HC Deb 03 July 2000 vol 353 cc80-130
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

I inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.25 pm
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

I beg to move, That this House notes the recommendations in the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, "Reinforcing Standards", concerning Ministers and Special Advisers; regrets that the Government has failed to respond to that report; notes that the Prime Minister will not accept responsibility for adjudicating on the compliance of Ministers with the Ministerial Code of Conduct; further notes that the number and cost of Special Advisers continue to increase; believes that Ministers should be accountable for conflicts of interest and failures to comply with the spirit as well as the letter of the Ministerial Code of Conduct; further believes that the number, and activities, of Special Advisers is prejudicing the impartiality of the Civil Service and accountability of government; and calls upon the Government to accept in full the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in relation to Ministers and Special Advisers. It would not have been necessary for the Opposition to table this motion if the Prime Minister and the Government had responded promptly and positively to the sixth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which was published in January, and particularly to the recommendations on the ministerial code of conduct and special advisers. As it is, far from there being a positive response to the Committee's recommendations, we have seen further evidence of the Government's arrogant disregard for standards in public life, which they claim to have been elected to uphold.

On 7 May 1997, the Prime Minister told the parliamentary Labour party that Labour was not elected to enjoy the trappings of power but to do a job and uphold the highest standards in public life—[Interruption.] That reaction from Opposition Members clearly illustrates my point—that such a remark would be farcical if it were not so tragic for the public interest.

We did not need Lady Richard's diaries to know that, from the outset, Ministers were more determined to secure their privileges and perks than to deliver on their election promises. However, Ministers' petty pursuit of privileges and perks is not the point of this debate. The purpose of this motion and the debate is to press the Government, particularly the Prime Minister, to take responsibility for Ministers' compliance with the ministerial code of conduct and to curb political advisers and their corrosive influence. We have warned the Government about that almost from day one.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

The hon. Gentleman started by referring to the sixth report. Does he acknowledge that that report actually says that special advisers play a valuable role? Is it not therefore inappropriate to use words such as "corrosive" to describe that role?

Mr. Lansley

Later in my speech, I shall explain at length to the hon. Gentleman—whom I suspect knows it, but will not admit it—why we are saying not that special advisers or political advisers have no role to play, but that the manner in which the Government have deployed them, the number of advisers whom they have employed, and the way in which the advisers have done their job has made that role utterly corrosive rather than valuable, as it was under the previous, Conservative Administration.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)

Will my hon. Friend contrast the position in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions—which has no advisers to help in addressing detailed and expert issues in, for example, design, architecture and planning—with that which prevailed in the former Department of the Environment? When a Conservative Member was in power at that Department, many of the advisers whom we had did not have party political allegiances. Although one of the advisers had been a Liberal Democrat candidate, he also happened to be the best expert on environmental issues that we could find. Would my hon. Friend also like to contrast advisers and political appointees?

Mr. Lansley

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He has demonstrated from his own experience as a former Secretary of State for the Environment the way in which the previous Administration not only employed fewer special advisers, but employed those who could help the Government to serve the public interest, rather than only those who would serve a party and a partisan interest.

We saw what the Government intended almost from day one. It all began with the spin doctors pushing out the civil service Government information officers. Andy Wood, the former director of information at the Northern Ireland Office, described the trashing of reputations of certain members of the then Government Information Service by special advisers. The spin doctors then turned to members of the Government. Lord Hattersley described how a former Minister was rubbished to him by Downing street. Then, they got hold of Government statistical presentation, triple counting spending plans on health, and announcing the same education initiative 17 times; £500 million for farmers that turned out to be £1 million; and the 5,000 extra police who turned out to be no extra police at all. And so it went on.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman remind the House how many times the Conservative Government changed the unemployment statistics when they were in power?

Mr. Lansley

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's stricture but, even if I did, is he arguing that before the election the Labour party decided that it had seen things that the previous Conservative Administration did that it believed were wrong, and proposed to imitate them? Or did Labour believe that it was coming to office to do things differently? It did not do things differently—it did things worse.

So it went on. The more the spin machine has grown, the more it has fed on the legitimate role of Ministers and the civil service: promoting its own interests, feeding the egos of those involved by manipulating the careers of others—all the classic techniques of the palace courtiers. Not only does the Prime Minister demand to be treated like the Chinese emperor, with everyone kowtowing to him, but he needs his equivalent of the eunuchs to do his bidding.

Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lansley

On that apposite note, I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Kemp

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the improper use of taxpayers' money for people to operate in a party political role. Will he assure the House that none of the Short money allocated to the Opposition—more than £3 million—is spent in Conservative central office and specifically the war room within Conservative central office? The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was asked three times on the "Today" programme to give that assurance; on each occasion, he failed to do so.

Mr. Lansley

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman did not disappoint me; he made precisely the point that I expected. He will know that the Leader of the House provided precisely the answer. She said: Recipients of Short money have to furnish the Accounting Officer of the House with the certificate of an independent professional auditor in a form determined by the Accounting Officer to the effect that all expenses in respect of which the party received financial assistance during the period ending with that day were incurred exclusively in relation to the party's parliamentary business under the House's resolution.—[Official Report, 13 April 2000; Vol. 348, c. 272W.] In the context of a debate on the Neill committee recommendations, it is interesting that the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) did not make it clear that the increase in the Short money was voted by this House and was in response to a recommendation from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. We are here to see why the Government, having pursued that recommendation successfully in the House, are not willing in the same way to impose on themselves recommendations which stem from the Committee.

Mr. Gummer

Will my hon. Friend tell the House whether the Government provide similar assurances for the money spent from the public purse on all their special political advisers?

Mr. Lansley

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. We will get no such assurance or accountability. It will be hidden in the increases in running costs of Government Departments, which have gone up by £2 billion in comparison with what would have been spent by the Conservative Administration at this stage. Special advisers cost £1.8 million in the last year before the election; the figure is now up to £4.3 million—some £2.5 million extra.

Even the new Labour backers and Labour Back Benchers have now noticed that the emperor has no clothes, and they have rebelled. They know the malign effect of the spin machine. The dam has burst and Labour's own people are speaking out.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be unfortunate if the Short money issue distracted us from the debate, but we shall get distracted only if the hon. Gentleman does not gives the assurance for which he has been asked. At least we know who the special advisers are, what they are paid and so on. Short money is designed to be used for the parliamentary activities of the Opposition parties. Is it being used only for such activities? Can he give us that categorical assurance?

Mr. Lansley

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should make that point. I have made it clear that the Leader of the House has set out the way in which the Short money is to be accounted for. It will be accounted for in precisely that way. There will be no difficulty about that.

The condemnation that is now falling on the Government for their spin machine is something for which they have only themselves to blame. We told them it was wrong. The Neill committee took evidence and made recommendations. Even six months ago, changes could have been made in response to those recommendations, and the corrosive influence of Labour's spin machine would have been rolled back.

Labour's reaction to criticism illustrates the problem—there is no contrition or humility, only an arrogant denial of what everyone knows to be true. We are asked now to believe that every one of the stories from "sources", rubbishing Labour Ministers, is an invention of the press. All critics are dismissed and their motives questioned. They are described as "self-indulgent"—meaning they will not stay on message and have the effrontery to say what they think and what they know to be true.

The Prime Minister said two years ago, that Labour had to be very careful that we are purer than pure. The Prime Minister has failed and it is his personal responsibility. It is no good the Prime Minister delegating responsibility to the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office; it is the Prime Minister's power that is being used to ill effect and it is his abdication of responsibility which has brought this condemnation on his Government.

Not least, it was the Prime Minister's responsibility to uphold the highest standards in public life by following the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and he has not done so.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

The House will notice tonight that the Minister for the Cabinet Office is not in her place to reply to the debate. Does my hon. Friend think that that is because she has consistently been badly briefed against by senior Labour spin doctors; that she does not accept the feeble line put out by Labour that it was all made up by the press; and that she has wisely stayed away because she does not want to lie to the House?

Mr. Lansley

My right hon. Friend will be interested to know that the Minister for the Cabinet Office is attending a meeting in Paris to discuss drugs policy. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office is here. The Leader of the House was replying in detail to media questions yesterday. I am surprised that as the Minister for the Cabinet Office could not attend this debate, the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, and the Leader of the House have not. The Government have searched carefully for Ministers who have neither sinned in this respect nor been sinned against. They had to look very far down what the Leader of the House described in an interesting aside—it gives away what they think about this matter—as the feeding chain.

On the ministerial code of conduct, the Prime Minister sold the pass in the first instance by failing to adopt in particular the formulation proposed by the Committee on Standards in Public Life: It will be for the Prime Minister to determine whether or not Ministers have upheld the highest standards in particular circumstances. However, the code, published in July 1997 read It will be for individual Ministers to judge how best to act in order to uphold the highest standards. They are responsible for justifying their conduct to Parliament and they can only remain in office for so long as they retain the Prime Minister's confidence. In the light of the evidence, the Neill committee has now proposed that this be replaced by a text, the final sentence of which reads: The Prime Minister remains the ultimate judge of the requirements of the Code and the appropriate consequences of breaches of it. There is a critical issue at stake. It has always been true that a Minister who loses the confidence of the Prime Minister, or that of this House, cannot continue in office. We did not need a code to establish that. The purpose of the code is to set ministerial conduct within an ethical framework, with a mechanism for accountability. The present formulation makes compliance with the code a matter essentially for the Minister concerned. The Minister becomes judge and jury in his or her own case.

The Prime Minister can avoid—and, in practice, has avoided—becoming the arbiter and defender of the code. The authority of the office of the Prime Minister has not been harnessed to compliance with the code. Yet that is precisely what the Prime Minister implied in July 1997, when he wrote a foreword to the code and said that he expected all Ministers to work within the letter and spirit of the code. One important case will serve to illustrate the problem. The Deputy Prime Minister has had the benefit of a flat leased to him by the RMT on the basis of a statutory secure controlled tenancy. This tenancy continued after the RMT's sponsorship of the right hon. Gentleman ended. Questions relating to the registration of this as a benefit and a conflict of interest in relation to parliamentary proceedings were examined by the Standards and Privileges Committee. I make no comment about that. However, it is important to be aware that the Committee was concerned only with the right hon. Gentleman's position as a Member of Parliament, not his position as a Minister.

Separately, my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) wrote to the Prime Minister about the conflict with the ministerial code. The code is specific. Paragraph 113 states that while Ministers can be trade union members, care must be taken to avoid any actual or perceived conflict of interest. It adds that Ministers should receive no remuneration from a union. After its inquiry, the Standards and Privileges Committee invited the Deputy Prime Minister to enter his tenancy of the union flat in the Register of Members' Interests as a registrable benefit, so the breach of the code could not be clearer. In the view of the Committee, the Deputy Prime Minister receives a benefit from the tenancy and should register it.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye)

The hon. Gentleman's recollection of the decision of the Committee might be inaccurate. It did not decide that the tenancy was registrable, but that it would be better to register it. That is a different matter.

Mr. Lansley

And how many angels will fit on the head of a pin?

So what did the Prime Minister do about the case? To start with, he replied to a written question on 4 April by saying that the letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells had been passed to the office of the Deputy Prime Minister for reply. A further letter from my hon. Friend was referred to a Minister in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions for reply. The absurdity of that should be obvious even to Labour Members—that one of the Deputy Prime Minister's junior colleagues should be asked to pass judgment on his boss.

After two further letters, eventually my hon. Friend got a prime ministerial reply. The Prime Minister used two arguments. First, he said that the Standards and Privileges Committee report had—in his view—vindicated the Deputy Prime Minister. Secondly, he said that the Deputy Prime Minister continued to have his confidence and that no actual conflict of interest had occurred. It is clear that the Prime Minister is willing to blur the issue of the position of Member of Parliament and Minister, and to use a test of confidence, not compliance with the code. There is no evidence in the Prime Minister's reply to my hon. Friend of an understanding of the requirements of the code, no evidence of an investigation and no explanation of how he has applied the code.

It should not be acceptable to this House that the Prime Minister will not secure scrutiny of the code or any investigation of substantive complaints, nor provide an impartial account of the findings of such complaints. The power of the Executive in our constitution is so little fettered that the highest ethical standards must be maintained, and be seen to be upheld.

Tony Wright

I know that the conservatives have decided to elevate amnesia to an ideology, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was the first Nolan report, in 1995, that made the recommendation about the role of the Prime Minister in relation to the code. That recommendation was explicitly rejected by the previous Government.

Mr. Lansley

The hon. Gentleman is an expert on such matters and he will know that the point at which the code of conduct is customarily reissued is when a new Administration are formed. There was not a new Administration until 1997—two years after the 1995 recommendations. A Labour Prime Minister then had responsibility for reissuing the code. Therefore, it falls to the present Prime Minister to explain himself. I will take no criticism of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), who established the Nolan committee in the first place and has an honourable record in the matter.

The Prime Minister has ignored both the letter and spirit of the code. It is another case of a Prime Minister who will say whatever he thinks will garner him support, but do whatever he finds expedient in his personal and party interest. The pursuit of party interest rather than the public interest is the hallmark of this Government. It is true also in the way in which Labour has packed Government with its political placemen.

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford)

The hon. Gentleman alleges that the Government pursue party interest, not the public good. Would he care to comment on the case of Michael Simmonds, who was the political adviser to the chairman of the Conservative party in 1996–97 and not only on the Government payroll, but based in Conservative central office?

