Motion to Regret
That this House welcomes the appointment of Baroness Stowell of Beeston as Leader of the House of Lords, but regrets the decision of the Prime Minister to diminish the standing of the House by failing to make her a full member of the Cabinet; and requests that the Prime Minister reconsiders this decision.
My Lords, we live in dangerous times. The Prime Minister’s demotion of this House in his Cabinet reshuffle challenges its rights, its authority and its long established role and status in the constitution. It breaks the mould of British history. It strikes at the very roots of our bicameral Parliament. The place of this House in the Cabinet of every Prime Minister has never been challenged until now. I never thought I would witness such careless disregard for the way our constitution works. The Prime Minister’s exclusion of the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, from full Cabinet status has rightly shocked all parts of the House. This Motion calls on him to correct his error without further prevarication.
When the blow fell, the events were somewhat blurred, but the facts are now clear. The fog has been penetrated by our Select Committee on the Constitution, whose report was published only last Thursday. The committee’s findings and conclusions make grim reading, but it is essential reading for every Member of this House. It strips bare the Prime Minister’s pretensions that all is well, that nothing serious has happened and that it will be put right at some time or other. Its report into the status of the Leader of this House and the status of the House itself after the reshuffle sets out exactly what has happened and the likely consequences. The committee states:
“The Leader may often have to give unpalatable advice to ministerial colleagues about the chances of their legislation passing the House, or the time it will take. The Leader may have to block proposals which would clearly not pass the House or would be contrary to its interests. The Leader has to express the House's misgivings to departments about their policies. The Leader has to ensure that questions and correspondence from peers are answered promptly and fully. In such matters the Leader needs authority. While some of that authority can come from tangible things like sitting at the Cabinet table and receiving Cabinet papers, some of it is intangible, such as having full Cabinet status on the same terms as senior ministers in the Commons. Having a member of the House of Lords in the full Cabinet sends an important signal to the rest of Government (ministers and the civil service), and to the House itself, about the status of the House of Lords. If the Leader is no longer a full member of the Cabinet there may be a risk that the views of the House are not fully listened to in the Cabinet”.
What a marvellous report it is.
I have witnessed attempts by successive Governments to ignore the views of Parliament, and I resisted them in both Houses. When the committee says there may be a risk, I can assure the House that there is no maybe about it; it is a dead certainty. That is how government and Whitehall work. The Select Committee’s warnings on the constitutional impact of what has happened are vital. It reminds us that it is a core part of our constitution that Ministers are drawn from the legislature and that the legislature is bicameral. The committee says in two more lines, which I will quote:
“It sits very uneasily with those principles for one House of Parliament to be unrepresented in the full Cabinet”.
I believe the Prime Minister’s actions are absolutely diametrically opposed to those principles. They also shatter the Prime Minister’s pretence that his hands were tied by the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975. Which section of that Act dictated that he promote the Minister for Overseas Development to the Cabinet and demote the Leader of the Lords? Why is the Minister for overseas aid made a Secretary of State with full Cabinet rank and pay while the salary of the Leader of this House and her status are downgraded? The Prime Minister needs reminding that the noble Baroness is responsible for all government business in this House and needs 18 Ministers and 10 Whips to report to and assist her in her duties.
I am beginning to understand why the lack of judgment and ill thought-out decisions coming from Downing Street give cause for concern. Did the Prime Minister really expect the Leader of this House to accept the offer to top up her pay by a subsidy from Conservative Party funds? It was a bizarre proposition. Bravely, the noble Baroness has shrugged off her demotion. I know, and we all know, she will serve the Government loyally, and she will serve this House to the best of her considerable ability. I wish her well. She has already made her mark by saying no to receiving money from outside interests.
The views expressed in last week’s Private Notice Question leave no doubt about the strength of feeling in this House. The noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, whom I hope to hear from later in this debate, has relayed the dismay of his colleagues on the Conservative Benches to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister’s response, which I think all of us have seen, neither mitigates the offence he has caused nor justifies his action. The flattery in his letter of response is transparent. His excuses are spurious, and his promise to mend the damage depends on his returning to power next year.
The Prime Minister, I am afraid, pays scant attention to his responsibility towards this House. He fails to understand that we are a bicameral Parliament and, as such, that this House should be fully represented at the highest level of government. He has trampled on the constitution. He has discarded the principle of equal pay at the same time, quite frankly. His Cabinet has become the unicameral apex of power in a bicameral Parliament. It will not do. His shuffling this House out of its full status in the Cabinet must be reversed, and it must be done soon. I so move.
My Lords, I wholly share the concern that the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, has raised about the position and status of this House. It was because of that that I went to see the Prime Minister last Monday in my role as chairman of the Association of Conservative Peers, accompanied by my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley. I want to make it clear that it was on behalf of the ACP.
I do not share quite the attitude that the noble Baroness takes toward the Prime Minister. There is an issue to be resolved, but I do not think it is quite so fundamental, and I want to suggest how I think it can be resolved. I want to make three points. We had a very positive and constructive meeting with the Prime Minister. As the noble Baroness has said, in the light of our discussion he undertook to write to me, and his letter has been shared, I think, widely in this House and also with the leaders of the other parties.
Some of the points are referred to in the valuable report from the Select Committee on the Constitution of this House published just last week. I congratulate the chairman of the committee, my noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton, on the speed with which his committee worked to dissect and clarify the key issues. I think it is worth quoting in full and putting on the record in Hansard four points which the Prime Minister made to us. First, he said:
“I have the highest regard for the House of Lords and for the vital role it plays in the governance of our country”.
The noble Baroness has tended to dismiss that; I do not. I think he sincerely takes that view. He said, secondly:
“I completely share your view, and the view across the House of Lords, that the House should be properly represented in the Government at the highest level”.
“In particular, I agree that the Leader of the House of Lords should, as a general rule, always be a full member of the Cabinet; unfortunately it was not possible on this occasion, owing to the provisions of the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975”.
Do not worry, I will return to that point. Finally—this is very important, and the noble Baroness well expressed this—
“In the meantime, I want to stress that Baroness Stowell, as Lord Hill’s successor, will in practice play exactly the same very important role that he and his predecessors did in the Government. She will sit at the same place around the Cabinet table, and will have the same full right to speak and contribute to the Cabinet’s business. I will continue to take Lords Business as the second item on the Cabinet’s agenda”.
The Prime Minister says that, as before:
“Baroness Stowell will attend the same internal Downing Street meetings which I hold, including my daily morning meeting”.
