Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is a great pleasure to speak to this Bill. I can say at the start that the support from the Opposition is clear to see. There are no Liberal Democrats, no Scottish National party Members and only one Labour Member on the Back Benches. Clearly, they do not want the current Prime Minister to be replaced.
The Conservative Benches are, of course, full. We need to deal with this issue properly, and I am very pleased that we have here the excellent Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove). He seems to do many things for the Government, not least stopping small boats coming across the channel, and I thank him for being here today.
I suppose I am now speaking in support of Government policy, but I think we should formalise that policy. Let me explain briefly what the Bill does. If the Prime Minister—any Prime Minister—is incapacitated, temporarily or permanently, there needs to be a route to allow us to have a Prime Minister in charge immediately. That person must have all the powers of the Prime Minister and may be required to take exceptionally difficult decisions straight away.
Let me give hon. Members an example. Let us say that a bomb goes off in Cabinet, and the Prime Minister is incapacitated and a number of Cabinet Ministers are killed. At the same time, a civil aircraft has diverted from its route and is heading towards Buckingham Palace. Obviously, a decision has to be made immediately on what to do about that aircraft. Do we shoot it down, or not? The Defence Secretary says, “I need the Prime Minister’s approval before doing that.” There is no Prime Minister, so what happens? Does the Defence Secretary shoot the plane down on his own authority, or does he allow it to plough into Buckingham Palace? This is a real possibility.
It may be that a big argument goes on immediately afterwards. The Defence Secretary says, “I have the right to do this,” but somebody says, “You are not the Prime Minister.” The Cabinet Secretary stands up and says, “Well, I represent the constitution. I need to make the decision if there is not a Prime Minister.” The Prime Minister’s chief of staff stands up and says, “I know everything about the whole world.” What if there is a maniac as chief of staff in No. 10 who is completely off the rails—as people discover later? Let us say for a minute that this person is called Dom: would we want him to make that decision? He could make the case for why he should make it because there was no Prime Minister at the time. That is what my Bill seeks to make clear: who is in charge immediately at a moment of crisis.