HL Deb 30 June 2004 vol 663 cc279-312

4.9 p.m.

Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach

rose to call attention to the size of the Civil Service and the case for an independent service; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to introduce this debate on the Civil Service, and, in particular, its size and its independence from undue party political pressure and control.

Let me make it absolutely clear at the outset that this debate is not meant to be a blanket attack from a Conservative point of view on either the Civil Service or, more generally, the public sector. To raise issues regarding the size and independence of the Civil Service is not to argue for a minimalist state or to suggest that government does little but harm. Conservatives are not libertarians. Effective government is critical for the functioning of our economy and for the efficient delivery of public services. For this to happen, it is important that we have a Civil Service made up of talented individuals committed to public service.

We are fortunate that we have such a service in this country. This year celebrates the 150th anniversary of the report of those two Treasury civil servants, Northcote and Trevelyan, which set out the case for a permanent Civil Service based on merit, free of patronage and politically impartial. Since that time, we have seen the development of a public service ethos and character in the Civil Service in this country which has emphasised integrity, honesty, merit, impartiality, probity and a true belief in public service.

Sir Andrew Turnbull, the present head of the Civil Service, is therefore fully justified in describing it as a national asset. It has the power to improve the strength of our economy and to raise the quality of life. I would applaud the work of civil servants during my five and a half years in Number 10. They really lived what they proclaimed.

I shall focus on two issues in this debate. Before I do so, I must declare two interests: first, as the head of the Prime Minister's Policy Unit and special adviser at 10 Downing Street for five and a half years from 1985 to 1990; and secondly, and more recently, as chairman of a company which supplies property-related services to, among others, the public sector and one large government department.

The first issue is size. Under successive Conservative governments, the number of civil servants was reduced from roughly 750,000 to 500,000. The momentum to reduce numbers continued even with the new Government, so that, by 1999, the number was just under 477,000. Then things started to change. By October 2003, the number of civil servants rose by around 35,000 on a full-time equivalent basis and 60,000 part time and full time. With that, there was a 42 per cent increase in costs during that period. Last year, costs increased by around 10 per cent.

I am delighted to say that the Government have now accepted that that party is over. According to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, more than 42,000 Civil Service jobs are to go by 2008; 10,000 jobs are to go from merging the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise; 30,000 jobs are to go at the DWP. The Department for Education and Skills is to cut its headquarter staff by 30 per cent and the Department of Health is to make a cut of nearly 40 per cent. Those are staggering figures. It is not a party political point, but one cannot help feeling that they are a considerable indictment on the way in which the Government have failed to control costs and allowed staff numbers to rise over the past four years.

The driving force for change has been the recent efficiency review led by Sir Peter Gershon. Its goal is a Civil Service which is small, less departmental, more flexible, more innovative and making more use of specialist skills. According to press reports, as a result of departmental mergers, better procurement across government, shared back office services in human resources and finance, and a greater use of IT, the job cuts could amount to 80,000. Will they be realised? I have three reservations.

First, in the private sector, effecting change requires expensive investment. For the Civil Service to realise savings of £15 billion to £20 billion per year, the Government are reported to have set aside a sum of just £300 million to make sure that happens. We know that one major factor in achieving savings is the introduction of information technology. Anyone with experience of this area, however, knows that embarking on reform of IT and predicting IT costs is a treacherous business. Is the Minister satisfied that that figure is really sufficient to achieve those huge savings?

Secondly, although Civil Service jobs are to be cut, public sector employment will not necessarily fall. Cutting Civil Service jobs is a way of freeing up resources to use in the front-line provision of public services. The theory is that people will move from the back office to the classroom, the hospital ward and the care facility. That is excellent theory, but the reality is that as the brake is slammed on in one part of the public sector, the accelerator will be pressed in another. The danger is that we will reduce bureaucracy in the Department of Health, but increase bureaucracy in the regions and in the NHS trusts. Similarly, we might reduce bureaucracy in the Department for Education and Skills, but increase it in local education authorities and the new regulatory bodies. What assurance can the Minister give that we will achieve net cuts?

Thirdly, the Prime Minister, in launching radical change in the Civil Service, talked about, less unproductive interference in the day-to-day management of public service". Again, that is a wonderful sentiment, but for this Government, such a statement is almost an oxymoron. New initiatives are the very DNA of new Labour. We have seen literally hundreds of new initiatives in education and health since 1997. We know that new initiatives mean new targets, new quangos and new structures.

The only way we can ensure that the public is better served is not just by cutting in one place and adding in another, but also by restructuring the public services with greater choice for parents and patients, greater operating freedom for producers and less interference from the centre.

I applaud initiatives of the Government such as foundation hospitals, private health facilities being used in the NHS and state schools being run by private sector operators, but instead of being granted real freedom to respond to local needs, they still find themselves part of centrally managed bureaucracies and quangos. The challenge, therefore, is not just to produce a leaner Civil Service and a leaner public sector, but also to ensure at the same time that structural changes take place which ensure that the provision of public services genuinely responds to the needs of parents and patients.

The second issue to which I would like to draw your Lordships' attention is the merits of an independent Civil Service. In my Motion, I have used the word "independent" in relation to the Civil Service. I fully realise that, under our constitution, the Civil Service can never be independent of the government of the day. Civil servants are employed by the Crown and take orders from Ministers as Ministers of the Crown. They owe loyalty to the government of the day, but they do not owe a loyalty to the political party to which members of the Government belong. In that sense, they are independent of party politics. In order to ensure their impartiality, they should not be required, therefore, to take orders from political appointees, but they are required to take orders from Ministers in implementing the manifesto on which an election was won. That is a subtle but important distinction. The charge against the present Government is that they have ridden roughshod over this territory and violated that fine boundary which has existed in practice, but which is not set out in detail anywhere.

In raising the issue of independence, I recognise the value of the adage that people in glasshouses should not throw stones. I fully acknowledge that a failure to meet standards, whether in personal life or in financial matters, by certain individuals in previous Conservative governments, which culminated in that expression "sleaze", means that we on these Benches should be careful before levelling criticism at others. Despite those flaws, to the best of my knowledge, previous Conservative governments were never accused of politicising the Civil Service. The question "Is he one of us?" related to a can-do spirit and an openness to grapple with change, but not to whether civil servants could be relied on slavishly to support a party line. I worked with many civil servants, some of whom, I suspect, would have found it impossible to vote for the Conservative Party. However, they showed a professionalism and a fairness in implementing policy which was second to none.

At the heart of the issue of independence is the charge about the misuse of the position of special advisers—first, about the fact that their numbers have more than doubled, from 38 in 1997 to 81 at the latest count; secondly, and more importantly, due to the fact that there was an increase in No. 10 from eight in 1997 to 27 today; thirdly, about the increasing use of special advisers to make public and private statements to the media on behalf of the Government, which we would never have dared to do in my day; and finally, because of the fact that in No. 10 two special advisers were in 1997 given "executive powers" so that they could give orders to civil servants. For that to happen, the Civil Service Order in Council had to be amended, something which was not subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life commented that: The result is that the posts seem to mark a departure from the role for which special advisers have normally been appointed". Sir Richard Wilson—now the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, whom I am delighted to see is taking part in this debate—as head of the Civil Service explained that the effect of those powers was to give, the right to discuss things with civil servants, and to ask civil servants to take things on without debating whether or not a boundary had been crossed".

It was because of this that in recent years the most senior civil servants—the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, Sir Andrew Turnbull and Sir Nigel Wicks—have all called for a Civil Service Act to define more clearly the boundaries between the work of civil servants and that of political appointees.

The Government's response has been puzzling. They have repeatedly promised to introduce a Civil Service Bill to entrench the core values of the Civil Service, place limits on the activities of special advisers and set out the responsibilities of the Civil Service Commission, which would mean that this area would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. They made that commitment when in opposition, before 1997, confirmed it in July 1998 and July 2000 and again in 2001, and repeated it again in January this year in another place. Yet the Government have still not in fact introduced a Bill.

I shall comment briefly on my own views of those charges. I found that at the apex of British government, in the Cabinet Office and No. 10, the system worked well when the role of each entity—the No. 10 private office, the policy unit, the press office, the political office and the Cabinet Office—was well defined, even though not written down, and when the relevant players were prepared to exercise the necessary self-discipline to make it work. If the role of any part became unclear or if certain individuals refused to play by the rules, as some did, the result was inevitably conflict, confusion, disgruntled Ministers and bad government.

I believe that that is precisely what we have seen in recent years. Dramatically to increase the number of special advisers at No. 10, including two with executive powers, is an attempt, perhaps unintended, to change at a fundamental level the nature of the British constitution. It is to inject into the Prime Minister's office some of the powers of a presidential office. The US system has much to commend it, but we in the UK could go down that route only under a different constitution. Short of that, because the boundaries have been violated, we have strayed into a hybrid situation, in which the independence of the Civil Service is being called into question and in which, if it continues, it will be increasingly difficult to preserve the public service ethos of the Civil Service and recruit the most talented people.

