CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 994-i

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE

 

 

MINISTERIAL AND OTHER APPOINTMENTS FROM OUTSIDE PARLIAMENT

 

 

Thursday 15 October 2009

PROFESSOR ANTHONY KING, MR JONATHAN POWELL and LORD TURNBULL

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 67

 

 

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.

This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

 

2.

The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.


Oral Evidence

Taken before the Public Administration Committee

on Thursday 15 October 2009

Members present

Dr Tony Wright, in the Chair

Paul Flynn

Kelvin Hopkins

Julie Morgan

Mr Gordon Prentice

Mr Charles Walker

________________

Witnesses: Professor Anthony King, Professor of Government, University of Essex, Mr Jonathan Powell, former Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, and Lord Turnbull, KCB CVO, former Cabinet Secretary, gave evidence.

Q1 Chairman: Let me call the Committee to order and welcome our witnesses this morning to this hearing on our inquiry on unelected ministers and other similar sorts of appointments. We are delighted to have Jonathan Powell, former Chief of Staff at Number 10, and many other things before that and after that; Lord Turnbull, distinguished former Cabinet Secretary and much else besides; and Professor Anthony King, who, as I have just said to the Committee, knows about everything. We are delighted to have you all. We are worrying away, as you will know, at this issue about whether it is a good idea to bring these outsiders into government, what issues it raises and, if it raises issues, how we might solve them. That is the broad context. Perhaps I could just ask each of you in turn to say something very briefly, no more than a minute, to kick us off, and then we will deal with the questions. Jonathan, would you like to start?

Mr Powell: Yes, absolutely. Thank you for inviting me. I think this is actually a very timely debate to have. We certainly, when we came into office in 1997, had a problem with a lack of talent to appoint to ministerial jobs, and I think if the Conservatives were to win the election next year they will have a very similar problem. They have a very thin layer of talent from which to choose. So I approach this from a sort of utilitarian point of view, that it is good to have a wide choice of people to appoint to office, and you may not have that if you have been in opposition for a very long period of time. I do not think putting people in the House of Lords is a very satisfactory way of meeting the point. They are not accountable to the House of Commons, the elected representatives, and I think it would be much better if one could have people who are ministers who came from anywhere in the country, from any profession, but were answerable to the Commons. I believe that is a soluble problem. There would be opposition to it from Prime Ministers, who like to have the payroll vote; possibly from MPs, who may like the closed shop on jobs, but I do believe - and I hope we can discuss this as we go on - there are ways of solving that problem and meeting that need.

Lord Turnbull: I think there are two related issues. One is the implications of the overlap of the executive and legislature, which means the pool from which ministerial appointments are made is limited; and the second is the way in which political careers are currently developed. Traditionally, we have seen the overlap of the executive and legislature as part of the strength of the constitution: the Government gets its legislation, by and large, and it is politically highly accountable, but people are beginning to become more conscious of the weaknesses. In particular as a parliament gets older, by the time we are into the third term, possibly with a smaller majority, i.e. an even smaller pool to choose from, and a lot of people who have done their time, you really are struggling. Jonathan used the word "utilitarian"; I think the word I would use is "expedient"; appointing ministers to the House of Lords helps the Prime Minister get out of a hole but I am not sure it is actually the long-term constitutional solution that we want. Therefore, I too am attracted to this idea that someone could be a member of one House and have rights of audience in another. There are one or two jurisdictions - not many - where you cannot be a member of either House; you may have started there but you have to come out of them. That is a possible solution. The second issue is that I think there is a growing gulf between the requirements to manage a modern, huge department, with big issues, large budgets and large numbers of people, huge technological issues, issues of science, in which the House of Commons has almost zero capability, and also very international. There is a growing trend for people to come into politics more or less straight from university. They lick envelopes in Central Office, become a Special Adviser, on and on it goes, and by the time they are in their mid-thirties they are Cabinet Ministers, barely touching the sides of real life. I asked, for example, Nigel Lawson, "How old were you when you came into the House of Commons?" I think he was 44 and Douglas Hurd was 42. That is old these days. Those requirements, these two forces, are moving in opposite directions and the bringing in of older, more experienced people into the House of Lords is again something expedient to get round that.

Professor King: Three points quickly: Jonathan referred to lack of talent. I think there is a real problem about recruiting to what are nowadays very large administrations from a very small number of people, since the majority of ministers of any standing do have to be in the House of Commons. I am very struck by the number of people I talk to who have had business frequently with government, with ministers, and they say a lot of them are not very competent, that few of them are really knowledgeable about the activities of the department or their bit of it, that many of them are not very committed to the job but most of them are committed to furthering their own political careers. As we know in this country and it is often pointed out, there is essentially one ladder of career advancement and that is up the ministerial ladder. Lots of people have said it is too bad that there is not a House of Commons career and I cleave to that view. The second point has been touched on by Andrew. Our political class is more and more recruited from people whose entire working lives, practically all of them, have been in politics in some guise or another. If you go back 100 years, the House of Commons was replete with industrialists, trade union leaders and so on. I published an article in a learned journal of which I am rather proud. It was called "The Rise of the Career Politician in Britain and its Consequences" and it was published in 1981. This has been going on for quite a long time. My third point is one that has not been touched and it is this. There is in this country an astonishingly high turnover of ministers, changing departments, coming and going and so on. This is a consequence partly of the sheer number of ministers but notice it is a consequence of having the vast majority of ministers being also members of the House of Commons. You get a domino effect: if somebody resigns, dies, retires, is sacked, you do not just put somebody else in, as you would do in many other systems; you have to put somebody else in who is probably at the moment in some other department and the effects ramify through the system. I do think it is a very general problem, not unconnected with the fact that we require most of our ministers to be MPs, that we have this very high turnover of ministers, which I think is extremely unfortunate.

Q2 Chairman: Thank you for that. All that is interesting. Let us just take stock of what you are telling us. I think what you are saying is that the gene pool of elected politicians is so poor that it makes forming effective administrations increasingly difficult and that this is accentuated by the rise of the professional, career politician, who has done little else in life and probably run nothing at all, and that we have to answer this in some way by bringing people in to rectify the problem. Then we have to deal with the accountability issues that come from having these non-elected people. What I want to ask is - and we can talk about whether the analysis is true - is the direction of travel one which takes us in really a very radically different direction? Andrew, you suggested in an article in the Financial Times that this is the case. You have argued not only that we are moving in the direction of a separation of powers but that we ought to be. We can tweak the system now but are we not really moving in a direction which says: let us be like Obama. Let us have the ability to bring the talent of the land into government and then separate that off from the business of scrutinising it?

Lord Turnbull: That is the second half of the argument. Not only is the development of careers of ministers dysfunctional, but I do not think it is good for the House of Commons either that 100 and something ministers are taken out into the government and others become all sorts of quasi-ministers, like envoys and so on. Who is left to do the work of scrutiny? You are a shining counter-example to this but, by and large, if you have a choice, you are a backbencher and became a Committee Chair, and I believe you get an extra 14,000, whereas if you become the most junior Parliamentary Under-Secretary, you might be offered three times that or something. So a lot of the people in the House of Commons are there really not looking to make their career as parliamentarians - as I say, with some distinguished exceptions; they are there waiting for the telephone to ring next time there is a reshuffle. I do not think this is good for the House of Commons as a scrutinising body. Therefore separating the two, the people that are the executive and the people who do the scrutinising, both of them constituted in ways where that is the job they really want to do, may be a better outcome than this historical overlap that we have at present.