Mr. Lansley

The hon. Gentleman should have given me notice of that question before he asked it. However, I can answer it from the Conservative party's experience. In the run-up to the 1992 election, I was a paid official of the Conservative party and I was appointed as a special adviser. However, the Conservative party paid my salary. It provided me with, as it were, board and lodging. Under present circumstances, people who act exclusively in the party interests of the Labour party are scattered across Whitehall, at the taxpayer's expense.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

The Neill committee specifically referred to the foreword to the ministerial code of conduct. It said that the effect of the foreword is to underline the status of the code as the Prime Minister's document, written not only as guidance for Ministers but as a pledge to the public. Does my hon. Friend think that the current behaviour of some Labour Members shows that they take that pledge to the public seriously?

Mr. Lansley

I take my hon. Friend's point. Labour Members do not take that pledge seriously. All the promises that were made at the election were about securing office. They are concerned with power, not with serving the public interest.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Does my hon. Friend recall that only last year the Prime Minister, abandoning his high-mindedness of 1997, boasted at Question Time of the effectiveness of his press secretary—someone paid from the public purse—in attacking the Conservative party? Was not that an absolute disgrace?

Mr. Lansley

My hon. Friend is right, and his point aptly brings me to the points I wish to make about special advisers. Three years ago, before the election, there were 38 special advisers; now there are 79. Earlier this year, there were 74 at the point at which the Neill Committee recommended a limit on numbers. Since then, the Government have not only ignored that recommendation but continued to add to their number.

Let me make it clear—the question was raised earlier—that I am not opposed to the appointment of special advisers. There is a defined role in offering political advice to Ministers, and in keeping that separate from the impartial advice of the civil service. But that is not the way Labour's special advisers work—they seek to act as gate-keepers to senior Ministers, take executive roles, speak at party meetings, make overseas visits, engage in political briefing of journalists, subvert the work of the Government information service and blur the boundaries between civil service and party. They act not as a complement to the disinterested advice of civil servants, but as a partisan operation, devising policy for the presentational benefit of the Labour party. To those people, the Labour party's interest and the public interest are the same.

It is no wonder that Labour is all spin and no substance. It is dominated by spin doctors. It thinks only of the short-term presentation, not the long-term public interest. Those Ministers who do not do the same are done down by the mischievous briefings of the spinmeisters and their apprentices.

Most dangerous of all is the tripling of the number of advisers in 10 Downing street. In the past, party officials going to Downing street knew that they were entering the heart of the Government machine. They were the outsiders. Now it is civil servants who feel that they are the outsiders. No. 10 is a Labour party office. It is the recreation of the Millbank tower operation inside Government. The Labour party cannot or will not stop being an Opposition. It still believes that it can spin its way out of the reality of the public's experience.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Is it not typical of the Government's attitude that in their amendment to our motion they quoted from the Neill report the comment that special advisers have a valuable role to play. However, the Government have omitted the remarks later in the same paragraph: There is the argument, however, that if the numbers of this type of public servant, and their degree of influence, rise to a point where the influence of the "objective" public servants is outweighed, the effectiveness of the principle of objectivity in public life is diminished. Is not that precisely what is happening?

Mr. Lansley

My hon. Friend is right. What he says does not surprise me, as it is in the nature of spin to extract from a paragraph the half sentence that suits the Government's purpose, and to ignore all qualifications and additions.

The Government do not understand that, ultimately, they will be judged by reality. They will be judged by delivery and not by spin. Reality influences perception, not the other way around.

Special advisers cost £1.8 million in 1997, and they cost £4.3 million now. Running No. 10 Downing street cost £3.4 million before the election, and costs £5.9 million now. The Government are setting up the knowledge network—dubbed the Ministry of Truth in Whitehall—at a cost of £240,000 and rising. The research and information unit has eight staff, and no one knows what they do. The strategic communications unit used to have six staff, but now Mr. Alastair Campbell is its operational head and it has 11.

We know that, technically, Mr. Campbell is allowed to undertake partisan political work only in his lunch hour and tea break.

Dr. Julian Lewis

A long lunch.

Mr. Lansley

My hon. Friend anticipates me. Mr. Campbell must be breakfasting, lunching, dining and taking tea for the benefit of his party these days.

I know that Mr. Campbell cannot answer back in the House of Commons, but that does not matter as everyone knows that he will be answering back in unattributable briefings. However, spin and Mr. Campbell himself have become the story—and there, as Mr. Charles Whelan will tell him, lies the danger.

Ken Follett attacked the Labour spin machine and the Prime Minister's responsibility in particular. He was right in the most important thing that he said: he noted that the main problem was not who said what, but that the Prime Minister was responsible for what was happening and had not stopped it. The reason for that is that he cannot; he knows no other way.

The Labour Government have no purpose other than power. They are more concerned with who is up and who is down than with what they are achieving. They applaud spin over substance. They need to cut the numbers of special advisers.

We have a commitment to differentiate specialist advisers from political advisers, and to ensure that those specialist advisers are appointed according to Nolan rules. The Government will not do that. We will cut the number of political advisers close to the level inherited by this Government at the general election, which means that we will virtually halve the present total. We will restore clear boundaries between the political function in government and the civil service functions that should properly be impartial and disinterested.

That is the challenge to the Government in this debate. Why have they failed to make any response to the Neill committee on its important recommendations? Will they respond now? Will they understand the importance of the problem, and act on it? The Government have not understood that, and I know that they will not. This is a Government who have lived by spin, and now will die by it.

7.53 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping)

I beg to move, To leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: 'welcomes the statement by Lord Neill that there is now less cause for concern about standards in public life than when the cash for questions affair led to the setting up of the Committee in 1994; restates the Government's commitment to maintaining a non-political permanent civil service; agrees with the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life that "special advisers have a valuable role to play"; acknowledges that the Report deals with the serious issues across a wide range of subjects; and notes that the Government plans to respond before the summer recess.' Perhaps I should begin with an apology, as I am delighted to hear that I have neither sinned nor been sinned against. I am grateful for that double blessing from the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), and I shall try to keep up the record, keep my night job, and shine my halo.

At the outset I wish to make it clear that the Government value the work of the Neill committee highly. We strongly supported the establishment of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in October 1994, which took place amid deep disquiet at the conduct of some Conservative Members. Labour's 1997 manifesto promised to clear up politics and to rebuild the bond of trust between the British people and the Government.

We said that we would clean up politics. Our system of government is centralised, ineffective and bureaucratic. There is unquestionably a national crisis of confidence in our political system. An early decision in November 1997 was to extend the remit of the Neill committee's work to review issues relating to the funding of political parties, and to make recommendations as to any changes in the present arrangements.

The Committee's sixth report, "Reinforcing Standards", is a review of its first report. We therefore welcome Lord Neill's statement that there is now less cause for concern about standards in public life than when the affair about cash for questions led to the Committee being set up in 1994.

Mr. Redwood


Mr. Tipping

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will remind us all about the allegations of corruption that were made while he was a Cabinet Minister.

Mr. Redwood

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He probably needs an intervention, as he is wallowing badly. Will he explain where all the stories in the press come from about his boss, the Minister for the Cabinet Office? She is not here tonight, but the stories say that she is on the way out, that she is useless and not a team player, and that she has fallen out of love with Downing street. Does he take the line that Conservative Members take, which is that the stories came from senior Labour spinners and members of the Government? Or does he take the line being put out by Downing street—that all the journalists who wrote those stories are liars?

Mr. Tipping

The right hon. Gentleman ought to stick to his spinning on the cricket pitch. As the new leader of a political unit, he should do a bit of research. My boss is not the Minister for the Cabinet Office. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot get the small points right, what hope is there for the new campaign that he is to lead forth?

Mr. Redwood

The Minister for the Cabinet Office is clearly the Minister's boss in this debate, because she should be here to answer it. I hope that the Minister talked to her before producing this drivel. Will he answer the question? Did the stories about the right hon. Lady come—as we all know that they did—from Labour spinners and senior members of the Government, or is the Minister going to say that all journalists are liars?

Mr. Tipping

I think that the right hon. Gentleman needs to look at what my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office said. She said that there was no substance in allegations that the Prime Minister or his official spokesman spun against her.

Dr. Julian Lewis

If the stories were made up by journalists, how is it that items rubbishing the right hon. Members for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang), and the Minister for the Cabinet Office when she was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, were followed rapidly by the demotion of those Ministers? If the stories were made up by journalists, those journalists are remarkably well informed. The reality is that they did not make the stories up—the stories were fed to them by spin doctors paid for out of the public purse.

Mr. Tipping

I sometimes wish that journalists were remarkably well informed and researched. If they were, they would write stories about the numbers of doctors and nurses in training and about standards rising in our schools. They would be interested in the comprehensive spending review and the transport plan, both of which are to be announced shortly. None of those stories appear, and that is a measure of how out of touch many journalists are.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

That sounded a bit like Pravda. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) asked where all the stories about the Minister for the Cabinet Office came from. Are they all a complete fiction? What did the right hon. Lady mean when she told Saga magazine, in response to that very question, that someone was out to get her?

Mr. Tipping

I am always delighted to give way to an hon. Member who was special adviser to two successive Chancellors of the Exchequer between 1986 and 1989. The hon. Gentleman makes the allegation, but he must tell the House where the stories come from. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office has made it absolutely clear that she has no idea as to the provenance of those stories. She has said that she disbelieves the claim that the Prime Minister and his official spokesman were spinning against her.

Mr. Gummer

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Tipping

The right hon. Gentleman, of course, employed special advisers during his long career.

Mr. Gummer

As the special advisers that I employed included members and candidates of other parties, it is difficult for the hon. Gentleman to attack me. May I bring him back to a point that he made earlier, when he repeated the Prime Minister's view that the new Labour Government would re-create confidence in these matters with the British public? Given that they have failed even to re-create confidence with Mr. Follett, what hope have they of convincing people who were not on their side in the first place?

Mr. Tipping

Mr. Follett writes interesting books, which are pure works of fiction. I am very sorry that my friend Ken Follett cannot distinguish fact from political fiction. I think that he should stick to his real job of writing novels.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Lord Neill said that standards in public life were higher now than in 1994. The criticism tonight is that the Government are not responding quickly enough to the committee's report. Our position is unchanged—we will respond to the 41 detailed recommendations by the end of July, which is just 18 parliamentary working days away. Conservative Members express surprise and astonishment at what I have just said, but the position is extremely clear. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wrote to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Public Administration, who has already intervened in the debate, way back on 26 May, and said clearly that he would respond before the summer recess. The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyne), who will be winding up for the Opposition, is a member of that Committee, and rightly prides himself on being in touch with issues of this sort. He must have seen the Prime Minister's letter.

Similar commitments have also been given on several occasions in the House, particularly during business questions and through parliamentary answers.

Mr. Lansley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tipping

Let me just make this point, as it might help the hon. Gentleman.

No time limit is set down by which a response must be made to the committee. I remind the House that the previous Administration took nine months to respond to the second report of the committee, then under the chairmanship of Lord Nolan. It is less than six months since the sixth report was published, and so that there is no confusion, I will reaffirm that we intend to respond before the end of the month.

Mr. Lansley

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Is it not true that when Lord Neill went to the Public Administration Committee, he said that he wished that the Government had made a response sooner, and that they had made it by now? Secondly, is not the point that the Government are getting into all kinds of disasters because they should have responded—and positively—at an earlier stage?

Mr. Tipping

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's good wishes and good news. I wish that he would give us more support of this kind. However, these are complex matters, and we will be responding to them. There are 41 recommendations covering a wide range of issues, some of which have important constitutional implications.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Tipping

Just a minute. The recommendations that relate to the conduct and privileges of Members of Parliament are particularly complex. The House will want to consider those issues carefully. They have already been subject to some preliminary discussions by the House.

I am in a position of slight embarrassment, in that two special advisers are among those who wish to intervene. I refer to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), who was special adviser to the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) from 1989 to 1994—she is sitting next to her former boss—and to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who was special adviser to Jonathan Aitken and to the right hon. Member for South—West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) from 1995 to 1996. So I will give way first to special advisers.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for giving way. He may not have been sinned against before this evening, as was said earlier, but, given his position, he is certainly being sinned against now. How can the Government justify the enormous increase in taxpayers' money to fund special advisers who are carrying out Labour party policy and working for the Labour party but paid for by the taxpayer? Why do the Government need to spend so much more in taxpayers' money on propaganda, when it should be spent on schools and hospitals?

Mr. Tipping

Substantial sums of extra money are being invested in education and schools, in health and hospitals. The amount of money spent on the civil service is declining from that spent by an Administration to whom she was a special adviser.

Mr. Bercow

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Why, in 1998, did the then Minister for School Standards, the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers), complain to the permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Employment when the press officer, Mr. Jonathan Haslam, refused to insert party political material into an official Government news release?

Mr. Tipping

I am clearly not in a position to answer that question. It may well be relevant to this debate, but I cannot take responsibility for the intimate workings of all 3,600 senior civil servants.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk)

The Minister seems to be accusing Conservative Members of having been special advisers. Are we to infer, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman disapproves of special advisers, in which case he disapproves of his Government's policy? What is his problem with this? Does he not understand that the debate is about elected accountability, and that his Government's reliance on spin and the use of special advisers blurs elected accountability and damages democracy? That is the point of the debate.

Mr. Tipping

The right hon. Lady is a former Minister and has been a distinguished Secretary of State. She will know that special advisers are responsible, through their Ministers, when it comes to criticisms and accountable to the House. Nothing has changed there. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) made it quite clear that he supported special advisers, and so do I.

I wish to make a bit of progress.

