John Prescott came under fresh pressure to justify his £133,000-a-year salary and numerous perks after the Tories claimed he was the first deputy prime minister not to have another cabinet role.
Research by officials in the House of Commons library found that the six previous deputy prime ministers either combined the post with running a Whitehall department or with another job such as Leader of the House of Commons. Chris Grayling, the shadow Transport Secretary, who has tabled Commons questions about Mr Prescott's role, said: "This is further evidence that taxpayers are having to fork out hundreds of thousands in salaries and perks each year for John Prescott even though, unlike all his predecessors, he quite clearly doesn't have a proper job to do.
"This is an astonishing waste of public money at a time when there are serious cutbacks in many public services. It shows that the Government is much more concerned about its own internal difficulties than it is about looking after the interests of taxpayers and the country."
In an attempt to head off Tory criticism after the abolition of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in last week's reshuffle, Mr Prescott will continue to face questions from MPs each month. Initially, his monthly session was due to be abolished, on the grounds that he would not be able to discuss his main role - chairing cabinet committees.
But Mr Prescott suggested to Tony Blair yesterday that he should stillbe questioned. Downing Street said the format, frequency and timing of the questions had yet to be decided.
The Commons library study showed that the first person formally to hold the title of Deputy Prime Minister was Herbert Morrison, who combined it with the leadership of the Commons from 1945 to 1951. The second was Sir Anthony Eden, who later quit as Prime Minister over the Suez crisis. He was Foreign Secretary and deputy premier from 1951 to 1955.
The next holder was Rab Butler, who was also minister in charge of the Central African Office when he was Deputy Prime Minister from 1962 to 1963.
Willie Whitelaw was Home Secretary and later Leader of the House of Lords while serving as Margaret Thatcher's deputy from 1979 to 1986. The next deputy, Sir Geoffrey Howe, served as Leader of the Commons from 1989 to 1990.
Michael Heseltine combined the post with being the minister in charge of the Office for Public Service, part of the Cabinet Office, from 1995 to 1997.
The Tories claimed the analysis undermined Mr Prescott's defence of his new role in an exclusive interview in The Independent yesterday. He said that, for nine years, he had had the largest department of any deputy prime minister and, in his new role, would still do "more work" than Lord Heseltine did.
The Tories say Mr Prescott is staying on as Deputy Prime Minister because if he stood down, he might also resign as deputy leader of the Labour Party. That would give Mr Blair a headache since it would provoke a potentially divisive contest - and fuel demands for him to stand down immediately so the leadership could be resolved at the same time.
Mr Grayling said Labour, not the taxpayer, should now foot the bill for Mr Prescott's salary, his government car, grace-and-favour flat in Admiralty House and his country residence, Dorneywood.Reuse content