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Leader of the House: Cabinet Membership

Volume 755: debated on Wednesday 16 July 2014

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Leader of the House will be attending Friday’s Cabinet meeting as a full member of the Cabinet.

My Lords, I will attend Friday’s Cabinet, as my noble friend and predecessor Lord Hill would have done, and will be able to participate fully in Cabinet discussions just as he would have done.

My Lords, I am sure that I speak for the whole House in congratulating my noble friend on her appointment, and I am sure that she will do a brilliant job as the Leader of the House. The Companion to the Standing Orders, in paragraph 4.03, on page 61, says:

“The Leader of the House is appointed by the Prime Minister, is a member of the Cabinet, and is responsible for the conduct of government business in the Lords”.

It says so because it is vital that the Leader of the House has the authority of a Cabinet Minister, especially given the large volume of legislation that comes from the other place undebated and unconsidered. She needs the authority to be able to say to other Cabinet Ministers, “This will not wash”, and to say to the Prime Minister, “I think you need to think again”.

Can my noble friend reassure me that the Prime Minister will bring the situation into line with our Standing Orders and with the guidance in the Companion? Is she really happy with a situation where, for the first time in the history of this House and of Cabinet government, there is no Cabinet Minister in this House? What sort of signal does that send to the Civil Service and others about the authority of this place in its important duty of revising legislation?

My Lords, my noble friend raises a number of important points. Clearly he is right to question whether the Leader of the House of Lords is fully equipped to do that job. I am absolutely confident that the Prime Minister has given me the authority I need to represent your Lordships in Cabinet. A few months ago, in answer to a Question on another topic, I said that sometimes I liked to think of myself as an action woman. I like to get things done. I do not need status in order to get things done. I have the authority I need and I shall be judged on the work that I do.

My Lords, I have no doubt that the noble Baroness can get things done. This is not about her status; it is about something much more profound. When I heard about this yesterday, I simply did not believe that it could be true. When it was confirmed later in the day, I was deeply dismayed that the Prime Minister could treat this House with such contempt. The men previously appointed to this post by the Prime Minister sat at the Cabinet table as full members. When it is in government, my own party will reverse this. I shall refer the issue to the Constitution Committee and I hope that it will ask the Prime Minister to give evidence.

I have a number of questions but for the moment I will confine myself to this. Other than for a party chair, what are the precedents for a political party paying part of the salary of a Cabinet Minister? Given that the Leader is the Leader of the whole House and not just of the Conservative Benches, surely this is both improper and unethical.

I would emphasise to the noble Baroness and to all noble Lords that I shall sit around the same Cabinet table and participate fully in its discussions in exactly the same way as all my predecessors did. It will be a great privilege to do so. As to her question about the salary that the post attracts, I can assure the House that careful consideration is being given to the propriety of any arrangement.

I can tell my noble friend that I believe that we have a duty to uphold the reputation of the House as a serious and distinguished institution that serves the public interest. That is what we will be judged on and that is what I intend to do. I hope that I have the support of all noble Lords in fulfilling that responsibility.

My Lords, does the Leader accept that she commands the full support of the House? There is no doubt about that. Lest there be any doubt, she should understand that the Cross-Bench Members of this House join with all other noble Lords in saying we believe that it is most important that the Leader of this House is a full member of the Cabinet.

I am grateful to the noble Lord. As I have already said, I understand why noble Lords are raising this issue. However, if I were concerned that the status I have been given as Leader were in any way diluted and would affect the practical way in which I shall conduct myself in fulfilling my responsibilities, I would clearly question it. I do not believe that it does.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the important aspect of this appointment is that the status of a full member of the Cabinet enjoyed by the former Leader, the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Oareford, is in no way diminished by the present appointment? Would she give a categorical assurance that this will be so?

I say to my noble friend that, in all practical ways, I will contribute to Cabinet in exactly the same way as my predecessor. That is what the Prime Minister asked me to do.

My Lords, I first join with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, in saying that this Question has nothing to do with the ability or the integrity of the noble Baroness. These issues concern the status of this House. Does not history tell us that since 1902 the Leader of this House has been a full member of the Cabinet? What has happened is not that the noble Baroness has done anything wrong; it is that the Prime Minister has diminished the standing and rank of this House.

