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


5. The requirement that ministers should be members of the legislature is a feature of most Westminster-derived systems of government. For example, the New Zealand Constitution Act 1986 requires ministers to be Members of Parliament.[3] Some countries, such as Canada and India, allow ministers to be appointed prior to finding a seat in Parliament, so long as they find a seat within a set period after their appointment. South Africa is exceptional in allowing up to two ministers to be appointed who are not members of Parliament. [4]

6. There is a strong convention that members of the United Kingdom Government should be a member of either the House of Commons or the House of Lords. The exceptions have been few and far between. Non-parliamentarians have been appointed to ministerial posts in time of war, although not without controversy.[5] Similarly, ministers have been appointed to their posts before gaining a seat but in the expectation that they will do so. For example, in October 1964 Patrick Gordon Walker was appointed Foreign Secretary by Harold Wilson, despite having lost his seat at the preceding General Election. He stood in a by-election in January of the following year, only to lose again and had to resign from the Government as a result. In summary, whilst the UK constitution has been flexible enough to accommodate non-parliamentarians holding ministerial office under exceptional circumstances, they have very much remained exceptions. The overwhelming majority of ministers have been selected from the ranks of sitting parliamentarians.

7. This convention ensures that the ministers are directly accountable to one or other House of Parliament. There is also an expectation that the majority of ministers should be elected members of the House of Commons.[6] This ensures that there is a "democratic character" to the Government and that its key members are accountable to the people's elected representatives.[7] However, the existence of two Houses of Parliament means that there has always been a proportion of the Government drawn from the members of the unelected House of Lords.[8]

8. The graph below gives an indication of the number of paid government posts and the percentage of paid government posts held by Members of the House of Lords at ten yearly intervals since 1900.[9] This gives a broad overview of the trend in the number of Members of the House of Lords holding government posts. It shows how the proportion of Lords Members in Government has averaged around 20% since the 1960s - findings supported by a 1997 study showing that 20% of post-war Conservative ministers and 15% of post-war Labour ministers had been Members of the House of Lords.[10] However, the figures do obscure the fluctuations within and between administrations. For example, only 7% (7 of 98) of posts in Tony Blair's first administration were Lords Members, a figure that had risen to 19% (14 of 113) by the time he left office.[11]

Source: David Butler and Gareth Butler, Twentieth-Century British Political Facts, (Basingstoke, 2000) p. 71 (1900-1999); House of Commons Information Office (2010)

9. A study of the careers of ministers in the House of Lords published in 1997 found that most of them achieved their ministerial position either through a period of apprenticeship, working their way up from being an assistant whip, or were continuing a ministerial career which had begun in the House of Commons.[12] However, in recent years, Prime Ministers have appointed more people from outside Parliament as ministers and elevated them to the House of Lords.

10. This practice of direct appointment of ministers is not new. For example, Margaret Thatcher appointed the government adviser and former businessman David Young (Lord Young of Graffham) as Minister without Portfolio in 1984. He went on to become Secretary of State for Employment and subsequently Trade and Industry.

11. Prior to 2000 these appointments were relatively rare. However, in recent years there have been a growing number of such appointments at increasingly high levels. As Prime Minister Tony Blair appointed several such individuals—Charles Falconer (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) initially as Solicitor General for England and Wales, David Simon (Lord Simon of Highbury) as Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe, Andrew Adonis (Lord Adonis) initially as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Education and Skills, and Gus Macdonald (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) initially as a junior minister in the Scotland Office.

12. Since June 2007 the current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has made ten such appointments from a wide variety of backgrounds. A list is given below:

Name, position and background
Date Introduced
Date resigned
Lord Malloch-Brown (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office), former diplomat and Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations
Lord Darzi of Denham (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health), pioneering surgeon
Lord Jones of Birmingham (Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), former Director-General of the CBI
Lord West of Spithead (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office), former First Sea Lord
Baroness Vadera (Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office), former investment banker and government adviser
Lord Carter of Barnes (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), former businessman and government adviser
Lord Myners (Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury), former businessman
Lord Davies of Abersoch, (Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), former businessman
Lord Mandelson (Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), former MP, cabinet minister and European Commissioner
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office), long-serving MEP

Source: House of Commons Library

13. The number of such outside appointments in a relatively short space of time is unprecedented. Also of interest is the profile of recent appointments in the House of Lords. These include not only the appointment of two Secretaries of State but also the greater visibility and policy influence of some of the more junior appointments outlined above— some of whom have been entitled to attend Cabinet. As The Times' Chief Political Commentator, Peter Riddell, has written:

    In the past, all but a handful of Lords ministers were primarily spokesmen, answering questions and doing the tricky and often arduous task of carrying through legislation, but with no real role in their departments. This began to change under Tony Blair, but it has been taken a big step farther by Mr Brown.[13]

14. The appointment of people from outside Parliament to be ministers via the House of Lords is not new, but the scale of such appointments in recent years is. It raises questions about why such appointments are being made and their impact on government and Parliament.

3   R. A. W. Rhodes, John Wanna, and Patrick Weller, Comparing Westminster, (Oxford, 2009) p. 136 Back

4   Ministers in the House of Lords, Standard Note SN/PC/05226, House of Commons Library, January 2010 p. 14-15 Back

5   There have been three during the twentieth century, J. Smuts in 1917, J. Powell in 1918 and R. Casey in 1942. See Chapter 4 for a discussion of Casey. Back

6   See for example, Rodney Brazier, Ministers of the Crown, (Oxford, 1997) p. 37 Back

7   Q 149 [Lord Adonis] Back

8   Q 68 [Lord Adonis] Back

9   We have used paid government posts to ensure comparability of data across the time period. 1999 is used instead of 2000 following the data in Butler and Butler. Back

10   Phillip Cowley and David Melhuish, "Peer's Careers: Ministers in the House of Lords, 1964-95", Political Studies XLV (1997) p. 21 Back

11   House of Commons Information Office figures. These figures include whips and law officers. Back

12   "Peers' Careers: Ministers in the House of Lords", pp. 21-35 Back

13   "Mervyn Davies joins herd of worldly ministers in the Lords", 15 January 2009, The Times Back

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