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As the hon. Gentleman said, the amendment does not represent the separation of the civil services which some in his party seek. It is simply a measure of further devolution politically-not by further devolving the power itself, but by removing a power from the UK Prime Minister. It seems a perfectly sensible suggestion
to transfer power over senior appointments in Scotland from a politician-the UK Prime Minister-to the head of the home civil service for the United Kingdom, the Cabinet Secretary.
Some people might think that that is a purely symbolic gesture, but it would provide some protection for the process of appointment to the civil service in Scotland, which does not exist now. Given the history of prime ministerial interference in senior civil service appointments that we suspect has been going on at United Kingdom level-at least under a previous Prime Minister-that seems an entirely sensible thing to do. It raises the question why the Bill retains the power of the Prime Minister, as Minister for the Civil Service, to interfere with senior appointments at United Kingdom level-an issue that seems to have disappeared from the Bill, in comparison with previous drafts. Perhaps that is the reason why the Government are nervous about the amendment.
I come back to the point about devolution. It seems perfectly reasonable to have a different system even on that question in Scotland, compared with the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not think that threatens the unity of the civil service, and it provides a sensible way forward. Speaking as an outsider, I think that the Calman commission provides a sensible way forward for further devolution to Scotland, so I approve of the amendment and would vote for it if the Committee were to divide on it.
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): I have the highest regard for the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). His humility goes before him. I admire his talents-his musical talents more than his political talents. As he knows, I represent a midlands seat in England, but when I look from afar at the amendment, I begin to think that he is selling out. He might be selling Scotland down the river with the amendment. The trappings of office are getting to the Scottish National party. The amendment is a pathetic piece of symbolism. If he really stood up for Scotland-
Mr. Watson: Hey, I am on the Back Benches. It might be my party policy but I can say what I want now. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire is selling Scotland down the river with that amendment. It is a pathetic piece of symbolism to score points in a by-election. He has spoken eloquently, but the amendment would not fundamentally change the relationship between London and Edinburgh, and he knows it. I want to stand up for the people of Scotland and the voters in Glasgow, North-East, so I shall oppose the amendment if he presses it to a vote.
Angela E. Smith: First, I welcome the conversion of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) to the Calman commission. That will receive widespread support from Labour Members-even though there was no great support for the commission from the Scottish National party, which would not even take part in it. I listened to the hon. Gentleman carefully when he said that he was being helpful, and I wish that I could believe him.
The provision in the hon. Gentleman's amendment was one of the recommendations in the Calman commission's report on Scottish devolution, and the Government said publicly that we were carefully considering our response to the report in the round, and that we would produce our response by the end of the year. The proposals from the Calman commission, which the SNP did not take part in, were wide-ranging and significant, and there is widespread agreement, including from Kenneth Calman himself. The proposals are being treated with due attention, and considerations are not just cherry-picked one after another. They have to be looked at in the round, and all issues must be considered.
It was argued that there is almost no autonomy for Scottish Ministers, but it must be said that they, quite rightly, have a large degree of autonomy in their day-to-day management of the devolved Administration in Scotland. However, the hon. Gentleman also stated that he would withdraw his amendment if I guaranteed that legislation would be introduced in the next few weeks. If any Calman commission recommendations were taken forward, they would be achievable under the provisions of the Bill as it stands, and no legislative change would be necessary. It is important that the Government consider the Calman report in the round, rather than looking at one or two items and cherry-picking them.
Mrs. Laing: I have a genuine question about practicality. If the amendment were agreed to, would it pass power from London to Edinburgh, or would it pass power only from one London office to another London office? That is a genuine question.
Angela E. Smith: I shall wait for inspiration-but there does not seem to be any great transfer of power in the amendment at all. The right way to address the concerns is to have a proper response to the Calman commission in the round. If the amendment is pushed to a vote and Members vote against it, they will not be voting against Calman; they will be voting for a proper considered response to the whole report.
David Howarth: I should remind the Minister that we are in Committee, so we are allowed speak again in the same debate. She did not explain precisely how the ends that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) desires in moving the amendment can be achieved through the Bill as it stands. I would be very grateful if she were to put on the record exactly how they could be, because I can see no such power. However, she seems to be claiming that it exists.