I have no doubt whatsoever about the Prime Minister’s sincerity in all of this. I would also add that our concerns on this are about principle and in no way reflect on the current Leader, my noble friend the Leader of the House. She has made a great impression on all parts of the House in her various ministerial posts so far. I am absolutely clear that she will use the powers and positions which the Prime Minister has so clearly outlined to the full extent, whenever it is necessary, on behalf of this House to do so. The concern is not about that; it has been perfectly clear, the noble Baroness made it very clear, and I share it entirely. It is not about the powers or the possibilities open to my noble friend, but about something else. Her role is in no way altered except that she is not a full member of the Cabinet. The concern—and here I agree very much with the noble Baroness—is about the status of the House.
Over my 40 years in Parliament this House has played an increasingly important role in scrutiny of legislation, Select Committee work and so on, making full use of the expertise and experience which exists here. I am deeply committed to that, and this House has played an increasingly important role. The concern is that not having any full member of the Cabinet from the Lords somehow symbolically downgrades the perceptions of our House and the status of the second Chamber. The Select Committee put that very well in the passage from its report which I was going to quote myself, but which I do not need to repeat because the noble Baroness read it out. I totally agree with all that, and the report puts it very well.
My second point is to ask: how has this come about? We are now all much clearer about what the problem is—and it is a problem. The Prime Minister referred to the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975, an Act that was put on the statute book long ago. Much has changed since that time. Government has grown, more Secretaries of State have been appointed, we have a coalition—which may have had some impact on the numbers—and the change in the Lord Chancellor removed one automatic seat in the Cabinet from the House of Lords. Therefore much has changed. We now have the rather peculiar issue that relates to the Prime Minister’s decision to make William Hague Leader of the Commons.
Many are perhaps not aware that the last two Leaders of the Commons have not been full members of the Cabinet; I was Leader of the House at one point myself and was certainly a full member of the Cabinet, but they have not been. Understandably, the Prime Minister wanted William Hague to remain as First Secretary of State. That meant that the Prime Minister’s obvious wish to continue to have our Leader as a full member of the Cabinet has been blighted. It seems extraordinary to me that an Act passed so long ago in quite different circumstances is allowed to have that effect. Goodness me—we make much bigger changes to earlier legislation all the time. That leads me to my final point.
The Prime Minister said in his letter to me:
“I want to reassure you, and the whole House, that I see the current situation as a purely temporary one, which I will want to rectify at the earliest opportunity”.
That is a way through. As the Select Committee on the Constitution pointed out—although it guardedly did not call it a recommendation—a simple, short amendment to the 1975 Act could solve the problem, either by specifying that one of the 21 salaries for Cabinet Ministers must be paid to a Member of the House of Lords, or more sensibly, by a marginal increase in the 21 figure. Some will argue that that would look bad in public, because it would be extra expenditure for the Government and the House of Lords to meet. Frankly, that is a ridiculous argument, and I say so as a former Chief Secretary who is passionately in favour of the Government’s many endeavours to reduce the fiscal deficit. However, quite frankly, it is laughable to argue that an increase of £24,000, which this would involve, would be an addition to public expenditure.
I would have thought that this would appeal to all parties and to both Houses. Both would benefit. It does not favour one party—the Labour Government got into some difficulties over this issue and this constraint during their time. It is the best, speedy way out of this difficulty for the Prime Minister and for both Houses, and speaking entirely personally, I so recommend. This issue could be solved, and we could return to the position that there was with the noble Lord, Lord Hill, if that short amendment were made to the 1975 Act as swiftly as possible.
My Lords, I support the Motion so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. I make clear at the outset that I very much support that part of the Motion that welcomes the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, to her new post and new responsibilities. Like so many noble Lords in this House, I am only sorry that she should have been appointed in such a way as to cause so much controversy and, frankly, so much dismay, about the terms on which she has been appointed.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said, last week the Select Committee on the Constitution published a very clear and concise report on the status of the Leader of your Lordships’ House. As a description of the events around this issue, it sets out a series of decisions and amendments to those decisions that demonstrate the contradictions, the inconsistencies, and the major problems that the terms of this appointment have given rise to.
On 15 July the Prime Minister announced, on Twitter, that the noble Lady, Baroness Stowell, would be the new Leader of the House of Lords,
“and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster”.
Indeed, she is on record in Hansard for that day as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. However, the next day, on 16 July, the noble Baroness kissed hands on a different appointment—that of the Lord Privy Seal.
In this reshuffle, No. 10 and others around the Prime Minister were very keen to demonstrate his commitment to having women properly represented in the Government. Many of us welcomed that development. On the very day of her appointment, though, it emerged that the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, would not be a full member of the Cabinet. Instead, she would be a Minister “attending Cabinet” and not paid a Cabinet Minister's salary. As we are all aware, the noble Lord, Lord Hill, her predecessor, was given the full status of a Cabinet Minister and the full salary that went with it. Clearly, this was an embarrassing setback to the ambition of enhancing women’s position as government Ministers.
In an attempt to mitigate this embarrassment, on the same day, 15 July, the Conservative Party announced that the difference between the salary of a Minister of State and that of a Cabinet Minister would be made up by the Conservative Party. I do not think I was alone in believing that this was not only entirely inappropriate but also unconstitutional for a Minister representing all parties in this House, including the Cross-Benchers. It was also totally inappropriate for a Minister who had accountability to the Crown rather than to the Prime Minister, either as the Chancellor of the Duchy or as Lord Privy Seal, to receive part of their salary from any political party. A week later, that suggestion was withdrawn when on 22 July the Leader said that she would not accept the Conservative Party “top-up” because of her responsibilities to all parts of this House. It was a good, sound decision on her part.
The Prime Minister's letter of 22 July, which the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor has referred to, says that the Leader of the House of Lords should,
“as a general rule, always be a full member of the Cabinet”.
The word “always” cannot be qualified by the words “as a general rule”. Either the Leader of this House should always be a member of the Cabinet, as has been the case, or it is a matter for the Prime Minister's discretion. This Prime Minister has decided that the general rule did not apply but that his discretion did. I fear that in doing so he has set a precedent for future Prime Ministers.
In his letter to the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, which the noble Lord kindly quoted to us earlier on, the Prime Minister says it was,
“not possible on this occasion”,
to make the noble Baroness Lady Stowell, a full member of the Cabinet,
“owing to the provisions of the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975”.
