6 Payroll Vote - Alternative Solutions |
104. Our inquiry was motivated by the impact that
the number of the ministers has on the independence of Parliament.
These concerns have been magnified by the fact that the number
of MPs is being cut from 650 to 600 with no corresponding reduction
in the number of ministers in the House of Commons. This will
result in the Government directly controlling a higher proportion
of votes in the House. As we noted in the last chapter, the obvious
solution is to reduce the total number of ministers. However,
there are other ways of addressing the problem: appointing ministers
to the Lords rather than the Commons; reducing the number ofand
making greater use of the remainingnon-ministers who make
up the payroll vote.
Using the Whips
105. The number of ministers could be reduced by
redistributing some ministerial functions to the Whips in the
House of Commons.
106. Lord Rooker suggested that greater use be made
of Whips to respond to some Westminster Hall debates and some
adjournment debates in the Main Chamber. The use of Whips for
such functions is already common in the Lords. Whips in the Lords
regularly answer Questions at the Despatch Box and also share
the task, and on occasion shoulder the primary task, of taking
a Bill through the House. In the current session, for example,
the lead member of the Government on the Public Bodies Bill, a
major Government measure, is Lord Taylor of Holbeach, a Whip.
There have also been two recent occasions when Whips have stood
in for Ministers in the Commons. On Friday 3 December 2010 James
Duddridge MP, a Whip, responded to a debate on the Turks and Caicos
Islands because the Minister was unable to attend and during the
2010 Christmas Adjournment Robert Goodwill MP, also a Whip, responded
to the Treasury debates.
107. While it might seem less than desirable to have
a minister (Whips are ministers) who is not directly responsible
for the relevant policy take a debate, this already occurs on
occasions. On 12 January 2011 Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society,
responding to a debate on Government IT procurement, described
himself as a "fish out of water."
More generally, adjournment debates often raise specific
and detailed constituency matters, which it would be unrealistic
for a minister to have encyclopaedic knowledge of before the debate.
Any minister can quickly learn whether their pre-prepared brief
meets the concerns being raised, or if it requires re-evaluation.
The purpose of adjournment debates is generally for Members to
communicate their concerns to the Government and ask for action
to be taken. Whips seem well placed to perform this function as
they already have a role to play in keeping Ministers informed
on the views and mood of the House, and a Whip is normally present
in any case to move the motion for an adjournment.
108. There is
scope for greater use to be made of Whips in the performance of
some Parliamentary duties, such as responding to adjournment debates.
This would be a better use of resources and provide scope for
ministers to focus on their other tasks.
Ministers outside the Commons
109. The Executive's power of patronage in the House
of Commons could be reduced by appointing more ministers from
outside; either by creating more Lords ministers or by appointing
ministers who were not Members of either House.
MINISTERS IN THE LORDS
110. In the Lords, the number of ministers tends
to be small both relative to ministers in the Commons and to the
size of the Upper House. Given the almost complete absence of
Parliamentary Private Secretaries in the Lords, the size of the
so-called payroll vote is not a concern. The Government could
either appoint existing peers or, following more recent trends,
create a peer in order to allow a person to take up ministerial
office. Appointing peers as ministers has its advantages. It widens
the pool of talent from which ministerial appointments can be
made. Peers are also undistracted by constituency duties.
111. Concerns are often been expressed about how
to make these ministers accountable to the elected House of Commons.
However, the Ministerial Code states that Secretaries of State
are accountable to Parliament, not specifically the House of Commons.
Furthermore, new means by which ministers in the Lords can be
directly answerable to the House of Commons are already being
discussed. In the last Parliament, the Procedure Committee looked
at the possibility of having Lords Ministers answer questions
in Westminster Hall. They suggested that this be trialled on an
experimental basis at the start of this Parliament.
If successful, consideration could also be given to having Lords
Ministers answer Westminster Hall debates on a more regular basis.
This would have the additional benefit of sharing a wider range
of parliamentary duties across all government ministers.
