Select Committee on Liaison Second Report


This proposal is for the House to create an ad hoc Select Committee to consider Part 2 of and Schedule 3 to the Constitutional Reform (Prerogative Powers and Civil Service etc.) Bill in the context of other current proposals to create a statutory framework for the Civil Service and its relations with Ministers, Special Advisers, and Parliament. The Bill was given a Second Reading on 3 March 2006 and received widespread support across the House.[1] The Bill would create the framework for the Civil Service and Special Advisers.

It is almost thirty years since Lord Fulton's Committee on the Civil Service published its report.[2] That Committee was appointed to examine the structure, recruitment and management, including training, of the Home Civil Service, and to make recommendations. The Fulton Report noted that the Home Civil Service was still fundamentally the product of the nineteenth-century philosophy of the Northcote-Trevelyan Report of 1854. It identified respects in which the Service was inadequate for the most efficient discharge of the present and prospective responsibilities of government. It made a series of important recommendations, many of which have since been implemented. However, the Fulton Committee did not consider the underlying constitutional principles or the case for a Civil Service Act to replace the Orders in Council under which the Civil Service was and is governed, and the contents of a governing statute.

The House of Commons Treasury and Civil Service Committee published its Fifth Report on The Role of the Civil Service in 1994. It called for implementation of the Northcote-Trevelyan recommendation to put the Civil Service Commission on a statutory basis, but did not make detailed proposals.[3]

The Lords Select Committee on the Public Service, chaired by Lord Slynn of Hadley, published its report in 1998.[4] That Committee was appointed to consider "the present condition and future development of the Public Service in Great Britain with particular regard to the effectiveness of recent and continuing changes and their impact on standards of conduct and service in the public interest". The Committee's invitation to submit evidence focused on two questions: (a) is there an irreducible minimum of functions which must remain within the public service; and if so what are they and why can they not be done elsewhere?; and (b) is there a distinctive public service ethos; and if so what function does it serve, and where does it reside? The Committee looked at the case for a Civil Service Act in passing, but given the broad remit of its inquiry, the issue was not given detailed consideration.[5]

The Committee on Standards in Public Life considered the relationship between Ministers, Civil Servants and Special Advisers in its Sixth Report, Reinforcing Standards: Review of the First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.[6] This report recommended that the Civil Service Code be put on a statutory footing and that a timetable be produced for the implementation of the Government's commitment to a Civil Service Act as soon as possible.[7] The Committee revisited the issue in its Ninth Report, Defining the Boundaries within the Executive: Ministers, Special Advisers and the permanent Civil Service,[8] and recommended that there should be a short Act to cover the Civil Service and Special Advisers.

The House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee published a draft Civil Service Bill in December 2003 on similar lines to Lord Lester's Bill, after taking written and oral evidence on the issue.[9] This Committee is also currently conducting an inquiry of a general nature on the impartiality of the Civil Service.[10]

The Government published a draft Civil Service Bill in November 2004 as part of a consultation document.[11] This followed repeated assurances that the Government was committed to a Civil Service Act. The Cabinet Office is also currently consulting a new draft Civil Service Code.[12]

The Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, wrote to Lord Bassam of Brighton on 12 March 2006 expressing the Committee's disappointment that the Government reiterated its intention to make a statement about the consultation exercise on a Civil Service Bill "in due course", without giving any clearer indication of when this might be, or when a Bill might be introduced to Parliament.

The House of Lords has great expertise in this area, and is able to benefit from the knowledge and experience of former Ministers, members of the Home and Diplomatic Civil Service, Civil Service Commissioners, and constitutional lawyers, among others. It is well placed to consider and recommend proposals for reform at a time when Government policy is being developed, and in a way that may be of real practical importance.

It is proposed that the Committee would consider the issues covered in Part 2 of and Schedule 3 to the Bill, namely:

  1.  the case for a Civil Service Act to replace the Orders in Council       under which the Civil Service was and is governed;

  2.  the contents of a governing statute;

  3.  the principles for appointments to, and the operation of, the Civil       Service;

  4.  the merit principle and any exceptions to it;

  5.  the duties of Civil Servants and Special Advisers;

  6.  the duties of Ministers in relation to the impartiality and integrity of       the Civil Service;

  7.  establishment of the Civil Service Commission as a statutory body;

  8.  functions of the Civil Service Commission, including powers of       oversight of Civil Service appointments and conduct;

  9.  codes of conduct for Civil Servants and Special Advisers; and

  10.  powers of investigation into contraventions relating to the Civil       Service.

In the course of its inquiry the Committee may wish to consider the underlying constitutional principles governing relations between Ministers, Civil Servants, Special Advisers, Parliament and the public.

For its work to be relevant to the development of policy, the Committee would need to complete its work by the Summer recess of 2007.

1   The Bill mirrors Lord Lester's previous Bill, the Executive Powers and Civil Service Bill, which had its Second Reading on 5 March 2004. Back

2   The Civil Service, Cmnd. 3638, June 1968. Back

3   Treasury and Civil Service Committee, The Role of the Civil Service, Session 1993-94, HC 27-I, para 116. Back

4   Select Committee on the Public Service, January 1998. Back

5   The Committee noted that "It is a matter for consideration whether such responsibility [for protecting the ethos and morale of the Civil Service] should be included expressly in the Civil Service Act the introduction of which, on balance, we favour. We recommend that it should be so included.": Paragraph XXV. For more detailed recommendations on a Civil Service Act, see further paras 415-418. Back

6   Cm 4557, January 2000. Back

7   The report also made recommendations regarding Special Advisers and the Special Advisers' code. Back

8   Cm 5775, April 2003. Back

9   A Draft Civil Service Bill: Completing the Reform (HC 128-I). Back

10   The inquiry is titled "Politics and Administration: Ministers and Civil Servants". Back

11   A Draft Civil Service Bill: A Consultation Document, Cm 6373, November 2004. Back

12   The consultation period ends on 21 April 2006. Back

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