Some historians might question whether there has ever been a Leader of the Lords who was not a full member of the Cabinet. Some documentation I have seen suggests that one of my most distinguished predecessors, my noble friend Lord Carrington, was not a full member of the Cabinet when he was Leader of your Lordships’ House. I refer back to my point that the most important issue, in the context of the status of this House, is how we all conduct our responsibilities.

My Lords, it may be true about the time when my noble friend Lord Carrington was Leader of the House, but at least two other Cabinet Ministers at that time were from the House of Lords. Is my noble friend aware that there is no constitutional or formal limit on the size of the Cabinet? The only limit arises on paid members of the Cabinet under the 1975 Act. Therefore, it ought to be possible to arrive at a solution that enables the Cabinet to be large enough to provide what the whole House thinks should happen: that the Leader is a member of the Cabinet.

I can assure my noble friend that all options have been carefully explored. The decision the Prime Minister has made is the right one given the constraints under which he has to operate. I share his view on that matter.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness accept from all of us that she has our wholehearted support? However, can she not understand that this is a matter of constitutional importance? When she stands at the Dispatch Box she represents the whole of this House. When she says, on behalf of the Prime Minister, that she understands his position, will she not accept that no one else in this House does? Will she convey to him, in the strongest possible way, that it is this House’s view that he has committed what amounts to a constitutional outrage that this House does not accept?

I believe that, in making his appointments yesterday, the Prime Minister ensured that we have a Government well equipped to serve the people of this country. I have made the point about the status of the Leader of this House. Clearly, I understand the very strong views that have been expressed during the supplementary questions to this Question. However, for my part, I want to focus on how I do my job and what I do.

My Lords, I realise that a Private Member’s Bill is now due to be introduced, but this is a self-regulating House and there are two or three more noble Lords who wish to put a supplementary question to the Leader of the House. I have the greatest sympathy for the noble Baroness but I ask whether, in this self-regulating House, those Members who still have a question to put to her can do so.

My Lords, I remind noble Lords that we are indeed a self-regulating House—but a House that has very clear rules about how we conduct our business. Noble Lords opposite are great defenders of the Companion. I propose that we respect the Companion in this regard.

My Lords, with the leave of the House, we could continue this session for at least another five minutes so that these important and valuable constitutional questions could be addressed. I think that the House is owed that by the Government.

My Lords, I respectfully put to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that the Act which limits the number of Cabinet members to 23 essentially creates a first and second division. The first division comprises ex officio members of the Cabinet, and that is a special status. In the 300-year life of the Cabinet as we know it, there has never before been a situation when at least one Member of the Lords, and probably more than one Member, was not an ex officio member. Has the Prime Minister done this out of oversight or out of a deliberate policy in relation to this House?

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister clearly has to operate in accordance with the legislation that prescribes how many Cabinet posts can attract a salary. He has made his decisions on his appointments, as he is at liberty to do, and I believe that he has made those decisions properly. I understand that noble Lords want to keep debating this matter but, as there is very little more for me to offer beyond what I have said so far today, I can only repeat what I said: some important points have been made but I am quite clear that the status that the Prime Minister has afforded me accords me to do my job appropriately.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall that when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, he had not just my noble friend Lady Royall as a full member of the Cabinet but my noble friends Lord Mandelson and Lord Adonis as well—there were three full members of the Cabinet. The noble Baroness is Leader of this House. Surely she recognises the view of this House. Why can she not go back to the Prime Minister and say, “This is the view of the House”, and then come and tell us whether the Prime Minister will reconsider his decision in the light of the views of this House?

My Lords, the Prime Minister in the previous Government was responsible for the appointments that he made and I am not going to comment on them. However, the one thing that I will say to the noble Lord is that it was the previous Government who decided to make a very substantial constitutional change to this House, leading to the removal of the Lord Chancellor from this House. As I have said, many points have been made in this debate and I am grateful to all noble Lords for what they have said.