4 Ministers in a Coalition |
80. The IfG's report on coalition government, United
We Stand?, argues that junior ministers in departments where
the Secretary of State is from a different party are facing an
increased workload. This is because they act as "watchdog
ministers", ensuring that the department's policies are
acceptable to the coalition partner. Thus, it is argued, coalition
governments mitigated against fewer ministers.
81. The report argues that "such ministers
carry a heavy burden in providing a Liberal Democrat voice across
the full range of departmental business, as well as leading on
their own specific area of responsibility." It continues
"Insiders confirm that Liberal Democrat ministers are
facing greater pressures on their time as a result, but their
more junior status entitles them to less support than that provided
to secretaries of state."
These arguments seem equally applicable to departments where the
Secretary of State is a Liberal Democrat and the junior ministers
are Conservatives. This is a view that was echoed by Rt Hon Peter
Riddell who stated that "Coalition governments tend to
require more junior ministers".
82. The report concluded that these junior ministers
should be provided with more support both at an official level,
but also in the form of special advisers to help with tasks that
officials are not able to conduct. The report also recommended
that additional Liberal Democrat ministers should be appointed
in departments that currently have no Liberal Democrat representation.
Currently Defra, DfID and DCMS as well as the Wales and Northern
Ireland Offices have no Liberal Democrat minister.
83. Not all witnesses were convinced that it was
necessary to have a Liberal Democrat in every department. Lord
Norton noted that studies of coalitions had found that the stability
of a coalition government was greatest when the proportion of
ministers from each party reflect their strength in the legislature.
He also thought that the fact there was not a Liberal Democrat
in every Department would encourage greater inter-departmental
84. We asked Norman Baker MP, the Liberal Democrat
Minister in the Department for Transport, if he recognised the
IfG's description of watchdog ministers. He said that he found
this account "a bit patronising to Lib Dems to say that
is what our role is. Our role in government departments is to
behave as ministers do."
However, he went on to acknowledge that there did need to be a
mechanism to ensure that the Coalition agreement was adhered to.
Clearly, there is a need to ensure that the Coalition
agreement is not being broken, but the Secretary of State has
said to me that he has been given the duty by the Prime Minister
of making sure the Coalition agreement is delivered as far as
the Department for Transport is concerned, and that's what he
He also thought that the coalition set-up led to
a more detailed consideration of new policies because "both
parties have to be happy with an issue", and thought
that this kind of more detailed process for developing policy
would be a good way to proceed even if the governing parties were
not in a coalition.
85. The need to reconcile different viewpoints within
Governments is not a challenge unique to the Coalition. There
have often been conflicting ideas within Government, both from
different departmental interests and different wings inside a
single party just as the Coalition combines parliamentary parties.
The mechanisms of Cabinet Government that already exist are designed
to work through these differences when deciding Government policy,
and they should be sufficient to deal with any challenges posed
by having two different parties share power. This was reflected
in Sir Gus O'Donnell's evidence when he said that the existence
of a Coalition had served to reinforce the mechanism of Cabinet
there have been a lot of Cabinet Committee meetings
taking place, and coalition forces that because it's the way ofthis
wordcoalitionising everything; to make sure it goes through
a Cabinet Committee. In a coalition, I would predict we will have
a lot more Cabinet Committee meetings.
A Coalition cabinet committee has been created to
"manage the business and priorities of the Government
and the implementation and operation of the Coalition agreement",
which is served by an informal Coalition Operation and Strategic
This demonstrates that mechanisms of cabinet government can be
adapted to meet the challenges posed by coalition government.
86. Sir Gus O'Donnell also highlighted that the Coalition
had not led to an end in intra-party disputes and that the mechanism
of Cabinet Government was being used to resolved policy disagreement,
whether they were between or within the two Coalition partners.
I think what we've found on a number of these committeesthe
Home Affairs Committee would be an exampleis that there
has been as much argument and challenge from members from within
the same party as there has between members of the different parties.
It's the process of coming to collective decision making.
are not persuaded by the argument that coalition government requires
additional members. All parties are coalitions of different viewpoints
so there will always be a need to reconcile different positions
within Government when formulating policy. The normal mechanisms
for cabinet government should be sufficient to deal with these
challenges. The existence of the Coalition should therefore not
provide any justification to increase ministerial numbers on the
grounds of increased workload.
88. Studies that
do argue that consultation and co-ordination between coalition
partners is more demanding than under single party governments
do not necessarily advocate an increase in the number of ministers.
A comparative study of coalition found that in several countries
that have experience of coalition Special Advisers and senior
civil servants play an important role in managing the coalition.
For example, in Scotland:
An important coordinating role is played by the small
team of political advisers working to the two leaders, whose number
was increased to facilitate coalition management.
While in New Zealand:
Much of the coordination is undertaken by the political
advisers attached to each minister. Advisers combine advice on
subject policy issues with wider coalition management.
One Special Adviser who was interviewed suggested
that 60% of his time was spent on the latter.
the countries studied by this report only Denmark didn't have
Special Advisers playing a role; instead senior civil servants
play some role in relation
to coalition management. With the report finding that "in
the absence of a cadre of political advisers, senior departmental
officials are also called on to provide more political advice
for ministers, a role that becomes more acute when the government
is a coalition or enjoys only minority status."
90. Even if
the Coalition does create additional work, this is not work that
would justify the appointment of additional ministers. As studies
of other countries with experience of coalitions has shown, Special
Advisers and senior civil servants can perfectly adequately perform
the consultation and co-ordination tasks created by a coalition.
106 Institute for Government, United We Stand?,
p 32 Back
Ev 56 Back
Q 143 [Lord Norton] Back
Q 236 Back
Q 222 Back
Q 239 Back
Evidence taken before the Public Administration Select Committee
on 28 October 2010, Session 2010-11, HC 555, Q 43 Back
"Cabinet Committee System", Cabinet Office, September
2010, cabinetoffice.gov.uk Back
HC 555, Q 47 Back
Ben Seyd, Coalition Government in Britain: Lessons from Abroad,
(Constitution Unit, January 2002) p 97 Back
Ibid. p 110 Back
Ibid. p 102-103 Back