1 Introduction |
1. In a speech during the election campaign David
Cameron said that "there's something else the British
public wants us to do, and that is to cut the cost of politics.
Everyone is having to do more for less." Therefore, was
it not time "politicians and ministers did a bit more
for a bit less?" 
2. Certainly one of the Coalition Government's main
aims has been to combat the UK's deficit by making significant
reductions in the cost of government. As a result the public sector
is being asked to find new, innovative ways of working to continue
to deliver high quality services with fewer resources and fewer
people. Government ministers should not be exempt from having
to re-evaluate how they work and what they do. This Report attempts
to address this issue by examining what the purpose of ministers
is, what they do, and how they could be better utilised. Our intention
is to see whether it would be possible for government to function
properly, or even more efficiently, with fewer ministers.
3. Since the election there have been a number of
developments which have impacted on ministers and their relationship
with Parliament. The Government's proposals to reduce the number
of MPs without a corresponding reduction in ministerial numbers
will increase the size of the payroll vote - the number of MPs
who hold a government job and are therefore required to vote with
the Government or resign - strengthening the Executive at the
expense of the legislature. The Government's intention to promote
the Big Society and respond to the post-bureaucratic age by devolving
responsibility for swathes of public services to the local level
and enhancing local accountability, raises questions about the
role of a minister in a more decentralised state. There are already
more ministers, including those serving in devolved assemblies,
than there were before devolution.
Finally, the existence of a coalition has implications for the
way that ministers conduct their duties. The Government has already
recognised some of these developments and has said that it is
likely they will reduce ministerial numbers "at some point
in the future".
4. This is not the first time the Public Administration
Select Committee has examined this issue. In its inquiry Too
our Committee in the previous Parliament found that the UK
Government was an international outlier when it came to ministerial
numbers; employing more ministers than India, Canada and South
Africa. More recent research by the Constitution Unit has shown
that the House of Commons has more ministers than many Western
European countries, including France, Italy, Spain and Germany.
In addition, the ratio of ministers to members of the legislature
in the House of Commons is 1:8, compared to 1:14 in Spain and
Germany, 1:16 in Italy and 1:29 in France.
Our predecessor's Report also found that the total number of government
ministers has grown steadily since 1900, with the rate of increase
particularly marked for ministers below Cabinet level.
This reflects successive prime ministers' understandable desire
to exercise patronage over those who determine whether the Government's
legislation is approved.
5. The Report concluded that this trend had several
detrimental effects; placing a burden on the public purse and
harming the interests of good government due to too many ministers
clogging up decision making processes and blurring lines of responsibility.
Most significantly, it concluded that increasing the number of
ministers was corrosive to the independence of the legislature,
by increasing the size of the 'payroll vote'.
This Report will not rehearse these arguments in favour of fewer
ministers. Instead, it attempts to advance the debate by examining
whether revising the role of ministers could provide a way to
reduce their numbers.
6. We received evidence from seven organisations
and individuals over the course of this inquiry. We also held
three evidence sessions with academics, former civil servants,
former special advisers and both current and former ministers.
We would like to thank all those who contributed to our inquiry,
especially our three Specialist Advisers who joined the inquiry
at a late stage to support us with their specialist knowledge.
1 David Cameron: Change our political system to put
people back in control, 21 April 2010 Back
There are currently 18 ministers in the Scottish Executive, 10
in the Welsh Assembly Government and 14 in the Northern Ireland
Assembly in addition to the 6 ministers representing the devolved
administrations at Westminster. This compared to 11 ministers
in total before devolution. Back
HC Deb, 25 October 2010, col 132 Back
Public Administration Select Committee, Ninth Report of Session
2009-10, Too Many Ministers?, HC 457 Back
Ev 60 Back
Public Administration Select Committee, Too Many Ministers?,
para 3 Back
Ibid. paras 10-21 Back
Professor Lord Norton of Louth, Rt Hon Peter Riddell and Professor
Robert Hazell acted as unpaid Specialist Advisers to the Committee
during this inquiry. They were appointed to the Committee on 1
February 2011 and their declarations of interests can be found
in the formal minutes for that meeting. Back