112. It is important
that ministers who are not Members of the elected House can be
answerable to the Commons. This would allay any concerns that
Secretaries of State who have been appointed from the House of
Lords can avoid legitimate scrutiny by the elected Chamber. We
believe that the pilot of having Lords ministers answer questions
in Westminster Hall, as previously recommended by the Procedure
Committee, should be conducted as soon as possible. While there
is no urgency, as no Secretary of State currently sits in the
Lords, this provides an opportunity to try out new arrangements
in a less politically charged environment.
113. As PASC in the previous Parliament noted an
increased use of the ministers in the Lords should not be considered
in isolation from wider constitutional developments.
So far the Government is yet to come forward with its proposals
to reform the House of Lords which may well involve some element
of electing its membership. If this is done it is likely to change
the status of Lords ministers as, like their Commons counterparts,
they will have democratic legitimacy. This may lead to calls to
develop a mechanism of accountability that enables elected representatives
to hold all Government ministers to account, regardless of what
chamber they sit in. We cannot anticipate how elected members
of a second Chamber would react to such a proposal, given that
ministers in the Second Chamber would enjoy as much electoral
legitimacy as their counterparts in the Commons.
114. The issue
of Lords ministers cannot be considered without acknowledging
the likelihood of future reforms. If the Government proposes,
and Parliament agrees, to create a wholly or partially elected
Upper House it will have to think both about how it distributes
its ministers between its two Chambers, and how democratically
elected representatives can hold ministers to account, regardless
of which Chamber they were elected to. We encourage the Government
to consider all these issues as it develops its policy on Lords
MINISTERS FROM OUTSIDE PARLIAMENT
115. PASC in the previous Parliament looked at the
issue of appointing people as ministers who were not Members of
either of the Houses of Parliament in its Report "Goats
and Tsars". It found that this solution is not without
precedent: the posts of Lord Advocate and Solicitor General for
Scotland have, at times, been held by non-parliamentarians. Similarly,
in times of war people from outside Parliament have been appointed
to ministerial posts.
116. A number of witnesses to that inquiry supported
the idea of appointing a small number of junior ministers who
were members of neither House. They saw the key issue as being
how they were made accountable to the House of Commons. This was
a point made by the Regulatory Policy Institute:
Citizens do not vote for Ministers. While electors
can collectively dismiss a constituency MP because of poor performance
as a Minister, they are formally asked to vote only for a representative
for that constituency. They have no say in the appointment or
removal of Ministers (whether drawn from the Commons or Lords)
once a government is formed.
While currently the majority of Ministers are elected,
the primary mechanism for holding ministers to account stems not
from the fact that they themselves are elected; but that they
are accountable to a House that consists of elected Members. Therefore,
in principle, ensuring proper accountability of unelected Ministers
does not pose a greater challenge than the accountability of current
Lords ministers, who are also not elected or accountable to an
elected Chamber. Our predecessor Committee recommended that this
was an idea "worthy of further consideration",
but that it should be considered as part of the wider discussion
about House of Lords reform.
Parliamentary Private Secretaries
117. Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs) are
unpaid assistants to ministers. Over time, they have increased
in number and they have also become embedded as part of the payroll
vote: though not
receiving a salary as PPSs, they are expected to support the Government
during votes or resign their position. Every Cabinet Minister
and Minister of State in the Government is allowed to have a PPS,
subject to the Prime Minister's approval. There are currently
46 PPSs. Although
PPSs hold no official government position and draw no salary their
role is considered a first stepping stone on the ministerial ladder
and the experience gained can ensure they are better equipped
for promotion if it comes. The Ministerial Code states categorically:
Parliamentary Private Secretaries are expected to
support the Government in important divisions in the House. No
Parliamentary Private Secretary who votes against the Government
can retain his or her position.
As Lord Norton said PPSs 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."
