Neill Committee (Ministers and Special Advisers) — 3 Jul 2000

I beg to move,

That this House notes the recommendations in the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, "Reinforcing Standards", concerning Ministers and Special Advisers; regrets that the Government has failed to respond to that report; notes that the Prime Minister will not accept responsibility for adjudicating on the compliance of Ministers with the Ministerial Code of Conduct; further notes that the number and cost of Special Advisers continue to increase; believes that Ministers should be accountable for conflicts of interest and failures to comply with the spirit as well as the letter of the Ministerial Code of Conduct; further believes that the number, and activities, of Special Advisers is prejudicing the impartiality of the Civil Service and accountability of government; and calls upon the Government to accept in full the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in relation to Ministers and Special Advisers.

to enjoy the trappings of power but to do a job and uphold the highest standards in public life-- [Interruption.]

trashing of reputations of certain members of the then Government Information Service by special advisers.

Recipients of Short money have to furnish the Accounting Officer of the House with the certificate of an independent professional auditor in a form determined by the Accounting Officer to the effect that all expenses in respect of which the party received financial assistance during the period ending with that day were incurred exclusively in relation to the party's parliamentary business under the House's resolution.--[ Official Report , 13 April 2000; Vol. 348, c. 272W.]

that we are purer than pure.

It will be for the Prime Minister to determine whether or not Ministers have upheld the highest standards in particular circumstances.

It will be for individual Ministers to judge how best to act in order to uphold the highest standards. They are responsible for justifying their conduct to Parliament and they can only remain in office for so long as they retain the Prime Minister's confidence.

The Prime Minister remains the ultimate judge of the requirements of the Code and the appropriate consequences of breaches of it.

all Ministers to work within the letter and spirit of the code.

care must be taken to avoid any actual or perceived conflict of interest.

should receive no remuneration from a union.

special advisers have a valuable role to play.

There is the argument, however, that if the numbers of this type of public servant, and their degree of influence, rise to a point where the influence of the "objective" public servants is outweighed, the effectiveness of the principle of objectivity in public life is diminished.

I beg to move, To leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

'welcomes the statement by Lord Neill that there is now less cause for concern about standards in public life than when the cash for questions affair led to the setting up of the Committee in 1994; restates the Government's commitment to maintaining a non-political permanent civil service; agrees with the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life that "special advisers have a valuable role to play"; acknowledges that the Report deals with the serious issues across a wide range of subjects; and notes that the Government plans to respond before the summer recess.'

in the current climate it would be better

Those words are from a recent pamphlet of a former special adviser to successive Chancellors of the Exchequer between 1986 and 1990. Despite his words, I suspect that, unfortunately, we shall hear about problems along with exaggerations in bucketfuls throughout the rest of the debate.

Special advisers are appointed to advise the Minister in the development of Government policy and its effective presentation.

The air conditioning has gone wrong and part of it is leaking fluid into MPs' offices downstairs. This is one of the few leaks in recent times not to have originated in 10 Downing Street.

believes that the number, and activities, of Special Advisers is prejudicing the impartiality of the Civil Service and accountability of government,

Whatever the reason, there has been a significant growth in the number of Members of Parliament who have entered into consultancies or other forms of agreement which might reasonably be thought to influence their Parliamentary conduct. Analysis of the 1995 Register of Members' Interests suggests that 26 Members have consultancy agreements with public relations or lobbying firms and a further 142 have consultancies with other types of company or with trade associations. These 168 Members hold between them 356 consultancies. If Ministers and the Speaker are excluded there are 566 MPs. Thus almost 30% of eligible Members of Parliament hold consultancy agreements of these types.

While the lack of detail in the Register makes precise analysis difficult, it appears in their different ways that some 389 of the 566 eligible MPs--almost 70%--have financial relationships with outside bodies which directly relate to their membership of the House.

In recent years Members have acquired paid consultancies on a large scale. Over the same period public scepticism about MPs' financial motives has increased sharply. It must be more likely than not that these two developments are related, but in any case their combination can only tend to undermine the dignity of Parliament as a whole.

Almost all witnesses made clear their view that special advisers were valuable components of the machinery of Government.

My short answer to your question on that is that I do not think the Senior Civil Service of 3,700 people is in danger of being swamped by 70 special advisers. That is not what is happening and I do not see it as creeping politicisation.

