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Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): The hon. Gentleman just said that special advisers have a malign influence on the system. The Neill committee has recently considered the point and it did not come to that conclusion. In fact, the Neill committee heard from the Cabinet Secretary and others that special advisers had a valuable role to play.

Mr. Lansley: I remember the point that the Neill committee made, but that did not stop the committee reviewing the compliance with the existing model contract and codes of conduct for special advisers and concluding that a new statutory code of conduct is required. The committee also recommended a limit on the number of special advisers. It is my view that the extent to which Labour has introduced political advisers and the extent to which they have overstepped their proper role is a malign influence.

Special advisers have a valuable role to play, but they should do so within the code of conduct. Their role should be modest and dedicated to party political advice, not to seeking to influence the role of the civil service. My view differs from that of the Neill committee. I accept that the committee does not endorse my view, but the fact that it examined the way that the Government have acted in the past two years, and felt it necessary to extend its remit, is an indication of widespread concerns that are not confined to the Conservative party.

Dr. Wright: Could the difference be that the Neill committee took evidence for its views?

Mr. Lansley: Much of the evidence was persuasive. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), the shadow Leader of the House, gave good evidence on those points. It is not for

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me to anticipate the Neill committee's future judgments, but if there is no change in the way in which special advisers operate within the present Administration, the committee would be right to revisit the issue and take further serious steps to limit their number and their role in Government.

The impact of special advisers on the civil service is evident in the way in which information officers have responded. Some 15 out of 17 of the most senior information officers in the Government have been removed, in one way or another. In place of information, we get disinformation. I talked today to one of those former chief information officers. He said, with understandable feeling, that to wave away the malign influence of unelected unaccountable political advisers was wrong. As he said, special advisers in those numbers, and with that attitude, will ultimately lead to a corruption of the system.

The Prime Minister at least has made no bones about the party political nature of his information system. He described the job of his chief press spokesman as being to attack the Conservative party. No. 10 has now set up the knowledge network--1984-speak for a group that I am told is referred to as the Ministry of Truth in Whitehall--which is to be staffed by Millbank tower emigres and headed by a Mr. Joe McCrea.

The rules governing special advisers state that advisers must "express comment with moderation". I am sure that that was always Mr. McCrea's approach, and I can tell people unfamiliar with that soul of moderation that he was spin doctor in chief to the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) throughout the period when the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State for Health. Therefore, even as a new set of spin doctors try to spin their way out of the mess that he left behind, the architect of disinformation on health is to be embraced once again at the centre of Government.

The Government appear to have learned nothing. When will they understand that false promises, double and triple counting and layers of gloss placed on unpalatable truths only make matters worse in the long run? I warn the Government that, in opposition, they may have been able to avoid the truth but, in government, truth will out. I fear that they will not heed that warning but will persist in believing that the relationship of perception to reality is a one-way street. They believe that, if they can control perceptions, reality does not matter.

The Government are wrong. Reality influences perception, and it is no part of the civil service task to substitute Labour perceptions for reality. It is symptomatic of the threat that Labour represents to civil service impartiality that a senior official is reported to have said of the knowledge network being established in No. 10:

We see the result. We have reached the sorry pass that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food can announce an aid package of £530 million, only for us to find--with the help of a Select Committee and others--that it turns out to be worth only £1 million extra to farmers.

Labour remains what it has always been--the party of higher taxes and bigger government. The reality of that is more bureaucracy, and more politicians, reviews,

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quangos, tiers of government, incompetence and waste. There is now a mountain of extra government. An extra £2.3 billion has been added to the cost of administering central Government. It costs £35 million to run the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh Assembly costs an extra £15 million. There are 359 extra paid politicians.

Ms Hazel Blears (Salford): Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what price the Conservative party places on democracy? Is he in favour of consulting people, drawing in other views and creating policies based on real-life experience? Does he agree that a mature Government bases policies on real evidence, or does he prefer the politics displayed by previous Administrations? Those arrogant and complacent Governments merely dictated from the centre and were completely out of touch with people.

Mr. Lansley: We believe in the reality of democracy, which is about holding Executives to account as well as about representing people. Labour wants to wield power and aggrandise government, but we want to give power to people by giving local government the power to determine matters according to local circumstances and needs. Real democracy is not about giving power to tiers of regional government, or about making Britain the most governed country in Europe through the addition of more tiers of government. It is about making government and democracy effective.

I said earlier that the Government believe activity can substitute for achievement, and that increasing the size of government automatically makes government more effective. I have news for the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears): more government generally means less effective government.

I noted that there are now 359 extra paid politicians. I invite the hon. Member for Salford to ask people whether they think that this country would benefit from more paid politicians, or fewer. The Government have also set up 500 reviews. The Government appeared to take office on a democratic mandate, but their actions since have amounted only to government by review.

The Government have also established 318 task forces. The Nolan rules were intended to ensure an open system of appointment of those outside government who give Ministers advice. Yet most of the 318 task forces are treated as temporary, whether they are or not. They are therefore considered to be outside the Nolan rules and an extension of ministerial patronage.

The previous Government introduced the system known as the Nolan rules. Those rules were intended to ensure that there existed open and impartial sources of advice inside government, and that those sources included civil servants and people brought in to staff advisory bodies and executive bodies of all kinds. However, the Government have already set out to evade the rules and to extend Ministers' patronage. They call it bringing people into the tent--I suspect that they would not want to say that they were bringing people into the dome.

There is also a layer of regional government, in the form of development agencies, that costs £69 million a year to run. I searched, without success, in departmental annual reports for evidence of a reduction in the running costs of central Government to compensate for the establishment of the regional development agencies.

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An extra £70 million is to be spent on Government advertising this year. There has been a series of costly IT and administrative blunders. The Public Accounts Committee reported waste in parts of the benefits system and in the public-partnership for the London Underground. The cost of the national handover plan for the euro is, as yet, undisclosed.

If the British people knew the half of the problem, they would rebel against the forces of big government. It is the Opposition's job to see that they do know the size of the problem and to offer the commonsense alternative--smaller government, with more power for people and their communities.

The alternative also includes free schools, the patients guarantee and the tax guarantee. We would have fewer politicians, and more doctors but fewer spin doctors. We would demonstrate a renewed commitment to reducing the administrative cost of central Government. More money would be available for vital public services as a result. We would respect the impartiality and values of the civil service.

Our alternative system would be accountable to a strengthened Parliament that was more able to hold the Executive to account. Genuinely devolved responsibility to communities and local government would mean that accountable decisions would be made locally.

The contrast is clear. Those who talk of convergence in politics are not looking at this issue. The direction of Labour is to bigger government, diminished accountability and a weaker citizenry. The Conservative way is to go for smaller government that works better, which is more accountable and which strengthens the powers and responsibilities of citizens.

The arrogance of this Government is never more brazen than when they are exploiting the power of government for their own political ends. They spend taxpayers' money on the machinery of government and on their pet schemes as if there were an inexhaustible supply of other people's hard-earned income. At the same time, they manipulate the press and the media to prevent the public from knowing what is really going on, and to undermine the effectiveness of the House or the media in holding the Government to account.

This debate charges the Government with favouring big government, high running costs, waste and excess. The evidence condemns them, and I urge the House to support the motion.

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