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30 Oct 2008 : Column 346WH—continued

I can perhaps see why the Committee was tempted to recommend a new governance code in order to be explicit about the legitimate expectations and duties of
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both parties, rather like Einstein searching for a unifying theory. The Home Office compact was a good idea. It has worked, and people tell me that it has worked well. I said that I do not think that the case has necessarily been made for a unifying code, but I do not think that there is anything wrong with Departments supplementing existing codes as the Home Office did. If we can build a body of evidence to show that that has helped to create efficiency, that might be something we should consider in future.

Mr. Tyrie: I have the compact in front of me, and I have read it reasonably carefully. It has a lot of the flavour of motherhood and apple pie about it, to be frank. I shall not read out any bits to demonstrate that, but I think that if the Minister takes a look, he will agree. But what happens when it is broken? What mechanisms are laid down for remedy in the event of non-performance of the compact?

Mr. Watson: The two guiding codes that we already have—the ministerial code and the civil service code—have served us well. They are the codes that have underpinned any compact agreed by Departments. The hon. Gentleman might see it as motherhood and apple pie, but I understand that the civil servants and politicians who struck the compact find it useful in their work. To have a central code to which every Department must adhere might undermine people’s ability to reach such agreements. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase said, Ministers conduct their portfolios in very different ways. Some are delivery Ministers and some like policy. The hon. Member for Chichester will know that from his experience in previous Administrations.

The ministerial code is a guide to the principles and practices expected of Ministers. It has been strengthened and is now clearly principles-based, so that Ministers and others can be clear about the standards of behaviour expected. In publishing the ministerial code in July last year, the Prime Minister confirmed that

Setting out that responsibility and duty, the ministerial code states:

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) made the point that power can be delegated easily, but responsibility cannot.

The ministerial code is absolutely clear that

and that

The civil service code explains:

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Civil servants are expected to carry out their role

Doing so will help the civil service to

Many Members have discussed the role of special advisers. I do not have time to dwell on the subject, but the code for special advisers says that

I outlined the new compact from November 2007, which I hope will allay some of the fears of the hon. Member for Chichester. The three codes are related and cross-refer. I do not feel, therefore, that we need a unifying code, but the Committee should keep pressing its case on the role of compacts and how they could improve the way that good governance is achieved.

The latest civil service code, issued in June 2006, provides for the civil service commissioners to hear a complaint under the code directly from a civil servant. That is a new departure, and I hope that the Committee feels it is a response to its pressures about good governance.

It would also be wrong to consider the appointment of civil servants only. Public bodies and the people appointed to them, many of whom are unpaid, also work in the pursuit of better public services. Following a recommendation in the first report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the post of Commissioner for Public Appointments was created to ensure that public appointments are made on merit.

Time does not allow me to go into that further, but I think that the Committee would want me to say that we have moved a long way when it comes to public appointments. I am consulting with other Departments about how we can extend to other public bodies the measures that we have introduced in recent years. I have also asked my officials to consider how we might make information about the commissioner’s remit, public bodies and public appointments generally more accessible in the digital age.

The Select Committee has played an enormous role in bringing about the new legislation. If my memory serves me well, not all three parties were signed up to it in 1997; I cannot remember whether it was a manifesto commitment of any of the three parties to have a civil service code. The hon. Member for Chichester could probably wear the crown for saying that he has pushed it for some time. We have already introduced some of the measures in the draft legislation: we have a new civil service code, we make an annual report to Parliament on special adviser numbers and cost and we consult with the main Opposition party leaders on the appointment of the First Civil Service Commissioner and the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

The sitting having continued for three hours, it was adjourned without Question put.

Adjourned at half-past Five o’clock.

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