HC Deb 17 January 2001 vol 361 cc333-4
5. Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

How many people are employed in her Department; and if she will make a statement on the equivalent figure in April 1997. [144202]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Marjorie Mowlam)

The number of people employed in my Department, including agencies, on 1 April 2000 was 2,040 and on 1 April 1997, 2,623: a difference of 583.

Mr. Chope

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that response. Given the overall figures for the civil service, there has been an increase of about 15,000 in one year. Does she not think it rather a perverse sense of priorities on the part of the Government that they find it easy to recruit new bureaucrats to deal with red tape and the propaganda machine, including special advisers, while at the same time reducing the number of policemen? Surely it would be better for the Government to comply with the people's sense of priorities—more police and fewer bureaucrats.

Marjorie Mowlam

Let us start with the facts. Spending on central administration is down since 1997. The numbers of civil servants are down by 8,000 since 1997. I accept that there has been a small increase this year, and that relates to programmes that we want to put in place, such as pensions increases. We want to deal with fraud, the implementation of child support reforms and immigration cases. That is why there has been an increase in the numbers of civil servants over the past year.

As the Neill committee said, there is no objection to special advisers. I readily acknowledge that their numbers have increased. That is because of the volume of legislation on which we are working. We have been open and transparent. We have published what they are paid. We have a code, we have guidelines for civil servants and special advisers, and we have a model contract. Nothing has been hidden from the public and the information is in the public domain. On the first point, I believe that the hon. Gentleman has his facts wrong. Secondly, what we are doing is perfectly clear.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that last year the Public Accounts Committee, in its report "Government on the Web", said that the Cabinet Office did not know how many websites there were or whether they conformed to good practice. Have my right hon. Friend's officials dealt positively with that criticism?

Marjorie Mowlam

Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend that they have.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

One group of civil servants where there has clearly been a huge increase are the political civil servants, the special advisers. Will the right hon. Lady give an undertaking to match the Conservative pledge to reduce the number of special advisers to their far more modest level when the Government took office in 1997?

Marjorie Mowlam

I partly answered that question in reply to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). No, we will not. We have never denied that we want special advisers to assist us in the volume of legislation that we are putting through. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. If he does not want the civil service to be politicised, special advisers perform an important role. As the head of the civil service, Sir Richard Wilson, said, to suggest that 73 special advisers will swamp 3,000 high-level civil servants is a myth.