Media Advisers

Oral Answers to Questions — Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 6th February 2008.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 11:30 am, 6th February 2008

How many communications, press and marketing staff were employed in the civil service in (a) 1996-97 and (b) 2006-07.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Minister (Cabinet Office) and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

In a civil service of 500,000, there are approximately 400 press officers in Whitehall Departments. The Central Office of Information white book lists 3,250 Government entries, but this includes a range of functions such as providing information to the public through publications, websites and campaigns around issues such as road safety, public health and smoking. There are no directly comparable figures for 1996-97.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Government is about choices, so why have this Government put PR above police pay?

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Minister (Cabinet Office) and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Government is indeed about choices. I will tell the hon. Gentleman one thing that this Government have increased spending on, because it is something close to his heart: advertising for public information on health. In 1997-98, we spent £2 million; in the last year for which figures are available, 2006-07, we spent £43 million. That is about making choices to inform people about healthy living and how they can improve their own health. I would have thought that he would welcome that.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Chair, Health and Social Care Committee, Chair, Health and Social Care Committee

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the threats to the health of the public in the 21st century will be exactly as he describes—the lifestyles that we all, young and old, have in this country? Public information about smoking and childhood obesity are vitally important, and it would be completely irresponsible for any Government not to ensure that good messages get through to protect people's health.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Minister (Cabinet Office) and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to the work that he did in leading the campaign on smoking in the workplace and the ban that was introduced. His work, and that of hon. Members in all parts of the House, made the difference in that campaign. He is right that we need to do more to inform the public about the dangers of second-hand smoking, for example, and that is another area that the Government have been investing in.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Conservative, Bosworth

Is not the real problem that during the tenure of this Government the roles of public relations people, civil servants and political advisers have got incredibly muddled and mixed up? We need a new civil service Act to define very clearly what civil servants should do and what political operators should do.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Minister (Cabinet Office) and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I do not necessarily accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I bring him good news: as part of the constitutional renewal Bill, we will legislate for the principles of a civil service Act. I hope that he will welcome that Bill and engage with it. I also point out that the Prime Minister has repealed the Orders in Council relating to the civil service that some people had criticised. I hope that the hon. Gentleman also welcomes that, and I look forward to his support for our Bill.

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The Minister will be pleased to acquire the talents of the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Mr. Watson, who is now part of his team. He is a true communications guru. He is a pioneering blogger and a highly influential letter writer, and he even produced for Mr. Simon the widely respected YouTube spoof of the Leader of the Opposition. Now that his Cabinet Office has the benefit of such talented communications skills—and, of course, those of the other Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Phil Hope—why does it need 35 communications officers, including one supporting each of the three Ministers?

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Minister (Cabinet Office) and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

There are eight press officers in the Cabinet Office. Once again, the hon. Gentleman, in common with his hon. Friends who have already spoken, undervalues the importance of information. The Government would be criticised if we were not providing information to people through websites and through other forms of communication. Interestingly, listed in the Government white book are people who work on Directgov, which is the site that provides information to millions of people around this country on the issues that matter to them. The hon. Gentleman should welcome what we are doing on this, not criticise it.