[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

Part of Onshore Wind Turbines (Proximity of Habitation) – in the House of Commons at 6:34 pm on 3rd November 2009.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire 6:34 pm, 3rd November 2009

I am concerned about the exclusion of GCHQ from the definition of what is a civil servant for the purposes of this part of the Bill. It is hard to see why GCHQ employees should not be covered by such provisions. Why should GCHQ not be managed by the Minister but by a civil service employer? Why should there not be a code of conduct that requires integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality? Why should the Civil Service Commission be unable to set appointment rules that mean that appointments are on merit? Why should an employee who feels that he is being asked to do something that is in breach of the code of conduct be unable to go to the commissioners and ask for redress? It seems odd that the Government would want to exclude that particular institution from the Bill.

I can understand that slightly different considerations apply to the Secret Intelligence Service-MI6-because it has its own statutes that provide similar protections, and it might seem inappropriate to want to legislate to repeal completely those provisions, which are presumably, for these purposes, adequate. However, GCHQ is not in the same position, as the Government recognised in 2004. What has changed that makes the Government suddenly feel that GCHQ must be treated differently from the rest of the civil service? I am sure that if somebody who works there was asked, "Who do you work for?", they would say either the Ministry of Defence or the civil service; they would not want to call themselves employees of anything else. Given that it is logical that GCHQ should be covered by the Bill and given that there is no real reason why the prerogative powers should be used instead of management being exercised under this legislation, I would be therefore be interested to hear the Minister's explanation.

I am worried that this may be one of those cases that we get from time to time when Ministers and civil servants say, "We don't want to fetter GCHQ in any way", and that what is proposed is just the product of a defensive approach that is against the spirit of the age, which is to be as transparent as possible. In that case, I believe that there is no real reason why the amendment should not succeed.

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Richard Taylor
Posted on 9 Nov 2009 8:27 pm (Report this annotation)

In this speech MP Oliver Heald said: "I believe that there is no real reason why the amendment should not succeed", but shortly afterwards he and his party abstained and did not vote for the amendment.

I wrote to Mr Heald asking him why he had apparently said one thing and done another. He replied: "Conservatives decided to give further consideration to the Minister’s comments and the best way forward. We therefore abstained."

The full reply from Mr Heald and more of my commentary can be found at :

http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/how-mps-vote.html#comment-21662

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Richard Taylor
Cambridge
http://www.rtaylor.co.uk