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Wednesday, 26 July, 2000, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Ministers agree to limit spin doctors
Lord Neill
Lord Neill is pleased the government accepts his advice
The government has agreed to introduce legal limits on the number of "spin doctors" it employs and to make them subject to a code of conduct.

The limit on numbers will be included in legislation and any increases should then require the consent of both Houses of Parliament, ministers said.

The government remains committed to the introduction of such legislation

Government response to Neill report
The government agreed the curbs in response to the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life, which has expressed worries over the rising numbers of special advisers, paid for by taxpayers.

It also followed a long row about the government's use of "spin doctors" for political purposes, which culminated in Alastair Campbell taking a back seat.

However, no date for implementing the reforms has been set.

No date given

The long-awaited response to the Neill report said: "The government accepts that an overall limit on the number of special advisers should be included in civil service legislation.

"Once that legislation has been enacted, increases in the limit will require the consent of both Houses of Parliament.

Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell stepped back amid the "spin doctors" row
"The government remains committed to the introduction of such legislation."

The government also said it would review the appropriate definition and level of the limit when drawing up legislation.

But the response said no government was able to "commit itself firmly to a detailed timetable in respect of the future legislative programme".

Rising cost

It also said: "The code will also include a section on the direct media contacts of advisers".

Many special advisers to ministers also act as "spin doctors", acting as government spokesmen in handling the media.

The number of politically-appointed special advisers has risen to from 38 to 74 since Labour came to power in 1997, costing 3.9m.

As well as a doubling of special advisers across the whole of Whitehall, Number 10 alone now employs 25 political staff, three times as many as under John Major.

'Serious failure'

Shadow cabinet office minister Andrew Lansley called the response "a serious failure", saying ministers should have cut the number of special advisers and the extent of their influence.

"It has become obvious that the government's addiction to spin is at the heart of their problems and this answer shows that they have remained complacent on this issue," he said.

Chairman of the Tories' parliamentary campaigns unit John Redwood dubbed the government response "feeble".

He said: "We don't just want them to put a cap on it; we want them to put a sock in it.

"There are too many political advisers acting as spin doctors ... above all, we need to know what Mr Campbell is now doing for his civil service salary, now that he doesn't brief the press."

'Concerns met'

But Lord Neill called the response very positive.

He said: "Nearly all of the committee's recommendations have been accepted in full.

"In particular, public concern about the role and numbers of special advisers will be met by the government's pledge to introduce a statutory limit on numbers and a separate code which will define the permissible activities of special advisers.

"I am sure that the committee will continue to keep all the issues covered by the report under close review."

The Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life was set up five years ago by former prime minister John Major in the wake of growing sleaze allegations against MPs.

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See also:

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No immediate cap on spin doctors
14 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Limit spin doctors, committee insists
12 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Spin doctors face greater controls
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Blair 'must curb spin doctors'
04 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Peers face standards watchdog
12 Jan 00 | UK Politics
The Neill Committee: Key recommendations
03 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Labour faces more 'spin' attacks
02 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Follett steps up Blair attack
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