MP cut will lead to ‘most overbearing executive in living history,’ warn campaigners

Posted on the 27th February 2018

Analysis: Electoral Reform Society research highlights danger of slashing number of backbenchers in 600-member Commons.

  • For immediate release, Tuesday 27th February, 2018
  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society. Chief Executive Darren Hughes is available for interview. For more information, contact mediaoffice@electoral-reform.org.uk or 07870212425

Slashing the number of MPs could result in an ’unprecedented power-grab’ by the government, campaigners have warned.

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has found that if membership of the Commons is reduced from 650 to 600 as confirmed by the Prime Minister [1], a record-high 23% of MPs (139 of 600) would be on the government payroll [2] – unless there is a guaranteed cap on the size of the executive.

Taking into account cabinet members, junior ministers, Parliamentary Private Secretaries and Conservative whips, the change would mean nearly one in four MPs would be compelled to vote with the government or face losing their job.

The number of governing-party backbenchers would be reduced to the lowest levels on record – nearly half (45%) of Conservative MPs would be bound to vote with the government.

The cut in the number of MPs has therefore been deemed a cut in the power of backbenchers – limiting the ability of MPs to hold the government to account and freely scrutinise legislation.

These concerns – alongside broader flaws in the boundary review [3] – have led the ERS to call for the current plan to be dropped.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“This analysis shows that cutting the number of MPs poses significant dangers to our democracy – namely the ability of backbenchers to hold the government to account.

“Without effective limits and changes to the plans, these proposals represent an unprecedented power-grab by the executive.

“There must be guaranteed checks and balances on the power of the government. That role is best fulfilled by backbench MPs – both from the government’s own benches and from those opposite.

“If we are left with the most powerful executive in living history, we could end up with a crisis of scrutiny – and all of us will lose out as a result.

“We need MPs to be free to prioritise the interests of their constituents ahead of towing the party line. But cutting MPs without capping the size of the executive means the proportion in the pocket of the Prime Minister will be at record levels.

“To sustain an effective democracy, the government must cancel this needless attack on our elected chamber and focus on reforming the bloated, unelected House of Lords instead.

“It’s time for fair boundaries based on a properly resourced Commons – and for a much-smaller, elected second chamber.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

The analysis by the ERS assumes the proportion of MPs from each party remaining the same as they are currently, but in a smaller chamber, and goes back as far as 1910.

A further consequence of a reduced chamber would be the joint-fewest government backbenchers as a proportion of the party’s MPs in living history (just 55%.)

This would reduce the talent pool from which MPs are selected to sit on parliamentary committees, while also affecting the candor of debates.

[1] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/may-to-press-on-as-mps-warn-against-cutting-their-number-0h0vmscns

[2] Full data from our analysis can be found in the table below.

[3] ERS’s concerns over the boundary review are set out here – https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/campaigners-condemn-dangerous-u-turn-as-may-ploughs-ahead-with-cut-in-mps/

Full data

Year Number of MPs Governing Party(ies) MPs Total number of MPs forming part of the government Payroll vote as % of the Commons Payroll Vote % of Governing Party(ies)
2017 results with 600 MPs

600

307

139

23%

45%

2018

650

316

139

21%

44%

2016

650

328

138

21%

42%

2015

650

330

135

21%

41%

2012

650

363

138

21%

38%

2010

650

363

140

22%

39%

2005

646

355

158

21%

45%

2001

659

412

169

22%

41%

2000

659

418

129

20%

31%

1997

659

418

157

20%

38%

1992

651

336

148

19%

44%

1990

650

376

127

20%

34%

1987

650

376

144

19%

38%

1983

650

397

143

19%

36%

1980

635

339

123

19%

36%

1979

635

339

142

19%

42%

1970

630

330

115

18%

35%

1960

630

365

101

16%

28%

1950

625

315

95

15%

30%

1940

615

       Wartime              gov’t

83

13%

             N/A 

1930

615

287

76

12%

26%

1920

707

473

71

10%

15%

1917

670

       Wartime              gov’t

72

11%

             N/A 

1910

670

274

59

9%

22%

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