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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.

Ministers in government

The total number of ministers in government posts in December 2019, following the general election and reshuffle of Boris Johnson’s Government, was 116.

This was the same as the Government he formed in July 2019. It was fewer than in the Governments formed by David Cameron in May 2010 (118) and May 2015 (118), and fewer than in Theresa May’s June 2017 Government (118), but more than all other governments since 1979. There were nine unpaid ministers in Boris Johnson’s December 2019 Government.

The Prime Minister is able to invite Ministers to attend Cabinet without making them Cabinet Ministers. There were 10 people in Boris Johnson’s December 2019 Government who attended Cabinet without being full Cabinet Ministers.

The Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 means that the Prime Minister can appoint someone else to a role vacated by a Minster going on maternity leave, without exceeding the statutory limits on the number of 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 varied from 19-22% between 1979 and 2017.

There have been calls for the size of the payroll vote to be limited. In a 2011 report, the Public Administration Select Committee noted that the proportion of those holding government posts would be exacerbated by the then proposed reduction in the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 following the planned Boundary Review. The Committee’s recommendations included cutting the number of PPSs to one per Government Department and that the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 should be treated as imposing a strict limit on paid and unpaid ministers.

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