HC Deb 12 February 2002 vol 380 cc68-9
43. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

What consideration he is giving to bringing the operation of the royal prerogative under parliamentary scrutiny. [32380]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook)

The royal prerogative is usually exercised by Ministers or on their advice. Ministers are accountable to Parliament for their decisions, but I am always open to constructive ideas on strengthening scrutiny.

Jeremy Corbyn

I am rather disappointed with my right hon. Friend's reply. Given his reforming zeal to make the Executive accountable to Parliament, I had hoped that, at the very least, the absolute power of kings, transferred to the absolute power of Ministers, would finally be brought to public account. Will my right hon. Friend bring forward proposals to ensure that every decision taken under the royal prerogative by the Prime Minister or any other Minister is openly and immediately reported to the House, open to debate and open to a vote before it can be taken to its completion? That would be a start in ensuring that democracy in Britain really works and that the Executive are accountable to the elected representatives of the people.

Mr. Cook

I am sorry that my hon. Friend is disappointed. I thought that I had crafted an open and welcoming answer on which my hon. Friend could build. I repeat that Ministers are accountable to this place. There can be no question of the Prime Minister or any other Minister of the Crown acting under the royal prerogative in a way that is unacceptable to the House of Commons. They would be very quickly brought to book by the House, and rightly so.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the growing concern about the use of the royal prerogative by Ministers, particularly the Prime Minister? In view of almost daily revelations about lobbying, favours and cash for coronets, will the Leader of the House consider the introduction of an ethical Question Time so that we can look at the moral ethics of Ministers when they use the royal prerogative?

Mr. Cook

I am not sure quite how that supplementary arises from the matter in hand. We had extended discussions on party funding in the last Parliament. It was, after all, this Government who introduced legislation to make sure that party funding is transparent, open and accountable and can be received only by those in Britain. We are pleased with what we have done to clean up the act of party funding. It is a matter of great regret that Conservative Members did nothing about it in their 18 years of power.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

The Prime Minister's considerable powers rest largely on the royal prerogative. Why does he refuse to appear before the Select Committee on Public Administration to account for the decisions that he takes under those prerogative powers? I ask my right hon. Friend to intercede with the Prime Minister, ask him to break with precedent and come before the Public Administration Committee, where we will give him a gentle ride.

Mr. Cook

I am greatly encouraged by my hon. Friend's reference to a gentle ride. I am sure that we can build on that for the future in his relations with the Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet.

As my hon. Friend rightly says, there is a clearly established precedent. No Prime Minister has ever appeared before any Select Committee, and it is difficult to see where it would stop once the Prime Minister had appeared before any one Select Committee. However, I remind my hon. Friend that the Prime Minister comes here every week for Question Time. Indeed, he has a better record of attendance at Question Time than either of his two predecessors.