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Mr. Tipping: I am clearly not in a position to answer that question. It may well be relevant to this debate, but I cannot take responsibility for the intimate workings of all 3,600 senior civil servants.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk): The Minister seems to be accusing Conservative Members of having been special advisers. Are we to infer, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman disapproves of special advisers, in which case he disapproves of his Government's policy? What is his problem with this? Does he not understand that the debate is about elected accountability, and that his Government's reliance on spin and the use of special advisers blurs elected accountability and damages democracy? That is the point of the debate.

Mr. Tipping: The right hon. Lady is a former Minister and has been a distinguished Secretary of State. She will know that special advisers are responsible, through their Ministers, when it comes to criticisms and accountable to the House. Nothing has changed there. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) made it quite clear that he supported special advisers, and so do I.

I wish to make a bit of progress.

Mr. Robathan: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tipping: As the hon. Gentleman is pushing his luck, I will give way to him. However, I have given way many times already, and I will make some progress after this intervention.

Mr. Robathan: The Minister has been characteristically courteous. He has given way a great deal, and for that I thank him. However, he seems to be trying to get off the hook by saying that the Government will respond to the Neill committee's sixth report by the end of the month. Part of the debate refers to the ministerial code, which can be enforced now. Why will the Prime Minister not enforce paragraph 113 of the ministerial code relating to the relationship with trade unions, of which he is very well

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aware, as regards the Deputy Prime Minister and his flat in Clapham? It can be done now--the Prime Minister does not have to wait.

Mr. Tipping: The hon. Gentleman took me back to where I was before I took a number of interventions. There are 41 recommendations in the report. Some are complex, some affect the House, some relate to proposed legislation on the criminal law on bribery. These are serious matters, which require careful attention.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has recently produced proposals for discussion. The sixth report, however, is a package of proposals, and the Government will respond to the package. We are giving these matters the serious consideration that they deserve rather than producing a knee-jerk reaction, for which we would no doubt be criticised by Conservative Members, who now characterise mature reflection as delay. The time for a debate on the sixth report will be after the Government's response. The debate this evening is premature. It is characteristic of an Opposition who will try to jump on any passing bus. Opportunism for all and everything now appears to be their cry.

As they say, a week is a long time in politics. When it comes to major parliamentary and constitutional changes, 10 years may come too soon. It is important to try to get these things right.

Mr. Kemp: Does my hon. Friend share my concern about a disjointed response to questions from the Opposition? Earlier, I asked whether not one penny of Short money--£3.5 million-worth of taxpayers' money--should be spent on party political purposes, when we know that it is being spent on the Conservative party's war room. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) did not answer that question and refused to give an assurance. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about a quote from the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram)? He said, "We have spent this money in many ways. One of these is for support for the shadow Cabinet in the war room."

Mr. Tipping: I noted what the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire said about the matter. He said that the Conservative party would be duly accounted and audited. The comment from the chairman of the Conservative party is clearly a quotation that any audit would want to take into account.

Mr. White: Will my hon. Friend give way? [Hon. Members: "Give way."] If the Conservatives have nothing to hide on Short money, why did they try so hard to prevent the Select Committee examining it?

Mr. Tipping: I am sorry but I missed my hon. Friend's point. Conservative Members were complaining that I am not giving way often enough. I have given way many times to Opposition Members, and only twice to my hon. Friends.

A number of charges have been made about Ministers and special advisers. I do not intend to reply to them in detail or to get drawn into discussion of individual cases. However, I will say that the ministerial code is working and is effective. We welcome Lord Neill's conclusion that

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there is no need for an independent ethics commission to investigate alleged ministerial abuse. That speaks volumes.

The party that gave us the A team--Archer, Aitken and Ashcroft--can speak only from weakness. If there is a crisis of confidence, the previous Conservative Government have much to answer for. What is more, I have not mentioned the H word--Hamilton.

Much has been made about the growth in the number and influence of special advisers. I suspect that some Conservative Members are coming to believe the magic and mystery that is alleged to surround some of these postholders. It is inconceivable that 78 special advisers can corrupt and politicise the senior civil service of 3,700, or a civil service of 466,500 permanent staff. We remain committed to an independent and impartial civil service.

It seems that no one has denied--it has been a theme of the debate--the need and role of special advisers. The Opposition Benches are littered with a handful of distinguished former occupants of the post, and we have heard from some of them. Perhaps we should note what the Neill committee says on the matter. It acknowledged the valuable role of special advisers, but no judgment was passed on the numbers considered appropriate.

Nevertheless, the Opposition complain about the numbers and costs of special advisers. Special advisers existed under Conservative Administrations, and guidelines then were far from clear. It was this Government who were responsible for publishing the model contract for special advisers. The contract is explicit and public about their role. That is a transparency that did not exist under the previous Administration. We have also been open--it has been quoted back to us--about the number of advisers and their costs.

For healthy debate, politicians need support and assistance. I was delighted at the decision to increase financial aid to the Opposition parties. There was a 270 per cent. increase to £3 million in Short money for the Conservative Opposition alone. That sum has risen to £3.4 million in the current year. The Leader of the Opposition also receives an additional £500,000. Whether value for money is being achieved remains a moot point. The carping that we are hearing tonight needs to be set in the context of the public support that the Opposition parties have received.

Select Committees deserve support, too. Recent changes in our procedures have provided more time to debate Select Committee reports. There is a continuing debate on the need for the appropriate level of support for Select Committees.

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has been mentioned. I remind the House that the twelfth report of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges cleared my right hon. Friend of complaints against him. It concluded that he should register his tenancy only because

if he were to do so.

Mr. Robathan: I can see the Minister's embarrassment from this side of the Chamber. Will he confirm that the

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Select Committee on Standards and Privileges has no role in commenting on, or enforcing, the ministerial code of conduct? That code is the responsibility of the Prime Minister. I am sorry to embarrass the hon. Gentleman because I think that he is a decent person. The ministerial code has been blatantly flouted and the Prime Minister is taking no action whatsoever.

Mr. Tipping: I am not embarrassed at all. It is the hon. Gentleman who should be embarrassed. He was one of those who made the complaint against my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Select Committee dismissed it out of hand.

Despite all the concerns and the accusations that will be made this evening, the House and the public should be encouraged by Lord Neill's statement that there is now less concern about standards in public life than when the committee was established in 1994. The Labour party said that we would clean up politics, and we are. We will take no lessons from the Tories on cleaning up politics.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is it not rather odd to be lectured on integrity in public life by Opposition Members who supported the most sleaze-ridden Parliament since the times of Lloyd George? Surely they are the last people to give us lectures on integrity.

Mr. Tipping: My hon. Friend has made his point in his own way.

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