Mr. Robathan

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tipping

As the hon. Gentleman is pushing his luck, I will give way to him. However, I have given way many times already, and I will make some progress after this intervention.

Mr. Robathan

The Minister has been characteristically courteous. He has given way a great deal, and for that I thank him. However, he seems to be trying to get off the hook by saying that the Government will respond to the Neill committee's sixth report by the end of the month. Part of the debate refers to the ministerial code, which can be enforced now. Why will the Prime Minister not enforce paragraph 113 of the ministerial code relating to the relationship with trade unions, of which he is very well aware, as regards the Deputy Prime Minister and his flat in Clapham? It can be done now—the Prime Minister does not have to wait.

Mr. Tipping

The hon. Gentleman took me back to where I was before I took a number of interventions. There are 41 recommendations in the report. Some are complex, some affect the House, some relate to proposed legislation on the criminal law on bribery. These are serious matters, which require careful attention.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has recently produced proposals for discussion. The sixth report, however, is a package of proposals, and the Government will respond to the package. We are giving these matters the serious consideration that they deserve rather than producing a knee-jerk reaction, for which we would no doubt be criticised by Conservative Members, who now characterise mature reflection as delay. The time for a debate on the sixth report will be after the Government's response. The debate this evening is premature. It is characteristic of an Opposition who will try to jump on any passing bus. Opportunism for all and everything now appears to be their cry.

As they say, a week is a long time in politics. When it comes to major parliamentary and constitutional changes, 10 years may come too soon. It is important to try to get these things right.

Mr. Kemp

Does my hon. Friend share my concern about a disjointed response to questions from the Opposition? Earlier, I asked whether not one penny of Short money—£3.5 million-worth of taxpayers' money—should be spent on party political purposes, when we know that it is being spent on the Conservative party's war room. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) did not answer that question and refused to give an assurance. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about a quote from the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram)? He said, "We have spent this money in many ways. One of these is for support for the shadow Cabinet in the war room."

Mr. Tipping

I noted what the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire said about the matter. He said that the Conservative party would be duly accounted and audited. The comment from the chairman of the Conservative party is clearly a quotation that any audit would want to take into account.

Mr. White

Will my hon. Friend give way? [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] If the Conservatives have nothing to hide on Short money, why did they try so hard to prevent the Select Committee examining it?

Mr. Tipping

I am sorry but I missed my hon. Friend's point. Conservative Members were complaining that I am not giving way often enough. I have given way many times to Opposition Members, and only twice to my hon. Friends.

A number of charges have been made about Ministers and special advisers. I do not intend to reply to them in detail or to get drawn into discussion of individual cases. However, I will say that the ministerial code is working and is effective. We welcome Lord Neill's conclusion that there is no need for an independent ethics commission to investigate alleged ministerial abuse. That speaks volumes.

The party that gave us the A team—Archer, Aitken and Ashcroft—can speak only from weakness. If there is a crisis of confidence, the previous Conservative Government have much to answer for. What is more, I have not mentioned the H Word—Hamilton.

Much has been made about the growth in the number and influence of special advisers. I suspect that some Conservative Members are coming to believe the magic and mystery that is alleged to surround some of these postholders. It is inconceivable that 78 special advisers can corrupt and politicise the senior civil service of 3,700, or a civil service of 466,500 permanent staff. We remain committed to an independent and impartial civil service.

It seems that no one has denied—it has been a theme of the debate—the need and role of special advisers. The Opposition Benches are littered with a handful of distinguished former occupants of the post, and we have heard from some of them. Perhaps we should note what the Neill committee says on the matter. It acknowledged the valuable role of special advisers, but no judgment was passed on the numbers considered appropriate.

Nevertheless, the Opposition complain about the numbers and costs of special advisers. Special advisers existed under Conservative Administrations, and guidelines then were far from clear. It was this Government who were responsible for publishing the model contract for special advisers. The contract is explicit and public about their role. That is a transparency that did not exist under the previous Administration. We have also been open—it has been quoted back to us—about the number of advisers and their costs.

For healthy debate, politicians need support and assistance. I was delighted at the decision to increase financial aid to the Opposition parties. There was a 270 per cent. increase to £3 million in Short money for the Conservative Opposition alone. That sum has risen to £3.4 million in the current year. The Leader of the Opposition also receives an additional £500,000. Whether value for money is being achieved remains a moot point. The carping that we are hearing tonight needs to be set in the context of the public support that the Opposition parties have received.

Select Committees deserve support, too. Recent changes in our procedures have provided more time to debate Select Committee reports. There is a continuing debate on the need for the appropriate level of support for Select Committees.

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has been mentioned. I remind the House that the twelfth report of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges cleared my right hon. Friend of complaints against him. It concluded that he should register his tenancy only because in the current climate it would be better if he were to do so.

Mr. Robathan

I can see the Minister's embarrassment from this side of the Chamber. Will he confirm that the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges has no role in commenting on, or enforcing, the ministerial code of conduct? That code is the responsibility of the Prime Minister. I am sorry to embarrass the hon. Gentleman because I think that he is a decent person. The ministerial code has been blatantly flouted and the Prime Minister is taking no action whatsoever.

Mr. Tipping

I am not embarrassed at all. It is the hon. Gentleman who should be embarrassed. He was one of those who made the complaint against my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Select Committee dismissed it out of hand.

Despite all the concerns and the accusations that will be made this evening, the House and the public should be encouraged by Lord Neill's statement that there is now less concern about standards in public life than when the committee was established in 1994. The Labour party said that we would clean up politics, and we are. We will take no lessons from the Tories on cleaning up politics.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is it not rather odd to be lectured on integrity in public life by Opposition Members who supported the most sleaze-ridden Parliament since the times of Lloyd George? Surely they are the last people to give us lectures on integrity.

Mr. Tipping

My hon. Friend has made his point in his own way.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tipping

Yes, but for the last time.

Mrs. Bottomley

As the hon. Gentleman is seeking to reassure the House of his commitment to maintaining high standards in public life, will he speak to the Secretary of State for Health, who has apparently not found time to see Dame Rennie Fritchie after her extremely critical report on the abuse of the appointments system in the health service? There has been the most disgraceful stuffing of NHS boards with Labour councillors, and that has been repeated with primary care trusts. There has been no response to the report and apparently Dame Rennie has not even been seen by the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Tipping

The sixth report of the Neill committee draws attention to public appointments. I have said that we shall respond within 18 working days. A factor that came out of the Fritchie report was that the numbers of women who have been appointed to trust boards, along with people from the black and Asian communities, have increased substantially. We should be proud of that.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Tipping

No, I shall make some progress.

At the end of the day, it is easy to overstate the magnitude of the House of Commons' problems. It is equally easy to exaggerate the attractions of the House in its "golden age". Those words are from a recent pamphlet of a former special adviser to successive Chancellors of the Exchequer between 1986 and 1990. Despite his words, I suspect that, unfortunately, we shall hear about problems along with exaggerations in bucketfuls throughout the rest of the debate.

8.19 p.m

Mr. John MacGregor (South Norfolk)

The House knows that I am a member of the Neill committee. However, I do not propose to speak mainly in that capacity this evening. I have another interest to declare, because I think that I was one of the earliest special advisers, although that was not our title at that time. Way back in my youth in the early 1960s, I was a special assistant to Sir Alec Douglas-Home, when he was Prime Minister. There were two of us at No. 10. I hasten to add that we were paid by the Conservative party and not out of public funds.

Of course, I have had special advisers. Two distinguished special advisers who have made an admirable contribution are both in the Chamber. I recognise the value of special advisers, but their value is not the issue this evening. We all realise that special advisers have a role to play. I am not criticising the concept, and I think that the model contract brings the point out well. It states: Special advisers are appointed to advise the Minister in the development of Government policy and its effective presentation. The point is that both the role and number of special advisers have changed under this Government. That is why there is so much scrutiny of them and of spinning.

I heard the Leader of the House speaking on "The World This Weekend" yesterday. I understand why the Minister for the Cabinet Office cannot be here this evening, but I believe that the Leader of the House should have taken this debate. Certainly, when I was Leader of the House I would have done so. The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office is a nice, decent man, but, with respect, he has floundered this evening, and it would have been proper for the debate to be taken by a Cabinet Minister. One wonders why it was not. Either the Government are attempting to spin down the issue—in which they will not succeed—or the Leader of the House is all too aware of how much substance there is to our charges.

Dr. Julian Lewis

I can enlighten my right hon. Friend, I think. The fact is that the Leader of the House was herself the target of a vicious campaign of leaking and briefing. Her own position was in jeopardy, and it was only when three Conservative Back-Bench Members—among whom I am proud to include myself—spoke up for her that the campaign finished.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend offers a third reason, and he may well be right—I suspect that the answer may be a combination of all three.

When I listened to the Leader of the House yesterday, it struck me that she was commenting on the kind of issues that inevitably arise in the run-up to a general election. I was Leader of the House from 1990 to 1992 in the run-up to the general election, and I understand her point. However, we were extremely careful to distinguish between the work that civil servants should do and the work of those employed on party activities. If the description of what Alastair Campbell does is anything like right, he is coming dangerously close to a position in which he ought to be funded by party funds, not public funds.

The Leader of the House seemed surprised yesterday that special advisers had become an issue of public debate. She has overlooked two points. First, everyone realises that news management is more important to the Government than policy. How things look matters more than what the Government do. Spin matters more than substance. so it is not surprising that that has become part of the public debate. What is surprising is that it did not happen earlier—I thought that that would happen last year.

The whole process of spinning has gone on for a long time and has been increasingly commented on, so the danger for the Government is that it has become a real issue. Spin is like a fire that has smouldered under the surface for a long time and which suddenly blazes out. The issue has been commented on so often and so many examples have been given that it has become a liability for the Government—and one that they will not easily shake off. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) said, those who live by spin will fall by spin. The second reason for the issue's importance is that the numbers of special advisers have greatly increased, particularly at No. 10. I had misgivings about the way in which information officers were treated early in the Government's life. We never contemplated doing anything like that.

Mr. Ken Follett is not the only commentator; indeed, he has come rather late to the debate. It was fortuitous that his article appeared in The Observer on Sunday and it is revealing that he has come out in public. It fits my bonfire point that Labour Back-Bench Members are beginning to express misgivings that have existed for some time and that are now coming to the surface. Mr. Follett is not alone, and I cannot believe that all the stories about malicious remarks about colleagues are simply invented. We all know what the Lobby is like, and that its stories often have some substance.

My own admirable daily newspaper, the Eastern Daily Press, contained its Commons diary on Friday, in which the political editor commented on the closure of the Press Gallery over the weekend because of air conditioning problems. He wrote: The air conditioning has gone wrong and part of it is leaking fluid into MPs' offices downstairs. This is one of the few leaks in recent times not to have originated in 10 Downing Street. Mr. Peter Kellner, in the Evening Standard today, gives several instances of leaking and details Labour Back-Bench concern about it.

Mr. Winnick

If there were any lobbying against Ministers in the way alleged by the right hon. Gentleman, I should be against it. I always have been against such briefing. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the role played by Bernard Ingham? Time and time again when a Minister was to be sacked, we knew beforehand. John Biffen is the best-known example, but there were many others, including a Foreign Secretary. When one considers what Ingham did, whatever Mr. Campbell may or may not have done seems slight by comparison. Did the right hon. Gentleman protest at the time against the actions of Ingham?

Mr. MacGregor

I have read Bernard Ingham's autobiography, in which he makes it clear that he did not engage in that kind of activity. Indeed, he has been extremely robust in drawing a contrast between his behaviour and that of Mr. Alastair Campbell.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster

The right hon. Gentleman obviously has enormous confidence in Mr. Ingham's denial. Bearing in mind that Mr. Campbell has also denied such action, and from a forensic point of view, does the right hon. Gentleman have even a shred of evidence for what he is suggesting? Does he have any concrete proof to support his comments?

Mr. MacGregor

I am not sure to which comments the hon. Gentleman is referring. I believe that leaking is taking place. Ex-Ministers are discussing it publicly. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) said on the "Today" programme this morning that spin doctors and political advisers now have disproportionate influence and that too much goes through the sieve of the policy unit at No. 10. The burden of the hon. Gentleman's charge is precisely the sort of thing that I have talked about. Leaks are taking place.

No. 10 and Mr. Alastair Campbell deny that any of the leaks come from them. The Leader of the House said yesterday that leaks could have come from lower down the food chain. I think that she meant by that that they might have come from special advisers and their ilk. It is an important point. The role of special advisers has clearly changed since our Government were in power. None of our special advisers would have made comments about colleagues or spread mischief. Something is wrong in the Government's body politic.

Tony Wright

To avoid confusion, would the right hon. Gentleman say exactly where he comes from on this matter? The Opposition motion states that the Opposition believes that the number, and activities, of Special Advisers is prejudicing the impartiality of the Civil Service and accountability of government, but the Neill committee inquiry and report explicitly repudiated that view. Is the right hon. Gentleman making a party speech, or does he claim to speak on behalf of the Neill Committee, which said something completely opposite to what he is saying?

Mr. MacGregor

I made it clear when I began, and shall do so again later when I refer to the Neill recommendations, that I am speaking mainly on my own observations of the situation as someone who has been involved in these matters for a long time. The Government are damaging themselves greatly by allowing the type of activity to which I have referred to continue. Often, I suspect, it is being conducted by special advisers.

There have also been many mutterings from civil servants about the way in which special advisers have increased their role in private offices and similar areas, and I think that that is highly dangerous. We limited the role of special advisers. As anyone who had special advisers will know, ministerial meetings would be attended by at least five or six civil servants and only one special adviser. It seems that the balance may have switched the other way.

