U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron suffered criticism in both houses of Parliament for his decision to downgrade the status of his chief minister in the upper chamber when he appointed a woman to the role.
Cameron has already been forced to use party funds to top up the pay of Tina Stowell, whom he named this week as Leader of the House of Lords, after Bloomberg reported that she was to be paid 22,147 pounds ($38,000) less than her predecessor, Jonathan Hill. That decision threatened to derail Cameron’s plan to use his government overhaul to tout his credentials as a supporter of equality going into next year’s election.
Cameron was attacked by all sides of the House of Lords yesterday as Stowell was summoned to the chamber to defend her own downgrading to a non-cabinet position. Lawmakers questioned how she could perform her constitutional role of representing all members of the chamber while taking a fifth of her pay from Cameron’s Conservatives. They also reminded her of the House of Lords Standing Orders, which say she should be in the cabinet.
“When she stands at the dispatch box she represents the whole of this House,” said Patricia Scotland, Attorney General in the last Labour government. She told Stowell to go back to the prime minister. “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?”
Michael Forsyth, a Conservative who asked the question that forced Stowell to the chamber, said it was “the first time in the history of this House and of cabinet government there is no member of the cabinet in this House.” The exception was Winston Churchill’s war cabinet, which had no member of the Lords in it for part of World War II.
Stowell replied that despite being on the payroll as a minister of state, rather than a full member of the cabinet, “I’m absolutely confident that the prime minister has given me the authority I need to represent your lordships in cabinet.”
On the question of whether it was appropriate for her to take money from the Conservative Party, she said: “I can assure the house that careful consideration is being given to the propriety of any arrangements.”
Even as she was on her feet, Cameron’s spokesman Jean-Christophe Gray appeared to contradict her, saying the prime minister viewed the matter as settled. “The prime minister has received advice,” he said, without giving details.
Janet Royall, Stowell’s Labour Party opposite number, said she was referring the matter to the Lords Constitution Committee. Cameron may be called to defend his decision.
The issue was forced by Cameron’s decision to upgrade the role of Leader of the House of Commons, which will be taken by former Foreign Secretary William Hague. Since Cameron took office in 2010, that job has been at the level below full cabinet member. There is a legal cap on cabinet numbers meaning the addition of Hague meant another member had to be demoted.
The prime minister was taunted in the House of Commons about the move by Labour lawmaker Gareth Thomas, who asked whether other women who found themselves the victims of unequal pay would have it topped up by the Conservative Party.
“I’m happy to confirm that she will do the same job as her predecessor, will sit in the same place around the table as her predecessor, and will receive the same money,” Cameron replied during his weekly questions session yesterday.