During debate on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill earlier this year, there were attempts to amend the Bill to reduce the number of ministers. Some parliamentarians argued that if the number of MPs was reduced, then there needed to be a commensurate reduction in the number of ministers, otherwise the dominance of the Government’s payroll vote would be reinforced. I argued that the reduction in the number of MPs did not cause a problem but rather exacerbated a problem. There were already too many ministers. The Government payroll, or jobsworth, vote (ministers + PPSs) had increased in recent decades and should be reduced. I reinforced this argument in evidence to the Public Administration Committee in its inquiry into Smaller Government: what do ministers do?
The Government resisted the amendments, arguing that time was needed to consult and consider what could be done. The priority, as far as ministers were concerned, was reducing the number of MPs.
Given that the Government recognised the case for considering a reduction in the number of ministers, I put down a Parliamentary Question last month ‘To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to bring forward proposals to reduce the number of ministers; and, if so, when’. I have now received an answer from Baroness Garden of Frognal, the Government Whip: ‘The Government will continue to keep the number of ministers under review’.
This is a non-answer. What is meant by keeping something under review was well explained in an episode of Yes, Prime Minister: keeping something under review means that the civil servants have lost the papers; keeping something under active review means that they have found them.
Given such an inadequate answer, I shall be pursuing the issue through other means. This is not something that the Government can put on the back burner.