Leader of the House of Lords — Motion to Regret

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 28th July 2014.

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Photo of Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Crossbench 8:30 pm, 28th July 2014

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.