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Lord Marlesford: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. Does he not agree that there must be occasions when someone comes in as a special adviser and is then moved to an executive position. The obvious example that I can think of is Derek Rayner. He came in as a special adviser, designed and set up the Procurement Executive and became the head of it. Had he not come in
Lord Sheldon: My Lords, clearly two separate tasks were being undertaken by that person. One was his role as a special adviser and the other was the subsequent appointment to which the person might go. One understands the division of responsibility, with particular requirements being accorded to deal with each role in turn.
We have now reached the stage where the problem of special advisers needs urgently to be addressed. The notion of what is now called "spin" and what used to be known as the milder version of presentation has always been part of government. Putting a good gloss on policy has always been part of any administration. However, more recently we have seen some special advisers according to this practice a level of priority which has been in danger of moving from presentation, to spin, and even to distortion. What we have also seen is the departure of a number of information officers. That was really quite shameful. Those people undertook to present, pretty uncontroversially, the tasks in which they were engaged. They have left the service in considerable numbers, which is a serious signal. In the language of our time, they gave out information, rarely with spin although frequently with a touch of gloss. We need to reaffirm the standards of the service before they deteriorate further. If we forget the advantages that we have enjoyed of the ethos of the Civil Service, there is a danger that we shall come to regret it.
We have had the example of the United States President, Richard Nixon. The way in which the standards of that Administration were distorted right up to his departure from office is a lesson in what can happen in even such a committed democracy as the United States. We have only to examine the situation in the Washington of that time to appreciate the advantages that we have been able to enjoy.
Ever since the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms, from time to time anxious voices have been raised about the changing role of government and the Civil Service. This is another of those occasions. The Bill before us offers another opportunity to deal with those anxieties.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, it is a particular privilege and pleasure for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon. He has very long experience of government and as a Member of the other place. He also chaired with distinction a number of important committees there, making his authority felt throughout the Civil Service. I join him in offering congratulations to
To shorten matters, I should say that I agree fully with what the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, has said, in particular with his remarks about Part 2. It will save time and enable noble Lords to listen sooner to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, if I simply make that comment and do not attempt to repeat the noble Lord.
However, I have some difficulties with Parts 1 and 3. As I understand it, government are the executive given powers to carry out executive acts and make decisions. Parliament is primarily a body for legislation rather than for taking executive action. It has a duty, particularly the House of Commons, to look at what is done by the executive, and this House from the point of view of examination. It also has the duty to hold the executive to account. It does so by requiring that the executive of government needs to have the confidence of the House of Commons in order to carry out its executive actions. Therefore the correct way to consider these matters is that, generally speaking, the executive should perform executive acts such as taking decisions on appointments and the like, and the executive is then accountable to Parliament for what it has done. It is also responsible for trying to hold the majority of the House of Commons in its confidence. In my view, this arrangement has underlain the whole idea of government for a very considerable time in this country.
The proposals set out in Part 1 seek to introduce procedures restricting the right of executive government to exercise prerogative functions which hitherto it has exercised under the kind of controls that I have just described. It is not at all clear that these proposals would improve on the present position. If a treaty requires a change in the law before it can be put into effect in this country, Parliament needs to be involved in that process. Of course, that often happens. So it is not clear that the executive should require the prior authority of Parliament before it enters into or ratifies a treaty. That has been the position for some time. I see the force of the arguments both ways but, ultimately, entering into a treaty is an executive act which a government should be able to undertake.
The same is true in regard to the waging of war. The decision to wage war is, I think, the most important decision a Prime Minister has to take. There is a danger in trying to dilute the responsibility for that decision by seeking to put it to Parliament. Whatever Parliament's view is, the ultimate responsibility for taking that decision must rest with the Prime Minister.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, certainly. I agree that the Prime Minister would wish to take with him the opinion of Parliament. However, the point I am trying to emphasise is that, even if a majority of the House of Commons gives its agreement to go to war, the ultimate responsibility must rest with the Prime Minister. It cannot be shared with Parliament in that sense. The fact that the Prime Minister has the approval of Parliament to go ahead may be a considerable encouragement or source of support, but the ultimate responsibility is his and should remain so. That, of course, goes for both male and female Prime Ministers.
Part 3 is concerned primarily with executive actions in making appointments. I consider that laying down the procedures under which these appointments are made may be important, but I do not think it right for Parliament to have, as it were, a power of selection in the area of even these appointments. The area of selection so far as Parliament is concerned should be the selection of the executive government which enjoys its confidence.
As to Part 2the central part of the BillI think that the changes that have taken place in recent years in regard to the appointment of special advisers and the width of functions they have been able to undertake, have at least contributed to the present feeling about government not being entirely divorced from party. There is a feeling that even in government sometimes it is the interests of the party rather than the interests of the nation that are being taken into account. Insofar as that feeling has prevailed in the nation, I think that these developments have certainly contributed to it.
I personally did not have a special adviser. Maybe that was lack of humility on my partI do not knowbut I certainly felt that in the office which I held it was not appropriate. My noble and learned successor, who is in his place opposite, decided to have a special adviser in the form of a very senior member of the solicitors' branch of the legal profession. Considering the responsibilities that he had, I can well see why he thought that was necessary. I do not believe that anything of that sort has contributed to the feeling that I have described.
Baroness Prashar: My Lords, it is a rare privilege to follow three such distinguished speakers. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, on introducing this important Private Member's Bill.
Having waited for nearly 150 years, we now have a prospect of three Billsthis one, the one introduced by the Public Administration Select Committee in the other place and the Government, too, have promised
I should declare that I am the First Civil Service Commissioner. I am, however, appointed on a part-time and fixed-term basis and would have nothing to gain personally from a Bill that proposes the establishment of a Civil Service Commission with greater powers than those we currently have. The same applies to my 12 fellow commissioners. We all view our tenure as a privilege and an opportunity to act as stewards of an effective and impartial Civil Service in the public interest.
I shall confine my remarks only to those parts of the Bill which relate to the Civil Service. I strongly support the Bill insofar as it seeks to entrench in statute the key values of the Civil Service and the role of Civil Service commissioners; and to clarify the respective roles of Ministers, special or political advisers and civil servants.
I should add that I am not a recent convert to this view. My conviction that we need a Civil Service Act is based on my experience both as the First Civil Service Commissioner for the past four years and also as a part-time Civil Service commissioner during the period 1991 to 1996.
Why do I think legislation is necessary? The Civil Service is changing fast. The structural changes of the 1980s and 1990s have given way to an ambitious reform agenda which has accelerated in recent years. In a widely reported speech last week the Prime Minister set out seven key ideas for the transformation of the Civil Service. These included: a Civil Service with professional and specialist skills; a Civil Service open to the public, private and voluntary sectors and encouraging interchange among them; more rapid promotion within the Civil Service and an end to tenure for senior posts; and a Civil Service equipped to lead, with proven leadership in management and project delivery.
This is a real concern. The Civil Service has, quite rightly, embarked on a programme of reform in response to changing demands, but at a time of rapid change there is a need more than ever to ensure that the core values of the Civil Service are not eroded. As departments recruit more people from outside to senior positions, it is essential not only to make sure that the Civil Service benefits from their skills, experience and different ways of doing things, but also that they understand the core values which underpin
Civil servants exercise discretionary power in their everyday work in several ways: in their stewardship of public resources; at the interface with the general public; and in the context of their policy-making responsibilities. Core values such as integrity, honesty, impartiality, objectivity and appointment on merit are one of the most important checks and balances against arbitrary use of their public power. They are a vital factor in creating and maintaining confidence in government and its institutions.