118. The functions of this unofficial role are not
clearly defined. However, it is not evident to us what value so
many PPS posts adds to the business of government. One visible
task is passing notes to ministers from their civil servants in
debates; a job that could be done either by any available Member
in the Chamber or by doorkeepers, as is done in Lords.
119. We asked current ministers how useful they found
their PPSs. While neither of the ministers that appeared before
us are eligible for a PPS, Norman Baker commented on how useful
he had found the two PPSs that were assigned to the Department
We have two PPSs now, but the lead has been with
us for some time, and his role is brilliantly important because
he comes to us with the backbenchers' views.
Nevertheless, he agreed that there was an issue "as
to whether we [the Government] need as many PPSs as we have."
120. As Professor Hazell observed many of the functions
performed by PPSs could be done by 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.
121. Another argument that is often given for the
existence of PPSs is that they act as the "first rung
on the ministerial ladder" and provide a form of political
apprenticeship. Lord Norton was not convinced by this argument:
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.
122. When he gave evidence to PASC in the last Parliament
Sir John Major described the size of the payroll vote as a "constitutional
His view was that only Cabinet Ministers should be entitled to
PPSs. This was also the suggestion made by Lord Norton
and others who suggested setting a limit of "one PPS per
Department under the control of the Secretary of State."
He argued that doing so would make the post more meaningful than
the current arrangement.
123. Reducing the number of PPSs has a notable benefit
in terms not only of the relationship between the House of Commons
and that part of it which forms the Government strengthening
the House in being able to call government to accountbut
also in terms of the efficiency of government. The growth in the
number of PPSs has diluted the impact and status of the individual
PPSs and is a further antithesis of "strengthening Parliament"
which is the Governments stated objective. When there were relatively
few PPSs, with each serving as an assistant (sometimes a recognised
close confidant) of a Cabinet minister, they had much higher profile
than they presently enjoy. They could be invited in place of their
minister to deliver a speech or attend a particular ceremony.
Reducing the number of PPSs may have the effect of enhancing their
status, enabling them to shoulder some of the burdens presently
carried out by junior ministers.
124. Reducing the number of ministers will in itself
have a consequence for the number of PPSs, since it will be reducing
the number of people eligible to have PPSs. However, we believe
it is important to go further and limit the number of PPSs, thus
reverting to the status previously held by the occupants of such
posts and also again making it more of a recognisable route to
125. We do not
believe that the Government needs as many PPSs as it currently
has. They perform few functions of real value; the few they do
could easily be performed by others, notably the Whips. We recommend
that only Secretaries of State should be allowed to appoint Parliamentary
Private Secretaries and that the Ministerial Code be amended to
limit PPSs to one for each department.
132 HC Deb, 3 December 2010, cols 1167-1171 and 21
December 2010, cols 1167-1378. Back
"Government IT debate run by 'fish out of water'", PC
Pro, 14 January 2011, pcpro.co.uk/news Back
Procedure Committee, Third Report of Session 2009-10 Accountability
to the House of Commons of Secretaries of State in the House of
Lords, HC 496 Back
Public Administration Select Committee, Goats and Tsars,
Public Administration Select Committee, Goats and Tsars,
paras 87-88 Back
Ev w1 [Note; references to 'Ev wXX' are references to written
evidence published in the volume of additional written evidence
published on the Committee's website] Back
Public Administration Select Committee, Goats and Tsars,
paras 90-91 Back
See Philip Norton, 'The Constitutional Position of Parliamentary
Private Secretaries', Public Law, Summer 1989, pp 232-6. Back
"Government publishes list of Parliamentary Private Secretaries",
The official site of the Prime Minister's Office, 17 November
2010, number10.gov.uk Back
Ministerial Code, para 3.9 Back
Q 116 Back
Q 246 Back
Q 244 Back
Q 156 [Professor Hazell] Back
Q 158 [Lord Norton] Back
Public Administration Select Committee, Goats and Tsars, Q 155 Back
Q 114, Qq 32 & 40 Back