We need change. My own view is that special advisers have an important role to play in good government; that one or at most two special advisers in government departments can help Ministers carry out their responsibilities more effectively; and that the Prime Minister must have the freedom to choose the way his office is structured, but that he or she must accept the constraints of our constitution. Having 27 special advisers in No. 10 is, in my judgment, absolutely outrageous, and in my experience would have meant mayhem. The number should be restricted to eight or, at most, 10. The position of special advisers with "executive powers" should be abolished, and there should be a Civil Service Bill along the lines I have mentioned.

Let me conclude by saying that the public service ethos of our Civil Service is an outgrowth of our particular, but in many ways ill-defined, constitution. We tamper with it at our peril. We want to ensure a lean Civil Service fit for purpose, but above all we want to preserve its independence and impartiality. It is precisely this that the Government have put at risk, which makes the demand therefore for a Civil Service Bill that more urgent. I beg to move for Papers.

4.24 p.m.

Lord Wilson of Dinton

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his initiative in arranging this debate. I am not sure whether this is a conflict of interests, but I declare that he and I worked alongside each other when he was head of the policy unit in No. 10 and I was head of the domestic secretariat. We both know from our own experience that special advisers and career civil servants can have a very constructive relationship.

The noble Lord rightly made the point that the size of the Civil Service reduced by nearly 40 per cent between 1976 and 1999. It reached a low point of 460,000 in April 1999. Since then, it has risen again to more than 500,000—I do not know the exact figure—and now we are told that the pendulum is swinging the other way. We have not seen the Gershon report, but we must assume that it is there. The focus appears to be on numbers.

I hope that those who are engaged in the exercise are paying attention to the lessons learned from previous drives to reduce the size of the Civil Service. It is an error to concentrate too heavily on numbers rather than expenditure. The Thatcher government in the early 1980s initially concentrated on manpower controls and a freeze on recruitment. The experience was not particularly successful and, after a while, they developed a more sophisticated regime based on the control of running costs. Over time, it brought about the substantial decline described by the noble Lord.

Controls on numbers are unsatisfactory because they rapidly become a haggle, in which every kind of subterfuge and device gets deployed. People start taking credit for staff numbers reducing when jobs were already going to be lost. People use expensive consultants rather than their own staff, because they do not count against the manpower ceiling, and they time the employment of part-time and casual staff so that it is not reflected in the actual numbers. It becomes a game of meeting numbers rather than managing well. That is a lesson that we can demonstrate clearly.

It is striking that between 1993 and 1997, the then Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, was very successful in cutting Civil Service numbers, with a certain cheerful brutality that was little noted at the time except by those of us affected by it. Every year, he reduced the running costs of departments by freezing them in cash terms, reducing them by a margin—something like 2.5 per cent—for efficiency, and leaving departments to get on with it. The result was that the head count for the Civil Service quietly declined by more than 100,000 between 1992 and 1998. Then, as the noble Lord said, the squeeze was relaxed and the curve began to climb again.

A squeeze on numbers must be accompanied by an intelligent look at the work that needs to be done. If one uses fewer resources, one needs also to take a sensible look at what those resources are deployed to do. In short, the process needs to be managed intelligently and humanely; if one just frightens the horses, one gets the wrong results and one distorts management.

I turn to the question of an independent Civil Service. I hesitate a little over the word "independent". As the noble Lord acknowledged, it is not entirely satisfactory. The Labour Party manifesto of 2001 said that our Civil Service is well renowned for its independence; I would prefer it to be well renowned for its political impartiality and its integrity. The word "independence" carries a hint that the Civil Service is a separate estate, which it is not.

It is a cardinal characteristic of the Civil Service that its staff are selected on merit, through fair and open competition, in accordance with the rules laid down by the Civil Service commissioners. I am glad to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, is here today. Its staff are also politically impartial. Civil servants are expected to conduct themselves in a way that deserves and retains the confidence not only of current Ministers but also those whom they may be required to serve in future. That is bedrock.

The only civil servants exempt from this requirement are special advisers. They are exempt from the general requirement to be objective and impartial but under the Civil Service Order in Council their role is confined to giving advice only. This applies to all special advisers, as it has done for some years, except for up to three working in No. 10, who may have executive powers. It is common ground among everyone familiar with special advisers that they perform a useful role and that their relationship with career civil servants can be constructive and positive. It is also common ground that the number of special advisers allowed to a Cabinet Minister should be small: at most one or two. That is the position in the present Ministerial Code and was the position for many years under previous governments. I think it is well established. As the noble Lord said, the expansion has been in No. 10 and, to a lesser degree, in the Treasury.

My own view, which I have explained in the House before and on other occasions, is that we have reached the point where we need a Civil Service Act which, among other things, would bring the role of special advisers on to the statute book and more directly under the scrutiny of Parliament. Parliament has a role to play in this, for the reasons given by the noble Lord. We explored this in the Second Reading of the excellent Bill drafted by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I will not go over the ground again.

I would like to address the issue of special advisers in No. 10 having executive powers. We need to ask ourselves why they need, or may need, executive powers. The Wicks committee, in its admirable ninth report, Defining the Boundaries within the Executive: Ministers, Special Advisers and the permanent Civil Service, identified a number of things that those who hold executive powers should not be able to do. They should not have responsibility for the appraisal, reward, discipline or promotion of civil servants, nor should they be able to give instructions to civil servants outside the Prime Minister's office. I wholeheartedly agree with the Wicks committee and I would add recruitment to the list. I do not think that holders of executive power should be able to recruit permanent civil servants.

So, if special advisers with executive powers are to be allowed, what should they be able to do? According to the Wicks committee, they might authorise the spending of government money chargeable to the Prime Minister's office. I am not clear that that is in fact an important aspect of the work carried out by those special advisers who have had these powers so far. It would be interesting to know if they have ever actually authorised expenditure. Secondly, according to the Wicks committee, executive powers allow them to play a role in the line management of civil servants. Thirdly, they allow them to have charge of, or direction over, the work of Government Information and Communications Service members in the Prime Minister's office.

This is the heart of the matter. I suspect that it boils down to a wish to allow one or two special advisers to coordinate activities in No. 10 alongside the principal private secretary: to chair meetings; to direct people about the work they should do; to direct communications with the media; and generally to help run No. 10. There is a risk in all this. The risk, however theoretical, is that, once formalised, these executive powers could be used to put career civil servants in No. 10 into a difficult position over maintaining political impartiality. I am not saying that this has happened. I am merely saying that the potential exists.

I believe that it ought normally to be possible, given the wealth of talent in the Civil Service, to find people who can provide Ministers with the quality of support that they want in No. 10 from within the ranks of the Civil Service without having to resort to special advisers with executive powers. Such civil servants have been found very often in the past. But Prime Ministers differ. I recognise that No. 10 is special in the way that the two great streams of politics and government come together there. It gives the work of No. 10 a special quality. I also recognise that from time to time there have been Prime Ministers who wanted to have one or two close confidantes to help them to run No. 10 and the government; I refer, for example, to Disraeli and Corry, to Harold Macmillan and John Wyndham and to the small group around Harold Wilson.

It may be that there should be some limited flexibility to allow executive powers in the Civil Service Bill, but on conditions. The post of principal private secretary must not be undermined. It has a constitutional significance and plays a key role in making sure that the executive powers are not abused. The creation of such posts must be subject to some form of approval by Parliament at the beginning of each Parliament, as must the total number of special advisers deployed across the whole of government. Here, as elsewhere, I see Parliament and the Civil Service Commissioners having a key role in ensuring that the value of the Civil Service as a national asset is preserved.

4.34 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend on having arranged this very timely debate. I agreed with everything that he said and will try not to say too much of it again. We all look forward to two maiden speeches.

In these circumstances, I propose. rather curiously, to begin my few remarks with a reference to a speech made in March by the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, at the Second Reading of the Executive Powers and Civil Service Bill. I am delighted to see him in his place. He said that a great many people who serve in the Civil Service, even in these cynical days, believe that: The opportunity to take a part in the defence of our country or to play a part in its achievements is one of the noblest of aims".—[Official Report, 5/3/04; col. 895.] I am inclined to think that very many people who serve in the Civil Service and who serve all of us so very admirably hold to that very proper belief. Long may that continue, but how long will it continue?

The answer to that question will be influenced very considerably by whether a sufficient supply of recruits to Her Majesty's Home Civil Service who are thus motivated will remain. It will depend upon how we treat that service now. I say "now" because of how the public perceive the Civil Service now. I turn to the speech made during the discussion of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, by the noble Lord who has just sat down, who was the former head of the Civil Service. He said: There is a wide perception that the Civil Service has become politicised. I regret that perception very much. In some ways, it is confusing, because the term is unclear and means different things to different people. Whether one believes it or not, it is a perception which has now to be addressed".

