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Mr. Tyrie: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I agree.

The Prime Minister has appointed a coterie in No. 10 to ensure that the strong centre can become meaningful. That is why 25 advisers sit in No. 10 Downing street, compared with the five or six that Margaret Thatcher had, and the eight that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) had.

There has been a sharp increase in the number of advisers throughout Whitehall. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central made a number of interesting points, which I shall address in turn. Although I disagree with it, his speech was one of the most perceptive and thoughtful to be made by a Labour Member tonight.

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It is worth reminding the House of the facts. Margaret Thatcher began with seven advisers. When she left office, there were about 20 of them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon inherited that number, and there were 38 when he left office. This Prime Minister began with 53 advisers. After nine months, there were 67, and now there are 77. The numbers are rising steadily, and the ratchet effect is inevitable.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office said that the Prime Minister's pledge of an initial cost envelope of £1.8 million would be adhered to. That is nonsense: by November 1997, the cost envelope had risen to £2.6 million, and it now stands at £4 million. That excludes some pension costs and all secretarial support and office costs. To comply with the Prime Minister's 1997 pledge, there will either have to be mass sackings, or all the advisers will have to take a pay cut. I do not know how the target of £1.8 million will be adhered to. Something pretty drastic would have to happen, but of course the Prime Minister is not going to ask for anything of the sort.

Advisers have a legitimate role. I strongly support the introduction of outside advice into Whitehall. However, it is not acceptable for the massive increase in the number of advisers to be accompanied by a reorientation towards highly party political work. Of course there was a party political aspect to being a special adviser when I was in Whitehall but, according to anecdotal accounts from people in the civil service with whom I used to work, that element has increased dramatically. Those accounts are also supported by evidence given to the Select Committee on Public Administration when it investigated the Government information service some time ago.

Incidentally, the Minister said that civil servants had not complained about that trend. In fact, they have complained a great deal, and some--especially those who have left the service--have been prepared to go public. I have no time to read all the evidence, but I urge the Minister to study the evidence from Mr. Steve Reardon. He said that advisers

He added that the relationship with the special advisers was difficult. Numerous other former civil servants are prepared to attest to those difficulties.

The problem is that there is no clear demarcation line to limit party political work. That is why I wrote to Lord Neill with several recommendations. The first was that there should be a cap on the number of advisers. The second was that there should be a code of conduct creating that demarcation line. The third was that Permanent Secretaries should be given the power of, and responsibility for, enforcing contracts and the code of conduct. I am very pleased that Lord Neill appears to have accepted all three recommendations.

We could go down a different route for our civil service. The American system, for example, has hundreds of appointees. France has the Cabinet system, putting a few key people into private offices and turning them into Cabinets. That answers the question of the hon. Member for Leeds, Central; he asked how 70 people can take on thousands of civil servants. It is not the numbers that count--indeed, the hon. Gentleman said so elsewhere in

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his speech. What counts is whether those people are in key positions to enable them effectively to take over part of the work formerly undertaken by civil servants. We will be moving towards that once the special adviser numbers increase to the extent that they have small teams operating in private offices.

We must put a stop to the growth in advisers. We are seeing the creation of what amounts to a campaign team for the re-election of the Labour party, working in Whitehall and paid for by the taxpayer. That is wholly unacceptable.

9.27 pm

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): I have had the privilege of listening to all the debate this evening. Although I admit to being pretty disappointed by some of the contributions, I strongly support others.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) called for transparency in government and the need for a reform on spending. He said that his Administration had had a grip on administrative costs, and that they had sought to hold executives to account. I presume that they thought that the most effective way of doing that was to cut the number of civil servants by a third.

I was disappointed, to say the least, at the hon. Gentleman's contribution, and at those of the hon. Members for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff). The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire descended into a flash flood of emotion and, as we know, flash floods wreck and do not build. I suppose that wrecking and building were characteristics of the previous Administration.

I want to talk about something far more significant than the appointment of 70 advisers--namely, what the Government have done for business. They have sought to put in place the structures and processes to make legislation far more effective for business. They want to be accountable to this income-generating activity on which we all depend.

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) has already said that legislation had previously received some pre-legislative scrutiny. That is simply not adequate when we consider the mass of legislation affecting the business community that the previous Administration brought before the House.

As a business person at the time, I perceived the legislation as being introduced without review of what went before. I received multiple diktats from the same Department in one week. It was evident that the right hand never understood, or even knew, what the left hand was doing. That led to a great deal of frustration and confusion. At no time did anybody ask me for my opinion. I wrote to many individuals in numerous Departments trying to explain the daily difficulties that I faced as a direct consequence of their activity--and I am still waiting for a response.

It was with pleasure that I noted that on coming to power, the Government immediately established the regulatory impact unit. It is not a glamorous unit, but it seeks to do what most businesses want the Government to do--to scrutinise each piece of legislation with regard to its impact on business. That is to be welcomed. It requires Departments to do something that they have

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never done before. Guidelines have been produced to help them execute this task. They were desperately needed, as each Department decided what was appropriate in the light of its own guidelines, so the effectiveness of each Department could not be compared and contrasted. Some hon. Members will have noticed that legislation is now accompanied by a regulatory impact assessment, a vital document that has arisen not as a consequence of civil service input, but as a direct result of communication and consultation with the groups affected by Bills.