Q3 Chairman: When you were in government as a Permanent Secretary and then as Cabinet Secretary, did you form the view that actually, these politicians were not good enough? Is that what you are telling us?

Lord Turnbull: There were good times but, in general, no. In some cases I used to think actually that the House of Lords was the weak part. A bill would be taken through by a Secretary of State and then it would be handed over to a Lords minister, who could well have been a hereditary or something, and was not really plugged into the department. Some of those ministers really struggled. In some ways I think it is now the other way round. The Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill was taken through the House of Lords by Lord Darzi, and he made a million times better job of it than the person who took it through the House of Commons.

Q4 Chairman: We will come back to the Lords. Jonathan, you said, I think, when Tony Blair formed his government in 1997 that you felt there was not enough talent around and wanted to do something about it.

Mr Powell: Yes, I think when a party has been in opposition for a long period of time, lots of people do not think it is a very good idea to go and be an MP and sit on opposition benches for 18 years or, in the case of the Tory party, 13 years. I think it would be far better if you have a wider choice. There is a reason that in Europe, pretty much all of continental Europe, and the US your gene pool from which you can choose is the entire country to be ministers, whereas here we have 300-odd MPs on the government benches from which you can choose. It is a much narrower group from which you can choose, and I think it would be far better if we were able to do that. I would not advocate, as Andrew was hinting at, a full separation of powers. If you actually required MPs to resign as MPs to become ministers, as they do in some continental European countries, you would then have to change our electoral system. You could not start having by-elections every time that happened. You would have to have a list system and there are quite a lot of good arguments against that. I would be much happier with a mixed system, where you can choose people from outside as well as MPs. That would give you a wider talent pool, as they have in most other countries.

Q5 Mr Prentice: Tony Blair famously had not run anything when he became Prime Minister. He had not even been on a parish council. You said there was a lack of talent in 1997. How did you know who was talented and who was not talented? Did the Prime Minister sit down with you and others to go through the list of Labour MPs, marking out those people with potential, those people who were talented? How did it work in 1997?

Mr Powell: Of course, in 1997 we had an elected Shadow Cabinet, as you recall, in the Labour Party, so the first point was to, generally speaking, appoint the people who were in the Shadow Cabinet. It was not all of them but it was a large part of them.

Q6 Mr Prentice: But Tony Blair struggled to get on to the Shadow Cabinet when Labour was in opposition. He never talked the Shadow Cabinet elections so why should being in the Shadow Cabinet be a mark of distinction?

Mr Powell: That is a very good question but that was the rule in the Labour Party during the period of opposition. No, we did not sit down and go through every single MP to work out who was the most talented, but nor were we able to look around the country and say if we really wanted to form a government of the most talented people - not necessarily experts; I don't think this necessarily needs to be a matter of choosing experts to go into particular jobs; it could just be choosing very talented people to have ministerial jobs, who could well be partisan, party members, but might have that wider experience outside.

Q7 Paul Flynn: But you had a list which said "possible", "probable", "over my dead body". I could draw you up a Cabinet now of present Members, backbench Members, who are brilliant, who would make wonderful ministers, including some members of this Committee, but would never have a hope in hell chance of getting in as ministers. You start off by saying it is a limited gene pool but it is not the genes that are the problem. It is a question of whether the MPs at that time had undergone the new Labour lobotomy and were biddable to some of the absurdities that came from Downing Street, such as the Iraq war, for instance. It was! You are limited to the choice of these zombies who do the bidding of the Prime Minister. Really, it is a nonsense to suggest there is not talent in the Labour Party on the backbenches. There is an enormous amount of talent!

Mr Powell: I am not suggesting there is not talent on the backbenches of the Labour Party, and it is true that politics enters the forming of any government or any cabinet. You tend to rule out a number of people who would be patently mad, and a number of people who patently would not be up to the job, but you are again limiting your choice of people. Why should you limit it as opposed to other countries where you are allowed to choose from anywhere?

Q8 Paul Flynn: You also limit it to people who are courageous enough to make an independent stand, which should have been done on the Iraq war. We have heard a distinguished academic, Professor Hennessy, saying here that if the members of the Cabinet had had their backbones removed and replaced by water, they would have made a stronger stand on the Iraq war and dismissed the shrivelled account they were given of the advice on whether it was a legal war or not, and not one of the gutless Cabinet at the time did stand up. Two of them did resign later but at the time they accepted that we should send 179 of our soldiers to die in vain in a war that we could have avoided altogether. What sort of a Cabinet is that? You want in the Cabinet people who are credible, who will do the work, but when you have original thinkers and people with strong backbench opinions here, they are excluded from office.

Mr Powell: I do not think that is true. A notable example would be Chris Mullin.

Q9 Paul Flynn: We know Chris Mullin's book very well.

Mr Powell: Exactly. He would be a very good example of it but there will be politics when you form a government. You are going to choose people who will support the Government.

Q10 Paul Flynn: Chris Mullin's Cabinet career was destroyed because he occasionally was found in possession of an intelligent idea, and he could not survive because of that. Read his book! If we take an example of one of the acts by the new Labour Government when they came in, when they appointed the drugs tsar, he was a fairly preposterous figure, a snake oil salesman, in which he came forward with a list of objectives and targets that were greeted with derision by anyone knowledgeable. They were completely unattainable. There were the great trumpets when he came, this was a man who was going to solve drug problems in Britain and it was a ten-year strategy. None of those targets were met. He lasted for two years and he was sent on gardening leave and people wanted to forget all about him. When the ten-year period came up, there was no examination of how those targets failed, how there were virtually no improvements: there were no reductions, there were people still dying of this great scourge of drugs. All that had happened from the Labour Government was that they had produced someone who was a PR man at best, vacuous, useless, and the result of that is young people die on our streets from heroin. We made no progress whatsoever.

Chairman: There must be a question tucked away there somewhere.

Q11 Paul Flynn: How do you, who possibly had an influence on it, look on the drugs tsar? Was that a success or a failure to appoint him?

Mr Powell: If the test is did it resolve the problem of drugs in this country, it was a failure but there have been lots of other failures in trying to meet that objective. I think the idea of tzars can work if you need to try to bring together policy areas, for example, with drugs, from health, the police, try and make them work together, it can help to have someone at the centre who can try and bring the threads together but the problem is, if they do not have a budget, they do not actually have control over it, the departments will continue to insist on their particular bugbears and you will not actually achieve much. Probably a few pointers are you would not want to have a permanent tzar; you would want to make it a temporary job.

Q12 Paul Flynn: The Strategy Unit under Lord Birt produced a brilliant report, which was confidential - it was eventually leaked - suggesting a practical answer to the drugs policy such as has been put forward in Portugal, for instance, where they have reduced drug deaths by 50 %. Is there anything in Downing Street that says let us look at the evidence, let us find out what works, or do they say, "What is going to play to the Daily Mail? What is going to give us this good feed of adulation in the press?"

Mr Powell: Not on the drugs policy in particular but I think what you flag up is actually the advantage of having someone like John Birt, who is prepared to think from first principles on some of these policy issues. The problem then comes that he produces a brilliant report, but trying to put it into practice, a practical policy, this is where the problem happens. Having someone like John Birt, or someone who is really prepared to think things through, is an example of how you can have someone in the centre who can make a difference, even if you cannot necessarily implement his full report.

