HC Deb 01 November 2000 vol 355 cc697-8
3. Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

If she will make a statement on the co-ordination of the role of special advisers in Government Departments. [133639]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Marjorie Mowlam)

The duties and responsibilities of special advisers are set out in the model contract for special advisers, a copy of which is in the Library.

Mr. St. Aubyn

The number of special advisers has risen from 38 four years ago to 79 at present. If those advisers are so special, will the Minister tell us of one positive, original contribution made by them during the past year to the delivery of services to the British public who are paying their high salaries?

Marjorie Mowlam

We have never hidden the fact that we would use more special advisers than the previous Conservative Government. We have always been open and transparent. We publish a code of conduct for special advisers so that there can be no question as to what they do. We publish details of how much they are paid; the process is completely open and transparent.

I can answer his question only by reference to my two special advisers. On drugs, they have carried out work on different programmes and options and have come up with some extremely creative ideas. On genetically modified foods, they have also worked hard and produced some interesting ideas. I am sure that that holds true for every other Department.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the number of special advisers to almost every party represented in the House has increased since 1997, and especially to the Tory Opposition, because the Short money was increased from £1 million to £3 million plus? If the Tories have not spent the money on special advisers, but have transferred it to their head office across the road, it is high time we knew where the money has gone, because there could be a fiddle.

Marjorie Mowlam

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend, as I am sure you did too, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

Do special advisers have access to the knowledge network? If so, what safeguards are there to ensure that the knowledge network is not used for party political purposes?

Marjorie Mowlam

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that special advisers do have access to the knowledge network. The reports that they make to their Ministers will go on the knowledge network and will be shared across Departments, to increase efficiency and effectiveness and to ensure that Government Departments join up more—which is the nature of this question—than they do now. After that, information will be made available on a broader front where possible.