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Procedure Committee recommends that the Foreign Secretary should be scrutinised at the Bar of the House

24 January 2024

The House of Commons Procedure Committee publishes its report into Commons scrutiny of Secretaries of State in the House of Lords

The Committee recommends that, for the remainder of the Parliament, the House of Commons should change its practice so that the Foreign Secretary can be scrutinised by MPs on behalf of their constituents.

It proposes that the Rt Hon Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton should be able to answer questions and makes statements from the Bar of the House at the end of the chamber rather than the despatch box, which should remain reserved for MPs.

Chair's comment

The Rt Hon Dame Karen Bradley MP, 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 States on behalf of their constituents.”

Lord Cameron is the first Member of the Lords to hold one of the Great Offices of State for over 40 years. Following his appointment, the Speaker asked the Committee to explore enhanced options for scrutiny of senior ministers who sat in the Lords.

The Committee’s preference is that Secretaries of State should sit in the Commons, however it has made time-limited proposals to facilitate scrutiny of the Foreign Secretary during this Parliament. It has recommended that he should attend regular departmental question times in the Commons Chamber, and also make ministerial statements and answer urgent questions in the Commons where it would be normal for the Foreign Secretary to appear. This would be alongside the normal appearances a Secretary of State would make before Commons select committees.

The previously proposed option of scrutinising the Foreign Secretary in a committee room or Westminster Hall were not practical in the Committee’s view, as only a small fraction of MPs would be able to attend. Although many parts of parliamentary business are delegated to junior ministers the Committee concluded that all MPs should have the opportunity to scrutinise the Foreign Secretary, who is ultimately accountable for the work of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, on behalf of their constituents. This is even more important at a time of heightened global tensions.

Further information

Image credit: UK Parliament/Tyler Allicock