The noble Lord, Lord Wilson, had spoken earlier of those features of the Civil Service that must not change. I agree with him. He listed them: selection on merit, integrity, political impartiality, giving its best advice, and a commitment to public service".

He went on to say: At a time of rapid change, Parliament and the public are entitled to be reassured that those characteristics … indeed remain unchanged".—[Official Report, 5/3/04; col. 917.] I cannot think of any possible meaning of the term "politicisation" that does not undermine each and every one of those characteristics. Yet it is surely those very characteristics that are attractive to the type of recruit who we need for the service.

I do not think that one can sensibly ascribe the decline in public confidence and in the public perception of the Civil Service to any single factor. I think there are several factors. Noble Lords can, no doubt, think of different ones. I think that if any political party is in government for more than two successive Parliaments and one is an official at a certain level, it must be only too natural to fear that in order to get on it might be wise at least to hint at holding congenial opinions. That idea must never be given any encouragement at all by Ministers or by anyone else but I reckon that it can exist.

Along with my noble friend, I am in no doubt that the factor contributing most to the decline in public perception has been the rise of the special adviser, which has been made even more manifest in recent years. I thought that there were 73, or possibly 77, of them. I took that from the most recent research that I looked at, but my noble friend tells us that there are 81. In any event, it is more than twice what it was in 1997. It is not their cost that I mind so much, £5 million or more though it is; it is their burgeoning function. As we have been told by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, their function now extends far beyond the function of giving advice only, specified in an Order in Council in 1995, which was amended two or three years later, as we have been reminded, to allow up to three officials in the Prime Minister's office to have executive powers. For that the Government must take responsibility.

Some of these functions may well be necessary. I am inclined to believe that some of them are; that seems almost to be common ground. It may very well be impractical to list fully all the things that they can properly do, but one can set out qualities and characteristics. However, what is absent is something that I think would be perfectly practicable: a clear and definitive formulation in statutory form of what they cannot do and must not do. Without that, I think that the boundaries will always remain debateable, that what one might call "adviser creep" will flourish, and that suspicious and adverse perceptions will, accordingly, abound.

I think that that was clearly recognised by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in its ninth report, already referred to, which was published last April. It recommended that, a clear statement of what special advisers cannot do", should be set out in primary legislation. For that list the committee adopted the views given to it, in his evidence, by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, as he now is. He set out a series of qualities, which I will not, in the short time available, recite. The noble Lord made the point that it should be in primary legislation.

How did the Government respond? A few months later, in September, they said that the issue of what special advisers can and cannot do is best dealt with in a code of conduct rather than on the face of a Bill. I interpose simply to suggest to your Lordships that these matters are far too important to be left to a code of conduct. The Government said: They should be able to convey to officials ministers' views, instructions and work priorities, commission internal analyses and papers, and hold meetings with officials to discuss the advice being put to ministers". It is fair to say at this point that, in December, in the face of protests, the Prime Minister, in the words of the head of the Civil Service, having reflected on the wording", deleted the "instructions" bit. That is rather an unusual way of alluding to a massive constitutional innovation, one might have thought, and rather a shocking one as well; but there we are.

As Sir Nigel Wicks asked in a speech at Portcullis House on 29 October, how is the hard-pressed middle-ranking official in a department to know when a special adviser conveys to officials Ministers' views, instructions, or work priorities", that, these are indeed the Minister's own views, instructions and work priorities—not those of the special adviser"?

I come to the conclusion. What we accordingly need is, as my noble friend said, a Civil Service Act. It would protect the idea and the ideal of the impartial service to government by means of a clear exposition of the status and duties of civil servants, including special advisers. In March we were promised a draft Bill, and it might even be before the summer Recess! We do not need one. We have had consultations galore, at least for the past seven years and arguably for the past 150. We need a substantive Bill and we need it now.

4.43 p.m.

Lord Garden

My Lords, I thank your Lordships for the warmth of the welcome that I have experienced since joining your Lordships' House. It has been an extraordinarily pleasant experience to be introduced into the sometimes singular ways of this great institution. The staff at every level have made it their business to help, and I congratulate them all on what seems to me a very modern approach to induction training. The freshers' fair, an innovation yesterday in the Moses Room, was an excellent way of meeting everyone and learning about what happens. So any faults in the procedure of the House will be mine alone, given the quality and, indeed, quantity of guidance that I have received.

I have been fortunate to have been advising the Liberal Democrat Party on foreign and defence policy since my retirement from the Royal Air Force eight years ago. That has often brought me into contact with the work of your Lordships' House. I have been much helped also by serving a fairly long apprenticeship as the research assistant to my noble friend Lord Roper. The debates and questions in my area of interest have always been a treasure trove of information from the most well informed sources and I look forward to opportunities to contribute to those debates in future.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech on a subject that is dear to my heart—the Civil Service. I have worked with members of the Civil Service at every level, both when I was in the Air Force and subsequently since I retired. I think that we have a tendency to focus too much just on the policy makers who live down the road in Whitehall and to forget that, as other noble Lords have said, the Civil Service comprises more than half a million people—public servants operating not just at home but around the world in the service of the nation. In the Statement this afternoon, the Lord President told us about the dedication not only of the Armed Forces but of the British public servants in Iraq. That is a good example of what the Civil Service is about. It encompasses a wide range of activities.

I have always been impressed by civil servants' dedication and—a word we have heard time and again this afternoon—integrity. This debate is an opportunity to pay tribute to these men and women who continue to work in the best traditions of the public service.

In order to attract recruits of the right calibre at all levels, Civil Service pay and conditions must broadly follow what is happening in the rest of the world in the commercial sector. As that causes the continual problem of rising personnel costs that outstrip inflation, we continually face pressure to reduce numbers. While industry can square that circle by using technology to increase productivity, it is not as easy as that for many parts of the public service where what counts is the numbers on the ground. The noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, suggested some interesting ways of getting round that, but, as he said, money is what ultimately counts.

As a result, successive governments of all political colours have looked constantly for ways of cutting the size and cost of the Civil Service. Twenty five years ago we had more than 300,000 civil servants in the defence field, but that has now been reduced to about 90,000. The reduction to less than one third of the original number has proportionately been much greater than the cuts in the Armed Forces in the same time, and many of the tasks that the Armed Forces had to perform were transferred across to their Civil Service colleagues. I believe that we need to take great care in how we handle the future of the Civil Service so that we do not appear in our rhetoric to undervalue its contribution to the nation. It is understandable that the remorseless pressure to contain public spending will focus on the elimination of unnecessary costs. However, in the rhetoric of cutting bureaucracy we need to remember that the bureaucrats are there because the Government have brought their posts into existence. Each individual civil servant rightly has career aspirations and a sense of pride in their job.

In the field of national security, which interests me, we have seen a new transfer of the burden from military hands to the Civil Service. The most recent defence White Paper, Command Paper 6041, published last December, stated: The safety and security of the population of the UK is the responsibility of the Home Office and similar bodies and devolved Administrations". So the Civil Service is in the front line in these new and difficult times for security. I shall look forward to examining their role when we soon consider the long awaited Civil Contingencies Bill.

There is one area of the policy-making Civil Service that has been of concern to me over a number of years. The higher reaches of Whitehall have traditionally contained some of the best intellects in the country—and I recognise a number of your Lordships who fit that description. I have always found it an extraordinarily stimulating experience to work with my Civil Service colleagues during my various times in Whitehall. Yet at a time when technology has an ever greater impact on policy, we continue to see few at the top of the policy-making career ladder with a scientific training. I wrote a book 15 years ago about the difficulties of making optimum decisions in defence policy. I do not think that things have changed much over that 15 years. I concluded that we might do a little better if some of the policy-makers had a reasonable grounding in science.

Professor David King, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, warned in June 2001 that: The tremendous capacity of science is not being used to assist government and policy-makers in the best way". Sir Andrew Turnbull, in his open letter to all staff on the Civil Service website, says: Technology will make a huge impact on the services we provide to the public".

Today, of the 19 Permanent Secretaries in Whitehall, only one records a first degree in a scientific discipline. In deference to the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, I record that nine of the Permanent Secretaries—that is, nearly half—have qualifications which include economics. However, I do not think it is worth starting a debate on whether economics is a science or an art.

We have a Civil Service that is under great pressure, both in tasks and resources. We need to be able to recruit people willing to devote themselves to the development and delivery of good government. Today's Civil Service is striving hard to set an example as an employer that welcomes diversity and is truly representative of wider society. We should be particularly proud of the record of integrity throughout the Civil Service.

I believe that we need to cherish the qualities that make our Civil Service, but that does not mean that it is immune to change. Keeping the loyalty, dedication and integrity of these public servants must be done, while at the same time broadening the range of expertise at the highest levels.

