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

7  Conclusion

126. At the start of this Report we recalled the Prime Ministerial view that the public sector should be expected 'to do more for less' in current straightened financial circumstances. The ministerial ranks should not be exempt— they need to find ways of doing more with less. Currently ministers spread themselves too thinly, spending time on activities where their involvement adds little value and fails to focus their efforts where they are really needed. We believe that Ministers need to prioritise their time better and focus only on those activities where their involvement is critical. Ministerial numbers should be reduced to force them to concentrate their attention where it will make the most difference—on an "insightfully limited selection of policies related to what matters most now, and in the future [...] and not to be distracted by the hubbub of other traffic that will come their way."[149]

127. Having too many ministers is bad not just for the quality of government, but also for the independence of the legislature. Currently 141 Members[150], approximately 22% of the House of Commons, hold some position in Government. This is deeply corrosive to the House of Commons primary role of acting as a check on the Executive. One simple step the Government could take immediately to limit this size of the payroll vote would be to limit the number of Parliamentary Private Secretaries to one per Secretary of State. If this was done it would result in 26 fewer Members being on the payroll vote.

128. In addition we believe there is clear scope for the Government to reduce the number of ministers. It should do so by taking the following three steps:

i.  Treating the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act (MOSA) as setting a strict limit on the number of ministers. The Government should not employ unpaid ministers if doing so would take over the MOSA limit;

ii.  Reduce the number of ministers in the House of Commons in line with the reduction in MPs. This should be legislated for now and take effect in 2015; and

iii.  Conduct a fundamental review, by midway through this Parliament, of the number of ministers required in the smaller government which the Coalition is seeking to create.

These changes would help the House of Commons regain a measure of independence from the Executive.

149   David Laughrin, "Swimming for Their Lives-Waving or Drowning? A Review of the Evidence of Ministerial Overload and of Potential Remedies for It", The Political Quarterly, vol 8 (No. 3 July-September 2009), pp 339-350 Back

150   95 MPs in Government posts see "Limitations on the number of Ministers and the size of the Payroll vote", House of Commons Library Standard Note SN/PC/03378, and 46 PPSs see "Government publishes list of Parliamentary Private Secretaries", The official site of the Prime Minister's Office, 17 November 2010, Back

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