Earlier this evening I moved an amendment to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. Or rather I moved an amendment to an amendment. Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved an amendment to provide that the number of ministers sitting in the Commons must be reduced in proportion to the reduction in the number of MPs. I moved an amendment to that amendment to provide that the maximum number of ministers who can sit in the Commons, paid or unpaid, is reduced from 95 to 80.
My argument was that reducing the number of MPs did not create a problem but rather exacerbated a problem. There are already too many ministers. The so-called payroll vote in the House, including parliamentary private secretaries (PPSs), constitutes too great a proportion of the Commons. In 1950 it was 15%. Today it is 21%. That will increase with the passage of this Bill. The greater the number of ministers in the Commons, the less the capacity of the House to call it to account.
The number of ministers has increased in order to add to the patronage available to the Prime Minister rather than to meet the growing needs of government. Ministers tend to find work to fulfil the time available, as former minister Chris Mullin has pointed out. The emphasis has tended to be on quantity for the benefit of patronage than on quality for the sake of good government. We need fewer, but better trained, ministers.
I did got get a wholly positive response from the Leader of the House, Lord Strathclyde, who said the Government would look at the issue but did not indicate that he felt there was any urgency about it. He also said that it did not address the issue of PPSs. I pointed out that if you reduce the number of ministers, you reduce the number of people requiring PPSs.
It is an issue to which I shall return. As I said in the House, reducing the number of ministers is as important a constitutional question as reducing the number of MPs.