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Lord Renton: My Lords, although Lord Williams of Mostyn was 33 years younger than me and had been in Parliament 47 years fewer, he always made me feel younger. He was a good listener and respected different opinions, but he was candid in his reply to them. I have known many Leaders of both Houses and Lord Chancellors, but Gareth will always remain in my mind as being a man and parliamentarian of outstanding and lovable qualities.
Lord Carter: My Lords, I should like to say a few words about the skill and the charm of Gareth Williams outside the Chamber. We are all familiar with his skill in the Chamber. I had the privilege of working with him for five years in opposition; indeed, I believe that his first appointment on the Front Bench in opposition was to succeed me as the health spokesman. As Chief Whip, I worked with him as a Minister for four years and Leader for just over a year. He was a marvellous colleague and superb comrade in arms.
I shall also remember Gareth's work outside the Chamber. On a number of occasions when he was a Ministerbut more particularly when he was LeaderI would go to him as Chief Whip and say, "Gareth, we have a problem". The opposition parties or Back-Benchers would be called in to discuss the problem and subjected to that particular blend of Welsh wit and charm. The problem would somehow disappear, and the opposition would leave, feeling slightly puzzled about the exact whereabouts of the victory that they had confidently expected, and I would be a much relieved Chief Whip.
Gareth was a true radical. It is indeed a sad irony that we shall have to debate without the benefit of his wit and wisdom the reforms to the relationship between the judiciary and executive, which he had long championed.
What I shall remember about Gareth is his sense of fun. One could not be in any meeting with him for any length of time before laughter would break in. He was a lovely man and I shall miss him very much indeed.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Government's response to the ninth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, published on 11th September, sets out a range of proposals that will both uphold the impartiality of the Civil Service and strengthen its capacity to deliver. Those include a commitment to publish a draft Civil Service Bill for consultation.
Lord Sheldon: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but will he comment on the Wicks committee's concern about certain special advisers who hold meetings with civil servants to discuss the advice that they intend to put to Ministers? That points to the risk that Ministers will not receive objective, independent and impartial advice from the Civil Service. Does my noble friend have misgivings about Ministers having the selection decision in the recruitment of civil servants which, as the Wicks committee says, can lead to the politicisation of the Civil Service? Will the Civil Service Bill deal with those issues, and when will it be published?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord touched on a number of points which I shall try to deal with in turn. In our view it is perfectly proper for special advisers to meet with officials to discuss advice being prepared for Ministers. The amendment to the code of conduct makes that absolutely clear. It states:
We do not think that Wicks is justified in making the comment to which the noble Lord referred as the Government state clearly that they plan to consult the commissioners on whether distinctions over appointments and employment continue to be justified. We are at a stage of consultation, not implementation. It is important to take careful account of what the Civil Service commissioners have to say. The views of your Lordships' House will also be taken into account. As to the publication of a Civil Service Bill, we are committed to listening and there will be a period of consultation. It is expected that that will take some time. The committee in another place will give the matter careful consideration. We await the publication of the draft Bill. It is right that we take time to consult on a measure that is so critical in terms of guaranteeing impartiality and that we take our time in preparing and considering a draft Bill for consultation.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we have obviously taken careful account of what has been said about special advisers. The Wicks report was important in that regard. Of course we shall take those matters into account and I have no doubt that when we consult on the contents of a draft Bill that is one of the issues which will be covered. It is right that we provide consultation so that a wide range of views can be heard.
Lord McNally: My Lords, is it not a fact that successive administrations have lost public confidence in their handling of the Civil Service through the insistence on civil servants towing a party line and demanding that civil servants be "one of us"? As regards the plethora of advice and recommendations from various committees, rather than the Government making decisions would it not be better to ask a Royal Commission to bring together the various pieces of advice so that we can establish a Civil Service for the 21st century that retains the best traditions of impartiality and merit that have been the hallmark of the Civil Service for more than 130 years?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Government respect the impartiality and integrity of advice given to them by civil servants. It is worth putting on record that we have taken measures to ensure that the advice given either by special advisers or by civil servants is proper and transparent in the way in which it is set out. It is also worth saying that this Government were the first to introduce a model contract covering employment terms and a code of conduct for special advisers. Our record is strong on transparency and clarity in this area. We are doing all that we possibly can to ensure that the integrity and impartiality with which our Civil Service is rightly creditedit has great merit in that regardare respected in future.
Lord Saatchi: My Lords, did it help the impartiality of the Civil Service when No. 10 Downing Street wrote to the head of the intelligence committee asking him to investigate the phone records of civil servants in the Cabinet Office?
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, speaking as a member of the Wicks committee, is the noble Lord aware that a matter of particular concern was the Government's response to our original report in which the Government said that special advisers should have power to pass on Ministers' instructions to civil servants? Are there not already well established routes for passing on Ministers' instructions through civil
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we do not see the matter that way. It is clear that special advisers have an important role to fulfil in conveying the views of Ministers and in giving a steer. One would expect that to be the case. However, I think that falls far short of what the noble Lord suggested; namely, that that somehow acts as an instruction or an executive instruction. It helps the political process and the process of ensuring that the advice is available in the right place at the right time if special advisers can ensure that civil servants understand the politics of any given situation. Looking back at my experience, it seems to me entirely sensiblecivil servants welcomed that factfor special advisers to help civil servants understand the politics of a tricky and sometimes awkward situation in which they might find themselves.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): Yes, my Lords, the Government are currently reviewing inspection arrangements in the criminal justice system.
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