Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not comment on speculation of that kind. The fact is that public intervention in fares consists of regulated fares. Around 44 per cent of all fares are regulated, and by law regulated fares are available on all routes. Such fares are extremely helpful where there is captive

29 Apr 2003 : Column 574

demand, such as for commuter journeys. Regulated fares apply in particular to weekly season tickets. So we do take action on the issue referred to by my noble friend Lord Berkeley.

Government Information and Communication Service

2.57 p.m.

Lord McNally asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What changes will be introduced in the management of the Government Information and Communication Service following the recommendations made in the ninth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (Cm 5775).

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, the Government will give careful consideration to the report produced by the Committee on Standards in Public Life entitled Defining the Boundaries within the Executive, including the recommendations in respect of the Government Information and Communication Service, and will respond in due course.

Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister agree that that sounds very much like kicking the report into the long grass, as was the case with the preparations of the former Cabinet Secretary for a Civil Service Act? What has got into this Government when they receive a sober and constructive report from a well-respected public servant like Sir Nigel Wicks, yet they continue to prevaricate and stall on something which is blindingly obvious; that is, our public service needs to be underpinned by a Civil Service Act? As Sir Nigel Wicks warned so profoundly, the Government will either go to this by way of legislation or they will be dragged to it by scandal.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, the report from Sir Nigel Wicks was delivered to the Government only three weeks ago. It was one and a half years in the making. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, will be aware that when a Select Committee report is produced, a government reply would be expected within a couple of months. So far we have had three weeks. We shall give the report due consideration.

As regards the noble Lord's concern for the Government Information and Communication Service, he should be aware that, in response to the Select Committee on Public Administration, we have set up a review of government communications to be chaired by Bob Phillis. That review group is inviting evidence. If the noble Lord wishes to submit written evidence, I am sure that it will be happily received.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, my noble friend said that we may be getting a Civil Service Act, but the ninth report of the Wicks committee pointed out quite clearly that we should not undermine the impartiality

29 Apr 2003 : Column 575

of the Civil Service. This echoes the views of the Fulton committee, on which I was privileged to serve some 35 years ago, that there was this kind of danger and that it needed to be taken into account. The blurring of the line between the Civil Service and the Government is a matter of enormous concern. Thanks to Northcote-Trevelyan we have in the Civil Service an institution of outstanding value. Will my noble friend ensure that a Civil Service Act is introduced to deal with this immediate and pressing problem?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I agree with the sentiments expressed by my noble friend. The Government have made clear that they welcome the contribution made by the Wicks committee. Indeed, it is extremely important to us that we uphold the values of the Civil Service, particularly its impartiality. As to the concern for the Government Information and Communication Service expressed by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I stress that all recruitment to GICS is carried out on the basis of open competition. Appointments are made on merit and on the ability of the civil servants involved to serve any government impartially.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I strongly support what has been said to the Minister. He speaks as if these issues came to the Government's attention like a thunderbolt out of the blue three weeks ago. They have, of course, been tossed around for ever and Ministers must have known what was happening. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, and I belong to a time when there were a good deal fewer and humbler special advisers than there are today. Does the Minister agree that it is one thing for Ministers to have help from special advisers on the political side of their work and quite another to blur the distinction and to put special advisers in charge of civil servants—thus, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, clouding the line of the direct responsibility of civil servants to Ministers and Parliament?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, the House may recall the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, on this issue when he explained that his interpretation of the decisions of 1997 to give executive authority to three special advisers under a Civil Service order was a welcome clarification of the pragmatic system that had existed under previous governments. We have been quite open in our dealings on such issues. We have opened up, in a way that was not done before, the appointments system for special advisers. People now know how many there are and how much they cost. We have also opened up the lobby system so that if the Prime Minister's special advisers are involved with civil servants that fact is on the record wherever possible. Through the efforts we have made the Government have gone a long way towards ensuring that transparency becomes the ally of good government and offers continued protection for the Civil Service.

Lord McNally: My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, as Cabinet Secretary, was working on a

29 Apr 2003 : Column 576

Civil Service Act, the Minister came to the Dispatch Box and gave the same kind of dead-bat replies that the Government were considering and looking at the matter. What have they now done? They have appointed another committee to look at it. And yet, on the day that the Wicks committee reported, Downing Street immediately hit back by suggesting that it would be unrealistic for Mr Campbell to stop directing different parts of the government machine. That is exactly what the Wicks committee recommended he should stop doing, and the Government took minutes to reject it.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I do not recognise that interpretation of the Wicks committee report. I stress again that we received the report exactly three weeks ago after it was one and a half years in the making. The noble Lord will be aware that the Public Administration Select Committee has promised that it would evolve a basis for a way forward in legislation, which we have said we would welcome and consider. We await its report in the weeks and months ahead.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the Government may have received the report only three weeks ago but the section on the Government Information and Communication Service is only five and half pages long, in my copy anyway. The Minister made much of the fact that all was well with recruitment into the Government Information and Communication Service. Why then does he consider the committee felt it necessary to specify in recommendation 26 that,

    "An individual should only be recruited to a senior post in the GICS where the selection panel has a high degree of confidence that he or she will be a leader in upholding the impartiality of the GICS"?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, we believe that that situation exists at the moment and we will continue to support it. I made clear in my Answer that we will give due consideration to the recommendations—34 in total—of the Wicks committee. On other issues we await the report of a Select Committee which has promised to delve in even greater detail into the issues raised in May last year in the debate to which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred.

Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market: My Lords, I was a member of the Wicks committee and we received a great deal of evidence which showed much greater disquiet about special advisers, the GICS and many other aspects of government than the Minister seems to suggest today. Will he keep an open mind when looking at the recommendations, which I believe offer great protection for government?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I hope that there has been no misinterpretation of my views on this issue in the answers that I have given. We sincerely welcome the contribution made by the Wicks committee. My fellow Ministers and I appeared before it. In the weeks that we have available to us we shall give the report the due consideration I have promised. As I said, we will take it into account, along with the

29 Apr 2003 : Column 577

other ongoing studies and considerations, when trying to answer the other questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNally.

Schools Funding

3.7 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why so many schools find it impossible to fund current staffing levels next year in spite of promised increases in government funding.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the Government have increased funding for schools this year by £2.6 billion—£250 million greater than cost pressures. The Government have cushioned the introduction of new funding arrangements by ensuring that every authority receives a minimum increase of 2.3 per cent per pupil in addition to provision for increased pension contributions and grant changes. However, while central government provides most of the funding, it is for local education authorities to decide education budgets and to allocate funding for schools.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page