That Act says there are 21 Cabinet salaries payable, plus the salary of the Lord Chancellor. Apart from the salary to the Lord Chancellor, the Prime Minister himself and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister may appoint who he wishes to be a Cabinet member. He also has discretion over 19 salaries that could have been awarded to the noble Baroness, the Leader of the House as has been the case since the passing of that Act in 1975. So it was not the case, as the Prime Minister claimed and as quoted by the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, that the award was,
“not possible on this occasion”;
it was because the Prime Minister chose not to make it. It was his judgment.
There are 21 Cabinet Ministers plus the Lord Chancellor—Ministers who receive a full Cabinet salary and status. There are also 11 Ministers “attending Cabinet”, not in the first rank but doing important jobs and no doubt happy to be around the Cabinet table. It is not, as the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, said, evidence of highest regard that the noble Baroness is also round the table. Why is she not one of the 21—or 22, with the Lord Chancellor? Why is she one of the 11 second-rankers around that table?
The Companion to the House states that the Leader of the House is a member of the Cabinet. Moreover, and possibly more significantly, Erskine May also describes the Leader of this House as a member of the Cabinet. The Constitution Committee in its excellent report said that there were no examples of any Leader of this House who has not been a member of the Cabinet. Arguably, this calls into question the status of the Companion, the status of Erskine May and the conventions between the two Houses. These are not trivial matters; these have been the rules that are the foundations on which we operate. If they can be altered by a Prime Minister without consultation and without any reference whatever to Parliament, what else can be changed? That opens up huge constitutional questions for us.
Frankly, none of us knows whether this decision was deliberate or whether it was one taken through sheer carelessness. Did the Prime Minister realise that in making the appointment in this way he was diminishing the status of your Lordships’ House and creating an unacceptable precedent, or was there a ghastly moment when he realised that he had one too many Ministers for the salaries available? We cannot know—or at least we cannot know until the diaries are published.
In my view, this Prime Minister has done well in not having many ministerial reshuffles, even if that is because of the limitations of government by coalition. Fewer reshuffles are almost certainly better for good governance. Just because this Prime Minister is inexperienced in reshuffles, though, others in government, including senior civil servants, are not. Between them all, they should not have got this so wrong—and they have got it wrong: wrong for the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell; wrong, even for their own purposes, for the reshuffle and the Government; wrong for this House, as one of the two Houses of Parliament; and wrong for the constitution, and the important and complicated relationship between the Executive and Parliament.
The Prime Minister would be a bigger and better Prime Minister if even now he reconsidered his decision. He should do so. A mistake is a mistake: the Prime Minister should correct it. It would be better for him to do so, better for the noble Baroness, better for the constitution and better for your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, this is for me a very sad debate. We all recognise the very many talents that my noble friend will bring to the key role of Leader of our House, and we all respect the shining integrity with which she will perform her duties here. That makes it all the more disgraceful that she should have been put in this invidious position. The disreputable game of musical chairs 10 days ago does nothing to inspire confidence in the competence of the Prime Minister’s advisers. The circumstances are all too reminiscent of that infamous Friday afternoon when No. 10 thought that the Lord Chancellor could be abolished with a press release. Is there nobody there with any appreciation of the basics of our constitution, to which the noble Baroness has just referred? When will they ever learn?
The demotion is far from simply symbolic, but to my mind the worst feature of this whole charade was the reaction when the reduction in salary paid to her male predecessor was pointed out. How could anyone think that it was appropriate for the leadership of your Lordships’ House in any way to be remunerated from political party funds? Both the Leader of your Lordships’ House and the Leader of the other place occupy especially non-partisan positions as servants of the whole of their respective Houses, with an expectation that they will speak and act dispassionately on behalf of the whole House that they represent, even when their Cabinet colleagues are taking a more partisan view. Having shadowed a number of Leaders of the Commons, I can confirm that, irrespective of party, they invariably see their role as quite distinct in this respect from that of other members of the Cabinet. In exactly which of his or her duties in the leadership of this House would the Leader be expected correctly to be identified as acting on behalf of one political party? It is a nonsense.
My noble friend, as has been pointed out, has shown her sensitivity by refusing to let this absurdity happen, but the very fact that No. 10 failed to appreciate how totally inappropriate this suggestion was simply beggars belief. Could they not see that the perception would be that the Leader was somehow beholden to that party and therefore suspect, in the sense that “He who pays the piper calls the tune”? This has been recognised across the House and beyond. It would have been far more appropriate to have reduced the public-purse contribution to the salary of the Government’s Chief Whip in the other place because he has a partisan element to his role. As has been mentioned, my noble friend has indeed herself deflected this demeaning recommendation and, in so doing, has increased our confidence in her integrity, but it has also underlined the crass incompetence of those who made the original suggestion.
As a postscript, I suggest that it adds further insult to injury that the Prime Minister, presumably acting in his capacity as leader of the Conservative Party, saw fit to explain and excuse his decisions in a letter sent, in the first place, solely to the Association of Conservative Peers. Who advises him on these matters? Does he not, even now, realise that the status of our Leader—the Leader of your Lordships’ House—is of huge significance to every single Member of this House, regardless of party and group?
I do not know whether it is too late to correct this situation, but I think that your Lordships’ House is united in feeling that something must be done.
My Lords, perhaps I may clarify the situation. When I invited the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, to open this debate, I made it clear that we expected to hear, first, from speakers from each of the four groups. Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, is absolutely correct that my anticipation was that he would speak at this point, which is why he rose to his feet, as I think the rest of the House expected. After him, if a right reverend Prelate wishes to speak, we might hear from him next, and then we will return to the Conservative Benches.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Chief Whip for her intervention.
Despite the Ministerial and other Salaries Act, the present Cabinet consists of 22 members: the quad—the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Chief Secretary and the Lord President of the Council— and 18 Secretaries of State, but fortunately one of them is also Lord Chancellor, who is covered by a separate section of the Act. The Lord Privy Seal, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Paymaster-General and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, all of whom are allowed to qualify as Cabinet members under the Act, are not members of the present Cabinet and so are not entitled to be remunerated as Cabinet Ministers; they are remunerated only as second-tier Ministers, along with Ministers in charge of departments who are not in the Cabinet, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Ministers of State. These four Ministers are, however, invited regularly to attend meetings of the Cabinet, along with seven other Ministers who are not members of the Cabinet. I think that makes 33 people sitting round the Cabinet table, which is a large number for a discussion at that level.
I turn to the case of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. She is, as many of her predecessors have been, the Lord Privy Seal. Unlike any of her predecessors for the past 100 years or more, she is not a member of the Cabinet. We have a situation where there is no Member of the House of Lords in the Cabinet at all. During the whole of my time as a civil servant in the Government, there were at least two Members of the House of Lords in the Cabinet—the Leader of the House of Lords and the Lord Chancellor—and often more. We are told that the noble Baroness will attend all Cabinet meetings and will be able to represent the interests of the House as effectively as, or no less effectively than, her predecessor. She is not, however, a member of the Cabinet.
