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Mr. Alexander: The hon. Gentleman, who is himself a former special adviser and so brings some expertise to our deliberations, is right in recognising that the noble Lord is in favour of a civil service Bill. He was in favour of a civil service Bill when he was Cabinet Secretary, so the suggestion that that is a revelation must be taken with a pinch of salt.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman moved on to talk about the role of special advisers in communication, the central charge being that it was somehow inappropriate and illegitimate for special advisers to speak to the media. I return to the words of Lord Wilson, again before the Neill Committee, on 15 July 1999, when he added a valuable perspective. He said:
Mr. Alexander: My hon. Friend anticipates my contribution to the debate. I shall be happy to look at the specifics of the Order in Council under which the special advisers under this Administration and those under the Conservative Administration operated in having discussions with civil servants.
However, the substance of the attack by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe was about the nature of the powers under which civil servants now operate, and in specific terms the role of special advisers in relation to those powers. Much was made of the role of Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell and the 1997 Order in Council allowing up to three special advisers in Downing Street to be appointed with executive powers.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke: With the greatest respect, that is a misquotation. Before 1991 there was not a code of practice. It was introduced in 1991. That, I think, was the point that Richard Wilson was making in the quotation that the Minister gave us. He is not, I trust, asserting that before 1992 any politically appointed special adviser had executive authority over a civil servant. Not only would the then Cabinet Secretaries have been outraged, but no Minister ever suggested it.
Mr. Alexander: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for recognising that the rules were indeed changed at that point. It is for the Conservatives to justify the regime under which theyand indeed their special advisersoperated during that time.As I was saying, in his long discussion of the Powells and the "Poles" the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not address those particular facts.
The House will be interested to know that the Conservative party's previous spokesman on these matters, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), who, regrettably, has left the Chamber, gave evidence on this exact matter to the Committee on Standards in Public Life:
As for the more substantive point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised about the role of apparatchiks in our public life, I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is not in the Chamber, because I know that this is a matter of long-standing concern to him. During the Conservative leadership contest of 1993 his campaign team, together with the First Division Association, condemned the way in which the special adviser to the person who was then Home Secretary, but is now the Leader of the Opposition, was working at the campaign headquarters of the then Prime Minister. When the special adviser to the now Leader of the Opposition was asked by a reporter why she was at the Major campaign HQ in the middle of the afternoon, she explained, "I have been getting in to the Home Office early and coming here in my lunch break." As the spokesman of the right hon. Member for Wokingham, Andrew Roberts, declared at the time:
Let the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain the wider need for the Scott inquiry, the Downey inquiry and the Nolan inquiry during his 18 years in office. Let him explain why he feels that it fell to the present Government uniquely in their time in office to introduce and publish the ministerial code for the first time, to introduce the model contract for special advisers and to publish the code of conduct for special advisers.
The Government in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman served for 18 years did irreparable damage to the public life of this country. His speech ignored that. He ignored the fact that he has a past to account for, and that the British people held him to account in 1997.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Leaving aside the right hon. and learned Gentleman's past, he alleged that important decision-making meetings are not being minuted. That charge was also ventilated in the Financial Times last week by the journalist Sue Cameron. In what circumstances are decision-making meetings not minuted by civil servants?
Mr. Alexander: My hon. Friend raises an important point. Clearly, there are circumstances in which Ministers meet without a civil servant presentfor example, within the precincts of the House, where decisions could well be taken between Divisions, with major matters of policy being determined with colleague Ministers. In that sense there is no iron law that in no circumstances must a decision ever be taken by a Minister without a civil servant being present. However, with the greatest respect for what I understand are his 34 years on the Front Bench, it was rather risible for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to suggest that the period of the Conservative Administration was somehow a model of collegiate Cabinet government.
Now that we have introduced some of the facts, let us try to deal with the substance of the charges that the right hon. and learned Gentleman laid before the House. In essence, he was arguing that there has been a grotesque abuse of power by the Labour party since it came to power in 1997. His real grievance is the enduring grievance of the entire Conservative party, I would suggest, which is about not the abuse of power but the loss of power by the Conservative party. The speech we heard was not as much a scrutiny of power held as a lament for power lost.
Conservative Members seem to feel that a massive injustice was perpetrated against the Conservative party on 1 May 1997. They seem to feel that Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell somehow stole the election from the Conservative party. They see two landslide defeats for the Conservatives as some kind of unfortunate temporary aberration, which will soon be undone. They do not even recognise the fact that the British people reached a clear-headed judgment on the
The real reason why the right hon. and learned Gentleman, with so distinguished a career behind him, chose to address the House today on the matter of the Civil Service Bill is that actually, I fear, he may not be able to defend the Conservative party positionon Europe, for example, or indeed on the health service. He made admirable speeches