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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 8 April, 2003, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Screws tightened on spin doctors
Jo Moore, ex-transport special adviser
Jo Moore sparked a major row about spin
An inquiry prompted by spin doctor Jo Moore's infamous 11 September e-mail argues for curbs on the power of special advisers - and Tony Blair's communications director Alastair Campbell.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life launched its inquiry after Ms Moore suggested it would be "a good day to bury bad news".

Sir Nigel Wicks, who chaired the investigation, said that each minister should take personal responsibility for the conduct of his or her special advisers - and that included the prime minister.

Sir Nigel also argued that had the recommendations been in place last year then events might have been "settled more easily".

The power wielded outside Number 10 by top prime ministerial appointees such as Alastair Campbell should also be curbed.

That prompted Conservative spokesman David Davis to say curbs on the activities of Mr Campbell and Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell were "long overdue".

He also welcomed recommendations in the report for legislation relating to the role of civil servants.

"Sir Nigel's recommendations demonstrate the pressing need for a new Civil Service Act which will implement these impartial curbs on government abuses," said Mr Davis.

Fundamental principles

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said that "at first glance" the goverment was already complying with some of the report's recommendations.

"The government welcomes the committee report as part of that ongoing debate about a Civil Service Act."

Other recommendations in the report suggest Parliament should have greater scrutiny of government appointees.

These recommendations would re-enforce the fundamental principles of transparency, impartiality and accountability
Sir Nigel Wicks
Sir Nigel said: "At a time of considerable change within government and in the environment in which government operates, we believe that it is vital for there to be clarity about the boundaries within the executive and security about their maintenance."

He went on to say that his report's recommendations intended to define "the different roles, responsibilities and relationships between ministers, special advisers and civil servants".

"These recommendations would re-enforce the fundamental principles of transparency, impartiality and accountability, which are necessary for the efficient delivery of a sound public service."

Concern over numbers

Sir Nigel says his recommendations could contribute significantly to the enhancement of public trust in government and to strengthening British democracy.

He also argued that the proposals were in line with Labour's desire to reform and modernise.

He rejected the suggestion that the timing of the report's release might mean that it was buried by news of the war in Iraq.


Its recommendations applied to future governments as well as the current one, he said.

The report also notes that every administration since Harold Wilson's in 1974 has appointed special advisers, but witnesses to the committee's enquiry have raised concerns about status, role, accountability and numbers of special advisers.

There is a recommendation for "a clear statement of what special advisers cannot do" and further says that should be set out in primary legislation.

It says that special advisers should not ask civil servants to do anything improper or illegal or anything which might undermine their role and duties.

That includes undermining the political impartiality of permanent civil servants.

Resigning issue

Special advisers should not wield any power over the jobs or prospects of permanent civil servants.

The ministerial code should be amended to ensure that all ministers are personally accountable to the prime minister and parliament for the conduct of special advisers, the report says.

Since Labour came to power in 1997, the number and cost of politically appointed special advisers has grown steadily.

There are now more than 70 policy advisers and spin doctors working for ministers, with their wages totalling more than 5m a year.

The Wicks inquiry took evidence from 56 witnesses, but steered clear of looking directly at the details of problems at the transport department after the Jo Moore affair.

The controversy saw the resignation of both Ms Moore and transport media chief Martin Sixsmith, and later Transport Secretary Stephen Byers quit the government.




SEE ALSO:
'We've too many spin doctors'
09 Jul 02  |  Politics
Sixsmith 'not gagged' over Byers
30 Jun 02  |  Politics
'Smear' row adviser apologises
07 Jun 02  |  Politics
Ministers 'kept e-mail spin doctor'
18 Sep 02  |  Politics


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