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- Why does the current relationship between the Executive and Parliament create problems?
- Are there any negatives to not allowing MPs to serve as ministers? Don’t MPs often have qualities/knowledge/expertise which make them ideally suited for ministerial office?
- If MPs can no longer serve as ministers, how would the Prime Minister and other ministers be appointed?
- If power to appoint ministers is removed from the PM’s direct control wouldn’t that undermine the unity of the Cabinet?
- To what extent would MPs truly be able to ignore Government proposals and whip attempts if the Executive and Parliament were properly separated?
1. Why does the current relationship between the Executive and Parliament create problems?
In two ways: a) it means that ministers are primarily politically motivated and b) it means that Parliament is regarded by many as a stepping-stone on the route to executive power. Combined with the powers of patronage that party leaders exercise, through being able to appoint MPs as ministers, this seriously undermines Parliament’s ability to hold the Executive to account.
2. Are there any negatives to not allowing MPs to serve as ministers? Don’t MPs often have qualities/knowledge/expertise which make them ideally suited for ministerial office?
The restriction would not bar MPs from accepting a ministerial post but they would be required to give up their seat (which would create two different political career paths).
This restriction would no doubt prevent some well-qualified people from becoming ministers but it would probably only be a small number who would in fact be interested in both types of role.
If anything, the reform would make it easier for well-qualified people to be appointed as ministers because those roles would no longer require the same skills of political manoeuvring.
3. If MPs can no longer serve as ministers, how would the Prime Minister and other ministers be appointed?
Our current view is that all ministers, including the Prime Minister, should be appointed by Parliament (as a whole, not just the House of Commons).
In the event of Parliament not replacing members of the Cabinet, following an indecisive election, the existing Executive would simply remain in place. Where individual positions come vacant and Parliament are unable to agree an appointment within a set time, the position could be filled by the Prime Minister (or by the Cabinet, if it is the position of Prime Minister which is vacant).
4. If power to appoint ministers is removed from the PM’s direct control wouldn’t that undermine the unity of the Cabinet?
We think the importance of Cabinet unity is over-rated – because the necessity for it is largely political rather than functional – and there might well be more unity if ministers were appointed by Parliament, than there is today!
Currently, the party in government wants to present a united front – but that’s primarily because they’re concerned about the party’s credibility. And the PM’s appointment of ministers is often heavily constrained by the need to appease factions within the party. What unity there is, in those circumstances, is often a function of the Prime Minister’s ability to hold together forces which are constantly trying to break loose.
That would still be the case with ministers appointed by Parliament but there wouldn’t be the same need to maintain a facade of unity. Being able to openly disagree usually makes it very much easier for differences to be explored and resolved.
To what extent would MPs truly be able to ignore Government proposals and whip attempts if the Executive and Parliament were properly separated?
MPs’ ability to ignore Government proposals and whip attempts is compromised, in the existing system, both by their dependence on the party in the electoral sphere and (in many cases) by their ambitions for government office. In the scenario I was envisaging, I’d guess that Upper House members appointed by local government would be far less likely to divide along traditional party lines. If I’m right in supposing that they would be much more concerned with administrative competence, then the appointment of ministers for essentially party political reasons would quite likely be a trigger for a power struggle over the issue between the Houses. Shifting that responsibility out of the party arena would free MPs from one aspect of the whips’ control.