Tubby works out : Another view

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The Independent Online
Scanning through the Independent this morning, my eye was taken by your leading article "Take Tubby off the Payroll". I read with amusement your assertion that there are too many ministers in government with not enough work to do, and tried to reconcile that with my diary.

Taking today as a fairly typical example, I started work at 7am, dealing with constituency correspondence. At 8, I had breakfast with colleagues in the House (keeping in touch with backbench opinion is an important part of any minister's job), then travelled to my department to meet the permanent secretary at 8.30. This was immediately followed by a briefing from officials for a Cabinet Committee at 10 o'clock. I had five further departmental meetings during the afternoon, including a meeting and lunch with private-sector employers and the recently established Advisory Panel on Equal Opportunities. These meetings took me through until about 5pm.

Ministers are also Members of Parliament, with a responsibility to represent the interests of their constituents. At 5pm and 7pm, I attended constituency meetings, split by a political meeting (yes, I am a politician, too) at 6.15pm.

During the course of the day, my private office has assiduously been processing papers for my attention - parliamentary questions, letters from MPs to departmental policy papers and cross-governmental issues.

I should make it clear that I make no complaint about my responsibilities - far from it. After all, I chose to become an MP, and was honoured to have been asked by the Prime Minister to do this job.

It has been argued that some functions carried out by ministers in this country should be undertaken by civil servants. However, there is a growing concern in some countries that decisions are being taken by unelected officials rather than by elected, and accountable, representatives of the people. I am sure the Independent would be the first to complain if the responsibility for major political decisions was taken by permanent civil servants.

Your charge that "year by year, the payroll grows" is simply wrong. Since 1979, the number of government ministers has increased by only three, from 86 to 89.

Also, you should not underestimate the real increase in calls on government in recent years, not least the enormous increase in letters to MPs from constituents, many of which are passed to ministers for an answer. Nowadays, there are also more EU and other international meetings to attend.

Whichever minister you have in mind as "Tubby", European Councils would not be the same without him or her, nor would the quality of UK government. After a few months as a departmental minister, I can assure you, any Tubby will have got his weight down - and his workload up.

The author, Conservative MP for Harrow West, is parliamentary secretary to the office of public service and science.