Millionaire Tory cabinet ministers have been asked to give up their salaries in order to allow the "Beyoncé" of the House of Lords to take her place around the cabinet table - and be paid as such.
When David Cameron reshuffled his cabinet earlier this month he promoted Baroness Stowell to the job of leader of the House of Lords. She replaced his nominee for EU commissioner, Lord Hill.
However due to the restriction on the number of people allowed to be fully paid-up members of the cabinet, the prime minister decided not to give her full cabinet rank. The move sparked accusations of sexism, as Lord Hill had been a full cabinet member and was paid as such.
Stowell, who is allowed to attend cabinet but is not a formal member, is paid £78,891. Lord Hill was paid £101,038 to do the same job.
It also triggered an uprising, or at least what passes for one, in the House of Lords on Monday evening. Peers from all sides railed against Cameron's decision to "humiliate" the Lords by downgrading its representative in government.
Peers backed a motion, tabled by former Commons speaker Baroness Boothroyd, urging the prime minister to promote Stowell, by 177 to 29, a majority of 148.
Stowell said that Cameron had "no intention of diminishing the standing" of the Lords. And she insisted there was no danger of her shying away from "giving unpalatable advice" to the prime minister on behalf of peers simply because she was not formally a member of the cabinet.
She added: "I am an independent woman and a single lady. Noble Lords might want to think of me as the Beyoncé of your Lordships’ House."
But Lord Butler, the former head of the civil service, said one solution would be for another existing cabinet minister to give up their pay.
"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," he said.
"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 forego 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."
And Lord Armstrong, another former civil service head, said that "not only is the House of Lords being treated with disdain" but Stowell was being treated "shabbily" by being paid less than her male predecessor.
Labour's Baroness Royall was equally scathing. "It cannot be right that a female Leader of the Lords is paid less than her counterpart was," she said. "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."
So far, no cabinet ministers have come forward to volunteer to work for nothing in order that Stowell can get paid a full cabinet wage.
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