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Special Advisers

4. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): If he will publish new guidelines regarding the conduct of special advisers. [9284]

5. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): If he will make a statement on the guidance his Department gives on the ethical standards that should be applied by ministerial special advisers. [9285]

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State (Mr. John Prescott): Since the general election, we have published a revised model contract, setting out the duties, responsibilities and terms and conditions that will apply to all special advisers. The model contract incorporates a new code of conduct consolidating the guidance for special advisers, the civil service code and the principles of public life taken from the first Nolan report.

Michael Fabricant: I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his answer. Ignoring for a moment the question of Jo Moore and ignoring for a moment the question of civil servants who have resigned from the press offices of various Departments, can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that there are now 81 special advisers? Is he aware that when the Labour Government came to office there were only 38? Does he accept that people would be

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more satisfied with the Government's performance if they were to reduce the number of special advisers to that which they inherited?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: I can confirm that there are 81 special advisers in comparison to 3,500 senior civil servants. Indeed, I can confirm that the number of special advisers has increased from 38—the number in post when we first came to office. That means that the number of advisers has almost doubled—[Hon. Members: "More than doubled."] Well, more than doubled if they like, but it more than doubled under the Tory Administration, when it reached 38. If the hon. Gentleman believes that, in those 18 years, the Tories' record in office was advantaged by doubling the advisers, I leave him to make a judgment about the current number of advisers.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Here is a straightforward question for the Deputy Prime Minister. If a special adviser in the Cabinet Office had put out an e-mail saying that the occasion of an international terrorist disaster was a very good day to bury bad news, would the Deputy Prime Minister have sacked that person or kept him or her in his or her job?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: It has been made clear both by the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and by the Prime Minister, and it is my view, that it was a stupid judgment and should not have happened. The woman has apologised for it. She has been dealt with under the disciplinary procedures. Under those circumstances, I think that the matter is now shut.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): May I put it to my right hon. Friend that a lot of nonsense is talked about special advisers? The last thing that we want or need is new guidelines on special advisers. What we really do need is a civil service Act, giving constitutional protection to the civil service. We have long promised it, so surely now we can deliver it.

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: We have made it absolutely clear that a civil service Act will be considered. My hon. Friend and the Select Committee on Public Administration, which he chairs, have made several recommendations to which we will reply soon. In fact, the Cabinet Secretary is to appear before the Committee tomorrow, when the members of the Committee will be able to hear some of our responses to its recommendations.

On special advisers, the House may be interested to know that I happened to look at the membership of the shadow Cabinet. Five of its members are former special advisers, and there are four more on the Tory Front Bench. I do not know whether that adds to the better judgment of the shadow Cabinet; we wait to see.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Whose advice do the Government value the most—that of their special advisers, or that of all the Back Benchers?

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The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: We value the advice of both. The special advisers play a special, useful role in ensuring that Back Benchers on both sides of the House communicate their views to Ministers.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): May I say first that I much look forward to crossing swords with the Deputy Prime Minister? I dare say that we will have some clashes, but I freely acknowledge that he is one of the most honest and honourable members of the Government? May I remind him that on 12 January last year, the then Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Lord Neill, said:

So, nearly two years ago, Lord Neill recommended a limit on numbers. What is the Deputy Prime Minister's reaction to that?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks and also welcome him to the Front Bench. I think that he should have recorded a special interest, as he was a special adviser himself before taking up his job, nevertheless, I make no criticism, and I look forward to the exchanges across the Dispatch Box in future. The question that he asks has been posed to us by the Select Committee, and we shall give a proper response to that matter shortly.

Mr. Collins: I am grateful to the Deputy Prime Minister for that answer. It is, of course, very nearly two years since the Neill committee made its recommendation on this issue. The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, has said that he wants a civil service Bill to be introduced rapidly. If such a Bill is introduced, will it include such a numeric limit on special advisers?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: Again, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that it would be right for us to respond first to the Select Committee, as it has asked us that question. I have made it clear that a civil service Bill will be presented, and the House will then have a chance to debate the issues that he has raised, but it is right and proper for me to give the first response to the Select Committee. I do not know whether it will also deal with what has happened to the Short money—the amount of money given to the Opposition has increased from £1 million to £3 million a year.

Mr. Collins: As the Deputy Prime Minister is being so honest and forthright in his responses to the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, does he agree with the said hon. Gentleman that Jo Moore's remarks were

Why is that woman still in office?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: When I appeared before the Select Committee on the occasion of those remarks I told the Chairman that I did not agree with his judgment. It was his opinion, but I

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have to give a proper response from the Government, and that is yet to come. Was there any time when the hon. Gentleman, as a special adviser, gave a bad judgment?

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): This round of questions was started by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), whose questions I have always found fascinating—mind, I have never really thought of him as a Tory; I have always thought of him as more of a Whig.

Is it not the case that advisers should advise and Ministers should make decisions? Following the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South–East (Dr. Iddon) on advisers, Back Benchers can give good and solid advice on occasion, and is not it a great pity that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions did not take my advice on Biwaters when he was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry? Had he done so, that plant might still be open. Presumably, he acted on internal advice.

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: My hon. Friend has raised that issue several times in the House, and I cannot really say any more than my right hon. Friend told him, but it is our job to take advice from advisers and from Back Benchers as well. I might say that we would give more importance to the Back-Bencher's view, but at the end of the day, it is the responsibility of Ministers to make a decision and then be accountable to the House.

PIU Energy Review

6. Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): If he will make a statement on the scope and timetable of the performance and innovation unit's energy review. [9286]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche): The scope of the PIU energy review is to look at strategic issues surrounding energy policy for Great Britain to 2050. The PIU will report to the Prime Minister by the end of the year.

Mr. Thomas: I thank the Minister for that reply. Can I draw her attention to the increasing concerns regarding the new electricity trading arrangements, as outlined in the Ofgem report that all Members have received? Will she confirm that the energy review currently being undertaken will consider those concerns and will bring forward proposals regarding those arrangements? If the report comes to Government by the end of the year, what timetable does she have to ensure that they bring forward their response to it in the next 12 months?

Mrs. Roche: I know that the hon. Gentleman has had a long-standing interest in energy matters. The review will take account of the longer-term potential contribution from all renewable sources of energy and it will also consider how energy investments of all kinds can be reconciled with the concerns of local communities. I certainly undertake to draw his remarks to the attention of the review.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): I should like to reinforce the comments of the hon. Member for

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Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas). Will my hon. Friend assure me that, in any review, special consideration will be given to older coal-fired power stations, such as Aberthaw? They are strategically important in guaranteeing the security of the supply of electricity to areas such as south Wales and in their ability to burn low volatile coal from the south Wales valleys.

Mrs. Roche: Any review of energy needs must consider coal. I inform my hon. Friend and the House that a separate review of the potential of cleaner coal technology was announced in parallel with the PIU review.

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