Examination of Witnesses (Questions 102-185)
Q102 Chair: I
welcome our witnesses to this session of PASC and ask you for
the record to identify yourselves.
I am Peter Riddell. I am a senior fellow at the Institute for
Lord Norton: Philip
Norton, Lord Norton of Louth, Professor of Government at the University
Professor Robert Hazell, and I am Director of the Constitution
Unit at University College London.
Q103 Charlie Elphicke:
Mr Riddell, I am interested in the fact that the number of Ministers
has been rising steadily for the last hundred years. Lord Hurd
of Westwell said, "A decision by an incoming Prime Minister
to abolish 20 Ministerial posts at different levels would not
only be popular but would be followed immediately by an adjustment
of workload." Do you agree with this statement and how many
Ministers do you think are needed?
I largely do agree with it. It is very interesting that we have
had a trebling over the last century. A lot of it is to do with
the extension of the state's responsibilities. You couldn't go
back to what it was under Asquith. It was 107 paid Ministers
in 1980 and it's now 119. Under the Ministerial and Other Salaries
Act the peak is 109, which implies there are 10 unpaid Ministers.
I think that's one of the real abuses that has happened; we've
had the limit exceeded by having Ministers who aren't receiving
salaries. They still cost the taxpayer a lot of money because
servicing a Minister is pretty expensive: they have a private
office, they used to have a car and there are a lot of extra costs.
You are probably getting on for £500,000 per Minister even
though they don't get an extra salary. The first thing I would
do is enforce the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act, which has
been abused, not only by the current Governmentthere are
one or two special reasons for that to do with the coalitionbut
particularly under the last Government, when everyone had prizes.
Fixing a proper number is very difficult indeed for
two reasons. One, the Lords, as Lord Norton can point out,
is a much more demanding Chamber and therefore needs more Ministers
because it is more demanding in terms of debates. Also, there
is the existence of Westminster Hall and so on. What I would
do is get down to the 109 pretty quickly andI know this
came up in your session with three ex-Ministershave a proportionate
decrease in that limit when the reduction in the number of MPs
comes into effect in the next election. So it wouldn't affect
this Parliament, but it would come in after the next election.
One other statistic shows how the system has been
abused. In 1997 there were 14 Ministers representing Scotland,
Northern Ireland and Wales, including the Scottish Law Officer.
There are now seven. Despite that halving from those three national
Departments we have a substantial increase in the number of Ministers
because other Departments have just proliferated.
Q104 Charlie Elphicke:
Lord Norton and Professor Hazell, do you agree with Mr Riddell?
Lord Norton: Indeed,
because it is a quote that you've taken of Lord Hurd from
when he gave evidence to our Commission to strengthen Parliament
and we agreed with the conclusion he reached, and I agree with
Peter Riddell. What I said in my memorandum following our Commission
report was to think of amending the statute so there is a limit,
say of 70, but at the same time allowing for a review of Departments
and a justification for each Ministerial post. I think if one
aimed for that, it would act as a very important discipline.
The important thing is not just numbers; it is a culture shift
that I want. At the moment the emphasis is on numbers for the
sake of patronage, not on quality for the sake of good governance.
I think we need fewer Ministers, but better trained Ministers.
Peter Riddell has talked about the absolute number of Ministers.
Another way of coming at this is to look at the size of the Ministry
compared with the size of the legislature. We have compiled some
figures, which I can supply to the Committee, on those ratios
in the other large countries of Western Europe, by which I mean
France, Germany, Italy and Spain, all of which have legislatures
broadly comparable to ours in that they are big Parliaments, so
the size of the two Chambers combined is more than 500. Very
roughly, the ratio of the size of the Government to the size of
the legislature in the UK is 1:8, and in those other countries
it is around 1:15. Our Government, relative to the size of the
legislature proportionately, is twice as large as the Governments
of those other countries.
There is clearly no right answer to what the size
of the Government should be and it is fair to point out that those
other countries have much less centralised systems of government.
Germany is a federation; Spain has become a de facto federation.
France and Italy have strong systems of local and of regional
government. That leads into Peter's point that, even following
the introduction of devolution here, when there was clearly an
opportunity to reduce the Ministry by half a dozen Ministers,
the Government didn't do so. As it happens, we were having a
seminar last night at the Institute for Government that partly
addressed this point and we had a number of exMinisters
present, all of whom agreed that the size of the Ministry could
be reduced. When I asked them, "Roughly by how much, in
your experience, do you think it could be reduced?" they
volunteered the answer, "At least a quarter."
Lord Norton: To
add a postscript, Professor Hazell was taking about the proportion
of Ministers to the Chamber. If you expand that to what is referred
to as the payroll votein other words, including PPSs, those
who are not formally part of the Government but are none the less
treated by the Ministerial Code as virtually being part of it
for voting purposesit actually becomes one in five.
Q105 Charlie Elphicke:
Very briefly, can each of you give an example of a particular
Ministerial post you think should just be axed?
At the seminar last night, we had a former Secretary of State
who was interested in this issue and he had made inquires in his
own Department where he had four junior Ministersof
how many there had been a generation before, and the answer was
that there had been two, and his officials said that the Department
had run equally well. I think it is particularly at the junior
Ministerial level that there are probably elements of redundancy
and we know from some Ministerial memoirs that they have sometimes
felt pretty spare. Picking up on Philip's point, I think a strong
axe should be taken to Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I believe
that under the new Government there are now 46, which I think
is a larger figure than we have ever had.
These clearly are payroll vote figures. So far as I'm aware,
they do very little. It should not be forgotten that a former
Chairman of this Committee was a PPS for a year early in the Blair
Government in the late 1990s. I think he found he was given almost
nothing to do.
Q106 Mr Walker:
Can I just say they do something that is very important, and that
is fill up the Ministerial water jug during debates. Let's not
be too dismissive of PPSs.
Can I give an example? I have the list in front of me. BIS has
four PPSs; DECC, a Department that was created purely to give
a job to Ed Miliband, has now three PPSs. You go through it and
it is purely a patronage thing. We could easily have many fewer
PPSs. On the individual Departments, I think you would have to
do a kind of Treasury spending exercise; perhaps Francis Maude,
in his role in charge of headcounts, might do it when you go through
Departments. However, I have foundit is very interesting
talking to senior civil servants as part of the work I have done
at the Institute for Governmentthat quite a lot of them
consider that they certainly have too many Under-Secretaries and
they could normally volunteer at least one. Partly it is also
to do with where Lord Norton is a specialist: how you deploy some
of the Whips. The Whips in the Lords handle debates and there
is an interesting example: why can't some of the Commons Whips
handle some of the debates in Westminster Hall, because they are
allocated to Departments?
Q107 Chair: Can
I just press you on the PPS question? How do you define a PPS
legally? How could you create a statutory limit on PPSs?
Well, they are all announced now. It used to be, as you well
remember, very difficult to get a coherent list of them. No.
10 has now put one out. It could be put in the Ministerial Code.
There is a limit on
Chair: They are subject
to the Ministerial Code.
No, the numbers I meant could be subject to the Ministerial Code.
After all, there is a limitin many respects, I regard
it as a misguided limiton the number of special advisers.
There is no reason why you can't put a limit on the number of
Lord Norton: You
are correct: you can't do it by statute because there is no statutory
provision. This is an unofficial arrangement, a private arrangement
as Clement Attlee described it. It would have to be dealt
with through the Ministerial Code, which at the moment is used
in such a way that, as I mentioned in the memorandum, gives it
to the Government both ways because the PPSs are treated by the
Ministerial Code as part of Government for the purposes of voting,
but are treated as private Members for the purpose of sitting
on Select Committees.
Q108 Chair: If
I may just press the point, for political purposes they are a
vehicle for encouraging the hope of higher office among Members
of Parliament and, as you say, they are not statutory. How can
you regulate the ambition of individual Members of Parliament,
because this could easily be converted into some form of unofficial
patronage, in which case it would be outside the scope of any
rules or any code?
