Special Advisers

Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th June 1997.

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Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey 12:00 am, 12th June 1997

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on his policy on the appointment of special advisers to Her Majesty's Treasury. [1598]

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Economic Secretary, HM Treasury, The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The Government's policy on the appointment of special advisers was agreed by the Prime Minister, on 19 May, in the attachment to his letter to Cabinet colleagues. A copy of that letter has been placed in the Library of the House.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin Conservative, Romsey

I thank the hon. Lady for that reply. Will she acknowledge two matters that should make the Chancellor's job rather easier? First, he has inherited a booming economy from the outgoing Conservative Government. Secondly, he has relinquished one of his principal responsibilities—deciding monetary policy—to the Bank of England. Why is it therefore necessary for him to increase the number of his special advisers by one third?

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Economic Secretary, HM Treasury, The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, because the reality is that we have found UK public expenditure to be a mess. The state of public expenditure prompted yesterday's announcement by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary. Moreover, I detect a whiff of hypocrisy in the position adopted by Conservative Members on special advisers. Since 1974, special advisers have been serving well the United Kingdom and Governments from both parties.

As for changes in monetary policy, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his statement of 20 May, made it quite clear that changes in setting the inflation level are related to achieving the Government's other targets—to ensure that we have the right parameters, a stable economy, economic growth and fairness. Ensuring that we have a Government who govern for the many and not for the few is our priority.

Photo of Michael Clapham Michael Clapham Labour, Barnsley West and Penistone

Will the my hon. Friend the Minister ensure that the special advisers to the Treasury read the study recently completed by Sheffield university's energy study group, which shows that there is a need for a change in the tax regime in the United Kingdom continental shelf? The study also shows that had we, for example, been matching the Norwegian system, the revenue per barrel between 1984 and 1995 would have been an additional £5.5 billion. As we move to a second hydrocarbon boom—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The hon. Gentleman is miles off the point. We are dealing with the appointment of special advisers. I believe that Mr. Radice wished to ask a question.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Labour, North Durham

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is sheer humbug to talk about politicising the civil service when a few additional special advisers are appointed and when in fact it was Mrs. Thatcher, when she was at No. 10, who suborned the integrity of career civil servants by making them her political playthings—so much so that they were not accepted back into the civil service?

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Economic Secretary, HM Treasury, The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, because there is clear evidence of humbug among the Opposition. Indeed, I well recall that, under the previous Government, it took the intervention of the Cabinet Secretary to ensure that the then Secretary of State for Scotland did not use the Government press office to disseminate Conservative party propaganda. The appointment of special advisers is specifically to guarantee that the civil service does not become involved in party political issues.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

The hon. Lady talks about humbug in relation to the politicisation of the civil service. Will she comment on reports that the Prime Minister has offered Mrs. Rachel Lomax, a career civil servant, the job of a special adviser as head of his policy unit? Will she further comment on the fact that the lady concerned, who is an intelligent civil servant, has very sensibly turned down the job because she does not want to be tainted by it?

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Economic Secretary, HM Treasury, The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Gentleman is indulging in speculation. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's policy unit is a matter for him but, in the few weeks that we have been in government, we have had reason to believe that the civil servants serving the Government are all intelligent, and we have every confidence in them.