There seems to be no difference of view as to what the level of her remuneration should be. The Prime Minister generously intended that she should receive the same total remuneration as a Cabinet member but that was, in effect, to be in two parts: the salary of a second-tier Minister, paid out of public funds, and a top-up from Conservative Party funds to bring the total up to the equivalent of a Cabinet member’s salary.
Much has been said this evening about the need to recognise the importance of the House of Lords in the Cabinet by having a representative there. The Leader of the House has responsibilities beyond and separate from those she has as leader of the Conservative Party in this House. She has responsibilities to and for Members of the Liberal Democrat party, the Labour Party and, indeed, other parties, as well as independent Cross-Bench Members, who are Members of no party. She has responsibilities for the whole House, irrespective of parties. She also has responsibilities for the conduct and good order of the House of Lords, which are discharged in another place by the Speaker of the House of Commons, who is accepted as being above party.
The Leader of this House is the holder of a parliamentary public office which should be remunerated wholly out of public funds and ought not to receive any part of his or her remuneration out of party funds. We all respect and admire the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, and I regret that this dispute and difference of opinion should circulate around her; she has done nothing to deserve it. She has accepted the force of the argument and has decided, extremely honourably in my view, to forgo the top-up from Conservative Party funds and to be paid as a second-tier Minister—a Minister of State—out of public funds alone.
The Prime Minister has written a letter to the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, in which he recognises that the Leader of the House ought to be in the Cabinet. He expresses regret about the present situation and promises to put it right at the earliest possible opportunity and certainly after the forthcoming general election, if he is still the Prime Minister. This is a profoundly unsatisfactory situation not just for the Leader of the House but for all of us in this House, for all who care about the place of the House of Lords in our constitutional arrangements and, seemingly, for the Prime Minister himself. The Leader of the House is now not only specifically declared by the Prime Minister not to be a member of the Cabinet but, by her own honourable self-sacrifice, she is also deprived of the level of remuneration that everyone, apparently including the Prime Minister, thinks she ought to receive. Not only is the House of Lords being treated with disdain, the noble Baroness is being treated shabbily and she ought not to have been put in this invidious position.
Your Lordships may agree that this simply is not good enough. The noble Baroness should be a member of the Cabinet and should receive a salary at the top tier as defined in a schedule to the Ministerial and other Salaries Act. If necessary, the Prime Minister should find another Minister now in the Cabinet who can be asked less inappropriately than the noble Baroness, to give up his or her membership of the Cabinet but be one of those who attends, to ensure that the Lord Privy Seal is able to take her rightful position as a member of the Cabinet. I do not say a full member of the Cabinet because I do not believe that that means anything very much.
It was wrong not to have the Lord Privy Seal in the Cabinet and it was wrong, and unmistakably an indication of an uneasy conscience, to try to make it up to the Lord Privy Seal by offering to top up her remuneration to the equivalent of a Cabinet salary by means of a supplement from Conservative Party funds. Two wrongs do not make a right. The Prime Minister should do the right thing without further ado by appointing the Lord Privy Seal to be a member of the Cabinet. That may mean asking someone else to stand down, but I believe that that would be less inappropriate.
The noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, referred to the possibility of amending the Act. I am not sufficiently expert to know whether that can be done for this purpose by delegated legislation or whether it would need new primary legislation. I remember, because I was around at the time, that the limits were introduced in the Act in order to reduce, or to keep a limit on, public expenditure. I suppose that that consideration is still relevant. If that course is not open to him, the Prime Minister should take the other course of making it possible for the Lord Privy Seal to be in the Cabinet. To paraphrase the old song: if you have a right thing, do it; do not dream it, do it now.
My Lords, I want to associate these Benches fully with both sides of the Motion; first, the welcome to the noble Baroness in her role as Leader of the House and, secondly, the regrets that have been expressed already in our debate. Rather than focus on the details, I shall make a few comments about the wider symbolic significance of these events. A healthy society distributes power. The banking crisis arose partly because power got too concentrated in certain institutions and in a certain section of the financial community. Government, if it is about nothing else, is about the exercise of power. We have to accept and acknowledge that, and not try to deny it. The exercise of power calls for clear leadership, which is right, too.
Today, I sense that leaders of political parties—this is not a party-political point—feel so oppressed into the exercise of power and the clear profile of their leadership that they can be drawn into decisions that are sometimes unwise, and which would have been much better had there been more consultation and more time to think about it. Am I the only one who has a certain regret that our party leaders all seem so young these days? Is there not a certain wisdom of age, which perhaps is something we should think about?
In our society, we tend to have power exercised by the Government and the rights of the individual. That is the dialectic which is played out in our society. It tends to squeeze out intermediate institutions, but democracy depends on institutions that are not themselves creatures of government. The House of Lords is one such institution in a bicameral system. It is very important that the proper authority—the proper place—of the House is maintained, because of that vital place in our democracy.
I say in parenthesis—and perhaps it is not a welcome thing this evening—that our failure to engage in a proper evolutionary process of reform of the House has encouraged some people to look down on the role of the House. However, as has been said, the actual role of the House, for example in scrutinising legislation, is more significant now than it has ever been, because so much legislation simply is not scrutinised in the primary Chamber. That makes the demotion of the Leader of the House from the Cabinet a very significant event, in my view, because of our role in scrutinising that which the Commons has not the time, energy or will to scrutinise.
We live in a time when the Executive tend to dominate the legislature; when the Executive are seen rather cynically by many people in our country as exercising power in their own interest, or not in the interest of society as a whole. I would associate this with the progressively low turnouts at elections, which is something which we should be very concerned about in our democracy. People just cannot be bothered to vote, because they somehow think the power is not with them in the ballot box but with other people in government. Snap decisions, such as the way in which the role of the Lord Chancellor was changed—like the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, I think that this does have a very similar feel to that passage—simply encourage the sense of an overdominant Government. The salary arrangements are another example of that unwise snap decision having to be repented of.
My final point is that I have always been somebody who rather values the fact that we have an unwritten constitution. However, I have gradually come to think that it would be better if certain aspects of how we do things were written down, so that the Government cannot simply ride roughshod over them. The fact that the Companion and Erskine May say one thing and the Prime Minister instantly can do something else should cause us quite serious thought about how our constitutional arrangements can be protected in the future.