Lord Norton: Absolutely.
You can't do it by statute; you need to change the culture through
the code or you have to persuade the Prime Minister to have fewer
to stop PPSs being on Select Committees so you actually encourage
Members to think about an alternative career structure. You can't
do it formally, but I think you can change the culture. If I
could just add in response to Mr Elphicke's point about
Chair: He is leaving for
Lord Norton: But
I'll get it on the record. He was asking about getting rid of
and identifying particular Ministerial posts that would go. I
would start off slightly differently. Rather than saying, "That
posts goes," I would start by looking at the tasks fulfilled
by Ministers and seeing whether they're necessary and, if they
are, whether they could be reallocated and, picking up Peter Riddell's
point, for example, be undertaken by Whips, so that you actually
make use of those to a fuller extent and reduce the size of the
Q109 Robert Halfon:
Going back to your point about PPSs and the payroll vote, if you
look at the list of those who were made PPSs, I suggest the majority
of those people would probably always vote with the Government
anyway and so, de facto, are on the payroll vote. It could
be argued that they have been made PPSs for other reasons.
Yes. I think there is a difference between informal and formal.
They have to now, otherwise they get the sack. You're quite
right: I have the list in front of me and I accept exactly your
point of political analysis. That is also true of a lot of people,
and other MPs. After all, MPs normally do support their own party;
that is why they are in the party.
Q110 Chair: I
can see quite a number on that list who have been tamed by being
We could have quite an interesting discussion going through the
list, Mr Chairman. You're right. However, this puts on a formal
limit. The other thing it hasit is very relevant to this
Committeeand one of the depressing things I found is a
number of MPs of the new generation who were appointed to Select
Committees in July and no sooner were they on than they were appointed
PPSs. These were actually rather good people and I felt slightly
depressed that they felt, "Oh well,"immediately
at the sniff not even of power, but of the possibility of power"off
we go from a Select Committee."
Q111 Robert Halfon:
I actually very much enjoy being on this Select Committee, you'll
be pleased to know. The second point I wanted to make is on a
cut in the number of Ministers. Wouldn't the answer really be
to get rid of Departments and therefore you could merge Business
and Skills for example. I have never understood why there needs
to be a separate Department. Why can't you just merge Departments
with other Departments and that way you guarantee the cut?
Lord Norton: That
was my suggestion, perhaps starting with looking at tasks. You
say, "What are the needs of Government?" and then allocate
Ministers accordingly. I think that way you can achieve quite
a significant reduction. I agree with the thrust of your question
because you are actually starting from the basis, what is the
role of Government and what are the tasks to be fulfilled? You
then appoint them to fulfil the tasks rather than simply allocating
posts for the purpose of patronage. The other point I would ally
that with is also making sure that Ministers who are appointed
actually have some training for the roles they are going to fulfil
Chair: We are going to
come to that later. Mr Walkersorry, you finish Mr Halfon.
Q112 Robert Halfon:
Which Departments would you think you could abolish now without
There is a slight problem, which is the existence of the coalition.
Chair: Again, we are going
to come to that later.
If you look, for example, at the spending review, it is very difficult
to see the long-term survival of Culture, Media and Sport, certainly
post the Olympics. Post-2012 there isn't very much for it to
do and it could be easily absorbed elsewhere. The other things,
ultimately, are the three territorial Departments. It is in the
files in the Cabinet Office to be done. There is always a good
political reason not to do it. We have elections in Scotland
and Wales so you don't do it then, and no doubt there are political
reasons with the Liberal Democrats, and no doubt in Scotland as
well. Ultimately you could do that; there is no serious argument
for keeping them separate.
Lord Norton: It
almost happened in 2003 and the only reason it didn't was because
they realised the Secretary of State for Wales was mentioned in
statute so they couldn't do it overnight, otherwise it may have
happened. From the point of view of functions, there is no reason
why you shouldn't have a Department for Constitutional Affairs
covering the different parts of the United Kingdom.
Q113 Mr Walker:
Just a brief question on PPSs. Lord Norton, you did a report
for William Hague in 2000. Did you not recommend then that only
Secretaries of State should have a PPS?
Lord Norton: Yes.
Q114 Mr Walker:
So it actually meant something being a PPS as opposed to something
that's handed out like sweets.
Lord Norton: Yes,
it is a reversion to the old status. We certainly recommended
one PPS per Department under the control of the Secretary of State.
You are quite right: then there is some status attached to it
and I think it meant more, whereas now it is diluted through quantity.
Q115 Mr Walker:
One last question on that. We have lots of very keen new colleagues
who are going to go places, but when they were made PPS to a Minister
of State, they sent us all letters saying, "I'm now PPS to
this Minister, and if you have any questions about the work of
the Minister or the Department please come and see me."
Why would we waste our time seeing somebody who has been here
for six months when we could just go and see the Minister? A
lot of them do seem to be make-work jobs, to be perfectly honest.
Lord Norton: Indeed,
and you are quite right in the sense that it is an inverse pyramid
in that those at the bottom are very keen for people to come and
see them. Whereas those who actually want to influence the Government
will go towards the top of the pyramid. I would start there.
Q116 Mr Walker:
We see them most nights in the Division Lobby.
Lord Norton: Indeed.
As I say, they are treated as part of the so-called payroll vote,
even though they are not paid. The jobsworth vote might be a
better characterisation of it. That strikes me as one of the
reasons they are brought into give them a sense of worth,
but also to make sure that they are available when the Government
needs them in the event of a tight vote.
Q117 Mr Walker:
Just very quickly to finish on and to pick up Peter Riddell's
point, I, too, was deeply distressed to see people coming off
extremely good Select Committees not to become PPSs to Secretaries
of State, but to become PPSs to Ministers of State. For example,
people coming off the Defence Committee when we were just about
to have a defence review and people coming off the Treasury Committee
when we are in the midst of an economic recovery. It was extremely
distressing to see people thinking that being a PPS to a Minister
of State was somehow more important than exercising their judgment
and expertise on a Committee of the House.
Absolutely. Also, on all sides, at a time when there is a pruning
back of the cost of politics, even though there is no cost in
that, and the scrutiny role of Parliament is supposed to be strengthened,
this shows that the Executive likes to behave like the Executive
Q118 Chair: Is
anybody in any disagreement with this? Could too few Ministers
do harm to the administration of government?
I think the key point is function as Philip Norton said. We've
been doing a study at the Institute for Government on what makes
an effective Minister and one of the interesting things to come
out of that study is, you talk to people who have been Ministers
and say, "Could you have spent your time more usefully?"
they virtually all say, irrespective of personality or other difference,
"We spent far too much time seeing lobbying groups and we
ought to have spent less time doing that and more time in the
Commons." There is always a danger of the Civil Service
believing that, when Ministers spend time in the Commons, unless
they are taking a Bill through or answering questions, they are
wasting their time. It is very revealing that one of the shrewdest
politicians, Alan Johnson, always used to come over here for lunch
when he was Home Secretary, sometimes as a surprise to the Home
Office and Civil Servants, he was actually doing his function
as a political one. Also, on speeches and meeting lobbying groups,
most Ministers would say they could cut back sharply, but civil
servants fill the diary.
Q119 Chair: Conferences?
Q120 Robert Halfon:
Do you think that there should be a time limit or a time in which
new MPs should be appointed PPSs or recommended, because some
of us have been appointed very quickly? Would you recommend a
certain period to learn in Parliament before that appointment
I think you could only do a voluntary thing of at least 12 months.
You can't do anything more than voluntary for the reasons Philip
Q121 Robert Halfon:
Obviously the Prime Minster has the patronage over who becomes
a PPS, but do you think Ministers should have more say on which
PPS they particularly want? As I understand it, with the current
crop, for the most part, apart from a few exceptions, Minsters
were just told which PPSs they were given as opposed to
Chair: And special advisers.
