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Neill Committee (Ministers and Special Advisers)

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): I inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.25 pm

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): I beg to move,

It would not have been necessary for the Opposition to table this motion if the Prime Minister and the Government had responded promptly and positively to the sixth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which was published in January, and particularly to the recommendations on the ministerial code of conduct and special advisers. As it is, far from there being a positive response to the Committee's recommendations, we have seen further evidence of the Government's arrogant disregard for standards in public life, which they claim to have been elected to uphold.

On 7 May 1997, the Prime Minister told the parliamentary Labour party that Labour was not elected

That reaction from Opposition Members clearly illustrates my point--that such a remark would be farcical if it were not so tragic for the public interest.

We did not need Lady Richard's diaries to know that, from the outset, Ministers were more determined to secure their privileges and perks than to deliver on their election promises. However, Ministers' petty pursuit of privileges and perks is not the point of this debate. The purpose of this motion and the debate is to press the Government, particularly the Prime Minister, to take responsibility for Ministers' compliance with the ministerial code of conduct and to curb political advisers and their corrosive influence. We have warned the Government about that almost from day one.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): The hon. Gentleman started by referring to the sixth report. Does he acknowledge that that report actually says that special advisers play a valuable role? Is it not therefore inappropriate to use words such as "corrosive" to describe that role?

Mr. Lansley: Later in my speech, I shall explain at length to the hon. Gentleman--whom I suspect knows it, but will not admit it--why we are saying not that special advisers or political advisers have no role to play, but that

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the manner in which the Government have deployed them, the number of advisers whom they have employed, and the way in which the advisers have done their job has made that role utterly corrosive rather than valuable, as it was under the previous, Conservative Administration.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Will my hon. Friend contrast the position in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions--which has no advisers to help in addressing detailed and expert issues in, for example, design, architecture and planning--with that which prevailed in the former Department of the Environment? When a Conservative Member was in power at that Department, many of the advisers whom we had did not have party political allegiances. Although one of the advisers had been a Liberal Democrat candidate, he also happened to be the best expert on environmental issues that we could find. Would my hon. Friend also like to contrast advisers and political appointees?

Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He has demonstrated from his own experience as a former Secretary of State for the Environment the way in which the previous Administration not only employed fewer special advisers, but employed those who could help the Government to serve the public interest, rather than only those who would serve a party and a partisan interest.

We saw what the Government intended almost from day one. It all began with the spin doctors pushing out the civil service Government information officers. Andy Wood, the former director of information at the Northern Ireland Office, described the

The spin doctors then turned to members of the Government. Lord Hattersley described how a former Minister was rubbished to him by Downing street. Then, they got hold of Government statistical presentation, triple counting spending plans on health, and announcing the same education initiative 17 times; £500 million for farmers that turned out to be £1 million; and the 5,000 extra police who turned out to be no extra police at all. And so it went on.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): Will the hon. Gentleman remind the House how many times the Conservative Government changed the unemployment statistics when they were in power?

Mr. Lansley: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's stricture but, even if I did, is he arguing that before the election the Labour party decided that it had seen things that the previous Conservative Administration did that it believed were wrong, and proposed to imitate them? Or did Labour believe that it was coming to office to do things differently? It did not do things differently--it did things worse.

So it went on. The more the spin machine has grown, the more it has fed on the legitimate role of Ministers and the civil service: promoting its own interests, feeding the egos of those involved by manipulating the careers of others--all the classic techniques of the palace courtiers. Not only does the Prime Minister demand to be treated

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like the Chinese emperor, with everyone kowtowing to him, but he needs his equivalent of the eunuchs to do his bidding.

Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lansley: On that apposite note, I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Kemp: I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the improper use of taxpayers' money for people to operate in a party political role. Will he assure the House that none of the Short money allocated to the Opposition--more than £3 million--is spent in Conservative central office and specifically the war room within Conservative central office? The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was asked three times on the "Today" programme to give that assurance; on each occasion, he failed to do so.

Mr. Lansley: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman did not disappoint me; he made precisely the point that I expected. He will know that the Leader of the House provided precisely the answer. She said:

In the context of a debate on the Neill committee recommendations, it is interesting that the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) did not make it clear that the increase in the Short money was voted by this House and was in response to a recommendation from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. We are here to see why the Government, having pursued that recommendation successfully in the House, are not willing in the same way to impose on themselves recommendations which stem from the Committee.

Mr. Gummer: Will my hon. Friend tell the House whether the Government provide similar assurances for the money spent from the public purse on all their special political advisers?

Mr. Lansley: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. We will get no such assurance or accountability. It will be hidden in the increases in running costs of Government Departments, which have gone up by £2 billion in comparison with what would have been spent by the Conservative Administration at this stage. Special advisers cost £1.8 million in the last year before the election; the figure is now up to £4.3 million--some £2.5 million extra.

Even the new Labour backers and Labour Back Benchers have now noticed that the emperor has no clothes, and they have rebelled. They know the malign effect of the spin machine. The dam has burst and Labour's own people are speaking out.

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