Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, insisted yesterday that his plan to recruit Conservative "cheerleaders" in the public services had never specified that it should be carried out by civil servants.
John Prescott, deputy Labour leader, told Mr Heseltine in the Commons that a leaked memorandum from him to the Prime Minister "shows that far from being the person who sorted out the scandal of civil servants being used for party political purposes, you were the man who had the idea to begin with. You were caught red-handed trying to subvert the impartiality of the Civil Service. "
Mr Heseltine retorted: "You know full well that that is a travesty of the truth."
Giles Radice, Labour chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Public Service, protested that the memo "broke the spirit and the letter of the Civil Service Code", which requires its servants to be politically neutral.
Mr Heseltine replied: "No, it certainly did not. It left open the question of how ministers should address the issue covered in the memorandum and with Sir Robin Butler [the Cabinet Secretary] I agreed it should be done through special advisers." However, all the leaked correspondence about the plan was between civil servants.
Mr Prescott demanded clarification of further apparent attempts to engage public servants in pro-Tory propaganda. A new leaked document from Mr Heseltine's department said "representatives of the police and magistrates" should be involved in the initiative.
Labour also attacked the business tour by the President of the Board of Trade, Ian Lang, which, according to Margaret Beckett, Labour's trade spokeswoman, started yesterday "in one marginal seat and heading off for a few others, and is being organised by civil servants in the DTI and paid for by the DTI".
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