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House of Commons

Wednesday 13 March 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


London Development Agency Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on 20 March.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State was asked—

Special Advisers

1. Bob Spink (Castle Point): What the Government's policy is on compensating special advisers who are required to resign. [40116]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche): The circumstances in which compensation may be paid to special advisers who resign from the civil service are set out in the "Model Contract for Special Advisers".

Bob Spink: The Prime Minister has the final say in appointing special advisers. Will the Minister tell us exactly what role the Prime Minister plays in dismissing advisers, and will she say what amount of compensation Jo Moore was paid?

Mrs. Roche: The hon. Gentleman's question was about special advisers who resign from the civil service. Their conditions are laid down in section 13 of the "Model Contract for Special Advisers". It will be for Jo Moore and the Department to work out the exact terms.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): Will my hon. Friend agree to have a look at the evidence given to the Select Committee on Public Administration last week by Sir Richard Mottram about the whole matter of special advisers and how they could be required to resign? Does my hon. Friend agree that it is sometimes not clear whether the Secretary of State or the permanent secretary

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is responsible for requiring a special adviser to resign? For future reference by Governments of all complexions, would it not be better to clear that up now?

Mrs. Roche: We have an obligation to consult on a civil service Act, and of course we shall listen to what people have to say during that consultation. The House should bear in mind, however, the fact that the "Model Contract for Special Advisers" was published for the first time by this Government, and that they also published the code of conduct. That will interest Conservative Members, one in eight of whom I understand to be former special advisers.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Whose job is it to ensure that special advisers cannot break their code of conduct, and therefore their contracts, with impunity? What action was taken when Ministers confirmed to the House that Jo Moore had instructed a civil servant to brief the press against Bob Kiley, contrary to paragraph 6 of the code? Was that a breach of contract? If not, why not? Would severance pay be payable if it was?

Mrs. Roche: The terms and conditions in the model contract go into an individual's terms and conditions of employment. That is the rule in employment law.

As far as I am aware, no official complaint has been made. If a complaint were made, it would be investigated.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): Will the Minister confirm for the record that it was the Prime Minister who personally decided to retain Jo Moore in office last autumn? If he did, will the Minister confirm that he, not the taxpayer, will be paying any lump sum that is paid to Jo Moore?

Mrs. Roche: I refer the hon. Gentleman to what the Prime Minister said on 17 October during Prime Minister's Question Time:

That is the way in which to deal with these affairs.

Civil Service Bill

2. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): If he will publish a civil service Bill in draft. [40117]

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State (Mr. John Prescott): The Government are committed to the introduction of civil service legislation, and I anticipate working closely with the Select Committee on Public Administration in developing a consensus through all stages of reform. As I said when I appeared before the Committee on 18 October last year, this does not rule out any form of pre-legislative scrutiny.

Mr. Prentice: That is a good answer, but it does not tell me anything that I did not already know. Is there any problem with introducing a civil service Bill, given that

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all the parties are signed up to it? I am mystified over why there should be so much navel-gazing in regard to an issue on which there is consensus in the House.

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: As the hon. Gentleman will recall, he asked the same question on an earlier occasion. [Hon. Members: "Hon. Friend!"] Well, I will leave that to the judgment of the House.

I was trying to make it clear to the House that my hon. Friend—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"]—had asked a question and adjusted it in the process. He asked about pre-legislative scrutiny, which I think is a very good idea.

People want to have a debate about this issue. We have made it clear that we intend to make a radical change: to put provisions into law and a legislative framework, which the Opposition have called for in their recent report. We think that that is right and we will publish at the right time. The Cabinet Secretary will make a statement about the matter shortly. I believe that he is appearing before my hon. Friend's Committee tomorrow.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that a civil service Bill should include statutory provision for the ministerial code? Yesterday a judge in the Doncaster case said in passing sentence on two Labour councillors found guilty of corruption—I hope that the Deputy Prime Minister agrees with this—

Does he agree that following the Mittal affair, the Hinduja affair, the Ecclestone affair and the Vaz affair, the last person who should be judge and jury on the conduct of Ministers is the Prime Minister?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: We could expect a rant from the hon. Gentleman, but a Conservative councillor was before the court at the same time. Let me make it clear that the House condemns corruption wherever it takes place; I assume that that view is held on both sides of the Chamber. All parties have had problems, but the hon. Gentleman seeks only to exploit the situation, and throws doubt on the credibility of many councillors, Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat, who do an excellent job. We do not intend to put the ministerial code into a legislative framework.

Mr. Speaker: Question 3. [Interruption.]

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State (Mr. John Prescott): I was just thinking about Lady Porter.

PIU Reports

3. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): If he will list the performance and innovation unit reports for which his Department is the lead department. [40118]

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: The Cabinet Office is the lead Department for four completed PIU reports, which focused on a cross-cutting

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approach to government, regional and local government, electronic delivery of Government services, and leadership in the public sector.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office is also the sponsor Minister for two current PIU projects, on risk and uncertainty; and ethnic minorities and the labour market.

Mr. Chaytor: The content of all PIU reports is a matter for the sponsoring Minister, so in respect of the process governing the report on the energy review, will my right hon. Friend speak to the Minister for Industry and Energy and ensure that there is the fullest possible debate about that review over the next few months, given the deteriorating international situation, particularly in the middle east?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: The report was commissioned by the Prime Minister, as my hon. Friend is aware. It was conducted by the PIU under the sponsorship of the Energy Minister. In those circumstances, it has produced the report, and statements have been made. The report is now publicly available for consultation and discussion. After the consultation, and despite the controversial issues associated with our commitments on climate change and nuclear energy, we will produce our White Paper at the end of this year. We will include our conclusions in it, as Governments normally do.

Ombudsman Review

4. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): When he expects to introduce legislation to implement the conclusions of the ombudsman review. [40120]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Christopher Leslie): The Government have made clear their commitment to replace the existing arrangements with a more unified ombudsman body. We intend to publish more details shortly. Any legislation required to implement new arrangements will be made when parliamentary time allows.

Tony Wright: My hon. Friend will know that it was a Labour Government in the 1960s who introduced the ombudsman system to protect the citizen against acts of maladministration by state officials, a move that was opposed by the Conservative party. We have had a review that has been around for a long time saying that the ombudsman system needs to be updated to meet the needs of citizens now. As we were the party that introduced that system, can he guarantee that we will be the party that urgently brings in the product of the review?

Mr. Leslie: I can certainly guarantee that the Government remain firmly committed to a unified ombudsman system. There is much that we can do in advance of any legislation. For example, the new parliamentary ombudsman, when appointed, will continue to undertake the health service ombudsman role as well. We can use this opportunity to resolve any jurisdictional issues, and we can look at co-locating the local government ombudsman with the parliamentary and health service ombudsmen, so that we have a more seamless, single-door approach for the public.

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