|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Saatchi: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House agree that this would be a particularly good time for the Government to demonstrate their credentials for openness and transparency in their dealings with civil servants? Why does he think that the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life would describe the Government's response to his committee's recent report as a,
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, all of that sounds marvellous, but why is the Prime Minister still insisting on using Orders in Council to give political appointees the power to direct civil servants?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord said, "All of that sounds marvellous"; I am sure that it sounded equally marvellous when he was a distinguished member of the late Cabinet. Openness in public life is, in itself, a virtue. It also contributes to the accountability of government.
All the steps that I have put forward ought to meet with the unanimous approval of the House. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, has pressed us on this for a long time, as has my noble friend Lord Sheldon, and we are now delivering. Just occasionally, a spirit of calm objectivity in receiving the proposals might be welcome, if surprising.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I welcome the cordiality: I do not think that I invited lovethe noble Baroness seems to be making an inadvertent gesture, and I am sure that the television cameras will have focused on it. If they have not, I recommend that they do and that it be replayed on many appropriate prominent occasions.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Sheldon is absent on parliamentary business in Frankfurt, but I am sure that, if he were here, he would be as delighted as I am with the replies that my noble and learned friend gave. For the first time, I am able to compliment my noble and learned friend completely, and I do not see how anybody could disagree with what the Government propose. Even the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, must accept that it was a thoroughly objective statement, as my noble friend Lord Sheldon would agree.
The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord help me with a point of detail? In the new arrangements, what will be done with the Strategic Communications Unit? Who will end up running it?
Lord McNally: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, and I pursued the matter because we thought that the previous arrangement was flawed. We accept what the noble and learned Lord the Lord President of the Council has said today as a recognition that the previous arrangements were flawed.
There is, however, still some clearing-up to do. In a Written Answer to be published today to my Question about whether Mr Alastair Campbell's views on the BBC's coverage of the Iraq war was government policy, the noble and learned Lord said:
Lord Williams of Mostyn: No, my Lords. I repeat: the BBC was responsible, in the view of the Government, for some of the best journalism during the conflict in Iraq. We ought not to forget, when there are criticisms of journalistsprint, television or soundthat journalists discharge an extremely important public duty and public service, often at serious damage to their own life, as we know.
On the other hand, as is well documented, the Government were critical of some aspects of the BBC's coverage, as, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, used to be critical, on occasion, of some aspects of the BBC's coverage when his party was in power. I hope that we never have a situation in this country in which there is a perfect identity of interest between government and the free press.
Lord Saatchi: My Lords, did I hear the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House say that nobody with a spark of objectivity could disagree with the Government's approach? The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life disagrees with the Government's approach. Is the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House saying that Sir Nigel Wicks does not have a spark of objectivity? If so, what is the point of his committee?
Lord Wilson of Dinton: My Lords, I welcome the Government's continued commitment to a Bill on the Civil Service, but I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord agrees that, if a competition is held to fill a post on the basis of merit, the role of the Minister is either to accept the person who wins the competition or to run the competition again.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am personally grateful to have that question from the noble Lord. When I was a baby Minister at the Home Office, he was my first permanent secretary. His teaching, instructions and stratagems have guided me since.
It will be chaired by the First Civil Service Commissioner; that is as it should be. The process will start in the autumn. The noble Lord is right: when the recommendation is made, the appointment will be made by the Prime Minister, with the agreement of the relevant Minister, on the recommendation of the head of the Home Civil Service. Those are significant advances on what we have, and we should welcome them in a spirit of objectivity and generosity, as the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, said.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, with the leave of House, my noble friend Lady Amos will, later this afternoonthe suggested time is after we have completed consideration of Commons amendments to the Local Government Billrepeat a Statement on the World Trade Organisation ministerial conference.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|