1 Introduction |
Background to the inquiry
1. Reshuffles are accepted as part of political life
in the United Kingdom, but in other contexts, and particularly
in the world of business, regularly moving groups of key people
to new posts would be regarded as extraordinary. Steve Richards,
chief political commentator at The Independent,
stated: "I cannot think of any other area where you would
have a Transport Secretary every six months. Virgin Trains does
not get rid of its chief executive every six months, for instance."
There were six Secretaries of State for Transport between 2001
and 2010, and there have already been three Secretaries of State
for Transport since the 2010 general election. Of the nine post-holders
over the past 12 years, four were in post for less than a year.
The Rt Hon Charles Clarke told us that when Tony Blair was Prime
Minister he "reshuffled Transport almost incessantly".
By contrast, between 2001 and 2013, there have been only two
chief executives of Virgin Trains.
2. The Department for Transport has seen a particularly
high number of ministerial moves, but other Departments have also
been subject to frequent changes. In May 2011, the Institute
for Government published a report that noted that, while some
posts, such as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary,
tended to be relatively stable, "during the 13 Labour years
in office, there were six defence secretaries, eight trade and
industry secretaries, eight business secretaries, and six home
secretaries (including three in four years)."
A briefing paper by the think-tank Demos, published in June 2009,
stated that since 2005 the average tenure for a Minister had been
3. Reshuffles are not uncommon in political life
in other European and Commonwealth countries, but in some of these
countries they take place significantly less frequently than in
the UK. For example, Germany had only six mid-term reshuffles
between 1949 and 2006.
The Rt Hon Peter Riddell, Director of the Institute for Government,
told us that Germany had had 15 business Ministers since 1949,
whereas the UK had had 35.
He stated that when the Institute for Government wanted to discuss
reshuffles with a visiting delegation from Germany, they found
it "very difficult to get the concept over to them"
because the German delegation simply "did not understand
what on earth we were talking about." 
4. Comparisons such as those outlined above encouraged
us to explore why reshuffles are used in UK politics, their impact
and whether there are any ways in which the reshuffle process
could be improved. We launched our inquiry on 18 May 2012 with
a call for written evidence. The inquiry's terms of reference
can be found in Annex A. We held seven oral evidence sessions
with witnesses including former Secretaries of State and former
and current senior civil servants. We also received written evidence
from a former Prime Minster: the Rt Hon Sir John Major. We are
grateful to all who contributed to the inquiry.
Background on reshuffles
5. The power to appoint and dismiss Ministers, and
to move existing Ministers to new posts, is a prerogative power
exercised by the Prime Minister. We are exploring prerogative
powers as part of our inquiry into the role and powers of the
6. There are some legislative constraints on the
appointment of Ministers. The maximum numbers of paid ministerial
posts is laid down in schedule 1 of the Ministerial and Other
Salaries Act 1975 and is 109. In addition, section 2 of the House
of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 provides that not more than
95 holders of ministerial posts may sit and vote in the House
of Commons at any one time. In this case, the limit applies regardless
of whether the posts are paid. There is also a statutory definition,
under section 8 of the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975, of what
constitutes a Minister: "the holder of an office in Her Majesty's
Government in the United Kingdom, [including] the Treasury, the
Board of Trade and the Defence Council."
7. There are no restrictions on how often ministerial
reshuffles can take place. Nor is there established guidance
on how and when they are best undertaken. The Cabinet Manual
is largely silent on the subject of reshuffles, stating only:
The Prime Minister has certain prerogatives,
for example recommending the appointment of ministers and determining
the membership of Cabinet and Cabinet committees. However, in
some circumstances the Prime Minister may agree to consult others
before exercising those prerogatives. The Ministerial Code
states: 'the Prime Minister is responsible for the overall organisation
of the Executive and the allocation of functions between Ministers
in charge of departments.'
8. Reshuffles under the Coalition Government are
constrained by the terms of The Coalition Agreement for Stability
and Reform, published in May 2010. Under this arrangement,
the Prime Minister agreed that a number of prerogative powers,
including the appointment of Ministers, would be exercised only
after consultation with the Deputy Prime Minister. The Institute
for Government commented on the "new rules of the game"
for coalition reshuffles, as set out in the Coalition Agreement,
in its paper "Shuffling the pack":
First, the balance of ministers between[the]
two parties must remain 'approximately in proportion to the size
of the two parliamentary parties.' Second, it [the Coalition Agreement]
is explicit that it is the DPM who nominates Lib Dem ministers.
Third, the DPM is entitled to 'full consultation' over any dismissals
of Lib Dem ministers and any further appointments to cabinet.
And fourth, any reallocation of portfolios between the two parties
must be agreed between the two party leaders.
9. Coalition government undoubtedly makes reshuffles
more difficult, which is one reason why Germany has far fewer
of them than the UK. Since the 2010 general election, there has
been only one major reshuffle in the UK, which took place on 4
September 2012, approximately mid-way through the Parliament.
Seven members of the Cabinet were moved to new Cabinet posts
and there were five new appointments to the Cabinet. There were
also a series of moves among non-Cabinet Ministers.
10. The fact that there has been only one major reshuffle
since 2010 can be attributed not only to the constraints of coalition
government, but to the Prime Minister's own determination to keep
the number of reshuffles to a minimum. He has made his views
on the subject clear. In an interview with The Sun, at
the end of his first year as Prime Minister, David Cameron commented:
"I'm not a great believer in endlessly moving people between
We had 12 energy ministers in nine years.