Angela E. Smith: There are two points. First, the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) is quite right: there would be no transfer of power to Scotland; the power would remain with the Prime Minister. Secondly, I can assure the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) that the legislative power exists; no legislative change would be necessary for the provisions of the amendment to be introduced.
I have very much enjoyed this particularly illuminating debate. So that we understand the discussion, I should say that the amendment would take the power to appoint senior civil servants in Scotland out of the hands of the Prime Minister and put it into those of the head of the home civil service. It is a very modest
measure. It is not pathetic, as the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) says, because it would be unfair to describe the Labour party's position as pathetic, and I am not prepared to do that.
Mr. Watson: The hon. Gentleman is turning into a real London luvvie, defending this amendment, which would hand no power to Scotland. He should be ashamed of himself, and apologise to his constituents and to his party.
The amendment is a modest measure, and I tabled it to try to be helpful. It is about being constructive and making gentle progress towards securing what we believe is a greater ambition for Scotland. I thought that by discussing the agreed position of the Labour party, the Conservative party and the Liberal party, we could start to move the traffic in the right direction.
The Minister went on about some nonsense to do with our commitment to Calman. May I say to her-she is not listening, but I will say it anyway-that where there is agreement on Calman, for goodness' sake let us act on it? There are several parts of Calman that we have absolutely no problem whatsoever about implementing, such as its recommendations on the devolution of firearms legislation and on drink-driving. If the Unionist parties-the London-based parties-think that it is a good idea and we think that it is a good idea, let us do it; there should be no problem with that. But for some reason, Calman has been presented as an all-or-nothing package, so we cannot do the good things and leave aside some of the nuttier suggestions that he mucked about with at the edges. Where it is useful, where it is constructive, and where it takes things forward, let us get on and deal with it.
The Minister's response has not been satisfactory, and that is disappointing and unfortunate. We are now going to see the ridiculous spectacle of Labour Members walking through the Lobby voting against their own position and their own proposals. I am very much looking forward to witnessing that.
Mrs. Laing: I have a lot of sympathy for what the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said, as I often do when we take part in the same debates. He has highlighted an important issue. However, as the Minister says, the whole Calman report has to be looked at as one entity, and it would be wrong to press a small part of its recommendations in the Bill. Having said that, I, like the hon. Gentleman, look forward to the Government's responding to Calman soon, so that we can get on with these matters, because we believe in power resting in Edinburgh where it should do so.
Mr. Heath: I want to ask the Minister a simple question that relates to an obvious omission from this part of the Bill. In the 2004 draft Civil Service Bill, there was an explicit statement in clause 4(4) that
"Nothing in this section confers...power to recruit, appoint, discipline or dismiss civil servants, or...any other power for the day to day management of civil servants."
"Giving Ministers the general power to appoint and dismiss civil servants does not seem in keeping with the Government's commitment to a civil service recruited on merit and able to serve administrations of different political persuasions."
"While Ministers can legitimately be consulted about particular moves within the civil service, Ministers should not be involved in appointment or dismissal of individual civil servants without the express approval of the Prime Minister. We invite the Lord Chancellor to follow up on his offer to look again at the drafting...to reflect this."
I do not agree with the Joint Committee, because I do not think that the Prime Minister should be able to give explicit approval either. I want clear protection for civil servants from this extraordinary power that Ministers have.
The Minister may reply to my points by saying that the clauses on recruitment mean that Ministers cannot intervene except within the very narrow tramlines of the recruitment process that is set out, but I do not think that that is sufficient and I would like an explicit exclusion.
If Members want a rationale for such an exclusion, we have been provided with one in the past few days, with the sacking of an independent scientific adviser. Although he was not a civil servant, the incident raises exactly the sort of issues that are relevant to this debate. Indeed, my colleagues tabled new clause 42, which addressed the point. It had the great advantage of topicality, but the great disadvantage of not being timely. Because the circumstances arose over the weekend, it could be tabled only yesterday and therefore could not be selected for today's debate. I shall not speak in detail about it, therefore, but it would have given protection to independent scientific advisers to do their job as independent scientists.
However, I shall press the question with the Minister about why Ministers will not be expressly forbidden to hire and fire civil servants. That should be a basic principle that is enshrined in the Bill. Otherwise, there is the possibility of abuse and people being removed for political purposes. If we are to give proper protection to civil servants, we can do it only through a provision of the kind proposed.
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