4.51 p.m.

Lord Dean of Harptree

My Lords, on behalf of the whole House it is my privilege to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Garden, on his very authoritative maiden speech. I hope that he will not consider it impertinent that congratulations come from someone who was a mere Army captain in World War II. The noble Lord comes here with a great record in our armed services, of which we are justly proud. I know that I speak for the whole House when I say how much we look forward to many future contributions from the noble Lord.

I should like to add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Griffiths for introducing such an important and topical subject today. I begin by making two general points. First, as I see it, there are two key elements in this debate. One concerns the relations between Ministers and civil servants, which must be close, impartial—I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, in that regard—and based on trust. The other point, which I believe is equally important, is that every Minister must be a member of either the Commons or the Lords.

I wish to expand briefly on those two points. Civil servants are the professionals and the experts. Ministers are amateurs who need a good political nose. Civil servants advise, Ministers decide. If Ministers get it wrong too often, they very quickly find themselves confined to the Back Benches. I remember very well when I was first made a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Security in 1970 when the Conservative Party was not expected to win the election. I was amazed by the amount of work that was done by officials on the Conservative manifesto and on Conservative speeches. That made for a smooth transition from one government to another, provided some element of continuity and, above all, prevented, I hope, junior Ministers like me making silly mistakes through ignorance or over enthusiasm.

The second point, which I think is equally important, is that all Ministers should be members of one or other House. This applies in particular to the House of Commons where Ministers are elected like every other MP and have constituents to look after. They are subject to the gusts of emotion that can sweep through the House of Commons out of a clear blue sky. They are, therefore, in a very good position to take the pulse of Parliament and people. Civil servants, of course, are not involved in that, and nor should they be, but Ministers must be. The link with Parliament keeps Ministers on their toes. It also imposes on the Civil Service an obligation not to advise policies to Ministers that they know Parliament will not accept. We must take account of those two key elements when we are discussing these matters. It enables us to keep the relationships in parliamentary government in good repair.

In the time that is available to me I want to refer to one other aspect, which has already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Griffiths and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, and that is the tension which is now developing between Ministers and the Civil Service. I am not making a party point: this has happened under Conservative governments recently as it has under Labour governments. However, it emphasises the need, which has already been stated, for a Civil Service Act. This has been advocated for years with great authority in both Houses of Parliament. It has also been advocated in the Wicks committee report, Defining the Boundaries within the Executive.

It is sad that the Government have always appeared lukewarm when answering debates on this subject. I am so glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on the Government Front Bench. He has responded to debates on this subject, as he always does, with great courtesy. However, he will be conscious of the fact that his answers have not been met with great enthusiasm in any part of the House. I do not blame the noble Lord for that; he is batting on a very sticky wicket, and, unfortunately, his captain has always selected the worst bat he can find in the pavilion to send him in with. We do not blame the noble Lord personally at all. However, it is good to note that he will answer yet another debate on this important subject.

I have time only to mention very briefly one other issue that I believe has been raised in all the speeches so far; namely, the position of special advisers. They have more than doubled in number in 10 years under both governments. I hold the old-fashioned view that the best political adviser to a Minister is the Minister himself. However, that is an old-fashioned view. We now have special advisers and we have to live with them. Their functions and their powers should be much more clearly defined by statute passed by Parliament not by a code of conduct over which Parliament has little or no control. That was, of course, one of the key recommendations of the Wicks committee. I believe, as does the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, that it is disturbing that in some cases special advisers should have executive powers to direct civil servants. That is a very disturbing and sinister development.

We have been promised a draft Civil Service Bill this Session. That, of course, is better than nothing but, as we are getting towards the end of this Parliament, it almost certainly means there will be no Bill on the statute book in this Parliament. I suggest that that reveals an odd sense of priorities when one considers the time and effort that your Lordships' House is giving at the present moment to other issues.

Lord Triesman

My Lords, I am not making any reference to the previous speech or the exceptional speech that preceded it, but if we stuck to eight minutes we would finish the debate on time.

5 p.m.

Baroness Henig

My Lords, I speak in the debate with some apprehension and no little anxiety. I am, however, grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, for providing me with this opportunity. Like the noble Lord, Lord Garden, I have been greatly encouraged in the past two weeks by the considerable kindness and support extended to me by all your Lordships and the staff of the House, for which I am extremely grateful. A new Member cannot fail to draw comfort from the strong collegiality displayed by the Members of this House; in return, I promise to observe the guiding conventions that my contribution be short and non-contentious.

There is a third convention not so explicitly defined by the House, but well known to all parents—that we should not embarrass our children in public. Suffice it to say that my younger son is considerably relieved that his mother has at last been allocated a secure home in sheltered accommodation and out of harm's way.

The issues which have surfaced in the debate are of considerable interest to me, as I have spent more than 30 years teaching modern history and British foreign policy at Lancaster University. I recall many a stimulating tutorial discussing with students relationships between Prime Ministers and their senior advisers, the advent and impact of special and political advisers in the 1920s, and opposition demands for an end to waste and the reduction of bureaucracy—objectives which have sometimes assumed considerably lower priority when opposition leaders have found themselves in government. Over the years, governments of whatever hue have promised streamlining and efficiencies. Actually achieving them has proved more problematic, as we may find when Gershon's review is revealed.

It may interest your Lordships to know that, as a new student at London University, my interest in history and understanding of modern political theory was greatly enhanced by a tutor who was then at the start of an illustrious academic career, and has since become an influential and respected Member of this House. It has to be admitted that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, failed to turn me into an enthusiast for the intricacies of Tudor and Stuart history or an expert on the English Civil War, but as my college tutor for three years he provided encouragement and inspiration and helped to launch me on my academic career, for which I have always been grateful. He is unwell at the moment, and I am sure that all Members join me in wishing him a speedy recovery.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Henig

My Lords, over the past 20 years I have also served as a magistrate, a Lancashire county councillor and chair of the Lancashire Police Authority. Since 1997, I have chaired the national Association of Police Authorities. In that capacity, I have had the pleasure of working with a range of very able civil servants and government advisers to help to draw up new policies in areas such as community safety, police reform and race and diversity training. I have then had the singular experience, at local level, of endeavouring to implement and deliver those policies.

It is with the benefit of that dual experience that I endorse the views of Sir Andrew Turnbull, the head of the Civil Service, to make what I hope will be a non-controversial point. He observed last year that the most important challenge facing the Civil Service, and its greatest priority, was to become more customer-focused and skilled in service delivery. People are demanding more personalised public services and a better quality of provision, and the Government's public service reforms are aimed at responding to those demands.

Senior civil servants are rightly renowned for their high level of policy analysis, and for the succinct yet compelling argumentation of the briefs that they produce. But what of their practical experience? How well do they understand the problems of those on the front line charged with delivering services? Can they work effectively with partners across the public and private sectors at central and local level? Do they have appropriate management and interpersonal skills, and the ability to help to transform our public services and make them more responsive and more efficient? I agree with Sir Andrew that that is indeed the greatest priority and challenge currently facing the Civil Service.

For me, there is a second very important priority. I welcome the recent initiatives which, through open competition, have brought a number of talented and highly skilled practitioners from the voluntary and private sectors into the Civil Service, and begun to devolve decision-making and resources to frontline services. We now see more diversity in senior and middle ranks in the Civil Service. However, much more still needs to be done to promote the Civil Service as an attractive career option for people from all walks of life, and as a service in which diversity—in terms of both academic background, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, suggested, and gender and ethnicity—is welcomed and fully reflected at the most senior levels. I hope that it will not be regarded as too controversial if I quote a successful businesswoman who once said: The ceiling isn't glass; it's a very dense layer of men".

Convention prevents me on this occasion engaging with the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and other speakers about the relative merits of the different priorities and issues that they highlighted. I hope that that convention will not hold me back from engaging fully in future debates on more controversial issues. I conclude by observing that reforming governments of the past hundred years have always presented complex challenges to their senior civil servants. A succession of highly talented and able officials—many of whom I am delighted to see as distinguished Members of this House, including the noble Lord, Lord Wilson—have worked closely with Ministers and their advisers to deliver significant and lasting change. They have achieved that without in any way affecting the impartiality or integrity which will assuredly continue to be a distinguishing hallmark of our Civil Service.

5.7 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

My Lords, it is with very great pleasure that I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, on a speech that was elegant, eloquent and delivered with a great deal of humour. The House looks forward very much to the contribution that she will be able to make, from not only her long academic experience—it is delightful to have someone who has experience of modern European history to contribute to the House's debates—but her long record of public service with the police authorities.

