House of Commons Library

Limitations on the number of Ministers

Published Friday, October 7, 2016

This House of Commons Library Briefing Paper reports the legal restrictions on the number of ministers receiving a salary and the number of ministers sitting in the House of Commons. It includes statistics on the number of ministers in each Chamber following each general election since 1979 and at the July 2016 change of Government. Lastly, it sets out calls from the Public Administration Select Committee and others for the number of ministers and the payroll vote to be reduced.

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Legal restrictions

The Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 sets out the maximum number of paid ministerial posts.   The maximum number is 109; this is broken down by category. 

The House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 provides that not more than 95 holders of Ministerial offices may sit and vote in the House of Commons at any one time.  There is no equivalent legal restraint on the number of Ministers in the Lords.

How many ministers are there?

The total number of ministers in government posts in July 2016, following the creation of Theresa May’s Government, was 118.

This was the same number as under the Cameron administration in May 2015, but more than all other post-1979 general elections bar 2010. 

There are ten unpaid ministers in Theresa May’s July 2016 Government. 

The Prime Minister is able to invite Ministers to attend Cabinet without making them Cabinet Ministers. There are five people in Theresa May’s July 2016 Government who attend Cabinet without being full Cabinet Ministers.

The "payroll vote"

There is no formal definition of the payroll vote. It is generally considered to refer to all those who hold a role in the administration, whether paid or unpaid.  This includes senior roles, as well as more junior roles including Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs). 

The proportion of Members of the House of Commons who have been part of the payroll vote has varied from 19-22% between 1979 and 2016. 

There have been calls for the size of the payroll vote to be limited.

Most recently the Public Administration Select Committee noted that the proportion of those holding government posts would be exacerbated by the proposed reduction in the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 following the forthcoming Boundary Review.  Their recommendations included cutting the number of PPSs to one per Government Department and that the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 should be seen as imposing a strict limit on paid and unpaid ministers.

Commons Briefing papers SN03378

Authors: Lucinda Maer; Richard Kelly

Topics: Central government, Ministers

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