Renewing my call to cut the cost of politics

I am renewing my call to cut the cost of politics, which I first set out in my consultation document in 2005 when I was Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. I am resuming my call for a 20 per cent cut in the numbers of MPs, Ministers and special advisers and pointing out that this could save £30 to 40 million per annum.
Here is a copy of my original call:

Fairness and Accountability

1. Introduction

Britain today is over governed over regulated and over taxed. As the decisive result of the North East regional assembly referendum illustrates, people do not believe that more politicians will help solve the problems they face in their daily lives.

Conservative will reduce unnecessary and costly interference in people’s lives by reducing the size and role of the State to be small.

A Conservative Government will freeze civil service recruitment. We will restore power to local government and to the professionals who work in our public services. We will free our schools and hospitals from centrally imposed Whitehall targets. Doctors and nurses will run our hospitals – and teachers will run our schools.

We will introduce a Smaller Government Bill in its first year. That Bill will:
– Reduce the number of MPs by 20 per cent
– Reduce the number of government ministers by 20 per cent
– Reduce the number of special advisers by 20 per cent

2. Fewer Members of Parliament

Today there are 659 MPs in the House of Commons. Conservatives believe that Britain as too many politicians. We question the need for so many legislators. If we are serious about reducing the size of the State, we need to start by controlling the number of MPs.
– We propose reducing the size of the House of Commons by a fifth, slimming down the number of MPs from the current level of 659 to 525
– Conservatives will introduce primarily legislation in our first ear – a Smaller Government Bill – to deliver the change, and ask the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions to draw up new boundaries. This would allow the change to be delivered within the first term of a Conservative Government, with the subsequent general election operating o the new boundaries.

More Equal Representation

Votes in different parts of the UK have widely different values. This is unfair. In 2001, the average size of an English constituency was 69,928 electors, in Northern Ireland it was 66,167 while the average size of a Welsh constituency was 55,904. Even within England there are big variations. The current Boundary Commission review proposes constituencies of widely different sizes – from Hackney South and Shoreditch (57,204) to Banbury (78,817) and the Isle of Wight (103,480).

– A Conservative Government will end the discrepancy between the size of Parliamentary constituencies, by introducing a fixed electoral quota across the United Kingdom (i.e. the electorate divided by 525). This would mean that there were approximately 84,000 electors per constituency, compared to an average of 67,000 today.
– This is a fairer system, as it ensures, each elector in the United Kingdom will have the same level of Parliamentary representation. Using a fixed quota of 525 seats will also prevent the Commons growing in size if the UK population rises

Nation

Current Parliament

Forthcoming changes

Conservative proposals

England

529

533

440

Northern Ireland

18

18

13

Scotland

72

59

46

Wales

40

40

26

United Kingdom

659

656500

525

Reducing the Cost

MPs’ pay and allowances currently cost £127 million, while the Commons administration costs £148 million. There are clearly certain fixed costs to running the Commons. Notwithstanding, Conservatives believe that these proposals to reduce the number of MPs by 20 per cent would save between £30 and £40 million a year.

3. Fewer Ministers

In addition to reducing the number of MPs, Conservatives would reduce the number of government ministers to create a smaller government. We propose a 20 per cent reduction in the number of ministers to reflect the reduction in the size of the Commons.

The Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 (as amended) limits the number of ministerial salaries that can be paid at any one time to 109, although unpaid ministers may be appointed. There is also a limit of 95 on the number of members of the House of Commons who can be ministers at any one time. This does not include unpaid Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs).

Under Labour, the number of ministers and particularly the number of PPSs has soared. The sheer size of the ‘payroll vote’ has started to reduce the effectiveness of Parliamentary scrutiny.

Conservatives’ Smaller Government Bill would ensure that the number of those holding ministerial office by a fifth, by:

– Lowering the limit on the number of Ministers in the Commons and the Lords to a total of 100; and

– Limiting the number of PPSs to 45.

This would generate a small saving (approximately £1 million) in ministerial salaries.

4. Fewer Special Advisers

Since 1997, the relationship between ministers and civil servants has changed more dramatically than at any time since the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms of the 19th Century. Indeed, many of the changes have reversed the whole thrust of those reforms, by replacing the idea of non-partisan appointments on merit with an increasingly powerful coterie of officials who owe their place solely to their links with the Labour Party.

A series of controversial incidents involving special advisers (Jo Moore, Charlie Wheelan, Dan Corry, Alistair Campbell) has exposed how the changes in their number and role has had a corrupting influence on the workings of government.

Under Labour, the number of special advisers has increased from 38 to 76, and their cost to the taxpayer increased from £1.8 million in 1996-97 to £5.3 million in 2003-04.

One of the first acts of an incoming Conservative Government will be to cut the number of special advisers by more than 20 per cent. In addition we would introduce a Civil Service Bill, stronger than the draft Bill recently published by the Government. The Bill would:

– Introduce a legislative provision making it unlawful for anyone other than a Minster of the Crown or a more senior civil servant to give instructions to a career civil servant in the execution of their duties;

– Establish a statutory cap on numbers of special advisers, set at 56; and

– Write the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers into statute, and tighten the Code to prevent the bullying and victimisation of civil servants.

This would also generate a small £1 million saving in special advisers’ costs.

5. Smaller Government

These proposals for smaller government go hand in hand with our existing ledges to scale down other tiers of administration – such as abolishing Labour’s unwanted regional chambers and regional housing boards, and reducing the size and scope of Whitehall departments.

6. Feedback

If you would like to comment on this policy statement, please send your comments to:

Oliver Heald MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
c/o Conservative Party
25 Victoria Street
London
SW1H 0DL

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One Response to Renewing my call to cut the cost of politics

  1. Brian Saunders says:

    Oliver

    Thank you for your helpful explanation about expenses etc. I wonder if you could comment on the value of the House sitting until 10.30pm Are you there in the commons every late sitting?

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