Robert Halfon: And special
It is up to the personality of the Minister, isn't it, and how
strong they are.
Lord Norton: It
certainly was the case that it was the senior Minister who was
responsible for the appointment of PPSs, subject to the approval
of No. 10.
Q122 Chair: Do
we know why Mr Gove doesn't have a PPS?
I think he does, doesn't he? Yes he does.
Chair: He does? I beg
Mr Walker: But a lot of
Ministers of State were quietly complaining that they didn't want
a wretched PPS because they would have to keep him or her amused
and busy, which meant more work for them in reality. It's a bit
like having a work placement.
Q123 Chair: I
think we need to move on from the influence of the payroll vote
on Parliament. May I ask a preliminary? A lot of this debate
turns on an understanding, or a misunderstanding, of the British
constitution going back to Montesquieu and the separation of powers.
Is this about the separation of powers? Does Parliament work
if the Executive is fused with Parliament?
Lord Norton: The
Government is drawn from Parliament; it is still separate. It
is a parliamentary system, and in parliamentary systems the Government
is drawn through elections to the legislature. You are going
to have Ministers within the Parliament; I think there are certain
benefits to Parliament from that. There are benefits to Government;
there are benefits for Parliament. There is a problem if it becomes
a too large a proportion of the House. In 1950, the payroll voteMinisters
plus PPSswas about 15%; now it is just over 20%. You are
getting to the level where it is probably becoming something of
an imbalance. It is a fundamental point because you have Government
as Members in the Chamber, when that very same Chamber is there
to subject that Minister to critical scrutiny. You need to have
a sufficiently large number of Members who are willing to question
Government and ultimately, if necessary, to say no to Government
and be in a position to make that stick.
I would only add that greater separation of powersthat
is, excluding Ministers from the legislaturedoesn't necessarily
strengthen the legislature. In those European countries where
they adopt that practicethe best known is Francethe
Parliament is not very strong vis à vis the Government.
Philip made the point about how Ministers, though being Members
of the legislature, can in some ways be more directly accountable
to it, and Peter has already given an example of how accountability
is not just formal accountability, answering questions at the
Dispatch Box or taking Bills through Parliament; it is also informal
accountability such as Alan Johnson coming over to the Commons
for lunch. You will all know that, when you want to talk to a
Minister, sometimes the informal forumswhen you're waiting
to vote in the Division Lobby and such thingscan be as
important as the formal parliamentary occasion.
Chair: It is why we don't
want push-button voting, for example.
Mr Walker: Absolutely.
Q124 Chair: Is
the language of separation of powers useful to help us understand
the relationship between the Executive and Parliament, or should
we jettison that concept?
Lord Norton: I
regard it as a misleading concept because when we refer to separation
of powers it usually doesn't mean separation of powers; it means
separate election of the Executive and the legislature. There
is an overlap of powers in those systems, the same as there is
here. I talk about separation as seeing the Government as distinct
from the House of Commons, even though part of the House of Commons
forms the Government.
I think it is a question of balance. I agree entirely with what
Philip said, but I think it is a question of balance and the balance
has gone out of kilter. That is what we are all saying. The
increase in proportion of what you'd narrowly define as Ministers,
including PPSs, has got too great. That is what we are saying.
The balance has gone wrong and we need to bring it back, but
not going to the constitutional extent of separation of powers.
I know there are some people who argue we ought to move, but
that does involve separate election.
Q125 Chair: So
actually, we are just talking about undue influence of the Executive.
Lord Norton: Yes.
Q126 Chair: And
you would all agree with that? Are you happy with that Charlie
because I know you are a champion of the separation of powers?
Mr Walker: I am. I would
like to ask one last question; I know there are colleagues who
have been here all session. I think this coalition Government
is doing a lot of good.
Chair: We do come to the
coalition question later.
Mr Walker: I am just coming
to the question I want to ask. It is doing a lot of good. I
don't want to be seen to be churlish, but it does seem to have
a down on representative democracy at the moment. Not only are
we seeing a reduction in the number of Members of Parliament by
50, but actually, if you are following conservativehome,
you are seeing a number of Conservative District and County Councils
volunteering reductions in Councillors at the next elections of
20% to 30%. I am quite keen on representative democracy. We
are actually underrepresented in this country compared with most
Western democracies. It just strikes that this is rather odd.
At a time when we have put 120 unelected peers into the House
of Lords over the past six months, we are not only reducing
the number of MPs, but some County Councils are reducing representative
democracy at a local level by 30% and justifying it by saying,
"We are moving to an executive system; we need less people
to run the Council."
Chair: One sentence each
please, because we are very short of time.
Very simple: I would have put a greater priority on reducing the
number of Ministers than the number of MPs.
Lord Norton: I
would probably agree with that; I think there is a case for reducing
I was going to make the point that has been made: it is ironic
that the Government, which proposes to reduce the Commons by 50
members, has already increased the House of Lords by over 100
in its first six months.
Q127 Lindsay Roy:
I shall forgo questions 4 and 5, because I think they have been
well covered. Gentlemen, you are suggesting that the criteria
to establish or determine the number of Ministers would be a needs
analysis, a fitness for purpose functionality of key tasks. Presumably,
therefore, if the key tasks change or the needs change the number
of Ministers may change, up or down a bit. Do you agree?
Lord Norton: Yes,
I would agree with that. I think there ought to be an overall
limit but within that there is scope for change. Over time we
do variously see some changesome go, some are increasedbut
yes, you need to have that degree of adaptability to meet the
particular functions of government. You need to be clear what
those functions are, whereas I think the number has increased,
not necessarily related to the functions of government, but because
the Prime Minister finds it useful to have that extra degree of
Q128 Lindsay Roy:
Are there any other criteria you would use in determining the
number of Ministers?
The parliamentary aspect is quite important. Clearly some Departments
have got many more parliamentary responsibilities than others
and you have to take that into account. It needn't be necessarily
by a full Minister; that's why we made the point about using Whips.
Just to go back, I find it puzzling that when devolution came
in and we had this sharp reduction in Ministers from Scotland
and Wales and obviously in a more difficult way from Northern
Irelandit was more staggeredsuddenly there apparently
emerged a greater demand for Ministers elsewhere. It doesn't
work like that. Obviously, Northern Ireland showed in the 1970s
when the Department was created and when direct rule was imposed
that, clearly, there had to be a Minister to do it, but those
things are pretty exceptional.
Q129 Lindsay Roy:
There seems to be some kind of compensatory principle here.
It was a compensatory principle plus. That was the worst thing.
It wasn't just that several were replaced; it was 15.
Q130 Robert Halfon:
Can I just ask you about the workload of Ministers? I know we
have touched on the tasks. Can you tell me what you think of
the red box system and whether you think it is efficient, because
some Ministers I speak to say they're up all night doing it.
Others say they don't do them; they do them in the daytime. What's
Lord Norton: I
think there are one or two essential points there. The point
I make in the memorandum, quoting Frank Field, is that Ministers
create the work to fill the time available. The other point is
that it relates to the nature of the Ministers, because there
is no formal training, so some are quite adept at knowing how
to handle and how to mange the particular workloadhow to
manage the Department, including how to handle the red box. For
others, there is a red box, they open it, they deal with it because
it's there. Now others, as you were touching on, don't necessarily
do the red boxes. Some Ministers have said, "I'm going to
do it during the daythat's it, not taking themand
I'm just going to focus on what is strategically important, rather
that just getting through the paperwork for getting through it."
I think a lot depends on the quality of Ministers through training
them in how to go about the job. I think they could do it much
more efficiently and be much more in control of what is going
on, rather than simply being the recipients of whatever is put
in the box.
Q131 Robert Halfon:
Given that the vast majority of Ministers do the red boxes, do
you think that that system needs to be changed so that, rather
than Ministers spending all their time in pointless meetings as
ambassadors, they would have time in the day? As a new MP, most
of the replies I get back from the Civil Service are often very
poor and they are signed off, but you know for sure that they
have not had the chance to read it properly because they have
probably to sign off another thousand similar things.
