Limit the powers of the prime minister

The presidential powers of the prime minister - such as the ability to appoint and remove cabinet ministers and other powers of patronage - should be limited.

Instead, ministerial and other appointments should be subject to parliamentary approval.

John Z Apr 5, 2015

Should it be with the "advice and consent of the Parliament"?  Should it be 50% + 1, or some higher standard?  What if there is a multi-party coalition, would such a high standard result in Cabinet positions being unfilled, and thus an interim Cabinet Officer is placed whom needs no "advice and consent of the Parliament"?

Christine Farquharson Apr 7, 2015

Just for reference, here's a quick summary of some of what was discussed in phase 1. Remember that you can always access the old comments by clicking on the 'Hacking the Content' button on the timeline at the top of the page. Also, keep voting on ideas and comments so that post authors know what to include in their refined drafts!

- JamesDoran refined the proposal: 'All appointments should be determined by parliamentarians rather than the Crown-in-parliament.' However, it's not necessary for the constitution to define the process by which this happens. Using a run-off voting system ensures that MPs will come to a decision. (1 up, 1 down)

- John from Jersey: The PM should be able to choose his/her Cabinet, perhaps subject to ratification by the House of Commons. This is important so that the PM can govern alongside a cohesive team. (1 down)

- James Doran: The PM has no special mandate over and above any other MP, so it's not necessary to ensure that they have a team that agrees with their mandate or views. Forcing ministers to be loyal to the PM's views and policies stifles debate and is counter-productive. (1 up, 1 down)

- Helen-R-Clare: If politicians were not dependent on the PM for appointment to Cabinet, there would be less pressure to toe the party line. (2 up, 1 down)

- Alan Ray-Jones: The PM has too much power at the moment, and it would be good to remove the pretense that all ministers agree all the time. (2 up, 1 down)

- Gavin Russ: The role of the PM, Deputy PM, and other parliamentarians needs to be spelled out clearly, as do the relationships between the offices. Allowing parliament to ratify appointments might be a good idea, but the vote cannot be whipped. This could also ensure that ministers have some relevant experience/knowledge about their portfolios. (2 up)

Rob G Apr 7, 2015

I think it's going to be difficult to have a single process for all appointments.

With our current way of doing things, following a general ministers are appointed before departmental select committees - and in the case of a clear victory before MPs are sworn in. I think this year, the proposal is that Parliament will reconvene on 18th May, 11 days after the voters go to the ballot box. In 2010, the first Cabinet meeting was on 13th May, but Parliament didn't meet until 18th May. Obviously, with most members of the Cabinet being drawn from the largest party (or group of parties), it's unlikely that in the heady days immediately after an election win, there'd be much dissent from the leadership's proposals. (Though if the Prime Minister is not to be the source of patronage in the future, that might be less clear.) This is one of the main things which marks us out from an executive presidency.

On appointments to quangos, etc., there's been a big move to "pre-appointment hearings", and I think there's scope for those to be developed further.

Andrew Bulovsky Apr 13, 2015

With only one week remaining in the refining stage, the facilitators will draft some language for this idea. We'll do everything we can to redraft the original submission in line with your comments and suggestions. If the original poster would like to take over the idea they are more than welcome to at any point. Please do comment to offer suggestions on specific wording and to guide us on which suggestions should take priority (by voting them up/down).

"The Prime Minister shall have sole discretion on the initial appointment of members of the Cabinet following a General Election. However, a majority vote in the House of Commons shall be required to remove a member of the Cabinet and a separate majority vote shall be required to replace the removed member." 

John Z Apr 13, 2015

So the PM wouldn't be able to remove his or her Cabinet?

Gavin Russ Apr 14, 2015

Hey Andrew,

Whilst I appreciate the 'spirit' of this proposal, for me, it is a bit clunky? Should the PM's ability to decide ministerial level and at whatever level be limited by constant votes in Parliament? Parliamentary business might be 'clogged up' for ever increasing amounts of time. I note the careful use of the word 'sole' in relation to initial appointments, but the proposal tends limit the PM's ability to 're-shuffle', not always a completely political 'spin'.. Sometimes, cabinet appointees are simply not up to job and the PM must be able to change the cabinet as circumstances dictate.  Maybe Parliament should initially vote on the establishment of cabinet following a general election, but then give way to the PM subsequently In terms of movement within the cabinet. Perhaps midway through the Parliament, the government and cabinet should self submit to a 'sustaining ' vote ....this wouldn't necesserily trigger an election (currently it can't due to fixed term) but might provide for a health check on the efficacy of the executive. Welcome your thoughts! 