Professor King: Can I just say something that was raised earlier? I think the phrase "separation of powers" is misleading. The vast majority of European countries do not have a separation of powers in the American sense, though France has a partial one - and they are parliamentary systems, which in many respects, even though they have coalition governments in most cases, resemble the UK more than they resemble the US. The fact remains that the only countries which require ministers to be parliamentarians are the United Kingdom and Ireland. There are a considerable number of countries - and, interestingly, it is a scattering of countries - that insist that ministers not be members of the legislature. In addition, there are quite a number of countries where ministers may or may not be members of the legislature. My own view is that there is a lot to be said for the middle category of saying yes, it probably will be the case that a majority of ministers are at the time of their appointment members of either the House of Commons or - and I have worries, as others do, about the House of Lords in this connection - but need not be. That raises immediately the question of accountability, of answerability. Andrew spoke of rights of audience. I would say requirement of audience. It seems to me that if you are going to have ministers, they should be able to speak in both Houses of Parliament, if we have two, and that they should be required, indeed, to answer questions, to appear before committees like this, to be able to take bills through Parliament. In other words, the issue of membership and the issue of the extent to which ministers are involved in legislative proceedings are separable and are separated in the large majority of European countries, a larger number than require, since it is only the UK and Ireland, that ministers should also be parliamentarians.

Q13 Chairman: But one of several problems in this area is that we use the House of Lords as a way of getting people in, as it were, through the back door into ministerial roles. There is nothing new about this. We are at about the average level for the whole political period at the moment. It is a well-used practise. What seems odd though is that people might come into government to do a job through that route for what can be a very short space of time and they finish up as a member of the upper House for the rest of their lives. That seems bizarre, does it not? I wonder if a better suggestion is the one that John Major and Douglas Hurd originally made, which is to have a category of non-elected ministers who are members of neither House but are accountable to both Houses in the normal way and they just do the job for a period and then leave government.

Professor King: Yes.

Mr Powell: I would agree very strongly. I do not know that a person need be answerable to the House of Lords but I do think they should be answerable to the House of Commons and able to move legislation and able to appear on the floor of the House. You should be able to be a minister without having to go into the House of Lords. Being in the Lords strikes me as a distraction.

Q14 Chairman: Once we start having this conversation, we are actually moving towards a more separated system.

Mr Powell: No, because you can have a mixed system. There could be some ministers who are MPs - the Prime Minister would almost certainly be an MP - but others who would be people appointed from outside but simply answerable to the Commons and able to appear before the Commons. Just putting them in the Lords strikes me as an odd thing to do with them.

Q15 Julie Morgan: I was going to ask whether you thought ministers appointed from outside should be members of the governing party.

Mr Powell: That seems to me to be a political decision by the government at the time. If I were doing it, I would certainly appoint people from the party and partisan but you might also want to appoint some experts as ministers. I do not see why you should not be able to do either of those if you wanted to.

Lord Turnbull: There is a New Zealand example, that Helen Clark appointed someone from an opposition party as Foreign Minister and he said, "I will support you on foreign affairs but I reserve the right to vote with the rest of my party on everything else." It seems slightly odd.

Q16 Julie Morgan: That sort of step seems to deny the wishes of the electorate.

Lord Turnbull: You are right. On this question of doing two years or even less than two years and then remaining as a member of the House of Lords, basically, I think there are several steps that are missing. One is that you cannot resign from the House of Lords and I think that should be possible. If you are still using the House of Lords as the vehicle for this - and I think we are really saying if we have not got anything else, that is a change I would make. In a new House of Lords I would definitely have term limitation. I think everyone should have about 15 years and that is it. You should be able to retire. So someone who comes in, does a ministerial job, may want to stay as a performing member of the House of Lords as long as everyone else and, provided they accept those obligations, then they can stay. If they say "I am now going to go back to my previous career", I think they should do the decent thing and resign. The only question then is, what about their name and title? We then get this ghastly business where basically you should just be Andrew Turnbull and everything else that describes what you are or have been comes after your name, and get rid of this business of giving people names and giving their wives names but not their husbands names. Then it will be much more flexible. You could come in, do the job, either stay if you are going to stay as a member of the House of Lords and work there like everyone else, or resign from it and go off and do something else. It all depends if you are still using the House of Lords as the vehicle. If you devise something else, you would not need to do all that.

Q17 Chairman: Can I just try one more thing on you and then I will bring Charles in. Andrew, particularly you, because of where you come from, are we not really wrestling with the fact that in our system we are right at the end of the spectrum in international terms in terms of the political element in government? Because it is a fundamental principle of our system that we have this independent, impartial civil service, where ministers do not come in and appoint their own people to senior administrative posts, we have to find our own way around getting people that we want, who we think will deliver our programmes, into government in some way. So we use these devices like special advisers and all the rest of it, which get into great trouble because they go off and become spin doctors and all the rest of it. Would it not be more helpful if we could be more sensible about thinking about what the right balance is between the politically appointed element in government and, as it were, the permanent element in government? At the moment we seem to be wriggling around a constraint that is built into the system without being able to think more openly about it.

Lord Turnbull: In parts of northern Europe, Germany and Sweden, they have this concept of the State Secretary. The State Secretary is usually the number two level minister. The minister is usually an elected politician but, if you take the man who is now the President of Germany, Horst Koehler, he was a career official in the Ministry of Finance and then he became the State Secretary, which was a political appointment. These are effectively unelected ministers but also with a lot of professional expertise. The difficulty with that is this requirement that you should hand over an administration of the quality that you left and not cannibalise it when you leave. Once someone like Horst Koehler becomes a State Secretary, with a change of government, they will nearly always move on, so their expertise is then lost to the successors - that is the advantage of our system - but it does actually bring some very good people in. You find if you go to a European or OECD meeting and you meet these people, they are of a very high quality, but it is just another device. What I do not like though, particularly about the French system, which seems to me pernicious, where people all claim to be part of the fonction publique or whatever, but actually they have undeclared allegiances, so when the Gaullists are in, you get a job but when the Gaullists are out, you are sent somewhere else. That is a system which does not have any rules to it. There are other systems where ministers, or Secretaries of State, have greater rights of appointment of the rest of their ministerial team. But you have to bring in the whole package. I do not think you can just pick that particular element. The American system has various checks and balances, there are confirmation hearings and, by and large, they can bring some very good people in. They also bring some disastrous people in like, "Hey, Brownie, you're doing a great job," if you remember the former Secretary of the Arabian Horse Society who handled Hurricane Katrina. But by and large they bring good people in but they do get tested through confirmation hearings. I would not transfer the right appointment of ministers without also changing some other parts of the constitution.

Professor King: Let us come back to the question of rate of turnover. I do think this is a very serious problem and one that is not unconnected to the business of having most ministers come from the House of Commons, the domino effect I referred to earlier on. If I look at the UK system of government and compare it with that of just about any other established liberal democracy, the rate at which people go from one post to another - John Reid I lost count of at some point - we can talk about defence but we have had eight Education Ministers since the Labour Party came to power in 1997. I do not think we have an Education Minister at the moment because of course departments keep swirling around as well. If you count Peter Mandelson twice, we have had eight Business or DTI Secretaries. This is closely related to the fact that we have to draw our MPs from the House of Commons in a situation in which, as you said earlier, Mr Chairman, most MPs are from a political background. The second point, and I think it is a serious one, is that I think we ought to be straightforward about the gene pool - this is the term that Andrew introduced into the discussion. The gene pool, in my view, for ministers is simply too small to begin with and, to be honest, not good enough. Do constituency Labour parties, do constituency Conservative Associations ask themselves as a core question: "Has this person had the kind of experience, does he or she have the talent that would enable him or her to play a major part in running the country?" I do not think that is very often a serious criterion.