Lord Norton: If
I can just come back to this point about the importance of training,
as I put in the memorandum, at the moment the problem with Ministers
is there is a premium on their parliamentary abilitieshow
good they are at the Dispatch Box, not necessarily how good they
are at managing the Department and, more importantly, how good
they are at strategic thinking. If you have Ministers who actually
understand the importance of standing back and creating time to
think, "Where do we want to be in five years' time?"
and developing a strategy for delivering that, that is the sort
of Minister you need and therefore that starts to put the rest
of the work in context.
One qualification of what Philip said. He used the phrase "managing
the Department". I think one has to be very careful on that.
I think there is a difference between setting objectives for
the Department and making sure they are followed up, and actually
managing. With very few exceptions, most of you don't have much
experience of running large organisations, and that is one of
the big changes. I think that one of the things when you look
at Ministers and talk to them about how they use their time, most
of them haven't been used to operating big organisations and that
is quite a problem. I agree entirely: one of the things in the
Institute for Government report that we will be recommending is
proper induction and training merely to handle the workload.
We had two seminars at the Institute at the end of September with
a total of 30 to 35 Ministers over two morning sessions discussing
how to be most effective. The red box issue came up, and also
the other issue that came up was quality of correspondence. I
think there is a broader educational point there on literacy,
even of the very bright civil servants and their ability to use
grammar, but that is a separate issue for the Education Committee.
It is actually one that irks a lot of Ministers. A lot of it
is to do with use of time, and because you are independent agents
as MPs, very few of you have worked in situations that have required
the management of time that a Minister requires.
Q132 Robert Halfon:
The cultureit is not just a question of whether or not
MPs know or are good users or managers of their time. Having
been a politics student and read all your work about what happens
with red boxes and so on, and how they put the hard stuff at the
bottom and so on and so forth, surely the culture of the Civil
Service is red boxes and surely the only way that will change
is if it is revolutionised and the work is no longer given out
in this way.
Lord Norton: I
think that comes back to the Minister knowing what he or she wants
in terms of giving direction as to what should go in the box.
That means you have to have a clear view of what you want to
achieve. What is important? What is not important? I think
that then flows from that, so, if you like, it is the culture
from the top down in order to achieve that. I think that is the
crucial dimension. I may agree with the point you are making,
but if the Minister says, "This is what I want in the box,
and this is how I am going to do it," that is the important
Two points about culture. I was myself a civil servant for 15
years in the Home Office and the first point I would make is that
what Ministers do varies enormously between Departments and between
Ministers in a Department. In the Home Office, we always had
two junior Ministers who did huge amounts of casework, one on
immigration and the other on prisoners and parole. This brings
me to my first point about culture. When you as Members of Parliament
write to a Minister, you expect to get a reply from the Minister.
That is part of the Minister's workload, and on immigration matters,
the junior Minister in the Home Office doesn't have red boxes;
he has trolley loads of files that are taken to his office every
day, and his private secretary effectively chains him to his desk
and he is not allowed to go home until he has done that day's
casework. Those are probably untypical Ministers in doing such
a big volume of casework, but that is part of Ministerial load.
I think the second point to make about culture is
that if Ministers are not to do some of things that we have been
discussing, which arguably they should notlike meeting
so many delegations from interest groups and trade bodies and
the like, or going to conferences to give speechesthose
invitations will continue to come in and those bodies will expect
a Government figure to go and address them. Who should that be?
Instead of a Minister, it could be a senior civil servant, but
then the world out there needs to accept that a senior civil servant
isn't necessarily second best, giving the speech that he has probably
drafted or signed off, in the place of the Minister.
Chair: Or a PPS or a Whip.
Indeed. That brings me to my other point about the culture here
in terms of answering Adjournment debates or whatever it may be,
or debates in Westminster Hall, and whether you would be willing
to accept that sometimes it would be a Whip responding to those
debates, rather than a Minister. The cultural change has to happen
not just in Whitehall, but in those bodies out in civil society
and also here in Parliament that have dealings with Whitehall.
Q133 Robert Halfon:
When you look at the newspapers and they are asking whether a
Minister does well or is judged on good performance, they always
say, "That Minister is known in Whitehall for doing his red
boxes." I remember there was a female Minister in the last
Government who was criticised because she had a family and because
she allegedly didn't do her boxes, and it always seems to be judged
on whether people do their red boxes or not and surely that's
wrong. Surely the role of Ministers should actually be ambassadors,
going to conferences, being the face of the Government, not sitting
in their offices doing paperwork that could be done by civil servants.
But Ministers can, if they are firm with their private office
and with their staff, control what is in the red box. When they
have a sense of what is coming into it as the daily diet, as it
were, or the nightly diet, they can say, "I don't want any
more of this kind of correspondence." I think throughout
Whitehall there need to be clearer lines and levels of delegation,
because if the Minister is saying "I don't what to see this
kind of stuff," he is in effect saying, "I don't want
to make the decisions any longer on this kind of stuff."
There then needs to be a dialogue with the officials in which
they agree what the level of delegation is as to who will make
Lord Norton: May
I respond on that? There is a fundamental point about how we
should see Ministers and how Ministers should see themselves,
which comes back to my point about strategic thinking. A Minister
should not be assessed in terms of whether they do the red box
or indeed whether they are very good at giving speeches to different
organisations. They should be assessed in terms of the effect
they havewhat are they seeking to achieve in that Government
role and have they achieved it or not? That is the fundamental
thing. That is to do with effect. A part of the culture here
limits it because Ministerial successthis is how Members
tend to see it as wellis in terms of whether you get a
Bill through, not necessarily what consequence the measure has.
We are only now coming round to getting the need for post-legislative
scrutiny. I think there needs to be fundamental re-evaluation
of the purpose of Ministers.
The other point I was going to make, which relates
to the point, is that there does seem to be a culture hereit
tends to be a feature I've noticed of Members and therefore perhaps
it percolates up to Ministersof not being very good at
Mr Walker: We aren't either.
Can I just take on a point that was touched on, which is the lack
of proper development and induction? You suddenly become a Minister
and from day one you are expected to be all singing, all dancing.
There was a little bit of induction at the beginning of the Government
and we have done quite a lot with the Institute for Government
subsequently, and we will carry on doing that, which is better
than nothing. However, the other thing is appraisal. This is
one of the interesting things from talking to a lot of Ministers.
You mentioned when they are written up in the paper. I used to
do that when I was a journalist, until July, and you do things
before reshuffles, but that is often the only time when people
hear on the grapevine or you hear talking late at night that "X
is on the way up," or "Y, I'm very sorry, it's all over."
No one tells them until they get the phone call from the Prime
Minister or the Chief Whip, or more likely the Chief of Staff
to the Prime Minister. One thing is quite desirable. Ministerial
life, in a curious way, is rather lonely. They are on their own.
Every other organisation would have some system of appraisal
that would help people improve a bit, rather than this rather
arbitrary one. Permanent Secretaries do notes before reshuffles.
Chair: We must move on
I am afraid, but thank you very much. Mr Walker.
Q134 Mr Walker:
I will just agree quickly with Lord Norton. I think we might
be at the root of this inflation because we as Members of Parliament
are hopeless at saying no to our constituents. Lots of what comes
across our desk is important, but a lot of it is just rubbish
that people should sort out themselves, but just to stop us disappointing
our constituents we send it off to the Minister and expect an
answer. I think we are part of the solution to this. Very briefly,
I think you might have touched on this earlier: we have seen a
large amount of devolutionScotland, Northern Ireland, Walesyet
we still have two Ministers for each of these Departments. Why
is that the case? Is it because we want these countries to feel
important to us, which they are, or is it because we really just
want to have additional places round the Cabinet table?
