1. Our predecessor Committee reported in 2001
that "the use of special advisers is not new", noting
that "ministers and Prime Ministers, certainly as far back
as Lloyd George" had appointed as confidants "people
who shared and understood ministerial preoccupations and had political
skills and contacts that civil servants lacked. Such people may
either bring up-to-date specialist knowledge beyond that available
in-house or help the Minister to stay in touch with the world
beyond Whitehall (or both)".
2. The Fulton Committee of 1966, set up by Harold
Wilson to review the Civil Service, said that special advisers
should be "men and women of standing and experience".
It should be obvious that they should be people with suitable
political experience, as well as a track record of competence
in matters of policy, in order that they should be able to make
a full contribution to the work of their department. A special
adviser should not be merely a political "bag carrier",
nor the political amanuensis of their Minister.
3. While Number 10 has the final
say on the appointment of special advisers, and only the centre
can ensure that special advisers get all the career development
moves which they need, ministers have the right to insist on particular
individuals that they consider appropriate, and Number 10 would
show little confidence in a Minister if he or she were forced
to accept a particular adviser.
4. As the former Minister, the Rt Hon Harriet
Harman QC MP explained:
Your special adviser is the one person who you personally
appoint and with whom there is a closer working relationship than
civil servants. But it is precisely because of their closeness
to the Minister that they are authoritative and influential, and
therefore it is right that there should be particular focus on
ensuring that that authority and influence is exercised reasonably
and in the public interest.
5. We heard from Michael Jacobs, a former special
adviser to the Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP when he was Prime Minister,
that "the media places over special advisers a vague air
of distaste or impropriety".
In his speech to the Civil Service Live Conference in July 2010,
the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Rt Hon Francis Maude MP,
appeared to reflect that statement:
Too often in recent years the Service has been marginalised,
either through the spread of special advisers or the over-use
of expensive consultants.
6. The Coalition Agreement included a pledge
to "put a limit on the number of special advisers"
and, shortly after taking
office, the Government amended the Ministerial Code to impose
a general limit of two paid special advisers per Cabinet Minister
(although ministers with additional responsibilities were entitled
to seek permission to appoint additional advisers).
The Government also amended the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers
to emphasise that they "are appointed to serve the Government
as a whole, not just their appointing Minister".
Special advisers are also now required to disclose details of
the gifts and hospitality they receive, and to seek the advice
of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments before taking
up any other roles.
7. An effective relationship between special
advisers, ministers and civil servants is predicated on trust:
special advisers occupy influential positions and have the potential
to destabilise the relationship between ministers and their officials
by competing with officials for the Minister's attention. Against
best advice, successive administrations have brought in certain
special advisers of questionable character and reliability, whose
track records raise obvious questions about their honesty and
integrity. This has resulted in acute embarrassment for those
who appointed them and has brought the political system into disrepute.
It has also been disastrous for the individuals concerned. Despite
changes intended to strengthen regulations and improve the transparency
of special advisers' roles, over the term of the current Parliament,
concerns have been raised about the propriety and actions of both
formal and informal special advisers to the Secretaries of State
for Defence, Education, Energy and Climate Change, and Culture,
Olympics, Media, and Sport, and the Prime Minister.
8. We wanted to explore whether the circumstances
of coalition government required something different of special
advisers, and whether the existing codes of conduct and other
management frameworks were sufficient to contend with these new
circumstances. We resolved to inquire into special advisers in
October 2011, and we published our call for evidence on 26 February
2012. We received thirteen written submissions, and took oral
evidence from eight witnesses in two sessions during June 2012.
We are very grateful to all those who have contributed to our
1 Public Administration Select Committee, Fourth Report
of Session 2000-2001, Special Advisers: Boon or Bane?,
HC 293, para 3 Back
Fulton Committee, The Civil Service, Cmnd 3638, para 129 Back
Ev 52 Back
Q 46 Back
Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, speech to Civil
Service Live, 6 July 2010, Cabinet Office website (http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/news/Francis-Maude-speech-to-the-civil-service) Back
The Coalition: Our Programme for Government, May 2010, page 27;
Cabinet Office, Ministerial Code, May 2010,para
Cabinet Office, Code of Conduct for Special Advisers, June
2010,para 2 Back
Ibid.paras 5 and 24 Back