Q18 Mr Walker: I think I am wholly unsuited to be a minister. I really am. I am emotional, I judge people quickly, I have none of the characteristics that would make me a good manager, but I have many of the characteristics that might make me a good legislator. I can stand up for those who elected me. I think it is, as you say, madness to expect the 350 people in the governing party to have the requisite skills to become ministers, senior managers, in a hugely complex world. I think this really does lead to the need for the separation of powers, where we can have two big stories. We can have the President or Prime Minister, whoever he is, picking his team, doing great things, and we can have Parliament becoming a story again for the right reasons, holding him to account, holding the Number 10 Policy Unit to account. Do you not think if we move towards the separation of powers that actually might restore some confidence in our democratic processes in this country? The one thing it would do would be to remove patronage from this place. It is patronage that kills Parliament. If you want to be independently minded, the Chief Whip says, "We are all working so terribly hard on your behalf to get you into government. David is desperate to promote you. Can you just do us this one favour on this one occasion?" It would be called blackmail in any other walk of life!

Professor King: I would only just add to that that I think you can achieve a good deal without going as far as you are advocating, because there are a considerable number of - and I emphasise the word - parliamentary systems where you do not have anything approaching the American-style separation of powers where nevertheless there is, as it were, a career structure - I use the term loosely - in the legislature in countries in which the legislature has a very considerable say in what actually happens. I cite Germany, for example. The leaders of the parliamentary factions in Germany are serious people. The committee system is so structured to enhance the power of what in this country would be thought of as backbench MPs. In other words, I am not disagreeing with you. I am just saying that one does not have to go the whole hog to get some pretty good parts of the pig.

Q19 Mr Walker: "Backbench" in this country is a term of derision as opposed to a term of celebration, and I think that is poisonous. It really is. "Oh, he is just a backbencher." Being a Member of Parliament should be an important job in itself. Is it going to drive David Cameron wild in eight years' time, when he has worked his way through 150 or 200 ministers and somebody puts my name in front of him? That is the weakness of the system, is it not? We have had a Labour government for 13 years. My God, Gordon Brown must be beside himself when he looks at who is left. The same after 18 years of a Conservative government. Surely, the direction of travel must be towards either full separation of powers or far greater separation of powers but not decided on the whim of the Prime Minister of the day. We cannot have the Prime Minister of the day saying, "I think we will cut Parliament by 60" and the next one saying, "Why not go 180?" Surely we need some new constitutional settlement, perhaps even a written constitution.

Professor King: May I say parenthetically that it seems to me that if one of the principal functions of the House of Commons at the moment is to constitute the gene pool from which ministers are drawn, the idea of reducing the size of the House of Commons has an inevitable arithmetical consequence of reducing the pool from which ministers are drawn. If that is what the House of Commons is about, there should probably be 2,000 rather than 500.

Lord Turnbull: That assumes that the Ministerial Salaries Act is unrepealed. So long as 110 salaries are permitted, 110 salaries will be given out. If you did a Myers-Briggs test, one of these psychological tests, I suspect this is partly why politicians always have tensions with civil servants, because civil servants are completely different. Politicians I think are small organisation people - not in the pejorative sense. They believe that you get results by what you do yourself. You have been an analyst or a university lecturer or a journalist or something, or particularly a lawyer, and there is a very direct relationship. I thought Jonathan's boss used to think that he had an absolutely direct link, that what he did should then translate into something else. Civil servants are big organisation people. They think in terms of structures and hierarchies and mandates. When the Prime Minister said to me, "I want something done," my immediate action was "I need to find a person who does this." I did not think I was going to do it myself. I think one of them is actually better suited to the running of very large organisations and very few large organisation people now get into the House of Commons. Take Peter Mandelson's beloved grandfather. He was a senior politician over the river there. At the age at which he came into national politics I would think nowadays all the jobs would have been taken. You have no chance if you come in at 50 of getting anywhere in politics now, so how can you develop in a senior position in local government or in trade unions or business? You are so far behind in the climb up the greasy pole that you never catch up.

Q20 Mr Prentice: Sir Richard Dannatt has run something, has he not? He ran the British Army, and David Cameron thinks that his Defence team does not really cut the mustard because they do not have military experience. So General Sir Richard Dannatt is taking the Conservative whip, becoming a peer, and will probably end up in the MoD. Should we welcome this or be concerned about it?

Lord Turnbull: If you want my personal view---

Q21 Chairman: When you were Cabinet Secretary you did not tell us these interesting things but now you do.

Lord Turnbull: I think this is a very major error of judgement, to be perfectly honest. Why is it objectionable? One, it subverts the chain of command. One day the Chief of the Defence Staff has this guy as his deputy; a few weeks or months later he is issuing instructions to him. Where does it leave the position of the new Chief of the General Staff if his predecessor is in the ministerial team? In the Diplomatic Service there are very strict understandings that if you are the ambassador in Rome, you do not hang around in Rome after you have retired. It is a nice place to be, but you leave and you do not take a job there and you do not live there. Bishops are encouraged to leave the diocese, and for very good reasons. This appointment undermines that. The second reason is that there will be something like a Defence Review - either capital letters or lower case - and different services are going to have to give up their toys. What objectivity does the former Chief of the General Staff have as part of the ministerial team deciding this? If you talk to admirals, they are incandescent about this. They do not believe he can be objective. Most important of all, it casts a shadow over his successors. In the Civil Service Code there are words that you have to behave in a way which gives an assurance not only that you are serving with commitment your current boss, your current political master, so to speak, but that you would do the same for a different government. I think this appointment calls that into question because ministers will be thinking "Which way is he going? Is he one of these new Labour people?"

Q22 Mr Prentice: Would it be okay if General Sir Richard Dannatt took a job in the Department of Children, Families and Schools or whatever it is called now? Would that make a difference? Is it only if he goes back into Defence?

Lord Turnbull: You are on to the Admiral West case. You can argue that even that was not desirable but there is a huge difference: Admiral West does not work in the Ministry of Defence.

Q23 Chairman: If you say, as you do, it was a major error of judgement, was it a major error of judgement on the part of Sir Richard Dannatt or David Cameron or both?

Lord Turnbull: I will leave you to judge that. I do not know who proposed him, for example, so I cannot say.

Professor King: I will have a go: both.

Lord Turnbull: I think it is thoroughly...

Q24 Chairman: Reprehensible?

Lord Turnbull: Yes. Another thing is, I was part of the small cabal that eventually forced a change in the constitution whereby we no longer accepted that a senior judge could be a minister at the same time, and that we should get rid of the conflicting role of the Lord Chancellor. I think it would be a great shame if we started having one of the top three or four military people in the country coming back as a Minister. I think that is retracing ground which I thought we had won with the Lord Chancellor case.

Q25 Chairman: Thank you for all that. Tony, you wanted to add something?