So the answer to the question posed by the Prime Minister is that we need legislation to sustain these core values and an active effort to promote and revitalise them. These values are too important to be taken for granted. It is no longer appropriate that such matters are regulated by Orders in Council, which can be changed at the whim of any government. We need a Civil Service Act which will provide parliamentary protection and oversight. The importance of introducing a Civil Service Bill at a time of rapid change should be a legislative priority because nothing is more important in the world of politics than the rules of the game and the rights of citizens.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said, this is not a novel proposalcalls for a Civil Service Act have been made since 1860. Those opposed to legislation have argued that such a Bill would be difficult to draft. As we have heard, Dr Tony Wright and the Public Administration Select Committee and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, have proved them wrong. Other objections are that declaratory legislation is not helpful and might lead to inflexibility affecting the management of the service. These objections are no longer convincing because in November 1994 the Treasury and Civil Service Committee refuted these arguments rather well and I should like to quote it in full. The committee said:
I entirely agree that the scope of any Bill dealing with the Civil Service should not be too prescriptive or drafted in a way which would inhibit its evolution, organisational development or reform. But I do strongly believe that by placing the constitutional position of the Civil Service, as distinct from its daily management, under the oversight of Parliament; by providing for the respective roles and responsibilities of Ministers, political advisers and civil servants to be clearly defined within the overall constitutional framework and subject to
I particularly welcome five aspects of the Bill. First, I believe it is important that the legislation reinforces the status of the Civil Service Commissioners as an independent body of people concerned with the maintenance of an effective and impartial Civil Service. In part, this is already provided by our appointment by the Crown under the Royal prerogative. The appointment of the First Civil Service Commissioner, by agreement with the Opposition parties, would provide additional reassurance about our independence and political impartiality. I am glad to see this provision in the Bill.
Secondly, any Bill must clearly set out the role of the commissioners in relation to ensuring that the key recruitment principle of selection on merit on the basis of fair and open competition is applied to the generality of appointments to the Civil Service. It should also enable the commissioners to allow appointments to be made outside of this principle in certain limited circumstances, as is currently the case.
However, I hope that the legislation does not prescribe how the commissioners would undertake their functions in detail. As commissioners, we seek to be firm on principle but flexible in practice. The flexibility inherent in a recruitment code means that we can respond quickly to changing situations and circumstances. For example, in relation to the principle of openness, we have recently provided additional advice on the use of the Internet for the advertising of posts. Generally, we want to encourage innovation and experiment within the framework set by the recruitment code. I am pleased that the Bill supports this approach.
Thirdly, the way in which the Civil Service code is promoted by departments in inadequate. One problem is the lack of awareness of the Civil Service code among new recruits and even some long-serving recruits. The code is neither well known nor promoted. Departments have much to do to turn the code into a living document rather than something only to be consulted at the time of an appeal. Against the background of change and greater movement of staff, it is critical that the code is promoted and that new recruits understand the constitutional framework within which they work and the values they are expected to uphold. I believe there is an important role here for the commissioners in monitoring that the departments positively promote the code.
Fourthly, I am concerned about the almost impossible pressure we put on civil servants if they wish to pursue a complaint under the Civil Service code. The noble Lord, Lord Wilson, who I am pleased to see will be speaking later, described it as the nuclear option. At present, civil servants who feel they are being asked to breach the Civil Service code must first follow their departmental processes before coming to the commissioners. The current process is quite
Finally, I believe it is consistent with a statutory framework which provides for parliamentary oversight of the core Civil Service standards for the commissioners to report annually to Parliament on their work. It is right that we account for our work and be examined on it. I am glad to see that provision in the Bill.
The Civil Service is a public asset; it exists in the public interest and there is therefore a public interest in the maintenance of a Civil Service which transcends the interests of any one administration. So we must avoid any legislation in this area becoming a party political issue. I hope that this debate will lead to a Joint Committee of both Houses being established to take forward consideration of the most appropriate legislation to reinforce the core values of the Civil Service. I very much hope that the Government will agree to this proposal.
To conclude, proper conduct has always been a prerequisite to good governance. Because of the necessary changes occurring in the way in which the Civil Service operates, there is a need to give much more attention to the ethical standards underpinning the way in which civil servants carry out their work, and clarifying and defining the respective roles and responsibilities of Ministers, political advisers and civil servants. The success of current management reforms and overall confidence in government will, in my view, depend on it. I very much hope that we will see legislation on our statute books sooner rather than later.
Lord McNally: My Lords, the stellar quality of the speakers in this debate is a tribute not only to my noble friend Lord Lester but to the importance of the issue. I should like to go beyond the normal courtesies in paying tribute to my noble friend. He has made a massive contribution over the past 30 years to good governance and good law in this country. He has never been content simply to be a commentator or a critic, but he has been a consistent source of practical solutions. Probably the best compliment ever made by one politician about another was when Mrs Thatcher said of Lord Young of Graffham, "Others bring me problems. David brings me solutions". I suggest that my noble friend Lord Lester belongs in that pantheon of problem-solvers, and I congratulate him on the Bill.
I am very pleased also to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon. I always keep in mind his dictum that the two great inheritances we have brought from the 20th century to the 21st are the BBC and our Civil Service. I believe that this House will have an important role in defending the future of both.
I saw the Civil Service first hand as a special adviser between 1974 and 1979. I revisited the institution as a Member of this House and as a member of the Select Committee, under the chairmanship of noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, which looked into whether the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s had damaged and weakened the underlying ethos of the Civil Service. As has been mentioned, I also served before the 1997 election on the Labour and Liberal Democrat constitutional committee known as the Cook-Maclennan committee.
My impression, gained as a special adviser and confirmed by my work under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, was then and is now that we have a Civil Service which is politically neutral and still motivated by a considerable ethos of public service. Both features came under attack in the 1980s. We all remember Mrs Thatcher's question, "Is he one of us?" . It was put more delicately by a House of Commons research paper published in May 2003, which said:
I also believe that in the Thatcher years, the Civil Service was undermined to a certain extent by the continuing long period of service to Mrs Thatcher by Charles Powellnow the noble Lord, Lord Powelland Sir Bernard Ingham. I do not in any way suggest that they carried out their duties during that period with anything other than due impartiality as civil servants, but I think it was wrong to allow a Prime Minister to, as it were, adopt mainstream civil servants and keep them in post for a decade or more.
The question before us, however, is: is a politically neutral Civil Service, promoted on merit, fit for purpose in the 21st century? It is, as has already been indicated, not the only solution. Sir John Hoskyns, Mrs Thatcher's think tank head, argued in the early 1980s:
However, there is also no doubt that Mr Blair has, for a number of reasons, "played footsie" with the idea while in office. It has already been pointed out that the hybrid role of Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell when the Government came to office is one example of that; another is the massive expansion of the role of the No. 10 policy unit. I would challenge the Government to reconvene the committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, to look again at how the ethos of the
The Civil Service ethos is not entirely dead. At a recent function, I met a senior Treasury official who had resigned from a lucrative, high-flying job in the City to work in the Treasury because he felt he would find there the challenge and stimulus that he wanted from his employment.
Some changes are inevitable. Sir Humphrey at 60 is no longer likely to retire with his K and his Oxbridge mastership to prune his Surrey roses, but to head for the City boardroom or a lucrative consultancy, often with a company that has been dealing with his department. The pressures do not work in only one way. Moreover, out-sourcing, short-term contracts and other reforms have had their impact. We have also seen some beneficial reforms. The Major government have not yet been given enough credit for their attempts to introduce new ethics codes and improvements into the Civil Service, including the Nolan principles.
We need a Civil Service that is flexible enough for modern needs, but protected in its best traditions, especially in its public service ethos based on the Northcote-Trevelyan principles of neutrality and merit. The Bill meets those needs. It is frankly a disgrace that nearly eight years after the Cook-Maclennan report and seven years after the Government came to office, they still dither and prevaricate.
While declaring that I was a special adviser, I shall offer a brief defence of special advisers. The noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, painted a rather lurid picture of their rampaging through Whitehall and not being responsible to Parliament. When I was a special adviser, I was in no doubt that I was responsible to Jim Callaghan, and Jim Callaghan was in no doubt that he was responsible to Parliament. That is the route of accountability that special advisers should take. If anybody knows of a special adviser who is behaving badly, let him table a Parliamentary Question and have the Minister responsible for his appointment defend it at the Dispatch Box. That will lick him into shape.