Mr. Bercow

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that under the previous Government, it was not merely that special advisers were not encouraged to brief against Ministers in other Departments, but that such activity was specifically prohibited? I recall that on day one as a special adviser to my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley), she made it clear to me—quite rightly—that no such activity would be tolerated.

Mr. MacGregor

I shall come to that point later, but I agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) would have said exactly the same. I can say with confidence that we did not do what this Government have done.

Why are the Government doing it? It is part of the climate of spin. Either advisers are being tipped off by Ministers to do a hatchet job for them, or they have an inflated idea of their own importance, fed by flattering encounters with journalists.

Mr. Kemp

I share the right hon. Gentleman's concern about the need for democratic accountability among special advisers. Is he aware, however, that an inquiry was held two years ago into special advisers? The Select Committee on Public Administration invited Mr. Alastair Campbell to sit before it for five hours of tough questioning. I recall that the hon. Members for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) and for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) led the questioning, asking everything possible. There was not a scintilla of truth to the accusations, and no evidence that Mr. Campbell or any other special adviser had briefed against anyone. That was democratic accountability in action. Few other Parliaments in the world operate in that way. That happened less than two years ago, and no evidence was produced that people had behaved improperly in any way.

Mr. MacGregor

The stories have not gone away—nor has the flavour or the smell. Now, it is very often Members on the Government Benches and Government supporters who complain about the Government's approach and activity.

The Neill committee's recommendations on special advisers will help by providing a framework to put the role of special advisers on a proper basis. However, they do not get to the heart of the problem to which I referred. Although desirable in themselves, the recommendations do not address the concerns currently being expressed about the Government's methods and priorities. That is a matter for Ministers—especially the Prime Minister—to deal with, but, clearly, that is not happening.

I am disappointed that the Government have not already acted; I look forward to what will be said in a few days time, but I cannot understand why they have not acted on limiting the number of special advisers. The Neill committee recommended that such provisions might be incorporated in a civil service Act. I fully accept that such a measure would take time; that is why the committee also recommended that, in the interim, the House could introduce a statutory instrument. If the House could vote on the matter, that would be the way to proceed. That is exactly how the issue of special advisers has been dealt with in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, where there are statutory limits on their numbers.

The Government could at least deal with the Neill recommendations. Perhaps that would help to overcome the feeling that they do not want to face up to the problem, because they cannot control the numbers.

The sixth report contains other important recommendations—for example, on the procedure in seriously contested cases in the House. That is probably the matter that the Parliamentary Secretary had in mind when he said that it raised big issues. The proposal has been well thought through—with much support in the House and elsewhere—as a way of achieving natural justice for Members who find themselves in such situations.

There are important recommendations on the composition of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, and on a change in the advocacy rules to enable Members who have a direct interest in a matter, but who know what they are talking about, to initiate debates and propose amendments. I cannot understand why we do not implement that quickly; it would greatly help the proceedings of the House. The recommendations on a civil service Act and on the sponsorship of Government activities are also important.

It is a pity that the response to the report will not come out until the end of July. I hope that the Government will not dribble it out on the last day before the summer recess so that we do not have a chance to consider it. I hope that it will be published well before Parliament rises and that there will be quick action on the recommendations. The matter should not be allowed to drag on; the recommendations are widely supported.

Tonight's debate is, above all, about the manner in which the Government conduct their business—the way in which they have allowed this tremendous feeling of conflict to take root, with a concentration on spin rather than on policies. I warn the Government that the issue will not go away; they have not tackled it quickly enough.

8.33 pm
Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)

I declare an interest in that the Select Committee on Public Administration, which I have the honour to Chair, is currently considering the issues of special advisers and the ministerial code. We hope to say something useful to the House on those matters in due course.

I take the House back a brief six years to 25 October 1994. I remember that day vividly. I sat on the Opposition Benches, watching John Major—a Prime Minister who was beleaguered—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The hon. Gentleman should know how to refer to another hon. Member.

Tony Wright

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was beleaguered and under siege. Each day brought a new revelation. It was the high point of the age of sleaze.

We could hardly believe many of the revelations; it was so extraordinary that people could behave in such a way—bringing themselves, the House and the whole of public life into disrepute. Worst of all was the fact that we got used to such things; they became so routine and casual that they ceased to astonish us. They ceased to outrage us. We expected them to happen and they did.

That is why the right hon. Gentleman had to announce, in extremis—under pressure—the establishment of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. That evening, I stood in the taxi queue downstairs, listening to the conversation among a group of Conservative Members of Parliament. One of them said, nodding his head darkly, "This is a bad day. It will cause us nothing but trouble because this will not go away." That was the point.

The right hon. Gentleman's action was brave and necessary, because public life was being rocked. The most important fact was that the committee was set up not as a short, sharp fix in order to get over one day's, or one week's, bad news, but on a standing basis so that it would continue to report to this House—as it were, constantly delivering bad news and challenging the House to do something about it.

Mrs. Laing

In the light of what the hon. Gentleman says, is he paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) for his decency and honesty in taking that action?

Tony Wright

I frequently pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman. In a moment or two, I may well do so again, because he was the first Prime Minister to publish the ministerial code. I think he was embarrassed—who would not be?—by what was going on around him. I think he was embarrassed by his party, and in considerable distress that the behaviour of members of his party had brought both the party and public life into disrepute.

Dr. Julian Lewis

I do not contest the general thrust of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but does he acknowledge that, at that time, as at present, there were more than 650 Members of the House? If he were to add up the scandals, he would find that only a small number of people were involved. It is not fair of the hon. Gentleman to try to smear an entire political party for the sins of a few—especially as many current Members from that party were not Members of the House at the time.

Tony Wright

That is a most interesting and revealing intervention. It is best answered by a short extract from the first report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, published in 1995. In the section on Members of Parliament, paragraph 13 states: Whatever the reason, there has been a significant growth in the number of Members of Parliament who have entered into consultancies or other forms of agreement which might reasonably be thought to influence their Parliamentary conduct. Analysis of the 1995 Register of Members' Interests suggests that 26 Members have consultancy agreements with public relations or lobbying firms and a further 142 have consultancies with other types of company or with trade associations. These 168 Members hold between them 356 consultancies. If Ministers and the Speaker are excluded there are 566 MPs. Thus almost 30% of eligible Members of Parliament hold consultancy agreements of these types. Paragraph 15 states: While the lack of detail in the Register makes precise analysis difficult, it appears in their different ways that some 389 of the 566 eligible MPs—almost 70%—have financial relationships with outside bodies which directly relate to their membership of the House. We are not talking about a small handful.

Mr. Robathan

The hon. Gentleman quotes accurately from the first report of the Nolan committee. However, he will admit that, after we take away Ministers, there were about 230 Conservative Members in the previous Parliament. I was one and I did not have any consultancies, and many of my hon. Friends did not, either. Out of the 389 Members of Parliament mentioned, quite a few—at least 150 and possibly more—were from parties other than the Conservative party. Indeed, most of them were from the Labour party, and I make that point in a spirit of bipartisanship.

Tony Wright

That is a nice try, but it is simply not true. The figures are entirely clear. I do not make my point in a churlish or ungenerous spirit, because it is a matter of historical record that the previous Parliament, I am afraid, was contaminated by the behaviour of large numbers of Conservative Members of Parliament. We ought to put that point on the record, but we should put it behind us. Thank goodness, the Neill committee was set up to do something about the problem and, thank goodness, it managed to do things that the House had failed to do over many years.

Paragraph 49 of the first report of the Nolan committee sums up the position. It states: In recent years Members have acquired paid consultancies on a large scale. Over the same period public scepticism about MPs' financial motives has increased sharply. It must be more likely than not that these two developments are related, but in any case their combination can only tend to undermine the dignity of Parliament as a whole.

Mr. Bercow

I am a little worried by the hon. Gentleman's propensity to smear or, at least, to seek to smear. Will he, therefore, tell the House how many of the people to whom he has just referred were found to be guilty of wrongdoing?

Tony Wright

I am surprised when hon. Members ask such questions, because they are almost an invitation to go through the whole wretched roll call again. I am more than happy to do that. I have the roll call with me, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that going through it would embarrass him far more than it would detain me. In a spirit of generosity towards him, I do not think that it would be helpful to do that. However, I am sure that I have friends here who would be more than happy to toss names into the pot and to remind the House of these great episodes of the past.

I am perplexed by the Opposition's approach to this issue. Why on earth do they want to return to the issue of the Committee on Standards in Public Life? Every time that they return to the issue, it revives all these blessed memories. It tells the British public again why the committee was set up in the first place and what its history is.

Even more, I cannot understand why the Conservative party wanted to ennoble the wretched Ashcroft. All that it did was revive the same memories. Why, having spent years trying to bury that history, do Conservative Members want to resurrect it by such an outrageous act? It brings back all the memories of why on key issues, such as party funding, the previous Government resolutely refused—despite being asked many times—to refer the issue of party funding to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. They would not do it, because they were dreadfully embarrassed about the secrecy surrounding the Conservative party's accounts and the fact that it was funded by a small number of individuals, most of whom were based abroad. Therefore, we were not able to have the type of public scrutiny that we should have had. It took this Government to refer the issue of party funding to the Committee on Standards in Public Life and to proceed with detailed legislation following from that inquiry.

Dr. Julian Lewis

If the hon. Gentleman will not give us a number, will he not tell us whether he is trying to suggest that the many people who held consultancies were all guilty of wrongdoing? If he is not trying to suggest that, what was the point of his saying what he said? He seems to think that the previous Government included people who were guilty of wrongdoing and that they were manifestly punished at the polls by being ejected from office in such large numbers. However, if he thinks that that will stop the present Opposition from holding this Government to account, he has got another think coming. We will expose their wrongdoing as rigorously as though there had never been the problems for which most of us were not responsible in the past.

Tony Wright

The words and the figures that I gave were not mine; they were Lord Nolan's. I merely reminded the House of the context in which his inquiry was established, the evidence that he pointed to and the links that he made.

However, as the hon. Gentleman invites me to reflect more on this serious issue, I shall consider what has happened to trust in public life in the same period. We can have a party political battle and it is the Opposition's job to make useful political mischief out of the headlines of the day. We all know that is what it is about. However, the underlying issue is how people perceive the political system and the trust that they have in it. That is far more fundamental than the party political battle.

The biggest indictment that I would level against the Conservative party is not so much the individual incidents that took place, but the corrosion over that period of the fundamental trust that people have in public life, politicians and the political process. If we lose that trust and it is eroded, it is very hard to claw it back. Lest the hon. Gentleman is about to intervene to ask me whether I am making that up, let me assure him that I am not. According to the annual British attitudes social survey, by the mid-1990s fewer than one in four people trusted British Governments to put the interests of the nation above those of party. That is a fall of 16 percentage points on the previous decade. That was the effect on trust in politicians and public life in that period whereas the proportion had been more or less constant for the decade before the mid-1980s.

I referred to a period of steep decline in public trust, but that began to recover just before the 1997 election. In fact, its recovery was associated with the establishment of the Nolan committee. When people saw that something was being done about the problem, there was the beginning of a recovery in the figures for the trust that people have. I do not make the point in a partisan sense, but that trust grew sharply during the 1997 election and grew even more sharply afterwards. In 1996, although 25 per cent. of people strongly agreed with the statement that parties were interested only in their votes and not in their opinions, that figure had fallen to 20 per cent. by the time of the 1997 election. After polling day, it fell to 14 per cent. The cheering news from those figures is that, despite the catastrophic erosion of people's trust in politics and public life in the 1990s, it has been possible to reverse the trend. I take that to be a rather good development.

Mr. Bercow

The hon. Gentleman is a versatile specimen, so I should like to tax him on the breach of trust involved in briefings against Ministers. If Alastair Campbell was not, as is widely supposed, responsible, who was responsible for describing the Chancellor of the Exchequer in every national newspaper as "psychologically flawed"?

Tony Wright

As I said, it is the Opposition's job to make political mischief and they are fully entitled to do that. I wish them well, but it is a wearisome business. As I have been invited to say something about the issue, however, may I point out that I am astonished by the outbreak of what one might call political virginity among the political classes? It is though it is a shock and a revelation to learn that politicians like to be liked, like to be liked more than their colleagues and try to ensure that the world knows that they are liked more than their colleagues. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] As I said, this bogus political virginity is extraordinary. I take the fact that politicians want to be liked as an axiom of political life at all times in all places. The idea that that fact is somehow something about which the world should know is extraordinary. It is an interesting political game to play; it is probably more interesting than chasing after real issues.

I should like to make one further, perhaps more substantial, point on the matter, because it concerns me.

Mr. Bercow

The hon. Gentleman has said that before.

Tony Wright

I am on to a more serious, not trivial, point.

The political class—not just here but across the world—is far more adept than ever before at controlling political communication. If politicians can control the news, they will do so. That is, in a sense, their job in life. It is the job of the media to stop them controlling the news. Two dangerous developments are occurring. First, there is the idea that we must all speak with one voice. We have a political class that is more control-minded than ever before—I talk not in a party sense but across the board, as all politicians want to control the news, and technology helps them. Secondly, the ability to translate that idea into day-to-day politics is far more developed than ever before. The effect is to close down political debate; to create a suffocatingly narrow area within which genuine political debate can take place.

