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House of Lords

Thursday, 11 March 2004.

The House met at eleven of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford): The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Special Advisers

Lord Sheldon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, following the ninth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, they will establish appropriate boundaries between special advisers and civil servants.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the code of conduct for special advisers sets out the duties and responsibilities of special advisers. It also requires special advisers to uphold the political impartiality of civil servants. In their response to the ninth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Government proposed an amendment to the code of conduct for special advisers to provide a further clarification of the relationships between special advisers and permanent civil servants.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for that reply, I acknowledge his useful contribution to last Friday's debate. But is he aware that in evidence to the Public Administration Committee there was concern that civil servants had been close to being instructed by special advisers? In its ninth report, the Committee on Standards in Public Life called for a Civil Service Act which would include clear statements of what special advisers cannot do and that they must not undermine the political impartiality of civil servants. I think this needs more than just a code. Will the draft Civil Service Bill cover these points?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord is aware that only last Friday we had a useful and valuable debate on the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and that this was one of the issues that was raised extensively during that debate. We are committed to consulting on a draft Bill. No doubt the issue raised by the noble Lord today—he has raised it many times before—will be one of the issues that will be dealt with and consulted on when the draft Bill is published.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, because he took part in the debate to which he has just referred, the Minister will be aware that the First Civil Service Commissioner, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, expressed the hope that that debate would,

    "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".—[Official Report, 5/3/04; col. 904.]

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Can the Minister say whether that proposal will be given urgent consideration by the Government and will have a fair wind, with their support?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord's question has been raised on a few occasions before in your Lordships' House. He knows that it is one of the issues which is to be considered as part of the process of consultation. The noble Lord made a helpful suggestion only last Friday with regard to the way in which the two Private Members' Bills and the forthcoming draft government Bill could usefully be consulted on. That is something that we are actively considering.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the Minister will recall the notorious Order in Council of 7 May 1997 which placed two specific special advisers above civil servants in law. It did a great deal of damage to the Government and was deeply deplored. Subsequently an undertaking was given to rescind it. Can the Minister remind me whether that law has now been rescinded?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not know that I consider it to be notorious. My understanding of the position is that it is no different from that which pertained under earlier administrations. There are only three Civil Service posts that have executive powers, only two of which are currently filled. The noble Lord will be aware of the outcome of the Phillis review, the fruit of which was that the replacement for Alastair Campbell no longer has executive powers in the way in which they were exercised before.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, do the Government accept all the recommendations made in connection with the role of special advisers in the final report of the independent review of government communications published in January?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my recollection is that we certainly accepted most, if not all, of the recommendations, of the first published Phillis review. We are actively considering the recommendations made in the subsequent follow-up report published by Phillis.

Police: Special Services

11.5 a.m.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to introduce legislation to amend Section 25 of the Police Act 1996 on the provision of special services or to issue a code of practice or guidance on the application of that legislation by police authorities and chief officers of police.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, we are currently examining whether there are any suitable future

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legislative opportunities that would enable some amendment to Section 25. Guidance in Home Office circular 34/2000 deals specifically with charging for policing football matches. In response to concerns of the police and football authorities, a joint Home Office and DCMS departmental working group has been examining all the issues.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware that ancient fairs—some as old as 800 years—are at risk of being driven out of business by savage charging imposed by police authorities? In one case of which I am aware, the charge was 180,000.

While it is understandable for the police to charge for special services on private premises, does my noble friend agree that policing is a public service and that it is unacceptable to charge in respect of ancient funfairs in public places and on high streets, while night clubs and bars proliferate in city centres, causing massive policing problems, with no charges at all? Policing should be free at the point of delivery. After all, the public have only two choices—take it or leave it.

Does my noble friend further agree that the disparity in charging practices by the police amounts to postcode policing of the worst possible kind, which can only further damage the reputation of the police in the eyes of the public?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hear what my noble friend says in relation to charging. I do not think I can agree with all the comments that he has made because, of course, what constitutes a special police service must be determined by taking account of all the circumstances of each individual case. It must also be requested by the event organiser and agreed by the chief constable, who will take into account the level of resources required and the deployment available.

I am aware that concern was expressed in relation to one fair as a result of a charge made by the local authority. The local authority asked for policing services, agreed the rate and then passed that sum on to the public. But that happened in one individual case. It is right that the group is looking at this issue. We hope that it will have a fruitful deliberation and fully take into account all that has been said.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Home Office guidance on charging for the policing of football matches, to which she has just referred, could serve as an appropriate model for the charging for the policing of fairgrounds? Is she aware that in Chapter 13 of those notes of guidance it states:

    "It is recognised that local circumstances cannot be ignored . . . In addition, the financial plight of some clubs is a significant consideration and asking for full economic recovery"—

of the cost of policing—

    "could lead to problems with recovering the debt and severe financial problems for the club"?

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Does not the Minister agree that the same sort of consideration should be given to some of our ancient charter fairs that some would believe are more part of our culture than football clubs?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, that is a powerful argument. As the noble Baroness will know, there has been a great deal of debate as to whether and to what extent this should be extended. The law at the moment sets out the criteria which should be applied when a decision is made as to whether special measures should be taken in terms of policing. But it is right that the whole amount is not recovered at the moment and these matters are very much under debate.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I must declare an interest. I am proud to be an honorary member of the Showman's Guild. Does my noble friend agree that it would be a great pity if we lost some of these fairs which have added to the gaiety and enjoyment of many people, particularly youngsters? And yet they are threatened; not only one authority but four authorities are now looking at this issue. Does not my noble friend further agree that it should not be done in such an arbitrary manner, which puts at risk the efforts of those who work so hard to provide us with this enjoyment?

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