Special advisers are not a new concept. When I was in No. 10, a historian came to see me. He said that he had traced special advisers, in one way or another, at least back to the Lloyd-George era. Those cuckoos have always been in the Whitehall nest. Of course, many special advisersnow hundreds of themhave benefited, as I certainly did, from that experience of working in government at the sharp end. They have gone on to head a major company and an economic think-tank, to become a governor of the BBC and a Member of the House of Lordsand that is just Sarah Hogg. However, New Labour has got some things wrong. There is no need for the kind of codification described in the Bill.
I shall make one final point on the media and the Government's information role. As the noble Lord, Lord Lester, pointed out, the role, profile and powers given to Alastair Campbell in 1997 were fundamental mistakes and we paid for them as regards Hutton. Part of
The Government now have a blueprint for reform in the Phillis report and it is important that we follow through with that. Although Alastair Campbell, in his political role, was replaced within 24 hours, we still await the senior civil servant who, according the advertisement,
On the issue of government information, we need clear guidelines that stop Ministers dipping into the public purse for party political propaganda purposes. This House can pat itself on the back that it shamed the Government into stopping that ludicrous annual report, which was simply a Labour Party propaganda document. Government information should be separated from government spin.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, has shown the way, but the auguries are not good for a positive and radical reply from the Government. The sight of the Minister, the noble Lord Bassam of Brighton, on the Front Bench instead of the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, who sits in this House, reminds us that we have become affectionately accustomed to the dead bat, indeed the dead hand, of Bassam. Therefore, I do not hold out high hopes for a radical declaration today.
However, the building blocks for reform are in place: the work of the UCL constitutional unit; the work of the House of Commons Select Committee under Tony Wright; the work of Sir Nigel Wicks and his predecessors; the work of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, when he was Cabinet SecretaryI look
Lord Wakeham: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord McNally. For most of my time in this House, it has been over questions to do with the press. He got into that area towards the end of his speech, I did not recognise his analysis of events between 1979 and 1983 under the government of my noble friend Lady Thatcher. Even if he were remotely right in what he said, it would have been a pretty severe criticism of the Civil Service rather than of Ministers for it to have been true. However, this is not the time and moment at which to debate those matters.
I join in the congratulations that all noble Lords have given to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on bringing forward this Bill and on getting an interesting and distinguished group of noble Lords to speak in this debate. I am very honoured to be among them. The Bill raises issues of great constitutional significance. I agree with the noble Lord on the importance of the issues that he raises and agree that things are not right at the moment. However, I part company with him to some extent over the solutions that he proposes and whether they represent in all cases the best way forward.
I had the honour to be the chairman of the Royal Commission on the reform of the House of Lords, when we considered very carefully some of the issues that appear in the noble Lord's Bill. Incidentally, I congratulate him on the preparation of the Bill; even for a distinguished lawyer, it must have been an enormous amount of work. Many years ago, I remember drafting an extremely simple Bill, when I was first in the House of Commons. I swore that I would never do that again if I could find a respectable way in which to avoid it. Drafting a Bill involves a tremendous amount of work, and we are all grateful to the noble Lord for that.
I turn to the substance of the Bill, and the question of public appointments, where the noble Lord would like there to be a system of parliamentary approval for the more senior appointments. Scrutinising public appointments is a relatively common function of many overseas parliaments, especially that of the United States, but it has never been so here. However, the process of public appointments is considerably more open and transparent than it was following the establishment of the Nolan principles. I support those arrangements and consider them pretty effective, but the system is still developing. I agree that Parliament should continue to watch over that area in the years to come.
However, I see considerable disadvantages in public appointments being subject to confirmatory hearings. There would be a risk that good candidates would not put their names forward for fear of intrusive and
The noble Lord also wants greater parliamentary oversight over the use of the Royal prerogative for making international treaties. Those powers are at present vested in the Crown, which means the Government. They enable governments to enter into treaties without any consultation of Parliament. I am sympathetic towards some of the noble Lord's concerns in these matters. Of course, a treaty does not itself change our domestic law and, until it is enacted in our Parliament, it can have no domestic effect. We in the Royal Commission recognised that the present arrangements are far from ideal. On the other hand, settling treaty negotiations inevitably requires Ministers to have a degree of flexibility over some issues, which cannot possibly be set out in advance. Iand the Royal Commissionwould have liked changes in that area. Although I am reluctant to enhance Parliament's powers over those of the executive in that respect, a great deal can be done without legislation.
In 1999, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, recommended that the House might consider setting up a Select Committee to scrutinise international treaties. That idea has a lot to commend it. My understanding is that successive governments have invited consideration of international treaties under the Ponsonby rule. More could be done in that area, particularly to see whether treaties raise issues that merit debate or reconsideration before they are ratified. All that is the sort of thing that the House of Lords could do with advantage.
I have considerably more sympathy with the noble Lord's proposals for putting on a statutory basis the role of the Civil Service. I have been reluctant to go down that road, but recent events have convinced me that some Act is required. A fully independent Civil Service, free from political pressures, is a linchpin in the conduct of public affairs. Whether the proposals in the Bill are exactly right, I do not consider myself expert enough to know, but I have a considerable amount of sympathy with what the noble Lord proposes.
I wish to summarise my views on a more general point. Many of the noble Lord's proposals to control the executive are, in my view, a very serious indictment of Parliament, whose job it is to control the executive. The failure to do that effectively is a very serious matter. If Parliament is prepared to exert itself, it has immense powers; any time when it feels strongly enough about anything, it can bring the Government to book. A handful of Members in the other place can bring the House to a standstill in 20 minutes. I certainly do not recommend that, but much can be done short of really tough action. As a former Chief Whip and Leader of both Houses, and a fully paid-up
I welcome the noble Lord's Bill. He has done us all a great service in bringing it forward. Considerable parts of it I approve of while others I am less happy about, but he has certainly indicated serious problems that need tackling. It is about time that they were tackled.
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. May I say how strongly I agree with him that the solution for Parliament in many of these issues lies in our own hands, and that we should find a way in which to act more effectively as a check on the executive? May I also, like other noble Lords, pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Lester? This is an extremely ambitious but very elegantly constructed Bill and, if it is passed, it would be an important plank in our constitutional arrangements. It deserves very serious consideration by the House.
I shall concentrate on Part 2, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, and others, have done. As he mentioned, in May 2002, through good fortune and the ballot, I was able to introduce a debate on the need for a Civil Service Act, which had many distinguished contributors, some of whom are speaking again today. On that occasion, it was particularly apparent that two former Cabinet Secretaries, in the shape of the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, both declared themselves converts to a Civil Service Act.
It is interesting that those who have led the Civil Service find themselves, in retirement, believing that the arrangements need clarifying. Sir Richard Wilson, as he then wasthe noble Lord, Lord Wilson, as he is nowfrom whom we shall hear later, in his farewell speech when he left his job as Cabinet Secretary anticipated retirement by saying that he saw a clear need for a Civil Service Act. In that sense he was ahead of his erstwhile colleagues. It is noteworthy that very shortly thereafter we were promised an issues paper from the Government. That was in March 2002, and we are now two years on. We have had no issues paper or the consultation that we were promised by the Government and, although I gather that Douglas Alexander MP in another place has promised a draft Bill in this Session, we still have not seen a Bill for the House to consider. So we have no issues paper, no consultation and, so far, no Bill to consider.
I wonder whether this is because the debate in May 2002 was summed up in rather sunny and reassuring terms by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, who was in his place earlier and I regret is no longer here. He said that there was no pressure because there was no crisis. In one sense, that is right. There is no immediate crisis but any rational analyst would say that since then the problems that we were discussing have been apparent and that in some ways they have been exacerbated.
At the heart of a lot of the concerns expressed by noble Lords is the relationship between civil servants and advisers. I am not phobic about the number of advisers. I think that quotas is not the right way to go. The way in which special advisers do their jobs in relation to civil servants is far more important.
