Page last updated at 11:20 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Number of ministers should be cut by a third, say MPs

Palace of Westminster
The UK has twice as many ministers as it had in 1900, the report says

The number of UK government ministers should be cut "by as much as one third" to reduce costs and make Parliament more independent, a report by MPs says.

The public administration committee recommends no more than 15% of MPs should be on the government payroll.

The UK has almost 120 ministers, while India - a country of with more than one billion people - has 78, it adds.

The committee claims some civil servants have been "making work" for under-employed ministers to carry out.

The report - Too Many Ministers? - says: "The ever-upward trend in the size of government over the last hundred years or more is striking and hard to justify objectively in the context of the end of Empire, privatisation and, most recently, devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."

The committee says there were 60 ministers in 1900, which almost doubled to 119 by January of this year.

'Not a target'

Cabinet posts increased from 19 to 23, while the number of middle-ranking and junior ministers expanded from 41 to 96.

The report quotes evidence it took from former cabinet secretary Lord Turnbull, who said: "If you add up the number of ministers and deputy ministers... in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is something like 75.

"You would have thought the number of [UK] ministers would have gone down when we gave power to Scotland but it has actually gone up. So the ministerial cadre for the United Kingdom is now around 190 whereas it was about 110."

119 in total
22 paid cabinet ministers
One unpaid cabinet minister
96 junior ministers

Under current law, no more than 90 MPs can be ministers.

The limit of ministerial salaries payable by the government to people in the Commons and Lords is 109, including a maximum 22 paid cabinet ministers.

The report says: "However, these categories can be worked around - ministers may be entitled to attend cabinet without being cabinet ministers, a whip may be given a nominal ministerial post in order to count against the limit for junior ministers rather than whips, and so forth."

It adds: "The limits on ministerial numbers should not be seen as a target to be met, or even exceeded."

The committee also says there is a "growing consensus" that increasing the number of ministers "harms the effectiveness of government".

It says: "Ministers' role is to take key decisions, account to Parliament for them and conduct discussions at the highest level. Some junior ministerial roles appear to fall far short of this.

"Civil servants should not be put in the position of 'making work' for ministers. Not only is this costly and inefficient but it devalues the role of ministers."

'Absolute limit'

The committee also raises concerns about using "unpaid ministers", saying it is "a way in which a prime minister can increase the total number of ministers in his government without exceeding the statutory limits on the number of paid ministers".

These still "bring with them a significant cost to the public purse. Moreover, relying on ministers to take unpaid positions brings with it an incentive to favour those who are independently wealthy".

It calls for the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 to be "treated as setting an absolute limit on the number of government ministers, paid or unpaid".

The use of parliamentary private secretaries - MPs who assist ministers - should be limited, the committee says, with a maximum of one per cabinet minister.

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