Professor King: I simply want to repeat that I think it was an error of judgement on the part of both David Cameron and Sir Richard Dannatt to do what the two of them have done. Just quickly going back, I do not want to give the impression that there was a golden age, or it was at most ever a silver age, but if you go back to what I acknowledge as an extreme case, the immediate post-war Attlee administration, we talk about GOATs, we talk about people being brought in from outside. Somebody who was brought in from outside was a man called Ernest Bevin, who really worked out rather well, first as Minister of Labour during the war and then as Foreign Secretary, and one of the reasons he worked out well was that he had done something; he had run a very large, complicated trade union in difficult circumstances. He had dealt with Communists within his union and he knew what they were like, and he knew a bit about negotiating. Herbert Morrison, Peter Mandelson's grandfather, had run the London County Council before he became a minister. Stafford Cripps had run one of the most successful law practices in the country. I do think there is a problem to have the kind of political class we now have and rely on that political class, largely people without much in the way of background, actually, to use the phrase I used before, to run the country. I think there is a problem; there is a dysfunction there.

Q26 Chairman: Surely, if all that is true, the choice is either that you attack it from the end of whether we can change the political class by saying someone should have ten years of a proper job before they come in, they must have been involved in running something, and therefore you improve the recruitment pool for ministers, or you say, as Charles did, that people who come into Parliament come in to represent people in a whole variety of different ways, and what we need to do therefore is to correct the problem with ministerial talent by being able to recruit from outside and let Parliament just do the job that Parliament does and be the political class that it is.

Professor King: I cannot speak for others but, speaking for myself, I would come at it from the latter angle rather than the former, not least because I have thought about it quite a lot and I have totally failed to come up with any account of what one might do about the political class, holding the rest of the system constant.

Q27 Mr Walker: A tiny question: if we had the separation of powers, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, would be free to pick whoever they wanted from across the UK to be their ministers but then you could also have less Members of Parliament, you would perhaps cut Parliament down to 400 or 450, and you would get by dint of that better Members of Parliament potentially because competition would be higher and the cream would rise to the top. Is that not a possibility? Then you would satisfy the public's desire for less politicians and better government potentially.

Professor King: It is a possibility, though an improbability.

Mr Powell: About the House of Lords, which we have not discussed, which I think is a problem, I think if you put these ministers who you bring in from outside in the House of Lords, they are not accountable to the elected representatives of this country and that is wrong. You need to have these people able to appear before the House of Commons. Putting them in the House of Lords is a distraction. They do not need to be in the House of Lords. They should be doing their ministerial jobs and be able to come along here and answer questions, move legislation, and act as they do in most other European countries. I cannot see why that should be a problem. As I understand it, it does not require a huge amount of change; it is a matter of changing the rules and procedure of the House of Commons rather than anything else.

Q28 Chairman: That would be the answer to the Mandelson issue.

Mr Powell: Yes. There is a reason why since Lord Carrington there have not been senior Secretaries of State in the House of Lords and they have all been in the Commons: because people did not think you could have Secretaries of State in the Lords who were not answerable to the Commons. I think there is a problem if you are going to bring in people from outside. You need to find a way of making them accountable here.

Q29 Paul Flynn: One of the issues that has disturbed us greatly on this Committee is the revolving door and the way that the decisions of ministers, generals and top civil servants when they are in office might well be distorted by their hopes of better jobs when they retire, when they stand down as ministers. We have striking examples of this. In evidence when I said to a witness "Surely pay is distorted because there are 179 people in public service earning more than the Prime Minister," the answer was "Ah, yes, but when you stand down as a Prime Minister, you can get a job that earns millions." We have a case now where recently John Hutton, who gave a contract worth 12.5 billion to a company this time last year, was reported to be considering an offer of a job with that company, which I think he has delayed for a little while but we have ministers who have given contracts while in office and within a year of standing down as ministers, they get lucrative jobs. The problem is the distortion of their decisions when they are in office. If we take this with General Dannatt's position now, is it not extremely dangerous if we do not put some period of five or ten years before former ministers, former generals, former civil servants, can take work with the bodies they deal with? Otherwise, there is a grave danger that their decisions will be influenced by nods and winks in order to look forward to having their Hacienda in Spain when they retire rather than doing a proper job when they are holding their high offices.

Lord Turnbull: Well, we have a system for vetting..

Q30 Paul Flynn: We have had a look at that. Yes, go on.

Lord Turnbull: I can only answer from the civil service point of view; I obviously cannot answer from the ministerial point of view. What you are saying is that when you become a civil servant, once you have joined, you have no possibility of going out and doing anything else. That means you also have no possibility of bringing anyone else in mid-career because first, there are not the spaces because people do not go out and also anyone who comes in then finds that they are locked in because they cannot go back to the world that they came from. I think is absolutely essential that we have people moving across. The Civil Service for years was too hermetically sealed. You need a process which enables this to work. If you are going to say to someone effectively "You have worked here for 15 years but you cannot work for another five years," you have to pay them for the five years that they are effectively on gardening leave.

Q31 Paul Flynn: I am not sure you are getting my point. If I can take an example of a minister, a Health Minister, who objected strongly to a report by the Health Select Committee because it attacked the pharmaceutical industry and, remarkably, when he stood down as a minister, he is employed by five pharmaceutical companies. What determined his judgement in office? Should you not be automatically debarred from working in that area after you stand down as a minister in order that your decisions as a minister or as a general or as a top civil servant are not distorted?

Lord Turnbull: If you have been a regulator of someone or a contract issuer, then the bar needs to be set higher, the quarantine times need to be longer or the conditions attached to it, but for a large number of people, you have to look at whether you really think this has actually distorted their behaviour. The test is not does Mr Paul Flynn think that their decisions may have been distorted. That is what this Committee has to look at.

Chairman: This takes us into territory we have been in on other occasions. I do not want to go down that route particularly.

Q32 Kelvin Hopkins: Underlying all this there has been a massive shift of power from all the institutions of Britain into the Prime Minister's office. That is what has really happened over the last 20 or 30 years, but particularly since 1997, and it was done deliberately. I have described it as a process of Leninisation. I am not a Leninist myself; I am a pluralist. Lenin secured control of the party first of all and used that as a weapon to drive power to the centre. You talk about Parliament but is it not the case that the crucial difference now is that the control of who is in Parliament is now almost entirely with the party leadership and we have thus eliminated some of the democratic constraints within Parliament? It may be true of the Conservative Party as well but it is certainly true of our party. Democratic constraints have been hacked away so that the leader has enormous power. Cabinet government has been praised - and I think rightly so - for a long time. I think it was one of Andrew's predecessors who at this Committee said that the Wilson and Callaghan Cabinets typically would consider some 200 policy papers a year. Cabinet meetings would last a long time, there would be a range of views expressed, a consensus would come out of that. The Prime Minister was primus inter pares but not an absolutely dominating, controlling figure, which is what happened under Blair. The Cabinet became a cipher under Blair and one guesses it still is, more or less. Is that not unhealthy and have we not gone wrong simply because we have allowed that accretion of power to the leader and not maintained democratic constraints through Cabinet government, through a strong independent civil service, a strong Parliament and so on?

