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Mercer and Bercow to advise Brown

3 September 07 11:15 GMT

Two Tory MPs are to advise Gordon Brown's government in their areas of expertise, the prime minister has said.

Patrick Mercer, who quit as shadow homeland security spokesman after a row over alleged racist comments, is to advise Lord West on security matters.

John Bercow will advise on support for children with learning difficulties. Lib Dem MP Matthew Taylor will also advise the PM, on rural planning.

The Tories and Lib Dems welcomed the recognition of their MPs' expertise.

Mr Brown made the announcement during a speech on "The New Politics", in which he also announced plans for a series of citizens' juries to help formulate policy on areas such as the NHS.

'Not racist'

Mr Mercer, who spent 25 years in the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters regiment, was forced to quit the Conservative frontbench in March after appearing to suggest being called a "black bastard" was a normal part of Army life.

He told The Times: "If someone is slow on the assault course, you'd get people shouting: 'Come on you fat bastard, come on you ginger bastard, come on you black bastard.'"

He also said: "I came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours."

During the furore which followed he denied being racist but accepted his comments might have "hurt" soldiers who served with him and "embarrassed" his party.

He said he had been reporting what he had seen going on in the army. He stressed he always "came down hard" on racist bullying when he came across it.

'Knowledge and experience'

Conservative Party chairman Caroline Spelman said: "Patrick Mercer and John Bercow both have expertise in these fields and if this is a genuine attempt to involve talented people from other political parties, then it is welcome.

"David Cameron has always made clear that he would work with Gordon Brown on issues where we agree and both Patrick Mercer and John Bercow discussed their intention to join these reviews with the party in advance.

"But it is important some of Gordon Brown's other ideas finally result in action.

"He has talked about many of these ideas throughout the last ten years but failed to deliver on them. The Government has announced the idea of citizens juries no less than 15 times since 1997."

Lib Dem MP Matthew Taylor, who was party chairman for two years when Charles Kennedy was leader, is standing down from Parliament at the next election.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell welcomed his appointment, saying: "Matthew and I have agreed that he should take up this opportunity to review rural housing and business policies.

"I am delighted that Gordon Brown has once again recognised the knowledge and experience that Liberal Democrats have to offer in tackling major policy challenges that the Government has proved unable to solve."

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