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The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not giving my speech.
Mr. Clarke: The Minister says from a sedentary position that I am not going to give the speech, and indeed he may alter what he was about to say. However, he has been pretty consistent so far in saying that the principle of this matter was always right and that the Government were about to consent to it.
I must tell the House that I have reached the stage where I do not believe Ministers. The Government are not acting in good faith. There comes a point where endless hesitation becomes opposition, and when procrastination becomes positive deception. That is
However, such a Bill will inevitably have its day, and it is possible that some members of the Government support it. Some theories suggest that the Prime Minister is personally in favour but keeps getting talked out of it by his more unscrupulous cronies and more obdurate colleagues. Other theories have it that the Deputy Prime Minister is genuine when he waxes lyrical, in answer to questions, in favour of a new civil service Bill, but that it is the Prime Minister who wants his political entourage at No. 10 to retain control.
If we are to be told that there will be more consultation, we have been told the same thing for more than seven years. The time has come to move on. No doubt we will eventually get something for consultation, but when this Government consult, they do not legislate. The consultation will proceed, and it will amount to another long period of total indecision. That is why the Opposition motion is commendably precise and to the point, requiring the Government to introduce legislation in this Session of Parliament. That is what the Government are resisting.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): The position adopted by my right hon. and learned Friend has the advantage that he has always practised what he preaches. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) and I worked as political advisers for him, and he told us at our first interviews when we arrived that our duty was to offer political advice to Ministers, but that we must not issue instructions to career civil servants or make public political speeches. If we had forgotten that distinction, I doubt very much that our feet would have touched the ground on our way out.
Mr. Clarke: I entirely agree. I am very grateful to both of my hon. Friends for their work as special advisers. We never had any trouble, because it would not have crossed the minds of my special advisersany more than it would have crossed minethat their role was to give instruction to Treasury officials, or to give alternative briefings on policy subjects to the media. That did not happen.
Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East) (Lab): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
Shona McIsaac: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
Mr. Clarke: I might, if I do not exceed my time too much.
I have been, I think, statesmanlike throughout my remarks. I have set out the position in a dispassionate way. I have asserted no principle of civil service integrity and impartiality that any Minister would dare to contradict. I have not described constraints on the roles of special advisers that any of them would disavow in public. However, I want to touch on why this matter is becoming urgent. As I have said, the behaviour, practice
I have mentioned Mr. Alastair Campbell and Mr. Jonathan Powell. A mixture of pressure and despair finally caused Mr. Campbell to go and earn his living in some other way. Mr. Jonathan Powell is still there in No. 10 Downing street, with his executive authority over large parts of the civil service intact.
Mr. Clarke: No doubt Lord Justice Hutton will next week set out the details of the role of those two gentlemen in certain events. So far as I can judge, the two of them over the past seven years have been more powerful than the vast majority of members of the Cabinet. They have had more executive authority over officials and, through those officials, over Government Departments than any other political appointees ever had previously. I suspect that they know far more about what goes on inside Government than two thirds of the members of the Cabinet.
The former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), is in his seat, looking delphic, as he usually does. He might have had more power than Jonathan Powell and Alistair Campbell, but I suspect that he had some almighty battles with them and that they strongly prefer the present Foreign Secretary, who is more inclined to do what he is told. I would concede that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a more powerful political figure than Mr. Jonathan Powell because, when push comes to shove, he is more powerful than the Prime Minister in quite a lot of important matters. For the rest of them, however, I doubt it. Some might stand up for themselves, but the ability of the minor Secretaries of State down the table even to argue with Alastair Campbell in his pomp, or Jonathan Powell in his present capacity, is very limited. Let us look at the fate of our colleague, the present Secretary of State for Defence, who seems like a man at the end of the plank looking back at the cutlasses, wondering when he is going to be asked to jump. The real problem with his involvement in the issues surrounding Mr. Kelly, whatever Hutton comes up with, is that it is quite plain that the poor old Secretary of State for Defence was not really allowed to know what was going on. He was not crucially at the centre of events, hence his pathetic attempts to explain in his evidence what his personal role was.
No doubt the Secretary of State for Defence will at last have the final responsibility of carrying the can not just for the Prime Minister but for all those special advisers whose e-mails make such unpleasant reading and who attended those weekend meetings at Chequers that really decided everything. Lord Hutton has already complained, in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley)anticipating one findingthat the key meetings that weekend were not minuted. My right hon. Friend was a Cabinet colleague of mine for many years, and we were not allowed to have meetings with no minutes. We could not even make a telephone call without civil servants on
Mr. Dalyell : Are we quite certain that Mr. Jonathan Powell, over the selective leaking of a law officer's letter in the Westland affair, behaved absolutely impeccably?