I particularly commend to your Lordships Appendix 13 to the Hutton inquiry, which is very illuminating on this issue. This is the notorious e-mail appendix, which requires close textual analysis by anyone interested in the way in which British government have operated in recent years. It is extremely illuminating. So illuminating is it that it makes the Book of Kells look positively understated by comparison. Let us take page 662, where a Felicity Hatfield is communicating "on behalf of" Alastair CampbellI stress that this involves not Alastair Campbell himself but Felicity Hatfield on his behalfdirectly with John Scarlett. She wrote in an e-mail:
We have seen wonderful constitutional improvements at the initiative of this Government. I think I should pay tribute to them from these Benches. It has been a period of great constitutional reform. But I hope that they will not mind me saying that there has been a slightly Jekyll and Hyde approach. Alongside the great achievements of the Human Rights Act and devolution for Scotland and Wales we have seen the way that certain great British institutions operate when put under considerable pressure; I put it no higher than that. We have seen the ethos of Cabinet government, the judiciary and the BBC challenged. We have seen their authority challenged in many ways and it would be good to know that the Government have learnt the error of their ways before we have to put the Civil Service, one of the great decorations of the British system, into that same threatened category.
The proof is that the Government finally do something about a Civil Service Act. I hope that they will adopt my noble friend's admirable Bill. If they do not, will they please produce a Bill of their own very quickly? When the Minister replies perhaps he will be kind enough to tell us when we shall see the Billthe actual date on which he anticipates that we shall have it before us. One way or another, we need to put the Civil Service into a rational statutory framework where people know what their spheres of responsibility are, and where they can get on with their jobs in the way that has always been a decoration to the British system of government.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I am pleased to have the honour of following my noble friend Lord Holme and in particular to sustain his underlying message that there is a degree of urgency about confronting these issues that has not been reflected in the seven years of this administration.
In approaching this debate, I reflected at some length on why there has been such inaction on the part of the Government in response to the reports that have been coming forth for many years, going right back to the most important report, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, referredthat of the Treasury Committee in 1994.
When the Labour Party entered into an agreement with my party prior to the 1997 general election, to which my noble friend Lord Lester referred, I had assumed that in government it would seek to give legal force to the code, which should be tightened up, to underline the political neutrality of the Civil Service and to clarify lines of Civil Service and ministerial responsibility; and that it meant it. It is frankly astonishing that nothing has been done. It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, as a disgrace. However, I think that we are obliged to ask why there has been this delay.
The evidence is not clear. As my noble friend Lord Holme said, the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, spoke of there being no crisis to precipitate a change of the kind that is so widely advocated by those who have considered these issues. However, I beg to disagree with the view that there is no crisis. There is a crisis of confidence in the business of government. It is a crisis that affects not only the view of the public about Ministers; it is one which also affects the public's view about the Civil Service.
It may not be a crisis in the sense of the crisis that faced the former Prime Minister, in the autumn of 1978, when he returned from the Caribbean and asked, "What crisis?" But it is a crisis none the less, to which Ministers have repeatedly referred as a withdrawal of support, at elections, from the democratic process; as a commitment of the public to pressure groups rather than politics; and as a crisis which erupts from time to time in different places, which led to the Hutton report and the Phillis report. How many more manifestations of this difficulty and problem of loss of public sympathy and support do the Government require before seeking to address these issues?
It seems that we have to approach this with a sense of history and a recognition that the conventional, classical view of the relationship of the Civil Service to our constitution is one which will no longer be sustainable. Perhaps the striking definition of that was given as long ago as 1985 in the famous Armstrong memorandum in which he said:
I take issue with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, in seeking to draw the sharp distinction that he did between the role of the executive in our constitution and the role of Parliament. The role of the executive can be effectively discharged only to the extent that it is supported and sustained by Parliament. It is not a matter in which the executive can pick and choose the occasions on which they seek, as he put it, the advice of Parliament about an issue of war and peace. The realityand it is a reality which I think the present Prime Minister recognised in going to war in Iraqis that Parliament's support is essential if the armed services are to be committed to a major conflict in which life is threatened.
To revert to the main thrust of my argument, civil servants must, it seems to me, be firmly embedded in their parliamentary accountability in relation to a declaratory Act that does not prevent them from operating flexibly and adaptably in the public interest, but make quite clear where their duties lie.
I return briefly to the issue of the delay. I think it is interesting that, on 24 February, we had from the Prime Minister a speech to which the noble Baroness, the First Civil Service Commissioner, referred. I do not think it has been given anything like the publicity that she suggested in her own contribution, which I greatly respected and admired. I think that that speech reveals the tension that exists at the highest level of government between the goals of the Prime Minister for the Civil Service and the objectives that we have been discussing today of securing the accountability and continuing neutralitythe Northcote-Trevelyan principlesin the modern world.
The speech was predominantly about effectiveness. It was predominantly about how to make the delivery of the Civil Service's goals more achievable. It was not about accountability. It was not about responsiveness, save indirectly. If I may, I shall cite a couple of examples of the thinking that lies behind this. The Prime Minister said, and I agree:
I hope that the Government will not delay further in bringing forward their proposals. Seven years is substantially too long a period. As Mr Kenneth Clarke said in another place in January, procrastination can amount to deception. Some of us are beginning to wonder why the Government are not even prepared to bring forward a draft Bill for consideration as it will clearly be some time before either House is in a position to enact its provisions.
Lord Wilson of Dinton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, probably feels that he is now festooned with praise but I am afraid that I shall add my own warm tribute to his work in bringing forward this Bill. It is a very important subject and his triggering this debate today is an act of true public service.
I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not follow him on Parts 1 and 3 of the Bill. I have to admit that that is partly because I do not fully understand all the implications. I am also tempted to say that there are so many proposals for major constitutional change bubbling away at the moment to uncertain effect that I am not sure one should be putting more of that kind in the pot, except as regards a Civil Service Bill. I strongly support the principles underlying Part 2 of the Bill. If I may say so, I made that clear while I was still head of the Civil Service not just in the speech that I made towards the end of my time there but also before that. I have come round to that view which I shall explain in a minute.
We still have one of the finest civil services in the world. I am partisan but I would argue that we have the finest. It is highly regarded by other countries. There is a regular stream of visitors from other countries who come to see how the Civil Service operates and to learn from us. I was pleased to note that my successor, Sir Andrew Turnbull, in his report last weekthat report has been mentionedquoted impressive statistics from the World Bank and the OECD on the performance of our Civil Service compared with that of other countries, showing us in the top position for "government effectiveness" in 2002. He was right to praise the service where praise was due. He was also right to remind the service of the need for continuous improvement in its performance. His proposals carry forward reforms of the service that it has been developing for many years. I was interested to note in what he said some echoes of the report of the Fulton committee of which the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, was a very distinguished member in the 1960s.
I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said about the Prime Minister's speech. I do not have time to comment on what he said but it is worth noting that the Prime Minister paid a welcome tribute to the Northcote-Trevelyan reformssomething to which we can all give a ringing endorsement. He made clear his ambitions for public services. That is a proper thing for a Prime Minister to want to do. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, raised the question of movement backwards and forwards between the Civil Service and the business sector. If the Minister can add anything further to that, one would be interested to hear it.
The Prime Minister also said that the Civil Service must not act as a shock absorber to maintain the status quo. Of course, the basic point is right although I question the metaphor. Without wishing to go too deeply into motor mechanics, I do not think that shock absorbers hold things back. They provide the passenger with a smooth ride over bumps while travelling at speed. I should have thought that most governments would like that.
The secret of successful reform of any great public institution or service is to base it on an intelligent understanding of that institution and its values, not treating them as some Dickensian irrelevance; to build on its strengths; to establish trust; and to respect the conventions within which the institution works. That is as much true of the Civil Service as it is, say, of this House or the judiciary.
The relationship of each government towards the Civil Service is one of stewardship for which each government is accountable, and must be accountable, to Parliament, as was described earlier. Each government are under an obligation to respect those features of the service which must not changeselection on merit, integrity, political impartiality, giving its best advice, and a commitment to public service. Each government are under an obligation not to use the resources of the state for party-political purposes. Each government are under an obligation to leave the Civil Service in a condition which will serve future governments equally well.
