Special Advisers

– in the House of Lords at 11:00 am on 11th March 2004.

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Photo of Lord Sheldon Lord Sheldon Labour 11:00 am, 11th March 2004

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.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

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.

Photo of Lord Sheldon Lord Sheldon Labour

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?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

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.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

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.]

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

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

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.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

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?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

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.

Photo of Viscount Goschen Viscount Goschen Conservative

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?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

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.