Ministers Act to Stop Investigations into MPs but Other Civil Servants Still Follow Similar Advice ; Analysis

By Marie Woolf Chief Political Correspondent | The Independent (London, England), June 12, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Ministers Act to Stop Investigations into MPs but Other Civil Servants Still Follow Similar Advice ; Analysis


Marie Woolf Chief Political Correspondent, The Independent (London, England)


THE DEPARTMENT of Work and Pensions (DWP) may have scrapped its instructions to civil servants to ask whether an MP is "friendly" before responding to their written questions, but right across Government similar advice is still being used, The Independent has learned.

Civil servants briefing ministers and even Tony Blair are being routinely asked to investigate the motives of MPs and peers asking questions, to help get the Government's message across and even to emphasise the contrast with "failed" Tory policies.

Civil servants at the Department for International Development (DfID) are told in current guidance that the Prime Minister will want to have "key quotations - these could be good third party endorsements, or supportive comments from members of the Opposition".

Mr Blair will also need "a top message and the killer facts that need to be employed" including comparisons with "the previous administration".

Civil servants are also told in the guidance to get involved in drawing up briefings on the "political context of questions" - a clear breach of the rules governing their neutrality. Special advisers - who do have a party political role - must be consulted, the advice makes clear, but civil servants can also be involved.

The instructions say, under the heading "political context", that "for all briefs Special Advisers should be involved in the drafting so that the political line is also included in the briefing. This should include comparative material on the Conservative record, together with a line on the weakness of current Conservative policy where appropriate".

The DfID advice, which is currently in use, was drafted by civil servants for civil servants and has not been seen by ministers.

The Treasury guidance explicitly tells civil servants briefing Tony Blair at Prime Minister's Questions to favourably compare Labour with the Tories. "Any useful comparisons with the previous administration should also be included," the briefing note says.

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