Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right.

Government Special Advisers: Cost

3 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the cost of special advisers in 1999-2000 was £4 million. The cost at September 1991 was £1.1 million.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, while I thank the noble and learned Lord for that Answer, as a Minister in the Labour Government, does he not feel a little ashamed of it? It is a fact that the number of special advisers has more than doubled over the past four years, while the cost has gone up threefold. Is that not an example of taxpayers' money essentially being used by spin doctors to put over the Government's message? Given that, does he agree with the first recommendation made in the report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Administration published today; namely, that in future, special advisers should be limited not by number but by a specific sum of money, voted by the Commons for that purpose, and including No. 10?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: No, my Lords, I do not think that this matter is shameful in any shape or form. Special advisers include people such as Keith Hellawell, who has made a real contribution to the fight against drugs misuse. When giving evidence to

13 Mar 2001 : Column 689

the Public Affairs Select Committee in another place, the Cabinet Secretary indicated that special advisers do a good job. They provide an interface between the Minister and civil servants. The Cabinet Secretary went on to make it absolutely clear that he thought that 75 special advisers would not overwhelm 3,000 senior civil servants. The Neill committee recommended that an upper limit should be put on the numbers; the Government have indicated that they accept that proposition. However, the report published today by the PAC states that a total amount of funding should be set, rather than a number. Obviously, we shall have to consider that proposal, but it looks inconsistent with the proposal put by the Neill committee.

Lord Peston: My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest as a former special adviser to Ministers in an earlier government. Is my noble and learned friend aware that I thought that the sum was going to be very large? Four million pounds seems to be far too little. Is my noble and learned friend further aware that, certainly those of us in the past and, in my view, those serving in the present, work for Ministers at a rate well below our market value? We did and still do subsidise the taxpayer rather than the other way around.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it is impossible to imagine what was the market value of my noble friend Lord Peston, but whatever it was, I am sure that he worked well below that figure. Furthermore, I am sure that many special advisers today work at considerably lower rates than those which they could expect in the marketplace. They do that because they are committed to the goals of this Government. The Cabinet Secretary has indicated that they make a worthwhile contribution to good government and I, too, am sure that that is the case.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, has the number of special advisers increased since my debate on the ministerial code, which was held in 1997? The number then given by the Government was 78.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I do not think that the number has increased, but if it has, it would be by only a small figure. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord with a precise figure.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, would it not be a good idea for special advisers to be paid out of party funds, if they are not Members of Parliament? Instead, like civil servants, they are funded by the taxpayer. If my proposal were adopted, might that not lead to a healthy reduction in their number?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, special advisers provide a service to government. They undertake tasks like that being done by the drugs czar, Keith Hellawell. It would be wholly inappropriate for him to be paid out of party funds. Those advisers who are more political provide a means whereby civil servants can find out the views of the Minister. As I

13 Mar 2001 : Column 690

have said, the Cabinet Secretary and the Select Committee on Public Administration have stated that the advisers provide a good service.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I declare not an interest but the experience of having been a special adviser. Does the Minister agree that what is undesirable is to have special advisers who seek to duplicate and then to take over the jobs undertaken by career civil servants? That causes alienation. What is totally legitimate and necessary is to have in place a sufficient number of high calibre special advisers so that they can form a network to add to the political thrust of any government in power.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I entirely agree with the comments made by the noble Lord. Special advisers should not seek to take over the roles of senior civil servants. In this Government, they do not do so. They add value rather than seek to duplicate roles.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, can my noble and learned friend help the House by saying whether he has to hand any figures on the exact amount of money which has gone to opposition parties in the form of Short money? Is he able to give noble Lords some idea of by how much that sum has increased over the same period? Furthermore, is he totally satisfied with the propriety with which that money has been spent?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am very glad that that issue has been raised. Somewhat spookily, the report published today and referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, examines this serious issue. Short money--payments to opposition parties--has risen threefold. That money is for parliamentary matters. The report states that:

    "We suggested to the political parties that it might be appropriate to publish the accounts of how they spent Short money. All agreed in principle. We note that the Official Opposition and its auditors were unable to give a categorical assurance that its Short Money funding was used exclusively for parliamentary business".

That means that Short money has been provided to the Conservative Party, but the party itself and its auditors are unable to give an assurance that they have spent the money on what it was given for. I hope that the Conservative Party will look into this as a matter of urgency.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, following the publication today of this report, which noble Lords will know is entitled Special Advisers: Boon or Bane?, does the Minister accept that special advisers are now actively undermining the integrity of the advice given to Ministers and politicising the communications of government to an unacceptable degree?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, not a word of that nature appears in the report, as the noble Baroness knows. As I have said repeatedly in my

13 Mar 2001 : Column 691

responses to these questions, special advisers make a significant contribution to good government. That view is shared by the Cabinet Secretary.

Hunting Bill

3.7 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion on the Order Paper standing in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton. The Motion has been tabled in the name of my noble and learned friend because he is one of the Ministers concerned with the Bill. However, as it is entirely concerned with procedure, for which I am responsible, I hope that it is convenient to the House if I deal with it.

It may be helpful if I say a few words to explain the Motion. As it stands, the Hunting Bill contains only a ban on hunting. If this House is to have an opportunity cleanly to vote on one of the three options, it will be necessary to put in a place a procedure to enable that to happen. That is the purpose of the Motion before us.

I have read reports in this morning's newspapers suggesting that the Government are proposing this because of the timing of the general election. I have to say that I do not know when the general election will take place. Furthermore, it is obvious that we have to devise a procedure to allow for a vote on the three options, irrespective of whether an election is held. If no election was in the offing, a similar Motion would still need to be tabled.

