Goats were thrown to the Wolves under Labour

Press Release: Goats were thrown to the Wolves under Labour

The experience under Labour of appointing some ministers from outside Parliament suggests no easy answer to a new call from MPs to reduce the number of ministers in the so-called “ payroll vote” in the Commons. The recommendation is made today (Thursday 10 March) in a report, “Smaller Government: What Should Ministers do?” by the Commons Public Administration Select Committee.

In the last Labour government, ministers appointed from outside Parliament were given little or no induction and many of them were critical of the lack of clear delegation or objectives. The result was sheer overload—one former minister describing office as “the most exhausting job I’d ever done. It was relentless.”

This is the main finding of the Constitution Unit’s report Putting Goats amongst the Wolves: Appointing Ministers from outside Parliament just published. The study takes its starting point Gordon Brown’s decision to appoint half a dozen Ministers from outside Parliament in order to build a ‘government of all the talents’ – leading such Ministers to be called ‘Goats’. The study set out to explore the arguments for appointing ministers from outside Parliament, and to study the experience of such appointees.

Dr Ben Yong, co-author of the report along with Professor Robert Hazell says: “Under the coalition, there are currently only a small number of ‘outsider ministers’ in the Lords, and it seems unlikely that David Cameron will make more appointments in the numbers seen under Gordon Brown.”

Yong adds: “More thought needs to be given to what ministers can realistically be expected to do, and what they should not do. We have been told of ministerial overload, while on the other hand, former ministers such as Chris Mullin have talked of ‘empty’ ministerial posts. The need to define more clearly the functions of junior ministers especially has become even more pressing, given the government’s plan to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. In such circumstances, will it still be necessary to have 123 ministers, or one-fifth of Parliament in government?”

The report was funded by Peter Scott QC. It can be found here:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/publications/tabs/unit-publications/151-cover.pdf

Notes for Editors

  • The Public Administration Select Committee is currently holding an inquiry on ‘Smaller Government: What do Ministers do?’, with the final report due to be published shortly.
  • Brian Walker is the Unit’s Press Officer who can be contacted on 07802 176347.
  • The Constitution Unit is an independent and non-partisan research centre within the Department of Political Science at University College London.

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