the boundary lines?
72. Special advisers are paid out of public funds
and there must therefore be accountability to Parliament for them.
We asked Sir Richard Wilson where the ultimate accountability
to Parliament for the work of an adviser lay and he replied 'With
the Prime Minister...I support him on that'. When asked if he
acted as the eyes and ears of the Prime Minister in that regard
he replied that 'he certainly had a responsibility'.
He confirmed that Parliament would be entitled to look for an
answer from him if advisers had broken the rules. The Cabinet
Secretary apart, witnesses felt that special advisers were insufficiently
accountable, either individually or collectively, to Parliament.
Professor Hazell said 'special advisers generally do need to be
subject to rather greater control and accountability'.
The Neill Committee found that whereas all the other actors, both
Ministers and civil servants, were subject to some kind of code
....the special advisers were subject to nothing other than their
contract of employment'. This led the Committee to conclude that
'because of the dual nature of a special adviser as a personal,
political appointee of a Minister but subject also to control
by the Permanent Secretary through adherence to the Civil Service
Code, the lines of accountability and ownership can appear less
73. The Government's response to the Neill Committee
explained that 'Special advisers are civil servants. They are
subject to the same rules of conduct as other civil servants as
set out in the relevant staff handbook, with the exception of
the rules relating to political impartiality and objectivity.
The appointing Minister appoints on behalf of the Crown, administration
of the contract falls to the Permanent Secretary, acting on behalf
of the Minister. Cases of difficulty or disagreement should be
submitted to the Prime Minister for decision'. We received no
evidence on any such cases of difficulty, but it is clearly important
that there should be a proper procedure for dealing with them
if they do occur.
74. As for the Model Contract for Special Advisers,
the Neill Committee found a number of faults with it as a means
of holding special advisers to account. For one thing, it is not
applied unchanged to all advisers and 'it is understood that there
are variations from the model contract in the individual contracts
of a number of special advisers' and 'there is no way of confirming
whether these variations are minor or substantial' and so 'there
is no single public point of reference for anyone seeking to hold
a special adviser to account'.
He also pointed out significant omissions from the Contract, including
the absence of any reference to media contacts, and noting that
nowhere in either Contract or Civil Service Code is there any
reference to a requirement on advisers to refrain from asking
civil servants to do anything which would compromise their neutrality.
We further note that the Model Contract states that an adviser
may take a grievance either to the Minister or to
the Permanent Head of the Department, which seems to us ambiguous.
The Neill Committee's preferred solution (Recommendations 22 to
25) was a Code of Conduct for special advisers which would 'Consolidate
the appropriate elements of the Civil Service Code, the Model
Contract and paragraph 56 of the Ministerial Code, which sets
out the duty to uphold the political impartiality of the civil
service and other obligations'.
This Code would be included in the proposed Civil Service Act
and would be enforced by the permanent Heads of Department. We
endorse the Neill Committee's recommendations on the need for
a Code of Conduct for Special Advisers.
75. In Session 1997-98 we produced a Report on 'The
Work of the Government Information and Communication Service (GICS)'
. In that report we examined concerns that had been expressed
as to whether the Prime Minister's Chief Press Secretary had been
using his office to forward the interests of the Government in
a way inappropriate to someone paid from public funds as a special
adviser. We found no evidence to substantiate this at that time
and nor was any submitted when we took further evidence from the
service in May last year.
Since then Alastair Campbell has been reminded by Sir Richard
Wilson of the relevant guidelines. In our 1997-98 Report we said
'it is difficult to avoid some advantage naturally accruing to
the party in power from the use of public money to present the
Government's policies in their best light'. That remains the intractable
fact. We note that the FDA told us in the course of this inquiry
that it was not a completely new concept having a special adviser
in the role of Chief Press Secretary and that it was not necessarily
inappropriate to do so.
Whether it is wise for a government to fill the post in this way
is another matter. We welcomed then and welcome now Sir Richard's
repeated assurances that he remained vigilant to ensure that advisers
do not overstep the mark, but we note that the GICS handbook says
little or nothing about the Service's relation to advisers and
recommend that the next edition should set out the relationship
in more detail. Tensions in this area are inevitable, which is
why continuing vigilance is appropriate in policing the boundary
76. Last Session we followed up our Fourth Report
of Session 1997-98 by taking further evidence from the Head of
the Government Information and Communication Service, Mike Grannatt.
We asked him whether there was tension between advisers and his
officers. He replied that it varied, saying 'there are Departments,
and I have worked alongside special advisers in such Departments,
where the relationship has been very good and very productive.
Occasionally special advisers feel very strongly that a particular
course should be pursued in the communication sense and will argue
the case pretty strongly with the communication people and the
decision will then go to Ministers'.
We believe that, though we heard no evidence of specific problems,
there is a need for particular vigilance in this area and we
particularly endorse the Neill Committee's criticisms of the Model
Contract insofar as it fails to mention relations between advisers
and the GICS, and believe that the proposed Code of Conduct for
Special Advisers should give clear guidance on this matter.
77. The Government gave a qualified acceptance to
the Neill Committee's recommendations on this matter. It agreed
to a separate Code but felt that a separate Model Contract would
still be necessary, which seems to us to be sensible. It agreed
that 'pending the introduction of the Civil Service legislation
the Government will amend the Civil Service Order in Council after
the next election to give legislative backing to the current Code
and will ensure that the new arrangements make clear where special
advisers are and are not covered by standard civil service terms'.