In return, the obligation on the service is to serve the government of the day to the best of its ability, to support them in formulating their policies and to implement them excellently and energetically. That is the deal. It is against that background that I see a Civil Service Bill on the lines before us today, or of the kind proposed by the Public Administration CommitteeI shall refer to it as the Select Committeenot as a means of protecting vested interests or stalling reform, but as an essential component of any continuing reform programme.
I have not always been in favour of a Bill. My reasons for thinking that it is now needed are very similar to those quoted earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Butler. There is a wide perception that the Civil Service has become politicised. I regret that perception very much. In some ways, it is confusing, because the term is unclear and means different things to different people. Whether one believes it or not, it is a perception which has now to be addressed. At a time of rapid change, Parliament and the public are entitled to be reassured that those characteristics of the service which should remain unchanged indeed remain unchanged.
The legislation required to do that is not earthshaking, nor really very difficult. The Committee on Standards in Public Life, under the chairmanship of Sir Nigel Wicks, has prepared the ground with thoroughness, lucidity and understanding. The Select Committee has done sterling work in consulting relevant interests and in preparing a short Bill which
The legislation should put the role of the Civil Service Commissioners on to a statutory basis, as Northcote and Trevelyan recommended 150 years ago. Surely 150 years is enough time in which to consult and introduce a Bill. The commissioners are the bedrock of the Civil Service's constitutional position and the guarantee of its commitment to fair and open competition on merit. The battle between merit and patronage is never really finished. The commissioners are our guardians against patronage. I pay tribute to the work of the current commissioners, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, who has done so much to ensure that their role remains strong.
The principle of merit must be maintained for permanent appointments to the service. I shall not repeat what the noble Baroness said but, to the extent that the commissioners are prepared to make limited exceptionsfor instance, for inward secondmentsthat is well and good. But they must be in control. There must be no backdoor route for patronage or cronyism.
The legislation should give the Minister power to regulate the conduct of civil servants and special advisers by codes. It should give the commissioners power to make such inquiries as they think fit into the operation of those codes. It should provide for the regulation of special advisers. A limited number of special advisers, properly deployed, can be a great asset to Ministers and their departments alike. It is not fair to special advisers generally that their role has acquired a bad reputation, but there have been difficulties, as everyone knows.
It is in the interests of everyone that the boundaries of the role should be clearly defined, and that those difficulties should be resolved, so far as one can humanly do that. Following the Wicks report, the Select Committee and the noble Lord have proposed the way forward very succinctly. Both this Bill and that of the Select Committee contain very sensible proposals for defining what special advisers cannot do. That seems the right approach, coupled with a limitation on the overall number of special advisers by Parliament, and with the regulation of conduct of special advisers by code, as I mentioned.
There are of course the three posts in No. 10 which have "executive powers". The Select Committee accepts that there should be two such posts, as did the Wicks report. The noble Lord proposes that there should be none. I understand his position, but if the price of getting a Bill were to be that concession, I would pay it provided that the executive powers of the special advisers did not extend to their being involved in recruitment to permanent posts.
Above all, the Bill should bring the operation of the Civil Service more clearly within the oversight of Parliament. The matters should be subject to proper scrutiny, not dealt with in private. The Civil Service Commissioners should make an annual report to Parliament. When I was Secretary to the Cabinet, I
None of that should be contentious. The Government have already accepted, in their reply to the sixth report of the Neill committee in July 2000, that there should be a Bill, and that it should embed selection on merit on the basis of fair and open competition, with responsibility vested in the Civil Service Commissioners. The Government also said in that reply that they accept that an overall limit on the number of special advisers should be included in legislation, and that increases in the limit would require the consent of both Houses of Parliament. Nothing could be clearer.
There is a school of thought which says that most of those things can be accomplished without legislation. In my view, that is not now sonot in the world today where the concerns and issues are more contentious than they were and the role of Parliament more necessary. Frankly, too much water has passed under the bridge.
It is now more than six years since the Government first committed themselves to a Bill. That commitment has been repeated many times, with occasional warm words, but nothing has happened. What matters in the management of change is not only what people say, but what they do. If leaders promise action but do nothing, people draw their own conclusions. The question why the Government have still not produced a Civil Service Bill is becoming deafeningly loud. I hope that the Minister, as others have said, will tell us the date when the Government will bring forward a Bill.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, it is daunting for a mere academic such as myself to intrude in this debate, which has had such a galaxy of experienced contributors. It is particularly daunting to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, who gave us the benefit of his experience as head of the Civil Service. My feeble credentials, such as they are, are that 40 years ago to the day I gave empirical research evidence and oral evidence to the Treasury committee on recruitment to the Civil Service. I think that the report of that committee was one of the influences that led to the creation of the Fulton committee.
I heartily congratulate my noble friend Lord Lester on introducing the Bill's Second Reading. It is one of the few major and coherent attempts to roll back the ever-encroaching powers of the executive at the expense of those of the legislature. In that respect, I particularly applaud the thrust behind Part 1, which seeks to provide a statutory basis for much government activity that currently takes place under the exercise of the Royal prerogative. It is important in the 21st century to circumscribe and strictly limit that arbitrary and unfettered power of the executive branch
It is important to review the contemporary context in which the senior Civil Service has had to operate and some of the concerns that have arisen of late. That picture is very unsatisfactory, and moreover shows every sign of further deterioration. Swift remedial action is called for, and the Bill, if enacted, could provide an important source of treatment. As has been said, the Northcote-Trevelyan and Fulton models, which shaped the character of the Civil Service over the past century and a half, have long since been allowed to atrophy.
Changes designed to meet modern circumstances are, of course, both necessary and natural. Adaptation, we hope, adds to the efficiency of the workings of the state. The problems arise when such innovation continues over time without any pause for reflection whatever on the need to update similarly the operations of the principles of accountability. Changes in the practices of the state bureaucracy require a complementary refurbishment of the constitutional arrangements under which they should operate. That democratic imperative has invariably been neglected by successive governments. One major consequence of that neglect has been the increasing politicisation of the senior ranks of the Civil Service.
The erosion of an independent, non-party, openly recruited, merit-based Civil Service began apace with the Thatcher administration. The Prime Minister chose to intervene personally in the appointment of the highest posts. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally said, "Is he one of us?" became Mrs Thatcher's favourite selection criterion. As with so many other aspects of Thatcherism, politicisation was adopted and greatly extended by the new Labour Government when they came into office in 1997.
Any number of innovations were introduced into the practice of government, including tsars, task forces and the likeand, more importantly, in terms of the Bill, a massive increase in the number of political advisers. Their number has risen, as others have noted, from 39 in 1997 to 81 to datein February. No. 10 has taken by far the lion's share of those. Two of the advisers there were given authority over the work of civil servantsMr Jonathan Powell and Mr Alastair Campbell. Those unprecedented powers, together with the mushrooming growth of political advisers, have given rise to much critical concern by both the Select Committee on Public Administration in the Commons and the Wicks Committee on Standards in Public Life. Both have urged a Civil Service Act to place the Civil Service on a statutory basis and formally to distinguish it from the activities of political advisers. To those I would add tsars, task forces, management consultants, lobbyists and think tanks, which have all penetrated deeply into Whitehall. Without an Act to delineate the boundaries between the Civil Service and those denizens of the new political demi-monde, all the personnel involved will coalesce, as they nearly do now, into a Soviet-style nomenklatura.
Those developments have been allowed to happen willy-nilly. No systematic thought in government circles has ever been given to the problems of accountability, or even to adequate management control. When the Department for Constitutional Affairs was created overnight last summer, one could have been forgiven for entertaining the hope that among its functions it would be charged with a task of creating a reflective capacity for examining the implications of changes that inevitably occur in the working of government. Alas, there is absolutely no sign of that at present. The Government are fortunate in having a number of distinguished lawyers in their ranks. Unfortunately, all of them made their fame and fortunes at the commercial Bar. None possesses any significant expertise in constitutional law, and that lack perhaps explains why so little government attention is paid to the basic constitutional principles of public accountability which is one of the bastions of liberal democracy.
That is one of the reasons why the Bill calls for the appointment of a Minister for the Civil Service who would be charged with safeguarding the independence of the Civil Service. Codes of conduct are not strong enough in themselves and need statutory backing as the Bill proposes. The Bill also seeks to put the onus on all Ministers and political advisers of maintaining the integrity and independence of the Civil Service.
