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Mr. Campbell: If I remember correctly, the permanent secretary's evidence to the Committee was that he had no problem with Alastair Campbell and that he had not breached the rules. I think that the hon. Gentleman was there when that was said.

Mr. Tyrie: I was certainly there. It is unimaginable that the Cabinet Secretary would have said that there had been

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a clear breach of rules but that we should not worry because he was not going to do anything about it. An elementary knowledge of these things--the hon. Gentleman heard me say this earlier--shows that the first place that a Cabinet Secretary will put himself when he is under pressure is on the fence. If one that looks at his evidence, one sees that that is exactly where he was sitting.

Several straightforward things can and should be done to stop this attack--whether it is intended or unintended is irrelevant--on Whitehall impartiality, and put matters back on a sustainable basis. First, people such as Alastair Campbell who are expected to do overtly party political work should be paid from party political funds. Their salaries should not be paid by taxpayers. It is not acceptable to expect taxpayers to fund Alastair Campbell's attacks on the Conservative party. That is an unacceptable abuse of Government money. Likewise, the strategic communications unit should probably be paid for from party funds.

Secondly, I do not believe that there should be any further changes to the civil service Orders in Council to give special advisers the authority to manage other civil servants. That is the key aspect of the changes. All civil servants, without exception, should be appointed in the normal way on the basis of fair and open competition. Thirdly, permanent secretaries should be made explicitly responsible for enforcement of special advisers' compliance with their contracts.

Those are sensible suggestions, three of which were tabled as amendments to the Select Committee report, to which, in the end, I had to write a minority report. I regret that, and the fact that a partisan element crept into the Committee's work. I strongly support the work of Select Committees in principle. I do not believe that my suggestions, which constituted three of the four amendments that I tabled, are over the top, or that they are partisan. They would help to preserve the impartiality of the civil service and reassure taxpayers that their money is not misappropriated for party political use.

We are at the first stage of a trip towards the Americanisation of politics, with excessive attention to media handling, big increases in the number of special advisers and a presidential style emanating in so many ways from No. 10. If the House wants to do something about it, we must press the Government to put in place some of the sensible proposals that I have outlined.

5.23 pm

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West): In a way, I am grateful to the Liberals for raising these issues, but the material that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) produced in support of his case was pretty thin. It is not unfair to say that, on the Richter scale of saturated fireworks, it was less a damp squib than a soggy sparkler. He constantly referred to newspaper articles written over the past 12 months, which does not in itself mean that he has a case. If the case were to stand up, it should have dealt with subversion of the orthodoxies of how we run government by excessive use of spin doctoring, excessive concentration on presentation and so forth.

The same criticism applies to the speech of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young). Hiding behind the skirts of Romola Christopherson does

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him no credit. Her article in The Sunday Times was excellently written. There is no questioning her status as the recently retired doyenne of her profession as a career information civil servant in the Government Information and Communications Service. She showed the undoubted tensions in the service between the old ways of doing things and the new ways brought in by Labour, but the article did not amount to a devastating attack on what Labour are doing; I found it enjoyable reading. It did not describe Alastair Campbell as new Labour's version of Joseph Goebbels or say that we were about to embark on a slippery slope that would lead to the total subversion of normal democratic government. It was simply that she had one way of doing things, which she did brilliantly throughout her career, and that Alastair Campbell does things entirely differently, and is doing them brilliantly in his way.

Sir George Young: I wonder whether that is a fair summary of what Romola Christopherson said. She actually said:

That is a more substantive attack than the hon. Gentleman suggested.

Mr. Morgan: If Romola Christopherson had said that the Government had subverted representative democracy, the right hon. Gentleman would have a case, although he would still be hiding behind her skirts. She also said:

He should be more balanced in his quotes from Romola Christopherson. I assure him that he will find the quote at the end of the article.

We should concentrate on freedom of information, a subject that the Liberals attempted to weave into the issue of the Government Information and Communications Service. We are at the waiting game stage. We have not seen the draft Bill, but we did a leak, if it was one, in The Times yesterday. Under the headline "Straw to weaken code on freedom", there is a reference to what the Government's approach will be. If it is true, I must express my concern about it.

