One of the amendments I tabled to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill covered special advisers. In recent years, special advisers have become an issue of contention. The growth in their number over the past decade or so has raised concerns about their cost to the public purse. Also, instead of operating unseen, some have become part of the story.
As I said when speaking to my amendment, special avisers have a role to play. They can be of value not only to ministers but also to civil servants, in that they can deflect partisan issues away from officials and serve as conduits between party bodies and ministers. However, in order to allay concern about their role, I proposed that the number of special advisers be limited to two per minister, subject to certain exceptions. In debate on the amendment, former Cabinet Secretary Lord Armstrong of Ilminster said that if the House was minded to accept the amendment he would be content with it.
The Government came up with various objections. not least that if you stipulate two per minister as the limit, the limit will become the norm. There was also the point that I did not confine it the Cabinet ministers, raising the prospect of other ministers wanting advisers. As a result, I did not pursue the amendment. In the light of the discussion, it struck me that there was another way of getting at the problem: that is, to limit the total number of special advisers who could be in receipt of a salary. This would be similar to the situation with ministers. There is a limit on the number of ministers who may be in receipt of a ministerial salary. The Prime Minister can (and presently does) appoint other ministers but they serve as unpaid ministers.
In normal circumstances, I could have come back with an amendment along these lines at Report stage. The problem was, of course, that we were in the wash-up, so there was no time for any amendments at Report stage. This serves to highlight the problem with the wash-up. The issue of special advisers is one I am minded to return to in the new Parliament.