David Cameron’s seat at the cabinet table means a seat for life in the Lords

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive

Posted on the 16th November 2023

David Cameron was appointed as Foreign Secretary this week – but he’s not been an MP since 2016. How is he then taking one of the great offices of state?

He’s not going to stand for election to the House of Commons, even though there are by-elections coming up. He’s been given a peerage in the House of Lords.

A route to power, no elections needed

Many people will be rightly wondering how Rishi Sunak can just put someone who is not an MP into one of the most important jobs in government without any democratic process. It highlights the extraordinary powers of patronage our Prime Minsters wield, being able to put anyone they please into the Lords, handing them a job-for-life shaping our laws that pays £342 a day. To many, this will seem an utterly outdated system and one not fit for a modern democratic country.

Once again, we are seeing our political honours system for what it is – nothing more than a grubby giveaway for political allies. No Prime Minister should be able to appoint anyone they like to be a minister, simply by making them a Lord.

Yet, unelected Lords are parachuted into the government all the time. In 2019, Nicky Morgan decided not to stand in the election earlier that year, but it didn’t stop her serving as Culture Secretary as she was made the Rt Hon Baroness Morgan of Cotes when she stopped being an MP. Gordon Brown put Peter Mandelson in the Lords in 2008 so he could be Business Secretary. Lord Carrington was Margaret Thatcher’s Foreign Secretary from 1979 to 1982.

The move also throws up awkward constitutional questions as Lords can’t come to the House of Commons to be questioned. For example, at a time when there is war on the continent of Europe and in the Middle East, MPs will not be able to question a Foreign Secretary sitting in the Lords. Instead, a junior minister will likely have to represent Cameron in the Commons.

A temporary job, a lifelong seat in the Lords

However long David Cameron serves in government, he will now be able to sit in the House of Lords for life.

Once he has left this job, his House of Lords pass will give him potentially unfettered access to our politicians for life – in a way that no ordinary voter can secure. While former MPs can apply for a ‘former members pass‘, it has limitations. A seat in the House of Lords is a lobbyist’s dream.

No wonder he backed down on his promise to reform the Lords when he was Prime Minister.

It underscores the need to urgently reform the Lords, which due to prime-ministerial patronage is now hugely oversized with around 800 members, making it the world’s second-largest legislative assembly after China’s National People’s Congress. It is time that the current unelected Lords was abolished and replaced with a smaller elected chamber. One where the people of this country, not politicians, decide who sits in parliament.

Add your name to demand a smaller, elected second chamber →

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