Lord Norton: I
don't think they are mutually exclusive. I think it is a combination
of the two things, even though I think there is a recognition
that there is a need for fewer Ministers. When I chaired the
Constitution Committee in the Lords we did a big report on devolution
and recommended that those Departments should be merged.
Q135 Mr Walker:
Into what Department?
Lord Norton: Well,
effectively, a Department for Constitutional Affairs, which would
cover the different parts of the United Kingdom. There is no
reason why you need this separation because most of the relationships
with the different parts of the UK are with the subject-specific
Departments, not with the Scotland Office or the Wales Office.
There is no reason why they shouldn't merge. It almost looked
as if that would happen until, as I say, it was discovered that
the Secretary of State for Wales is mentioned in statute, so you
can't do it overnight.
I would entirely agree with that. It is a combination. There
is never a good time for it, which is often the greatest obstacle
in politics. There is the additional complication with the coalition
and the structure of it.
Q136 Mr Walker:
If you merged it into a Constitutional Department you would have
one Secretary of State and one junior Minister, so you would shed
four Ministers straight away. Would that be how you see it happening,
Symbolically, you might want to have two junior Ministers so that
there was still someone nominally from Scotland, Wales and Northern
Ireland. The political fear that has prevented this reorganisation,
which has been mooted for the last 10 years ever since devolution
came in, is the fear of offending national sensitivities. The
difficulty, since Wales has generally been used to having a Secretary
of State from Wales, Scotland from Scotland and so on, is, who
is going to be the head of the Department and will Wales, Northern
Ireland and Scotland still have their voice?
Q137 Chair: Would
you accept the argument that Northern Ireland is a special case?
It certainly was a special case. It is much less so now since
the devolution of policing and justice.
Chair: Don't think the
Northern Ireland Secretary would say that.
The Northern Ireland Office is now very much smaller than it used
to be. It is now much more on all fours with the Wales Office
and the Scotland Office.
Q138 Mr Walker:
Do you think it would have happened if the Conservatives had won
a majority at the general election?
I don't know. I do know that successive Cabinet Secretaries have
put this forward as a recommendation to incoming Prime Ministers,
ever since 2001. I don't know what was recommended in 2010.
Q139 Mr Walker:
Final point, Chairman. If it is about offending people, we have
only one MP in Scotland and we haven't any in Ireland, so the
only people we would be in danger of offending is Wales, where
we have eight Members of Parliament.
Chair: I think that is
not entirely relevant.
I am looking at Mr Mulholland. Given it's a coalition, I think
the Liberal Democrats might have a different viewpoint.
Mr Walker: That's what
Chair: Mr Mulholland,
do you want to make a comment?
Greg Mulholland: You're
Q140 Lindsay Roy:
It was to follow through the theme in terms of effectiveness because
I don't want to divert. I think what you are suggesting is cultural
change. I was very interested in the work that you have done
with new Ministers in terms of managing time, managing workload.
Is not the key to this some leadership training and strategic
thinking and empowering other people and ensuring that appropriate
Lord Norton: I
agree with that. That was the point I made about the questions
I've tabled about the training that is available to Ministers.
If you look at the answer there, it is not just the limited number
of Ministers who have it, but the type of training that is provided.
I absolutely agree with the thrust of your question.
Q141 Lindsay Roy:
Are there then plans to take this forward in a different dimension
and have you had any discussion with Ministers about this? Is
there any opposition that this is a very paternalistic approach
to Ministerial responsibility?
At the Institute for Government, we worked with the opposition
parties before the election. We did quite a lot of work via Francis
Maude. We did less work with the Lib Dems. I think the Lib Dems
were less anticipating the future role. We are intending to do
work with the new opposition, probably starting next year. We
are already doing work and we are in consultation with Ministers
and senior civil servants on this point.
Q142 Chair: But
the point you're making is, better Ministers could mean fewer
Lord Norton: Yes.
Q143 David Heyes: On
the general theme of smaller numbers of underemployed junior Ministers,
is there not a need to make an exception from that argument in
the context of the coalition Government? We have already mentioned
the workload, particularly I think on Liberal Democrat junior
Ministers, who have an overarching need to monitor the work of
the entire Department, as well as a particular brief. Is that
not an argument for more junior Ministers in the present context?
Broadly speaking, it has to be proportionate to their strength
in the House of Commons. Suppose at the last election, the Lib
Dems, instead of winning nearly 60 seats, had won only 30, but
they had still been invited to form a coalition, we would have
expected them to have roughly half the number of Ministerial posts
that they have. Already they don't cover all Whitehall Departments;
I think there are five Departments where there is no Lib Dem Minister.
In my scenario, there would be at least half the total number
of Whitehall Departments where there was no Lib Dem Minister.
In other countries where they have coalition government, it is
not uncommon for one of the coalition partners to be quite small
and therefore to be represented in very few Ministries. So simply
in terms of the way coalitions are formed, roughly in proportion
to their parliamentary strength, you can't ensure that the junior
partner has this kind of comprehensive coverage.
I think the issue there is partly one of rigidity because everything
is carefully allocated and carefully balanced. It is quite easy
for a Prime Minster, if there is a reshuffle under a single-party
Government, to move people around. When you have a coalition,
it is formally in the agreement that everything has to be done
with consent, both in terms of allocation of posts and allocation
of people, so it imposes a rigidity. I think it is possible to
make better use of existing numbersfor example, using Whips
in the Commons and Lords from the Liberal Democrats in Departments
where there aren't formally Ministers. I think more can be done
by that. Changing the roles of the Commons Whips could achieve
some of that. Yes, it is a factor against reduction, but you
could deal with it if there was more imaginative use made of the
Lord Norton: I
was just going to reinforce that with two points. One draws on
coalition theory, which suggests that if there is a balance in
terms of the parties proportionately, that underpins the stability
of the coalition. The other point is if you had one Lib Dem in
every Department, I think the danger is that would encourage departmentalitis,
that sort of isolation of Departments. I think it is better to
have more cross-Government dialogue and, as Peter Riddell says,
as we have in the Lords, where you have Liberal Democrat Whips
who are answering for different Departments.
Q144 David Heyes: But
isn't it the case that the Institute for Government are recommending
that there should be a Liberal Democrat junior Minister in every
Department? There seems to be some disagreement between you.
No, there isn't really because if you used the Whips you would
achieve that objective.
Q145 David Heyes: These
underemployed Whips who don't whipwhere does the evidence
come from that Whips are underemployed and could be used in this
I am not saying they are underemployed.
David Heyes: My Whip always
seems to be particularly busy.
But Whips are allocated to Departments. You could get to a position
whereby a Lib Dem Whip was attached to a Department where there
wasn't a fully fledged Minister, so there would be a Government
spokesman. What I am saying is you could reallocate. I am not
saying they are underemployed, but given part of the Whip's job
is to deal with a particular subject area and a departmental area,
you could use that. You could reallocate them, without increasing
the size of the payroll vote or anything like that, in a slightly
Q146 David Heyes: What,
by taking jobs away in this coalition from Conservative junior
No, not at all. I was just saying if you have a Department where
there isn't a fully fledged Minister, why not have a Lib Dem Whip
to cover that Department, maybe answering Westminster Hall and
also ensuring there is a coalition viewpoint from every Department.
It wouldn't involve taking jobs away from Tories or anything
like that; it would be a redistribution of where people are.
Q147 Mr Walker:
How many Whips are there?
Chair: Mr Walker.
Mr Walker: Sorry, how
many Whips are there?
Chair: Mr Walker, please.
Mr Walker: Sorry, just
how many Liberal Democrat Whips are there?
Chair: No, Mr Walker,
please. I am chairing this meeting. Have you finished Mr Heyes?
David Heyes: Yes, I have.
Chair: May I just ask,
would it be an advantage to hold Whips to account by making them
explain on the record why people should vote for the Government's
measures, rather than shielding them from cross-examination?
