Amendment 1

Counsellors of State Bill [HL] - Committee – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 23 November 2022.

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Viscount Stansgate:

Moved by Viscount Stansgate

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.”

Photo of Viscount Stansgate Viscount Stansgate Labour

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.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

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.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

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.

Photo of Viscount Stansgate Viscount Stansgate Labour

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.