My Lords, I begin by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, for my excessive enthusiasm to participate in your Lordships’ debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, on behalf of the Select Committee on the Constitution, which I have the honour to chair, for quoting so effectively and powerfully from our report. I stand by everything that is in that report. I believe that it does its best to inform the House for the debate and I hope that the House will find it useful.
Regarding the Motion, however, I find I have a little difficulty because I agree with the first part, in which the noble Baroness congratulates my noble friend the Leader of the House, who I believe will be as formidable as she is fearless and will turn this event to good account in her negotiations with the Prime Minister and others in Cabinet. However, in the second part of the Motion, which criticises the Prime Minister’s decision, I think the noble Baroness underrates the extent to which my noble friend Lady Stowell is a prisoner of circumstances, deriving from some years ago. I will come back to that point shortly. That is not to underrate the serious nature of the diminished status under which your Lordships’ House now labours—in defiance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, rightly said, of both Erskine May and the Companion to the Standing Orders.
Of course one welcomes the acknowledgement by the Prime Minister of the unacceptable nature of the present situation and his clear commitment to put it right as soon as he can. But to help that to happen, we should also acknowledge the nature of what he has inherited: namely, the gradual erosion, over time, of the constitutional standing of this House, which the current event continues. Indeed, I believe that there are two disquieting long-term trends that have contributed to the situation we now face.
First, there is the huge expansion since the 1970s that my noble friend Lord MacGregor spoke about briefly of the range and machinery of government. There are more departments and Governments are doing more, and that has required more Ministers and more Cabinet Ministers. That trend was visible 40 years ago when in 1975 the issue was last addressed and the paid number of Cabinet places was increased from 19 to 21, providing what the Government of the time thought was some spare capacity for future growth. They were too optimistic. Moreover, the Acts of Parliament that governed and sought through financial controls to discipline such expansion were left unamended. Instead, they have been circumvented.
The committee’s report illustrates the recent trend in this century of the concept of Ministers attending Cabinet. Prime Minister Blair used it. Mr Brown, as Prime Minister, entrenched it at six, including two Parliamentary Private Secretaries—both of them, incidentally, his own. He then started recruiting Ministers from outside Parliament—those optimistically referred to as GOATs, or the Government of all the talents. He subdivided the supernumerary attendees to Cabinet into two different categories.
The blurring of government continued with the tsars and envoys and has continued under the present Government. Now, as has been pointed out, there are 11 ministerial attendees at Cabinet who are not Cabinet Ministers. We do not want our Leader of the House to be a member of that second XI. We know that she is first XI material, and I do not doubt for one moment that she will fight as though she is a first XI person.
The second trend is the gradual and perhaps inadvertent downgrading by government of the centrality to decision-making of this House. We are the secondary Chamber, but we have a part to play. Incidentally, I noted that while 4% of Ministers in the Commons are unpaid Ministers, 33% of Lords Ministers are unpaid Ministers. That is in itself unfair—but the solution is not to rebalance it but to ensure that every government Minister is properly paid from government funds at all times.
I do not believe that this is a party-political issue. Both parties carry a certain amount of blame. But it is a constitutional one of fundamental significance that has now left us without a Member of this House in the Cabinet. The change to the role and status of the Lord Chancellor in 2005 forms part of the undermining of the standing of this House—and a very substantial part, as has been commented. It was an object lesson in how not to make changes to the constitution, and I am glad to say that your Lordships’ committee is at present undertaking an inquiry into that role.
Our report does not make recommendations as to the way forward, but it is clear that the amending of the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 could offer one possible way forward, although I believe that it would need primary legislation. Our report indicates three possible options for amendment if that is the chosen route. I care deeply about the place of the House of Lords in our constitution. To me, the central issue concerns the bicameral nature of our legislature. That, as our report states, is a core part of our constitution. It is also a core part of our constitution that Ministers are drawn from the legislature. That must include this House at Cabinet level. Those basic principles of our parliamentary system have been blurred and neglected for some time. The restoration of the Leader of the House to full Cabinet membership will be but the first essential step to restoring our bicameral parliamentary system.
My Lords, this is a very short but powerful debate. The Prime Minister can be in absolutely no doubt about the strength of feeling in this House, as was encapsulated by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, in her superb opening speech. I say that the Prime Minister can be in no doubt rather than the noble Baroness the Leader, because this Motion and the weighty arguments that are being made are not against or about her; they are about the office that she occupies or the office that she should occupy. Like other noble Lords, I emphasise that I have full confidence in the noble Baroness and I know that she is doing and will continue to do a splendid job. I very much regret that she has had such a baptism of fire.
I am grateful to the Constitution Committee for its swift, excellent and informative report and, like the noble Lord, Lord Lang, I care deeply about the position of this House in our constitution. The committee is of course right not to make recommendations, but the information that it provides and its conclusions are invaluable. I was interested to learn, for example, that the current Cabinet manual states that the Cabinet is the ultimate decision-making body of government and, as my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean has said, Erskine May, that parliamentary bible, describes the Leader of the House of Lords as a member of the Cabinet.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said, the committee notes that the Leader may often have to give unpalatable advice to ministerial colleagues about the chances of their legislation passing the House or the time that it will take. It goes on to say that in such matters the Leader needs authority. Having been a Minister attending Cabinet, as Chief Whip, and a full member of the Cabinet, I can say to noble Lords that there is a difference; the committee is absolutely right. It is not a question of where the Lords appears on a Cabinet agenda; it is that to be a full member of the Cabinet gives one authority and the confidence that goes with that authority—the confidence to disagree with those who have greater experience and who, because they are Members of the House of Commons, do not understand the impact that their legislation will have in the Lords.
It is sometimes not a comfortable position to be in, but I always did what I did and had to do on behalf of this House. The role of the Leader of the Lords in the Cabinet is distinctive and different from other members of the Cabinet, as has been said; he or she is there to represent the whole of the House of Lords. I had the good fortune for some time to have two noble friends who were also members of the Cabinet, but I was the one who rightly had to take the lead in defending the position of this House. I am glad that my party recognises the distinction and it is clear that we will reinstate the position of the Leader to their rightful place as a full member of the Cabinet. I assure noble Lords that we will not turn the current situation into a precedent. This is a unique and foolish error of judgment. It is a wrong that must be righted.
In his much quoted letter of 22 July to the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, the Prime Minister does not mention Cabinet correspondence. I would be grateful if the noble Baroness could say whether she is included in the circulation of all Cabinet correspondence, which of course results in much decision-making. I hope that she is. If that is the case, I wonder if this is or has been the norm for all those attending Cabinet. If it is an innovation as a result of the current situation, and if all those now attending Cabinet receive all the papers, it must surely have an additional cost implication. One might even ask if the costs involved over 10 months could add up to the rest of the salary that should go with the office of the Leader.
