HC Deb 10 November 1999 vol 337 cc1117-9
5. Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

What steps she is taking to promote public confidence in the independence and political impartiality of the civil service. [96784]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Marjorie Mowlam)

The Government are committed to maintaining a permanent and impartial civil service and to upholding the principles of integrity, honesty, impartiality and objectivity set out in the civil service code. That commitment is reinforced in the ministerial code.

Mrs. Bottomley

I join those who have welcomed the right hon. Lady to her new job. Will she look again at the remarks of the head of professions of the Government Information and Communication Service, who told the Neill committee that career civil servants were feeling vulnerable under the Government, who are obsessed with presentation?

A growing number of people with Labour party histories have moved into the career civil service. The right hon. Lady has spoken much of the importance of special advisers. The Labour party also frequently refers to the previous Conservative Administration. Can she find one example of someone who worked in the Conservative party press office who was then taken on as a civil service press officer?

Marjorie Mowlam

I have looked into the matter, as this is not the first time that the right hon. Lady has raised it. Yes, there have been a great number of changes among press officers, and when one looks at the detail, one finds that there were not as many under the previous Government, but many press officers have retired or moved with their Minister. When one studies individual cases, however, one finds that the situation is not as odd and bizarre as Opposition Members have tried to portray it. The appointments have been open and have been made on the grounds of merit. Those are the criteria that have been followed. If the right hon. Lady informs me of specific cases of concern, I will look into them. In all the months that this question has been asked, however, there has not been one such case.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I wonder whether I could introduce a bit of balance. Is my right hon. Friend aware that I think that some special advisers are not socialist enough? I want somebody who is totally and utterly dedicated to the cause; somebody who wants to redistribute power and wealth and will advise the Chancellor of the Exchequer for next year as well; somebody who is dedicated to saving the coal industry and taking it away from the grasp of Richard Budge. I have the names of a few redundant miners who could fit the bill.

Marjorie Mowlam

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. If the people he is thinking of would like to put their names forward as special advisers to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, I am sure that they would be considered.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

The civil service code is clear. It says that the Government have a duty not to use public resources for party political purposes and to uphold the political impartiality of the civil service. Can the right hon. Lady confirm that the Government have done that at all times?

Marjorie Mowlam

I do not have any doubt that that is the case. Let us be clear about the specifics that other Governments have adopted. When you were in government before us—[Interruption.] I beg your pardon Madam Speaker. When the Conservatives were in government, there were three or four Ministers who did campaigning work for the party. The situation is not unique to this Government. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I think that the impartiality of the civil service is crucial to good government. We are proud to work with an impartial civil service.