Lord David Cameron should be questioned by MPs in the House of Commons, according to a report from the chamber’s procedure committee.
Questions about how elected politicians could hold the appointed foreign secretary account have abounded since he was given the job by Rishi Sunak in November 2023.
The procedure committee, which is made up of 17 MPs, most of whom are Conservatives, began looking into the matter almost straight away.
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The committee has now recommended that Lord Cameron should be able to be questioned by MPs in the Commons, after concerns he would not be able to answer questions from politicians representing the public, especially at a time with various foreign crises.
But, much as having a senior minister in the Lords is somewhat reminiscent of a bygone era, the proposal put forward still refuses to break some parliamentary traditions.
The committee says that Lord Cameron should answer questions not from the despatch box, as MPs do, but from an area of the Commons chamber known as the bar.
This is a white line – and sometimes a physical bar – that marks the official entry of the chamber, and which guests and visitors cannot go past.
The report notes that up until the early 1800s, it was common for many witnesses, including lords, to give evidence from the bar.
This included the likes of First Lord of the Admiralty Lord Melville in 1805 and the Duke of Wellington in 1814.
But this became less popular with the advent of select committees. The last non-MP to appear at the bar was journalist John Junor in 1957, who was asked to apologise for an article he had written.
In the examples in the 19th century, peers were given a chair to sit on, but had to stand when answering questions.
The committee suggested this plan of action, as having ministers in the Lords use the despatch box like an MP “would risk blurring the boundaries between the two Houses”.
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It also rejected ideas like having Lord Cameron answer questions in other parts of parliament, for example committee rooms or Westminster Hall, as they are too small.
These venues would have limited the number of MPs able to question Lord Cameron – and the committee believes “it is important that all MPs can participate in scrutiny of Lords secretaries of state”.
They added that the scrutinising of Lord Cameron should take place as often as all other secretaries of state.
Alex Burghart, who is a junior minister in the Cabinet Office, told the committee that having lords appear in the Commons may lead to the normalisation of senior ministers being appointed in the lords – and maybe even prime ministers.
Normally, ministers in the Lords are only junior in their department.
As such, the committee made clear in its recommendations that the suggestions for Lord Cameron “are aimed at addressing the issue the house is currently faced with and should not set a precedent for the future”.
The Lords would need to vote to allow Lord Cameron to appear in the Commons, and the committee suggested that MPs vote on a motion allowing him to appear in their chamber until the next election.
As part of their report, the Committee invited all MPs to submit evidence.
They received 131 responses.
Of these, 88.5% wanted secretaries of state in the Lords to be more accountable to the Commons.
The most popular venue suggested by these MPs was select committees – 69.4% – followed by Westminster Hall – 68.5% – and then the Commons – 63.9%.
More than half (53.3%) wanted Lord Cameron to appear every month, while 32.4% thought he should answer questions only when needed for specific business.
In the additional comments section, various MPs said secretaries of state or those in senior government roles should not sit in the Lords.
However, some MPs seemed less keen on MPs asking questions of Lord Cameron – saying that Andrew Mitchell, who is a junior Foreign Office minister in the Commons, can do a good enough job.
They also raised concerns about the separation of the two houses.
And one MP wrote: “This is none of our business – which is why you have had nearly zero response.”
Dame Karen Bradley, chair of the procedure committee, said: “As elected representatives, members of the House of Commons have a duty to question the foreign secretary. This is especially pressing in light of the crises in the Middle East and Ukraine.
“The committee has considered various mechanisms of scrutiny and taken the views of members, while bearing in mind the practicalities of each proposal.
“We have ultimately concluded that all MPs should be afforded the opportunity to question secretaries of state who sit in the House of Lords, with the Commons chamber providing the best forum to do so.
“We hope the government implements our proposals as quickly as possible, so that MPs can best scrutinise all secretaries of state on behalf of their constituents.”
A government spokesperson said: “We will carefully consider the committee’s report and will respond in due course.”
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