In relation to salaries, what one might call the rate for the job, the noble Baroness was surely right to refuse to have her salary topped up by the Conservative Party. She is, as has been said, a woman of integrity. However, I wonder if the Government will be complying with the equal pay audit regulations that were discussed in Parliament this afternoon. It cannot be right that a female Leader of the Lords is paid less than her counterpart was; it is a terrible example for the women of this country. All this comes from a Prime Minister who we were told was reshuffling his Cabinet with the aim of promoting women and equality.
Was it by accident or by design that the post of the Leader of the Lords was downgraded? Was it careless disregard, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd? The Prime Minister tells us that it was an anomaly, a temporary necessity, but the right honourable gentleman had a choice about who should be in his Cabinet. He chose not to include the Leader of the Lords. I have to say that it feels very much as though this House is being treated with contempt. That feeling might be strengthened later this week when I suspect that a new list of Peers will be published. We all want to give a warm welcome to new colleagues, but to have a House of more than 800— patronage before principles, that is—cannot be right.
Mr Cameron’s decision to downgrade the position of Leader of the Lords means that the office is diminished, and by diminishing the office we are all diminished. I therefore hope that if the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, decides to seek the opinion of the House, noble Lords on all sides will choose to send a clear message to the Prime Minister by joining her in the Division Lobby.
My Lords, I shall not repeat the reasons that have been so eloquently put about why this decision was wrong; I want to make some practical suggestions about how it can be put right.
There are, in fact, three ways in which the Prime Minister could now put the situation right. I fear that it was simply not correct in his letter to say that it was impossible to make the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, a member of the Cabinet. There are still three ways in which it could be done, although perhaps some of them, with the passing of time, are less practicable than others. He could have chosen not to have made one of the other members of the Cabinet a member of the Cabinet. He chose not to do that. As suggested by the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, and referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lang, it would be possible to amend the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act. If, 10 days ago, the Government could introduce as emergency legislation a Bill to amend the retention of data, they could have introduced an emergency Bill to do this. It may be difficult now that we are in the Recess, but perhaps the House of Commons could be recalled for that purpose.
There is another solution, which I hope that it is not invidious to draw attention to. The limitation on making the noble Baroness a member of the Cabinet is simply the number of Cabinet Ministers who can receive salaries as Cabinet Ministers. It would be possible—indeed, it has often happened in the past—for Ministers who are members of the Cabinet to choose not to take their salary. I do not think that it would be unreasonable to ask that one of the present members of the Cabinet for the next 10 months should forgo their salary, so that the Leader of our House can be a member of the Cabinet. I hope that it is not invidious to say that I think that there are members of the Cabinet who could afford to do that. Indeed, they might simply be anticipating the position that they will be in anyway in 10 months’ time.
The Prime Minister could have made one of those choices. The fact that he did not indicate indicates that he chose to humiliate this House and put the noble Baroness in a very difficult position in taking up her responsibilities. There is still time for the Prime Minister to do the right thing, and I hope that he will do so.
My Lords, I shall be very brief. Like many noble Lords, I share the dismay expressed so eloquently by the noble Baroness that, for the first time in history, there is no Member of your Lordships’ House in the Cabinet. That of course demeans the position of your Lordships’ House and lowers the standing of the Leader in the eyes of everybody, as we have already heard.
I suspect that this wholly unprecedented situation was arrived at by accident. Thus, I imagine that it cannot be corrected without disrupting existing appointments or, perhaps, coalition dispositions. What a price we pay to keep this coalition in place.
Who is the Prime Minister’s principal adviser on this matter? Presumably, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, explained, it is the Cabinet Secretary. Was the Cabinet Secretary’s advice taken on this occasion? What was that advice? That we shall never know, but it has caused this terrible situation and, I hope, can be corrected. If the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, chooses to divide the House a little later, I shall join her in the Division Lobby.
My Lords, I want to make one very brief point. I would hate this debate to pass by without making the point that while many here are talking about a constitutional outrage, there remains a constitutional outrage that this place is unelected. I want to mark that point.
My Lords, I think the House would not thank me for entering into that particular argument at this stage of the evening. I simply ask: where was the corporate memory in all of this? The noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, described the change in the role of Lord Chancellor as an object lesson in how not to make changes. I think that it has a rival in this current situation. Perhaps I could just say a word about the change of the role of Lord Chancellor because I was a beneficiary of it in one sense, as I then had the honour of representing this House as the first Lord Speaker.
I have two things to say. First, the Government of the day were stopped in their tracks. I have some sympathy with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Lang. They took a long time to work out that policy properly; it was not implemented immediately because it was seen to be wrong. I believe that we are in the same situation now and we should stop. Secondly, constructive suggestions have been put forward on how this could be corrected. It needs to be corrected because it matters not only that the Prime Minister has his personal opinion—I am sure that he is honest in describing his respect for the noble Baroness the Leader of the House—but that the Leader of the House has clout with fellow members of Cabinet matters. The Leader of the House should be someone who not only attends but is a member of Cabinet.
I shall say one last thing about those arguments about the change in the position of Lord Chancellor. There were passionate debates, often because there would be a reduction in the representation of this House at Cabinet level to possibly only one. That was considered to be a serious issue but no one, not the most outspoken opponent of those changes, ever suggested that it would be possible that this House would be totally unrepresented at Cabinet level. Others have made the case why that would be. As someone who had a role, of which I was immensely proud, in representing a House that I believe is an essential part of our bicameral legislature, I think that to allow that to happen would be a constitutional outrage, as others have said, and something that we should take steps to change.
My Lords, as has been mentioned, I went with my noble friend Lord MacGregor to see the Prime Minister about all this last week. I went because, while I greatly welcome the appointment of my noble friend Lady Stowell and congratulate her on it, like others I was shocked by the decision on the status of our new Leader of the Lords and wanted to challenge that decision.
Our objective was, first, to ensure that the Prime Minister understood the outrage felt throughout your Lordships’ House and then to see what could be done about it. It was clear that he fully understood, at that time at least, the outrage. He explained that the decision on her status arose from the fact that the Leader of the Commons had not recently been a full member of the Cabinet, but as that is now my right honourable friend William Hague, who is also First Secretary of State, it was impossible to demote him. Further, he said that ministerial heads of department these days are all Secretaries of State—a fact to which I will return—so that all the available spaces allowed by the 1975 Act were taken up, as explained in the excellent report from the Constitution Committee.
