Who are they?
18. Advisers are a kind of civil servant, but an
anomalous kind. They do not have to be appointed on merit; their
performance is not assessed by other civil servants; they are
appointed personally by a Minister, with the approval of the Prime
Minister; and they do not have to observe the normal civil service
principles relating to political impartiality. Four documents
govern their employment: the Ministerial Code, which authorises
each Cabinet Minister to appoint up to two advisers (a limit not
universally applied in Departments and which does not apply at
all to No 10 Downing Street); the Civil Service Orders in Council,
which first derogated from the requirement that all civil servants
be appointed on merit and subsequently allowed up to three to
be given authority over civil servants); the Model Contract for
Special Advisers (established and published in May 1997 by the
Labour Government) which is designed to set out what they may
and may not do; and the Civil Service Code - to which, with the
exception of the requirements relating to objectivity and impartiality
- they are all subject.
19. Professor King thought that the status of advisers
as being 'neither hog, dog nor mutton'
was the result of a historical accident and should now be reviewed.
He observed that 'at the top of government in this country we
have always had ministers or civil servants, and when special
advisers appeared on the scene there seemed to be felt a need
to assimilate them either to ministers or civil servants. They
clearly could not be assimilated to ministers...therefore they
were assimilated to civil servants and given civil servant-like
He suggested that 'we should consider whether there should not
now be accepted as being in government three groups of people-
ministers, career officials and special advisers and whether there
ought not to be for special advisers not merely their own model
contract but rules governing their behaviour, statements governing
their responsibilities and indeed statements of what they should
not do and perhaps a separate code of ethics relating to them'.
Lord Lipsey took a similar view: 'What I think is the cause of
a lot of our frustrations in this area is that we are trying to
push everything into a box called "civil service as we have
always known it" and some things do not get in that box.
Rather than shove it into the box, I would rather see a new box
in which it fits comfortably, which is open, above board and subject
to public scrutiny'.
These are important points and we return to them later.
20. If judgements are to be made about the value
of special advisers, it is necessary to have at least basic information
about who they are and what they do. While the names of advisers
and the broad salary bands which cover them are published,
not much other information about them is available. Parliamentary
Questions to Ministers about the activities of special advisers
tend to elicit responses along the lines of 'the travel is consonant
with the Model Contract'. Professor King observed that 'we know
a fair amount about how many there are in government at the moment
and we know a good deal about what they are paid, but I do not
think we know enough about who they are, their educational background,
their career histories'.
We wrote to all Departments asking for this information, as well
as for information about the policy areas covered by each adviser
and the nature of their work. The responses we received were illuminating
in their variety, both in terms of what was said and what was
not said. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport, for instance,
provided full details including hobbies and number of examination
passes, while the Ministry of Defence replied that 'requests to
Departments about the educational qualifications and career history
of any civil servant would normally be turned down on the grounds
that it is personal information between the employer and employee.
If individuals choose to provide such information.eg entries in
Who's Who, Whitehall Companion etc, then that is a decision for
them. It is not, however, for Departments to make public information
that has been given in confidence' (see Annex 1). The Department
of Health provided the information while making it clear that
this was because the individual had agreed that they should.
21. In some respects there is more transparency about
advisers than there has been in the past (for instance, the Model
Contract governing their employment is now published, though individual
contracts are not). Yet in other respects there remains insufficient
information available about them. As an example, we were not able
to take evidence from any serving advisers. Our written request
to the Cabinet Office for clarification on the general position
on advisers giving evidence drew the response that it was open
to the Committee to invite anyone they thought fit but that Ministers
might nonetheless decide that the individual invited would not
be the most appropriate person to appear.
This indication of advisers being off-limits was confirmed when
our specific invitation to Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's
Chief of Staff was turned down
and we were offered the Cabinet Secretary instead. When we put
it to the latter that the Prime Minister's Press Secretary, also
a special adviser, had given evidence in to the Committee in 1998,
Sir Richard replied: 'I think Alastair Campbell's evidence, and
your invitation to him, was framed in a way which was very directly
relevant to the Government Information and Communications Service
into which you were, at that time, conducting a review. In terms
of what Jonathan Powell does ... that was in terms of his own
role, in a way which I do not think you were examining Alastair
As we were examining the role of special adviser, this seemed
to us to be an unconvincing reason for his non-appearance.
22. It may be that the work of advisers has changed
somewhat since it was undertaken by the former advisers we interviewed
(Dr Plowden, Lord Blackwell and Lord Lipsey). Certainly the FDA
though it had, particularly in respect of the 'work done by Alastair
Campbell and his team'. 
However, our inability to take evidence from current advisers
made it difficult for us to assess to what extent the role may
have changed. This has made our work more difficult and less complete
than it should have been. In the case of No 10 Downing Street,
where the greatest number of advisers is to be found, the fact
that the Committee's invitation both to the Prime Minister and
to the Chief of Staff have been declined make it especially difficult
for us to form a view about the role of advisers at the centre
23. We note that the Seventh Report from the Treasury
and Civil Service Committee in Session 1985-86
contained a list of special advisers with their previous or concurrent
outside occupations. It seems strange that in this respect there
is less transparency than 15 years ago notwithstanding the Seven
Principles of Public Life, of which transparency is one, adumbrated
by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. There may be privacy
and data protection issues here, but the data subjects are able
to give consent. In this instance there would appear to be a clear
conflict between the principles of individual privacy and public
interest transparency which may hamper attempts to join up government.
24. We believe that much of the controversy surrounding
the use of advisers results from this lack of transparency. It
is easy to complain that Ministers are allowing 'callow youths
to usurp the functions of experienced officials'
if little information is made available as to who is advising
Ministers. The issue of transparency, with the related one of
accountability, is one to which we shall return at several points.
We note the FDA's suggestion that individual Ministers should
make clear the role they see particular special advisers undertaking,
in effect a job description.
We believe that it is desirable, in the interests of transparency,
that as much information as possible should be made available
about people who are being paid out of public funds, consistent
with respect for the privacy of individuals, and recommend that
Departments should routinely provide as much information as possible
about who advisers are and what they do.