PM demands improved crib sheets for question time

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair's Downing Street office has instructed all Whitehall departments to provide better briefings for Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, it has emerged.

But Downing Street denied reports that the memo, issued by one of Mr Blair's private secretaries, was provoked by concern over the Prime Minister's performance in his regular weekly battles with Tory leader William Hague.

Tory chairman Michael Ancram condemned the memo as "an outrageous abuse of the Civil Service", which is required to observe political impartiality when it supplies information.

The memo was sent by Downing Street staff member Clare Sumner last week, and has been leaked to the Mail on Sunday.

It read: "I have been revisiting the standard format for the briefings for PM's Questions to see whether it can be further enhanced and improved. You will not be surprised to know that in my view it can.

"The PM has specifically asked for all briefings provided to the attached format from Monday, 15 May. If the PM does not have good, accurate and well-considered briefing to use it reflects badly on departments and often leads to media interest and further work."

The paper says that Ms Sumner's memo asked for quotes to be provided from Tory MPs that undercut Mr Hague's arguments. She also said the briefings should concentrate on "the killer fact" and prepare the premier to deal with "elephant traps".

The memo also suggested politically-appointed special advisers should be more closely involved in preparation of briefings, so that "the political line" on an issue can be included.

Downing Street said the memo was a routine update of instructions on how to prepare briefings and was not sent on the instructions of Mr Blair.

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