We came away with two undertakings, which we asked him to put in writing and he did so, in the letter which has already been referred to. The first was that this was temporary. Secondly, he promised that in practice meanwhile it would make no difference, as my noble friend Lady Stowell will be treated exactly like her predecessor, although she is not officially of Cabinet rank. In my view, the Prime Minister saying—and then putting it in writing—that our Leader, although not a member of the Cabinet, is to be treated as if she was one itself marks a profound, if apparently temporary, change in our constitution. My noble friend is, by the Prime Minister’s fiat expressed in the letter, exempted from the restrictions which would normally apply to those who merely attend the Cabinet. In our flexible constitution, as chairman of the Cabinet, he can do that.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, I attended Cabinet for a period. It was my noble friend Lady Thatcher’s Cabinet, while I was acting Chief Whip after the Brighton bomb. As Chief Whip my duty was to ensure that the Cabinet understood the views of MPs, particularly but not only the views of the Government’s supporters in the Commons, and to give advice on smoothing the Government’s path in Parliament. I was of course not there to contribute my personal views, which was for members of the Cabinet to do. Nor was I there to vote on the rare occasions when the voices were collected to make a decision. I assume that my right honourable friend Michael Gove will follow the same precedents in the current Cabinet.
The Prime Minister’s decision and the terms of his letter will, I have no doubt, be studied in academic and other circles to gauge his idea of Cabinet government. I note that those now considered as essential members of the Cabinet are the Secretaries of State—the ministerial heads of the various departments. They are regarded as more essential than the Leaders of the two Houses of Parliament. That is a profound comment on the way in which our constitution and the attitude to Parliament have developed, particularly in a bicameral Parliament.
As far as I am concerned, it gives rise to two reflections. These days there are no heads of departments in the Lords, which used to be quite normal. For example, my noble friends Lord Young of Graffham, Lord Cockfield and Lord Carrington headed departments not long ago in the constitutional reckoning of time. In spite of all the huge numbers of appointments to the Lords, no one has recently been appointed to be head of a government department.
Yes, I said that the examples which I drew were recent, but I accept that the particular examples given were a little further away. I entirely accept that those are perfectly acceptable ones as well. It used to be quite a normal thing, but the fact that there is no head of department in the Lords at the moment is perhaps an indication of the view of the Lords held in other places.
My other reflection is that all heads of departments now seem to be Secretaries of State and, as a result, are covered by Schedule 1 to the 1975 Act. Of course, that was not always so in days gone by. I have heard it justified by the fact that, because of the wording of many statutes, Secretaries of State alone can issue statutory instruments. So the proliferation of Secretaries of State flows from the proliferation of statutory instruments in Bills and Acts. I have complained before in your Lordships’ House about legislative drafting habits and the difficulties that this particular practice gives rise to, but that is a side reflection.
For these constitutional reasons, I regard this decision as most unfortunate. I believe that it has already changed the constitution temporarily by allowing my noble friend the Leader of the House the full status of a Cabinet Minister even though she does not hold the rank. I hope, as the Prime Minister does, that it will prove temporary and certainly that it will not be a precedent.
My Lords, I intend to be brief. There are two salient things that have come out of this debate. The first is that the House is united in its approval of the noble Baroness and her appointment, united in its esteem for the noble Baroness as our Leader. The second is that on all Benches there is clear agreement that that which has now transpired in relation to the noble Baroness’s appointment was wrong, was a mistake and should be changed with immediate effect. Every single Member who has spoken agrees, in essence, with the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, that we approve of the noble Baroness but also want to send a very clear message to the Prime Minister that that which he has done has not been well done. Whether it was a mistake or no, it has caused concern, offence and anxiety about our constitution across the House. If there needs to be a message, it needs to come from the whole House that this is not a party-political issue but a constitutional issue which this House will not be silent about and must now speak about.
Those of us who have had the privilege of attending Cabinet understand absolutely the difference between being a full member and merely an attending participant. No matter how great the noble Baroness’s talents—and they are considerable indeed—they will not be capable of being overcome in such a way as to represent this House as every single Leader of our House has had to do. We know, and we have spoken a little about it tonight, how difficult it is sometimes to get the other place to understand the reality of getting business through this House. The Leader will have to challenge the Government because that is what every single Leader of this place has always had to do. So, in commending the noble Baroness for her courage, for her acuity and for her skill, we need to say to the Prime Minister that up with this we will not put.
It is not because he is a Conservative Prime Minister. If any Prime Minister had had the temerity to do that which this Prime Minister has done, we would have given him the same message—or her, because this is not an issue about gender. I hope that when this House comes to speak, we will speak with one voice.
If I may, I say to the noble Baroness our Leader that she should remember always that we are with her and that when she speaks, she will speak with the force of all of us behind her—but that her leadership role differs from any other role in that Cabinet. We are of the view that we need to have a Leader who is a full member of Cabinet, so that when she speaks, the Prime Minister and the other Cabinet Ministers will have to listen.
My Lords, I entirely agree with almost all that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, has just said. It would be most unfortunate if we were not to deliver a unanimous view on this matter. The only difficulty I have with the precise terms of the Motion moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, has pointed out, the options for the Prime Minister might take a little time. Therefore, if she was prepared to say “as soon as possible” as the conclusion, I think all of us could wholeheartedly agree with her.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, for providing the opportunity for us to have this debate this evening. She is, it goes without saying, a distinguished Member of this House, and I have listened carefully to her and, indeed, to all noble Lords who have spoken tonight. I am very grateful to all noble Lords for the supportive comments that have been made about me personally. I am also grateful to the Constitution Committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Lang of Monkton which, contrary to how some of us have sought to portray it, has set out, in my view, a helpful and factual report that has been constructive in explaining how the relevant legislation has come into play on this occasion. The legislation that we are talking about is, of course, the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975.
I am the Leader of this House. While noble Lords may be concerned about my ministerial rank, nothing changes that simple fact. Nothing has changed in practice about how I represent this House within government, and I will do the job of Leader in exactly the same way as all my predecessors. Even though nothing has changed in practice, the Prime Minister has made clear that he shares the House’s view, expressed passionately again tonight, that the Leader of the House of Lords should,
“as a general rule, always be a full member of the Cabinet”.
He has confirmed that he sees the current situation as a purely temporary one that he will want to rectify at the earliest opportunity, and that he will certainly do so immediately after the general election if he is returned as Prime Minister and no opportunity has arisen to do so before then. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said that if the Opposition are elected, they too would change the situation at that time.