Lord Norton: Surely
that is the task of Ministers in bringing measures forward to
justify why you should vote for them.
Q148 Chair: But
Whips get up to all sorts of activities that they never need to
explain and they are never questioned about.
Lord Norton: I
am not sure how you can formally get them to answer for the particular
way they are going about it.
Q149 Chair: But
it would be interesting wouldn't it?
Lord Norton: Oh
yes, fascinating. A study of the Whips is something I have written
about. I am not necessarily sure you would get them on the record.
Q150 Chair: Mr
Riddell, can I just challenge you on this idea that, just because
we have a coalition, we need more Ministers. Is that what you're
No, I am saying it is harder to reduce when you have a coalition.
Q151 Chair: But
that is just about the Coalition needing to spread out the spoils
of office among two groups instead of one.
No, it's to ensure that every Department ensures that the coalition's
viewpoint is heard. That's what I'm saying.
Q152 Chair: In
a two-party system, or broadly a two-party system, parties are
coalitions. A Government has to represent the left and right
of the party across the Government just as much as a coalition,
so the coalition is a bit boarder, that's all.
No, because there is a rigidity in it. You are absolutely right,
as you well know from your long experience, Mr Jenkin, that all
parties are coalitions, but if it is a single-party Government
it is done informally. It is now very formal. If you look at
the coalition partnership agreement, it says that any change,
either in which Ministers are allocated to where and in the personalities,
involves the DPM as well as the PM. That introduces a rigidity.
I stick to everything I said earlier about reducing the number
of Ministers. All I am arguing is that with a little more imagination
you can meet the requirements of the coalition and get your fewer
Ministers, but it is harder than it would have been because of
the rigidities of the coalition agreement.
Q153 Chair: Professor
Lord Norton is indicating assent.
Lord Norton: Peter
is absolutely rightthere is that rigidity in the coalition
agreement that you don't get otherwise. There is no formal agreement
on how many members of the Cornerstone group should be in particular
I agree as well. I would only add that, given the need in any
coalition for the coalition partner to be consulted across the
board, and sometimes that is difficult for the junior partner
because their number of Ministers will be limited, there are other
ways of trying to ensure that consultationfor example,
by having slightly more special advisers.
Could I just answer Mr Walker's quiet intervention? He asked
how many Whips there are. There are two Lib Dem Whips in the
Commons, three in the Lords, so you could
Mr Walker: So the numbers
Chair: Was that your question?
I apologise for preventing it.
Mr Walker: I apologise
for being so pushy.
Chair: That's all right,
I'm used to it.
Q154 Greg Mulholland:
I believe there are three Liberal Democrat Government Whips in
the Commons, including the Chief Whip and two juniors. Just a
point of correction.
Chair: Well, you should
Greg Mulholland: Unless
they are fibbing to me, or hiding. I generally don't listen to
them anyway. Can I just go back to the discussion we had about
reducing the Ministers? We haven't really touched on the different
ranks of Minister. We have talked about the PPSs, but we of course
have Minister of State and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of
State, or PUSSs as they are sometimes called. It strikes me that
some of the functions of the Parliamentary Under-Sectary of State
are what PPSs actually do now. Historically, perhaps those roles
of assisting with questions and so on were carried out by the
junior Ministers rather than PPSs. Do we need those two different
ranks of junior Minister?
I am not sure that we do and I think probably that Parliamentary
Under-Secretary might be the rank that would go if you wanted
to rationalise a bit.
Lord Norton: In
the Commission to Strengthen Parliament, what we recommended was
a cap on the number of Cabinet Ministers and then a cap on the
number of junior Ministers. I take Robert's point: there is probably
a political advantage in the current hierarchy because you move
upParliamentary Under-Secretary, Minister of State. Then,
in terms of the administration of government, I would probably
agree with Robert, because the danger is that if you are styled
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, perhaps you are not going
to be taken that seriously by officials as if you have the rank
of Minister of State or Secretary of State.
I would retain the three levels, partly as career progression,
but I would have fewer at the two bottom levels and fewer at the
top if you reduce the number of Departments.
Q155 Greg Mulholland:
Do you think they have clear, distinctive rolesthe Ministers
of State versus Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State? Is
there a clear job description for one as opposed to another or
do they end up overlapping to a great extent?
It depends entirely on the Department. To go back to Robert Hazell's
earlier point from his Home Office experience, it varies enormously,
also on personality. Some Ministers in the current Government
have enormous portfolios, rather larger than one or two Cabinet
Ministers do, and it varies considerably. In other cases, it
is clearly that the Department is dominated in real business as
well as personality by the Secretary of State. So it varies considerably.
Lord Norton: And
some of the named posts, when you think about Minister for Prisons
or Minister for Sport, actually differ. Some are Ministers of
State and some are Under-Secretaries.
Q156 Greg Mulholland:
If we got rid of PPSs, apart from for Cabinet Ministers, presumably
some of that support role could be done by the Parliamentary Under-Secretaries
Lord Norton: In
so far as you actually need that. I think a lot of what the PPSs
do could be dispensed with anyway.
And also by the Whips. One of the main functions of a PPS is
to pass on intelligence to his Minister about the mood in this
place. That is also a function of the Whips.
Lord Norton: A
lot of it is make-work. If I can just give a contrast with the
Lords, in the Commons, the PPSs sits behind the Minister getting
notes from the Box, so you need a different PPS for each Minister.
In the Lords you don't have any of that; one of the attendants
brings the notes from the Box to whichever Minister is on the
Q157 Mr Walker:
It wouldn't be a job without that.
Lord Norton: No,
that's my point.
Q158 Charlie Elphicke:
I can see PPSs have come in for something of a bad press and the
image one has is of cost-free water bearers who are captured at
low expense by the patronage system and become robots at their
masters' will. On the other hand, when you have a very large
intake, as we have had on the Government Benches, of over 150
new MPs, is there not an argument for using the PPS-ship or role
as a way of testing out unknown quantities and getting a measure
as to those who may be useful and able to hold office in later
Lord Norton: The
answer to that would be no, simply because of the expansion in
numbers and you have a dilution of the significance of the PPS.
When there were very few PPSs, they had a much higher profile.
You knew who the PPS was and quite often they were seen as important,
rather like Tam Dalyell with Richard Crossmansort of an
unofficial adviser to the Secretary of State, and quite an important
one. Now the role is diluted, so we have a list of PPSs but otherwise
nobody has the faintest idea who they are.
Chair: Until they resign.
Lord Norton: They
don't have that significance. I am not sure what you are training:
how do you know they are going to be very good Ministers just
because they are very good at carrying your bags or something?
A far more productive route, which is where you want to be channelling
them, is the sort of job you're doing, because service on a Select
Committee is much more visible and more productive, and I think
from a parliamentary perspective it is much more worthwhile.
Can I just give an example?
Chair: Very briefly
David Cameron always goes back to his time working with Chris
Mullin on the Home Affairs Committee in his first Parliament as
being very important in his development here.
Q159 Chair: Very
good point. May I just move on to the question whether Ministers
need to be parliamentarians? If the Government wants to have
more of the ambassadorial spokesman-type decision makers in Government,
do they have to be parliamentarians at all?
Lord Norton: Yes,
I am against appointing Ministers from outside because I think
there are benefits, not just for Government. There are benefits
for Parliament to have Ministers within, and not just in terms
of answerability, because you have Ministers appearing before
Committees. It is the point we touched upon earlierthe
sheer proximity of being available. It is good for Government
because you've got Ministers in and they can justify what they
are doing, but it is good for parliamentarians because the Ministers
are present formally but also informally, and you do have that
route if the Prime Minister wants to bring in somebody from outsidethey
can be brought in via the Lords. Then they are within the Westminster
system, they have some appreciation of what Parliament is about
and they are accessible, which I think is one of the key points.
