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Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I understand that that was cleared by MoD officials. But there is obviously great sensitivity about special advisers. I, indeed, employed a special adviser who himself subsequently moved to a lobbying company. Special arrangements were made and the move was carefully considered before he went. That needs to be done. But I trust that it was considered centrally as well. Was it done through the Cabinet Office and the Cabinet Secretary, or was it, as I understand, done through the committee that approves appointments of people moving from the Civil Service into the private sector?
Clearly, there needs to be a common approach, because otherwise, exactly the point made by my noble friend is valid. There will be suspicion and concern that the gentleman concerned will have knowledge that in
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reasonable approach. Of course he is right that these things should be done properly. Our case is that in this case they were done absolutely properly.
If I may, I shall take a little time to explain what happened. When Mr Hood received an offer of employment from Brunswick, he followed the established business appointment procedures and provided the MoD with full details of his proposed future employment. MoD officials consulted Cabinet Office officials on the procedures that should apply in handling his application. The Cabinet Office advised that, in accordance with the Civil Service management code, it needed to be consulted only if the MoD judged that Mr Hood had had official dealings with his prospective employer at any time during his period of Crown service and there appeared to be a risk of criticism. MoD officials were satisfied on those grounds that the application did not need to be referred to the Cabinet Office. The decision on Mr Hood's application was therefore taken by MoD officials with the approval of the Permanent Secretary.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, as I served for eight years on the committee on appointments of retired public servantsthe committee referred to by my noble friend Lord Kingand we prescribed periods of quarantine for a number of distinguished persons who were leaving public service, may I ask whether this case has been referred to that committee or an equivalent body?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not know the answer to the noble Lord's question, but of course I shall find out and let him know. Had Mr Hood had close involvement with defence companies while he was in the MoD and had his position at Brunswick involved work with clients, which it does not, the management code might have imposed a condition. But, as I said, that did not apply in this case.
Lord Roper: My Lords, while accepting what the Minister said about this particular case, is there not concern that special advisers, because of their contacts with Ministers and their access to high-level policy decisions, ought perhaps to be treated in the same way as senior civil servants? Does the Minister accept that we have pressed for some time from these Benches for consultation and the preparation of a Civil Service Act, so that those matters can be clarified?
Lord Bach: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, the Government are certainly committed to Civil Service legislation. Indeed, I agree with what he says about the way in which both special advisers and senior civil servants should be treated.
Lord Saatchi: My Lords, I am so glad that the Minister has taken back that remark, because it was going to prevent me thanking the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House sincerely for allowing this Private Notice Question.
Is the Minister aware that at the end of an excellent debate in your Lordships' House on 1st May, his colleague, the Cabinet Office Minister, gave many noble Lords the impression that the Government had lost their appetite for a Civil Service Act? I think that that was partly because the debate coincided with the publication of an interview with the Cabinet Secretary in which he expressed in print his view that there was no need for such an Act as we have managed perfectly well without one for hundreds of years.
I again ask the Minister, on the lines of the question asked by my noble friend Lord Roper, to confirm that the Government intend to introduce a Civil Service Bill in this Parliament to deal with matters such as this. Will he tell us what is the status of the consultation on that Bill and what is the timetable for its introduction?
Lord Bach: My Lords, to some extent, I repeat, the Government are committed to legislation for the Civil Service and plan to consult fully in advance of its introduction. It is important, as the noble Lord made clear in his question, but no government would commit themselves firmly to a detailed timetable in respect of their future legislative programme. I do not think that the noble Lord expected any other answer.
Immediately beforethe day beforethe Bill entered the Grand Committee a large number of government amendments were tabled to itso many amendments and so late, indeed, that it was decided that the appropriate course of action was to cancel the first day in Committee upstairs. It is not unusual for a large number of government amendments to be tabled at short notice, but these amendments were not concerned with policy or tabled in response to points made in another place. They were what the Minister herself described as drafting or technical amendments. It would be far more appropriate to describe them as restructuring amendments because, as the Minister herself pointed out, there are fundamental inconsistenciesindeed, she used the word "contradictions"between the earlier and later parts of the Bill. It is fundamentally flawed.
Rarely in almost 40 years in both Houses have I seen such a badly drafted Billin fact I probably never have. But this Bill does not come before us at its first stage. It has already passed through all its stages in another place. It was considered under a heavy so-called Programme Motion, which caused the time available for debate to be very limited. Indeed, Part 2 was not considered at all in another place. Clearly, the Opposition in another place were under considerable time restraints, but the legislation also passed through all of its stages in another place without the Minister responsible for the Bill realising that it contained such fundamental flaws.
Consequently, it seemed appropriate to us when the Committee finally met to ask the noble Baroness to inquire into the position. As always, she was extremely courteous and apologised on behalf of the Government. Naturally, we accepted her apology. But that does not cover the question of accountability. Apologies do not make the Government accountable. The crucial questions are: what went wrong in this case and what should be done about it? The relevant rules were examined in great detail by the Treasury Select Committee and the Liaison Committee in another place in 1985-86. They considered the precedents, including, in particular, the Crichel Down casea famous case that, I regret to say, is referred to in the Hansard report of the Grand Committee as the "trickledown" case.
The position that emerged after the Westland affair and all that controversy was clear. Ministers are accountable to Parliament, and, if something has gone wrong in a department, the right course of action for the Minister is to inquire into the matter and report back to the House on what has gone wrong. It is not at all clear what went wrong here. Did the draftsman simply have a mental breakdown? Was he replaced by another draftsman, who realised what a horrible mess had been made of drafting the Bill? Was it that
Earl Russell: My Lords, I think that I am entitled to say a few wordsnot manyon the background to the issue. As the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said, a number of government amendments were tabled very late indeed. That was unfortunate. It is part of a tendency, which has been growing for a good many centuries, to regard Parliament as a rubber stamp for laws made by Ministers.
None of us regards the Minister as being in the least degree responsible for the error. She is accountable for it. She discharged that accountability with distinction. First, she owed us an apology, and she gave us a wholehearted and genuine one that I welcomed and accepted. She owed us her best efforts to help us understand what the amendments meant: she gave us that, even to the extent of providing us, well in advance, with her speaking notes. I, for one, found those notes extremely helpful in understanding the meaning of the amendments before I had to reach a decision on them. Finally, she had to persuade us that the amendments were clear, sensible, meaningful and useful to the Bill: she succeeded in that, too.
In those circumstances, the Minister discharged her accountability to the House with distinction. Any Opposition is, of course, entitled to a pound of flesh when such a mistake is made. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, had his pound of flesh in Committee, but, as proceedings in Grand Committee are nearly in secret session, he was entitled to let the House know what had happened. He has done so, and he was right to do so. However, I cannot agree that he should ask that any further blame fall on the Minister.
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