Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill

Part of Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:15 pm on 8th April 2010.

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Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase 1:15 pm, 8th April 2010

The hon. and learned Gentleman anticipates my later remarks-the case for fresh thinking about what happens at the end of a Parliament. Should things endure at all, or should they simply fall and have to start again? The case for that is strong, and we have an obligation to review this period, because none of us feels happy about the outcome. I regret the loss of parts of the Bill that would have been valuable but, having said that, my main remarks are directed at the pleasure of having rescued the civil service provisions, for which some of us have been arguing for an awfully long time.

The Committee that I chair has reported endlessly on the civil service issue. In frustration, at one point we even drafted our own Bill-the first time that a Select Committee had done that, certainly in the modern period-but I had almost given up hope. The proposition was first advanced by Northcote and Trevelyan in the middle of the 19th century, so to be enacting it at the end of the first decade of the 21st century suggests that we have not been too premature in advancing the cause. However, we have got there, and we got there because we had what we did not have before. The change was previously held up by, first, the lack of political will and, secondly, a fear that it could not be done without provoking political disagreements. I speak with sincerity not only to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State but to the Opposition that agreement was required for the change to happen. It has happened unsatisfactorily in many respects, but it has happened.

When the current electoral excitements abate, putting the civil service on the statutory footing that it ought to have been on for a long time and enshrining its values in legislation will be seen as a not-insignificant constitutional moment, widely welcomed by the civil service. I congratulate those who have enabled it to happen.

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