Government Powers (Limitation) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:57 pm on 14th March 2003.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham 1:57 pm, 14th March 2003

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, both for his historical exegesis and for reminding the House of the relatively modest contribution that I made to the capacity of Government when John Major was Prime Minister. I did indeed serve as a special adviser. However, the way in which the role of special adviser has developed has been profoundly damaging. I say, without any hesitation or apology to the House, that when I served as a special adviser to the Heritage Secretary and, before that, to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I did not suppose for one moment that I had the right to countermand the professional judgment of members of the permanent civil service. I recognised that my role was to be an additional and alternative source of principally political advice to my ministerial boss. It was not for me to interfere in the professional, impartial and politically neutral—but competent—discharge of press relations work. The situation has changed in recent times, but although a code of conduct for special advisers was issued in July 2001, it is still far from satisfactory.