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Tony Wright: For the sake of clarity, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the last sentence of the Committee's report asked the Government to produce their draft Bill in this Session of Parliament. The Government have now given that commitment, so I do not understand why, if we are proceeding on the basis of good faith, the hon. Gentleman would want to divide the House on this matter.

Mr. Heald: We can remember that the Government have given similar pledges for seven years. That is a very long time for a promise to remain unfulfilled, even for this Government. The Opposition want the Government to produce, in this Session, not just a draft Bill, but the final version of a Bill. We want to make progress and to bring in a new law. That is probably one of the few differences between us and the hon. Member for Cannock Chase.

Why is a new law necessary? The Committee of which the hon. Member for Cannock Chase is Chairman said that it was necessary in order to enshrine the position of civil servants in law. The hon. Gentleman has also said:

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That is exactly what the draft Bill would do. The proposals would enshrine in statute the concept of the civil service and its commission, the need for the codes and a civil servant's right to make a complaint to the commission on appeal.

Brian White: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heald: In a moment, but I want to ask the hon. Gentleman a question that he can answer when he intervenes. He said that he believed that other matters needed attention and that slight changes were needed here and there in the draft Bill, but does he agree that we could have a Second Reading debate on that draft? We could agree its principle, and sort those other matters out in Standing Committee.

Brian White: I should be very happy to see a draft Bill go through Committee. The hon. Gentleman said that a civil servant could appeal to a commissioner, but exactly who could do so?

Mr. Heald: I shall not go into huge detail, but the hon. Gentleman will see that the Bill makes that provision and defines those who could make such an application. Clause 1 defines the civil service, clause 2 defines the civil service commission and clause 6 contains the right to appeal. He can see all that fully set out in the Bill.

To continue with the theme of why the Bill is needed, it is needed—as the hon. Member for Cannock Chase rightly said—because of the requirement to set the boundaries correctly, and also because of the developing background in recent years during which we have seen the inexorable rise of the cadre of special advisers. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) referred to the big increase in their numbers, pointing out that when he was a special adviser there were 15 but there are now more than 80. We should not ignore the fact that spending on special advisers has increased threefold, or how special advisers are now being used, for example, to brief the press, and leading special advisers or political appointees have been put in control of the Government information service.

Brian White: The Public Administration Committee looked at special advisers in one of its previous reports, and an interesting finding was the massive increase in Short money going to Opposition parties. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what the increase in the number of special advisers to his party has been during the period of this Government?

Mr. Heald: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning Short money, but I have never heard anyone in the Labour party say that they would like it to be reduced, because they realise that they will need it when they are in opposition in 18 months' time.

Some serious allegations have been made, including in the evidence of the First Division Association to the Public Administration Committee on the Jo Moore affair. The FDA's general secretary, Jonathan Baume, described her behaviour as a

and went on to say:

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The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) was right to say that a civil servant has to be partial in that he has to support the Government in its endeavours. However, it is very helpful, and a great strength of our civil service—the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) made this point—that it is independent and will tell Ministers what is wrong with their proposals and why, and who disagrees with them and why. We want to keep a civil service that has that element of independence and impartiality. Our country is lucky to have such a civil service, and it would be very easy for us to lose it.

The proposed Bill would clarify the boundaries between Ministers, special advisers and civil servants, which we need for the future. We could address that need just by examining recent events that have struck a chord with the media, but it is also worth looking at the other issues developing in the background. Jonathan Baume said in his evidence to the Committee:

He said that "great movement" is

pointing out that current Cabinet Office figures show that 17 per cent. of senior civil service posts are held by people who have come from outside the civil service, but that that figure is expected to climb to 30 per cent. during the next 10 years. He then made the point that it was therefore

We are talking about not just the recent events that have hit the headlines such as the Jo Moore affair, important though they are, but the whole trend by which the civil service is changing. Some of those changes are no doubt for the better.

The case of David Kelly was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester. He pointed out that if Dr. Kelly had been able to use a statutory appeal procedure circumstances might have been different. The case of Judy Weleminsky has also been mentioned. I shall not go into detail about that as it is a matter of privilege, but a serious allegation has been made against the Lord Chancellor.

Concerns are being expressed not only by politicians and the FDA; Sir Nigel Wicks, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, has reflected widely voiced concerns about what has been going on at Downing street. The hon. Member for North Cornwall quoted Sir Nigel extensively and the Phillis report has been referred to by many hon. Members.

Many years ago, the Government made promises that they have repeated over time but, so far, nothing has happened. This debate is about trading words for delivery. It is about putting the Act in place; let us have some action. It is about helping the Labour party to stick to its manifesto commitments. Both sides of the House agree that we want the Bill—and we want it now.

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3.46 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas): It is a pleasure to reply to this interesting and well-informed debate, which was opened by the return from the after-dinner speaking circuit of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who gave us an entertaining and informed speech.

Before I deal with the specific points made by hon. Members, I reiterate that the Government accept in principle the case for legislation. As the House has heard this afternoon, we are committed to bringing forward a draft Bill for consultation in this parliamentary Session.

Mr. Tyler: Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the ninth report of the Wicks Committee records that Sir Richard Wilson told the Public Administration Committee, in November 2001, that consultation on a civil service Act would start in the new year—that is, in 2002? Two months later, on 26 February 2002, the Cabinet Office again promised that consultation on a civil service Act would start shortly. Why should we attach more credibility to the promises given this afternoon than to those that were given then?

Mr. Woolas: Because, with due respect to the hon. Gentleman, I hope that he will recognise that a statement from a Minister at the Dispatch Box carries the weight of the Government. The comments to which he referred were the views—proper views—of the civil service. The Government welcomed the work of the Public Administration Committee both when we were informed that it was starting and on several occasions since the report was published. It is mischievous of the hon. Gentleman to question our intentions, although I understand the points that he made and will come back to some of them later.

I record the Government's thanks for the extremely constructive contributions that we have received from several quarters, including the Committee on Standards in Public Life, under Sir Nigel Wicks, and the Public Administration Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright). I emphasise that we welcomed that work while it was taking place and on the production of the reports. I am grateful to all Members who took part in the debate today for their input, which will inform our deliberations on the draft Bill.

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