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Andrew Bulovsky Apr 13, 2015

I've simply proposed language that is as close as possible to what the community has discussed. They'd be able to remove them with a majority vote.

But if you have an amendment (be sure to bold it), I'm sure the community would love to discuss it!

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John Z Apr 13, 2015

"The Prime Minister shall have sole discretion on the initial appointment of members of the Cabinet following a General Election. However,  either the Prime Minster individually or a majority vote in the House of Commons shall be required to remove a member of the Cabinet and a separate majority vote shall be required to replace the removed member." 

Andrew Bulovsky Apr 13, 2015

Thanks for the amendment, John!

Do others have thoughts on this amendment? Or other ideas?

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 13, 2015

Isn't there a danger, with this wording, that a minister would be removed but no successor appointed? Allowing the PM to remove a minister, as John suggests, would effectively give the PM a veto so I'm not sure that's in the spirit of the proposal that was voted through.

Andrew Cullyer Apr 14, 2015

This is actually a totally mad proposal, sorry if that seems harsh, but this completely reverses the balance of power because a cabinet could collectively resign and the PM would have to go through at least what 5/6 votes of Parliament just to get a functioning government (MOD, Health, CofE, Education, Home, Foreign for example.)  Which would make every PM politically beholden to the cabinet, which may sound like a good idea but in my opinion is more likely than not to produce an undesirable result.

When there is no political accountability for a government department it is the people who suffer. As they have no axis of interaction, no democratic representative, with the department. So for example without a minister the Home office could decide to cut police numbers or increase certain powers without any form of ministerial oversight and we would moan but until a minister was appointed there would be nothing anyone including the government could do to reverse the policy shy of acts of parliament. 

Then if we follow this logic to the next level we see that PM's and their respective Parties only appoint people who will do exactly what the PM says and will always agree with him to the cabinet which stifles political debate within the cabinet something that was considered desirous during the hacking phase. 

Also who runs the government departments when there is no minister? The civil service? If that is the case does this not further increase there mandate to rule without increasing their democratic mandate? 

I appreciate if a large number of the cabinet resign now it is more likely than not that there will be a general election so in a sense it is nothing new but the change in emphasis from the power being with the PM to the power being with the cabinet could fundamentally change the way Politics at the highest level functions in unexpected ways.

In order to be constructive however i suggest that there is not a vote per cabinet member but one vote for the cabinet as a whole so one could replace say 5 members and then there would be 1 vote to approve the whole of the new cabinet. I still think this will lead to an unnecessary amount of Parliamentary time being spent on this issue but it is better than the current proposal.  

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 15, 2015

"I appreciate if a large number of the cabinet resign now it is more likely than not that there will be a general election so in a sense it is nothing new but the change in emphasis from the power being with the PM to the power being with the cabinet could fundamentally change the way Politics at the highest level functions in unexpected ways."

I think you've largely answered your own points with that, Andrew. And most people engaging here are probably quite keen to change the way politics at the highest level functions because we see that as one of the main reasons we don't currently have government we can trust or respect.

In my view, if the Prime Minister is unable to work with the people who the public (through their elected representatives) have selected for High Office then, quite simply, we have the wrong Prime Minister.

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Andrew Bulovsky Apr 14, 2015

Great points, guys. Let's just keep in mind that we're only trying to incorporate the ideas the community has discussed thus far into a draft.

Either way, the Constitution should have something about appointing the Cabinet. If you'd like to propose amendments to this about precisely what those powers should or shouldn't be, that would be very helpful. We're trying to move beyond theoretical discussions and into the creation of substantive language.

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 15, 2015

Debate here seems to be taking it for granted that the Prime Minister will continue to be whoever commands the greatest support in the Commons. But, given that the Lords will be reformed, and will presumably now have democratic legitimacy of its own, that won't necessarily be the case. Are there any live proposals for how the Prime Minister should be chosen?

There is a proposal to reduce the overlap between parliament (as legislature and scrutineer) and the executive branch of government – https://constitutionuk.com/post/81412 – which might be relevant. It's not directly compatible with this one because it proposes direct election of the Executive, and it hasn't seen any discussion yet, but it might be possible to produce something which combines both ideas.

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