It was the view of the Wicks report last year that a Civil Service Act was needed to go some way to restoring the trust between governors and the governed. The Committee on Standards in Public Life has reiterated that in its latest report. I fully appreciate the point it made and its recommendation, but I am a little worried about the use of the word "trust" in this context. It is too redolent of an age where deference by the people was expected. Political scientists 40 years ago demonstrated that the reason for the electoral success of the Conservatives was that they could rely on the support of the deferential working class voter. Happily, he and she have now largely disappeared, but unfortunately the political appeal to trust has not. It was part and parcel of Tony Blair's personal style.
"Trust me" was his clarion call and, for a while, it served him well. But it is an essentially anti-democratic approach. Trust may be expected of subjects, but surely not of citizens. The modern electorate wants to be persuaded by rational argument. Being frank and open with the voters helps to establish credibility in government and the policies of all political parties. I would argue that it is credibility rather than trust that is in most need of restoration. As Wicks says, a Civil Service Act would help to restore that. It would delineate the boundaries between the regular Civil Service on the one hand and the denizens of the political demi-monde on the other. Such an Act would define and codify where one begins and the other ends.
Such reviews by an individual businessman are not new. Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major variously employed Sir Derek Rayner from Marks and Spencer, and Sir Roy Griffiths from Sainsburys, for advice. Sir Peter Gershon is but the latest in a long line of gurus brought in to promote greater efficiency in government. That is all very well in itself. But who will look into the democratic implications of an unbridled, buccaneering Civil Service, staffed at the top by a bunch of itinerants? The ever-present tension in government between the competing imperatives of efficiency and democracy must be satisfactorily managed. It has not been and the passage of the Bill would aid that.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill on introducing the Bill. It is bold because it is three Bills in one. Part 1 extends parliamentary control over the exercise of prerogative powers; Part 2 amounts in itself to a Civil Service Act; and Part 3 creates a statutory basis for certain public appointments. Each of those parts could be a Bill. Part 2 is the key section of the Bill, dealing with the Civil Service. It is certainly the part that has received by far the most attention from speakers in our debate and it is certain that the proposals in Part 2 are those that are most likely to be adopted in legislation in the foreseeable future.
In Part 1 I have singled out Clause 3 and Schedule 1. They would require parliamentary ratification of treaties and parliamentary endorsement of entry into war. It is striking that parliamentary approval is not needed for treaties. There are few other countries where the executive is entirely free to enter into binding treaties with no parliamentary process. In the United States treaties require the consent of the Senate. If treaties require a change in United Kingdom law, then, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, pointed out, legislation has to be passed by Parliament. But in other cases there is no need for ratification by Act of Parliament or even by any form of secondary legislation.
As treaties are usually negotiated and signed in private, there is no chance of parliamentary scrutiny of draft treaties. For example, this time last year a new agreement on extradition was signed by the United States and the United Kingdom. This House and the public generally knew nothing whatever about it until after it had been signed. It contained provisions which caused serious concern and it would plainly have been desirable to have had parliamentary scrutiny of the draft. I believe that the treaty-making powers should be brought under parliamentary control. I regret that, on that, I differ with the views of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
Many people have proposed that your Lordships' House should have a Select Committee to study draft treaties. That is certainly a step which I consider should be taken, and I believe that all treaties should need ratification by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
I turn to the question of war. War is an act which has enormous consequences for this country. Even limited wars, such as those fought in recent years by the United Kingdom, have very important consequences, and I believe that it is extraordinary that no parliamentary process is required. There may be circumstances in which the urgency of the case requires an immediate reaction; for example, self-defence, where an immediate military response is required to an unprovoked attack. But, in other cases, entry into armed conflict should plainly require parliamentary approval.
I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister sought and obtained the approval of the House of Commons before this country entered into the Iraq war. I suppose that that creates a precedent, but it is one that is not necessarily binding on future governments. I believe that there should be a statutory duty on governments to obtain parliamentary consent to entry into armed conflict wherever it is possible to do so. There, again, I regret that I disagree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I believe that parliamentary consent is particularly important where the war is highly controversial, such as the Suez war in 1956 or the Iraq war last year. In such cases, it is plain that the Prime Minister should have the support of the political representatives of the nation behind him before he commits this country to war.
I turn now to Part 2 of the Bill, which concerns the Civil Service. This is a matter in which I personally have a particular interest, having been a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life under the chairmanship of Sir Nigel Wicks when we published our 9th report and, indeed, previously, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, when we published our 6th report. In both reports and, in particular, in the 9th report, we pressed very strongly for a Civil Service Act. In paragraph 10.7 of our 9th report, we said:
The Government regularly respond to recommendations of this kind by saying, "Of course we support the principle of a Civil Service Act", but they regularly add, "when parliamentary business allows", or other weasel words indicating that the Government have no intention of introducing such an Act. Parliamentary business does not seem to have thus allowed for 150 years, and it is now time that it did.
We recognise that the Government have now stated their commitment to bringing forward a draft Civil Service Billindeed, in this Session. However, we need to keep up pressure on the Government, and I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate something more definite than he already has done about the Government's intentions and timetable in bringing forward their proposals for a draft Bill. If the Minister is unable to give any clear timetable, I believe it is important that this Bill should go forward to a Committee stage in order to enable the debate on these issues to continue in more detail.
My noble friend has had great success with Bills which he has introduced in the past. They have not in themselves been enacted, but many of them have prodded the Government into taking overdue action. My noble friend's human rights Bills were followed in due course by the Human Rights Act 1998. Two years ago, he introduced a civil partnerships Bill. A civil partnerships Bill is now about to be introduced by the Government. Last year, he introduced an equality Bill. The Government now propose consultation on a Bill to bring the existing equality bodiesthe Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commissioninto a single equality and human rights commission, as he proposed. I hope that this Bill will turn out to be the precursor of a government-backed Civil Service Act.
My noble friend has made enormous contributions to strengthening the constitution and human rights in the United Kingdom. I believe that this Bill adds another to his long list of campaign medals and, on behalf of my party, I have great pleasure in giving it our fullest support.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I shall endeavour to be brief because I believe that after two-and-a-half hours of debate on the Bill we should all be very grateful, in the absence of the Secretary of State for Constitutional
I start by echoing what the noble Lords, Lord Sheldon and Lord McNally, said in praising the Civil Service as it is and as it was. I was lucky enough to serve as a Ministeralbeit in a much more junior role than my noble friend Lord Wakeham or the noble Lord, Lord Sheldonfor some eight years, and I certainly want to echo exactly what was said about the Civil Service being high-minded, ethical and impartial. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, that it is the finest Civil Service in the world. If I say that, at least I am not being partial in the way that the noble Lord thought he might be.
Since 1997, we have seen much of that put at risk. As many speakers have reminded us, we have seen an enormous growth in the number of special advisers. I am told that the number has more than doubled from 39 to 81.
We have seen some special advisers such as Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell given executive authority over civil servants and in the first two years after 1997 we saw virtually all the old government press officers eased out, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, reminded the House, and replaced by somewhat more overtly political appointees. It would be interesting to knowI should be grateful if the Minister could tell ushow many of those new appointees formerly worked for the Daily Mirror.
Things have changed. At the same time we have seen the Government repeatedly talk about the need for new legislation on the Civil Service. The noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Maclennan, reminded us that even before 1997, when the Government set up a joint commission with the Liberal Democratsthat seems a very long time ago now and I imagine it seems even longer ago for the Liberal Democratsthey gave a commitment to give,
The Government continue to give commitments but do nothing. As recently as 21 January of this year, in a debate in another place initiated by my right honourable friend Mr Kenneth Clarke on his return to the Front Bench, the Cabinet Office Minister and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Mr Douglas Alexander, originally promised a draft Bill in this Parliament but, under pressure from an intervention, he agreed to amend that to a draft Bill in this Session. He then said that there is more need for consultation. More need for consultation after seven years, as one noble Lord put it, seems a bit
At this stage it would be very useful if the noble Lord compared and contrasted that with what we see in terms of another constitutional matter, the Constitutional Reform Bill, which has its Second Reading before this House on Monday. It is a Bill that more than anything requires a great deal of consultation and discussion among all parties because it makes fairly major constitutional reforms, and a Bill that this Government appear to think should be shoved through as quickly as possible. I should be grateful if the Minister could give some thought to why we are supposed to have quite so much consultation on a Civil Service Bill, important though it is, but none whatever on the Constitutional Reform Bill, large parts of which were dreamt up on the back of an envelope to get the Government out of a mess that they had made in terms of a reshuffle last summer.
