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Select Committee on Public Administration Second Report


Letter from Andrew Tyrie, Member of Parliament for Chichester

  Further to the letter from Tony Wright of 16 March I have now had a chance to look through answers that I have received to PQs and would like to bring the following to the attention of the Committee.

1.  THE WITHHOLDING OF INFORMATION:

  I have asked repeatedly for the costs incurred by Treasury special advisers on official travel overseas. I still have not received an answer:

    (i)  I first asked about Treasury Special Advisers on 10 March 1999.

    The response of 30 March referred me to a previous answer which, in turn, referred back to two other answers—neither answering the question. The only "relevant" information gleaned was that the travel arrangements were "consistent with the Ministerial Code".

    (ii)  On 22 April I asked again and was referred back to the response of 30 March.

    (iii)  Next I asked the reason for withholding the information. On 27 July I was referred to an answer given to the Labour MP, Ivor Caplin.

    This stated: "All travel by Treasury Ministers and special advisers is conducted in line with the principles set out in the Ministerial Code and the Civil Service Management Code" and referred to a document which had been placed in the Library.

    This document lists the dates, destinations and purposes of travel by Treasury Special Advisers but does not list the cost.

    (iv)  When the House returned from the summer recess I asked again, enumerating the costs I wanted to be disclosed.

    The response had two elements. The first referred me back to the document in the Library listing the dates, destinations and purpose of travel but not the cost. The second stated: "The cost of overseas travel by special advisers accompanying Treasury Ministers was included in the figures in the Prime Minister's answer of 17 June 1999 to the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr Pendry).

    There are two parts to the figures mentioned. The first lists the total expenditure on Special Advisers, in which case the Treasury are saying that their expenditure is included in the £10.9 million spent on Special Advisers since the election.

    The second part states: "A list of all visits overseas undertaken by Cabinet Ministers costing £500 or more during the period 2 May 1997 and 31 March 1999 has been placed in the libraries of the House." This does not refer directly to special advisers but states: "The numbers of staff accompanying the Minister are shown in brackets (  )." The page for the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not have any numbers shown in brackets which implies that no staff accompanied him.

    This is directly contradicted by the "Official Travel Overseas by Treasury Special Advisers" paper. For example, from 3-6 May 1998, it lists Ed Balls and Charlie Whelan as having visited Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta for "Chancellor's speaking engagement and meetings". The Prime Minister's figures mention the trip but do not mention any accompanying officials.

2.  IGNORING THE QUESTION:

    (i)  I asked The Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions to list the total number of occasions when special advisers had travelled abroad in an official capacity. He replied that there were no occasions when special advisers in his department had travelled abroad in an overseas capacity unaccompanied by Ministers (ref 329, c57w). I was forced to table another question to obtain the information I was seeking, that is, whether accompanied or not.

    (ii)  I asked the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to list the total number of occasions when special advisers had travelled abroad in an official capacity. He replied that there were no occasions when special advisers in his department had travelled abroad in an overseas capacity unaccompanied by Ministers (ref 329, c159w). Similarly, I was forced to table another question to obtain the information I was seeking.

    (iii)  I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the size (a) in absolute terms and (b) as a percentage of each department's spending head of the margins to cover uncertainties built into departmental spending plans. I did not receive a satisfactory answer (ref 318, c340-1w).

    (iv)  I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if Mr C Whelan was fulfilling duties formerly fulfilled by a career civil servant. This was not responded to (ref c0308, c100w).

3.  IGNORING PART OF THE QUESTION:

    (i)  I asked the Secretary of State for International Development, inter alia, to list the places visited by special advisers. This was not responded to (ref 331, c 325w).

    (ii)  I asked the Secretary of State for Defence, inter alia, the total cost of compliance with the Working Time Directive. This was not responded to (ref 327, c689w).

    (iii)  I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, inter alia, with whom his special advisers' contracts of employment had been made. This was not responded to (ref 302, c708w).

4.  DISPROPORTIONATE COST:

  Compliance costs of the Working Time directive:

    (i)  Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I was told that compliance costs could only be obtained at disproportionate cost. In a letter written on behalf of the Chief Executive of the Patents Office, I was told that "there would be a disproportionate cost in calculating the total cost to the Office of compliance with the Working Time Regulations, but we do not believe it to be significant" (ref 329, c92w).

    (ii)  Secretary of State for Defence. I was told that "details of staff who have voluntarily agreed that the 48 hour working week need not apply in their case are not held centrally and the information could only be provided at disproportionate cost" (ref 327, c689w).

    (iii)  Secretary of State for Scotland. I was told that "compliance costs are not kept centrally and could only be provided at disproportionate cost" (ref 327, c779w).

    (iv)  Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions and Education and Employment: I was told that "compliance costs are not held centrally and could only be provided at disproportionate cost" (ref 327, c726-7w).

    (v)  Secretary of State for the Home Office: I was told that "compliance costs are not kept centrally and could only be provided at disproportionate cost" (ref 327, c834w).

    (vi)  Secretary of State for Wales: I was told that "compliance costs . . . could only be provided at disproportionate cost" (ref 328, c53-4).

    (vii)  Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office: I was told that "Compliance costs are not kept centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost" (ref 328, c205w).

Andrew Tyrie MP

14 April 2000


 
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