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2.24 pm

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): I largely, but of course not entirely, agree with the speech of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright). We worked hard together for a while on the Public Administration Committee. If he looks back he will admit that he was not, initially, firmly in favour of a civil service Act; at least he was not as firmly committed to it as I was in those early days.

Tony Wright: I am interested by the hon. Gentleman's tendency always to claim credit for any measure that anyone proposes. Can he give any evidence for his assertion?

Mr. Tyrie: As I recall, I used to ask in Committee whether we could have an inquiry into special advisers and suggest that a civil service Act was the only way to deal with the issue, and I was invariably given the brush-off. However, I do not want to create an atmosphere of tension between us because we largely agree on this matter.

I want, none the less, to take issue with a point that the hon. Gentleman made at the end of his speech. This is important because I do not think that he has fully grasped why a civil service Act almost certainly was not required before 1997 and almost certainly is required

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now. That is because there has been a fundamental shift in the way that the country is being governed, and the relationship between Ministers and civil servants is different from the one that I understood to exist when I was a special adviser in the 1980s.

That shift can be illustrated in many ways. There has been reference to the doubling of the number of special advisers since 1997. The number has more than quadrupled since my time as an adviser, having risen from 15 or 16 to nearer 80. There has also been a sharp expansion in the role of special advisers. They used to engage largely, but not entirely, in policy work, and now many of them are engaged in spin. They also perform many roles that one would have hoped were performed primarily by Ministers. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) said, many of them are much more powerful than Ministers. They not only write speeches, but deliver them on their own account; they put articles in the newspapers; and they travel abroad and represent Britain in many meetings where, formerly, Ministers would have been doing that job.

Most important of all is the fact that there has been a takeover of No. 10, right at the heart of Government, by special advisers, and that is backed by Orders in Council. There has been a lot of dispute today about how big that shift has been, but to realise that, we have only to cast our minds back to a few years ago, when the Prime Minister felt able to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that Alastair Campbell did a very good job of attacking the Conservative party. It would have been inconceivable for a Conservative Prime Minister to make such a remark about any of his advisers.

Then there is Jonathan Powell. We had a little explanation of the subtleties of pronouncing his name. He is the gatekeeper to the Prime Minister, and we are told in the newspapers that, before 1997, he was running the blind trusts for the Labour party. There is some conflict between those two roles: deciding who has access to the Prime Minister and, at the same time, working out how the party can be funded.

The whole No. 10 package amounts to a presidential style of government, something that is quite alien, not in wartime but in peacetime, to the way in which Britain is governed. The introduction of that presidential style of government has had many effects, one of which has been to strain the trust between civil servants and Ministers, which is essential for the Government to function effectively.

The hon. Member for Cannock Chase will not like this, but I shall refer briefly to the evidence that I gave to the Neill Committee four or five years ago advocating a civil service Act and arguing for a stronger code of conduct for advisers. Many of my recommendations were subsequently implemented, but the Act remains outstanding. When I made those proposals, the Government's response, in the House and in briefings, was, "This is all just good party political knockabout. Nothing much has changed in the way that the country is run. Everything is pretty much as it used to be." The Minister implied much the same today, but that position is very difficult to sustain after the Jo Moore episode,

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after what we have already heard as a result of the public hearings of the Hutton inquiry, and after the inquiry that Nigel Wicks conducted.

If Members care to look at the Phillis report, they will see a most interesting passage. I do not know whether I need to read it; it depends on whether I am challenged. However, his comments on page 7 amount to saying that there has been a serious breach of trust at the heart of government and that the cause is the communications strategy introduced by the Labour Administration on coming to power in 1997. That is a fundamental and important charge for the Phillis inquiry to have made. It reinforces the point that something is fundamentally different in the way that we are now governed.

The Minister's defence of what I fear will result in Government inaction was pretty thin. He fell back on the refuge that it is important to build consensus, but there is pretty much a consensus on the issue already. We do not need to go around more and more circuits seeking consensus. That very much reminds me of the line on the House of Lords that the Government have been peddling for the past few years.

A much better argument from the Minister—I have heard it, off the record, from a number of his colleagues—might have been, "Well, the truth is we did have quite a serious problem in 1997. We didn't realise it and perhaps we were a bit too enthusiastic, but it has all settled down now. After all, Charlie Whelan went pretty quickly, Alastair Campbell has now gone and we have toned down the spinning. We've got a code for advisers and a new modus vivendi with the civil service." There is some truth in that. In a typically British way, there has been some absorption of the fundamental shifts in the way in which we are governed and in how civil servants are expected to relate to Ministers. However, that does not make the case for not having a civil service Act. Things have gone too far; we need to rebuild trust.

