Special advisers face tough code of conduct

Measures to curb the power of governmental special advisers have

been drafted by the Cabinet Office, in response to criticism of their


A code of conduct, to be published early this parliament, will see the

Government respond to recommendations by the Neill Committee on

Standards in Public Life by requiring advisers to sign stringent new


Terms of the agreement are likely to include guarantees on upholding the

political impartiality of the civil service.

However, the advisers themselves, who until now have been classed as

temporary civil servants, are exempt from this requirement to be

impartial at all times, allowing them to serve party lines despite the

public purse paying their salaries.

Concerns over civil servants being leaned on to put out pro-Labour lines

were widely believed to be behind senior PR personnel changes in 16 of

17 head of information posts in the first two years of the first Blair


Guidelines to accompany the code of conduct will define the

responsibilities of special advisers, as well as advise on acceptable

levels of contact with the media.

Under the proposals, special advisers will be personally accountable to

the Prime Minister, despite calls for an independent arbiter to oversee

the code.

However there are currently no plans to implement the Committee's other

recommendation that the number of advisers be limited by statute. The

number has doubled to 79 since Labour came to power in 1997.

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