The principle at the heart of the Motion moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, that this House should be properly represented within government at the highest level—that is to say, in Cabinet—is therefore not in dispute. We are all agreed on that point. The question we are debating tonight is how and when this temporary situation might be corrected and what problems, if any, this temporary situation creates.
A significant problem that the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and some others have identified is a risk, which was also identified by the Constitution Committee, that my status might detract from my authority in an intangible way and affect my ability to represent this House in the Cabinet. I will respond to that point as directly as I can. As I said during our short debate soon after my appointment, judge me on what I do and how I do it. My effectiveness in the job will rest on the quality of my arguments and my ability to put forward my case. If my arguments are no good and I cannot present a good case, it will not matter whether I am a full member of the Cabinet.
Noble Lords already have evidence that I can deliver without status and regardless of rank. I led one of the most contentious pieces of legislation in this Parliament through your Lordships’ House when I was no more senior than any Whip. In so doing, I hope I demonstrated that successful negotiation with other Ministers and senior civil servants is not all about rank.
David Cameron is the second Prime Minister and the third party leader with whom I have worked closely. I have never in my professional career shied away from giving unpalatable advice or expressing an opinion that those on the receiving end did not want to hear. I will continue to do that where I believe it is necessary for me to do so. If noble Lords do not believe me, they may speak to any of my former male bosses. Some of them are also members of your Lordships’ House.
I am an independent woman and a single lady. Noble Lords might want to think of me as the Beyoncé of your Lordships’ House. I none the less recognise that this is ultimately not about me. I understand the serious concern expressed about diminishing the standing of this House of Parliament. This House has already shown that it need not be affected by this temporary situation. In the days after my appointment, this House debated the Bill of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on assisted dying. The following day the Telegraph commented:
“Yesterday’s discussion in the House of Lords was an example of Parliament at its finest”.
The Times headlined a similar editorial with two words: “Model Parliament”. All that said, the situation is temporary and the PM is committed to rectifying it by May next year at the latest if he is re-elected. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, talked, however, of the Prime Minister having careless disregard in the matter of my appointment. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, also raised the constitutional concern.
It is important for me to remind noble Lords that it was the previous Government who removed the certainty of a full Cabinet member being in the House of Lords when they removed the Lord Chancellor from this House. The comparison by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, of this current, temporary situation to a permanent change is not one that I can accept. That change, the change of removing the Lord Chancellor from this House, has a profound impact. Indeed, the Constitution Committee’s report says:
“At the time of the 1975 Act it would have been assumed that at least the Lord Chancellor would always be a peer in the Cabinet”.
That change has had a profound impact on the membership of the Cabinet in terms of its representation from your Lordships’ House.
I turn now to some of the potential solutions that noble Lords have put forward tonight. I refer specifically to that which my noble friend Lord MacGregor made.
I think that the way in which Cabinet conducts itself in recent years is for there to be a debate, and for the Prime Minister to conclude what has been agreed on the basis of that discussion. I understand it has been a long time since there has been a formal vote in the Cabinet, but I am not a full member of the Cabinet, and I would not have a formal vote. As I stress again to the noble Lord, it is many years—some might suggest decades—since a formal vote has been conducted in the way that he suggests.
I will return to the potential solutions that other noble Lords have put forward tonight. I refer explicitly to that which my noble friend Lord MacGregor raised, which is a proposal to amend the Ministerial and other Salaries Act to increase the number of paid Cabinet Ministers. The Constitution Committee also noted that the Act could be amended to provide that one of the 21 salaries must be paid to a Member of the House of Lords to prevent this happening again. I will, of course, convey the strength of the House’s view on this matter to the Prime Minister, and I will discuss this with him and with other colleagues. None the less, we should acknowledge that if we decided to amend legislation to create another full Cabinet post or to prevent a repeat of this situation, that would take time to implement. I therefore believe that the key point to consider is whether there is a way to address this situation better than the one the Prime Minister has already committed to carrying out. I know that the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Armstrong, were both explicit about another member of government giving up their place or their pay. That proposal is not necessary when the Prime Minister has been very clear that this situation is temporary.
Before I conclude, I will deal with the concerns raised by some noble Lords which relate to gender equality and the issue of pay. The Prime Minister feels strongly about that and sought to address it in a way that was consistent with the relevant codes, and the House is already aware of my decision on this matter. However, it is a very important matter, and because of the important points that have been raised on gender equality I will say something quite personal about it.
I have been looking at this matter through a particular lens. I keep in my office a photograph of me with a group of women who live in Nottingham. They represent the people who inspired my decision to seek a front-line role in politics. They have worked hard all their lives, live on modest means, and many of them have faced some heartache on the way. However, they have always managed to cope, and usually with a smile on their face. When I look at that photograph of those women, one of whom is my mum, I like to think that my unexpected success—that photograph was taken just before I came to your Lordships’ House—makes them feel that all their struggles have been worth it. Yes; they would prefer that I was paid the same as my male predecessor. However, I am confident that they support my decision to accept the job on the terms that I did. I can look those wonderful women in the eye and say something that makes them feel very proud of their own achievements as mothers: “One of your daughters is Leader of the House of Lords”.
I am left in no doubt that there are strong feelings on this subject across the House this evening. I will be sure to convey to my colleagues in government the views that have been put on record tonight, and to take away for further consideration the suggestions that noble Lords have made about ways in which we might move forward. However, I will not be able to support the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, for three reasons. First, the Prime Minister has already made clear that he has no intention of diminishing the standing of this House; secondly, he has already undertaken to rectify, at the earliest opportunity, a situation which he accepts is temporary; and finally, this temporary arrangement will not affect my ability to do the job I have been asked to do for the next nine months.
My Lords, I observe the courtesies of this House and thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I appreciate the knowledge and experience that those noble Lords who have held high office as Ministers or as Cabinet Secretaries have brought to this debate. I thank, too, the noble Baroness the Leader of this House for her response. She cannot have had a very comfortable time in recent days. I have great personal sympathy for her, and no doubt she will take comfort from the fact that the House entirely welcomes her as its Leader.
The gale-force winds blowing from this House across to Downing Street began with a Private Notice Question. That gale force has gathered strength with this debate tonight. It will not cease; this issue will not go away. It is the Prime Minister who has the ways and means to take action on the basis of some of the suggestions that have been made this evening, but it has to be done at an early time and not at the next general election—if he is lucky. All that is asked is that the Prime Minister reconsider his decision, and I wish to test the strength of the House on that basis.
House adjourned at 9.46 pm.