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Dr. Clark: I hope that the Bill will not be watered down. I have already urged my right hon. and hon. Friends to be bold. I accept the sentiment behind what my hon. Friend has said in one sense: the information age offers a great many challenges, but it offers many opportunities too. I believe that, if we do the right thing, we can move from being one of the most secretive societies in the western world to being one of the most open. If we do, we shall re-engage with our citizens and we shall help commerce and industry. I passionately believe that we shall also start to rebuild trust in our democratic process.

5.8 pm

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): I shall concentrate on only one aspect of this wide-ranging debate. Labour's changes, although they appear to be incremental, are in

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fact fundamentally altering the relationship between the civil service and politicians. That process has been occurring for a long time, but has accelerated during the past 18 months. I can illustrate that point with figures for the large number of outside advisers appointed to Whitehall. More than 60 were appointed immediately after the election, and now the number is more than 80. There are about 20 at 10 Downing street at a cost of more than £1 million a year.

A suitable figure for comparison is the number of advisers appointed under Margaret Thatcher's Government on the last occasion on which there was a change of Administration. That Government appointed seven advisers, compared with 60 in 1998. There is always a ratchet effect: the Government began with 60 and are up to 80 after just 18 months; the previous Government's number rose from seven to 35 over 18 years.

Mr. Kilfoyle: Perhaps it would serve the hon. Gentleman's purpose if he got his facts right. It is not 80, but 70, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office stated earlier.

Mr. Tyrie: I will check that figure, but, when I added them up, I got well above 70. If the hon. Gentleman is correct, 60 to 70 is an increase of 10, which is a sharp increase in 18 months--between 15 and 17 per cent.

The doubling since the election represents a fundamental shift in the way in which Whitehall operates. If those advisers are in key positions close to Ministers, it means that the way in which decisions are taken, and the scope for officials to get advice to Ministers, has been altered. The balance of power in Whitehall Departments has altered, and that should not be underestimated.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office made a chilling comparison between the numbers of civil servants and of advisers, as though there should be some sort of rough balance between them, or the numbers could be considered comparable. The key figure is how many people a Minister has in his close entourage. Are we developing a French-style cabinet system?

The Labour Government have also altered the way in which we are governed by introducing Orders in Council to enable them to appoint outsiders to key posts hitherto held by civil servants. The Prime Minister's principal private secretary, Jonathan Powell, is one, although he travels under the title of chief of staff. Alastair Campbell, the chief press secretary, is another.

I do not object in principle to the introduction of all those outsiders into Whitehall--it may be a good thing and perhaps Whitehall needs them--but I object to the impression being given that nothing has changed and that we are carrying on just as before. That is complete nonsense, because something fundamental is happening.

With the Government's emphasis on media handling ahead of policy, it is hardly surprising that the Government Information and Communications Service is one of the areas in which those effects have been felt most. In several cases, Labour advisers were brought in explicitly to do press jobs, which were previously carried out by line civil servants; Alastair Campbell is an example. In other cases, that happens unofficially; Charlie Whelan is a case in point and, of course, Jill Rutter had to leave because she apparently felt that her position in the Treasury was untenable--she has gone to the

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private sector. In other cases, the selection procedure for replacing press officers seems too often to throw up Labour sympathisers who were working in the media beforehand.

Little public attention has been brought to bear on the way in which Whitehall is changing because it is not a matter in which the public are particularly interested. They have focused on the froth and the battles between senior Labour Ministers, which led to the resignation of one Minister, who is leaving the Chamber as I speak.

Because of the changes in the GCIS, which people I knew who worked there discussed with me, I decided to raise the issue in the Select Committee on Public Administration, on which I served. In autumn 1997, I asked whether we could launch an inquiry into the information service and subsequently, in the following spring, wrote a letter to the Chairman of the Select Committee. I was delighted when the Committee went ahead with that inquiry. It unearthed several things that just will not do.

First, it must be wrong for anyone whose salary is paid by the taxpayer to engage explicitly in party political activities. Alastair Campbell is paid more than £90,000 a year--perhaps the Minister will give me the exact figure--from the Exchequer. He should not be spending his time attacking the Conservative party, but that is exactly what the Prime Minister brazenly said at the Dispatch Box that he is doing and that it is his job to do.

When I asked the Cabinet Secretary when he came before the Select Committee if he agreed that that was wrong, he wriggled a little. Amusingly, when I pressed him a little more, he took up the customary, but painful, position that most senior officials take on such occasions and sat on the fence. In his evidence, he ended up distinguishing between attacking the Opposition, which was almost okay, and attacking them with bricks and bottles, which he felt was not.

Alastair Campbell's contract clearly states that he should not take part in national political activity. Schedule 1, part 2 of his contract says:

nor must they

    "engage in national political controversy."

However, Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, was unable to tell the Select Committee whether what the Prime Minister described as attacking the Conservative party constituted party political activity. I should have thought that it was pretty clear. In their evidence, both he and Alastair Campbell suggested that acting as a spokesman at the Labour party conference did not constitute party political activity or being a spokesman for the Labour party. That is merely Sir Humphrey double-speak.

I readily acknowledge that there has been some awkwardness about some of the activities that special advisers have been asked to undertake, under both Conservative and Labour Administrations, because they are funded by the taxpayer but are involved in activities that may be close to the line. However, Labour's decision to politicise Whitehall and to use taxpayers' funds for party political purposes on a large scale takes us down a

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road that will change the style of our government. It will take us away from a politically neutral civil service, towards an American system of government.

A second issue is that of enforceability of contracts. Special advisers who worked under the previous Government were sometimes at the edges of what might be considered acceptable, but in my experience that was all the subject of a typically British compromise and there were negotiations over many of the issues. As far as I know, the issue of whether any adviser came close to breaching his contract never arose. No adviser ever got to the point at which his permanent secretary felt the need to speak to him. Plainly, Labour's special advisers are engaging in national party political activity on a pretty big scale. Many people know that--everyone in the Press Gallery, for example--and they know that, in doing so, they are clearly in breach of their contracts.

Mr. Kilfoyle: The hon. Gentleman asks why, under the previous Government, there was no threat of a special adviser being removed because of breach of contract. Is that not because, under that Government, no one knew the terms of reference for such advisers? It is only since we established a model contract for them that everyone has understood their role.

Mr. Tyrie: Is the Minister suggesting that Labour thought that special advisers were appointed exclusively to do party political work paid for by the taxpayer and that the incoming Government were shocked to discover when they brought in their own advisers that there was some limit to what they could do? Of course he is not. The Labour party knew very well that special advisers should not engage in party political activity. If they had been doing so, permanent secretaries would have done something about it.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell rose--

Mr. Tyrie: I should like to make some progress before giving way, although I recognise that the hon. Gentleman is also a member of the Public Administration Committee.

Who will enforce those contracts? When I asked the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Richard Wilson, who was responsible for enforcing a contract that had clearly been breached, he could not offer me any comfort and nor could his predecessor, Sir Robin Butler, to whom I had put the same question. It seems that it is the job of the permanent secretary in a Department to spot a breach, but he has no power to enforce the contract. Although the special adviser's contract is with the departmental head, the permanent secretary cannot do anything about it. He cannot sack an adviser, because he did not appoint him or her; the adviser is appointed by his Secretary of State. We are in the crazy position--something has to be done about this--where special advisers can do no more than breach their contracts, but the permanent secretary can merely have a word about it with his Minister and, perhaps, the Cabinet Secretary and there the matter has to end.

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