Government agrees to limit special advisers

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Tony Blair, under pressure over the number of political advisers and spin-doctors, last night promised to cap them but refused to say when.

Tony Blair, under pressure over the number of political advisers and spin-doctors, last night promised to cap them but refused to say when.

The Prime Minister was also attacked for rejecting a proposal by Lord Neill of Bladen, head of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, that he should be responsible for the conduct of his ministers.

Responding to a report by the committee, the Government said it accepted the principle that the number of special advisers should be limited but said it would need legislation to do so and added that it could not "commit itself firmly to a detailed timetable in respect of the future legislative programme".

Advisers, many of whom act as spin-doctors for ministers, have risen from 30 under Margaret Thatcher and 35 under John Major to 79 at present.

In a report in January Lord Neill said a statutory cap should be set on advisers. He also said the ministerial code should be changed so that government members could no longer act as judge and jury in their own misconduct cases. He wanted it changed to say that ultimately the prime minister was responsible.

Despite the less than wholehearted endorsement of his recommendations, Lord Neill yesterday welcomed the Government's response. But the shadow Cabinet Office Minister, Andrew Lansley, said that the Government had taken six months to respond and had failed to offer a reduction in special advisers. "This ... reveals this Government will not place legislation on special advisers and the extent of their influence. It has become obvious the Government's addiction to spin is at the heart of its problems."

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