. . . can the Prime Minister reassure the House that his Administration is now a sleaze-free zone?--[ Official Report , 18 October 1994; Vol. 248, c. 142.]

It was not first and foremost about Parliament, nor about civil servants or special advisers. It was about members of the right hon. Gentleman's Government. Conservative Members are foolish to have raised the question in the way that they have done this evening.

Mr. Follett is plain wrong, though, about his other main contention, that this government is much more prone to internecine briefing than are other parties or were other times. It is simply not true. The Tories are at it like cats in a bag, constantly.

we must be very vigilant about using civil servants to perform party political tasks, such as writing conference speeches, briefing Government Back Benchers on party points and so on.--[ Official Report , 2 November 1995; Vol. 265, c. 482.]

Almost one third of the current flock of advisers have been taken on directly from Conservative central office. Are they helping Ministers in pursuit of better government, which would certainly justify the public expenditure involved, or are they merely assisting politicians in pursuit of their party careers, in which case the payment of their salaries should revert to Conservative central office?--[ Official Report , 2 November 1995; Vol. 265, c. 483.]

engage in activities likely to give rise to criticism that you are being employed at the public expense for purely party purposes.

It would be damaging to the Government's objectives if the Government Party took a different approach to that of the Government itself, and the Government will therefore need to liaise with the party to make sure that the party publicity is factually accurate and consistent with Government policy. To secure this consistency the Government will also want to make sure that Party MPs and officials are suitably briefed on issues of Government policy.

similar arrangements have applied under successive Governments.

Records are not held of when such briefings were given.--[ Official Report , 14 July 1999; Vol. 333, c. 251W.]

Financial consultants Price Waterhouse Coopers, Ernst & Young and Pannell Kerr Forster have all donated staff to Brown since the election. All have won lucrative consultancy contracts from the Treasury, at least one without a competitive tender. These firms have also had success in forcing Brown to backtrack on plans to stop their multinational clients avoiding tax by channelling profits through offshore companies.

relevant . . . objective and explanatory, not tendentious or polemical

be or be liable to misrepresentation as being, party political.

Over the course of a five-year parliament we will raise the proportion of national income spent on education.

The proportion spent on education will rise by 0.1 per cent. in 2000/01 and 0.2 per cent. in 2001/02.

duty not to use public resources for party political purposes.

Sponsorship should not be sought or accepted from firms which are involved in significant commercial negotiation with the host Department (whether or not linked to the event), or which may be affected by the exercise of that Department's regulatory or licensing work.

there are three features of the British senior civil service which set it apart from American and European models. These are

Accountability through Ministers to Parliament

Selection and promotion on merit, and

Political neutrality.

some of them can cause immense chaos.

we have formed the impression from talking to witnesses that in general special advisers and career civil servants have been able to work creatively and harmoniously together.

neither hog, dog, nor mutton.

not just under this Government, but under previous governments, in my experience, political advisers have spoken to and briefed the media.

Tony has contempt for Parliament, and it shows. He doesn't even turn up to vote.

Tony's handling of Wales and London was terrible. He came to office with people believing he'd do politics differently, better. Now he looks as if he's just as bad as everyone else.

All those kids in their twenties making policy in No. 10. What do they know about anything?

Too many people believe that spin doctors and policy advisers are running the government's policies . . . rather than the members of the cabinet and other ministers who were elected to do the job.

There is too much reliance on the presidential system.

the rent boys of politics.

Tony's sure touch deserts him when he faces a decision which cannot be based on expediency . . . he seems not to possess the inner core of strong convictions.

peddling the propaganda of the right

better known for their fiction than their judgment.

Question , That the Question be now put, put and agreed to .

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:--

The House divided: Ayes 165, Noes 295.

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Party Summary

Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.

What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.

What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.

What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.

PartyMajority (No)Minority (Aye)BothTurnout
Con0 131 (+2 tell)083.1%
Independent0 1033.3%
Lab296 (+2 tell) 0071.6%
LDem0 31066.0%
PC0 1025.0%
UUP0 1011.1%
Total:296 165072.8%

Rebel Voters - sorted by party

MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party. You can see all votes in this division, or every eligible MP who could have voted in this division

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no rebellions

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