CONSTITUTIONAL – MINISTERS & ADVISERS – 3 July 2000

Dr Julian Lewis: Is it not typical of the Government's attitude that in their amendment to our motion they quoted from the Neill report the comment that

"special advisers have a valuable role to play"?

However, the Government have omitted the remarks later in the same paragraph:

"There is the argument, however, that if the numbers of this type of public servant, and their degree of influence, rise to a point where the influence of the "objective" public servants is outweighed, the effectiveness of the principle of objectivity in public life is diminished."

Is not that precisely what is happening?

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Dr Lewis: If the stories [undermining Mo Mowlam] were made up by journalists, how is it that items rubbishing the right hon. Members for South Shields (Dr Clark) and for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr Strang), and the Minister for the Cabinet Office [Mo Mowlam] when she was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, were followed rapidly by the demotion of those Ministers? If the stories were made up by journalists, those journalists are remarkably well informed. The reality is that they did not make the stories up–the stories were fed to them by spin doctors paid for out of the public purse.

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Dr Lewis: I can enlighten my right hon. Friend [John MacGregor], I think. The fact is that the Leader of the House [Margaret Beckett] was herself the target of a vicious campaign of leaking and briefing. Her own position was in jeopardy, and it was only when three Conservative Back-Bench Members–among whom I am proud to include myself–spoke up for her that the campaign finished.

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Dr Lewis: I do not contest the general thrust of the hon. Gentleman's [Tony Wright's] remarks, but does he acknowledge that, at that time, as at present, there were more than 650 Members of the House? If he were to add up the scandals, he would find that only a small number of people were involved. It is not fair of the hon. Gentleman to try to smear an entire political party for the sins of a few–especially as many current Members from that party were not Members of the House at the time.

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Dr Lewis: If the hon. Gentleman [Tony Wright] will not give us a number, will he not tell us whether he is trying to suggest that the many people who held consultancies were all guilty of wrongdoing? If he is not trying to suggest that, what was the point of his saying what he said? He seems to think that the previous Government included people who were guilty of wrongdoing and that they were manifestly punished at the polls by being ejected from office in such large numbers. However, if he thinks that that will stop the present Opposition from holding this Government to account, he has got another think coming. We will expose their wrongdoing as rigorously as though there had never been the problems for which most of us were not responsible in the past.