My Lords, the Government have received more than 50 responses to the consultation exercise. They will make a Statement when they have completed their consideration of the responses.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but will he accept that the question of a Civil Service Bill is not a new issue? Consultations have been going on for seven years, since the process began all that time ago. The latest consultation on the draft Bill, which produced only 50 replies, ended five months ago. So there have been five months to look at the results of the consultations and the 50 issues that must have been raised. What is a big issue is why political advisers should give instructions to civil servants, who have been acting in the name of all of us for the past 150 years.
My Lords, it is not the responsibility of special advisers to give instructions to civil servants. Their role is to work and to assist Ministers, Secretaries of State and parliamentary under-secretaries. The 50 responses were very detailed and we are giving very careful consideration to them. No doubt in full course we shall make our views on the fruits of those consultations known to your Lordships' House and another place.
My Lords, how many of the responses received argued in favour of an extension in the role and power of special advisers? Why did the Prime Minister, only last month and without informing Parliament, change the role of special advisers from advising to assisting Ministers, thereby allowing a non-elected political adviser to override a civil servant? Is that not just the kind of thing that we need a Civil Service Bill to prevent?
My Lords, I dispute the interpretation that the noble Baroness puts on the change to the Order in Council. It simply changes the role from advising to assisting.
My Lords, I am sorry, but assisting is not instructing. If that is what the noble Baroness thinks that it means, I believe that she is rather mistaken.
My Lords, is the Minister not aware that the procedure which the Government followed in making this change—which he announced by an elision in his Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, about advice from special advisers—as the Government did by the Privy Council Order on
My Lords, I am extremely puzzled by the noble Lord's approach to this matter. I have to tell the noble Lord and your Lordships' House that the change that has been recommended, and which is being made by Order in Council, was a direct result of a recommendation by the Public Administration Select Committee. That recommendation the Government welcomed.
"civil servants to carry out their duties . . . (c) with objectivity and impartiality"?
Clause 5(9) states that,
"the code need not require special advisers to carry out their duties with objectivity or political impartiality".
Can he think of a better way of creating confusion and general dislike?
My Lords, I do not think that there is the confusion which the noble Lord suggests. I believe that the role of special advisers in Whitehall is well understood. Their work has been widely welcomed in the past. Governments of all political persuasions have accepted the importance and value of special advisers. I believe that they do a valuable job across government. In fact, civil servants very much welcome their involvement.
My Lords, it is not within the power of all bar one of the special advisers to give instructions. I am sure that that position is well understood by the noble Lord. Jonathan Powell has executive responsibilities. All other special advisers currently working for the Government advise and assist their Ministers.
My Lords, does the Minister not accept that the problem is not so much the content of this order but the way in which it was made—that this important new change was made in utter secrecy and without any opportunity for previous discussion?
My Lords, I dispute the notion that the order was made in secret. The amendment to the Civil Service Code in council appeared in the Gazette on
My Lords, having been waved down with his usual courtesy by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, I should now like to recover from the blow. Is the noble Lord aware that the comforting words that the Government use to themselves that special advisers are no problem are far from reassuring? We are concerned—and I hope that the Minister is aware of this—that the import on the present scale of special advisers into departments complete with their party political germs is a step, and a substantial step, in the direction of a single-party state.
My Lords, the noble Lord has gone a bit over the top on this one. Come on, my Lords, there are 77 or 78 special advisers across Whitehall, and there is a Civil Service of over 3,500 in the government departments at the centre of the way in which we govern our nation. The noble Lord needs to have a sense of proportion here.