It is a matter of convention that Ministers belong to one or other
House of Parliament. It is not a constitutional requirement and
there were occasions in the last century when Ministers served
in Government without being a Member of either House. Broadly,
I think I agree with Philip that it is desirable when a Minister
is appointed from outside Parliament that they are then put into
Parliament, and the way that it is done here is typically by putting
them into the House of Lords, as has happened on a dozen or so
occasions in the last 10 years. Occasionally, it is done in response
to an emergency. To pick up Mr Roy's earlier question about the
need for flexibility, Lord Myners, for example, was brought in
from the City at the time of the banking crisis because he was
a finance and banking expert and the Government felt they badly
needed such a person to help them handle that crisis; he was immediately
put into the Lords.
Q160 Chair: That's
quite an advantage of an appointed House, isn't it?
Could I just pull up one brief point? The problem is Prime Ministers
don't necessarily understand the Lords at all. One of the problems
with the GOATs was that the parliamentary and political role was
undersold to them. They were quite often told by the Prime Minster,
"You don't have to bother with the Lords; I really want you
as an expert adviser." One of the key distinctions as between
the adviser and the Minister is that the Minister has political
responsibility and accountability, desirably to both Houses.
Lord Norton: If
you had induction, that would be encompassed by that, so Ministers
would have a full appreciation of the role. If you were thinking
about Ministers not being parliamentarians and that was going
to be the rule, you would then have to think through the fundamental
implications that that would have for the type of person who might
seek election to the House of Commons.
Q161 Chair: But
it might widen the pool of talent available for Prime Ministers
Lord Norton: Well,
you can argue that it already is, for the route we have just mentioned,
if there is somebody out there that you want to bring in. But
there is a danger that becomes too predominant because then it
does have fundamental implications for MPs.
Q162 Chair: Should
there be a form of temporary peerage for such purpose?
Lord Norton: No,
I don't see why, because usually those people who are appointed
Ministers have qualities to be Ministers and those qualities would
justify them being a Member of the second Chamber.
Q163 Robert Halfon:
In your note, you said part of the problem is that Ministers are
primarily judged on their performance in Parliament. Surely the
answer to this would be to appoint Ministers from outside Parliament
who do more of the managerial thing, and then you get the Whips
to account for them in Parliament.
Lord Norton: I
don't think that would be very popular with Members because they
would want to have answerable to them the person actually taking
Q164 Robert Halfon:
Or you could perhaps have some of the junior Ministers?
Lord Norton: I
think the answer is the Ministers must have parliamentary skills
as well; there is a premium on them at the moment. My point is
you need to retain those skills but need to add to them the skills
you require to engage in strategic thought, to know how to determine
policy within the Department, to lead the Department. I think
you need that sort of balance. I don't want to take Members from
outside Parliament because I think if they don't understand Parliament
there is a problem that derives from that. I think there is a
value in having an appreciation of Parliament and ideally having
prior parliamentary experience because they are then sensitive
to the needs of Parliament, and indeed the needs of individual
Q165 Robert Halfon:
In the United States they are not accountable to Congress.
Lord Norton: They
can answer before Committees.
Q166 Robert Halfon:
Why don't we do that instead?
Lord Norton: There
it is totally different because they are all the President's men
or women because it is a single Executive.
Q167 Chair: Is
there a case for a non-Ministerial rank of senior externally appointed
manager or some such?
Everyone can appoint their advisers, but that adviser role is
entirely different from a Ministerial one. I think it has to
be absolutely clear cut because I can see real sources of abuse
there where you appoint Tsars and all that type of thinglargely
ephemeral in many cases. The advantage of appointing someone
as a Minister is the accountability. That is crucial.
We are doing a study on Ministers from outside Parliament and
I think there are two points to make. One is that in most parliamentary
systems in Europe, Ministers are appointed from Parliament. Our
Westminster system is typical of parliamentary systems. There
are a few European counties where Ministers can be appointed from
outside Parliament, or once they are appointed they are put outside
Parliament. The point to make about the first group, where they
can be appointed from outside Parliament, is you were saying it
widens the pool; potentially it does, but so far our research
is suggesting that the kind of people who get appointed already
have considerable political experience.
Q168 Chair: They
are insiders not outsiders.
Well they have either served at a lower level of Government, they've
been a city Mayor, they've been the President of a German Land
or they have served in the party and have political experience
in that way. It is quite rare for someone to be appointed as
a pure technocrat.
Q169 Chair: How
should we bring people into Government who have experience in
big business, running big organisations, who then can run Departments
because it is a very arduous thing to combine a business career
with a political career, and it is increasingly impossible with
all the conflicts on interest?
That is like a contemporary civil servant. If you want to run,
let's say, a particular agency. The interesting
Q170 Chair: Isn't
one of the advantages of the American system that it breathes
in and out people from other walks of life?
It is a very different culture there of people coming in and out
and there are advantages in that. There are people who have been
repeatedly coming in. In the Thatcher era Derek Rayner came
in frequently as an adviser. The advantage of the Ministerial
route is accountability. The example that we are about to see
is Stephen Green, who was introduced in the House of Lords
yesterday and is going to take over as Trade Minister after a
rather long gap. In a sense, he will be a Minister, which is
good because he will be accountable, but his real role is as a
super-adviser on boosting British exports and trade.
Lord Norton: There
is a fallback. Peter mentioned special advisers. They don't
just have to be political special advisers; you can appoint expert
special advisers as well.
Q171 Chair: We
are going to move on to public bodies now. We are running over
time, but the evidence session has been fascinating and we are
very grateful to you. Particularly to Lord Norton, you sit on
the Lords Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and
Regulatory Reform Committee, or you are aware of their report
on the Public Bodies Bill. Can you explain to us what the Lords'
concerns are about the Public Bodies Bill?
Lord Norton: There
are two: one is to do with process and one is to do with substance.
Process was the speed with which it was introduced. We are taking
a wary approach to those Bills that have not had the opportunity
to be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. The substantive problem
with the Public Bodies Bill is that it is essentially the Henry
VIII provisionin other words, giving the Secretary of State
power to amend primary legislation through secondary legislation
Q172 Chair: Doesn't
it make sense that Government should be allowed to organise Government
how it wants? We let Government organise Government Departments
and reorganise the deckchairs of Government Departments willy-nilly
under the Crown Prerogative. Why don't we just give it to the
Government under Crown Prerogative?
Lord Norton: Because
there is a difference between Government Departments and the bodies
that are covered by the Bill. Government Departments are the
prerogative of the Prime Minister; he can move them around. The
bodies encompassed by the Bill are not things that Government
have just introduced on their own whim. They are bodies that
have generally been introduced by statute, so they have been the
subject of extensive parliamentary deliberation and Parliament
has approved them, so Parliament ought to be given the opportunity
to say whether those roles should be changed or not, rather than
just sayingthe chief mischief here is through schedule
7 of the Bill"Here is a list of those bodies that,
at any stage in the future, a Minister may by order move to one
of the other schedules with a view to changing its functions or
getting rid of it." That would be subject solely to an order,
which is subject to a short debateno scope for amendment
and that's it. With the first order to move out of schedule 7,
you wouldn't know what the Government plans necessarily were for
it until it moved elsewhere and there is a second order. Parliament
really doesn't have the opportunity to discuss it in the way it
did initially when setting up these bodies. That is the problem;
there is a fundamental objection to the scope of the Bill though
the Henry VIII provision.
Q173 Chair: What
safeguards are you recommending?
Lord Norton: A
number of amendments are to be discussed this afternoon in terms
of Ministerial powers. My view is to get rid of the chief mischief,
which is schedule 7 rather that the other schedules, get rid of
clause 11, which engages schedule 7, and get rid of schedule 7.
I think the Government have now accepted that certain bodies
in schedule 7 shouldn't be there anyway, particularly those with
judicial or quasi-judicial functions, because it actually interferes
with the constitutional principle of the separation of the Executive
from the judiciary. Some bodies will have to come out of that
schedule. If you move them out, then it is even more invidious
for bodies that are left in, because they will be left in a living
uncertainty as to what their future is. I think that is the only
way you can deal with that particular problem.