Turning to the Executive Powers and Civil Service Bill, which has been introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, this is one of those rare occasions when I can offer a degree of support, praise and congratulations to the noble Lord. As he knowshe mentioned itthe Select Committee on Public Administration in another place introduced a Bill along the lines of Part 2 of his Billa draft Billwhich has now been brought to the House in a formal manner by my honourable friend Mr Oliver Heald, the shadow Leader of the House. I understand that that Bill was to have its Second Reading on 30 January; unfortunately it was never reached. I understandthe noble Lord, Lord Lester, mentioned thisthat there was some chance of the Bill having its Second Reading today. I believe that the noble Lord is somewhat more optimistic about procedures in another place; it is fairly unlikely that it will have its Second Reading today, but we wait in hope. As he knows, there is some considerable overlap between that Bill, which has been introduced by my honourable friendwhat we could call the Public Administration Committee Billand Part 2 of his Bill. The overlap is great enough for one of his honourable friends in the debate in another place on 21 January to have said:
I can support Part 2 of the Bill, but my support does not necessarily apply to Part 3. Having read that quotation from Mr Paul Tyler I have considerable sympathy for the sentiments behind his suggestion that the matter could be considered by a Joint Committee. However, while having sympathy with that, I do not
In a matter as important as this we need a government Bill and soon. If this Bill and my honourable friend's Bill in another place can encourage the Government to produce one, they will have served a very useful purpose. I end by saying that I look forward to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, taking forward the commitment that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster made on 21 January; telling us when we shall see the draft Bill in this Session; and if we are to see it in this Session, will it be possible to complete it in this Session, or will it have to be carried over into another Session?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have two early tasks. One is to join in the general congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on bringing the Bill to your Lordships' House for Second Reading today. It has stimulated one of the most sparkling debates on the subject to which I have had the benefit of listening for a very long time. As ever, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, it follows a long tradition of initiatives of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, which take us forward in progressive government and towards reasserting an important series of principles in legislation.
My other early task is to declare an interest. Recently, my partner has become a civil servant at Grade 7. I feel that I should open my heart on that matter and share that with your Lordships. I confirm that I have that interest. I am hoping that it will provide me with important insights into the working of the Civil Service. However, I now understand better the contents of my eight year-old daughter's lunch box which I have to prepare daily as a consequence of her mother going to work rather early.
Those two early tasks done, I turn to the business in hand. We have had a star-studded and distinguished cast of speakers in the debate, focusing on issues that have been clearly identified in the Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. It is fair to say that there is almost universal agreement on the importance of Part 2 of the Bill, which looks at the Civil Service and the position of special advisers. There is little dissent as to the importance of that element of the Bill.
There is rather more scepticism over Parts 1 and 3 of the Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and the noble Lords, Lord Wakeham, Lord Wilson of Dinton and Lord Henley, were less certain of the value of those parts, although they recognised the importance of the issue. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said that it was three Bills in one. He is probably right.
All noble Lords gave credit to and supported the independence and the integrity of the value system that underpins the Civil Service. I echo that sentiment from the Government Benches. Indeed, on reading the Prime Minister's very important speech last week I thought that he affirmed that value very powerfully indeed. Having said that, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has brought forward a carefully crafted Bill which raises important questions about the organisation of our system of government. I have already welcomed the thoughtful contributions that it sparked. I am not sure that I want to be described too often by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, as a "dead bat" or even a "dead hand", I prefer to be a "flashing blade". I am not sure whether I shall illustrate that during the course of my response. That is certainly the mode in which I usually approach most things.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, will be much more familiar than I am with the historical context of our debate. It was of courseI cannot hesitate in making this referencea Liberal Cabinet led by Lord Russell in 1854 which first decided to introduce a Civil Service Bill. As noble Lords have adroitly observed, it has taken a long time to see one. It promptly backtracked and it was left to Gladstone in 1868 to introduce in most part the Northcote-Trevelyan changes. He probably agreed at that point that a Bill was necessary.
Before I turn to the specific provisions of the noble Lord's Bill, I should make some general remarks about the exercise of prerogative powers. It is important to make clear that Ministers are, of course, already accountable for the exercise of prerogative powers, just as they are accountable for the full range of their departmental business. It is for Ministers to account for and to justify their actions to Parliament, and for Parliament to hold Ministers to accounta point which has been amply echoed and exemplified during our deliberations on the Bill this morning. In the context of discussing prerogative powers, we look forward to the forthcoming Public Administration Select Committee's report on this issue.
The noble Lord's Bill deals in large part with the regulation and conduct of the Civil Service. Additionally it covers executive powers. Much debate was provoked on that issuenotably I thought from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
In their response to the 9th Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Government committed themselves to publishing a draft Civil Service Bill for consultation. There has been much comment on that during the debate. We said that we would publish the Bill once we had received the Public Administration Select Committee's proposals for legislation. That committee published its draft Bill on 5 January.
In another place on 21 Januaryas a number of your Lordships have mentionedthe Minister for the Cabinet Office, Douglas Alexander, gave a commitment that the Government would bring forward a draft Bill for consultationand I want to make this absolutely plainin this parliamentary Session. I repeat that commitment today. Last week the Prime Minister referred to what he described as Douglas Alexander's announcement of our plan for a Civil Service Bill.
So it is clearly embedded in government thinking. I can assure the House that the views expressed in today's debate will be taken into account as we continue with the preparation of our own draft Bill. It is important that we seek to build consensus. I do not think that there is exact consensus. In a sense, the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, gives voice to that in Parts 1 and 3. I should say that I cannot offer my support to the noble Lord's Bill today, although obviously, in line with convention, we shall not oppose its second reading.
The Bill would place the Civil Service and the Civil Service Commission on a statutory footing. It would require Ministers to uphold the impartiality and integrity of the Civil Service and to give statutory force in primary legislation to the Civil Service Code. Noble Lords have supported those important principles.
We will take those proposals into account in framing our draft Bill. I should like to reassure the House that we place the highest importance on maintaining the impartiality and integrity of the Civil Service. In our response to the 9th Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life we set out a number of commitments to further underpin those values. First, the appointment of the first Civil Service commissionerand I pay great tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for her workwill be made following consultation with the main opposition parties. Secondly, the Civil Service Code will be amended to clarify the procedures that a civil servant should follow where he feels that a special adviser is exceeding his authority. Thirdly, we will amend the special advisers' code of conduct to clarify their relations with civil servants. Our draft Bill will build on that important work.
Many noble Lords referred to the position of special advisers. My noble friend Lord Sheldon led the charge very ably. He identified a problem with their relationship with the rest of the Civil Service. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, as one would expect, praised the role of special advisers, having of course declared, quite rightly, his past interest and involvement. I was interested that the issue of a cap on the number of special advisers was raised, although the noble Lord, Lord Holme, who is no longer in his place, said that he was less concerned about that. I think that he suggested that was a matter of lower importance. He also wanted us to look very closely at the relationship of special advisers with civil servants, but I think he understood their importance and value.
The noble Lord's Bill makes a number of proposals in relation to special advisers, including placing the code of conduct on a statutory footing and requiring special advisers to uphold the integrity and impartiality of the Civil Service. We will of course take those proposals into account in preparing our draft Bill. However, while today we have heard the familiar range of criticisms of special advisers, it is worth reminding the House that there is substantial agreement across our public life about the valuable role that special advisers can play. The noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, underlined that.
