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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

I said "in great detail". I knew how to spot the tricky words. I tended to skip over the salutations at the beginning and the end but I read the meaty bit in the middle. However, to be more serious, the decisions that one took as a Minister were of a very modest order compared with the decisions that we would expect the leader of a large corporation to take. That seems to me to support the view that, regardless of this amendment or the Bill, we simply have too many Ministers and they create work; they get in the way.

My final observation relates to the role of this House. When I was first appointed, I was terrified-I really was-and I made a complete fool of myself at my first debate when I was given a speech by my officials which I should, in all honesty, have reviewed more carefully. It was clearly a cut-and-paste job from the other place; it had numerous references to "the honourable Member" and "the Speaker" and so it did not take long before the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, rose to his feet from the Benches to my left. I had no idea what I was meant to do; nobody had briefed me, but I had watched it on television so I thought I ought to sit down. I think I was intervened on about eight times in five minutes before the Chief Whip came to my protection.

In my preparation for the ordeal of the House, whenever there was a Statement, I tried to go to the other place in order to see how it was handled there and then scuttle back here. What I observed from that experience was that the challenge for Ministers in the other place was simply of a much lower order than in this place. I think that that is an observable and unchallengeable truth. The questions that I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, who is not in his place, but who was an excellent spokesman on Treasury matters for the Liberal Democrat Party and, I believe, continues to perform that role, were of a different order. I look across now and I see the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. There are very few people in the other place who can ask a penetrating, focused, accurate and informed question with the degree of precision and understanding that the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, can. There is a question of accountability. We have too many Ministers and they do not seem to be sufficiently accountable.

Finally-I said that I would cover four points and I believe that this is the fourth-I think that this is evident in the work of some Select Committees. The Treasury Select Committee, to which I had to report on numerous occasions, was mixed in its understanding of the issues. There were a number of good members-Mr Andrew Tyrie has already been mentioned; let me mention him again, an excellent chairman of that committee with a very good understanding of the issues-but I cannot say that about every member of the committee, nor can I say that they always showed evidence that they had thoroughly studied and understood the issues. Again, accountability is at the heart of this-it is an issue that stands apart from the Bill and needs to be addressed. There are too many Ministers making too much work, doing too many modest things and not subject to appropriate scrutiny, particularly by the other place.

I see the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, about to spring to his feet. I seem to produce a Pavlovian reaction in the noble Lord, who is, no doubt, about to tell me that some ancestor of his, several generations ago, had some involvement which shows that he knows more about this than I ever will. That seems to be his normal response to me. I now give him the opportunity to see whether he can approach me in a courteous and constructive way. We have too many Ministers and, to my mind, they are not sufficiently accountable. I look forward, therefore, to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, telling us how the Tory-led coalition will deliver on the promises made before the election to reduce the number of Ministers, regardless of where we end up on the Bill.