Will the substantial harm test disappear and be replaced by an across-the-board harm test? "Substantial" is a word with a considerable history in civil service memos--a wonderful British civil service word. In this context, it has a much more important meaning. There is a huge difference between denying information to the public on the basis of its release doing any harm and being able to deny its release only on the basis that it will do substantial harm to the state and its interests as listed in the White Paper. If "substantial" disappears from the draft Bill, it is likely to constitute a substantial watering down of the principles in the White Paper published by the Government, with the Prime Minister's name in the forward. That White Paper was a result of the excellent work of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Clark), who was then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancashire, with powerful support from the Lord Chancellor.

The replacement of the substantial harm test with the much easier harm test would be serious, although I understand that the Government will try to compensate

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for it in other aspects of the methodology of the Bill. It would enable the Government to deny information on a wider scale. The article in The Times yesterday alleged that the Government were considering codes, which would be different for each matter, on national security; law enforcement; personal privacy; commercial confidentiality; the safety of the individual, the public and the environment; information supplied in confidence; and official advice to Ministers. There were to be eight or nine categories, each with a separate code.

The problem with that is that, when the Government came into power in May 1997, they decided not to go for a freedom of information Act in their first 18 months. I think that I am right in saying that one reason for doing that was that they did not want merely to transfer into statute the non-statutory code on access to official information introduced by the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major).

It is no criticism of the right hon. Gentleman, but I think that it is fair to say that that non-statutory code has been a failure. It has simply not engaged the general public's attention. They simply do not apply for information, because it is only a non-statutory code. Moreover, on the rare occasions when members of the public do ask for information, Departments do not take their requests seriously.

The proof of that is in a press notice issued by the ombudsman, who enforces the code, because hecan construe refusal to supply information as maladministration. On 10 December 1998, in his official press release on the latest annual report, he said:

In the four years of the existence of the non-statutory code on access to Government information, Whitehall is just as secretive as it was before. Its culture has not been changed. Nor has the culture of the citizenry been changed to expect, as happens in Sweden and Canada, to be able to obtain information from the Government unless national security or a similar interest is at stake.

In order to change the culture of Whitehall and the expectations of the citizenry, Labour said that it would introduce an Act of Parliament to enshrine freedom of information in law rather than in a non-statutory code. We sought to change the culture and the expectations on both sides, empowering the citizenry, which was all very laudable.

Labour then said that it would not merely transfer into statute the non-statutory code, but that it wanted to go much further. The problem is that, after two years of going around the houses and responsibility having been transferred to the Home Office, it appears that, if the leak is accurate, we will have a Bill that is almost identical to the one that we would have had had we legislated in June 1997, simply by putting the non-statutory code on access to Government information on a statutory basis. If that is the case, we might as well have done it in year one anyway.

If what is presupposed in the leak in The Times yesterday happens, we will have gone around in a circle. I hope that I am wrong, but, if I am right, and if the Bill emerges in a couple of weeks' time in the form predicted

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in The Times yesterday, based on pretty careful information supplied from some Department or other, or some spin doctor, there will be a great battle over the word "substantial" and whether it can be reinserted in the Bill.

There is a great story about the word "substantial" in south Wales. We in Wales are notorious for giving people nicknames. A manager of a tinplate works in Llanelli who came from England and had been to public school in Oxford was warned that he would probably be given a nickname, so he called in the work force and said, "Look, chaps, I am new to the area and I know that you have a great reputation for giving people nicknames. I am English and you are Welsh, so you will probably give me a nickname. I don't object to that, but I don't want one of those Mickey Mouse names. I want you to call me something substantial." From then on, he was known as Dai Substantial.

I hope that, when the Bill is published, we will not have a battle royal over the word "substantial". We want a freedom of information Bill based on the White Paper published by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, not on the non-statutory code bequeathed to us by the Conservative Government.

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