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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, given the events of this week, in which a senior civil servant has resigned and we have seen the debacle over the "no smoking" Bill, would it not be better for the training to be given to Ministers rather than civil servants?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Actually, my Lords, I was thinking that it might help if the Opposition had some training.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, we see in the Government's response to the ninth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life that special advisers can now convey instructions to the Civil Service and commission work from it. Is it not clear that this is the first time that special advisers have come between Ministers and civil servants and that we urgently need an Act of Parliament to control this or to clarify it?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I wondered how long it might take to get round to talking about a Civil Service Bill or Act, a debate which we have had many times before. It is not my understanding that special advisers give instructions. That is not the nature of the relationship. They might seek to request work on behalf of Ministers, but they will work very much within the framework set for them by Ministers. They are there to assist both the Minister and the Civil Service staff in taking forward important policy work. That is the nature of that relationship.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, in a statement in October, Sir Brian Bender, who, I understand, is the head of the profession for policy and delivery, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was referring—indicated that there was a need to get away from the notion of generalists. Is it the Government's general view that there is to some extent a shortage of the specialists required?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Professional Skills for Government programme is
 
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designed to see the end of the era of the gifted amateur. We are trying to work much harder to ensure that there is a strong core profession in the Civil Service. Generalists are important, but we need to ensure that we have that professional expertise. There are many professions throughout the Civil Service, and our Government are committed to ensuring that we raise the quality of professionalism in the Civil Service. That is an important aspect of our modernisation programme.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, is there continuing validity in the Northcote-Trevelyan concept of a higher Civil Service staffed by generalists formed by a broad but rigorous education in the humanities and characterised by independence of mind and a commitment to the public domain?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I certainly see a value in the Northcote-Trevelyan ethic—we have had many discussions and debates about that. However, in the senior Civil Service—I am describing a group of about 30,000 civil servants—we require expertise at a professional level for lawyers, accountants, human resources and IT experts, auditors and in medicine and specific science disciplines and so on. It is terribly important that we work and invest in that if we want to raise standards of public service and ensure that we have the right people in the right jobs.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, does the Minister agree that this is a great initiative that is to be encouraged? However, does he also agree that if he really wants to recruit the very best people into the very best of our Civil Service, we need a Civil Service Act, to encourage people to come in and know that we will protect their independence once they are there?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness is kindly inviting me to agree with my own Government's policy. I am most grateful for that. The Government are committed to raising standards in public service. That is exactly what we seek to do. It is much better for us to spend our time focusing on professional development and improving levels of expertise and rather less time focusing on the narrow range of issues which I understand that colleagues are concerned about and relate to a particular aspect of the Civil Service. If the Opposition party was serious about its modernising proposals it would see the value of investing more in high-quality staff so that our services were truly excellent.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, can the Minister tell us what percentage of permanent secretaries have degrees in science or engineering?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I would not begin to answer that question this morning. I do not have the data at my fingertips, but I am more than happy to write to the noble Lord on that point. This is an important and serious debate, not one for petty
 
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political point scoring. We should all get behind the programme and be proud of it, as it will raise standards in public life and across our public services.

Lord Garden: My Lords, I actually know the answer as it was in July 2004, when we had the Civil Service debate, because I did the research: one out of 19 permanent secretaries had a science degree. As the Minister is telling us that improvements are happening, could he at least tell us what the trend is? Has he doubled, tripled or quadrupled the figure?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I guess that we could double it quite easily by recruiting another one, if the noble Lord is right—I have no reason to doubt that he is. In a sense, he makes an important point. We need to plan for the future, which is why it is important that we have the Professional Skills for Government programme. I am sure that, over time, the Civil Service will benefit greatly from its development. Certainly, civil servants who use the programme are already beginning to reap the rewards from it.

Citizenship: Young People

11.21 am

Lord Northbourne asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether details of the rights and responsibilities of young people referred to in their Respect Action Plan are clearly set out in the citizenship curriculum taught to young people in schools.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, citizenship education develops pupils' understanding of their roles and responsibilities as citizens in a modern democracy. It encourages pupils to develop respect for themselves and for others. It teaches pupils about social and criminal justice and about the importance of active citizenship. Also important in nurturing respect is the teaching of personal, social and health education in schools, which emphasises the duties of parents and the value of family life.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, which puts a finger on one of the important issues—the difference between citizenship education, which is compulsory in schools as it is part of the national curriculum, and the PSHE curriculum, which is in effect voluntary at schools, except for the part that relates to sex education. Does the noble Lord accept that a baby is not born with social values, let alone the shared values of the society into which it is born? It may be true that those values are widely shared in our society—I suspect that they are—but it is clear from anti-social behaviour and other issues that not all children are growing up
 
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learning and appreciating the importance of those values. What do the Government plan to do about that?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, which is why we place such emphasis on both citizenship education and PSHE in our schools. As he knows, citizenship education became compulsory in schools three years ago—there was no mandatory requirement for it until then—and we have significantly strengthened support for PSHE in schools in recent years, including through schemes of work, a substantial programme of training PSHE teachers, and the department is just about to launch and fund a subject association for PSHE teachers. We recognise the importance of all those strands of work.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, when children are taught about their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, they develop an understanding of their responsibilities in relation to the rights of others? Is he aware of the many projects that prove that this very much improves their behaviour, both at school and in the home?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness. The citizenship curriculum places strong emphasis on the teaching of legal and human rights, including international treaties and obligations.


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