Report (3rd Day)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 9th February 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour 7:15 pm, 9th February 2011

My Lords, my Amendment 27FA would insert a new clause after Clause 11, and after the new clause inserted by the amendment of my noble and learned friend. His new clause relates to the size of the Executive-the number of Ministers. My new clause is intimately related to that and deals with the number of Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I propose that their number should also be reduced commensurately with any reduction in the size of the House of Commons. We are talking here of the so-called payroll vote-the payroll which consists not only of salaried Ministers and one or two unsalaried Ministers, but of Parliamentary Private Secretaries. Although they are unpaid, they are always somewhat sardonically referred to as being members of the payroll vote.

In Committee, noble Lords on all sides of the House expressed their concern that the capacity of the House of Commons to hold the Executive to account would be further enfeebled if the size of the payroll vote were not to be reduced in proportion to the reduction of the size of the House of Commons. An important amendment on that matter moved by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, attracted a great deal of interest and support on all sides. Since then, I have learnt that the Speaker of the House of Commons himself has expressed concern that reducing the number of MPs without a commensurate reduction in the number of Ministers would skew the Westminster playing field in favour of the Government, as has the steady expansion of the payroll. Those sentiments were attributed to Mr Speaker Bercow in an article in the House Magazine.

Mr Cameron has appointed a lavish number of Parliamentary Private Secretaries, considerable numbers of party vice-chairmen and special representatives. His latest appointment in that genre is a defence envoy for Gibraltar. The Member of Parliament who has been appointed to that distinguished role is someone for whom I have the highest personal regard, but the important point is that she will be bound into the patronage system and lose her capacity to express an independent point of view-certainly in terms of voting. Richard Hall, writing in the House Magazine, said that patronage sucks in more and more Back-Benchers, leaving fewer to hold the Government to account.