How do the media respond? Do they respond by ensuring that political debate comes out and that the issues are pursued? Of course not; they respond by seeking a cigarette paper's difference between two people from the same party. The story becomes one of division and split. No one cares about the issue involved, yet the media claim that they are acting in the interests of something called—perhaps—public service broadcasting. The only thing that they are interested in is trying to find three words that someone might utter that can be set against three words that someone else might have uttered in order to write a story about split and division.

If one puts together the two abdications—if I may call them that—of the political class from open political debate, which is a feature of modern life, and of the media from the real pursuit of issues, beating, playing and overcoming the spin, I am afraid that one has the atrophy of political life. That is the real condition of politics in Britain today. That is where political debate is going. We should be concerned not with silly arguments about who briefed what against whom, but with what is happening to the quality and character of our political life owing to such developments. If the Opposition were at all serious, that is the issue on which they would be challenging the Government. I am sorry; that was a diversion and a distraction.

There is a history to all this. As I sought to remind the House earlier, the previous Government refused even to send the issue of party funding to the Nolan committee. It was the previous Government who, when presented with the first report of the Nolan committee on the ministerial code and the role of the Prime Minister, rejected it. It was a good try of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), but the question was not one of waiting for another Government to come along. The fact is that the Government of the day produced a detailed response to Nolan and specifically would not accept it. One cannot blame the Prime Minister of the day, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon. Who would accept that they had to take responsibility for such stuff going on around them?

Mr. Winnick

My hon. Friend made mention of consultancies and the rest, but does he accept that the Nolan committee, as it became known, was appointed by the Prime Minister only as a result of cash for questions? Although I accept a great deal of what my hon. Friend has said about the media and triviality, tribute should be paid, as I said in debate in 1994, to The Sunday Times. Although the paper suffered tremendous criticism for the way in which it tried to trap Members on the tabling of questions for money, it is extremely unlikely that the Nolan committee would ever have been appointed but for its series of articles. Therefore, I have always paid tribute to The Sunday Times in that respect.

Tony Wright

I very much agree. I regret that serious investigative journalism is much diminished these days in the pursuit of the other material that I have described. That is part of the abbreviation, the attenuation of public life that we are seeing.

I do not want to detain the House very much longer, but I want to say a word about the issues raised in the Opposition motion arising from the Neill report. The special advisers issue is an interesting one. It is of course fertile territory for such exchanges, but it must be recorded that Neill has conducted the only extensive inquiry into the matter. Having considered the matter, the Neill committee thought that special advisers were in essence a good thing. I shall not quote the sentence that has already been quoted, but point out that, in summing up the evidence, the report said: Almost all witnesses made clear their view that special advisers were valuable components of the machinery of Government.

Mr. Tyrie

That is not in dispute. Nobody is suggesting the abolition of the adviser system. We are asking the Government to implement Lord Neill's recommendations. So far, they have been determined to refuse to do so.

Tony Wright

We are all going to agree about that. The hon. Gentleman invites me to point out that his evidence to the Neill committee on the matter of special advisers sharply contrasts with the evidence given by the shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young). On the key issue of who should pay for certain categories of advisers, Lord Neill preferred the right hon. Gentleman's evidence.

Mr. Tyrie

I am sorry to delay the House, but as a matter of record, I made four recommendations to the Neill committee. Three became three of the Neill report's main recommendations and the fourth, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, is now beginning to be widely discussed by people questioning Alistair Campbell's behaviour. If he is exclusively to do party political work, perhaps his salary should be paid from Labour party funds.

Tony Wright

I simply make the point that the Conservative party could not even manage to put one voice before Neill on these issues, but that is unworthy and I withdraw it.

Perhaps the more revealing comment during the inquiry came from the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Richard Wilson, who, when asked whether the number of special advisers was damaging the civil service, as the motion claims, and whether there was politicisation of it, said: My short answer to your question on that is that I do not think the Senior Civil Service of 3,700 people is in danger of being swamped by 70 special advisers. That is not what is happening and I do not see it as creeping politicisation. Even in their motion, which in some sense claims to support Neill, the Opposition directly contradict the Neill inquiry.

The Neill inquiry was important. The committee has made some important recommendations on a new code for advisers—to which I hope the Government will respond positively—and on numbers. Parliament should have an opportunity to decide, broadly speaking, on the numbers.

I want to say a word about the code, a subject that has surfaced during the debate and in which I have taken an interest over the years. There are a number of questions to be asked about the ministerial code, and I am not entirely sure that the Neill committee got it quite right. There are questions about who the ministerial code belongs to. I am not persuaded that the Prime Minister should have it in his back pocket as an informal rule book. I would be happier if the code belonged to the House of Commons and fitted into a larger framework of parliamentary accountability, but I may not be able to persuade the Government of that.

I am not sure that Neill got it right on the question who investigates alleged breaches of the code. That is an important issue. The Public Administration Committee has spoken to Lord Neill about it, and I was not entirely persuaded by what he told us. His broad answer was that the Prime Minister can get anyone in the land to help him to make inquiries.

That is not a satisfactory position. The Cabinet Secretary said to Neill, "It is not my job to find out what went wrong. I am not that kind of investigating officer." Permanent secretaries have said to Neill, "It is not our job to find out whether our Ministers have been in breach of the terms of the code." Whose job is it to go and find out, so that we can have some real assurance that there has been a proper investigation, and so that Parliament will know what happens? The Government need to think carefully about that.

A further question is where the buck stops. I referred earlier to the recommendation in the first Nolan committee report, which basically stated that under the terms of the code, given its ownership and its status, the buck must clearly stop with the Prime Minister. That was not accepted by the previous Government. It has been stated again in rather different language in the sixth report from the committee, and the Government must now accept it. If the code is to be a prime ministerial document, there is no avoiding the fact that there must be prime ministerial responsibility for deciding whether breaches of the code have occurred.

If we could detach ourselves from the happy exchanges during the debate, there are some serious issues to consider. There is need for eternal vigilance on these matters. The fundamental issues are important. It is essential to ensure that the boundary lines are properly transparent and are properly policed between the different elements of the system. I do not for a second underestimate the importance of that.

There are challenges for all of us. If I may say so, the challenge for the Opposition in tabling such a motion is to show a certain amount of what might be called constructive humility. They have a past to account for. Collectively, they did great damage to British public life over an important period, and I hope that now, in a constructive way, they might seek to help us to rebuild it.

On our side, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said, we came in with a challenge and a promise. We said that we would develop a new kind of politics and that there was to be a new kind of trust. A huge responsibility comes with saying that, and we have to make sure daily that we discharge it. Anything that departs from that is a derogation from the promise that we made to the electorate three years ago.

9.2 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright). He may recall that it was my question at Prime Minister's questions in the previous Parliament that prompted the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) to set up the Nolan inquiry. My question was …can the Prime Minister reassure the House that his Administration is now a sleaze-free zone?—[Official Report, 18 October 1994; Vol. 248, c. 142.] It was not first and foremost about Parliament, nor about civil servants or special advisers. It was about members of the right hon. Gentleman's Government. Conservative Members are foolish to have raised the question in the way that they have done this evening.

For all that, I believe that the Nolan committee and now the Neill committee have done the House and the country a great service. They have shone the searchlight of inquiry into the far reaches of Whitehall and Westminster to good effect.

Spinning may be considered a political disease by the professionals, but in the eyes of the public, the besetting sin of politicians is hypocrisy. We have all found that in our dealings with our constituents. Conservative spokesmen this evening are probably too young to recall that great spinner—the godfather of spinning—Bernard Ingham, but I well recall the occasions when he spun so effectively, as has been mentioned, about Ministers who had fallen out of favour with his mistress, the right hon. Member for Finchley, as she then was. When he referred to the then Leader of the House as being a semi-detached member of the Cabinet, sure enough, very soon afterwards he was completely detached.

In that connection, I was amused to see that Baroness Thatcher was warning us today about the danger of spin doctors and soundbites. It sounds very much like Queen Boadicea giving a lecture on road safety.

Special advisers, politicisation in the civil service and negative briefing are not the monopoly of the new Government. Indeed, I read in The Daily Telegraph this morning: Mr. Follett is plain wrong, though, about his other main contention, that this government is much more prone to internecine briefing than are other parties or were other times. It is simply not true. The Tories are at it like cats in a bag, constantly. That is from The Daily Telegraph, which many of us regard as the house magazine of the Conservative party.

In that great work on the civil service, "Yes, Minister", Jim Hacker once memorably observed that the British Government had the engine of a lawnmower and the brakes of a Rolls-Royce. The Government have responded to the sixth report of the Neill committee with brakes rather than an accelerator. We urgently need to know the Government's intentions, especially as we anticipate that legislation will be necessary and, as the spinners constantly remind us, we may not have a full Session after this year's Queen's Speech.

Much emphasis has been placed on the number and cost of special advisers. Surely the most important question is not their number or their cost, but their actions. The debate is especially relevant in that context. As Lord Neill's committee made clear, there is a strong case for limiting the numbers and the cost. However, as the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor), who was a member of the committee emphasised, their function in the body politic is more important and raises wider issues.

In the past, political advisers existed largely to stop Ministers going native and to prevent them, once they were ensconced as head of a Department, from being drained of every drop of radicalism from the right or the left. However, that role has been subtly reversed. Today, a special adviser exists not to prevent a Minister from becoming too dogged by the Department's agenda, but to ensure that he remains on message about the party agenda and to make that other Members of Parliament follow the same agenda. Outwith the usual competitive system for appointments, special advisers find themselves acting as intermediaries between members of the party and members of the Government. There has been a sea change in their role since it was first invented.

Before the last general election, there was an agreement between the two Opposition parties that we urgently needed a civil service Act to underpin the political neutrality of the civil service. I am delighted that chapter 5—a well argued chapter—of the Neill report reverts to that, and that recommendation 17 makes it explicit. I shall not refer to the chapter in detail, but it contains an explicit commitment by the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to a civil service Act. I hope that, later this evening, we shall hear when such legislation will be introduced.

While in opposition, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) stated in a debate on 2 November 1995: we must be very vigilant about using civil servants to perform party political tasks, such as writing conference speeches, briefing Government Back Benchers on party points and so on.—[Official Report, 2 November 1995; Vol. 265, c. 482.] I am not sure whether his successors or his Department have followed his advice. He continued: Almost one third of the current flock of advisers have been taken on directly from Conservative central office. Are they helping Ministers in pursuit of better government, which would certainly justify the public expenditure involved, or are they merely assisting politicians in pursuit of their party careers, in which case the payment of their salaries should revert to Conservative central office?—[Official Report, 2 November 1995; Vol. 265, c. 483.] The Labour party was worried about the politicisation of the civil service under the Conservative party. So were we. We remain worried; we have good cause. Now that the Labour party is in power, the story has changed. In May 1997, the new Government reworked the model contract for special advisers, but Parliament was not informed. A major change was made, but nothing was said about it.

In July 1996, the model letter of appointment for special advisers obliged them not to engage in activities likely to give rise to criticism that you are being employed at the public expense for purely party purposes. That might appear a flimsy protection of the public interest.

However, in May 1997, it was clearly felt to be too rigorous for the new Government and it was watered down and effectively taken out. A new clause was put in, giving special advisers a specific role in the briefing of Members of Parliament. The justification for that role appears in paragraph (iii) of schedule 1 (part I) of the contract which my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), an avid watcher of special advisers, refers to as the control freak clause. It states: It would be damaging to the Government's objectives if the Government Party took a different approach to that of the Government itself, and the Government will therefore need to liaise with the party to make sure that the party publicity is factually accurate and consistent with Government policy. To secure this consistency the Government will also want to make sure that Party MPs and officials are suitably briefed on issues of Government policy. That watered down the previous advice and made it clear that special advisers now have a direct role in ensuring that party members in this House and, no doubt, the other place, toe the party line.

The degree of briefing that these people undertake, examples of which have been quoted this evening, has, of course, been considerable. Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Bath has done some useful analysis of briefings by special advisers. He has obtained, for example, a briefing from the Department for Education and Employment which included details of the Government's Green Paper on teachers and suggested rebuttals of the Opposition's attacks on that policy. That is not just promoting the Government, but suggesting how to respond to the Opposition: if that is not political, nothing is.

My hon. Friend put questions to Ministers on those written briefings, but he was simply fobbed off with an answer which stated: similar arrangements have applied under successive Governments. That is a subjective reply, if ever there was one. My hon. Friend was also told: Records are not held of when such briefings were given.—[Official Report, 14 July 1999; Vol. 333, c. 251W.] Such records should be held and should be publicly available.

Despite the fact that the DFEE briefing given to my hon. Friend was clearly numbered and dated, and referred to similar documents and where to get hold of further copies, we need a real freedom of information Act and we need it fast. Other Departments seem to suggest that they do not have such information to hand. Perception is sometimes as important, if not more important, than reality. Inevitably, we are given the impression that, by stealth, the taxpayer is funding more and more party political work. The number of special advisers is significant but, as I said earlier, their role, surely, is important too.

Civil servants' role and neutrality is under attack from other directions. Included in that attack is the growing number of taskforces, to which the Neill committee referred and which are completely unelected bodies, set up to discuss particular issues. They may include civil servants from many Departments, but they also include so-called outside experts. Common to all is a lack of guidelines, context and accountability. Again, the Neill committee's recommendations deserve a clear and positive response from the Government.

Similarly, there has been an explosion in the number of secondments from private sector companies to Departments. Surely, that should be monitored and governed by clearer guidelines. I feel uneasy when I see how many companies have been negotiating large contracts with Departments and, at the same time, placing staff with those Departments—a potential conflict of interest, if ever there was one.