One often hears the argument that it is important not to underestimate the long-term impact of a civil service Act on our political culture. The best way to illustrate that is to consider recent scandals and to ask oneself what would have been different if we had had a civil service Act. I shall cite a few examples.

Let us take the Jo Moore episode. She bullied and browbeat civil servants over a long period. The episode was not some isolated rush of blood to her head but a sustained attack. What would have been the effect of a civil service Act? It is highly likely that some civil servants would have complained to the civil service commissioners. As a result, there would have been an investigation—although the matter would probably not have got that far.

The real effect of a civil service Act might have been that we still had Richard Mottram—an absolutely first-class civil servant whose career was smashed to pieces as he was caught between a rock and a hard place over the Jo Moore episode. Perhaps Richard Mottram could have gone to the Cabinet Secretary anyway. He did not, and the reason why he did not was explained in another context by Kevin Tebbit: for a permanent secretary to do so is the nuclear option; it is just too big a step. I see the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian

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White) nodding in agreement. The introduction of some fallback position that civil service commissioners might provide would add to the protection that civil servants could enjoy. The conclusion I draw is that events would have been quite different if we had had a civil service Act.

Let us take the Hutton inquiry—we do not yet have the report—and consider it on the basis of evidence already in the public domain. Virtually all the evidence given to Hutton is in the public domain; virtually nothing was in camera, so we can form our own judgments on that basis. If we had had a civil service Act, how would the civil service have reacted to demands from Alastair Campbell for the production of material for his dossiers? In particular, what would the civil service have said about the role that it played in putting together the second February dossier? As the House will recall, that was the one that led civil servants to complain that it was being asked to become a propaganda arm of Government. As we know from evidence given to Hutton, the second dossier was not cleared by the intelligence community, and it was not checked by anybody in a position to do that job. Alastair Campbell has since apologised to the Foreign Affairs Committee about the way in which it was produced.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I am listening to the excellent argument deployed by my hon. Friend. I support everything that he has said, as I did the overwhelming majority of the comments made by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee. Does my hon. Friend agree that we will restore the integrity of the civil service only if we restore the integrity of the House of Commons, which should have more authority and more time to decide what it wants to do rather than what the Government want to do?

Mr. Tyrie: I absolutely agree. I have in front of me some interesting notes that were produced for the Liaison Committee which relate to that issue. If I have time, I might get on to that, but I do not want to detain the House now.

Would the history of Hutton have been exactly the same had there been a civil service Act? My best guess is that those who were forced to assist Alastair Campbell in the production of the second dossier would have complained. They would have said, "Thank you very much, we don't want to get engaged in this", and there would never have been that second dossier—certainly not in the form that it was produced. A by-product of that might have been that Alastair Campbell, who we are told complains bitterly that the children go off to school and he has nothing to do but wait for a phone to ring, would still be in post. I shall let pass whether we would have been better or worse off as a result.

What about the Kelly affair? Would that have been exactly the same had we had a civil service Act? The key question here is what Kevin Tebbit, the permanent secretary, would have done. Would he have accepted that the outing in the press of one of his staff could have been organised by a committee in No. 10, chaired by the Prime Minister? I do not think that he would have done so. He would have worried that civil service commissioners might have investigated the lack of care

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for a member of staff. Kevin Tebbit has a duty of care to ensure that staff are treated properly. Clearly, he was not looking after them; he was delegating the responsibility to do so. I strongly suspect that he would have complained. What is more, I am absolutely sure that the Prime Minister and Alastair Campbell would have trodden much more cautiously in the Kelly affair had there been a civil service Act.

I conclude from those episodes that history would have been quite different, and that a civil service Act would have already performed a sensible function. It would have had a non-negligible effect. That is why I said that it would in the long run have a profound effect on our culture.

I return to a point related to that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton): what about the relationship between the civil service and Parliament? Over the past few years, there have been a good number of cases of Select Committees trying to call civil servants before them but finding that their way to such cross-examination was blocked. Some of Lord Hutton's work could have been performed more appropriately by a Select Committee. Of course, Lord Hutton had the power to call anybody, whereas Select Committees have found themselves constantly obstructed. Indeed, there had to be lengthy negotiations in order to obtain even a limited hearing with David Kelly.

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