Select Committee on Public Administration Third Report



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 by Government.

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 74).

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.

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