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Cabinet Office: Standards-setting Bodies

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:47 pm on 29th March 2007.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 12:47 pm, 29th March 2007

No, my Lords, that is not the case at all and his very able deputy is carrying on the work of the committee. The simple fact of the matter is that Sir Alistair's term came to an end, as the terms of all previous chairmen have, and he has been asked to resign to complete his term on that basis. The suspicion would be valid if we were not in the unique situation that I have just described; namely, that we have an important report from the Select Committee in another place on these very issues and we expect the Government to consider that report with great seriousness. I refute the concept that there has been some improper activity on the part of the Government as far as Sir Alistair is concerned. What is quite clear from the letters that have been exchanged between him and the Cabinet Secretary is how much his work on the committee has been appreciated over these past three years.

I come to the final points that I want to make on these matters. In expressing a constructive proposal on how these committees could be enhanced in public life, the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has stimulated a debate that has produced conflicting opinions. All noble Lords who have contributed to the debate have helped to flesh out these issues and I am grateful to those who have served on particular committees for identifying their experiences.

We have to put this matter in context. Britain does not have public life, public administration or a Civil Service that set low standards—very far from it. It is to Britain that a large number of people come to attend our National School of Government in order to understand how Administrations can be run—free, fair, proper, to standards of probity and with the absence of corruption. The bodies which are the subject of this debate play their part in the vital role of setting and upholding those standards across the nation.

While recognising the constructive criticisms of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, we should also recognise that we do not want to lose the virtues of the past, nor should be succumb to a crude populism that suggests that public life is held in low regard, that standards are declining rapidly and that the nation is ill-served. Far from it—we should have confidence in the institutions that we have.