Government Powers (Limitation) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:57 pm on 14th March 2003.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham 1:57 pm, 14th March 2003

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the Solicitor-General and, above all, to Her Majesty, to whom I express profuse thanks for providing consent for the introduction of this Bill. I believe that it warrants a Second Reading, and I hope that the House will give it its dutiful and sympathetic consideration today.

The essential purpose of the Bill is

"to amend the law in relation to the permitted number of Ministers of the Crown; to limit the powers of Ministers to make certain appointments; to make provision with respect to the parliamentary scrutiny of European Union proposals and other subordinate legislation; and for connected purposes."

The background to its introduction can be simply stated. The power of modern British Governments has grown, is growing, and according to current trends will continue to grow. There is a widespread anxiety across the political spectrum that the power of Governments should be diminished or constrained, and that the tendency of Ministers to abuse the powers that they currently enjoy has grown to an unacceptable degree.

I am specifically concerned to refer, in the time available, to a number of important matters in respect of which Government power needs to be circumscribed: first, in respect of the appointment of Ministers; secondly, in respect of the appointment of special advisers; thirdly, in the context of appointments to non-departmental public bodies; fourthly, in relation to appointments to taskforces; and fifthly, in relation to the scrutiny of European Union legislation by the ordinary mechanism of the statutory instrument.

Let me deal first with the size of the Government. The Bill, which I commend to the House, would impose a limit on the number of Ministers of the Crown. Under the terms of my Bill, that limit would be 82 Ministers, with a maximum of 63 Ministers of State or Under-Secretaries of State. To give context and meaning to our deliberations, it is important to emphasise that the current Government comprise 116 Ministers—34 in excess of my generous limit. I invite the House to consider whether it really believes or supposes that the public are persuaded that a larger Government, more decision making and an increased number of Ministers have made, are making, or will make for better government.