I thank my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach very much for giving us an opportunity to talk about the Civil Service. For too many in the general British public, civil servants are seen either as the cunning and rather malevolent Sir Humphrey or, perhaps in more direct experience for many of them, the not-particularly loved frontline servants in the social security offices, jobcentres and, indeed, income tax offices. That is a very distorted picture of what the Civil Service is about.

I speak from 17 years of having been a member of a particular category of civil servant; namely, the professional advisers in the Civil Service, as one of Her Majesty's inspectors in the department for education. I spent the last 12 of my 17 years working alongside—in the same corridor and in next-door rooms—the administrators of the department, joining them in the same meetings and working with them to help to produce briefings for Ministers, contributing to White Papers, and so on.

Although I, after 17 years, was one of the not-so-common members of the Civil Service who went over the wall into other employment, one of the first things that struck me was how many of my administrative colleagues saw their commitment to public service as civil servants literally as a lifetime commitment. It was not in any way a passing bit of a career, but a very positive choice that many of them made as young graduates and saw as lasting an entire lifetime. I saw them come in during the 1970s and 1980s, and they were undoubtedly the brightest and best of their generation, wholly willing and eager to propose new ideas and initiatives. They were not at all of the stick-in-the-mud and rather tedious "Yes Minister" picture that is often given.

They were, quite rightly, absolutely loyal to their Ministers and it has been said that it was impossible for them constitutionally ever to speak in public against Ministers' policies. Nevertheless, they had the immense privilege, denied to many of the general public, of being able to argue with Ministers in private, and I assure noble Lords that they frequently did so. As has been said, they fiercely defended the political independence that they enjoyed and if any politician attempted to interfere or influence them on political grounds they were stoutly put in their place. I was saddened to hear the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, who is no longer in his place, in a recent debate on other matters describe a civil servant as, one who dances to another man's tune".—[Official Report, 14/6/04; col. 510.] I found that extremely offensive. That does not apply to the civil servants whom I knew; they were proudly impartial and had their own strong convictions and ideas. It seemed to me that there was a well understood dividing line between the initiatives that they were prepared to bring to politicians—within the limits of the policy laid down by Ministers. My experience is that Ministers want ideas; they know the general direction in which they wish to move and rely on their civil servants and professional advisers—as in the department for education, where Ministers relied heavily on Her Majesty's inspectors for the innovative ideas that would enable them to turn those broad policy objectives into reality and into a form which could be implemented.

I wish briefly to pay tribute to the whole special class of professionals in the Civil Service. It is not said often enough for the general public's understanding that there is a huge range of professionals: lawyers, economists, accountants, architects, doctors, senior doctors, nurses and, as we know in the tragic case of Dr David Kelly, in the intelligence services. They are professionals who bring their independent professional advice, value and judgment to Ministers and to politicians. In a certain way they enjoy an independence which even their administrative colleagues would occasionally envy. But without such professional advice from that range of professionals to shape and to guide government policies, those government policies would be immensely less acceptable and certainly would be infinitely less workable or capable of implementation.

Good government relies on the expertise and day-to-day knowledge of its professional advisers and its administrative advisers. My experience suggests that it is weak Ministers who offer suspicion of their civil servants. It is foolish Ministers who ignore the advice of their professional advisers or their Civil Service advisers.

I should like to return to the subject of my own service in Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools. It was founded in 1839 and radically altered by the creation of Ofsted in 1992. In those more than 150 years its role changed from one generation to another. In the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s its role had settled in to a pattern which was much valued by successive Secretaries of State of both major parties in offering advice informed by the massive evidence of observation in thousands of classrooms, lecture rooms, labs and workshops throughout the country.

HMIs are appointed by the Queen in Council and enjoy a degree of independence which arises from their huge backlog of evidence from those observations in classrooms. On many occasions around a Secretary of State's table I have heard HMI be able to set Ministers on a slightly different course by saying, "But, Minister, we have seen 10,000 cases of such and such and this is what the evidence shows". Although the creation of Ofsted has resulted in radical changes, not least the present use of hundreds of part-time inspectors who have not had the benefit of, one might say, indoctrination into good Civil Service procedures and practice and into the delicacies of the Civil Service role, vis-à-vis the politicians.

Nevertheless, there are still full-time HMIs in Ofsted with considerable room to influence the public through the reports of their inspections and through their public pronouncements. I regret that they no longer conduct their wide-scale inspections of aspects of education policy that were so influential in the 1980s and 1990s, but I echo only what was said by the authors of a well-known book on HMI. They completed that book with the words: As education becomes increasingly politicised, the independent professional voice of HMI will be needed more than ever". I hope that it will be.

5.16 p.m.

Lord Lipsey

My Lords, I join in the general congratulation of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, for calling this debate. As I know him, I know that he will not mind if I devote my few remarks to the areas in which I do not wholly agree with him, rather than to those in which I do.

My first point concerns independence as a whole. In this place we are prone to the "Ain't everything getting worse?" school of thought, but that can blind us to the fact that in some ways the Civil Service is more, not less, independent now than it was in the past. I shall give the House just two examples. Can anyone doubt that under the Food Standards Agency the practical independence of that admirable body is far in advance of what it was under the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF)? It was often independent of the Government of the day but never of the National Farmers' Union. That independence was a huge step forward for practical Civil Service independence.

Another example of which I am more a victim than anything else is the Nolan principles which are applied now to appointments. In my day Ministers would often appoint their chums. I was sitting in the bar here the other day lamenting the fact that it is now easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a Labour supporter—certainly a Labour supporter in this House—to be given a good public appointment, even if that person is admirably qualified, because Ministers are so nervous of being accused of interfering with Civil Service independence. I could multiply such examples, but it is not all getting worse.

The second point that I must address as a representative of the "National Union of Ex-Special Advisers", who are represented on all three party Benches this afternoon, is the notion that there has been some terrible decline in the independence of the Civil Service because we now have some 90 special advisers in Whitehall. I agree that there are more special advisers in Whitehall than there were in the previous government after the departure of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths. But that is not surprising. A government who are highly activist—some of us sometimes think hyper-activist—are bound to require more special advisers than a government who are reduced to splashing about in the malodorous juices of their own misery. That is wholly appropriate. Compared with the core of the senior Civil Service the number of special advisers is really not great enough to have the power that is ascribed to them.

However, there is a danger because every time that we stand up to say how powerful the special advisers are, without realising it we are actually undermining the permanent Civil Service. I shall not name the organisation, but the other day I saw a letter to a Minister from an organisation in which I am involved. The letter was over a matter which was principally for civil service administrators. But the letter had been copied to the two special advisers at the department—not to the civil servants responsible, not to the people at whom it should have been aimed, but to the special advisers. I expect that we hired some public affairs consultant who told us that that was the thing to do.

That is a serious concern—or it should be. That is when things start bypassing the proper functions of the special adviser and the career civil servant and get into a different channel. In the light of my experience, I hope that in my dealings with Whitehall I can distinguish between the two and put things into the right channel for the right action. That might help to deal with the problem.

My third and final point concerns size and to a lesser extent quality. Shortly before coming into the Chamber today, I noticed that the Government were advertising for an official to take charge of Sure Start. I can think of no more important position in the world than heading up Sure Start, but the salary was less than a slight City acquaintance of mine is paying his secretary. There is bound to be an erosion of quality. I noticed that Clive Hawkswood—many of us will know him as an admirable DCMS official; the very model of a modern mandarin, open and communicative, still totally loyal and enthusiastic has moved to a private sector post. I have not asked him why, but I cannot help thinking that if his career had been rapidly advanced to the right height, as I wish it had been, he might not be leaving. But there is a danger. If you continue to underpay people, you will experience that loss. If you continue to underrate people, you will experience that loss, which has been most insidious.

I was so disappointed when my Government—the Government I support—came to power. I thought that some of the previous government downgrading of Civil Service work would stop. I was disappointed soon to find that Ministers were issuing the same kind of criticisms about the civil servants not working hard enough, not obeying orders and so forth, as had been prominent in the previous government. The present Government are the "Yes, Minister" generation coming to power and sniffing out causes for suspicion where none exist. I regret it and believe that it is bad for the quality of the Civil Service. Finally, as regards size, I agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson. Indeed, I would go further. I recently wrote a book on the Treasury, examining the changes in its senior structure. Coming to it as an objective outsider, it seemed clear to me that it had gone from too swollen a structure to too lean a structure. Given the weight of its policy preoccupations and the issues with which it had to deal at a top level, not enough top, experienced people were being kept. I saw good, honest, intelligent officials shunted into early retirement to save a bob or two and I felt that a cost was being paid for that.

It is so easy to get a cheap round of applause by saying, "Let's cut the Civil Service". It is so easy to do it without regard to functions, or fitness for purpose, or any of its strengths. It is totally depressing and enervating to watch the two great parties of state in a competition saying, "Oh, mine's going to be smaller than yours. Mine is smaller than yours". We really need to be more adult about these things. The country has a job it expects its Civil Service to do and it must be staffed appropriately for that job. I hope that if nothing else comes out of the debate, that message, which has been echoed around the Chamber, will filter through.