It gave no undertaking, however, that there would be full parliamentary
consideration of the proposed Code in the period before the civil
service legislation is introduced. We would expect to see a draft
of the Code at an early stage. We welcome the Government's
invitation to us to comment on the proposed Special Advisers Code
although such an invitation should not be seen as a substitute
for a full parliamentary debate, which should take place at the
78. The services of advisers (apart from the unpaid
ones) are provided at public expense, and restrictions are placed
on their political activities. In particular, advisers are prohibited
from taking part in the work of their party's national organisation;
and although they may continue, during elections, to give specialist
or political advice to their Ministers, they must be careful not
to take any active part in the campaign going beyond the provision
of such advice and they 'must not take public part in political
controversy...and they would not normally speak in public for
their Minister or Department'.
79. Professor King raised the question of whether
it was true, 'as is sometimes alleged, that some part-time special
advisers are taking advantage in the rest of their time of knowledge
and contacts gleaned as special advisers? Is it the case that
special advisers are spending their time on party political matters
at the taxpayers' expense, which they ought not to be doing?'.
This suggestion was made particularly in the context of part-time
advisers, but it could equally apply to full-time ones. This appears
to be a very grey area, policed only by the permanent civil service.
We asked Sir Richard Wilson about a recent, well-publicised case
where the Chief Press Secretary had been involved in the defection
of a prominent member of the Official Opposition to the Labour
Party. Sir Richard explained that when the first meeting had been
mooted it had not been clear what the object was, so that it had
been held in No10, during office hours. Subsequent meetings had
been held off the premises in Mr Campbell's own time. Sir Richard
added: 'my concern is that the resources of the state are not
to be used for party political purposes. The tax-payer is paying
Alastair Campbell to work for the Government as the Government,
not the Labour Party. My concern therefore is that in his hours
at work he is doing work for the Government qua Government.
What he does in his own time to support the Labour Party is his
own business, as he is entitled to do'.
80. The distinction between an adviser on duty and
an adviser off-duty is a fine one to draw, especially in the context
of a 24-hour news culture. It is hard to see how an individual
could erect sufficient Chinese walls between what he or she knows
and does through current employment and through other means. Mr
Campbell's intention to resign his employment as soon as a general
election is called to work full time for the Labour Party, then
return to his post in the event of a Labour victory, is one example
of the difficulties. The question is whether there could be a
better system. We asked Lord Neill whether it might be possible
to distinguish between the work done by advisers for the government
and work done for the party and pay them pro rata. He said that
he did not know what each of the advisers in post during his inquiry
actually did, not having seen their individual contracts, so he
did not know how much party work they did but he thought that,
for practical reasons, such a scheme would be hard to implement.
He said 'I would need to see more evidence as to how it could
be done, how it would be workable, how you could partition a day
of a special adviser, so much was party political and so much
was not. The telephone would ring: "Am I allowed to take
another call today? Is that a party political call?" I am
not making a joke of it, but it would be incredibly difficult
to draw a line, a division such as you suggest'.
Such difficulties are inescapable. They would, of course, disappear
if advisers were paid out of party funds, but this would be at
odds with our view that policy and political advice to Ministers
is a proper activity that is appropriately funded by the public
purse. Moreover, other difficulties would arise. Tensions and
boundary disputes are inevitable, which is why proper policing
and codes of conduct are important.
81. All the available evidence suggests that special
advisers can make a positive contribution to good government.
In particular, they broaden the range of policy advice upon which
Ministers can draw. None of this need be threatening to the traditional
role of the civil service. Advisers should be seen as augmenting
this role, not diminishing it. However, we believe that it is
time to put the position of special advisers on a firmer footing.
This means recognising them as a distinct category; funding them
in an appropriate way; appointing them on merit; and putting a
proper framework of accountability around their activities. This
is what our recommendations are designed to achieve. Special advisers
are now an established part of government. The time has come to
recognise this in the way they are treated.
90 HC (1999-2000) 238 Q 455 Back
(1999-2000) 727 Q 49 Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q 213 Back
(1999-2000) 721 Q 35 Back
4557 Q 6.37 Back
para 6.22 Back
para 6.34 Back
(1999-2000) 727 Q 6 Back
Service Change in Britain'
delivered to Political Studies Association Conference April 2000 Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q 136 Back
(1999-2000) 238 p 20 Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q 418 Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q 419 Back
(1999-2000) 727 Q 11 Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q 473 Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q 484 Back
(1999-2000) 727 Q 36 Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q 473 Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q 473 Back
110 Ibid Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q 483 Back
(1999-2000) 727 Q 40 Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q485 Back
(1999-2000) 94 Q 858 Back
Public Service December 1999 Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q431 Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q 217 Back
4557 para 6.32 Back
4557 para 6.60 Back
para 6.4 Back
(1997-98) 770 (Fourth Report) Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q 473 Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q 473 Back
(1999-2000) 511 Q 44 Back
4817 p 11 Back
Contract Schedule 1 part 1 Back
(1999-2000) 727 Q 1 Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q 434 Back
(1999-2000) 238 Q 295 Back