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Mr. Clarke: There are occasions on which Ministers are entitled to take a view on the dismissal of public servants. I was a Minister for 18 years, and during that

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time I asked for two of my civil servants to be replaced. I could only ask the permanent secretary to look into the difficulties: in the one case, it was because the man was burnt out; in the second case, it was because the man was deliberately ignoring Government policy. Those things occur. The very fact that the hon. Gentleman can only think of one example that got into the public domain and that I can remember only two such experiences, in neither of which was any case established that Ministers were behaving improperly or compromising the integrity of public servants, shows how far we have moved in the seven years since the Labour Government took over.

I should like to give some illustrations of what has happened since Labour took office and embraced a wholly different, rather Americanised approach to controlling the business of Government. The number of special advisers—political appointments accountable to Ministers—has more than doubled since we were in power. It is now more than 80, and more than 20 of those are based in No. 10, acting for the Prime Minister. Many of them combine their policy role with making public or private statements to the media on behalf of the Government. The best estimate on available evidence is that about 40 are often involved in covert briefing of the media on behalf of their Ministers.

That system was introduced on the back of the almost complete removal of the civil service press officers whom we had always used when we were in office. Within two years, all but two of the Government press officers had vanished from Whitehall. Civil servants had been replaced by people quite a number of whom had worked for the Daily Mirror and many of whom had political backgrounds, and much of the media briefing was taken over by the so-called special advisers—"spin doctors" as the press called them—who became the prime part of the Government's presentations to the public.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab) rose—

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab) rose—

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Clarke: I shall give way in a few moments.

Two of those people, Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, were actually given Executive authority over civil servants in No. 10. Their positions went far beyond their formal positions, as I shall explain—but I give way to the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford).

Kali Mountford: After more than a decade in office, was it not possible for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Government covertly to have encouraged the appointment of people whose opinions coincided more happily with theirs? Could that not have happened, and is it not preferable for the public fully to understand the role of special advisers, rather than having the more secret operations that seemed to take place when I was a civil servant?

Mr. Clarke: I genuinely think that that was one of the problems when the Labour party came into office. It had been in opposition for 18 years, had been seduced by

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American methods of campaigning and was somewhat attracted by the American style of Government. Some of the new Ministers came into power believing that the civil service had somehow been politicised by their predecessors. There is always the danger that if one is in opposition for too long, one starts believing too much of one's own propaganda. However, I give the hon. Lady an assurance, confident that she will not be able to challenge me on the basis of any source in respect of my experience in the Government—I was there for the whole time—that we did not do that. We were not allowed to do that. The conventions, which we regarded as constitutional conventions, did not allow us to do it. Our permanent secretaries would have been outraged if we had suggested that they should do it; and the Cabinet Secretary would have insisted that we did not.

In respect of my former Department, Labour Ministers took over a civil service that was rather looking forward to a change of Government and the challenge to their professionalism of being able to deliver public-service Executive tasks to a new set of Ministers. Far too often, however, civil servants found that the new Ministers were deeply suspicious of the civil service and did not take their advice. They were surrounded by a lot of apparatchiks who had enjoyed themselves in opposition and now believed that they should be allowed to enjoy the fruits of government. It took six to 12 months for any kind of proper relationship to be established. If things had got better after the first six months, perhaps we would all be moving in the same direction, but I regret to say that, during the past seven years, instead of the Government's learning from experience, things have got worse.

Kevin Brennan: Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that when Bernard Ingham gave evidence to the Public Administration Committee, he said that he did exercise those sort of powers when working under Mrs. Thatcher. The civil service Bill which the Select Committee has proposed, does, in fact, retain Executive powers for special advisers at No. 10. The evidence that we heard suggested that we should worry not about the politicisation of the civil service, but about the possibility that the politicisation of a civil service Bill would kill it.

Mr. Clarke: Bernard Ingham was a civil servant. His only political activity before he took the job was as a Labour local government candidate. He took on the duty of advocating the policy of the Government of the day, which is the duty of all Government information officers. Bernard Ingham regarded himself as bound by the convention that he was not to engage in party political advocacy of the policy—though all too often it seemed to his opponents that he did.