5.23 p.m.

Baroness Prashar

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank my noble friend Lord Griffiths for initiating this debate. I am grateful to have this opportunity to contribute to it. In so doing, I must start by declaring an interest. I am the First Civil Service Commissioner, charged with upholding the core values of the Civil Service; namely, integrity, honesty, impartiality, objectivity and selection on merit. I will therefore confine my contribution to the second part of my noble friend's Motion.

As your Lordships have already heard, it is the 150th anniversary of the Northcote-Trevelyan report on the organisation of the Civil Service. Those reforms established an impartial Civil Service with recruitment and promotion on merit and did away with patronage. The objective of the reforms was to ensure an effective Civil Service, fit for purpose and respected by the public.

We have succeeded in them. I regularly see a stream of visitors from a number of countries who regard us as a model of good practice, but when seeing them I often wonder whether we here truly value what we have. It is very easy to take for granted something that is so well established and not pay much attention to maintaining and, particularly at a time of great change, reinforcing the values which have made the Civil Service such an admired institution. I believe that there is a danger of complacency, or even benign neglect.

We all recognise that since the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms the context within which the Civil Service operates has changed: public expectations have risen; scrutiny and accountability have become sharper, and technology and globalisation pose new challenges. Of course the Civil Service needs to change and evolve and there must always be the capacity to change and adapt. As we all know, the Civil Service has never stood still. In the past 25 years, we have witnessed significant changes and are continuing to do so. They were first initiated by my noble friend Lord Wilson and are being continued by Sir Andrew Turnbull.

With such an emphasis on the focus, approach and structure of the Civil Service, it is equally important that principles such as political impartiality are resolutely maintained. The effectiveness of the Civil Service, whatever its organisation and size, is built on those enduring values. But in my view, those values are under-noticed, under-regarded and sometimes taken for granted. We pay little attention to them.

This is not a new phenomenon. At a time of any major change in the early 1990s, the then Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee stated: The Civil Service is a national asset transferred from one administration to the next in accordance with the wishes of the electorate. Its efficiency and effectiveness as the instrument of successive governments and the delivery of services to the nation as a whole should, therefore, be a matter of fundamental concern to politicians of all parties". Yes, it should be a matter of fundamental concern and, I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, not a political football for politicians to kick around.

We have already heard that the Civil Service is a national asset and the government of the day hold it in trust on behalf of the nation. Values which have been the bedrock of the Civil Service must therefore be upheld by Ministers, civil servants and politicians. It is incumbent upon Ministers, their special and political advisers and civil servants, to respect and uphold those values particularly enshrined in the Civil Service Code which sets out the values and boundaries that underpin the work of the Civil Service. I say that because as a regulator—it is my job to monitor their implementation—I take the view that it is important that these values are owned by the institution itself—that they are part of its DNA.

The Civil Service is not independent of the government of the day. Its job is to serve the government of the day with loyalty and commitment, irrespective of personal political views. In that sense, it is politically impartial. But this is of course a two-way relationship. Civil servants serve the government of the day to the best of their ability. On the other hand, Ministers have a duty to give fair consideration and due weight to their advice and not use them for party-political purposes.

There are some evident risks in that relationship which must be watched and need constant attention, particularly at a time when the Civil Service is under tremendous pressure to adapt to new ways of doing business. We are seeing a substantial number of appointments to the senior Civil Service being filled by open competition.

Of course, we need new blood and new skills that are vital in the modern Civil Service, and getting the best people available is imperative. However, we must also ensure that they understand the values that protect the impartiality of the service; in other words, values need constant attention. In my view, that was the main thrust of the ninth report of the Wicks committee, which has been mentioned, which stated: We believe that two measures can help provide public assurance that core values are upheld while at the same time ensuring that the Civil Service is fit for purpose. These are:

  1. to put the Civil Service on a statutory footing…
  2. to reinforce the independent scrutiny of maintenance of the core values of the Civil Service".
I think that both are important. We want to ensure that the culture of impartiality is promoted, and that we do not solely rely on the Act, although we need the Act in terms of parliamentary scrutiny.

All the evidence is that the Civil Service Code is not being actively promoted. It is not well known and sometimes not even fully understood. I say that because I go to the Civil Service College to give talks and I am always astounded by the lack of knowledge about the Civil Service Code. In my view, the promotion of the Civil Service Code during induction and thereafter as part of regular training is indispensable if it is to become embedded in the Civil Service culture and it should become a living reality with Civil Service departments taking a lead. It would therefore be helpful to hear from the Minister what progress, if any, has been made in implementing the Wicks committee recommendations on the promotion of the Civil Service Code.

As to the Civil Service Act, repeated calls have been made over a number of years and a number of noble Lords have said that the pace of change is extremely slow. It would be helpful to have some idea of the timetable and also to hear some comments on what I suggested at Second Reading on the Private Member's Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lester; namely, that we need a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the Bill. It would be helpful to hear the Minister's response on that.

When I do my work I am constantly reminded of a saying that the British acquire their institutions by accident and lose them in a fit of absentmindedness. If we do not take action, we may wake up one morning and find that the values have weakened to a point of no return.

5.32 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, for having introduced this timely debate on a subject of real public importance about a national asset essential to good governance. I too have a particular interest as former special adviser to the then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, and because of my Civil Service Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, gave a most thoughtful speech, with much of which I entirely agree. We have also had the advantage of two excellent maiden speeches: charming, witty and truly practical by my noble and almost gallant friend Lord Garden, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. They will add their expertise, authority and sense of humour to the debates in this House.

The debate has also been enriched by contributions from a former Cabinet Secretary, the present First Civil Service Commissioner, a former Attorney-General and another former special adviser with form, the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey.

For the past couple of decades, fundamental questions have been raised, not only by politicians but also by civil servants about their profession and its place within our constitutional system of parliamentary government. The work of the Commons Select Committee on Public Administration chaired by Tony Wright MP has made an important contribution. This debate will contribute further to public discussion about what the Civil Service is for, and about its relationship with Ministers, Parliament, the courts, the media and our fellow citizens.

I want to raise one small point before I continue. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, mentioned diversity but there is one aspect of diversity that the Disability Rights Commission asked me to raise and I do so. The commission is concerned that with any reduction in the numbers in the Civil Service, the Government need to give a public commitment that the number of disabled people employed will not be adversely affected. I hope that that can be responded to today.

The Civil Service has no constitutional personality or responsibility separate from the government of the day. It is there to serve the Government collectively and individually. It is a non-political and disciplined career service. Ministers determine policy and it is the duty of civil servants to give Ministers honest and impartial advice without fear or favour, whether or not the advice accords with the Minister's view.

That idea of a permanent, disciplined civil service recruited on merit and owing complete loyalty to its masters is older than the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms. Those reforms were first attempted in British India. It was that system which was translated from British India to Britain during Queen Victoria's reign and it is essentially that system, with its virtues and weaknesses, which survives today.

A century and a half later, the role of government has been transformed. It is not satisfactory for the Civil Service to continue to be regulated under the Royal prerogative. Every noble Lord who has spoken has recognised that Parliament rather than the executive should define the rights and duties of the Civil Service. We need a Civil Service Act. A constitutional monarchy should be matched by a constitutional Civil Service. The duties of civil servants should not be owed exclusively to their Ministers as though they were employees of a chartered East India Company. They and their Ministers should owe duties to Parliament under the Civil Service Act and under powers delegated to Ministers by Parliament itself.

That is not a new idea. Indeed, in 1854, the Northcote-Trevelyan report recommended something similar. But until now no government have been willing to do so, rejoicing in the fact that power is delightful and absolute power is absolutely delightful. But during the past decade the case for legislation has been widely accepted, notably by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. One of its chairmen, Sir Nigel Wicks, has rightly observed that the introduction of legislation to regulate the relationship between Ministers. civil servants, special advisers and Parliament could help to restore some of the public trust in central government and public office holders that has been lost in recent years.

There have been concerns about increasing numbers and the intrusive role of special advisers leading to the politicisation of the Civil Service. I agree with a great deal of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and shall return briefly to it. The evidence revealed during the Hutton inquiry about the workings of the Civil Service gave rise to widespread public concern about the current position. The annual report of the Wicks committee published in 2004 noted that a number of the issues raised during the Hutton inquiry were presaged in a general way in the recommendations it had made in its ninth report. It is worth recalling what those recommendations were: first, clarity and parliamentary approval, through a Civil Service Act, of the appropriate boundaries between Ministers, special advisers and civil servants; secondly, a clear statement of what special advisers cannot do set out in primary legislation, and thirdly, the need for powers to be given to the Civil Service Commissioners to investigate on their own initiative concerns raised about possible breaches of the Civil Service Code.

