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Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) was doing very well until the end. His father is a consummate spinner, and the hon. Gentleman could learn a few tricks from him. At the end he lost the plot completely, but I shall not pick up all the things that he got wrong. I would rather make a few points about the debate, and more particularly about the way Britain is being governed.
It has been an interesting debate about advisers. I think that everyone is agreed that advisers have a legitimate role. However, as many hon. Members know, I for one--I have now been joined by a large number of others--have become increasingly concerned about the role of advisers in this Government. I encouraged Lord Neill to look into their role, and I made some proposals for reform in my evidence to him. In particular, I suggested that a cap should be placed on the number of advisers--which has risen from 70 to about 80 since I wrote that evidence--that advisers should be subject to a statutory code of conduct, and that the code should be enforced by permanent secretaries, because at the moment there is no means of enforcing the code. I am pleased that Lord Neill has accepted all those recommendations.
Many of us are concerned about advisers not just because their numbers are up or because they have started travelling abroad on a huge scale--they have been on something like 500 trips since 1997--or because they gossip to the media. Those are just symptoms of something much more fundamental. Advisers are assuming new roles in Government that they have not had in the past. The plain fact is that No. 10 Downing street--the very heart of Government--is being taken over by advisers.
A few months ago, I asked the Cabinet Secretary for a chart showing the structure of No. 10 Downing street and how it operates. Excluding the support staff, there are 67 staff in mainline jobs, of whom 27 are special advisers. What is more, the whole building now answers to a special adviser, Jonathan Powell. That was explicitly denied when I asked the question of the then Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robin Butler, but it has now been confirmed in a letter to me from his successor.
The truth is that No. 10 has ceased to be merely the centre of a civil service machine at the heart of Government, but is becoming a Labour party headquarters. It is an open secret that the Prime Minister takes far more notice of his advisers than he does of his ministerial colleagues. Cabinet Government is dead; even Cabinet Committees do not count for much. Ministers may have the red boxes but their contents are increasingly being provided by the Prime Minister's advisers.
Special advisers are part of the reason why Britain is steadily moving towards presidential government. The Prime Minister does his best to ignore Parliament. He hardly ever comes here, as I am sure you notice, Madam Speaker. He rarely votes, and he hardly ever speaks in the House. It goes further than that. He lets it be known that he ignores his colleagues, and prefers the advice of his advisers. His political companions are not his Ministers: they are his advisers, who are chosen by him, trusted by him and accountable to no one but him.
The hon. Gentleman should, for instance, have a look at a piece by Peter Kellner in the New Statesman, which makes it clear that a large number of his hon. Friends agree with what I have just said--although they probably will not stand up and say so tonight. Let me quote directly from what Mr. Kellner has written--unless, of course, he is making it up and writing fiction just as everyone else is said to be doing at the moment. He wrote:
Tony's handling of Wales and London was terrible. He came to office with people believing he'd do politics differently, better. Now he looks as if he's just as bad as everyone else.
All those kids in their twenties making policy in No. 10. What do they know about anything?
I do not believe that the British people want this. In fact, I do not think that many Labour Back Benchers want it. I do not even think that Ministers really want government of this kind, any more than anyone else does. It should therefore come as no surprise that many people have begun to raise their voices. At first they just criticised the advisers, but now they are beginning to criticise the Prime Minister himself.
What those people dislike most is the impotence that comes from playing out a parliamentary ritual in an increasingly presidential Government. Of course that is what one would expect the Opposition to say, but those who are speaking loudest are from the ranks of the Labour party. They are the old Labour supporters, and the new Labour luvvies. Such people are sick of watching or, worse, suffering political assassination by briefing from No. 10 Downing street--the back-stabbing whispers. This is a political culture that has more in common with Medici Florence than with 21st-century Britain.
There is a long list of victims: the Chancellor, the Minister for the Cabinet Office--although she seems to have recanted recently--the right hon. Members for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and the Chief Whip, to name but a few.
Is that not, however, the heart of the matter? The first instinct of the Government, particularly of the Prime Minister and of the Prime Minister's press spokesman, is to disparage and rubbish anyone who suggests that the Government's manipulation of the media has anything to do with the decline in the Government's popularity.
Mr. Kemp: The hon. Gentleman asked who pays the rent for special advisers at No. 10 Downing street. Who pays the rent for the special advisers, particularly the press secretary, to the Leader of the Opposition--the Tory party or the taxpayer?
Mr. Tyrie: Yes, that really was a killer question. As the hon. Gentleman has been in the Chamber for the whole debate, he will know very well that the Short money is fully audited. As he is quite experienced, he should also know that Short money pays primarily for the office of the Leader of the Opposition.
The hon. Gentleman also knows very well that Short money is a quid pro quo for many services provided to the Prime Minister by the civil service. To give just one simple example, the Leader of the Opposition has a team of people to help him to reply to his correspondence. Who does that for the Prime Minister? It is done by a large
I believe that a good press team--I acknowledge that Alastair Campbell ran a good press team in opposition--is no substitute for good government. The Prime Minister's style of government is destroying ministerial accountability and corroding parliamentary accountability. Above all, it has started to erode respect for our democratic institutions.
The Prime Minister can do something about that. The first thing that he should do is to curb the power and activities of Alastair Campbell. If the Prime Minister wants a political hatchet man, he cannot expect the taxpayer to provide the funds. If Alastair Campbell is doing exclusively party political work, he had better resign and be paid for by funds from the Labour party.
Secondly, the Prime Minister had better clean up his act at No. 10 Downing street. He had better put the building back in the charge of civil servants. He had better start using Cabinet Sub-Committees for some genuine decisions, rather than working out how to implement decisions. He should also show some respect for Parliament.
Thirdly, the Government should implement in full Lord Neill's recommendations on advisers. Lord Neill has made it plain that he cannot understand the Government's delay in responding to his report; neither can many Opposition Members. Now, let us have a response.