a result of further legislation in this regard, or indeed through not having addressed the totality of what we have learned in the period since the Act’s passage. In considering the way forward, are Her Majesty’s Government content that, in instructing the courts that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act no longer exists and that what has happened subsequently may be ignored, there are sufficient safeguards to protect our constitutional arrangements and to ensure that we never again find ourselves in the situation we were in during that very difficult period for this Parliament?
I will also draw on the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London regarding integrated care. I know it is not a subject of debate on the constitution and the union, but I support her comments. Integrated care is essential to the future functioning and delivery of our National Health Service, and I warmly welcome Her Majesty’s Government’s commitment to legislate in this Parliament for provisions to ensure that the NHS can perform on an integrated basis. The proposed legislation, as laid out in the White Paper, identifies the structural and commissioning impediments to delivering integrated care in the NHS, but it fails to address the important issue of regulation. To deliver integrated care, care must be seamless across different clinical environments—hospitals, primary care and community care—and across the needs of patients for care of their physical and mental health, and it must deal with healthcare and social care. Each of these domains is regulated differently. The White Paper fails to address regulation for an integrated care system, and as a result we may end up with the unintended consequence of dealing with the structural and commissioning impediments to delivering integrated care while retaining the regulatory impediments to doing so.
It is also critical, in committing to integrated care in our National Health Service by building on our experience during the Covid pandemic and the remarkable achievement of mass vaccination across our nation, that there is a renewed commitment to establishing the metrics and measurement of data pertaining to how care is delivered and how successful it is to ensure that we are always improving outcomes for every citizen and patient in our country.