The House last night voted by 177 votes to 29 in support of a motion by Baroness Boothroyd that welcomed Baroness Stowell as Leader of the House, but regretted the decision of the PM to diminish the standing of the House by not making her a full member of Cabinet and requesting him to reconsider the decision. It was a powerful and relatively short debate.
The controversy arises principally but not exclusively as a result of the provisions of the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975. This limits the number of ministers who can be paid the salary of a Cabinet minister to 21 (plus the Lord Chancellor). In the previous Cabinet, the Leader of the House of Lords was a member and paid as a Cabinet minister. Unusually, the Leader of the House of Commons, Andrew Lansley, was not a member, but instead a minister who attended Cabinet. The same applied to his predecessor, Sir George Young. However, when William Hague was made Leader of the House of Commons – retaining his post as First Secretary of State – he maintained his membership of the Cabinet. As a result, the new Leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Stowell, was not made a full member, but instead attends Cabinet and is paid as a minister of state. As such, she is paid less than her predecessor. A proposal that her salary be topped up out of party funds was declined by Baroness Stowell, not least because it was considered inappropriate for someone who serves the House as a while to be paid by a political party
The position is compounded by the fact that the number of ministers who attend Cabinet, but are not full members, has grown in recent years, producing a crowded Cabinet room. Out of the 33 ministers who turn up for Cabinet meetings, only two – Baronesses Stowell and Warsi – are peers. Neither is a member of Cabinet. It used to be the case, when attendance was confined principally to Cabinet ministers, that at least two (Lord Chancellor, Leader of the House) were peers. Sometimes the number was higher because a peer was appointed to head a Department. (Under Churchill, there were seven peers in the Cabinet.) There was a period of nineteen months during the Second World War when there was no peer in the Cabinet, but that was exceptional.
There is a statutory limit on the number of ministerial salaries and on the total number of ministers who may serve in the Commons. However, within that, there is no limit on the number who may be appointed as Cabinet ministers – as distinct from being paid as Cabinet ministers. The relevant point in this context is that someone can be made a full member of the Cabinet without receiving a Cabinet salary. There is thus no bar on Baroness Stowell being made a full member of the Cabinet, even though she would not be paid as a Cabinet minister – unless, as Baroness Boothroyd noted, someone who is receipt of a Cabinet salary was demoted.
There is one other feature of ministers in the Lords worth mentioning. Though there is a limit on the number of ministers who can sit in the Commons – and a limit on ministerial salaries whether peers or MPs – there is no limit on the number of peers who can be appointed ministers if they are not paid. Of the 27 ministers and whips in the Lords, ten are unpaid. The number of unpaid ministers in the Commons is three.