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Civil Service

6. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): When he plans to bring forward a civil service Bill. [55933]

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State (Mr. John Prescott): In response to recommendations from both the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the Select Committee on Public Administration, which is chaired by my hon. Friend himself, the Government have committed themselves to civil service legislation, the timing of which will be announced in the normal way.

Tony Wright: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I suppose I am getting a little weary of asking this question, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend is getting weary of answering it, but we have to sort it out somehow. The outgoing Cabinet Secretary says that we need a Bill now, the incoming Cabinet Secretary says that he is not sure, the First Civil Service Commissioner says that we need a Bill urgently, and the Public Administration Committee says that it is going to produce

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a Bill of its own. Can my right hon. Friend now say with some precision when he expects a consultation document to appear, and when he expects a draft Bill to follow it?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: We have made it absolutely clear that the Government's position is that we will produce a civil service Bill, which will become a civil service Act. We are in agreement with the conclusions of the Public Administration Committee on these matters. The recent comment by my hon. Friend, who is the Chairman of the Committee, that he felt that there was some doubt about that was quite wrong. We are strongly of this opinion, and we will produce that Bill. We welcome any consultation and any views that may be presented to us, and a consultation document will be produced shortly.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): The sooner the better. Does the Deputy Prime Minister recognise that not only is this measure widely sought after—and there is some consensus around it—but it is a proper response to the welcome stream of apologies and expressions of regret that have been heard from, for example, Alastair Campbell, who said that the techniques of opposition had been used in government for too long, and from the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who referred to over-politicised press officers? Surely, drawing the boundary lines more clearly is what the Act would be for.

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about drawing the boundary lines. We have made that clear, and I think that we are the first Government to make it clear that there should be a civil service Act. We will carry out that promise.

Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the danger of introducing a civil service Bill at this time is that it will get bogged down in the current controversies? Will he ensure that the long-term future of the civil service, and the issues of "departmentalitis" and the division between policy and implementation, are addressed before a Bill is introduced?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: I can assure my hon. Friend that that is exactly what we intend to do. We will consult before the Bill is introduced. That is our intention; let us make no mistake, the Government are committed to bringing in a new civil service Act—with all in agreement on the matter, we hope.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that all civil servants throughout the United Kingdom should have an opportunity to develop their expertise and competency? Will he seek to include in the civil service Bill provision for such training for professional civil servants as will enable them to gain expertise that will facilitate easy transfer between the Assemblies and Parliament, and thereby afford them greater opportunity for career development?

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The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and the consultation document will cover many aspects of training, management and transferability between different sections.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister's reaffirmation that it is the Government's intention to publish a draft civil service Bill in the near future. Is it still current thinking that it may contain a proposal for a cap on the number of special advisers?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: The Bill will address itself to that point—but my hon. Friend must await the consultation document.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): As there is genuine cross-party consensus that we should have a civil service Bill, and furthermore that one of the principles that should be enshrined in it is protection of the independence of the civil service from any allegations of undue political influence, does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that such a Bill would be a good vehicle for introducing a genuinely independent non-partisan watchdog to check that donations to the governing party have not bought any favours? Does he further agree that such a vehicle is greatly to be preferred to the toothless poodle announced by his party yesterday?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: The name of Asil Nadir comes clearly to mind. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that we are committed to making sure that there is transparency in all political donations. We committed ourselves to that in opposition, although the previous Conservative Administration would not support such a proposal. We continue to be committed to that aim, because we believe that all contributions should be open to proper examination, and we took another step towards it yesterday when we said how our party will deal with the matter. Can the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that his party will do the same?

World Summit

7. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Pursuant to his oral answer of 24 April to the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr. Thomas), Official Report, columns 320–21, on sustainable development, if he will make a statement on progress in preparation for the world summit. [55934]

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State (Mr. John Prescott): The fourth preparatory ministerial committee for the summit will take place in Indonesia from next weekend. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will lead the United Kingdom delegation.

Mr. Dalyell: Do Ministers preparing for the summit recognise that civil nuclear power is essential for sustainable development?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: My hon. Friend is right to point out that nuclear power is an important part of the provision of power in this country, and it will continue to be so. As the recent report by the performance and innovation unit pointed out, by 2010 about 20 per cent. of our power will be provided

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by nuclear generation. We are now conducting serious consultations about the future of power, and particularly about the role of nuclear power, which will be covered by a White Paper to be announced at the turn of the year.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): I am sure that the Deputy Prime Minister will have seen the BBC news item last night about the perilous situation in Malawi, where the worst famine since that in Ethiopia some 20 years ago is expected. As part of his preparations for the conference in southern Africa, will he ensure that all western Governments are fully engaged in efforts to avert that crisis?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are involved in many matters around the world, and the world summit on sustainable development is about trying to get the same commitment to helping poorer nations and those who suffer great degradation and poverty as we gave to combating terrorism after 11 September.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): I genuinely commiserate with the Deputy Prime Minister following the news that he may be suffering from diabetes. I know from my own family experience that that has no impact whatsoever on the ability to conduct an active career, and I am sure that he will able to do that. Given that the Cabinet Office has made it clear that health factors played no part in his decision not to go to Bali, will he explain why he will no longer be joining his officials there? Is it because he is a little embarrassed about the reports of the level of luxury that will be enjoyed by those who do attend?

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: The hon. Gentleman is developing a reputation for asking personal questions that have no relevance whatever to the point before us. He relies heavily on a British press that is much discredited for its handling of such stories—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] Hon. Members may say "Oh", but a recent European Union report points out that only 20 per cent. of the British public trust the British press, yet the figure for the rest of Europe is more than double that. That shows how press prattle tends to dominate many matters of substance, both in this place and outside it.

As it was the Conservative Government who took the first delegation to the world summit in Rio in 1992, the hon. Gentleman should be aware of the well known fact that those negotiations are conducted by the Secretary of State for the Environment. My responsibility for such matters therefore ended at the last general election, when I moved from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and they are now dealt with by the current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I never intended to be part of the delegation to which the hon. Gentleman refers, or to attend Bali Hi—or Bali Low—at any point.

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