Mandelson to be minister without any questions

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The Independent Online
Peter Mandelson, Minister without Portfolio, has also become the Minister without Questions. It emerged yesterday that he is to be the only Commons minister who will not be subjected to the regular sessions of gruelling, question time cross-examination by MPs.

The curious office of Minister without Portfolio dates back to 1915, but for the last 50 years or so, office-holders in the Commons have always been available for questioning in the House.

The only exceptions appear to be Jeremy Hanley and Brian Mawhinney, but they were also chairmen of the Tory Party, and were therefore not paid ministers; the job was a device to give them access to Cabinet meetings and ministerial papers.

Mr Mandelson, who is based in the Cabinet Office, and has responsibility for the presentation and co-ordination of government policy, is paid a ministerial salary of pounds 31,125 in addition to his MP's pay of pounds 43,860. As Tory chairmen, Mr Hanley and Dr Mawhinney were also ministers without a department.

But last week, the official Commons record, Hansard published a definitive list of the new government, which put Mr Mandelson as number two in the Office of Public Service (OPS), under David Clark, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Cabinet minister responsible for the Civil Service.

Mr Mandeslon was given the same OPS post in the official House of Commons Weekly Information Bulletin this week.

As one of three Ministers in the OPS, Mr Mandelson would have been available for questioning by MPs in the Commons on 4 June, immediately before the new, weekly half-hour session of Prime Minister's Question Time.

But Whitehall sources said yesterday that there had been a mistake; Hansard and the Bulletin had got it wrong; Mr Mandeslon was not part of Mr Clark's team in the OPS; and he is therefore not available for oral questions in the House. A spokeswoman said, however, that he would answer written Commons questions.