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Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington): Is it always wrong to change the traditional lines?

Mr. Tyrie: That is a fair question. My main objection to Labour's actions is that the Prime Minister and the Government have tried to pretend that nothing has changed and that everything is exactly the same as before. Time and again, they have sent the Cabinet Secretary to Select Committees. I attended a Select Committee meeting where that happened. He had been briefed to say that no real change had occurred, that there were a few more advisers and a slightly stronger centre, but nothing to worry about.

If the Prime Minister had said in his manifesto that he disagreed with the traditional style of Cabinet Government, that he supported a more presidential style to reflect the modern age, that he would appoint 80 advisers, triple the number of advisers in No. 10 Downing street and make the whole No. 10 apparatus answerable to outsiders that he had appointed, I would have disagreed with him, but taken the proposal as a respectable experiment and been prepared to give it a try. However, he did not do that.

The Prime Minister has taken huge amounts of power, which were hitherto spread much more widely around Whitehall, and he has tried to do it by stealth.

Peter Bradley: I respect many of the hon. Gentleman's opinions. I formed that view of him when we served on the Select Committee on Public Administration. However, he has made a serious allegation against the Cabinet Secretary. Does he suggest that, when the Cabinet Secretary gave evidence to that Select Committee or others, he purposely misled members? If so, can he produce any evidence?

Mr. Tyrie: That was a hollow intervention. If we examine the Select Committee transcripts, it is clear that the poor Cabinet Secretary was in a terrible state when he was asked direct questions about where power lay in No. 10 after 1997. The former Cabinet Secretary tried to conceal the fact that all lines of accountability ran to Jonathan Powell. It was squeezed out of him with difficulty that Jonathan Powell now sits at the desk of the former principal private secretary, and is the gatekeeper to the Prime Minister. Under all previous Administrations, the principal private secretary, not a chief of staff from outside, fulfilled that role.

The transcripts contain many other examples and hon. Members who read them would get the same impression as I did of a Cabinet Secretary who was somewhat embarrassed by the need to defend what he almost certainly perceived as unacceptable, or at least by a new style of government that he was not permitted to describe as openly as he would like.

The effects of the change in the style of government are profound. I would object less if the change had been effected openly, but it has not. The changes and the introduction of advisers on such a scale have meant the erosion of the traditional check of an impartial civil service on Ministers' overweening power in a system that

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amounts to elective dictatorship in some people's opinion. The civil service can no longer act as a check. Cabinet government and Cabinet Committee government is dead. The Thatcher era was run on the basis of Cabinet Committees. [Interruption.] Those who disagree with that should read the memoirs. No memoir by a former Minister from that time disputes that the Thatcher era was run by Cabinet Committees.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): I understand that the Cabinet did not meet for almost two weeks after 11 September. If we consider that and the length of time it took to establish a war Cabinet, it shows that Cabinet government as my hon. Friend understands it has changed unbelievably in this country.

Mr. Tyrie: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Cabinet government has been dead for a long time but some dignity remained in the system. Nowadays, as my hon. Friend points out, the Cabinet does not even bother to meet.

I have mentioned the removal of the traditional check that an impartial civil service provides and the end of Cabinet Committee government. However, there is another indirect but pernicious effect: when Parliament cross-examines Ministers, it is often not cross-examining the people who have made the decisions and have the power. It is very senior advisers at No. 10 and No. 11 who should be brought before Select Committees, but they rarely appear. Those are the people who have so much of the power in this country, and in an American committee system they would appear before committees.

Mr. Dalyell: The hon. Gentleman is making a characteristically important and thoughtful speech, but there was a man called Charles Powell—and who was sent to the Select Committee considering Westland? I think it was Sir Robert Armstrong.

Mr. Tyrie: I entirely agree with the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but the big difference is that Charles Powell was a civil servant and not a special adviser. Indeed, several senior civil servants objected to his having stayed longer than three years. There are precedents, but he stayed for five years, which caused some tension. He was a civil servant, however, as was Bernard Ingham. Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell are not; they are special advisers.

The hon. Gentleman himself, in his speech, seemed to criticise the way in which advisers have carried on. But I suspect that many Labour Members, when criticising special advisers, often privately—incidentally, I think that their private briefings to the press have contributed to the press activity that we have seen over the Jo Moore case—are using a code of their own. They are criticising presidential government. They are criticising the fact that even Cabinet Committees do not seem to matter any more. And they are criticising the demise of Cabinet accountability to Parliament, something to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Front Benchers do not like it either. They are assassinated by innuendo; they find themselves being taken out by whispering campaigns. A number of those

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who have been so taken out in the past have mentioned it to me privately, although I shall not embarrass them by revealing their identity here. Others have talked to the press, and have complained publicly.