It is important that special advisers observe the highest standards of conduct. I remind the House that this Government introduced the model contract for special advisers, setting out clear and transparent terms and conditions for their employment, and the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers, which the Public Administration Select Committee described in 2001 as,
The Government are committed to public appointments on merit, using a fair, open and transparent process. The Bill's provisions are similar to a number of recommendations made in the Public Administration Select Committee's report of July 2003. These included proposals for the involvement of Parliament, through relevant Select Committees, in key public appointments, and parliamentary approval of the appointment of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The Government's response, published last December, makes clear our view that the current arrangements for making public appointments are rigorous and effective. We see no need to change them to further strengthen that rigour and effectivenessthey are about right. Ministers should be responsible for the appointments that they make, and Ministers should account to Parliament for those appointments. As the Committee on Standards in Public Life has said, a clear
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, focused on the provisions of the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, that deal with our international commitments, with his interesting reflections on the United States example. The Bill contains a number of provisions that would fundamentally affect the exercise of authority in the conclusion of treaties by the United Kingdom. It was interesting that, with their far greater experience of government than mine, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, were not certain of the Bill's approach with regard to treaties.
Some of the provisions seek to draw on existing parliamentary practice, but the key planks of the Bill, as it relates to those United Kingdom treaties that are subject to ratification, go a considerable step further. They would require either a resolution to be passed in both Houses, or a report to be made by a Select Committee to Parliament before ratification can be effected for every such treaty. These provisions would not only delay the ratification process, but would be a substantial burden on Parliament's time, without necessarily or materially adding to the scrutiny that Parliament is already at liberty to make.
We have said that we remain open to considering ways of improving the efficient and effective scrutiny of treaties by Parliament, and we have taken steps to do so. We have widened the scope of the Ponsonby Rule, on which the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, remarked, to allow more treaties to fall within its remit, and to ensure that Select Committees in another place have the opportunity to consider each treaty laid before Parliament under that procedure. Since 1997following the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hillall such treaties have routinely been accompanied by an explanatory memorandum. These are made directly available to all Members, and widely published, including on the Internet. The measures proposed in this Bill would not enhance the efficient and effective scrutiny of treaties by Parliament, and for that reason we do not support them.
A number of specific points were raised during the course of the debate, which I may not have covered in my overall commentary. It is right that I address some of those points now, before I conclude. The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, made some specific comments about executive powers. It is worth reminding your Lordships' House that we made it clear when we were elected that we intended to strengthen the centre of government. There has been criticism of the numbers of special advisers in place. As a number of noble Lords said, there are some 27 special advisers at No. 10. This compares with a senior Civil Service that is comprised of some 3,500 officials. Much has been made of the 1997 Order in Council allowing up to three special advisers in No. 10
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to the Phillis review of government communications. It is worth reflecting that since the appointment of David Hill as director of communications that position no longer carries any executive powers. The noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, made some comments about the clarity of roles in the Civil Service. We would all agree with that. It will be one of the tasks of the new permanent secretary for government communications to ensure that the existing rules for guidance are fit for purpose and to decide whether any further clarification is needed on that point.
I have covered most of the points that were raised. I detect the unhappiness at the delay, as many noble Lords see it, in bringing forward a Civil Service Bill. I heard clearly what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said about consultation. We believe that consultation is right. As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said, we have the prospect of three Bills on the Civil Service in play. The noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, said that he did not believe that it was a difficult task to draft a Bill and to draft it properly.
We will be publishing a draft. I cannot give a precise timetable. It will be in the current parliamentary session. If I had a preferenceI speak slightly out of turn hereit would be published before the summer Recess. It will have to take its place in the drafting queue. I understand that it is in the process of being drafted. I also heard the important pleas made both today and on other occasions for there to be some joint consideration of the Bill by a committee of both Houses when it is published. We will consider that, and we will listen carefully to what both Houses have to say on that point.
I have set out the reasons why the Government do not lend their support to the noble Lord's Bill. However, we are absolutely committed to upholding the integrity, independence and impartiality of the Civil Service and the powerful and important voice that the Civil Service gives to impartial and high-grade advice. I entirely go along with the point that we have the finest Civil Service in the world. It is a Civil Service that needs to change and reflect modern times, the case for which was powerfully made by the Prime Minister in his speech.
We accept the case for Civil Service legislation, and today's debate has assisted us greatly as we work up our own draft Bill for consultation. I join in the congratulations of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. Today's debate, his Bill and the Bill that is being produced by Dr Tony Wright have been valuable. I look forward to the time when we will have more discussion on a draft government Bill, which all Members of your Lordships' House who have been involved in today's debate have long awaited.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I remember some years ago I was speaking about one of my human rights Bills at nine o'clock in the evening, when a grumpy Member of your Lordships' House got up and said, "I want to remind the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, that it is after the dinner hour, and I think that no serious points ought to be made in this House after the dinner hour". I am aware that in one minute's time, it will be after the lunch hour, so I will speak very briefly indeed. Before I say anything more, I want to comment on the festooning of compliments, as it was described by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton. At the end of the 19th century there were two very distinguished constitutional historians called Stubbs and Freeman. They made a habit of writing complimentary reviews about each other's books, until one day a wag said:
There is a certain tendency for excessive compliments. They are always appreciated, but I would like to pay a compliment to everyone who has taken part in this debate. Everyone has made a very important contribution. Taking part in the debate were four former Cabinet Ministers, a former Cabinet Secretary, a serving Civil Service Commissioner with huge previous experience in public administration, two former special advisers who both knew the rules and kept to themincluding, I hope, myselfand a very distinguished former Lord Chancellor. This has been a most remarkable, wise, well-informed debate. If only the playwright Samuel Beckett were still alive, the name of the game would have been "Waiting for Godot", because we still wait for Godot. Although it is quite clear that the Minister would like a Bill to be published before the end of July, it is quite clear also that he is not allowed to say so because the Government do not have that commitment.
At this stage, I shall say little about the criticisms made of Parts 1 and 3, although I would like to say something. There has been not near-universal, but universal support for the principles in Part 2. Nothing that the Minister has said today suggests that the Government disagree with any part of Part 2 or, for that matter, any part of Dr Wright's committee's draft Bill. It would be perfectly possible to segregate Part 2, which comprises 15 clauses including the supplementary clauses, and one schedulea nice, short, simple Billfrom the rest.
Why did I put the rest in? It is part of a constitutional framework, and Part 2 is a subset of that. I have enormous respect for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, but he and I have never really agreed on some constitutional reform proposals, as he will remember. He, I think, would like the present arrangements, whereby the monarch rather than Parliament is king. I would prefer to put in charge Parliament and the constitution, as is the case with the constitutions of the rest of the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland, for example. But that is a wider question. Luckily, the Public Administration Committee will produce a report very soon on prerogative powers. When that report is published we
The real question is: what on earth are we to do, given the shilly-shallying and procrastination of the Government about introducing even a draft Civil Service Bill at this stage? I suggest that one might make progress in the following way: if noble Lords give this Bill a Second Reading and it is then remitted to a Committee, given that the Official Opposition, represented here by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, have indicated enthusiasm for some mechanism of advancing the issues properly, for which I am most grateful, the idea put forward today by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for a Joint Committee of both Houses, seems a way forward, provided that it did not have to wait perhaps until autumn or winter for a government draft Bill. One way forward might be to set up a Joint Committee of both Houses after Second Reading, with suitable terms of reference to consider: Dr Wright's Bill, Part 2 of my Bill, but not the rest, and, when it arrives, the Government's draft Bill.
In other words, the committee could start its work now; it could then be enriched by the Government's Bill; the consultation would begin under proper joint parliamentary auspices; evidence could be given; the Government could be helped by listening to that evidence; they could produce their Bill in July, September or October; and the committee could produce its report before the end of this Session, after full consultation. That seems preferable to my taking up parliamentary time in taking this Bill through all its legislative stages in this House, only to be lost in the Commons through lack of parliamentary time.
That seems a good reason for giving this Bill a Second Reading, so that we can seek to raise the Government's game and make progress with all deliberate speed and not all deliberate procrastination. Therefore, I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.