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Special Advisers

Volume 691: debated on Monday 16 April 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether, in view of the provisions of the Civil Service Code, the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers and the employment contract for special advisers, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will review the arrangements for the employment of HM Treasury’s special advisers in the light of criticisms made of Members of Parliament by a special adviser; and whether the arrangements for the state funding of political advisers will be reviewed.

My Lords, the employment of special advisers in Her Majesty’s Treasury is in accordance with the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers and the Model Contract for Special Advisers. The Government’s position on the funding of special advisers remains as set out in their response to the Session 2000-01 report of the Public Administration Select Committee on special advisers.

My Lords, was not the attack by the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s special adviser on the MPs for Darlington and North Tyneside totally in breach of paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers, paragraph 15c of the contract of employment of special advisers and paragraphs 12 and 13 of the Civil Service Code? Why, when 11 Written and Oral Questions have been asked over four and a half months, does the Treasury still refuse to respond on this issue? Does not the deafening silence of the Treasury on these breaches make a mockery of the solemn undertaking given to Parliament in 2004, which guaranteed the accountability of Ministers to Parliament for the actions of special advisers?

My Lords, the relevant Minister is responsible both for the appointment of special advisers in his or her department and for their conduct. My noble friend would not expect me to discuss a specific case at the Dispatch Box, but let us be absolutely clear that parliamentary accountability rests with the Minister who has appointed the special advisers. When there have been contributions and Questions, such as those that my noble friend has asked over a protracted period, lessons are learnt by special advisers about the dangers of communications with the press and the importance, as my noble friend has reiterated, of keeping out of public political controversy.

My Lords, given that the number of special advisers has more than doubled since this Government took office and given that their role in the public service was secretively enhanced by amendment to the Civil Service Order in Council in 2005, will the Government now enact a Civil Service Bill to remove the possibility of recruiting personnel into the Civil Service outside normal merit-based arrangements?

My Lords, this country glories in the fact that its Civil Service is non-political. Also, of course, we have 3,900 senior civil servants. It is important that political advisers who give political advice are separate from that apolitical—non-political—Civil Service. That is why we have special arrangements for them, both in their appointment and in accountability for their actions through the Minister.

My Lords, has the special adviser concerned either resigned or been sacked? If not, can the Minister say what the point is of having the codes, listed by his noble friend, in the first place?

My Lords, the codes are to ensure that political advisers know exactly what their responsibilities are. It is for the Minister to form a judgment on whether the code has been transgressed. Although my noble friend has contended that the code has been transgressed, the judgment of the Minister is different from that of my noble friend.

My Lords, as I learnt from my experience as a member of an earlier and much smaller brood of special adviser, the less one said outside Whitehall, the more one could discover inside Whitehall and, therefore, the more use one could be to Ministers. Does the Minister agree?

My Lords, I hesitate to suggest that that is the basis of the code, but I certainly think that special advisers are all too well aware, first, of the basis of the code to which they are obliged to subscribe and, secondly, as the noble Lord has indicated, that their public role is circumscribed by that code. If they err in any respect—and I am not saying that they ever do—it is to be anticipated that there will be a public reaction.

My Lords, would the Minister confirm that some special advisers have gone on to live worthwhile and productive lives? Does not any fault of the current pack of special advisers to the Treasury pale into insignificance compared with that of the special adviser who stood at the shoulder of Mr Norman Lamont while we lost billions across the exchanges on Black Wednesday? If noble Lords cannot remember his name, I can tell them that it was Cameron—David Cameron.

My Lords, in order to save the noble Lord’s blushes, perhaps we should constrain ourselves to the past decade and a half and not go any further back as far as special advisers are concerned. I cannot recall anyone who has made a more noble contribution to the nation than that made by those in the role of special adviser properly discharged. Special advisers do a proper job, which is highly valued. That is why successive Governments have been concerned to ensure the continuation of the role within the framework of clearly prescribed codes.