Mr. White

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a perennial criticism of the civil service is that it has not been aware of what happens in industry, and secondments are a way of dealing with that fundamental criticism, which has endured for a long time?

Mr. Tyler

That question remains open. Is there a hotline or an inner track from those companies to Minister's decision-making roles? Giving advice is one thing; being in on the decision-making process is another. At the very least, guidelines should be publicly available, be seen by this House and be considered by the Public Administration Committee to ensure that the position is clear and does not involve a conflict ohf interest.

In an article in The Observer on 25 June, under the heading "'Staff for Favours' row hits Treasury", Anthony Barnett wrote: Financial consultants Price Waterhouse Coopers, Ernst & Young and Pannell Kerr Forster have all donated staff to Brown since the election. All have won lucrative consultancy contracts from the Treasury, at least one without a competitive tender. These firms have also had success in forcing Brown to backtrack on plans to stop their multinational clients avoiding tax by channelling profits through offshore companies. That is the answer to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. White). If it was absolutely clear that there was not just a Chinese wall, but an iron curtain between the responsibilities of those advisers or consultants and the decision-making process, we would all be more confident that the proper procedures were being followed. Whereas the civil service is subject to proper controls, that type of taskforce and those types of adviser are subjected to no such guidelines. We need them urgently.

I come to the issue of propaganda, which again has featured in the debate. The Liberal Democrats are concerned about the extent to which civil servants are under pressure to politicise their work. It is an old story; it did not start on 1 May 1997. There was evidence enough under the previous Government, but sadly there is plenty of new evidence that there is a new problem.

The Government information and communication service, headed by the chief press secretary Mr. Alastair Campbell, spent £126 million in 1998–99 alone publicising the Government. It issues press releases and maintains Government departmental websites. Since 1997, it has spent £634,000 on press releases and £4.8 million a year on websites. Again, the rules that are supposed to prevent such activities from being "polemical" have clearly failed. They are simply impossible to police.

The increase in press releases since the Labour Government came to power is huge. There are 40 per cent. more than in 1996, and 80 per cent. more than in the previous mid-term year: 1995. The working guide for government information officers says that all Government publicity should be relevant…objective and explanatory, not tendentious or polemical and should not be or be liable to misrepresentation as being, party political.

Mr. Kemp

The hon. Gentleman has made the point about press releases and what they should and should not do. Can he give one example where a press release has breached those guidelines?

Mr. Tyler

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. If I did not know him better, I would think that that was a planted question. I am just coming to that. He must have seen my text—another leak.

Press releases issued by the Government do not always abide by that code. For example, a press release about the new deal, which was numbered DFEE 550/98 and issued on 26 November 1998, attacked political opponents. It was headlined "Smith Slams Cynical Fabrication of New Deal Figures." That was specifically about the Opposition. It was not about Government policy. Some press releases deal with re-announcements, rather than news. Repetition is a propagandist tool, not a neutral representation of Government policy.

Perhaps the prime example of party having undue influence is the No. 10 website. I do not know whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are a frequent visitor, but I can tell you that it has a number of "manifesto commitments" under the heading, "Facts." My colleagues have researched some of those "facts" and found them to be misleading.

The first fact is about education spending and is belied by the figures that we can obtain from the House of Commons Library. The pledge on the website is as follows: Over the course of a five-year parliament we will raise the proportion of national income spent on education. Underneath, it says: The proportion spent on education will rise by 0.1 per cent. in 2000/01 and 0.2 per cent. in 2001/02. As we all know, that is a selective statistic. Between the financial years 1992–93 and 1996–97, 4.98 per cent. of gross domestic product was spent on education. The forecast is that, between 1997–98 and 2001–02, 4.67 per cent of GDP will be. It is a drop—lies, damned lies and statistics.

No one who visits the Prime Minister's website can be under any illusion about its primary purpose. It exists to build the image of the Prime Minister, but what do the rules state? They state that it is okay to build the image of a Minister so long as that is a by-product of the Government's publicity operation.

The civil service code states that Ministers have a duty to use public resources for party political purposes. [Interruption.] I am sorry; that is an extra spin on the meaning. It states: duty not to use public resources for party political purposes. In addition, there is no accountability over the use of sponsorship and advertising on Government websites. I could quote several such examples, but I want to be brief. The Neill report hardly examines websites, and reaches no great conclusion. However, it acknowledges that such sponsorship needs to be properly monitored.

The new GICS handbook states: Sponsorship should not be sought or accepted from firms which are involved in significant commercial negotiation with the host Department (whether or not linked to the event), or which may be affected by the exercise of that Department's regulatory or licensing work. There is no effective monitoring or policing of that particular requirement.

I turn to partisan research. In the past, civil servants would vet parliamentary questions and refuse to handle any that seemed to be simply about Opposition policies, and rightly so. The Labour party has its own resources and researchers to carry out such research. However, in October 1999, Richard Foster, chief executive of the Employment Service, costed the Tory policy of making the jobless sign on once a day for his Labour ministerial masters. That seems to be in gross conflict with all the indications that we have been given, not only by the Cabinet Secretary, but throughout the history of the civil service. Today, it seems that civil servants are expected not only to evaluate Government policies, but to help the Government to attack Opposition policies and discredit them.

Such politicisation is compounded by the increasing number of gagging clauses that Departments place on the research that they commission. During this Session, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) has asked Ministers a series questions about research. He found that 12 out of 15 Ministers included the power to veto publication in their contracts with academics and that 13 out of 16 required academics to ask the civil service for permission to discuss the research with the media, often in perpetuity and not merely at the time of publication—a gagging clause if ever there was one. The implication is that, although the taxpayer foots the bill, if the research outcome is disagreeable to the party in power, it may be indefinitely suppressed.

The same is true of the opinion polls carried out by the Government. Two thirds of the poll results paid for from the public purse, for which the House gives appropriate funding, never see the light of day. My hon. Friend the Member for Bath has questioned the Government on that issue over many months and has exposed the extent to which the results are simply kept secret. The Cabinet Office has produced guidelines requiring Departments to make the results publicly available, but so far very few have done so. However, we live in hope, and it will be interesting to see the results of the polling that has taken place since the general election. That shows how important it is to have a really comprehensive freedom of information Act.

At all levels, there is a worrying elevation of the party good over the public good and a problem with accountability, neutrality and transparency. The Library research paper makes it clear that there are three features of the British senior civil service which set it apart from American and European models. These are Accountability through Ministers to Parliament Selection and promotion on merit, and Political neutrality. Traditionally, the purpose of the senior civil service has been to serve the Government of the day, and thus the electorate. It is alarming to find that the Government are not only indirectly withdrawing power from the electorate, through the use of extra-civil service bodies and political appointees, but politicising their work and using research commissioned by them by the back door. It is no excuse to say that the process started under a previous Government. This Government came to office with a mandate to clean up the Augean stables, and we want them to do just that.

9.25 pm
Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)

I see from the course of the debate that my campaign for briefer speeches is unlikely to succeed. I shall pursue it unilaterally.

More than any other Member of the House, I was elected on an issue of public trust. Public trust matters to me, as it does to all other Members, and the reputation of the House has improved marginally—maybe even substantially—over that which it had in the previous Parliament. That is due partly to Members themselves, who are being more careful to avoid conflicts of interest, and partly to the machinery set in place. I am pleased to see the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, in his place. He has done great work, as has the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards herself. I very much regret the whispering campaign against her.

Members of the House signed on to a set of rules, and they are beginning to realise how stringent those rules are, but it is much better to be criticised for being too zealous in applying them than for being lax. Does that mean that the spectre of corruption has gone away and that public trust is completely restored? Of course not. The beast is out there, lurking somewhere beyond the nets and harpoons of the parliamentary policing system. It lies down there at the other end of this great building on issues of party funding and honours. Peerages have been and are being bought, as are knighthoods. We must get to grips with that and hope that we do so when the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill comes back to us.

I do not expect widespread support when I say that the power of the parties has increased and is increasing, but ought to be diminished. That is what I believe, however, and special advisers are a relevant issue: by all means, let the parties have their placemen and placewomen in ministerial offices if they must and if that improves their liaison, but I cannot see any reason why they should be paid for from the public purse. They should be paid for by the parties.

Shortly after being elected, I attended one of those meetings of the supposedly great and good—academics and politicians from both sides of the Atlantic—on precisely the issue of how to increase public trust. I put forward the heretical notion that behaving better was one way for us to achieve that. There was a sharp intake of breath around the table and an American Congressman in trouble with his state police and press over an issue of corruption said, "Sir, they will nickel and dime you to death." Well, so far they have not.

So far, we are doing better, but we have to improve what we are doing to curb the power of the parties. I have to tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the parties are not as popular in the nation at large as they think they are or think they should be. We need the parties to make government work, but let them not overreach themselves. I believe that they are overreaching themselves on the issue of special advisers.

9.28 pm
Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central)

I have listened to the speeches of Conservative Members with considerable interest and one theme that has emerged is that before 1 May 1997, special advisers were paragons of rectitude and that they have since become subverters of democracy. On that subject, I can do no better than quote Sir Bernard Ingham, who, talking of special advisers, said that some of them can cause immense chaos. As he was talking about his time in government, I hope that that does not reflect badly on some of the former special advisers on the Opposition Benches. All I shall say on spinning—I hate the term—is that in my experience, those who spin are likely to become dizzy. It is not a practice that I would recommend.

I have some experience in this matter as a former special adviser, as do other Members, and I would be the first to acknowledge that there is a serious debate to be had about the role of special advisers in government. As other Members have said, the Government have been open about the work of advisers and I am genuinely sorry that instead of engaging in the serious debate to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) referred, the Opposition have chosen to create an atmosphere of dark intrigue, which I must tell the House is far from what I remember in my job at the Department for Education and Employment, which I did for two years.

The two key questions concern legitimacy and influence. I think that the House agrees that special advisers are legitimate, not least because of how long they have been in existence but also because it is recognised that Ministers need a particular type of support. That has been acknowledged by the Neill committee, the 1968 Fulton committee, the 1976 Expenditure Committee and the 1985–86 Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee. That Select Committee report said: we have formed the impression from talking to witnesses that in general special advisers and career civil servants have been able to work creatively and harmoniously together. That is certainly how I recall my time at the Department for Education and Employment.

Reference has been made to whether special advisers should be paid for out of public funds. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) touched on that a moment ago. I see no problem with it, given that they help the Government to do their job more effectively. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Neill committee endorsed that view and said that it could see no reason why special advisers should not continue to be paid out of public funds.

The point has been made forcefully that Short money is used to employ the equivalent of special advisers on the Opposition Benches. That is unquestionably the case, so I see nothing wrong with that system.

Mr. Bercow

In the light of what the hon. Gentleman says about the means by which special advisers are paid, does he believe that it is acceptable for a serving special adviser to speak at a party political gathering? It was not the normal practice under the previous Government; regrettably, it has become so under this one.

Mr. Benn

As I recollect my contract of employment, it said specifically that I was not to take part in party political conferences. That should be pursued in all cases.

The central question is whether special advisers undermine the impartiality of the civil service. All the evidence is that that is not the case, because their existence helps to protect that impartiality by acknowledging that Ministers require particular forms of support and advice, which they need from a distinct source. The code of practice that has been published specifically recognises that.

There is a considerable volume of work in a modern Government Department. Government is more complex than ever, and because of their background and expertise, special advisers, who have—or at least should have—a unique knowledge of the governing party's background, history and policies, are able to give advice which it would be wrong to expect a civil servant to give. They have a different perspective, which is why they have a different status. I genuinely believe that that is no different now from how it was under the previous Government.

I see with interest that Professor Anthony King, remarking on the status of special advisers, said that they were neither hog, dog, nor mutton. I had not come across that expression before. If I was ever the dog of the Secretary of State for Education and Employment—I thought that somebody else had that job—I tried to fetch and carry diligently; if I growled, I did so with discretion; and if I barked, I never ever did so in public.

More seriously, advisers also help officials to do their job. I was interested to see that, in its evidence to the Neill committee, the First Division Association specifically acknowledged that that was so.

Let me deal with the central question of the charges of wrongdoing, which appear to be the substance of this debate. Having said early on in his speech that he would back up his charges, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) miserably failed to do so. Where is the evidence of corrosive influence? As others have said, if such evidence exists, why was it not submitted to the Neill committee? More important, why did the Neill committee comment so favourably on the role that special advisers perform? Why did Sir Richard Wilson, in answer to specific questions when giving evidence to the Neill committee, say, first, that he could see no evidence of abuse and, secondly, that he was not concerned about politicisation?

On the subject of briefing the press, Sir Richard Wilson told the committee: not just under this Government, but under previous governments, in my experience, political advisers have spoken to and briefed the media. It is important that that is put on the record.

My final point concerns the question of influence. Ultimately, it is for Ministers to decide whose advice they wish to take in reaching decisions, with the understanding that they will then take the consequences. In other words, the buck stops with Ministers, not with their special advisers. Special advisers should never become the story in themselves, because that makes it much more difficult for them to do the job that they are supposed to do. I have no problems whatever with the Neill committee recommendations in relation to special advisers.

Much of the debate this evening has been hot air about advisers. It has been a substitute for a debate about the nature and practice of our political process. I very much endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase. In the courts of days gone by, if one wanted to criticise the king but did not have the guts to do so, one said that he was badly advised. If the Opposition are unhappy about the Government's policies, they should say so directly. If the Opposition did their job more effectively, they would not be so obsessed with special advisers.

