Smaller Government: What do Ministers do? - Public Administration Committee Contents

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.

Peter Riddell: I am Peter Riddell. I am a senior fellow at the Institute for Government.

Lord Norton: Philip Norton, Lord Norton of Louth, Professor of Government at the University of Hull.

Professor Hazell: Professor Robert Hazell, and I am Director of the Constitution Unit at University College London.

Chair: Welcome.

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?

Peter Riddell: 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 Government—there are one or two special reasons for that to do with the coalition—but 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 and—I know this came up in your session with three ex-Ministers—have 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.

Professor Hazell: 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 vote—in 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 purposes—it 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?

Professor Hazell: 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 Ministers—of 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.

Chair: 47.

Professor Hazell: 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.

Peter Riddell: 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 found—it is very interesting talking to senior civil servants as part of the work I have done at the Institute for Government—that 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?

Peter Riddell: 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.

Peter Riddell: No, the numbers I meant could be subject to the Ministerial Code. After all, there is a limit—in many respects, I regard it as a misguided limit—on the number of special advisers. There is no reason why you can't put a limit on the number of PPSs.

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 another Committee.

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 Ministry.

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.

Peter Riddell: 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 made PPSs.

Peter Riddell: 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 has—it is very relevant to this Committee—and 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 within Government.

Chair: We are going to come to that later. Mr Walker—sorry, you finish Mr Halfon.

Q112 Robert Halfon: Which Departments would you think you could abolish now without a problem?

Peter Riddell: There is a slight problem, which is the existence of the coalition.

Chair: Again, we are going to come to that later.

Peter Riddell: 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 in—to 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.

Peter Riddell: 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 as always.

Q118 Chair: Is anybody in any disagreement with this? Could too few Ministers do harm to the administration of government?

Peter Riddell: 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?

Peter Riddell: Yes.

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 happens?

Chair: Anybody?

Peter Riddell: 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 gave—self-denying ordinance.

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 advisers.

Peter Riddell: 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?

Peter Riddell: I think he does, doesn't he? Yes he does.

Chair: He does? I beg your pardon.

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 vote—Ministers plus PPSs—was 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.

Professor Hazell: I would only add that greater separation of powers—that is, excluding Ministers from the legislature—doesn't necessarily strengthen the legislature. In those European countries where they adopt that practice—the best known is France—the 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 forums—when you're waiting to vote in the Division Lobby and such things—can 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.

Peter Riddell: 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.

Peter Riddell: 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 both.

Professor Hazell: 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 change—some go, some are increased—but 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 patronage.

Q128 Lindsay Roy: Are there any other criteria you would use in determining the number of Ministers?

Peter Riddell: 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 Ireland—it was more staggered—suddenly 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.

Peter Riddell: 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 you view?

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 workload—how 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 day—that's it, not taking them—and 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 abilities—how 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.

Peter Riddell: 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 culture—it 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 thing.

Professor Hazell: 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 not—like meeting so many delegations from interest groups and trade bodies and the like, or going to conferences to give speeches—those 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.

Professor Hazell: 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.

Professor Hazell: 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 that decision.

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 have—what 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 success—this is how Members tend to see it as well—is 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 here—it tends to be a feature I've noticed of Members and therefore perhaps it percolates up to Ministers—of not being very good at saying no.

Mr Walker: We aren't either.

Peter Riddell: 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 devolution—Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales—yet 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.

Peter Riddell: 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, Professor Hazell?

Professor Hazell: 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?

Professor Hazell: 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.

Professor Hazell: 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?

Professor Hazell: 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.

Professor Hazell: 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 I thought.

Chair: Mr Mulholland, do you want to make a comment?

Greg Mulholland: You're absolutely right.

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 delegation occurs?

Peter Riddell: Absolutely.

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?

Peter Riddell: 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 Ministers?

Professor Hazell: Absolutely.

Peter Riddell: Absolutely.

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?

Professor Hazell: 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.

Peter Riddell: 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 numbers—for 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 existing payroll.

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.

Peter Riddell: 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 whip—where does the evidence come from that Whips are underemployed and could be used in this new role?

Peter Riddell: I am not saying they are underemployed.

David Heyes: My Whip always seems to be particularly busy.

Peter Riddell: 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 different way.

Q146 David Heyes: What, by taking jobs away in this coalition from Conservative junior Ministers?

Peter Riddell: 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 saying?

Peter Riddell: No, I am saying it is harder to reduce when you have a coalition. Actually, the—

Q151 Chair: But that is just about the Coalition needing to spread out the spoils of office among two groups instead of one.

Peter Riddell: 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.

Peter Riddell: 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 right—there 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 Departments.

Professor Hazell: 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 consultation—for example, by having slightly more special advisers.

Peter Riddell: 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 add ups.

Peter Riddell: Yes.

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 know.

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?

Professor Hazell: 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 up—Parliamentary 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.

Peter Riddell: 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 roles—the 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?

Peter Riddell: 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 of State.

Lord Norton: In so far as you actually need that. I think a lot of what the PPSs do could be dispensed with anyway.

Professor Hazell: 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 Front Bench.

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 times?

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 Crossman—sort 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.

Peter Riddell: Can I just give an example?

Chair: Very briefly

Peter Riddell: 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 earlier—the 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 outside—they 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.

Professor Hazell: 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?

Professor Hazell: Indeed.

Peter Riddell: 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 to appoint.

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 the decisions.

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 Members.

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?

Peter Riddell: 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 thing—largely ephemeral in many cases. The advantage of appointing someone as a Minister is the accountability. That is crucial.

Professor Hazell: 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.

Professor Hazell: 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?

Peter Riddell: 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?

Peter Riddell: 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 provision—in other words, giving the Secretary of State power to amend primary legislation through secondary legislation by order.

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 saying—the 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 debate—no 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 year.

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?

Peter Riddell: No.

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 interested—on the Constitution Committee we looked at the regulatory stage and regulatory bodies—the 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 up.

Peter Riddell: 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 appointment—it goes back to the hearing you had last week with Sir David Normington, because he is now doing this merged post, as you explored—I 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?

Peter Riddell: 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 Professor—I forget his name—

Chair: Flinders.

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.

Peter Riddell: 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?

Professor Hazell: Not necessarily, no. I think every Government rediscovers the reasons for having arm's length bodies. Those are independence, expertise, a greater commitment—including ability to commit time on the part of the board members compared with the Minister—and 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 one—I am building on Peter's point about the sameness of the people appointed to quangos—is that many of them hold multiple quango posts.

Chair: Quangocrats

Professor Hazell: Yes.

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 quangos—that people could be elected to quangos?

Peter Riddell: 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 do—largely advisory committees—or 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 proposal—not in relation to particular regulators, because they are answerable to the respective Select Committee—to 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 probably us.

Professor Hazell: 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 elections—only 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?

Peter Riddell: 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 stands?

Peter Riddell: 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 public money?

Professor Hazell: 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, Chairman.

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.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 10 March 2011