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Tuesday, 16 June, 1998, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Spin doctor Campbell 'can be reprimanded'
Sir Richard Wilson
Sir Richard Wilson would not hesitate to tell Mr Campbell off if necessary
Controversial government spin doctor Alastair Campbell should not attack the opposition - and if he does, he will be brought back in line, Britain's top civil servant has told MPs.

Alistair Campbell
Campbell should not attack the opposition
Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service Sir Richard Wilson gave Mr Campbell his backing in the way he carries out his job as the prime minister's official spokesman.

But if he oversteps the boundary of his job description, Sir Richard said he would step in and remind him of the rules.

Sir Richard was giving evidence to the Public Administration Committee, which is looking into the Government Information Service.

Labour co-ordinating its message

Questioned by committee members on the way the government spreads its message, he said he thought the present administration was more intent on centralising and co-ordinating its communication.

There were curbs to prevent any prime minister taking on a more presidential-style role, he said.

"What's most striking at the moment is that there's a more systematic, determined effort to co-ordinate in a strategic way the presentation of the government's message across the whole of government than I can remember since being in the Civil Service," said Sir Richard.

He told MPs he thought Mr Campbell was very effective in promoting Labour policy before the election and worked extremely hard at providing lobby briefings for journalists.

'Over the top' warning

"Alastair Campbell is a permanent civil servant to present policies in a political context. But I don't think his job is to go over the top and attack the opposition with bricks and bottles."

Sir Richard went on: "On those occasions when it's proper for him to do so, he's very effective. He is the prime minister's official spokesman and the fact that he's overtly political can be helpful."

Asked about what would happen if Mr Campbell did "go too far", the Cabinet Secretary replied: "I would go and tell him he shouldn't be doing it."

Political advisers have a contract with the Crown, he said. He sees Mr Campbell's lobby briefings every day and if he saw something he objected to, he would point it out, said Sir Richard.

He refused to give any specific examples but added that he could not think of any occasions offhand when he had reigned in Mr Campbell.

Rules are rules

However, before the local elections, he had made sure all political advisers understood the rules, he said.

Coming into government for the first time was always a learning curve for any administration and it was important for civil servants to be watchful, Sir Richard added.

Chairman Rhodri Morgan
Chairman Rhodri Morgan
He stressed: "We regard it as our job to patrol the boundaries. I attach real importance to the impartiality of the service. The government is anxious not to politicise the civil service."

Committee chairman Rhodri Morgan (Lab, Cardiff West) raised a laugh when he said if Sir Richard sold tickets to an event when he reminded Mr Campbell of the rules, he could raise enough money to cut a penny from income tax.

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