We heard a lot about deregulation and red tape under the previous Administration, who set great store by what they were sweeping away. Let me put their efforts into context. Much to the relief of the business community, the Conservative Government enacted the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. That was supposed to make great changes for the business community, but it did not.

Since 1994, the number of orders pursued as a result of the Act is 46. The business community, at a conservative estimate, has an annual turnover of £1 million billion, but over the past three years the reduction resulting from the Act has been £120 million. That does not make a great deal of difference to business. We have tinkered at the edges rather than achieving fundamental root-and-branch re-evaluation of regulations that we expect businesses to continue to follow long after they have ceased to be effective or competitive.

I welcome the inclusion in the Queen's Speech of a regulatory reform Bill, which will impact both on business and on public sector Departments. That represents a major and welcome shift in scrutiny. Significant sums go to the public sector, and we need to move from legislation that is no longer effective and constrains the public sector towards meaningful legislation that will enhance activity.

Finally, the previous Government may have been accountable, but by conducting a crusade against administration, they removed the structures by which they might have listened to the people they purported to serve. They served themselves; we accept that communication costs money while seeking to be an effective and accountable Government.

9.32 pm

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): We have heard much interesting discourse this evening. Alas, the Chamber has not been very full, although the subjects under discussion are almost as important as those that attracted a larger audience earlier.

Our starting point was costs. My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) spoke eloquently about the £1 billion a year more that is being spent on the apparatus of government. The Minister for the Cabinet Office sought to make light of that figure, saying that it took no account of inflation. One could almost hear Sir Humphrey telling her so. Alas, on accrued calculation, the increase between 1997-98 and 1999-2000 exceeds the rate of inflation by about £500 million. That is a significant real-terms increase.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) was keen to point out the contrast between that increase and what the Government spend in his constituency, where the costs of publicity have risen faster than the amounts spent on the ground. We turned next to

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special advisers and information officers, and my hon. Friend raised the role of Alastair Campbell and the notorious silencing of Lord Winston--now to be known as the silencing of the lamb.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), who has made a notable contribution on the question of special advisers, identified a trend that we must admit occurred under previous Governments, but which has been accelerated by the present one. As he pointed out, we are heading remorselessly towards the establishment of campaign teams in Whitehall that serve to extend the principle of elective dictatorship. They give the Prime Minister ever-increasing control. Again, that is not a new phenomenon, but it has been accelerated under the Labour Government.

There has been an increase in the number of special advisers, an increase in political appointments to information positions and an increase in costs. Of course, there is a connection between them--one leads, in small part, to the other.

Other matters are deeper and far more significant. In a remarkable speech, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) said something that is of the greatest possible significance to the House. There were moments when, from his intonation, I thought that I was listening to his father, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). Alas, there were not moments when, from the contents of his remarks, I thought that I was listening to the right hon. Gentleman on the subject of the protection of the House and its prerogative.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central told us that he celebrated the great virtuosity with which the Government have used the machinery of government to achieve their ends--that was the broad gist of his remarks. He is right--unqualifiably right. The Government have shown great virtuosity in using the machinery of government to achieve their own ends. The problem is what my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) described. The end that the Government have in mind is not merely that of governing--no reason why they should not use the machine to achieve that--but much more: they are determined to use government as a means of remaining in government. That notorious annual report is the supreme example of that.

When the Minister for the Cabinet Office replied to my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire, she made light of all that. She said that there were no real complaints from civil servants: no one thought that there had been any serious politicisation of the civil service--no, no, nothing of the kind. I draw her attention to the statement that, at principal and senior information officer level, discontent with the increasingly politicised atmosphere in which those officers have to work is running at a high rate. Who said that? Was it some Conservative spokesman? Was it somebody who had nothing to with the right hon. Lady? No, it was Mr. Andy Wood, the director of information during her tenure at the Northern Ireland Office. She knows whereof she speaks, because she has been one of its prime exponents.

According to the right hon. Lady's information officer, she has helped to ensure that the Government's brilliant performance--we have to grant them that--has been better than that of any previous Government at using the machinery of government to achieve their own ends. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central also pointed that out. The

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Government have attacked the Opposition. If possible, they have obliterated the Opposition through big tentery--the use and manipulation of the media--as never before and never so brilliantly. They have made an effort to use the fact of being in power to remain in power.

I emphasise that fact, because it is a remarkable attack not only on the Opposition and on the civil service, but on our constitution. Above all, our constitution depends on the fact that the people who gain power do not use it to remain in power. The cardinal feature of a democratic constitution is that those who find themselves the tenants of power cannot abuse that power to obliterate democracy thereafter.

The situation in this country is strange. We do not have a written constitution of the kind for which the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) calls. There is nothing to govern the activity of our Government or our politicians--nothing but the procedures of the House and our ability to interrogate and to hold to account. The sad truth is that, because under its procedures the House is run by the majority that is run by the Government, we cannot hold Governments to account unless they are governed by the procedure and the convention enshrined in the civil service.

Our civil service is not just a set of servants of the Government of the day. They are the servants of the Crown and the state in the profound sense that they are there to enshrine proper procedure and to protect the veracity of the information flowing from Government to the populace so that we in this place can hold Government to account and can argue the truth about facts and debate policies. If the Government use the civil service, politicise it, surround it with campaign teams, put in special advisers and make sure that it turns its attention to producing annual reports that are mere examples of self-congratulation, they will begin to undermine the constitutional foundations of our democracy.

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