Number of ministers ‘must be reduced’

By Hannah Brenton

The large number of ministers in parliament is creating an unaccountable government, a report has said.

The public administration select committee (PASC) said the number of ministers should be significantly reduced.

There are currently 141 MPs on the government’s payroll, amounting to 22% of the Commons.

Ministers have to vote with the government on legislation or resign their position. The committee report said this was hurting the independence of the legislature.

“This is deeply corrosive to the House of Commons primary role of acting as a check on the executive,” it stated.

The quality of the government was also affected by ministers who are “stretched to thin” instead of concentrating on one area.

With the number of MPs set to decrease from 650 to 600 under the parliamentary voting system and constituencies act which passed last month, the committee recommended the number of ministers decrease correspondingly.

The committee argued the changes would be in keeping with David Cameron’s ‘big society’ agenda, where a smaller government would ask ministers to ‘do more for less’.

The committee argued the number of ministers should be cut back to a total of 80, shared between the Commons and the House of Lords.

The number of parliamentary private secretaries should also be limited to one per department.

The MPs recommended the coalition conduct a review into ministerial numbers by midway through this parliament.

“If this does not happen we will interpret this as a sign that the government has failed in its ambition to devolve real power and responsibility to local communities; a central tenet of its ‘big society’ agenda,” the report said.

Bernard Jenkin, chair of PASC said the government needed to ensure the executive did not have an unfair advantage over the legislature.

“The number of MPs on the payroll in the House of Commons today is as high as ever, undermining the independence of parliament,” he said.

“Things will get worse if the so-called ‘payroll vote’ is not reduced in line with cuts in the size of the Commons.

“The government should ensure that its constitutional reforms do not advantage the executive over the legislature and reflect the government’s commitment to ‘strengthening parliament’.”

“Our proposal to lower the legal limit on the number of ministers allowed in the Commons in line with the cut in MPs represents a very modest reduction and is easily achievable.”