Goats and Tsars: Ministerial and other appointments from outside Parliament - Public Administration Committee Contents



In recent years Prime Ministers have brought an increasing number of people from outside Parliament into government as ministers—generally via appointment to the House of Lords. Some of these people have had long and successful careers outside politics, others have more traditional political backgrounds. Some have been more successful than others.

The presence in government of ministers with a range of experience is designed to make government work in a more effective way. However, more people would be available from within Parliament if Prime Ministers were prepared to make use of the full range of talent within their parliamentary parties.

The Westminster system of government was never designed to support substantial numbers of appointments made from outside Parliament. The practice is better suited to countries with a full separation of powers, with corresponding checks and balances. An increased use of the practice here should not be considered in isolation from wider constitutional developments. There is a place for appointments from outside Parliament, but they should be exceptional, driven primarily by governing need and subject to scrutiny by the House of Commons. It is not appropriate that ministers appointed to the Lords should have a guaranteed seat in the legislature and a title for life when they leave office.

Such appointments have also focused attention on the role of ministers in the House of Lords more broadly. The total number of Lords ministers now is broadly consistent with historical trends. The practice of outside appointments should not lead to an increase in these numbers. Senior Ministers in the House of Lords should be directly accountable to all members of the elected House of Commons, although the way in which this can be achieved needs to be debated fully. We also heard practical arguments in favour of enabling ministers from either House to be able to speak in both; although such a change would be controversial.

An alternative to direct appointment to the House of Lords might be the appointment of a limited number of ministers who would be members of neither House, but would be accountable to both. This would be a considerable, although not entirely unprecedented, constitutional innovation.

As well as ministers, prominent people in particular fields have been employed as government 'tsars' or 'champions', to lead on or promote particular government policies. There needs to be greater transparency around these posts, so that their effectiveness can be effectively scrutinised.

The increasing number of ministers appointed directly from outside Parliament suggests that the nature of government may be changing; and with it the role of Parliament. This needs to be considered as a part of the wider picture of constitutional change and not allowed to evolve in a piecemeal fashion.

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Prepared 11 March 2010