GOVERNMENT MEMORANDUM IN RESPONSE TO THE FOURTH
REPORT FROM THE PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE (SESSION
2000-2001) ON SPECIAL ADVISERS
a. We recommend that the limitation of special
advisers should be governed by the sum voted by Parliament for
this purpose (paragraph 30).
e. We recommend that consideration be given
to the establishment of a separate fund out of which both those
advisers whom it was not possible to recruit under civil service
rules and Short Money payments to opposition parties could be
funded. (Paragraph 53).
The Government welcomes the Committee's acknowledgement
that special advisers are part of a long-established tradition
for widening the advice available to Ministers. The Model Contract
for Special Advisers, which incorporates the Code of Conduct
for Special Advisers, makes it clear that special advisers
are paid out of public funds to advise Ministers on the development
of Government policy and its presentation. They are employed to
serve the objectives of the Government and the department in which
they work. It is this which justifies their being paid from public
funds and being able to use public resources, and explains why
their participation in political activities is subject to constraints.
The Government has already agreed with the Committee
on Standards in Public Life recommendation that there should be
an overall limit on the number of special advisers. This will
form part of the package of Civil Service legislation, and the
Government will consult further on this in the context of that
legislation. It is not, however, convinced that the establishment
of a separate fund would be a better mechanism for control or
that the parallel with Short money is useful. Special advisers
are civil servants and should therefore continue to be funded
b. We recommend that wherever possible special
advisers who are to play no political role should be recruited
under normal civil service procedures (Paragraph 35).
The Government agreed, in response to a recommendation
of the Committee on Standards in Public life, that the appointment
of expert advisers would normally be made in accordance with the
rules of the Civil Service Commissioners. This principle is reflected
in the revised Ministerial Code published on 20 July 2001.
Where, however, an individual has outstanding skills or experience
of a non-political kind which a Minister wishes to have available
while in a particular post, and the Minister wishes to have the
final decision on the appointment, it should be open to the Prime
Minister to continue exceptionally to permit their appointment
as a special adviser above the usual limit of two special advisers
per Cabinet Minister. The Government does not expect there to
be a large number of such appointments, and has accepted that
an overall limit on the number of special advisers should be included
in Civil Service legislation. The Government will consult further
on this in the context of the legislation.
c. We recommend that the Government consider
whether staff working in the area of communications really need
to be classified as special advisers or whether they could be
subject to open competition (paragraph 38).
At 31 October, there were 81 special advisers in
post of whom 11 were employed primarily in the area of communications.
Some but not all are in No. 10. Successive administrations have
used special advisers to brief the media. Special advisers are
required to conduct themselves in accordance with the Civil Service
Code except for those provisions relating to impartiality and
objectivity. They are able to represent Ministers' views on Government
policy to the media with a degree of political commitment that
would not be possible for the permanent Civil Service. As recommended
by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Code of Conduct
for Special Advisers includes a section on contacts with the
media. This makes it clear that special advisers' contacts with
the media should be conducted in accordance with the Guidance
on the Work of the Government Information Service.
The Government continues to believe that the
current arrangements are working satisfactorily. Permanent members
of the Government Information and Communication Service will continue
to be appointed in accordance with the rules of the Civil Service
Commissioners and the GICS Development Centre.
d. We hope that the Leader of the House will
take an early opportunity to table an amended resolution so that
the House can agree more precisely on what Short Money may be
spent and how it is to be accounted for (paragraph 51).
The Government recognises the Committee's concerns
about the need for greater clarity over the terms and conditions
governing the allocation of Short money, not least because of
the significant sums of public money involved. Following the Committee's
observations the Government will seek to work with the other political
parties to achieve greater clarity and transparency in the use
of Short money.
f. We recommend that special adviser posts
should be publicly advertised and the Minister given the final
choice between suitably qualified candidates (paragraph 55).
Under the terms of the Civil Service Order in Council,
appointments of special advisers are exempt from the normal Civil
Service recruitment processes. Since their inception in the early
1970s, it has been the nature of special adviser appointments
that they should be outside the rules of fair and open competition
as they are personal appointments made by the Minister at his
or her request to meet particular needs. For these positions,
Ministers seek a combination of political and personal commitment,
relevant expertise and personal trust and confidence. It is because
of this combination of qualities required for the job that the
Order in Council and the Civil Service Commissioners' recruitment
rules recognise that it is necessary to exempt such posts from
the normal Civil service recruitment rules. The Government is
not persuaded of the need for a change to the rules.
g. The experiment of giving up to three special
advisers authority over civil servants should not be extended
and the existing arrangements should be reviewed (paragraph 66).
With respect to the first part of the recommendation,
the Government confirms that there are no plans to extend the
arrangements. In May 1997, the Government agreed to amend the
Civil Service Order in Council to exempt up to three posts in
No. 10 from the "advisory" restriction as it believed
that there were certain posts within Government which should be
undertaken by people who would not be required to perform a similar
role for a different Administration.
h. We agree with the Neill Committee that
the lines of accountability, and overlap in respect of special
advisers can appear less than clear (paragraph 72).
i. We endorse the Neill Committee's recommendations
on the need for a Code of Conduct for Special Advisers. (Paragraph
j. We particularly endorse the Neill Committee's
criticisms of the Model Contract insofar as that 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 (paragraph 76).
k. 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 earliest
opportunity (paragraph 77).
The Government accepted the case made by the
Committee and the Committee on Standards in Public Life for a
new Code of Conduct for Special Advisers. Such a Code was introduced
for the first time for all appointments of special advisers made
after the General Election in June 2001. As recommended by the
Committee and the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Code
includes a section on Special Advisers' contacts with the media
as well as a duty to uphold the political impartiality of the
Civil Service and not to ask civil servants to act in any way
which could conflict with the Civil Service Code. The Government
would welcome the views of the Committee on the new Code of
Conduct for Special Advisers, which is reproduced as an annex
to this Memorandum. The Government remains committed to the introduction
of Civil Service legislation, which will include an overall limit
on the number of special advisers. The Code of Conduct for
Special Advisers will also be incorporated into Civil Service
legislation. The Government is committed to consultation in advance
of the introduction of such legislation.