Mr. Clarke: I think that the hon. Gentleman means Mr. Charles Powell, pronounced pole, who is the brother of Mr. Jonathan Powell, pronounced Powell[Laughter.] Who says that every element of class war has gone from British politics? Mr. Charles Powell was a career civil servant, a diplomat. He was subject to the civil service code and civil service discipline. He was not a non-accountable, non-elected, politically appointed freelance like his brother Jonathan Powell who, as chief of staff, has enormous influence and was heavily involved in the affairs on which Lord Hutton is about to report.
I remind the House of the other great affair that accelerated the application of pressure for the Bill and, I am sure, helped to drive the Select Committee in the direction that it took. It is not so long since our experience with the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers)then Secretary of State for Transporthis special adviser Jo Moore and a press officer called Mr. Martin Sixsmith. The shambles that then occurred was well reported by committees of investigation, and I shall not bore the House with their reports. Jo Moore became notorious because she made a shatteringly tasteless remark on the opportunity to use the events of 11 September to get rid of bad news in and around the Department. She became so obsessed with the political minutiae that the bad news that she wanted to get rid of was not noticed, and it can no longer be remembered by anyone, it was so pathetic. She was so carried away by power that she thought that she directed even the most minute statements going out of the Department.
My suspicion is that Miss Moore had quite excessive influence on that disastrous Secretary of State, who made so many errors, and that her relationships with half the Department for Transport were absolutely deplorable. It is quite obvious that there was a three-way breakdown in communications, which the relevant Select Committee report described. Not only were the then Secretary of State, Jo Moore and Martin Sixsmith at odds with one another; everyone was leaking information against one another to the press. The odour
The people involved in that affair are not alone. The dismissal of Derry Irvine, the overnight abolition of the post of Lord Chancellor and the belief that it was acceptable to put in a former flatmate of the Prime Minister to take on that role, and to change the country's constitution without further ado by an overnight press release, were a tragic demonstration of how not to go about the process of government. All the officials and judges involved were so taken by surprise that the Ministers and their cronies who produced the idea did not even realise that the law obliged the new Lord Chancelloreven if he did not want to be called Lord Chancellorto put on his robes and go along and sit in the House of Lords if the second Chamber of Parliament was to be able to sit. Those Ministers are still, presumably, taking the advice of the civil service on exactly what practical consequences follow from the sad, sad quarrel between the Prime Minister and his former pupil master that led to that momentous, historic move.
Hon. Members know perfectly well that matters have moved in a very undesirable direction in the past few years. We have heard enough of Ministers' protestations that they understand, that they agree in principle and that they are going to consult. We have an opportunity to legislate and have been invited to do so by one of our Select Committees. We should act on that and not allow the Government to deflect us, because there are those in the Government who are strongly against legislating. I advise hon. Members to read the speech of Lord MacDonald of Tradeston in a House of Lords debate in May 2002 to see the opinion of some of the tougher, more hard-nosed members of the Government. I have great respect for Lord MacDonald, who is more competent than most of his colleagues, and has been brought in to sort out quite a number of messes in his time. However, his background as a trade unionist, a business man and then a Member of the House of Lords has perhaps not made him as sensitive to democratic accountability as some of us think that we should be. [Laughter.] I see that Members on both sides know Lord MacDonald.
There was no dissembling in Lord MacDonald's case. He told the House of Lords:
The Government's response explains that they prefer the Order in Council system to legislation for regulating what special advisers can and cannot do. What is the difference in practice, the House may ask, between a code enforced by Order in Council and legislation of the straightforward and simple kind recommended by the Select Committee? There is one crucial difference: there is no parliamentary scrutiny of Orders in Council. However much we might wish to amend them, they are passed at the discretion of Ministers, whereas legislation would bring the matter to the House and give MPs of all parties a say. The Government also prepare codes of conduct, of which we have plentythey keep revising them. The Government prefer codes of conduct to enshrining things in legislation? Why is that? Because MPs might otherwise exercise a view in the House.
The HouseMPs of all partiesshould indeed take a view and say that Governments, of any party, should accept the constraint of the rules that give the civil service the right to give impartial advice and separate civil servants from the party political process.