Q174 Chair: Should
the Henry VIII provisions be sunsetted?
Lord Norton: That's
one option, but I don't see why you maintain the schedule 7 provision.
It is just, as far as I can, the Government being lazy because
it is saying, "Here are various bodies; we've not decided
what to do with them. We'll stick them in there until such time
as we do decide."
Q175 Chair: Or
the Government should be prepared to do a Public Bodies Bill every
Lord Norton: Not
every year. Since these are going to be reviewed, the idea was
why not have a Public Bodies Bill each Parliament, and therefore
that gives Parliament the opportunity to review what the Government
is planning. As I say, this leaves the Government free to move
forward and order, once it is has decided, what it wants to do
with the body. I gave the example: if you look at schedule 7,
the Information Commissioner is in there. The Information Commissioner
has to determine cases to which the Government is a party. The
Information Commissioner might be perfectly able not to be influenced
by the thought that his office is in schedule 7, but critics might
take a different view because if he finds in favour of Government,
critics might say, "Well he would do that, wouldn't he?"
Chair: If he is operating
under the cosh?
Lord Norton: Because
he is worried that if he goes against Government, they will be
moved from schedule 7 and be dealt with in one of the other schedules.
Chair: Got it. Are either
of the other two witnesses burning to contribute on this topic?
Q176 Robert Halfon:
Do you think quangos, as they are, are accountable and democratic
or are too many of them filled with party placemen?
Lord Norton: It
depends what they are because "quangos" is such a generic
term; it encompasses a host of bodies. If you look at those with
which I have been particularly interestedon the Constitution
Committee we looked at the regulatory stage and regulatory bodiesthe
thing is they are set up by statute. There is a whole host of
accountability; we refer to 360 degrees of accountability in terms
of bodies to which they are answerable. Through the courts they
are judicially reviewable. They are answerable to Parliament,
because departmental Select Committees cover the principal Government
functions and associated public bodies, so they are answerable
to Parliament and they are bound by the statute that sets them
The Institute for Government produced a report earlier this year
looking at the various types of arm's length bodies, and the criteria,
some of which the Government used, were on whether they needed
to be independent, whether they provided a technical service or
whether that would be provided judicially. On the nature of appointmentit
goes back to the hearing you had last week with Sir David Normington,
because he is now doing this merged post, as you exploredI
think it is showing his accountability on what he has done on
appointments. Now Ministers would argue in some cases it is perfectly
justified to have sympathisers running certain bodies, but you
have to be careful which bodies they are running.
Q177 Robert Halfon:
Don't you think that so many of them are just another form of
party patronage and the wrong people might be appointed or appointed
for the wrong reasons?
The process of appointment is now pretty rigorous. My worry is
more that you can get not politically partisan people but the
type of identikit type of person from a very narrow background
appointed because they fit the existing criteria and the criteria
of the Appointments Panel. Post-Nolan, there is a bit of sameness
and a lack of adventure sometimes.
Q178 Robert Halfon:
When we had ProfessorI forget his name
Robert Halfon: Professor
Flinders before us a couple of weeks ago, he argued that quangos
enhanced democratic participation. When I said, "Does that
mean we should have elections to quangos to make them more democratic?"
he said no. He said it should just be "do-gooders"
and that quangos encourage do-gooders to participate in the community.
I think the key there is accountability, and it is up to Select
Committees to make sure that they look at what the quangos are
doing in the area, or arm's length bodies, and it is up to the
range of Select Committees to keep them up to the mark. Too often
I don't think all Select Committees do that.
Q179 Chair: Do
our witnesses support the Francis Maude concept of accountability:
a quango is somehow unaccountable or less accountable than what
is contained in a Government Department, where the Minister answers
directly to Parliament?
Not necessarily, no. I think every Government rediscovers the
reasons for having arm's length bodies. Those are independence,
expertise, a greater commitmentincluding ability to commit
time on the part of the board members compared with the Ministerand
quangos can have a clearer strategy and set of objectives than
if their function is absorbed into a multi-purpose Government
Department. As Peter Riddell has said, appointments to quangos
now have to go through a much more rigorous process, which is
generally supervised by the Commissioner for Public Appointments.
The new mischief, if there is oneI am building on Peter's
point about the sameness of the people appointed to quangosis
that many of them hold multiple quango posts.
Q180 Robert Halfon:
Don't you think, just as we are about to move towards electing
our police commissioners, that we could have more democratic quangosthat
people could be elected to quangos?
I think it depends on the function. I think one has to look at
different ones in different ways. You can get rid of a lot, as
the Government has proposed to dolargely advisory committeesor
you can merge them. I think it very much depends on function
and also accountability. Election is crucial in some areas, but
in other areas it is more the fact that you, as MPs, can hold
them to account.
Lord Norton: I'm
not sure you want to elect a Judicial Appointments Commission,
for example. It really does depend on the particular body. There
is a case for looking at these bodies. Particularly when we looked
at regulators, we came up with the proposalnot in relation
to particular regulators, because they are answerable to the respective
Select Committeeto think about having a Select Committee
on regulators so you could look at the totality of the operation
and the impact that's having. I think there is a value there
from a parliamentary perspective.
Chair: I think that is
Whenever you propose direct election to these bodies you have
to think hard what the turnout is likely to be. If it is going
to be very low it may not have very much democratic legitimacy.
Robert Halfon: You could
say that about any election. You might as well say that about
local electionsonly 30% of people go out and vote, so we
might as well ban local elections for local government.
Lord Norton: You
could say that about referendums.
Q181 Charlie Elphicke:
Gentlemen, there are concerns raised in some quarters that quangos
use public money to instruct lobbyists to press their case with
Government. Do you think it is appropriate or inappropriate for
public money to be used in such a way?
I think "to lobby Government" in the sense in which
you define it is inappropriate. I think some of it has happened
with some arm's length bodies. There was a certain amount of
lobbying of your own party before the election by people who wanted
to ensure their survival. I remember seeing it at the last party
conference before the election. Some of them are employing lobbyists.
I think that's inappropriate and needs to be quite tightly controlled.
Q182 Chair: Exhibition
And exhibition stands, which is help in kind.
Q183 Charlie Elphicke:
Would you go so far as to say in many cases it is an abuse of
It is inappropriate and it should be unnecessary. Any reasonably
well-run quango should have good contacts with its own sponsoring
Department and with the wider political world.
Q184 Chair: Should
we recommend banning it?
Lord Norton: It
depends. Again, it comes back to the distinction of who's doing
the lobbying. If it is an external organisation, you could limit
that by saying it's inappropriate. You may have somebody who
is in-house whose role is to explain to parliamentarians what
the body is doing. It is a benefit to Parliament to have somebody
there who is the link person with the organisation, but who is
part of the organisation, whose task is to
Q185 Mr Walker:
Sorry, but don't cut me off, Chairman. Why can't the chief executive
do that, because we as parliamentarians are bombarded by junior
parliamentary officers and parliamentary affairs managers? Surely
it is the job of the chief executive to go and make his case to
parliamentarians and the board of that organisation.
Lord Norton: I
should declare an interest, because several of these parliamentary
officers are my graduates and are good at the task. It rather
comes back to the point we were discussing earlier about the role
of senior Ministers. They have to provide leadership. They are
there for strategic thought. They aren't able to spend all their
time dealing with parliamentarians, I am afraid. It is horses
for courses. You need members of staff who have particular responsibilities
while the person at the top is doing the leading.
Mr Walker: Final point,
I think we do an important job.
Chair: No, order, order.
Mr Walker: Please, please,
Chair: No, you've made
the point, you've made the point and we have to move on. It has
been a tantalising session. Thank you very much for your assistance.
An hour and a quarter has flown by and caused some frustration
to my Committee. Thank you very much.