Reading the evidence…

The uncorrected transcript of the evidence I gave to the Public Administration Committee (along with Peter Riddell and Robert Hazell) is now available on the Committee website and can be read here.  Although uncorrected, it is a very accurate transcript.   My contributions sometimes create problems for those doing the transcribing (I can offer quite long sentences, sometimes uttered at speed) but here it seems spot on.  

In the session I managed to get over the points I wanted to make, complementing a short memorandum I submitted in advance of the session.  The memorandum will be included with the oral evidence when the Committee’s report is published.  As you will see, all three of us giving evidence were of one view in respect of the number of ministers.  There are too many of them relative to the tasks of government.  The emphasis should be on quality rather than quantity.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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6 Responses to Reading the evidence…

  1. Alice Stretch says:

    I read through the link of the uncorrected transcript (most of it anyway) and completely agree with you on your ideal of “quality not quantity” and making sure the ministers that are ’employed’ do their work to the best of their ability .
    I see you and Peter Riddell looked into the absorption of departments, which are not as necessary, into other departments.Would this be too ambitious for this government? And, therefore would it be on the next government’s agenda?
    Also in regard to the use of ministers’ time; do you think by cutting the number of ministers and their workload, the workload would go directly to other ministers (therefore partly solving the problem of ministers’ time) or would a mechanism have to be in place to make sure it goes to ministers instead of those lower down? If so, how do you think that would be organised?
    I was quite surprised at the ratio of legislative to Government size, compared to other countries. What would you say your ideal legislation to Government size is?
    I just realised how many questions I asked- sorry!

    • Lord Norton says:

      Alice Stretch: Thanks for the comments. It would be in keeping with the Government’s agenda to reduce the size of Government. I suspect it would be a classic case of ‘Yes, Minister’ in that most ministers would probably agree with the principle but then explain why it should not apply to them! Prime Ministers variously change and merge Departments, so it is perfectly possible to have one Department absorb another, or at least those functions that need retaining. Some work could be cut without needing to be reallocated, as it is unnecessary work. Some could be redistributed to the whips, so that they could fulfil a role, like whips in the Lords, as junior ministers, replying for example to debates in Westminster Hall.

      I am not sure if there is an ideal ratio, but it would probably constitute a useful aim to reduce it from the present situation (‘payroll vote’ of ministers and PPS constituting over 20 per cent of MPs) to that which existed in 1950 (when it constituted 15 per cent). As I said in my evidence, the starting point should be to identify the essential functions of government and allocate posts accordingly. The emphasis should be on quality and essential functions rather than quantity for the sake of patronage.

      • Alice Stretch says:

        Thank you. Yes, although I only have a small amount of experience with ministers, I can imagine them agreeing to principles and not regarding themselves as being included!
        Yes, I think government should pull away from patronage, to an extent, and work on “quality and essential functions”, as you say.
        Also, I would like to congratulate you on your blog, as I have not done this yet in a comment and I would like you to know how interesting I am finding it.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Alice Stretch: Many thanks for your comments. Much appreciated.

  2. Carl.H says:

    Following the logic of ratio`s should this not be continued throughout. The amount of legislation to the amount of Police etc. It is becoming quite apparent the amount of Police we have are under such duress that they are having to resort to being discriminatory in their duties and are also acting in haste to keep control. The lack of numbers see the Police resorting to the type of Policing where in the publics eye they commit more crime than those arrested.

    The documentary series “Coppers” on Channel 4 see`s the often hypocrisy which involves our Police, often swearing at people and then arresting those that swear, being violent simply to keep control because of lack of resources. With a predicted 20-25% reduction coming in frontline Policing due to cuts this situation will only get worse. This is not laying the blame on Police it is however stating that they act in that manner purely because of lack of numbers and resources and if Government continues to bring in more laws for them to Police the situation will only escalate until breaking point.

    If we are to talk logical ratios we must look at them acrossd the whole spectrum of society.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: I don’t think it is a case of ratios so much as determing the tasks to be fulfilled and then employing the number of people necessary to fulfil them. Instead, more people than are necessary may be employed and, as with ministers, they tend to create work to fill the space available.

      It is worth noting, of course, that police officers – unlike ministers – are trained.

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