MPs plan law to control special advisers

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Pressure on Tony Blair to curb the power of special advisers increased yesterday after the exit of Martin Sixsmith, communications chief at the Transport Department.

Members of the Commons Public Administration Select Committee will draw up a draft Civil Service Bill in an unusual move designed to push the Government towards reform.

Tony Wright, the committee's chairman, said that prospects of a new Civil Service Act to regulate relations between politicians, special advisers and career civil servants were "leaching away". He said: "The continuing controversy over events in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions vividly demonstrates the need for a Civil Service Act. Never has it been more necessary in Britain."

Stephen Byers, the Transport Secretary, was forced to defend his conduct over the departure of Mr Sixsmith. He and Mr Byers' special adviser, Jo Moore, left earlier this year.

Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, who retires later this summer, made a strong appeal for a new Civil Service Act last month, and had hoped to push the measure through before he leaves his job. But the incoming head of the Civil Service, Sir Andrew Turnbull, has made the case for the greater use of outside expertise within the service.

Mr Wright said a new Act "would be a robust protection for those who feel under pressure to desert the core principles of public service, and it would give Parliament a real chance to scrutinise the workings of the service".

* Three out of four civil servants earn less than the national average wage for non-manual workers, research by the Public and Commercial Services union has shown. Thousands claim the working families tax credit to boost their pay, at a cost to the Government of £35m a year. One in four civil servants earns less than £12,770, almost half the average wage for non-manual jobs, the union says.