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Special Advisers

Volume 570: debated on Tuesday 19 November 2013

Unlike the previous Administration, the Government publish the number of special advisers working in government alongside specific details of their salaries. The Government have gone further to ensure that a wider range of information about special advisers is now available to the public. For example, we are now committed to providing details of gifts and hospitality received by special advisers on a quarterly basis, as well as the details of all meetings held with senior media figures. All of this information was last published on 25 October 2013.

That is all very interesting, but it does not answer the question that I tabled on the Order Paper. I suspect that the answer to that question is “too many” and “too expensive”. In responding to my supplementary, will the Deputy Prime Minister tell the House about plans to be announced this week, apparently, that will allow each Cabinet member to appoint up to 10 personal advisers in a move towards a US “West Wing” type of Government, which will be very unpopular across the country?

As I said, all the information was published. Let me be explicit: there are 98 special advisers in post—72 Conservative and 26 Liberal Democrat—across the Government. On the other point, this is not a plan to import an endless series of political advisers. It is about recognising something that a number of independent think-tanks and others have recommended to the Government, to allow Ministers access to external policy expertise, which is sometimes lacking in Whitehall in the offices Ministers find themselves in.

Further to the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), and following this morning’s news that Cabinet Ministers will be allowed to have an additional 10 political appointees, does the Deputy Prime Minister think it is right that the taxpayer will be charged £16 million a year, in addition to the current SpAd bill, so that he and his Cabinet colleagues can be advised by their mates?

The average salary cost of special advisers is 9% lower than it was under the last Labour Administration, so pots and kettles don’t half spring to mind.

We all know that the reputation of special advisers was tarnished during Labour’s 13 years in government, but on the question of having technical advisers, which we have heard about in the past 24 hours, will the Deputy Prime Minister indicate what criteria would be used to ensure that they are indeed technical advisers, not political spin doctors?

Most usefully perhaps, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the report from the Institute for Public Policy Research—not a think-tank widely known always to support the measures of the coalition Government—which stated that, when compared with other similar systems, it is clear that Ministers often struggle to get the right kind of expertise they need to discharge their duties effectively. That is why, under proper processes of authorisation, we will explore the way Ministers can access that advice and expertise so that they can do their jobs better.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister recall saying in 2009:

“These are political jobs and therefore should be funded by political parties. Special advisers will not be paid for by the taxpayer”?

That broken promise is costing taxpayers a record-breaking £7.2 million a year, £1.3 million of which is for the Lib Dem share. What has changed since 2009?

The right hon. Gentleman speaks for a party that is hoovering up all the available Short money from taxpayers, and his question was probably written for him by Len McCluskey. For heaven’s sake, talk about blurring the boundaries between politics and non-party interests. Was the question written for him by a trade union—yes or no?