Education: Minister `misled House over adviser briefings'

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The Independent Online
AN EDUCATION minister was last night accused of misleading MPs after he claimed there were no records of briefings to Labour backbenchers by publicly-funded special advisers.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, has asked Lord Neill to examine the issue as part of an ongoing investigation which covers the advisers' roles.

Mr Foster already had a copy of a numbered and dated briefing when he received an assurance from the Further and Higher Education Minister George Mudie.

Mr Foster said Mr Mudie's written House of Commons answer also claimed wrongly that the rules for special advisers were "similar" under the Conservatives.

A copy of the 1996 special advisers' model contract did not mention briefings to MPs, but a paragraph allowing such briefings was inserted in a new model contract in 1997.

The row blew up after it was revealed last week that Labour had changed the rules to allow its MPs to be kept informed at the taxpayer's expense. Last night Mr Foster said he had a briefing marked "DfEE no. 84," which listed other such papers available from the Parliamentary Labour Party resource centre.

"How can the Government claim that no record is kept of these briefings when the document leaked to me is clearly numbered and dated? The claim that similar arrangements applied under previous administrations is also misleading," he said.

Mr Foster said he was sending the parliamentary answer to Lord Neill of Bladen, whose Committee on Standards in Public Life is carrying out a wide-ranging review covering special advisers.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said special advisers prepared a range of briefings, both written and oral, for Labour MPs. "Special advisers provide details to the Government backbench resource centre and it is the centre which normally makes any further copies," he said.