In a report released today, Monday 31 October, the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) rejects the government's refusal to bring forward the proposal to reduce the number of ministers in the Commons in line with the proposed reduction of MPs, saying that the creation of so many ministerial posts has been "patronage-driven" rather than reflecting needs.
The committee is also disappointed that the government is refusing to modernise the doctrine of ministerial accountability to reflect its policies of localism and decentralisation.
In its initial report PASC urged three steps on the Government to reduce the power of patronage:
- The current legal cap on the number of paid ministers should set the absolute limit
- The legal limit on the number of ministers in the Commons should be cut by eight, in line with the reduction in the number of MPs just enacted
- The number of PPSs should be limited to one per department - a reduction of 26
Read the initial report.
PASC found that the Government's ambition to decentralise power away from Whitehall should give ample scope by the middle of the current Parliament to reduce the number of ministers. The committee recommended a review of ministerial numbers to reflect the smaller government central to the Prime Minister’s vision of a Big Society. It repeats that recommendation in this report.
PASC also found that Ministers' time was not always well spent, and identified a number of ways in which the Government could refocus the work of Ministers and make them more effective. The committee believes it should ultimately be possible to cut the number of ministers to a total of 80, shared between the Commons and the Lords.
Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
"The government say they are keeping ministerial numbers "under review" but that is political code for their refusal to engage with the committee on this recommendation. There are more unpaid ministers in this government than ever – described to us by one eminent witness, Peter Riddell, as "an abuse". There are also therefore more ministers in the Commons than ever. There are more PPSs than we consider necessary. This is more about exercising patronage over MPs, and thus being able to influence debates and votes, than it is about efficiency and accountability.
If the government feels they need so many ministers to control the apparatus of government, that is because there is no strategic plan for civil service reform, which would make the Whitehall command chain much more responsive to ministers. No number of ministers is substitute for effective leadership in Whitehall Departments, as we set out in our recent report Change In Government: The Agenda For Leadership."
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