During a debate on the Hutton inquiry my noble friend Lord McNally stated: The lessons from Hutton are very clear. Never again should a political appointee, and especially the Government's political propaganda chief, be so closely involved in the workings of our secret services. The role and powers given to Alastair Campbell when the Government came into power in 1997 were fraught with dangers for the political neutrality of the Civil Service and the integrity of the information services".—[Official Report, 4/2/04; col. 778.] I agree.

The time is overripe to put the Civil Service on a statutory footing so that we can be sure we have a politically neutral Civil Service, appointed on merit, without political interference or control by politically partisan special advisers.

The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, in his important contribution, implied that there needs to be a sufficient core of special advisers with sufficient ability to command the confidence of the regular Civil Service, so as to start an effective ministerial policy unit in government departments as well as in the Prime Minister's Office. I agree with him. When I was recruited by Roy Jenkins to the Home Office in 1974, I was not recruited as a political chocolate soldier; I was recruited because he thought I had a particular skill in the civil law area that was lacking in the Home Office to deal with discrimination law. I cannot of course blow my own trumpet; that would be absurd and inappropriate. But it is true that the skill that I was meant to have was not a skill that the Home Office civil servants had at the time. So the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, is right to say that you have to be careful that you are able to give the occasional blood transfusion to a government department, which may become arthritic or staid in its ways. It is a good thing to have some exchange between outside and inside professionals. That is why it is dangerous to attack the notion of special advisers in a populist way.

Having said that, civil servants believing that special advisers have too much influence will demoralise the service and it will tend to lead to politicisation. It is in the public interest, as the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, said, that the Civil Service itself should be a main source of innovation, able to command the confidence of its Ministers and to execute their policies. I believe that no special adviser, even in No. 10, should be able to exercise executive powers over civil servants. During my two and a half years in the Home Office, it would have been completely unthinkable for me to have done so or to have sought to do so, or indeed to have spoken to the media as some kind of spokesman for the Home Secretary. It definitely demoralises civil servants if they think there is that kind of influence.

Every special adviser should be under duties in a statute. I hope that when the Government at last publish their draft Bill, they will support the suggestion made repeatedly by our first-class First Civil Service Commissioner, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, that a Joint Select Committee be set up to consider that draft and the draft of Tony Wright's public administration committee, and my own admirably concise little Bill. Such a committee would have the benefit of Members of this House who have such great experience as former Ministers, civil servants and special advisers.

5.43 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach for initiating this important debate. I join all noble Lords who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Garden, and the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, on two outstanding maiden speeches. We look forward very much to hearing them on other occasions. They spoke passionately today and with the depth of experience that they bring to this House.

It is left to my noble friend Lord Griffiths to enable us to debate the Civil Service because no such debate has ever taken place on a government-sponsored Civil Service Bill. There are conflicting views on such a Bill—but the wounding experiences of recent years have probably made it inevitable. So I can confirm to my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden that my right honourable friend Mr Howard has said that he will introduce a Bill as one of the first actions of the next Conservative government: to limit numbers of political advisers; to reinforce the Civil Service code of conduct; and to make it unlawful for anyone other than a Minister or a more senior civil servant to instruct officials.

It is widely recognised that the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, has his Bill and on this issue he is absolutely right: we have had more government promises on the Civil Service than—dare I say it?—Penelope's suitors heard in all 20 years of Ulysses' absence at the wars. We cannot let things drift further.

I served in four different government departments. In each I was served by a clearly impartial service; indeed, one department gave me perfect Cabinet committee folders providing me with the cast-iron case against the rock solid arguments prepared for me in my preceding department. With little exaggeration Peter Hennessey has said: a politically disinterested civil service with core values of integrity, propriety, objectivity and appointment on merit, able to transfer loyalty and expertise from one elected government to the next, was 'the greatest gift of the 19th century to the 20th'". Thanks to that we have never had the prolonged and painful translation of power that dislocates government in some European countries and those modelled on the US system.

My noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree said he remembered the start of the Conservative government in 1979; and I well recall the end of the last Conservative government. I also remember—vividly and without a shred of resentment—the enthusiasm with which many senior civil servants then looked forward to the challenge of serving a new government, tackling new problems in new ways, but, most importantly, with the same loyalty. It was, I think, a gross error of judgment on new Labour's part that the same civil servants who clapped in new Ministers in May 1997 found themselves sidelined six months later, while a new model army of special advisers and on-message strategic communicators crowded into each Cabinet Minister's kitchen.

I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, who said that it was a good thing that because of the Nolan rules Labour supporting Peers could no longer get public service jobs. You could have fooled me—when I look at the Benches opposite at Question Time. It is that lack of trust in the Civil Service that has hobbled this Government.

I believe that new Labour never fully understood the central ethic of the Civil Service or the unique and irreplaceable place of convention in British national life. If it had, it would not have purged the information service or doubled numbers of special advisers or trebled their salaries, or given power to political hacks such as Mr Alastair Campbell to bully and boss civil servants around.

The essential spirit of the Civil Service survives. So long as it is led by men such as the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, it will do so. But the impact of new Labour has been greatly damaging to perceptions of the integrity of government as a whole. It is a terrible commentary on new Labour that it could take something of such undoubted integrity as our secret ballot and voting system and undermine trust in that too. Equally, it is a reproach to new Labour that it has not always shown trust and has undermined trust in administration. Was it right for civil servants to be sucked so closely into battles as politically charged as the case of Dr Kelly? I doubt it. The Government have too often blurred lines that should be clearly drawn. That is a culture the next government will have to reverse.

We also need an end to double standards on official secrets. Ministers and advisers bypass Parliament and hand official secrets to the "Today" programme with impunity, but a whistle-blower who uncovers a glaring scandal rightly requiring the resignation of a Minister finds himself and his wife victimised. Will the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, tell us how many leak inquiries we have had since 1997 into impending government announcements being given out to the "Today" programme, and on how many occasions was the leaker identified?

No government have been more partial than this in their use of power and patronage; and none as ruthless in upholding impartiality when a Sixsmith or a Kelly crosses their path. Now the heat is apparently on a former special adviser who portrays the relationship between Mr Blair and Mr Brown as akin to the one between Captain Hook and the crocodile. Ludicrous—as if the Prime Minister ever hears a clock ticking when he sees Gordon Brown. But it was not a civil servant who wrote this book, it was a special adviser. He writes a book not economical enough with the truth and Sir Andrew Turnbull—the Cabinet Secretary, no less—has to try to rewrite it. Some 16 years ago in Australia, one Turnbull was fighting to get Spycatcher published; now today in Britain another Turnbull is fighting to stop "Browncatcher".

Few governments have been as open to ridicule on this subject as this one, but the issue of encroachment on the impartiality of the Civil Service introduced to us today by my noble friend is deadly serious. So, too, is the growing size of the Civil Service. The Government are addicted to control, bureaucracy, targetry, quangos, boards for this, and plans for that. They are for ever building haystacks of databases and regulation in which, frequently, lethal needles are hidden and lost.

They are also incapable of holding to any steady policy course. Consider the lurches on asylum; the constant reorganisations of the health service; the flip-flops on tax credits; Bill after Bill before your Lordships' House made up and altered as they go along. The centralising philosophy inevitably leads to a growth in the numbers in the public service. The inconsistency of ministerial guidance—government by tactics not strategy—puts an enormous strain on the public service, which I, for one, marvel that it has been able to sustain.

The Gershon report, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Griffiths and many others, has exposed the scale of the waste of resources perpetrated by this Government in the past seven years. That has been caused by the constantly changing and centralising policies. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, compared it to a competition between two political parties—I do not think that it is that. I think that it is a recognition of the frustration that people feel, not just in business, but working in the public service; teachers in schools, doctors and nurses in the health service, people who work in local authorities who are deeply frustrated and concerned by the growth of a bureaucracy and a culture of box-ticking that makes them unable to do their jobs.

Gershon estimates, and the Treasury is said to agree, that up to 80,000 public servants are not needed. If that is so, at a rough, average cost per head of some £30,000 a year, this Government are spending £2.5 billion a year that they do not need to spend. That is perhaps £10 billion down the river since the last election. How many hospitals, how many schools, how many widows' mites taken away in tax and chucked down the drain? I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, whose speech I enjoyed and who has done so much for the reputation of the Civil Service, that I did not say what I have just said in order to vilify dedicated public servants. I am simply saying that the public service can be thinned.

My noble friend Lord Griffiths and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, told us how the last Conservative government reduced the scale of centralised administration. The next Conservative government will do the same. But as we do so, we will build on the integrity, the probity and the impartiality of the central Civil Service. We will affirm in legislation how we value that, and we will give those who serve Ministers a far clearer, more effective and consistent lead than this Government have ever done.