And the tourism minister changed more often than people got off
planes at Heathrow. It was hopeless. I think you've got to try
to appoint good people and keep them".
Reasons for reshuffles
11. Reshuffles take place for a variety of reasons,
some of which are inescapable. Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet
Secretary, commented: "some reshuffles are prompted by an
accident or an emergency or a sudden resignation, so to some extent
it is inevitable."
Reshuffles prompted by death, illness and resignations will always
be part of political life.
12. It might be thought that one other major reason
for reshuffles would be the desire to change Government policy,
but our witnesses were unanimous in believing that reshuffles
were rarely motivated by policy changes. Lord Turnbull, the former
Cabinet Secretary, commented:
In the last reshuffle, the Prime Minister, aided
by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was trying to make a statement
about green policy and renewables coming a bit lower down in the
priority and more about the development of infrastructure and
more about a more business-friendly energy policy. But in general
I do not think policy is the main thing...
Akash Paun, Senior Researcher at the Institute for
Government, commented: "the reshuffles that actually make
a big difference to policy direction are very much the exception."
13. Far more significant, in terms of the reasons
for reshuffles, is what Peter Riddell broadly termed "party
The Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw MP commented:
The main reason for reshuffles is to allow Prime
Ministers to try to ensure they have the best possible team of
ministers. Ideally, they should be about rewarding ability and
performance. In reality other factors come into play such as
the need to balance governments politically and give 'big beasts'
jobs. Reshuffles allow Prime Ministers to: test and bring on
young talent by giving them experience in different departments;
resolve problems when ministers get into difficulty and are forced
to resign or are sacked; refresh governments or departments that
appear tired or underperforming; reward loyalty.
He also noted that the reasons for reshuffles can
differ according to the lifecycle of a Government, commenting
that in the early years of a Government, reshuffles could take
place because "people who perform well as shadow ministers
in opposition may not necessarily do so in government so it may
take several reshuffles once in government for a PM to have the
most effective team and the team he or she really wants."
14. The former Prime Minister, Sir John Major, told
There were a number of objectives in any reshuffle.
The first was to promote able Members to replace Ministers who
were under performing. I was also keen to bring a regional and
political balance to the Government, in order to fairly reflect
opinion within Parliament. A third objective was to bring on
young Members, and give them a breadth of experience, if I judged
that they were likely to make it to the Cabinet.
He added that, as he looked back, he realised "this
may not always have been the right decision in the interests of
good management of a portfolio and the best service by Ministers
to the public." He commented: "Few Members reach Cabinet,
and I should, perhaps, have given greater priority to matching
abilities and portfolios."
15. We were told that another significant reason
why reshuffles take place is habit. Lord Turnbull, talking about
the most recent reshuffle, told us:
It is just assumed that after about two years
there should be one. When President Obama appointed his team
when he was first elected, he appointed Hilary Clinton as the
Secretary of State. I do not think there was any assumption that
Hilary Clinton would do anything other than serve the term, and
Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary likewise, whereas here it is
just assumed that governments need to be refreshed.
16. As part of our inquiry, we explored the extent
to which the media encourage the expectation that there will be
regular reshuffles. Professor Keith Dowding, of the Australian
National University, Canberra, commented: "It has been suggested
that media speculation has caused the timing of if not a reshuffle
itself. We might bemoan this aspect but there is no clear way
of overcoming such pressures."
Peter Riddell told us the media were "part of it in the
sense of being part of the gossip mechanism", but stated
that he did not think that Prime Ministers were particularly influenced
by media speculation.
Sir Bob Kerslake, the Head of the Civil Service, also stated
that he did not think that reshuffles were driven by the media.
We received no evidence to suggest that media speculation about
reshuffles had an impact on who was moved where. Media speculation
clearly does play some part in creating an expectation that there
will be a reshuffle, although this speculation is both a cause
and a symptom of the wider acceptance that reshuffles are a regular
part of political life in the UK. We consider the impact of media
speculation about reshuffles on Ministers themselves in chapter
17. Sir John Major told us: "Reshuffles should
be driven by necessity, not by public or political pressure."
We agree. Some reshuffling of Ministers is inevitable: there
will always be occasional resignations, illnesses and even deaths.
However, there should always be a good reason for a reshuffle.
No reshuffle should ever take place simply because it is assumed
that there should be one. Reshuffles have become a habit in the
UK and altering this will require a change of mindset.
18. We commend the Prime Minister for the restraint
he has shown in reshuffling Ministers and urge his successors
to follow his example in this regard.
1 Q 322 Back
Q 184 Back
Chris Green, 1999 to 2004, and Tony Collins, 2004 to present Back
Institute for Government, "The Challenge of Being a Minister",
May 2011, p 20 Back
Demos ,"The 'culture of churn' for UK Ministers and the price
we all pay", 12 June 2009 Back
"The Challenge of Being a Minister", p 42 Back
Q 8 Back
Q 7 Back
Cabinet Office, The Cabinet Manual, October 2011, paragraph
Institute for Government, "Shuffling the pack: A brief guide
to government reshuffles", September 2012, p 7 Back
"PM's 1yr vow: I'll get Britain back on track", The
Sun, 10 May 2011 Back
Q 235 Back
Q 126 Back
Q 12 Back
Q 12 Back
Ev w4 Back
Ev w5 Back
Ev w12 Back
Ev w12 Back
Q 127 Back
Ev w7 Back
Q 34 Back
Q 92 Back
Ev w12 Back