Mr Powell: No, I do not think it has. Actually, what happens if you look at it historically is that it varies depending on how strong or weak the Prime Minister of the time is. It tends to be weak Prime Ministers who talk about Cabinet government and stronger ones, like Thatcher, for example, or Blair, who have a more directive view of what they want the government to achieve. I do think there is a point relating to that which Charles Walker made, which is that there ought to be an alternative career path for MPs where they are not aspiring to be ministers but are aspiring to hold the executive to account through committees and through fulfilling their job in that way. I do not think it requires the separation of powers but I do think it requires the ability to bring in ministers from outside. I think Prime Ministers would be slightly disinclined to do that because they like having the payroll vote. The reason they appoint the number of ministers allowed in the Ministerial Salaries Act is that that is a way of making sure you have that many votes in the House of Commons. That is why you have unpaid ministers increasing in number too, because they all have their private secretaries, their offices and their drivers and all the rest of it. If the Prime Minister had his way, he would appoint every single backbencher in his party to a ministerial job to ensure their vote. They may be disinclined to do it but actually, if they think about it a little bit longer and they are planning to stay around and be Prime Minister for a while, they might take into account the equation you run into as Prime Minister if you have been there a long time, which is the balance between the appointed and the disappointed, and the problem with ministers who are MPs is that they do not go away when you sack them; they sit around on the backbenches and make your life miserable. So it may be an advantage to have ministers who come from outside because at least they will go away when you sack them rather than still being there.

Q33 Kelvin Hopkins: It is not surprising that you see things entirely through the eyes of the Prime Minister, preferring strong Prime Ministers who are more dominant. If we want strong leaders, we can go to North Korea. I do not think that is a good idea personally. If you go back to the Cabinet of Wilson and Callaghan, and it was said, again by one of Andrew's predecessors when they came to this Committee, that any one of perhaps a dozen of those could have been a very fine Prime Minister. We had everybody from Benn and Castle, right across to Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, Denis Healey, and a dozen more, each of whom would have been a perfectly credible Prime Minister, but there was a range of view there. There was debate in Cabinet; strands of opinion even within the party, let alone the country, were actually heard in Cabinet and the Prime Minister had to work with this team. There was a collective, consensual view and also better decisions, because if you isolate yourself from opposition, as I think our leaders have done, and isolate yourself even from countervailing voices, surround yourself with people who will just do what you want and do what you say, always saying, "Yes, Prime Minister," that is not healthy for democracy and we do not see the country properly represented in government.

Professor King: Can I go back to the point that Paul Flynn was making earlier on? Notice that the problem of the revolving door exists whatever your arrangements. You can have a complete separation of powers, you can have any old system you like, you can have the American, you can have the UK, and the revolving door problem is there. In that sense, it is tangential to what we are talking about here. Can I just go back to the point that Jonathan touched on a moment ago, and that is the question which I think you are interested in, which has not to do with where ministers come from but how many there are. Lord Turnbull has a table that he has worked out and that he was showing us in the corridor in which you might be interested - I do not think it is a secret document. I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation. A hundred years ago in 1909 there were 34 ministers, leaving the whips out of it. Fifty years later in 1959 there were 58 ministers. There are now, using the same basis of calculation, 95 but since the number of ministerial opportunities has grown, it is at least 95 - I think Lord Turnbull thinks it is well over 100 and I am sure he is right. That seems to me to raise all kinds of serious questions about the sensible use of resources. There is an old saying that the devil makes work for idle hands. I suspect a lot of junior ministerial activity is motivated by the desire to do and to call attention to oneself rather than fitting into any kind of sensible programme of government.

Lord Turnbull: Can I give you the figures?

Q34 Chairman: Yes. In fact, could you leave your table with us?

Lord Turnbull: Yes, certainly. In 1997 I am told that the number under the Ministerial Salaries Act was 110 but there were actually 113 ministers, so three unpaid. That included the ministers who oversaw Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We now have 122 ministers and because the Lord Chancellor has gone, I think it is 109 who are paid, so there are 13 unpaid. I think, on a quick calculation, if you add up the number of ministers and deputy ministers, i.e. basically people who get a car, in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is something like 75. You would have thought the number of ministers would go down when we gave power to Scotland but it has actually gone up. So the ministerial cadre for the United Kingdom is now around 190 whereas it was about 110.

Q35 Chairman: I think we are at one in thinking we are over-ministered and now we have these breeds of quasi-ministers and all the rest of it. It is a rash that has to be dealt with. Can I just ask this question: the problem in a sense with some of this argument is the assumption that bringing people in is (a) a great idea and (b) a great success. The problem is we have a lot of experience which suggests that it is not often a great success, and it is not a great success in part because of what the ministerial job is, which is all this heavy grind of accountability, which some of the kind of people that we bring in do not want to do. We have heard from some of them here. Is that not a real problem? It is all right saying there are all these talented people and we had better bring them in, but actually, if they are not very good at the political stuff, which is what ministers in our system are required to be, they are going to fail, are they not?

Mr Powell: I think that is a fair comment. If you look at the history, as Tony was, there are some very great figures who came in in recent times. Most people who have come in have not necessarily done that well because they cannot do the politics. There may be two reasons for that. One is that they are stuck in junior ministerial jobs, generally speaking, and they are not able to take Secretary of State jobs, where they can play that politics in a sensible sort of way and, secondly, because they are not answerable to this House, and playing politics in the House of Lords is a second-best type of thing to do. It may be because the system is stacked against them that the right sort of people are not coming in and they are not able to exercise that political skill. You do not have to appoint experts, as I was saying earlier in answer to Julie Morgan's question. You can appoint partisan people who just do not happen to be MPs who may be just as good at politics.

Professor King: Can I just add very quickly to that by pointing out - I notice this in the newspapers endlessly - that attention is drawn to the ministers who have been brought in from outside who have been failures. They are never matched against the people who have been brought in from outside who are successes, and they are never matched against the people who have been brought in from inside who have been failures. I am not at all clear that the ratio would be all that against people brought in from the outside. I think there are successes and failures under both headings.

Q36 Mr Prentice: Was Digby Jones a success or a failure?

Lord Turnbull: He was a caricature.

Q37 Mr Prentice: I was looking at you, Tony. You were hesitating; you did not know what to say!

Professor King: I did not know what to say because I am not a student of the career of Digby Jones, so I lack an empirical base, as we social scientists say. In addition, success and failure vary along different dimensions. If you had asked me about Lord Darzi, he left soon. It is alleged his only accomplishment was to save the life of a fellow peer - that might be regarded not as a success by some people! If I knew more, I might be able to make out a case that he achieved a great deal in two years or however long he was there, which nobody without his particular background could have achieved. In other words, I would want to ask what the criteria were and I would need to know more about some of these people than I do.

Q38 Mr Prentice: Do you think it is a good idea for the Prime Minister to put people in the House of Lords when they are going to stay for a very, very short period? Digby Jones told us that he had told Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, that he only wanted to stay in government for two years but he only lasted 14 months. Malloch-Brown said that he only wanted to stay two years. Lord Carter, with his peerage for life, lasted 12 months. Do you think it should be in the public domain, that when these talented people are brought into government it should be a matter of record that they are only going to be ministers for one year or two years or three years?

Professor King: I think the House of Lords is a separate question and a second-order question. I share the scepticism that I think the three of us have about the central place that the House of Lords currently plays for all kinds of reasons. No, I do not think that people who come in from outside should be term-limited. Again, I am not a romantic about the past but Ernie Bevin was brought in in 1940, he was still there in the late 1940s, he was there for nearly ten years - should he have been chucked out in 1942 on the grounds that he had been time-limited? I would not want to be that rigid.

