§ 38. Mr. Couchman
To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what proportion of civil servants are now employed in next steps agencies; and what the figure was two years ago.
§ Mr. Couchman
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the Public Accounts Committee's concern that the high standards of service and probity that have always been symbolic of our civil service should be maintained in the next steps agencies and other non-departmental public bodies. Will he assure the House that he will keep a close watch on probity and integrity in the public service, whether in the civil service itself or in the next steps agencies?
§ Mr. Hunt
Yes, I will. I was very pleased not only by the point made by the Public Accounts Committee, but by what was said in the recent report of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee. That Committee said:
We share the Government's view that the Next Steps reforms are in principle compatible with the maintenance of the traditional values of the Civil Service.Those traditional values—impartiality, integrity, selection and promotion on merit and accountability—are extremely valuable. We are arranging for a new handbook to be issued to all agency chief executives, to ensure that service-wide rules on conduct and financial propriety are always available in readily accessible form.
§ Ms Eagle
Would the Chancellor care to comment on stories that the chief executive of the Prison Service agency was not the first choice for the job? That would not have happened if the traditions of the civil service had been upheld. Would the right hon. Gentleman care to tell us precisely how the appointment was made?
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Lady should refrain from peddling scurrilous stories in the Chamber. She should concentrate on the fact that the next steps agencies have been a remarkable success, and on the fact that we have been able to find some extremely good people to lead them, not only in the civil service but outside it.