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Mr. Heald: Would not one way forward be for the Minister simply to agree to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of the House on the Bill that the Public Administration Committee has produced? Indeed, would not that be the best way forward?
Mr. Woolas: It would be one way forward, although it is interesting that, in calling for a Division on the motion, the hon. Gentleman is rejecting what he has called for in the House on several occasions: the further expansion of pre-legislative scrutiny of draft Bills. Incidentally, that innovation was introduced and developed by the Government. As he says, that may be one way forward, but if today's debate proves anything it is that there are further points for deliberation and some criticisms, especially the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East
Mr. Heald: We want to see an end to the shilly-shallying. If the hon. Gentleman agrees to the Public Administration Committee's Bill being put immediately into pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee, I will withdraw my Bill.
Mr. Woolas: The House will note that 16 days since the report was published we are accused of shilly-shallying. After 18 yearsindeed, 150 years, as the Chairman of the Committee informed usof debate on this, I do not think that shilly-shallying is an accusation that sticks. "Rug" and "pulled from under" is perhaps a better description in regard to the statement of my hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office.
I turn to some of the points made in the debate, because I have a duty to respond to them. Perhaps I should try to put in context what I believe the debate and the Opposition motionat times it was difficult to believe that it was an Opposition motionare really all about.
The former shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office gave evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life in July 2002. Members of the Wicks Committee asked him to put his remarks in context, and he said, referring to the allegation of further politicisation of the civil service:
What the Opposition are doing is political mischief making. When Labour is in power, the Conservative Opposition always accuse us of somehow attacking the impartiality of the civil service and politicising it.For example, there have been accusations about the chief of staff at Downing street; Jonathan Powell has been referred to as somehow being a politicisation of No. 10. Jonathan Powell is widely admired throughout the civil service and throughout the diplomatic service, from where he was recruited as an official for the Government in Washington. He is hardly a party political appointment. If hon. Members could have heard some of the reaction to his appointment from certain quarters of the Labour party, they would hardly have said that it was a matter of politicisation.
This is Conservative mischief. In his 45-minute speechwhich we all admired; we all admire the style and commitment with which he puts his casethe right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe said one thing that was particularly wise: that the danger of being so long in opposition is that the Opposition come to believe their own propaganda. That is true and I think that that is what is happening. There have been two or three allegations of politicisation. Yet the statements from
The First Division Association and others have welcomed the existence of special advisers, not because they are fearful of them, but because they recognise, as does anybody who has worked at the interface between the civil service and Government, that they are a desirable protector of the very independence of the civil service about which the Opposition spokesman feigns concern.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that when we reached the point at which Alastair Campbell was chairing meetings of the Joint Intelligence Committee, to supervise the drafting of what would be presented to the public as the best intelligence available on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, his sole thought was to defend the independence of the civil service? Is that as far as his thinking has gone so far?
Mr. Woolas: The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an interesting point. In his opening remarks he alleged that there had been meetings of officials, advisers and Ministers that had not been minuted. Well, what an improvement that was on the situation under a previous Conservative Government, whereby the then Prime Minister did not even bother to have a meeting, let alone take a minute of it. Information about the fact that Alastair Campbell allegedly chaired a meetinginformation was made available on thathas come about because the Government, in setting up the Hutton inquiry, have been open in coming forward with such information. It is this Government who introduced the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It is this Government who are proposing to put the codes of conduct on the legislative book. It is this Government who have ensured that ministerial codes of conduct are in force. In my view, these accusations are no more than political mischief-making.
Mr. Garnier: The Minister unwittingly may have made a slightly disingenuous point a moment ago because he levelled an accusation at Mrs. Thatcher, as she then was. The difference between Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Campbell is that Mrs. Thatcher was accountable to the House, whereas Mr. Campbell is not and never has been.
Mr. Woolas: It was Mrs. Thatcher who, in 1979, appointed her press secretary as chief of staff. The accusation was made at the time by the then Opposition[Interruption.] Mr. Wolfson was the chief of staff and press secretary, and the accusation was made at the time, by the then Opposition, that that was
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) quoted figures on the Government communications budget. I want to put the facts on the record. He pointed out that there had been an increase in the budget, and there hasa substantial increase in the budget on emergency communications. I want to clarify that that extra resource is not for political work or policy work, but relates to incidents such as flooding, natural disasters or terrorism, and the information on that is publicly available.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase, the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, made a typically well-informed speech, and reminded the House of why trust in an objective civil service is so necessary. I put it to the House that an objective and impartial civil service is desired by all Governments, especially the present Government, because it is necessary in order to implement and deliver the policies on which we deliberate.
The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), who has changed places, said that he agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase that we should not be partisan on this matter, that we should not be party political and that we should proceed by consensus. He then spent 10 minutes launching the most political attack on the Government that the House has heard for some time. I think that I have answered his points about Jonathan Powell. However, I did want to draw to the attention of the House the full quote from the Phillis review of Government communicationsor rather, the quote to which the hon. Gentleman did not refer:
David Maclean (Penrith and The Border) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Since the motion today is in the name of the official Opposition, we are quite pleased to give the Minister another five minutes or so, to enable him to respond to the points raised.