Q39 Mr Prentice: That is not quite my question. My question was: should we have been told that Digby Jones was only going to be a minister for two years because that is what he told the Prime Minister on his appointment?

Professor King: Probably.

Q40 Mr Prentice: We should be told?

Professor King: Yes.

Mr Prentice: Yes, because I have asked the Prime Minister and he would not tell me.

Q41 Chairman: I thought there was agreement that we do not think these people need to become lords.

Professor King: Indeed.

Q42 Chairman: But part of the problem then is that - we had better not say the names but some of these people quite like the idea of becoming lords, and that could be part of the attraction.

Professor King: That is their problem.

Lord Turnbull: Another personal theory is that there are a number of people in the House of Lords who have been very successful ministers and I would say the women in the House of Lords have a better record in this sense than the men. Maybe this is because being in the House of Commons is a bit more macho, alpha male. You have to project your voice in that chamber with all you guys bellowing at you. The style of operating in the House of Lords suits women better. A lot of the women have done remarkably well, in my opinion. I think the real answer to Gordon Prentice's question is, if they are not really going to continue in the work of the House of Lords, it should be possible for people to resign. I do not know whether the new corporate constitutional governance Bill now has some clauses about that.

Q43 Chairman: It does.

Lord Turnbull: I think that is helpful. What do you do about the title? That is too difficult at the moment. Really, it is because we are using the House of Lords for a purpose for which it was not really designed because we do not have the right system in place.

Q44 Julie Morgan: I wanted to go back to government being too big and the growing number of unpaid ministerial posts. Do you feel there is any problem with having ministers who are unpaid?

Lord Turnbull: They are not costless to the taxpayer. If you give a minister three private secretaries, a press officer, a driver, a car, there is not much change from half a million pounds.

Q45 Julie Morgan: But no salary.

Lord Turnbull: No salary, no, but still tying down a lot of civil service resources.

Q46 Julie Morgan: Soon after 1997, when ministers were appointed, there was a minister for Women appointed who was not paid. There was a lot of concern, particularly amongst the women Members of Parliament, that this signalled the value of the job. So I think there are implications myself but I would be interested to know your views about that.

Mr Powell: Actually, what it signalled was that the provisions of the Ministerial Salaries Act and its various limits are incredibly complicated and need lawyers to look at them. Sometimes you get to the end of the reshuffle and discover you have appointed more ministers than there are salaries. So you are left with a choice of either dismissing that minister or having them as an unpaid minister. There is certainly a case for a couple of unpaid ministers but I think there are too many ministers altogether anyway.

Q47 Julie Morgan: What do you think would be an ideal number of ministers?

Lord Turnbull: I think most departments should probably run with three.

Professor King: How many departments are there?

Lord Turnbull: There do not need to be as many as there are actually. I do not quite understand why Climate Change has been taken away from Environment when what we worry about with climate change is not that it is warmer but that it damages the environment in various ways. It damages the oceans, the coral, the fish stocks or whatever. Slicing that into two departments - I am not quite sure of the logic. You could certainly quite easily construct a cabinet with four or five fewer ministers. I used to do a lecture on the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions - which was "Joined up governmental sprawling monster?" It clearly was a sprawling monster in the end but all this has been divided up into about three different bits now.

Q48 Julie Morgan: The growth that we have already mentioned of the regional ministers, assistant regional ministers and the envoys, and I think Jonathan was saying that is a way of binding people into the government and extending the range of the Prime Minister. What relationship do they have with the Civil Service? Are there any difficulties with having this range of people where they are not free to scrutinise the Government, which I think is the point Anthony was making?

Lord Turnbull: I think if you are in an over-ministered department, I do not think it can be a very happy job. You get a very small slice to deal with. I do not think this makes for very satisfying posts actually. I am sure a lot of what they do could be done by officials. If you are receiving a delegation from such and such, who would you rather talk to? An official who really knows their stuff or the minister, who has only been there since July? I think it could work better. Apart from the fact that people will accept these jobs because it is a step on the ladder to where they want to get to, otherwise the junior ministerial existence I do not think is a very happy one.

Professor King: Could I just add to that that it seems to me that some of the jobs that junior ministers are doing probably should not be done at all. There is a real problem of making work. Also, for what it is worth, the people I talk to who deal with junior ministers say what Andrew Turnbull has just said, that they would really much rather be dealing with people who actually knew what they were doing than with junior ministers who may have been there for weeks or months.

Q49 Mr Walker: Can I just make one point? We have a list here of unpaid members of the government and there is a really nice chap here who has been in the Cabinet. He has been in the Cabinet! He is now Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Digital Britain, unpaid. What on earth is going on here? Someone who has been in the Cabinet ends up at the tail end of a government as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, unpaid.

Lord Turnbull: Does the Data Protection Act apply.

Mr Walker: It is the Rt Hon Stephen Timms. His career has just gone to... Why would you do it? Why would you offer it? Do you have any thoughts on that, following on from Julie's line of questioning?

Q50 Mr Prentice: You will think I have a fixation about Digby Jones but I asked Digby Jones if there was an exit interview, if when he left the Government he saw the Prime Minister and he said, "I am leaving the Government because it is just like pond life being a junior minister and I am bigger and better than a tadpole" or something like that. I just wonder, Jonathan, when Tony Blair was Prime Minister and all these reshuffles were happening over the years, whether he did this, these exit interviews. He brought people in and he said, "You have got to leave the Government. I have to make space for rising talent but let me have your take on things." Was that ever done? Was it done systematically?

Mr Powell: Systematically would be an exaggeration but certainly every minister who was leaving the Government would speak to the Prime Minister and react in different ways to the news that they were leaving. Some would tell the Prime Minister what they thought of the way government was run, some would react in more emotional ways, but there was not a systematic way of surveying them on what they thought.

Q51 Mr Prentice: Why not? Mark Fisher - I am not telling tales out of school; this is on the public record - I think his telephone call with the Prime Minister lasted about 15 seconds when he lost his Culture job. How can the organisation learn if the Prime Minister does not have any sense of what ministers feel about the job they are doing?

Mr Powell: Quite a lot of emotion was packed into that 15-second phone call, as I recall. You would expect a junior minister who had some views on this to express them before he was actually leaving the Government. You would have thought if he really had some views, he would have come and made them clear before. As we have all said, there is a problem that there are too many junior ministers. Again, talking about Chris Mullin's book, that illustrates exactly the problem, that there is an awful lot of make-work in junior ministerial jobs.

Lord Turnbull: I think you are applying managerial principles to something that is inherently non-managerial. In a big organisation - it could be the Civil Service or BP - you have things called career development interviews. Every year you have an annual report and then there is a discussion about where you should be going from now on, what you might be doing next and exit interviews all fit into that kind of world. Reshuffles are not about developing talent and saying, "I can't move this person because they've only just got there. They need to do at least another year, and I'm moving this person into that post because they have not had exposure to that kind of work and that would really build them up."

Q52 Mr Prentice: So it is all capricious.

Lord Turnbull: Things that are absolutely standard in big organisations, public and private, do not happen, because this is all about political reward and competition. That is how the political system works, and it is very difficult to bring this other philosophy into it.

Q53 Paul Flynn: Do you disagree with Charles's line that backbenchers are failed frontbenchers or never will be frontbenchers? Would you agree that there is a serious role for backbenchers, certainly in history, people like Leo Abse and so on, have pursued an independent line, and that there is a good record of independent MPs and independent MPs who masquerade under party labels?

