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Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill — Committee (14th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 26th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Myners Lord Myners Labour 10:30 pm, 26th January 2011

My Lords, I support the amendment proposed by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and the direction of the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. I look forward with great interest to the response of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I wish to make four observations based on my own experience as a Minister in this House and in a career largely followed in business.

First, I have no doubt that the briefing note of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, says "Resist"; there is an automatic response produced by officials which says "Resist". From my own experience as a Minister, I am absolutely sure that that is what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will be advised to do. However, we know that he is a man of great wisdom and experience and I hope that he will not necessarily follow the advice, if I am correct in my supposition.

Secondly, in my 18-month experience as a Minister in the Treasury, I was surprised by the number of Ministers that we had. Indeed, the Permanent Secretary always had great difficulty remembering the name of one of the Ministers. He used to wave his hands and say, "The one down at the end of the corridor". I thought that was a pretty telling admission that even officials in the Civil Service thought that we had too many Ministers. Therefore, in the context of what was said in the pre-election period by the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, I am very disappointed that there are the same number of Ministers in the Treasury now as there were when I was a Minister.

The consequence of there being too many Ministers is that they get in the way and take decisions which are, frankly, too small. I say this from the perspective of chairing Marks & Spencer and other large companies. Ministers take minute decisions compared with the decisions taken by the leaders of our major corporations. I could not believe some of the small matters that came to me as a Minister to authorise, and the time that one had to take reading the material through fear that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, would spot a lacuna and put down a Written or Oral Question which would catch me out. I found it quite extraordinary that the average junior Minister-at least this was the case when I was an average junior Minister-spent the first 45 minutes of a day topping and tailing letters. I used to top and tail 200 to 300 letters. Those letters were originally sent to the Prime Minister, or to even more powerful people such as the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson. They were passed on to the Prime Minister, who passed them on to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who passed them on to Mr Liam Byrne and Ms Yvette Cooper and various other people until they came to me. I looked desperately for somebody else to whom I could pass the letters but there was nobody so I had to sign them. This was the starting point of my ministerial day. I lived in constant fear that one evening I would appear in front of Paxman and he would say, "I ask you again, Lord Myners, is this your signature on the letter?".

I now have the temerity to admit to the House that I did not always read those letters in great detail.