What is to be done about all this? Only the Prime Minister can reform the culture of media manipulation that is to some degree corroding, and is certainly deleterious to, the credibility of British politics at present. In the meantime, however, I think that a few practical things can be done to limit the damage being done by the adviser system as it currently works.

First, permanent secretaries should be given power to enforce the contracts that special advisers sign with a Department. They do not have that power now. The Secretary of State said that he had asked the permanent secretary to discipline Jo Moore, but the truth is—the Minister is not listening—that he has not the power to sack Jo Moore. He has not the power that he would have over every other civil servant in his Department. Richard Mottram could not act, and he should be given the necessary power.

There is another—related—change that I would make: the civil service should be put on a statutory basis. We cannot continue as we are, with the civil service nominally answering to the Crown but in fact always highly dependent, in every way, on the Executive. There should be a civil service Act, which, ultimately, would make special advisers as well as civil servants directly accountable to Parliament rather than the Crown.

Thirdly, I would give the Cabinet Secretary, acting on the advice of permanent secretaries, power and responsibility to establish whether special advisers are really doing nothing more than party-political work, and have become no more than party-political hacks. When it is concluded that that is what advisers have become, they should cease to be civil servants, and their salary should be paid in full from party funds. There is widespread concern that what we have now is a huge cohort of Labour special advisers who are paid by the taxpayer to do highly party-political work. That is a form of tax subsidy to the governing party.

I submitted the first two recommendations two and a half years ago, in both oral and written evidence, to the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life. I am pleased to say that they were accepted and appeared in the report, but so far the Government have failed to act on it. I believe that the third recommendation is essential to the restoration of public confidence.

I ask those on my own Front Bench to make one pledge. I hope I shall hear that when we come to power we will sharply reduce the number of special advisers, as part of wider reforms to restore some credibility to parliamentary democracy.

7.25 pm

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): I shall not detain the House for long, as I wish to say only a few words. I am a quiet, shy, retiring sort.

I think that the key issue in all this is public perception and public trust. I want to make it absolutely clear that I support the Government's amendment—[Interruption.] I ask Members to be patient, and to wait for what I shall say later.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), who is not present now, for

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their deep, thoughtful, serious speeches, which all Members should read at their leisure. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who is also not present but who spoke passionately, although I did not agree with all that he said. And I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), whose very surgical speech highlighted key points.

I think that the conduct of the special adviser to the Secretary of State has been appalling. We are supposed to be standing shoulder to shoulder with the USA—so we are told by certain quarters—yet following those terrible atrocities, that infamous memo was sent out. As other Members have said, there can be no doubt that if a Minister had sent an e-mail saying that 11 September had been a very good day, he or she would have been sacked on the spot. It seems that special advisers have more protection than Ministers in terms of accountability to the public.

It must be said that the shadowy figures who lurk in the depths of ministerial offices spreading their views are not held to account, but I am astonished that the person involved in this particular case has not already gone. My reason is simple: resigning would have been the most decent and honourable thing to do. I hope the Minister who winds up will tell us whether that person offered her resignation, and, if she did, who is protecting her by refusing it. There has been no apology, apart from half an apology after several days, and the Government appear still to be dragged through the mire weeks after the event. To be honest, I think that they should put her out of her misery, and that we should spare them yet more embarrassment.

What has been done undermines the great achievements that this Labour Government could boast about. It is time that we stopped the rot. I must tell the Secretary of State that he should do the decent thing, even if she will not.

The hon. Member for Chichester mentioned the model contract promulgated on 19 May 1997, shortly after Labour's election, by the Prime Minister. Section (viii) states that special advisers

There can be no doubt that, when that e-mail was sent, moderation was not used and discretion was not observed.

A written constitution is long overdue. We need to reinvigorate our failing democracy. As has been said, when nearly half the electorate do not vote in general elections, two thirds do not vote in local elections and three quarters do not even bother to vote in European elections, there is a fundamental problem in our democracy. There are those who say, rightly, that we must concentrate on public services; but when the values that are supposed to underpin a Government are completely undermined—and the e-mail is just one symptom of that—those people should not expect their people to come out and vote for them, because they will not expect to believe the promises made at election time.

The Government have an obsession. That was true of other Governments, but this Government over-egg the pudding, triple count the figures, oversell the good news and bury the bad. That needs to end, and end now. If the Prime Minister were here—he is not, and I understand that he is on important business elsewhere—I would say,

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"Relax. Chill out. What on earth are you afraid of? You can convince the people without the spin. You have a good story to tell, so tell it as it is."

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