Lord Turnbull: Are you saying that those independent members stay as parliamentarians?

Q54 Paul Flynn: They have no ambition to be members of the government at all and would find their lives inhibited if they were?

Lord Turnbull: Absolutely what I am saying is the Chairs of Select Committees and the members of Select Committees should see that as important work that they want to become good at and specialise in, but many of them, particularly the newer ones, are thinking "I am doing this while I'm waiting to get the call from Number 10."

Q55 Paul Flynn: I do not know if I have misunderstood you but you seemed to say at one point that you agreed with the line that MPs of a certain age should not become ministers.

Lord Turnbull: No, I am saying they should become ministers but the system makes it increasingly difficult for them to.

Q56 Mr Walker: Going back to patronage, it is not just the title of minister, obviously. I think all three of you touched on the salary discrepancy. As a Member of Parliament you are on 64,000. As soon as you become a minister, even the most junior minister, you are on 90,000. How would we address that to make the gap less pronounced? I am not suggesting you raise the salaries of Members of Parliament but perhaps reducing the salaries of ministers - is that something that is worth considering - or removing the trappings, removing the cars, for example, shrinking the private offices? Have you had any thoughts on that?

Lord Turnbull: I am not against establishing some kind of parity between a Select Committee Chair and a Minister of State.

Chairman: Nor am I!

Q57 Mr Walker: What about people who chair Standing Committees, for example? Would you see that as part of this parliamentary career path, being a very good Chairman of Standing Committees? After all, that is where most parliamentary business takes place on the legislative front.

Lord Turnbull: Yes, that should be recognised. That is important work and the people who do that well at that are the people who get asked to do the next bill when it comes along. It should be recognised. You stigmatise backbenchers when say you are the people who are left behind when better people have been taken off. It is not a good metaphor at all.

Mr Walker: I think some colleagues' ambition probably outstrips their ability though and, as one of my colleagues said, if you thought promotion in this place was based on ability, you could drive yourself mad because, as we know, in many cases it is not based on ability. It is based on balancing the party structure within government: do we need to have this chap on board to stop this fraction over here misbehaving? Look at Tony Wright. Tony should be a Cabinet Minister. I say that as a Conservative Member of Parliament. Perhaps because his face did not fit or his views were seen as a little too independent, he never got a sniff of it and that is another part of the problem of the way we structure our Parliament at the moment.

Chairman: You do not have to reply!

Q58 Paul Flynn: Do you expect Alan Sugar and Arlene Phillips to make a major contribution to the running of the country in the next few years?

Lord Turnbull: I do not understand the relevance of Arlene Phillips.

Q59 Paul Flynn: She is the dance tzar.

Lord Turnbull: All I am saying is that, as a Spurs supporter, I hope he makes a better job of this than he did in the years he was Chairman of Spurs. They were not our greatest years.

Q60 Chairman: We do not want to get into the House of Lords issue generally but of course, it is a paradox, is it not, that if we were one day to finish up with an elected House of Lords, we would have closed the back door that we are using at the moment to bring people into government and to answer some of these problems that we are dealing with? We would have to find another way of achieving what we are now achieving through the House of Lords.

Mr Powell: You would have a different problem, would you not? You would have ministers who were responsible to two different majorities of different sorts. So you would have ministers in the House of Lords who were accountable to the majority, which might be a Conservative majority because of the electoral cycle, and to a Labour majority in the Commons, so you would find yourself with a completely different set of problems.

Q61 Chairman: This is why I did not want to go down the House of Lords route but I just said that as a way of asking this question, which is, at the moment when a minister is appointed to the Lords, when a Lords minister is appointed, they do not have to go through the propriety checking process that everybody else who enters the Lords has to go through, through the House of Lords Appointments Commission. Is that not just an anomaly?

Mr Powell: Yes, it is an anomaly but, as I say, I do not think they should be in the Lords anyway. Indeed, I do not think there should be a Lords so I would start from a slightly different position on this.

Professor King: Can I just chip in that a lot of people who think there ought to be a predominantly elected House of Lords - of whom I am not one, by the way - but a lot of people who believe that nevertheless allow for the possibility of a, say, 80 % or whatever elected House of Lords, but also I go back to the point that was made earlier, with which I concur: it seems to me that it would not be beyond the wit of man or woman to invent a number of slots, if you like, a number of opportunities, half a dozen or a dozen, for people to become ministers who are not members of either House of Parliament but who nevertheless are expected to be answerable to one or other House of Parliament.

Q62 Chairman: That was my second question, which is...

Lord Turnbull: Can I just say on this question of who is responsible for appointment vetting, and by and large I think the Prime Minister should be responsible for the calibre of people and the background of people, so he should do these checks.

Q63 Chairman: So they should be exempt from any further propriety check?

Lord Turnbull: No, they should be done by the Prime Minister. I do not think you would have divided accountabilities, "Who on earth let this guy in?" If he is coming in as a prime ministerial appointment, the Prime Minister should take responsibility for all the background checks and so on.

Q64 Chairman: Does that happen?

Lord Turnbull: I think they check whether someone has a CRB record or something, yes, or if he is disqualified as a director. With all ministerial appointments you basically make sure that our friends in various places have no objections.

Q65 Chairman: Is this true, Jonathan, that you vet people for decency?

Mr Powell: There is a standard that has existed for decades, a standard process for vetting anyone who becomes a minister, which would apply to these people too, yes.

Q66 Chairman: We could go there but we will not go there. Could I just pose this final question, which is, if we do go down the route of bringing people in, letting them be ministers, holding them to account in the normal way, which is the route we seem to be going down, would it make sense to add in the other bit from the more separated power system, which is to have these people submit to confirmation hearings in the Commons, if these are people who are not elected by anybody?

Professor King: Could I just say about that that I am tempted by the idea but I think there is one very serious problem which has manifested itself in the United States, which is that very often in the US the quantum of clearance that takes place, to which is added confirmation hearings, simply puts an awful lot of people off. They are very reluctant to allow their names to be put forward, not because they are crooks or for any reason like that but simply the quantum of hassle is far too great. If you ask a very able person to do a job, he or she may think "Yes, I will do it if I am offered it," but if I have to spend a couple of months appearing before committees or whatever, I may not want to do that. That is a serious problem in the US.

Mr Powell: I think if you had confirmation hearings, you would need to have them for all Ministers. I do not really recognise this concept of elected ministers because no-one is elected as a minister; they are elected as an MP. It is the Prime Minister of the day who chooses them as a minister, so all ministers should be on the same footing from that point of view.

Q67 Chairman: You are quite in favour of confirmation hearings for all Ministers, are you?

Mr Powell: I think the practical problems that Tony raises are pretty serious but in principle, if you are going to have this new role for the House of Commons where committees are playing a bigger role and there is a role for backbenchers, it seems to me a logical extension of that, yes.

Lord Turnbull: I am rather against it. I think the Prime Minister should take responsibility for the appointments that he makes.

Chairman: Fascinating stuff! The sense is that there is a direction of travel going on here in a rather disorganised way. I think what we are trying to do is to give some shape to it so that we can work out where we might want to go, so we do not see all these as problems with the system but are probably edging towards a rather different way of doing some of this. You have been immensely helpful. Is there anything else you think you would like to say before we end that we have not asked you? If not, let me just thank you all very much for coming along and for talking to us.