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In theory a government minister does not have to be a member of either House of Parliament.  In practice, however, convention is that ministers must be members of either the House of Commons or House of Lords in order to be accountable to Parliament. From time to time, Prime Ministers appoint non-parliamentarians as ministers. In recent years such ministers have been appointed to the House of Lords. 

Appointment of David Cameron as Foreign Secretary and Procedure Committee proposals for questioning Lords Secretaries of State

In Rishi Sunak’s November 2023 re-shuffle, the former Prime Minister David Cameron was brought back into the Cabinet as Foreign Secretary. He was no longer an MP and so was appointed directly to the House of Lords as Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton.

Following the announcement that Lord Cameron was to be Foreign Secretary, the Speaker of the House of Commons asked officials for advice on ways of enhancing scrutiny of the work of a Foreign Secretary who was a member of the House of Lords.

On 22 November 2023, the Speaker wrote to the Procedure Committee requesting a short inquiry “examining the options for enhanced scrutiny by this House of senior ministers based in the Lords” (PDF).

The Procedure Committee considered how Secretaries of State in the House of Lords could be more accountable to MPs; where such scrutiny should take place; and the form and frequency of the scrutiny.

In its report, Commons scrutiny of Secretaries of State in the House of Lords (PDF), published on 24 January 2024, the Committee proposed scrutiny should take place in the Chamber so that all MPs could participate. It also proposed that the Secretary of State should appear at departmental questions and for statements and urgent questions when it would be normal for a Secretary of State to appear. However, because it wanted to avoid unintended consequences, it said its recommendations were time-limited, addressed the current situation and should not set a precedent.

Ministers in the House of Lords

When Rishi Sunak first became Prime Minister, in October 2022, the Leader of the House of Lords was the only Cabinet Minister in the House of Lords. In November 2023, David Cameron was appointed to the Cabinet and joined the House of Lords as Lord Cameron of Chipping.

Elizabeth Truss, Prime Minister from 6 September 2022 to 25 October 2022, appointed Lord True as Leader of the House of Lords. She did not appoint any other members of the House of Lords to her Cabinet.

In Boris Johnson’s December 2019 administration, there were two Cabinet Ministers in the House of Lords (the Leader of the House of Lords and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport).  In all, 24 out of the total 116 ministers in government (21%) were in the House of Lords. Later in his administration, he appointed Lord Frost, a Minister of State, to the Cabinet.

In Theresa May’s June 2017 administration, the Leader of the House of Lords was the only Cabinet Minister in the House of Lords; 25 out of the total 118 (21%) ministers in government were in the House of Lords.  This compares to 23% at the start of the 2015 Cameron administration and 20% at the start of the 2010 Coalition Government. 

Concerns were raised about ministerial appointments to the House of Lords whilst Gordon Brown was Prime Minister.  Gordon Brown had announced his intention to create a ‘government of all the talents’.  He appointed two departmental Secretaries of State from the House of Lords, raising some questions about the accountability of such ministers to the elected House.  He also appointed a number of ministers directly to the House of Lords; a practice that has also occurred under other recent Prime Ministers. 

Concerns were expressed again in December 2019, when following the general election, Boris Johnson announced that Nicky Morgan, who had stood down from the House of Commons, would continue to serve as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, as a Cabinet Minister in the House of Lords.  She served as Secretary of State until February 2020.

Questioning Secretaries of State in the House of Lords

In response to Gordon Brown’s appointment of Secretaries of State to the House of Lords, the Lords introduced additional oral questions. Generally, members of the House of Lords ask questions of the Government. In late 2009, it was agreed that once a month time would be set aside for oral questions to any Secretary of State sitting in the Lords.  This procedure was revived in January 2020, and Baroness Morgan of Cotes answered questions on 23 January.

The procedure for oral questions to Secretaries of State in the House of Lords was reviewed by the Procedure and Privileges Committee in November 2023. It recommended changing the day, from Thursday to Tuesday; increasing the number of balloted questions, from three to four; and extending the time allowed from 30 to 40 minutes.

The House of Lords agreed to the proposals on 8 November 2023; and Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton answered Secretary of State’s Questions for the first time on 5 December 2023.


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