No Government can survive on spin, and that includes this Government. This Government will succeed because of their achievements. They have a lot to be proud of. They have achieved a great deal and have much yet to do. I believe that that is what the public also think, and I suspect that that is what rankles with the Opposition so much.

9.35 pm
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) was doing very well until the end. His father is a consummate spinner, and the hon. Gentleman could learn a few tricks from him. At the end he lost the plot completely, but I shall not pick up all the things that he got wrong. I would rather make a few points about the debate, and more particularly about the way Britain is being governed.

It has been an interesting debate about advisers. I think that everyone is agreed that advisers have a legitimate role. However, as many hon. Members know, I for one—I have now been joined by a large number of others—have become increasingly concerned about the role of advisers in this Government. I encouraged Lord Neill to look into their role, and I made some proposals for reform in my evidence to him. In particular, I suggested that a cap should be placed on the number of advisers—which has risen from 70 to about 80 since I wrote that evidence—that advisers should be subject to a statutory code of conduct, and that the code should be enforced by permanent secretaries, because at the moment there is no means of enforcing the code. I am pleased that Lord Neill has accepted all those recommendations.

Many of us are concerned about advisers not just because their numbers are up or because they have started travelling abroad on a huge scale—they have been on something like 500 trips since 1997—or because they gossip to the media. Those are just symptoms of something much more fundamental. Advisers are assuming new roles in Government that they have not had in the past. The plain fact is that No. 10 Downing street—the very heart of Government—is being taken over by advisers.

A few months ago, I asked the Cabinet Secretary for a chart showing the structure of No. 10 Downing street and how it operates. Excluding the support staff, there are 67 staff in mainline jobs, of whom 27 are special advisers. What is more, the whole building now answers to a special adviser, Jonathan Powell. That was explicitly denied when I asked the question of the then Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robin Butler, but it has now been confirmed in a letter to me from his successor.

The truth is that No. 10 has ceased to be merely the centre of a civil service machine at the heart of Government, but is becoming a Labour party headquarters. It is an open secret that the Prime Minister takes far more notice of his advisers than he does of his ministerial colleagues. Cabinet Government is dead; even Cabinet Committees do not count for much. Ministers may have the red boxes but their contents are increasingly being provided by the Prime Minister's advisers.

Special advisers are part of the reason why Britain is steadily moving towards presidential government. The Prime Minister does his best to ignore Parliament. He hardly ever comes here, as I am sure you notice, Madam Speaker. He rarely votes, and he hardly ever speaks in the House. It goes further than that. He lets it be known that he ignores his colleagues, and prefers the advice of his advisers. His political companions are not his Ministers: they are his advisers, who are chosen by him, trusted by him and accountable to no one but him.

The fact is that, as a result of placing No. 10 in the control of advisers, doubling the number of advisers in Whitehall and releasing them from many of the constraints on what they can do, there has been a fundamental change in the way in which Britain is governed. That has had profound effects. It has undermined, or is in the process of undermining, the traditional checks on power that come from a politically neutral civil service. It is undermining the customary ways of making decisions through Cabinet Sub-Committees; and, because Parliament now has no contact with many of the real decision makers in this Government—the policy advisers at No. 10 Downing street—it is beginning to undermine Parliament itself.

Mr. Beard

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what evidence he has to back up the saga that he is spinning, and why it should be treated as anything other than media gossip and tittle-tattle?

Mr. Tyrie

The evidence is overwhelming.

Dr. Julian Lewis

If the hon. Gentleman had been here for the whole debate, he would have heard it.

Mr. Tyrie


The hon. Gentleman should, for instance, have a look at a piece by Peter Kellner in the New Statesman, which makes it clear that a large number of his hon. Friends agree with what I have just said—although they probably will not stand up and say so tonight. Let me quote directly from what Mr. Kellner has written—unless, of course, he is making it up and writing fiction just as everyone else is said to be doing at the moment. He wrote: Tony has contempt for Parliament, and it shows. He doesn't even turn up to vote. Tony's handling of Wales and London was terrible. He came to office with people believing he'd do politics differently, better. Now he looks as if he's just as bad as everyone else. All those kids in their twenties making policy in No. 10. What do they know about anything? Those are just a few quotations given to Peter Kellner by some of the Prime Minister's colleagues, presumably over the past few days.

I do not believe that the British people want this. In fact, I do not think that many Labour Back Benchers want it. I do not even think that Ministers really want government of this kind, any more than anyone else does. It should therefore come as no surprise that many people have begun to raise their voices. At first they just criticised the advisers, but now they are beginning to criticise the Prime Minister himself.

What those people dislike most is the impotence that comes from playing out a parliamentary ritual in an increasingly presidential Government. Of course that is what one would expect the Opposition to say, but those who are speaking loudest are from the ranks of the Labour party. They are the old Labour supporters, and the new Labour luvvies. Such people are sick of watching or, worse, suffering political assassination by briefing from No. 10 Downing street—the back-stabbing whispers. This is a political culture that has more in common with Medici Florence than with 21st-century Britain.

There is a long list of victims: the Chancellor, the Minister for the Cabinet Office—although she seems to have recanted recently—the right hon. Members for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and the Chief Whip, to name but a few.

As for the list of those complaining, Lord Hattersley says that he was briefed by a No. 10 press officer and encouraged to rubbish a Minister in an article that he was writing.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) has, in many ways, been even more blunt than Ken Follett. He says: Too many people believe that spin doctors and policy advisers are running the government's policies…rather than the members of the cabinet and other ministers who were elected to do the job. He also says: There is too much reliance on the presidential system. That is my view, and I suspect that, on a free, secret vote, it would prove to be the view of most Members of the House

Ken Follett really went for the advisers. He called them the rent boys of politics. That is a bit over the top, but it does rather stick in the gullet that we are paying the rent.

Ken Follett's most stinging remarks, however, came when he explained why the Prime Minister was not doing anything about the situation. He said: Tony's sure touch deserts him when he faces a decision which cannot be based on expediency…he seems not to possess the inner core of strong convictions. Ken Follett then lists a series of moral rocks on which the Government have foundered: the Bernie Ecclestone affair, arms to Indonesia, and much more.

According to Alastair Campbell, all those people are presumably peddling the propaganda of the right or are better known for their fiction than their judgment. at least that is what he has been telling the media today.

Is that not, however, the heart of the matter? The first instinct of the Government, particularly of the Prime Minister and of the Prime Minister's press spokesman, is to disparage and rubbish anyone who suggests that the Government's manipulation of the media has anything to do with the decline in the Government's popularity.

Mr. Kemp

The hon. Gentleman asked who pays the rent for special advisers at No. 10 Downing street. Who pays the rent for the special advisers, particularly the press secretary, to the Leader of the Opposition—the Tory party or the taxpayer?

Hon. Members

Killer question.

Mr. Tyrie

Yes, that really was a killer question. As the hon. Gentleman has been in the Chamber for the whole debate, he will know very well that the Short money is fully audited. As he is quite experienced, he should also know that Short money pays primarily for the office of the Leader of the Opposition.

The hon. Gentleman also knows very well that Short money is a quid pro quo for many services provided to the Prime Minister by the civil service. To give just one simple example, the Leader of the Opposition has a team of people to help him to reply to his correspondence. Who does that for the Prime Minister? It is done by a large team in Whitehall, which is quite independent of the new team of special advisers. There is little comparability between those employed on Short money and special advisers. Any such comparison is a smokescreen put up by the Labour party to try to avoid dealing with the truth, which is that the Government have hired a huge cadre of people who are becoming a campaign team for the re-election of the Labour party.

I believe that a good press team—I acknowledge that Alastair Campbell ran a good press team in opposition—is no substitute for good government. The Prime Minister's style of government is destroying ministerial accountability and corroding parliamentary accountability. Above all, it has started to erode respect for our democratic institutions.

The Prime Minister can do something about that. The first thing that he should do is to curb the power and activities of Alastair Campbell. If the Prime Minister wants a political hatchet man, he cannot expect the taxpayer to provide the funds. If Alastair Campbell is doing exclusively party political work, he had better resign and be paid for by funds from the Labour party.

Secondly, the Prime Minister had better clean up his act at No. 10 Downing street. He had better put the building back in the charge of civil servants. He had better start using Cabinet Sub-Committees for some genuine decisions, rather than working out how to implement decisions. He should also show some respect for Parliament.

Thirdly, the Government should implement in full Lord Neill's recommendations on advisers. Lord Neill has made it plain that he cannot understand the Government's delay in responding to his report; neither can many Opposition Members. Now, let us have a response.

9.48 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Graham Stringer)

It would have been easy to respond to the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) if he had bothered to give any facts in his statement, but it was almost pure rhetoric. We cannot, however, be surprised that we get almost pure rhetoric from him. He writes books and gives evidence in which he says that Select Committees should have more power in the House and that that is the way forward in ensuring greater Government accountability, whereas he has attended the Public Administration Committee—his own Select Committee—for only seven of its previous 36 sittings.

Mr. Tyrie

As it happens, a large number of Public Administration Committee sittings clashed each week with sittings of the Standing Committee considering the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which I attended regularly. The Labour party has for months been peddling the nonsense that I have not attended Select Committee meetings, and I am sick of hearing about it at every television studio that I go to. It is a load of rubbish.

Mr. Stringer

The hon. Gentleman does not contest the fact that he has managed to attend only one in five of those Select Committee sittings. It is not surprising.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stringer

No; I shall not give way again. I am not surprised by the hon. Member for Chichester. In his book, he mentioned the Prime Minister's attendance in this House at votes. He forgot to mention the fact that the Prime Minister has answered more questions and made more statements than any other Prime Minister.

Mr. Tyrie

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stringer

No, I will not. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office gave way many times in his opening speech. We have 10 minutes left of an important debate and I shall not give way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) was characteristically precise in destroying the argument of Opposition Members. He pointed out, as others have done, that no evidence was put forward of the corrosive effect on the civil service that the Conservatives claimed existed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) made an interesting speech; his diversion was more interesting than many of the Opposition speeches. He reminded us of why the Nolan committee and the Neill committee existed. They existed because the Conservative party did not control sleaze; this House and the Conservative party were riven by sleaze in the mid-1990s.

All of us in the House owe a debt to the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) for ridding it of the previous honourable, or dishonourable, Member for Tatton, Neil Hamilton. He made a characteristically independent speech. I could not agree with every word and every point, but there is no doubt that the hon. Gentleman has helped to improve standards in this House through his work on the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. I pay tribute to him for that.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) made a large number of points and there is not time to answer all of them. I will give the commitment again that it is the intention of the Government to produce a civil service Act. He would be surprised if I said when that will be, as that is a matter for the Queen's Speech.

I strongly disagree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall in his reluctance to support the idea of secondments from and into the civil service. The Government support the impartiality and objectivity of the civil service, but there is no doubt that it has developed insularity over the years which is not good for the governance of this country. Seconding people with experience of industry and the outside world into the civil service is an extraordinarily good thing, as is taking civil servants out and giving them experience of industry.

Mr. Redwood

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stringer

No, I will not give way.

I was absolutely staggered by the intervention from the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) who complained about appointments to health bodies. Does she not recall Baroness Denton saying that she had never knowingly appointed a Labour person to a health body? That was the record of the previous Conservative Administration.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stringer

No, I will not. The right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) made a number of interesting points. He said that the number of special advisers had changed and that the role had changed. Like a lot of his right hon. and hon. Friends, the right hon. Gentleman failed to produce any direct evidence that the role had changed. He made one mistake when he said that it was not the role of special advisers to brief the press. I have to tell him that his successor had a special adviser who regularly briefed the press, so there has been no change between the previous Administration and this in the role of special advisers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase made the point that he was surprised that Opposition Members kept coming back to the Nolan and Neill reports. They kept returning to their party's appalling record of sleaze in the mid-1990s. Why did they do that? There is a simple reason that I am happy to explain to my hon. Friend. Opposition Members do not want to talk about this Government's record on jobs. Opposition Members are the spinners, because they do not want the public to know that a million jobs have been created in the past three years, at the rate of one job every two minutes. Nor do Opposition Members want to talk about the extra money going in to hospitals or the extra £40,000, on average, for every school. They do not want to talk about the working families tax credit, because they would abolish it.

Opposition Members have a straightforward right-wing agenda. They want to create fear by talking about immigration and asylum seekers. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) himself has not been afraid to advise on using the race card. [Interruption.] It is Opposition Members who are embarrassed by the facts—

Mr. Tyrie

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

I fear that it is a point of frustration, but I shall listen to the point of order.

Mr. Tyrie

As I understand it, the debate is about special advisers. We have just had five minutes of propaganda written by Alastair Campbell about every other area of Government policy. May we have answers to some of the points raised in the debate about special advisers?

Madam Speaker

As I thought, that is a matter for argument and not a point of order for me.

Mr. Stringer

Opposition Members do not want to talk about the Government's record. They want to keep the agenda away from the facts. What embarrasses them more than anything else is the detailed record of what they did in government. I can give the House a list of the names of Tories who were the reason for the Nolan and Neill committees. We all remember David Mellor, who left the House; Tim Smith, who was forced to stand down as the candidate for Beaconsfield; Neil Hamilton, who was defeated by the hon. Member for Tatton; Graham Riddick, who was defeated in Colne Valley and who accepted cash for questions; Jonathan Aitken; Michael Brown; and Angela Rumbold. They were the reasons why—

Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question—

The House divided: Ayes 165, Noes 295.

