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


1.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. (Paragraph 14)
2.The reasons why a Prime Minister chooses particular individuals to be ministers are complex. Over time the number of prospective new ministers within a governing party is likely to diminish. However, where a Prime Minister considers himself short of prospective ministers in the House of Commons, this is often because candidates are being sifted out because of politics or personality rather than competence. It is likely that some outside appointments are similarly driven by political and personality considerations rather than a lack of options on the government benches. (Paragraph 25)
3.Career politicians have an important place in government. Despite this, government will be more effective if people in ministerial roles come from a wide range of backgrounds and experience. Appointment of people from outside parliament is one route to achieve this. A greater willingness on the part of Prime Ministers to appoint from a broader cross section of their own parliamentary party would be another. (Paragraph 33)
4.There are circumstances in which an outside appointee may have particular experience, skills or expertise which are not readily available within the House of Commons. However, outside appointments should not be a substitute for efforts to make the House of Commons more diverse and representative, or for using untapped talent that already exists. Some ministers are clearly less competent than some of those in the House who are not ministers. (Paragraph 36)
5.The use of the House of Lords to appoint ministers from outside Parliament gives Prime Ministers potentially presidential powers of appointment, without the checks and balances that would apply in a presidential system. Such appointments can be justified if they bring clear benefits to government, but they should be exceptional. When making such an appointment a Prime Minister should set out clearly to the House of Commons why the appointment has been made from outside, under what terms and what he or she expects the minister to achieve during their time in government. Moreover, the appointment should be subject to scrutiny by the House of Commons. This could involve a select committee hearing and report. If the Committee was not satisfied with the appointment it could recommend a debate and vote on the floor of the House. (Paragraph 45)
6.So long as there is a predominately appointed House of Lords, there will be members of the Government who are not elected Members of Parliament. Since the 1960s this has tended to be around 20% of the Government including a maximum of three Cabinet Ministers. The inclusion in this group of a small number of ministers appointed from outside Parliament does not threaten the democratic legitimacy of the Government. Any substantial increase in the overall number of ministers in the Lords, and any increase at all in the number of Cabinet ministers, would do so. (Paragraph 50)
7.So long as there is an unelected second chamber, there is a strong argument of principle that senior ministers should be directly accountable to the democratically elected chamber as a whole. However, there is a debate to be had about how this can be achieved. We understand that the Procedure Committee is investigating this issue and look forward to the House being given the opportunity to debate any proposals that may emerge. Such a move should not be used as a justification for appointing more senior ministers via the House of Lords. The purpose of such a change would be to assert the primacy of the Commons, not to undermine it. (Paragraph 58)
8.Allowing ministers to present their policies and answer questions in both chambers could have benefits for both government and Parliament. It would allow government to ensure that their policies were being presented in the most effective way by the person best placed to debate them. It would ensure that Ministers based in the House of Lords were fully accountable to the primary, elected House and expose Secretaries of State from the Commons to the very different style of scrutiny practised in the House of Lords. It would also remove the need to appoint Members of the Lords as ministers to ensure departmental representation in both Houses. (Paragraph 61)
9.As with ministers from all backgrounds, there have been both successes and failures among ministers appointed from outside Parliament. There is no evidence to suggest that such ministers are, as a group, less likely to be successful than other ministers. (Paragraph 67)
10.We have previously recommended that government should pay more attention to the professional development of ministers. There would be particular advantages to doing so where a minister does not have prior experience of politics or Parliament. (Paragraph 69)
11.Former ministers bring valuable experience to the work of Parliament. However, we do not believe this is a sufficient reason to allow ministers appointed from outside Parliament via the House of Lords to retain their seats after they leave government, especially when then is no requirement on them to be active members of the House. (Paragraph 78)
12.We support moves to allow peers to resign and recommend that the Ministerial Code require ministers who were appointed to the House of Lords in order to take up their duties to resign from that House upon their departure from government. Those former ministers who wished to remain active members of the House of Lords could seek reappointment through the party nomination process or, if they could convince it of their independence from party politics, the House of Lords Appointments Commission. (Paragraph 79)
13.The giving of titles for life to ministers who may only be in government for a short time will, rightly or wrongly, raise the suspicion of patronage. We have previously recommended that the honour of a peerage should be separated from a place in the legislature. We continue to hold this view and believe it is especially relevant where an individual is made a Member of the House of Lords in order to take up ministerial duties. On ceasing to be a minister, such a person should be required to relinquish the title too. (Paragraph 81)
14.We agree that in principle the Prime Minister should be responsible for propriety checks on ministers. However, making an individual a Member of the Lords to take up ministerial office means that they also become a life-long member of the legislature. So long as this situation holds we believe that the House of Lords Appointments Commission should be allowed to vet ministerial appointees for propriety in the same way as for any other working peer. (Paragraph 84)
15.Appointing a small number of junior ministers directly, without requiring them to be Members of either House, would resolve some of the problems resulting from appointment via the House of Lords. It would also provide a mechanism to place clear limits on the number of ministers that could be appointed in this way and their role. Whilst not completely without precedent, this would be a considerable constitutional innovation. It is an idea that deserves further consideration. (Paragraph 90)
16.What is clear is that this whole issue of the external appointment of ministers needs to be considered in the round. It is not appropriate for moves in this direction to take place in isolation from a consideration of the wider constitutional implications. (Paragraph 91)
17.At present there is little transparency concerning the informal and ad hoc appointments made by government to lead on, review or promote particular policies. Job titles are often uninformative, appointment processes informal and the work undertaken opaque and not clearly linked to results. The allegation that some of these posts might have been created for the sake of a press notice may be unfair, but it is difficult to refute without greater transparency. (Paragraph 101)
18.We recommend that the Cabinet Office continue to maintain a list of such appointments and that guidelines should be issued to clarify how far 'tsars' speak for themselves or for the Government. Where 'tsars' do not speak for the Government they should be able to express their own views freely. (Paragraph 102)
19.  We further recommend that each department produce, in its Departmental Annual Report, a brief account of the work undertaken by such appointees during the year and the support from officials they have received. Finally, we recommend that upon appointing such an individual the appointing minister should write to the Chairman of the relevant select committee giving details of what will be expected from the appointee, their responsibilities and the support they will receive from the department. (Paragraph 103)

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Prepared 11 March 2010