Bernard Ingham's deputy was the late—and, in my opinion, great—press officer, Romola Christopherson. She was one of the most entertaining press officers I worked with during my controversial time at the Department of Health. Romola Christopherson had leftish views. She was—I hate to shock hon. Members—by no means a Blairite: she was undoubtedly old Labour, as I discovered when I got to know her well enough for her to reveal her true political opinions. The stories about the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Romola Christopherson when she was

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based in No. 10 were legion—indeed, I could not share them with the House in the time available for a half-day debate. I am digressing already.

I well knew Romola's left-wing views, but she worked with me to present professionally the case for health service reform, as she was charged with doing. She was still in post as a Government press officer when the Government changed, but she was one of those who fell in the Government's purge of press officers and she was replaced by a political appointee. The rules were that she would advocate professionally the policy laid down by her Ministers and the Government of the day; that she would not do so in a party political fashion or make party political points; and that she would have nothing to do with attacking the Labour alternative. All that has vanished and been destroyed by the activities of the special advisers.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab) rose—

Shona McIsaac rose—

Mr. Clarke: I have just reminded myself that I have only half a day, so I want to make a little progress. I apologise to the Father of the House, who has just risen, but I do not want to give way for a short while.

I am trying to make Labour Members understand that it is their parliamentary duty to put some pressure on their Front Benchers to take some action on this matter. Let me help the House, including Labour Members, to judge the ministerial response that we shall hear from the Minister responsible for the civil service. He will ask why we are making such a fuss and say that the Government agree with the motion in principle and are about to consult on the matter. He will tell us that the Government will take into account the necessity to protect the integrity of the civil service. I shall not give the full record, but just touch on it.

The Labour party first committed itself to introducing new legislation on the civil service before 1997, when it set up a joint commission with the Liberal Democrat party. The commitment was to give

That was when the Labour party had joint commissions with the Liberal Democrats: alas, poor Paddy, we remember him well. I remember Lord Ashdown's remark to me that the trouble with dealing with the Prime Minister was that Tony always believed something when he said it. However, that was Labour's commitment before 1997.

When the Labour Government took office, they confirmed their commitment in their July 1998 response to a House of Lords report. By 2000, we had reports from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which was chaired first by Lord Nolan and then by Lord Neill. Nothing had happened by that time, except the steady emergence of Mr. Campbell and Mr. Powell and the other special advisers in Whitehall.

In its sixth report, the Committee on Standards in Public Life wanted a timetable for the implementation of the Government's commitment to a new civil service Bill. The Committee wanted a target date to be set for

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the introduction of such a Bill. One would have thought that, to a target-obsessed Government, that should have been attractive.

The Government responded to that report in July 2000. They confirmed their commitment to proceeding along those lines. The same commitment will be repeated today.

By November 2001, Sir Richard Wilson, the then Cabinet Secretary, was getting impatient. He told the Select Committee on Public Administration, presumably with the authorisation of Ministers, that consultation on a civil service Bill would start in the new year—that is, in 2002. By the time of his valedictory speech to the public service in 2002, Sir Richard was still repeating that the Government were publicly committed to a public service Bill. Shortly thereafter, an issues paper was promised by the Government.

The same process has been repeated ever since. In 2001, the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, who will wind up today's debate, gave evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The Committee by that time was into its third Chairman, Sir Nigel Wicks, who is just about to leave that post. The Minister assured the Committee that the Government remained committed to a civil service Bill. In its ninth Report published in April last year, the Committee recommended that an early process of public consultation on the contents of a draft Bill should begin, and that the Bill should receive pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament.

Time and again, the Government have given in-principle commitments to such a Bill but have done nothing about it. I shall not give a full list of examples, but that is the background to the latest step by the Public Administration Committee, which the Opposition are simply commending and adopting. That all-party Committee, in its first report of this Session, published a draft civil service Bill. That draft has been approved by Sir Nigel Wicks and his Committee on Standards in Public Life, and it has been accepted by leading retired public servants outside the House. The Government have responded by saying that their own draft Bill will soon be going out to consultation.

In my opinion, the Minister for the Cabinet Office will say, when he responds to my remarks, that the Government will of course go out to consult.

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