HC Deb 06 February 2002 vol 379 cc848-51
6. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

What action he has taken to co-ordinate policy on the duties of special advisers among Government Departments. [30891]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

As recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the Select Committee on Public Administration, a code of conduct for special advisers is now in place, with duties and responsibilities also set out in a model contract of employment.

Dr. Lewis

We all know what Jo Moore said on 11 September about burying bad news, but since then she has tried unsuccessfully to have a crony appointed as her Department's head of media and, more recently, has succeeded in damaging the Prime Minister by suggesting, heaven forfend, that he regards the trade union movement as wreckers. Is she setting a good example for special advisers in other Departments to follow?

Mr. Leslie

I am worried about the hon. Gentleman's obsession with these matters. On the particular case that he mentioned, there was an open competition for that appointment; somebody else got the job and the Cabinet Secretary cleared the appointment. It is now time to move on.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)

May I repeat my oft expressed view that the way to see off the Opposition's absurd fixation with special advisers is to move ahead, building on the code that we have already established; introduce the civil service legislation that we promised; set a cap on the number of special advisers; and define their relations with civil servants? That would put a stop to the nonsense that the Opposition keep bringing up.

Mr. Leslie

As I said to the Select Committee on Public Administration last week, we need to make sure that we enshrine certain principles in a code of conduct for special advisers. That code is a new initiative from this Administration and will create more transparency in those areas. We can look at a cap on numbers and we shall want to consult on those matters when any future civil service legislation is introduced.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Does the Minister recognise that it is important that a clear boundary between political advisers and civil servants, who must be politically impartial, is maintained? What action has the First Secretary of State taken to ensure rigorous enforcement of that code in the light of what has happened, and when will the civil service Bill to which the Minister referred be published?

Mr. Leslie

The code of conduct makes plain, as does the ministerial code of conduct, the parameters of special advisers' work and operations. We are working on civil service legislation and will publish it when we are ready to do so. The code of conduct should be welcomed all round; indeed, the Public Administration Committee noted that it was both a welcome step forward and progress that should be acknowledged.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

In the light of the excellent fourth report of the Public Administration Committee, which was published last February, does my hon. Friend intend to take any further action in that respect? In particular, he should take note of the fact that the report says that the official Opposition were unable to give a categorical assurance that its Short Money funding"— our taxpayers' money— was used exclusively for parliamentary business. Will he seek a guarantee from those on Opposition Front Bench that in future such assurances will be given?

Mr. Leslie

That is an interesting question. Not many people realise that the Opposition benefited from a threefold increase in the Short money, which goes to support their work—it is purely for parliamentary business, of course, and I am sure that it is true that central office is not propped up by that £3.4 million. I tried to do a bit of research the other day and it seems that in their annual report and accounts, the Tories simply lump Short money with the rest of the income that they generate— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

Since the Minister is on the subject of threefold increases, can I point to the threefold increase, from roughly £50 million to just under £150 million, in the Government's spending on advertising through the Central Office of Information? Since the most senior special adviser of them all is Alastair Campbell, how does the Minister justify this morning's reports that Mr. Campbell will get his sticky fingers on taxpayers' money and have direct control over Government advertising?

Mr. Leslie

Another conspiracy theory from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Central Office of Information undertakes extremely important marketing campaigns—for example, on public health and protection or on recruiting extra doctors and nurses. If he feels that that is money poorly spent, I shall start to worry for him.

Mr. Collins

The Minister is renowned for being a man of his word, so will he give the House a categorical assurance that Mr. Alastair Campbell will not be in any position to give orders to the Central Office of Information as a result of the restructuring, and that any official of the Central Office of Information will be entitled to decline to follow any instruction given by Mr. Alastair Campbell—yes or no?

Mr. Leslie

The Central Office of Information has recently undergone its quinquennial review and the results were published yesterday. Those involved closer working with the Government information and communications services, as well as the strategic communication unit. We must have coherent government, which has a strong corporate strategic management. We must make sure that those recruitment exercises and public health campaigns are undertaken as effectively as possible.

7. Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

What his estimate is of the salary bill for special advisers in Government Departments in the financial year 2002–03. [30892]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

The Government have already announced changes to the pay system for special advisers based on civil service job evaluation. The process of evaluation is not yet finished, so the salary costs for the next financial year will be provided once the exercise is completed.

Mr. Blunt

There's a surprise—that the figures are not available. Will the Minister confirm that part of those salaries is paid to Alastair Campbell? From the hon. Gentleman's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), he made it clear that the Central Office of Information will be answerable to a political appointee. Does not the hon. Gentleman understand that that is a corruption of government?

Mr. Leslie

Is it not amazing that the hon. Gentleman forgot to mention that he is a former special adviser? That level of masochistic self-loathing in the Conservative party is deeply distressing. The hon. Gentleman should realise that we believe that the Government must be led strongly from the centre, and that we must make sure that we have effective and successful communications campaigns for the benefit of the recipients of public services across the country.

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