HC Deb 11 December 2000 vol 359 cc45-6W
Mr. Matthew Taylor

To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office (1) if civil servants are unable to take part in work that analyses or costs policies of Opposition parties; and if she will make a statement; [141722]

(2) if, under the model contract for special advisers, they are unable to take part in work that analyses or costs policies of opposition parties; and if she will make a statement. [141723]

Marjorie Mowlam

Departments are asked from time to time, under Governments of any party, to cost the policies and pledges of their political opponents. Since Departments would provide factual answers (subject to the limits on disproportionate cost) to questions from MPs about the costs of identifiable changes in activities or benefits, there is no objection to officials providing such factual information. These rules have applied under successive Governments.

The basis on which this is done is that Ministers, assisted if they wish by their special advisers, are responsible for identifying the text of commitments together with any further interpretations or assumptions necessary to allow the commitments to be costed. Departments then provide factual material, drawing attention to any additional assumptions or qualifications which they have made (eg territorial basis, price level, first year or full year) including possible overlaps with other similar costings. Very often the exercise will be co-ordinated by the Treasury, who will then be in a position to exercise their own scrutiny and check consistency with other costings. When the exercise is not being co-ordinated by the Treasury, individual costings are cleared with the Treasury before being published.

When the factual material has been provided, it is for Ministers (assisted by their special advisers) to determine the form of presentation, although it is legitimate for Departments to check the presentation for factual accuracy and consistency.