Division No. 247] [10 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Grieve, Dominic
Amess, David Gummer, Rt Hon John
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Hammond, Philip
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Hancock, Mike
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Harris, Dr Evan
Baldry, Tony Harvey, Nick
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Hawkins, Nick
Bercow, John Hayes, John
Beresford, Sir Paul Heald, Oliver
Blunt, Crispin Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Body, Sir Richard Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Boswell, Tim Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Horam, John
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Brady, Graham Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Brand, Dr Peter Hunter, Andrew
Brazier, Julian Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Breed, Colin Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Jenkin, Bernard
Browning, Mrs Angela Keetch, Paul
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Key, Robert
Burnett, John King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Burstow, Paul Kirkwood, Archy
Butterfill, John Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Cable, Dr Vincent Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Chope, Christopher Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Clappison, James Livsey, Richard
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Llwyd, Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Collins, Tim Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Cran, James MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Curry, Rt Hon David McIntosh, Miss Anne
Davey, Edward (Kingston) MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Maclean, Rt Hon David
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Day, Stephen McLoughlin, Patrick
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Madel, Sir David
Duncan Smith, Iain Maples, John
Evans, Nigel May, Mrs Theresa
Faber, David Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Fabricant, Michael Moore, Michael
Fallon, Michael Moss, Malcolm
Fearn, Ronnie Nicholls, Patrick
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Norman, Archie
Foster, Don (Bath) Oaten, Mark
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Fox, Dr Liam Öpik, Lembit
Fraser, Christopher Ottaway, Richard
Gale, Roger Paice, James
Garnier, Edward Pickles, Eric
Gibb, Nick Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Gidley, Sandra Prior, David
Gill, Christopher Randall, John
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Redwood, Rt Hon John
Gray, James Rendel, David
Green, Damian Robathan, Andrew
Greenway, John Robertson, Laurence
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Townend, John
Ross, William (E Lond'y) Tredinnick, David
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham) Trend, Michael
Ruffley, David Tyler, Paul
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Tyrie, Andrew
St Aubyn, Nick Viggers, Peter
Sanders, Adrian Walter, Robert
Sayeed, Jonathan Waterson, Nigel
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Webb, Steve
Shepherd, Richard Wells, Bowen
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Whitney, Sir Raymond
Soames, Nicholas Whittingdale, John
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Wilkinson, John
Spicer, Sir Michael Willetts, David
Spring, Richard Willis, Phil
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wilshire, David
Stunell, Andrew Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Swayne, Desmond Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Syms, Robert Yeo, Tim
Tapsell, Sir Peter Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Tellers for the Ayes:
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
Taylor, Sir Teddy and
Mr. Peter Luff.
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Coffey, Ms Ann
Alexander, Douglas Cohen, Harry
Allen, Graham Coleman, Iain
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Colman, Tony
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)
Ashton, Joe Cooper, Yvette
Atherton, Ms Candy Corbyn, Jeremy
Austin, John Cousins, Jim
Barnes, Harry Cox, Tom
Barron, Kevin Crausby, David
Battle, John Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Bayley, Hugh Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Beard, Nigel Cummings, John
Begg, Miss Anne Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Bennett, Andrew F Darvill, Keith
Benton, Joe Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bermingham, Gerald Davidson, Ian
Berry, Roger Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Blizzard, Bob Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Borrow, David Dawson, Hilton
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Denham, John
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Dismore, Andrew
Bradshaw, Ben Donohoe, Brian H
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Doran, Frank
Browne, Desmond Dowd, Jim
Burden, Richard Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Burgon, Colin Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Butler, Mrs Christine Edwards, Huw
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Efford, Clive
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Ellman, Mrs Louise
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Ennis, Jeff
Campbell-Savours, Dale Etherington, Bill
Caplin, Ivor Field, Rt Hon Frank
Caton, Martin Fisher, Mark
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Fitzpatrick, Jim
Clapham, Michael Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Flynn, Paul
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Follett, Barbara
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Foulkes, George
Clelland, David Fyfe, Maria
Clwyd, Ann Galloway, George
Coaker, Vernon George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil McGuire, Mrs Anne
Gibson, Dr Ian McIsaac, Shona
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Godman, Dr Norman A Mackinlay, Andrew
Godsiff, Roger McNulty, Tony
Goggins, Paul MacShane, Denis
Golding, Mrs Llin Mactaggart, Fiona
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McWalter, Tony
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McWilliam, John
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Mallaber, Judy
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Grogan, John Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hanson, David Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Healey, John Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Meale, Alan
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Hepburn, Stephen Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Heppell, John Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hesford, Stephen Miller, Andrew
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Mitchell, Austin
Hill, Keith Moffatt, Laura
Hinchliffe, David Moran, Ms Margaret
Hoey, Kate Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Mountford, Kali
Hope, Phil Mudie, George
Hopkins, Kelvin Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Howells, Dr Kim O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Hoyle, Lindsay O'Hara, Eddie
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Olner, Bill
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) O'Neill, Martin
Humble, Mrs Joan Pearson, Ian
Hurst, Alan Pendry, Tom
Iddon, Dr Brian Pickthall, Colin
Illsley, Eric Pike, Peter L
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Plaskitt, James
Jamieson, David Pollard, Kerry
Jenkins, Brian Pond, Chris
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Pope, Greg
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Pound, Stephen
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Primarolo, Dawn
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Prosser, Gwyn
Keeble, Ms Sally Purchase, Ken
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Quinn, Lawrie
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Kemp, Fraser Rapson, Syd
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Raynsford, Nick
Khabra, Piara S Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Kidney, David Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Kilfoyle, Peter Roche, Mrs Barbara
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Rogers, Allan
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Rooney, Terry
Laxton, Bob Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Leslie, Christopher Rowlands, Ted
Levitt, Tom Roy, Frank
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Ruane, Chris
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Ruddock, Joan
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Salter, Martin
Lock, David Sarwar, Mohammad
Love, Andrew Savidge, Malcolm
McAvoy, Thomas Sawford, Phil
McCabe, Steve Sedgemore, Brian
McCafferty, Ms Chris Sheerman, Barry
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Short, Rt Hon Clare
McDonagh, Siobhain Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Macdonald, Calum Skinner, Dennis
McDonnell, John Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Soley, Clive Walley, Ms Joan
Southworth, Ms Helen Ward, Ms Claire
Spellar, John Wareing, Robert N
Squire, Ms Rachel Watts, David
Starkey, Dr Phyllis White, Brian
Steinberg, Gerry Whitehead, Dr Alan
Stevenson, George Wicks, Malcolm
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Straw, Rt Hon Jack Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Stringer, Graham Wills, Michael
Stuart, Ms Gisela Winnick, David
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S) Woolas, Phil
Taylor, David (NW Leics) Worthington, Tony
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Timms, Stephen Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Tipping, Paddy Wyatt, Derek
Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon Tellers for the Noes:
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Mr. Mike Hall and
Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 293, Noes 163.

Division No. 248] [10.14 pm
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Caton, Martin
Alexander, Douglas Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Allen, Graham Clapham, Michael
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Ashton, Joe Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Atherton, Ms Candy Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Austin, John Clelland, David
Barnes, Harry Clwyd, Ann
Barron, Kevin Coaker, Vernon
Battle, John Coffey, Ms Ann
Bayley, Hugh Cohen, Harry
Beard, Nigel Coleman, Iain
Begg, Miss Anne Colman, Tony
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)
Bennett, Andrew F Cooper, Yvette
Benton, Joe Corbyn, Jeremy
Bermingham, Gerald Cousins, Jim
Berry, Roger Cox, Tom
Blizzard, Bob Crausby, David
Borrow, David Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Cummings, John
Bradshaw, Ben Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Burden, Richard Darvill, Keith
Burgon, Colin Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Butler, Mrs Christine Davidson, Ian
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Dawson, Hilton
Caplin, Ivor Denham, John
Dismore, Andrew Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Donohoe, Brian H Khabra, Piara S
Doran, Frank Kidney, David
Dowd, Jim Kilfoyle, Peter
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Edwards, Huw Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Efford, Clive Lammy, David
Ellman, Mrs Louise Laxton, Bob
Ennis, Jeff Leslie, Christopher
Etherington, Bill Levitt, Tom
Field, Rt Hon Frank Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Fisher, Mark Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Flynn, Paul Lock, David
Follett, Barbara Love, Andrew
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McAvoy, Thomas
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) McCabe, Steve
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McCafferty, Ms Chris
Foulkes, George McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Fyfe, Maria
Galloway, George McDonagh, Siobhain
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Macdonald, Calum
Gerrard, Neil McDonnell, John
Gibson, Dr Ian McGuire, Mrs Anne
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McIsaac, Shona
Godman, Dr Norman A McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Godsiff, Roger Mackinlay, Andrew
Goggins, Paul MacShane, Denis
Golding, Mrs Llin Mactaggart, Fiona
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McWalter, Tony
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McWilliam, John
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Mallaber, Judy
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Grogan, John Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hanson, David Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Healey, John Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Meale, Alan
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Hepburn, Stephen Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Heppell, John Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hesford, Stephen Miller, Andrew
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Mitchell, Austin
Hill, Keith Moffatt, Laura
Hinchliffe, David Moran, Ms Margaret
Hoey, Kate Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Mountford, Kali
Hope, Phil Mudie, George
Hopkins, Kelvin Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Howells, Dr Kim O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Hoyle, Lindsay O'Hara, Eddie
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Olner, Bill
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) O'Neill, Martin
Humble, Mrs Joan Pearson, Ian
Hurst, Alan Pendry, Tom
Iddon, Dr Brian Pickthall, Colin
Illsley, Eric Pike, Peter L
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Plaskitt, James
Jamieson, David Pollard, Kerry
Jenkins, Brian Pond, Chris
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Pope, Greg
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Pound, Stephen
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Primarolo, Dawn
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Prosser, Gwyn
Keeble, Ms Sally Purchase, Ken
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Quinn, Lawrie
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Kemp, Fraser Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick Stuart, Ms Gisela
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Rooney, Terry Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Rowlands, Ted Timms, Stephen
Roy, Frank Tipping, Paddy
Ruane, Chris Touhig, Don
Ruddock, Joan Trickett, Jon
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Salter, Martin Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Sarwar, Mohammad Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Savidge, Malcolm Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Sawford, Phil Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Sedgemore, Brian Walley, Ms Joan
Sheerman, Barry Ward, Ms Claire
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Wareing, Robert N
Short, Rt Hon Clare Watts, David
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Skinner, Dennis Wicks, Malcolm
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Wills, Michael
Soley, Clive Winnick, David
Southworth, Ms Helen Winterton Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Spellar, John Wood, Mike
Squire, Ms Rachel Woolas, Phil
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Worthington, Tony
Steinberg, Gerry Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Stevenson, George Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Wyatt, Derek
Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Tellers for the Ayes:
Straw, Rt Hon Jack Mr. Mike Hall and
Stringer, Graham Mr. Tony McNulty.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Curry, Rt Hon David
Amess, David Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Day, Stephen
Baldry, Tony Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Duncan Smith, Iain
Bercow, John Evans, Nigel
Beresford, Sir Paul Faber, David
Blunt, Crispin Fabricant, Michael
Body, Sir Richard Fallon, Michael
Boswell, Tim Fearn, Ronnie
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Foster, Don (Bath)
Brady, Graham Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brand, Dr Peter Fox, Dr Liam
Brazier, Julian Fraser, Christopher
Breed, Colin Gale, Roger
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Garnier, Edward
Browning, Mrs Angela Gibb, Nick
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Gidley, Sandra
Burnett, John Gill, Christopher
Burstow, Paul Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Butterfill, John Gray, James
Cable, Dr Vincent Green, Damian
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hammond, Philip
Chope, Christopher Hancock, Mike
Clappison, James Harris, Dr Evan
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Harvey, Nick
Hawkins, Nick
Collins, Tim Hayes, John
Cran, James Heald, Oliver
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Paice, James
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Pickles, Eric
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Horam, John Prior, David
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Randall, John
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hunter, Andrew Rendel, David
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Robathan, Andrew
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Robertson, Laurence
Jenkin, Bernard Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Keetch, Paul Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Key, Robert Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Ruffley, David
Kirkwood, Archy Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Laing, Mrs Eleanor St Aubyn, Nick
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Sanders, Adrian
Lansley, Andrew Sayeed, Jonathan
Leigh, Edward Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Letwin, Oliver Shepherd, Richard
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Soames, Nicholas
Livsey, Richard Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Spicer, Sir Michael
Llwyd, Elfyn Spring, Richard
Loughton, Tim Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Stunell, Andrew
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Swayne, Desmond
McIntosh, Miss Anne Syms, Robert
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Tapsell, Sir Peter
Maclean, Rt Hon David Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Taylor, John M (Solihull)
McLoughlin, Patrick Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Madel, Sir David Taylor, Sir Teddy
Maples, John Townend, John
May, Mrs Theresa Tredinnick, David
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Trend, Michael
Moore, Michael Tyler, Paul
Moss, Malcolm Viggers, Peter
Nicholls, Patrick Walter, Robert
Norman, Archie Waterson, Nigel
Oaten, Mark Webb, Steve
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Wells, Bowen
Öpik, Lembit Whitney, Sir Raymond
Ottaway, Richard Whittingdale, John
Wilkinson, John Yeo, Tim
Willetts, David Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Willis, Phil
Wilshire, David Tellers for the Noes:
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton) Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield) and
Mr. Peter Luff.

Question accordingly agreed to.

MADAM SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the statement by Lord Neill that there is now less cause for concern about standards in public life than when the cash for questions affair led to the setting up of the Committee in 1994; restates the Government's commitment to maintaining a non-political permanent civil service; agrees with the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life that "special advisers have a valuable role to play"; acknowledges that the Report deals with the serious issues across a wide range of subjects; and notes that the Government plans to respond before the summer recess