Public Administration Select Committee: Press Notices

25 June 2009

PASC LAUNCHES INQUIRY INTO UNELECTED MINISTERS: "WIDENING THE POOL OF TALENT?"

The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) today launches a short inquiry into the ways in which the Government can bring outside experience and expertise into ministerial and other political office. The Committee will examine the role and accountability of ministers appointed from outside the Houses of Parliament and elevated to the House of Lords to fulfil their duties. The Committee's inquiry will also examine the effectiveness and accountability of advisers invited into government to lead its response on a specific issues€”so-called "tsars"€” and the implications of appointing increasing numbers of unpaid ministers.

Scope

PASC's inquiry will look at the role played by those who have been appointed to ministerial posts via elevation to the House of Lords and those appointed to senior advisory roles in government from outside the Houses of Parliament. It will examine:

€ The process by which such appointments are made;

€ Whether such appointments deliver benefits to government;

€ Whether ministers and advisers appointed in this way are sufficiently accountable;

€ The status of former ministers appointed in this way (particularly their continuing membership of the House of Lords);

€ The implications of outside appointments for the relationship between the executive and the legislature;

€ The advantages and disadvantages of appointing unpaid ministers; and

€ The case for and against appointing more people to government from outside Parliament.

Background

In recent years government has increasingly looked beyond the Houses of Parliament for people to take up ministerial posts and to advise it on specific policies. There have been a number of high-profile individuals appointed to the House of Lords to become government ministers. These have included Lord Ara Darzi, Lord Peter Mandelson, Lord Digby Jones and Lord Andrew Adonis. Government has also looked to appoint advisers on specific areas of policy, so-called "tsars", including Lord Alan Sugar, Lord John Birt, Louise Casey and Keith Hellawell.

Supporters of outside appointments argue that such individuals bring a wealth of "real world" expertise to their work. They argue that government is in danger of being dominated by career politicians and that the Prime Minister should be able to draw upon the talent of the whole country, not just his own political party, in forming a government. Some have argued that the government should be able to appoint ministers who would not sit in either House but who would be accountable to both. Others have advocated the adoption of an American or French-style system where ministers are not members of the legislature.

Critics of outside appointments argue that the legitimacy of ministers€”especially senior ministers€”depends on the fact they are elected and accountable to the House of Commons. Some see outside appointments either as an admission of lack of talent on the part of the governing party or as an attempt to associate government with the success of others. Others accept the principle of outside appointment, but do not believe that those appointed to such posts are sufficiently accountable either to Parliament or the electorate.

The Government has also looked to increase its resources by appointing an increasing number of unpaid ministers and "special representatives". These appointments can be used to bring parliamentarians with a specialist interest in a particular issue into government. However, critics argue that they increase the proportion of parliamentary votes that are directly controlled by the Government.

Key questions:

1. What do these appointments bring to government? Have they been successful?

2. Are people appointed to these positions sufficiently accountable?

a. If not, how might they be made more accountable?

b. Should all ministers be made directly accountable to the House of Commons? How could this be done?

3. Should ministerial posts be filled exclusively by Members of Parliament?

4. What are the implications of increasing numbers of outside appointments€”particularly ministerial appointments€”for our system of government?

5. Is the process for appointing people to ministerial posts via elevation to the House of Lords satisfactory?

a. Should they be scrutinised for propriety by the House of Lords Appointments Commission?

b. Should ministers who have been made peers to take up their posts retain their peerages after they leave office?

c. Should there be a cap on the number of ministers appointed through elevation to the Lords?

6. Is the process for appointing "tsars" sufficiently transparent?

a. If not, how can it be made more transparent?

7. What are the benefits of appointing increasing numbers of unpaid ministers and special representatives? What are the implications for the balance of power between the executive and the legislature?

How to respond to this paper

PASC would appreciate receiving responses to any or all of the questions in this paper. Although some of the questions could be answered by a simple yes or no, it would be valuable to have fuller responses in order for us to understand the points being made. Some respondents may wish to concentrate on those issues in which they have a special interest, rather than answering all of the questions. Respondents may also wish to suggest any proposed recommendations for action by the Government or others.

Written responses to this issues and questions paper will usually be treated as evidence to the Committee and may be published as part of a final report. If you object to your response being made public in a volume of evidence, please make this clear when it is submitted.

Responses should be submitted by Monday 21st September 2009 by email to [email protected] If you do not have access to email, you may send a paper copy of your response to the Clerk of the Public Administration Select Committee, Committee Office, First Floor, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA.

Please note

Each submission should:

€ be no more than 3,000 words in length;

€ begin with a short summary in bullet point form;

€ have numbered paragraphs; and

€ be in Word format or a rich text format with as little use of colour or logos as possible.

The Committee will hold oral evidence sessions during the second half of 2009.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Committee Membership: Tony Wright (Chairman) (Lab) (Cannock Chase), Mr David Burrowes (Con) (Enfield, Southgate), Paul Flynn (Lab) (Newport West), David Heyes (Lab) (Ashton under Lyne), Kelvin Hopkins (Lab) (Luton North), Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Con) (Bridgewater), Julie Morgan (Lab) (Cardiff North), Mr Gordon Prentice (Lab) (Pendle), Paul Rowen (Lib Dem) (Rochdale), Charles Walker (Con) (Broxbourne), Jenny Willott (Lib Dem) (Cardiff Central)

Media Enquiries Jessica Bridges-Palmer, 020 7219 0724, [email protected]

Specific Committee Information: Email: [email protected] Tel: 020 7219 3284

Committee Website: www.parliament.uk/pasc

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