Written evidence submitted by Matthew
Flinders, Professor of Parliamentary Government & Governance,
University of Sheffield and Anika Gauja, Lecturer in Politics,
University of Sydney
1. Although the exact meaning of terms such as
the "post-bureaucratic state", "smaller government"
and the "smarter state" remain opaque there is little
doubt that the global financial crisis and a number of other socio-political
challenges will require some reformulation of the manner in
which the British Government is composed.
2. In this regard the global financial crisis
presents an opportunity to reflect on the composition of
the executive and its relationship with the legislature that should
not be wasted. The growth in the number and distribution of ministerial
positions (including the appointment of backbenchers as parliamentary
private secretaries) reflects a surge in patronage that was concerned
more with effective intra-party management than good government.
3. What do ministers do? Ministers oversee and
direct the administration of the state. They are selected to make
policy and oversee its successful implication. They are not appointed
to play a detailed role in the administration of the state - they
are required to steer but not row.
4. The benefit of having ministers that are not
drawn from the House of Commons is that they are free from
the obligations of constituency duties and may bring expertise
and experience that is not available within the ranks of full-time
party political politicians. They may therefore possess a degree
of independence that in some circumstances allows them to remain
focused on the broader "public interest" and not become
entangled in partisan or constituency plea bargaining.
5. The benefit of having ministers that are drawn
from the House of Commons is that they offer a direct
relationship and chain of accountability with the public. The
constituency link may ensure that they are closely attuned to
public opinion. Party political relationships, structures and
loyalties also serve to ensure that ministers generally know each
other and will meet in a number of formal and informal arenas.
6. Although it is probably in the interests of
democratic legitimacy and clarity to have the greater number of
ministers drawn from the House of Commons the burdens of constituency
work plus the expertise, experience and independence offered by
member of the House of Lords might weigh in favor of having more
ministers drawn from the second chamber. This logic may increase
if Stage Two reform of the Lords results in a composition that
is interpreted as being more legitimate (but not necessarily elected).
7. There are too many ministers. Around
one third of all MPs will hold a ministerial appointment (or will
be a PPS) and will therefore follow the departmental line. The
scope of Prime Ministerial patronage is therefore very great and
the arguments regarding how this undermines the independence of
the House of Commons as a whole is voluminous. Chris Mullin's
memoirs A View from the Foothills serves to underline why
many ministerial posts are unnecessary.
8. The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies
Bill 2010 amends the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986
to set the size of the House of Commons at 600 Members. If this
occurs without a requisite reduction in the payroll vote the relative
power of the executive over the legislature will increase
rather than decrease. The statutory limits on the number of ministers
should be reduced, possibly to no more than 70-80 positions,
and only members of the Cabinet should be able to appoint a PPS.
This could be achieved through an immediate reduction in some
posts, notably those within the territorial departments, and a
planned gradual reduction over future parliaments.
9. There are three broader and inter-related
issues that the PASC might reflect upon during this inquiry: it
is not about the money; political recruitment; and career structures.
10. Although the global financial crisis has
focused attention on public sector spending and salaries, saving
money should be a secondary but not primary priority when
it comes to reducing either the number of MPs or ministers. The
savings accrued from reducing the number of MPs are negligible
when viewed against the broad financial situation and if "good
scrutiny makes for good government" then cutting back the
number of MPs may actually be economically inefficient in the
11. This inquiry must not allow a focus on the
number of ministers (i.e. quantity) to distract attention from
the more important issue of the caliber of ministers (i.e.
quality). This relates back to the issue of fiscal savings,
provides a link with the issue of political recruitment and raises
the basic issue of MPs' pay. Although it is undoubtedly unfashionable
to publicly admit this, the basic pay of an MP is arguably too
low. If high-quality individuals from all sections of the community
are to be given the opportunity and encouragement to enter political
life, and therefore become a candidate for a ministerial position,
then it is vital that the thorny issue of MPs' pay is addressed
sooner rather than later. Although statutory responsibility for
this issue will soon transfer to the Independent Parliamentary
Standards Authority it is vital that the House of Commons is a
little more brave on this issue than it has been in the past.
12. The issue of MPs' pay is inevitably entangled
with Prime Ministerial patronage and the fact that being a minister
brings with it an additional salary. The lack of an alternative
career structure within the House of Commons has for decades
explained the executive's de facto control of the legislature
(in all but the most extreme circumstances). One way of making
the backbenches a more fertile training ground for potential ministers,
of off-setting the impact of a reduction in ministerial posts,
of encouraging former ministers to accept positions on scrutiny
committees and generally establishing a more mature and balanced
constitutional relationship between the executive and legislature
would be to increase significantly the additional payments
that select committee chairmen receive.