Spin doctors report 'watered down'

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The Independent Online
OPPOSITION MPs who claim a report on government spin-doctors was watered down by Labour members will publish their own version alongside the official one.

The report from the House of Commons Public Administration Committee was rewritten by its six Labour members, to the consternation of its three Conservative members and one Liberal Democrat. Criticism of the politicisation of the Government Information Service (GIS) and of the heavy use of Labour insiders as press aides is believed to have been toned down. The Government had been attacked for treating existing press officers as political tools and for driving several out of their posts. Several heads of information who left their jobs since the general election have written to the committee criticising way they were treated by the new Government.

One MP on the committee said its report had originally concentrated too heavily on the role of Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's official spokesman. Problems of low morale among press officers, which were equally important, had been so far back in the report that they would barely have been noticed.

The row has led the four opposition MPs to publish a minority report. Both versions will be available on Thursday.

Yesterday the Liberal Democrat on the committee, Mike Hancock (Portsmouth S) said criticisms had disappeared from the report. "What we have got now is, 'No problems at all, everything in the garden is lovely and there are no problems in the GIS', despite the fact that people keep leaving it and despite the fact that there is a perceived problem," he said.

In a radio interview he said the committee had not been convinced that the GIS was either transparent or unbiased. "I think the facts of the case were the complete opposite. What we had was the Government Information Service being used by spin doctors as an information service for the Labour Party."

The committee chairman, Rhodri Morgan, said: "I regret all the speculation. People should be very surprised when they actually read the report itself compared to some of the more lurid accounts out so far."

The inquiry has often been portrayed as concentrating on the role of Mr Campbell, though it was intended to be much wider. The committee did hear evidence from Mr Campbell, as well as hearing criticism of his role from Sir Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher's former press secretary. Mr Campbell denied briefing reporters against ministers or leaking announcements in advance.

t Frank Field, who resigned last week as Social Security minister, hit back yesterday after a weekend of briefings which dubbed him a "joke" and his welfare ideas "paltry and unpublishable". The MP for Birkenhead said the press officers had to be reined in before they did serious damage to the party, adding: "You cannot run a government like this. It is a cancer eating away at the heart of our very existence and undermines the way ministers behave."

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