If the House agrees to this Motion, as I hope it will, then immediately the Government will table amendments specifically designed to ensure that three clear votes will be held. No single vote will be able to pre-empt any other vote. Three clear votes will take place on a ban, on self-regulation and on hunting under licence. If we use this procedure, which has been devised with the help of the Clerks of the House--I am extremely grateful to them for their assistance--three votes will definitely take place. I have been asked to achieve that aim. At the end of the process, only one option will be left in the Bill.

The Bill will then be reprinted containing the option which has been chosen by noble Lords and will be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House. After a short interval to enable the tabling of amendments, the House will then go into Committee on the Bill in the usual manner. The Bill will contain whichever option has been chosen by the House and, as I have said, amendments to that option can then be tabled.

This procedure mirrors closely the procedure used in 1994 on the Sunday Trading Bill. A very similar situation had arisen. A Bill arrived in this House containing only one option. A procedure had to be devised to find a way to hold a free vote on all three options. I am delighted to see the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in his place. I am sure he will remember that on that occasion, as Minister of State at the Home Office, he tabled an instruction similar to the present

13 Mar 2001 : Column 692

one after Second Reading which was designed to ensure that the first votes taken in Committee would be votes on the three options. After those votes the whole Bill was recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House so that the full Committee stage could take place on the option which was chosen by this House rather than another place. That is exactly what we seek to achieve by the Motion that is now before the House.

In passing, the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Henley, were both members of the government when this procedure was last used. With that precedent from the previous government's time in office, I hope that there will now be general agreement among the usual channels that this is the most appropriate way to proceed.

However, there is one area in which agreement among the usual channels has not been forthcoming. The disagreement relates to the timing of today's Motion. I believed that it would be in the best interests of the House to have a decision on the procedure to be used as soon as possible after Second Reading. Many noble Lords have stopped me to ask what is to be done with the Bill to obtain a clean vote on the three options. If we delay the decision we only postpone the achievement of clarity and extend the uncertainty and confusion that we now face. In addition, your Lordships and the staff of the House will waste time and resources on the tabling, handling and drafting of amendments to options which may never appear in the Bill.

I am aware that the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Henley, believe that the Motion was tabled with insufficient consultation and would have preferred the House to consider this Motion next week. If I failed to consult sufficiently I apologise unreservedly. The noble Lords know that it is not my style to act without consultation, and I did not intend to upset relations in the usual channels.

I have now discussed the question of timing with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He has not yet managed to explain to me what is to be gained by delaying the matter until next week. In an effort to meet him half-way I offered to postpone the Motion until tomorrow, but of those two dates the noble Lord preferred today. I have agreed to that timing. I understand his reason: there is an important Opposition debate tomorrow. I do not see any virtue in postponing this decision further, certainly not until next week. To approve the Motion today will give the House the information that it needs in order to know how to plan for the rest of the Bill.

I have heard this Motion described by certain members of the Opposition as a guillotine. Your Lordships know that we do not have guillotines in this House. Apart from anything else, the whole concept of a guillotine rests on the premise of a government majority to enforce it. If the Opposition believe that I am able to impose a guillotine with only 29 per cent of

13 Mar 2001 : Column 693

the votes in this House, they give me credit for powers which even I do not possess. Even if the Government had the power to carry this Motion unaided, it would still bear no relation to a guillotine. It contains no provisions relating to the timing of the Bill but promises a recommitment, so we would have two, rather than one, Committee stages. If anything, this Motion increases the amount of scrutiny that the Bill will receive. This is simply an arrangement to allow us to have a clean vote on the three options so that the Committee stage can take place on the option that we have chosen rather than on one chosen by another place.

I turn finally to the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Denham. I understand the noble Lord's concern about the way in which the main Motion was tabled. I have already apologised for the unintended discourtesy to the usual channels. My only concern was to serve the best interests of the House by ensuring that the procedural Motion was on the Order Paper yesterday when the House debated the Bill at Second Reading because my noble friend Lord Bassam was to refer to it in his opening speech--which he did--and deal with it today, as the first available opportunity after Second Reading, so that the House could have a clear line on the procedure which was understood and many noble Lords could support. To be absolutely frank, we should really have dealt with the instruction at the end of Second Reading at two o'clock this morning. I thought that it was only fair to the House to deal with it as first business after Questions today.

The noble Lord, Lord Denham, is also concerned about precedents and procedure. The procedure is exactly as stated in the Companion:

    "6.39 Instructions to any committee on a bill may be moved after the second reading.

    6.40 Instructions may be either mandatory or permissive. The most common mandatory instruction directs the committee to consider the clauses and Schedules in an order other than that of the bill".

I have already pointed out the procedure which was followed in 1994 in relation to the Sunday Trading Bill. That Bill required the selection of an option, which is exactly the position that we face with the Hunting Bill. This is an unusual situation which requires a special but not unprecedented procedure. If the noble Lord decides to press his Motion to a vote and wins, the House will have decided nothing regarding the procedure necessary to obtain the clean vote on a single option and all those concerned with the Bill will be left in a state of limbo.

I hope that, having heard the explanation that I have given and the apologies that I have made, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his Motion so that the House can take a clear decision on the procedure to be followed on this important Bill.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to whom the Hunting Bill has been committed that, notwithstanding the normal

13 Mar 2001 : Column 694

practice of the House in Committee, no amendments be considered except any amendments to

leave out Clause 1 (Hunting with dogs: prohibition)

leave out Clause 1 and insert a new clause (Hunting with dogs: supervision) as set out in House of Commons Bill 2, or

leave out Clause 1 and insert a new clause (Hunting with dogs: regulation) as set out in House of Commons Bill 2, and consequential amendments to leave out the schedule and to insert new schedules; and that, thereafter, the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House.--(Lord Carter.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page