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Special Advisers

2.52 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, my Answer to the noble Lord of 9th January made it clear that the Government are committed to introducing legislation on the Civil Service when parliamentary time allows. The Code of Conduct for Special Advisers and a limit on the number of special advisers will be included in the legislation.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. Have the Government noted suggestions in the press that lines of accountability are blurred and that the status of special advisers should be set out by statute? Can he confirm that there are now 27 of these special advisers working for the Prime Minister?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I can confirm that there are 27 special advisers in No. 10, out of a total payroll of 175. I can confirm, too, that there will be full consultation on legislation on the Civil Service, which will take place in due course.

Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the influence of special advisers has grown considerably, especially in this media-driven age? If he does agree, will he tell the House what precise action is being taken by all government departments to see that all policy statements are made first to Parliament and that this undertaking is imposed on special advisers no less than on Ministers?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, in regard to announcements made to the media, guidance is available from government information services. All such guidance from special advisers to the media must be authorised by their Ministers. I can say to noble Lords that in December the Prime Minister made a statement that, wherever practicable and possible, we would try to respect the fact that all announcements of substance should be made first of course to Parliament.

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Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, since the Opposition Front Bench in another place appear to have a problem in relation to their Short money in distinguishing between funding their parliamentary activities and funding the Conservative Party, do the Government propose to take any action to assist them in making that distinction?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, we have no such intention, but I think that it is right to draw attention to the fact that the amount available in Short money to opposition parties has trebled in recent times.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords—

Lord McNally: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I think that it is the turn of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, are the special advisers at No. 10 responsible to Parliament through Select Committees? If not, will the legislation ensure that they are?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I repeat, the legislation will be subject to very full consultation, but the special advisers at No. 10 are accountable to the Prime Minister. Perhaps more than any other the Prime Minister is accountable to the House of Commons in his weekly parliamentary Question Time.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, as certain special advisers involve themselves in the work of departmental Ministers, is it not clear that if the Select Committee on Administration in the other place were to ask for some of those advisers to appear before it, those advisers should be prepared to do so?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, the special advisers are accountable to their Ministers. It is for Ministers to appear before the Public Administration Select Committee if so requested. Of course civil servants can be required to go along, in which case they will give information on government policy and its implementation. But I do not think it is automatic that we should expect every adviser in every circumstance, including part-time and unpaid advisers, to appear before Select Committees.

Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister recall that the Select Committee of this House chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn of Hadley, which reported in 1998, received no evidence that the system of political advisers had been abused or had caused resentment within the established Civil Service? Is he further aware that, as a signatory to that report, I could not give such a ringing endorsement four years later? Does he not think it now appropriate to ask the committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, to reconvene in order to re-examine the question of

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whether the Northcote-Trevelyan principle of an independent Civil Service promoted on merit is still safe in the hands of this Government?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I would draw to the attention of the House the comments of the Public Administration Select Committee made much more recently than the report to which the noble Lord has referred. It praised the Government for,

    "commendable recent progress on special advisers. For the first time ever, there is a specific code of conduct for special advisers".

Lord Lipsey: My Lords, has my noble friend noticed the excellent article published today in The Times by the distinguished political commentator Peter Riddell which brings the comforting news that relations between the permanent Civil Service and special advisers are much improved since the general election?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I have not read The Times today, but I do recall that Sir Richard Wilson said that he thought that,

    "cabinet government . . . is in a healthy state, and that the Cabinet Office is the right way to be supporting and serving it".

I note too that the Prime Minister has decided that the person chosen to succeed Sir Richard Wilson will need to have direct experience of working in the Civil Service. The field will include both serving and former civil servants. A panel made up of Sir Richard Wilson, the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Highbury, and the independent First Civil Service Commissioner, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, will now draw up a shortlist of candidates. The Prime Minister will then choose from the shortlist with the aim of appointing a successor to Sir Richard by April. I hope noble Lords will accept that this is a much more transparent process than any that we have had before and will put to rest some of the fears that have been expressed.

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the special adviser network in Whitehall and Downing Street is now the main channel of communication between government Ministers and lobbyists of various kinds? Therefore, may I ask him whether he would be prepared to share with the House a list of the contacts between senior special advisers in No. 10 and donors to the Labour Party?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I cannot give any such assurance because we would be entering territory which would be better explored by specific questions than by generalised suggestions of the kind made by the noble Lord. Let me make it clear that all special advisers are accountable to their Ministers, who are in turn accountable to Parliament.

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we must move on. We are in the ninth minute.

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Company Directors' Remuneration

3.1 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What further action they are taking to deal with excessive increases in salary and large bonus and benefit payments to company board members.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, on 19th October 2001, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced her intention to legislate on this issue. On 18th December 2001, the Department of Trade and Industry issued a consultation document on draft regulations. The draft regulations aim to strengthen disclosure requirements, particularly in relation to policy on directors' remuneration, and to introduce a requirement for an annual shareholder vote on the directors' remuneration report.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that these grotesque payments have continued for the five years that the Labour Government have been in power in spite of the statements that they made in opposition? Is he aware that the argument that these payments are rewards for success is not wholly true? Can he comment on the fact that these huge payments are made, in some cases, where companies are sustaining heavy losses? Does he not agree that the well publicised intention—I assume he was referring to this—to give power to shareholders is a fallacy in that the controlling power will be in the hands of institutional shareholders, who always agree to such large increases?

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