UK Politics

Myners urges cut in ministers as AV debate continues

A former City minister has called for a cut in the number of ministers saying many just create work for themselves and "get in the way".

Labour peer Lord Myners made his plea as peers continued to wrangle over a bill to change the way MPs are elected.

A marathon debate on the legislation was adjourned on Wednesday evening as the government again failed to reach a compromise with Labour peers.

The main sticking point is a plan to cut the number of MPs by 50 to 600.

Lord Myners' comments came in support of a Labour amendment to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill calling for the number of ministers to be cut by a similar proportion.

'Constant fear'

The peer, a former chairman of Marks and Spencer, said that when he was a minister at the Treasury during Gordon Brown's premiership the permanent secretary could not even remember the names of all the MPs working in his department.

He said the top civil servant in the department "used to wave his hands and say 'the one down the end of the corridor".

Lord Myners said this was a "telling admission", adding: "We simply have too many ministers. They create work, they get in the way."

As an "average" junior minister he would start each day by "topping and tailing" up to 300 letters "originally sent to the prime minister or even more powerful people like Lord Mandelson," said Lord Myners.

"I lived in constant fear that one day I would be in front of Paxman and he would say: 'I ask you again Lord Myners, is this your signature on this letter'.

"Letters, I have the temerity to now admit to the House, I didn't always read in great detail."

Responding to the Labour amendment, Lords Leader Lord Strathclyde said the government was committed to dealing with the issue of reducing the number of ministers in line with the reduction in MPs.

'Hard to justify'

But he said there was plenty of time to make the change before the planned cut is introduced in 2015.

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill needs to become law by the time the House of Lords rises for a recess on 16 February if a referendum to change the voting system for Westminster elections is to be held on 5 May.

Downing Street has said it is trying to resolve the impasse with Labour peers but has said it will not give in to their demands to separate off clauses relating to the AV referendum and the plan to redraw constituency boundaries and cut the number of MPs.

Three further provisional days have been scheduled for the committee stage next week.

Last May, a committee of MPs called for the number of ministers to be cut by a third.

The Commons Public Administration Committee said it was "hard to justify" the fact that their number had almost doubled since the beginning of the 20th Century and some junior ministers had so little work to do civil servants were "making work" for them.

There were 119 ministers in Gordon Brown's government. David Cameron's coalition government has 123 ministers.

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