My Lords, I see that there are no more responses, so will my noble friend publish the Government's replies to those 50, which we knew about many months ago? Is he aware that very many people view with dismay the decline in the standing of the Civil Service, the dominant role of some special advisers, and the way in which the integrity and independence of the Civil Service has been put at risk? The introduction of a Bill would enable Parliament to consider all those matters. What does the Minister say to that?
My Lords, as I have said on many occasions from the Dispatch Box, we value the independence, integrity, honesty and directness of civil servants and the quality of their advice. We are carefully considering the responses that have been received and we shall make our views known in due course.
My Lords, will the Minister go further? His answer sounded extraordinarily complacent, first, in the light of the criticisms made by Sir Alistair Graham, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, in which he accused the Government of being in breach of the seven principles of public life because of their reliance on mere orders to effect change—in particular, the principle of openness and transparency—and, secondly, in the light of the powerful argument advanced by the Civil Service Commissioners, who wrote as long as a year ago that the constitutional position of the Civil Service and the core values which underpin the Civil Service are not suitable to be supported solely by Orders in Council and need to be embodied in a Bill. If the Government are unable to produce a Bill themselves, can they bring what they have before us and we can then see what we can do to improve it?
My Lords, I shall try to answer the noble Lord's points briefly. We simply do not accept what the noble Lord says. I have made plain on many occasions that we believe the current constitutional position to be well understood and well settled. It has been that way since Northcote and Trevelyan, and I think that the Civil Service works well in the current circumstances.
My Lords, the noble Lord is far more experienced in these matters than me, and I am sure that, as a former Minister, he understands exactly what "in due course" means. I am not in a position to provide a timetable and it would be wrong of me to do so, but the Government take these important issues extremely seriously. For that reason, even without a Bill being actively in play, the Government have been extremely keen to see that arrangements are strengthened, with proper rules, codes of practice and contracts put in place, to ensure that the relationship between government and the Civil Service is properly regulated. We remain committed to that.
My Lords, it is something of a relief to know from the noble Lord that the Government take these issues seriously. Are he and his masters aware of the growing concern felt at the widespread infiltration of the Civil Service as a result of the proliferation of specialist advisers? The Civil Service is coming very near to being reduced to a satellite of the Labour Party.
My Lords, I do not like having to disagree with the noble Lord, but that is a nonsensical analysis. There are 3,900 senior civil servants in central government departments. My recollection is that there are now 82, perhaps 84, special advisers. We must have a sense of proportion on this issue. To suggest that there is some sort of political infiltration, I am afraid, is nonsense.
My Lords, why have the Government not given effect to the recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life to appoint an independent arbiter of the ministerial code, as recently put forward again by Sir Alistair Graham?
My Lords, I ought to express the Government's gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, at this point. As the principal Civil Service Commissioner, she chairs a working group that, as I understand it, does exactly that. It considers the purpose and effectiveness of the code and monitors the way in which it performs. The noble Baroness is doing a sterling job, and your Lordships' House would do well to support and encourage her in that activity.
My Lords, are not the Government becoming increasingly arrogant in their declining years? They brush aside the opinion of their most senior civil servant and the needs of the best Civil Service in the world. It is time that the Government addressed the idea of bringing this Bill forward. The new Cabinet Secretary, Gus O'Donnell, has recently said that he believes that the Civil Service Bill must be passed to protect the honesty and integrity of the Civil Service. Will the Minister give the House an assurance that Sir Gus's fears that politics will get in the way of this important piece of legislation will not come to pass?