UK Politics

Cut in ministers urged to 'strengthen Parliament'

Ministerial red box
Image caption The committee says many ministers could "use their time" more effectively

MPs are calling for a reduction in the number of ministers after the next election, to "strengthen the independence" of Parliament.

The cross-party Public Administration Select Committee said the size of government should fall in line with the cut in MP numbers planned after 2015.

Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, the committee's chairman, said many ministers were not "using their time effectively".

The Commons rejected the idea of a ministerial cut in a recent vote.

The size of the Commons will fall by 50 to 600 MPs after the next election, due in 2015, under government plans to reduce the cost of politics.

But the committee is worried that the influence of the so-called "payroll vote" - the number of ministers and parliamentary aides required to support the government in Commons votes - will rise if there is not a commensurate fall in the number of ministers.

'Modest'

Under current rules, governments are limited to having 109 paid ministers, of which 95 - both paid and unpaid - can sit in the House of Commons.

The cross-party committee says there should be eight fewer ministers after the next election and is urging a reduction from 46 to 26 in the number of parliamentary private secretaries (PPSs) - ministerial aides who represent the lowest rung of government.

Mr Jenkin said the proposal - which would limit PPS numbers to one per government department - was "very modest and easily achievable".

"The number of MPs on the payroll in the House of Commons 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'."

'Delegate more'

Mr Jenkin said the government should consider whether it needed so many junior ministers when further powers were being devolved to assemblies in Scotland and Wales and there were plans to hand more powers to councils and communities as part of its Big Society agenda.

"During the election the prime minister promised to 'cut the cost of politics'," he added.

"The public sector is being asked to do more with less and government ministers should not be exempt from having to revaluate how they work and what they do.

"Ministers are kept extremely busy in their jobs, but we found they are not always using their time effectively. They should be focusing on key strategic decisions, and delegating more effectively to others.

MPs rejected plans to link a cut in ministerial numbers to those in the amount of MPs when they debated legislation paving the way for the reduction in the size of the Commons last month.

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