5.53 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I have greatly enjoyed this afternoon's debate, and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, for instigating it. It has been wide-ranging, stimulating and of great interest. It has been adorned graciously by two excellent maiden speeches. The speech made by the noble and nearly gallant Lord, Lord Garden, was full of interesting thoughts and ideas, and I was most impressed by his pleas for diversity, which was a theme of the debate, and by his encouragement that the Civil Service should be open to the challenges of change. Those views were based on his experience.

I also greatly enjoyed listening to my noble friend Lady Henig, who I have known for many years. I pay tribute to her not only for her comments today, but for her long and tireless work as a county councillor and as the lead councillor for the national Association of Police Authorities; and for her wit, which she displayed to us today and which I am sure she will display on many other occasions in your Lordships' House. Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will bring their vast experience to the benefit of us all.

It is not often that we have a debate about a subject in which people plead their previous experience in the way in which they have today. I counted at least three special advisers and at least one very excellent professional adviser, in the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. We benefited greatly from the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, and his insights into the way in which the Civil Service works. We heard ex-Ministers confessing their pasts and drawing our attention to one of the most important features of public life in this country—the Civil Service, with its independence, impartiality and strong commitment to the public service ethic.

The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, diligent as ever in her role as the First Civil Service Commissioner, was right to remind us that it is a national asset and we should at our peril enter the territory of benign neglect. That would be a great tragedy indeed. I was pleased to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree. His emphasis on the importance of the adaptability of the Civil Service was not mistaken. That theme was recurrent during the debate.

As always, I greatly enjoyed listening to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and his rumbustious attack on government policy. I expected no less from him. It is not a description that I recognise of the way in which this Government have worked with the Civil Service over the past seven years, but it was uniquely his own, and he gave an important commitment that a Conservative government in the future might introduce a Civil Service Bill. I will come to that later in my comments.

The Government's approach in general to the Civil Service is this: we believe that it should be fit for purpose, as described by many Members of your Lordships' House in this debate, and that it must have the right skills and experience to do its job. For that reason, we have concentrated on a reform programme that goes hand in hand with maintaining and reinforcing what many would recognise today as the traditional Civil Service values of integrity, impartiality and appointment on merit. Those go back to Northcote-Trevelyan. Both of those are integral to the Government's approach. A recent World Bank survey gave the UK a 97.7 percentile rating for "government effectiveness", which is a tribute to the Civil Service, ranking us alongside the best that the OECD has to offer. The UK Civil Service has at its core a strong set of values, as I have said, of impartiality, integrity and honesty. Those values were praised from all sides of your Lordships' House this afternoon.

We are world leaders on this front, and many countries look to us, as the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said, for leadership and as an example. We are talking about a high-performing organisation, not one that is failing. I share the view that was expressed by many that we should not talk down the achievement of our Civil Service; it would be a dangerous course if we did. Nevertheless, the Civil Service has faced considerable pressure to change over recent years. I can identify two causes for that.

First, as the world changes, the Civil Service must move too. Globalisation, technological innovation and migration all throw up new challenges and additional demands. The Civil Service must be in a position to adapt and respond quickly to that. That point was echoed neatly by my noble friend Lady Henig.

Secondly, we also have rising public expectations. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, was right when he talked about changes in the way in which people approach public service and their interest in and demand for choice. That is now part of the common currency of debate as we approach the next general election. Citizens are demanding better from public services. The Government have responded by substantially increasing investment in the public sector and by laying out ambitious plans for reform so that public services are centred on customers' needs. The Civil Service is playing a lead role in delivering that fundamental change.

For that reason, the Government place a great deal of emphasis on Civil Service reform. The Prime Minister has directly engaged in this agenda, and gave his views on it in a speech just a week ago. The recently established Civil Service reform programme board, chaired by Sir Andrew Turnbull, the head of the Home Civil Service, reports directly to the Prime Minister. The board will monitor progress on each element of the reform programme and will press for improvements where performance is lacking.

There are three basic elements to the reform programme: people; departments; and the centre. First, the people element: tomorrow's civil servants must be more flexible, more effective and more professional—a point which the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, made. Effective leadership is critical if the service is to meet the demands of the future. We have taken a number of initiatives to improve leadership capacity. We have improved our leadership training; we have introduced a high potential development scheme to develop those identified as having the potential to reach the very top. We have introduced new expectations for continual improvement in the performance of senior civil servants, and staff who deliver results on the ground will be rewarded while those not making the grade will have to address the causes of that. We have introduced a new norm of four-year postings for senior civil servants to ensure that people stay long enough to deliver priorities but not so long that they become stale and complacent.

We need to move away from the myth that the talented generalist can fill any role in the Civil Service—a model that has perhaps been of lesser relevance down the years. Now, we need a more concerted approach to professionalising the whole of the service. This includes services such as finance, IT, human resources and project management. Policy development and delivery also need expert skills. We want to open up the Civil Service to talent from outside, while also providing better training and development opportunities and different and better career paths for those already in the service.

The second element of the reform is fit-for-purpose departments. In this, the noble Lords, Lord Griffiths and Lord Lipsey, made important points. We need to ensure that what we have for the future is fit for purpose. Each department is being asked to think about how it needs to change as an organisation in order to deliver high quality public services.

The Prime Minister is working directly with a number of departments to develop five-year strategies to build a clearer understanding of their strategic purpose and of their priority objectives. Departments have also been thinking about the type and location of the workforce they need to deliver their objectives.

Increasingly, we should see departments pushing resources out to the front line, while creating smaller, more strategic, headquarters. Each department's priorities for change are set out in the performance partnership agreement between it and the centre.

This brings me to the importance of an effective centre of government. This is where the third and final Civil Service reform work stream comes in. The center—Her Majesty's Treasury, the Cabinet Office and No. 10—needs to be resourced to support departmental change, as well as to challenge and drive that change forward. To ensure that departments have access to the best tools to deliver their business, the centre is developing centres of excellence. These will provide a driving force for these essential professional disciplines and will be a source of support to them. They reflect the core corporate functions each department needs. The centres of excellence are: strategy; people management; marketing and communications; IT; delivery and performance monitoring; procurement; project management; financial management; and efficiency.

It would be wrong if I did not talk more about efficiency and the efficiency review. The Government are committed to improving public sector efficiency. Where we can find them, we want to release resources, as all governments do, for further investment in public services. To this end, Sir Peter Gershon has carried out a review to identify efficiencies in public spending. That review will no doubt be most helpful.

Building on the substantial investment agreed in the 2002 spending review, the review identified scope for efficiencies in the public sector's back office functions, as well as developing recommendations to increase the time professionals in the front line have available to serve the public directly. Sir Peter's review recommended an ambitious target to deliver efficiencies of 2.5 per cent a year over the three years of the 2004 spending review period. Meeting this target would deliver efficiency gains equivalent to £20 billion a year by 2007–08. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, was right to say this was challenging. But it is the job of government to be challenging, and to adopt and accept and take up those challenges. That is what we wish to see.

Departments that have worked with Sir Peter and other stakeholders to develop efficiency programmes will be announced as part of the spending review. After these announcements have been made, John Oughton, chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce, will take responsibility for ensuring effective implementation and delivery of efficiencies by departments.

Complementing the efficiency review, Sir Michael Lyons has also led a study into the scope for relocating a substantial number of public sector activities from London and the south-east of England to other parts of the United Kingdom. That report has identified up to 20,000 jobs that could be taken out of the south-east for wider dispersal as a first tranche. The Government have accepted Sir Michael's report as a sound basis for future dispersal of public sector activity away from London. Much of our debate focused on the independence of the Civil Service and what it meant. The Government are determined to maintain the political impartiality and integrity of the Civil Service. That is the view that we have taken consistently since coming to office. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said, in publishing the Government's response to the ninth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life: A strong, effective, politically impartial civil service is a great national asset".

As the House knows, in response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Government committed themselves to publishing a draft Civil Service Bill for consultation. Nearly all those who took part in the debate called for that. We are grateful to the Select Committee on Public Administration for its draft Bill. Together with the work undertaken by the Committee on Standards in Public Life and by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who has produced his own Bill, it has provided helpful source material for our work.

Drafting of the government Bill and the consultation papers is under way, with the objective of publishing our proposals for consultation during this parliamentary Session. Given the work that is going on, I shall not be drawn today to respond with a detailed analysis of the likely content of the legislation. The Government are mindful, however, that both Houses will take a close interest in the draft Bill. The Government accept that it concerns an important constitutional issue, and there will be full consultation with both Houses, as well as with the Civil Service and others with an interest. However, detailed decisions about the form of that consultation have yet to be taken. I have heard what has been said on that matter today.

Many of those who participated in the debate drew attention to the position of special advisers and expressed views on their role. We have heard such criticism before, but I remind the House that there is substantial agreement, some of which was expressed in the debate today, about the valuable role that special advisers can play. In its evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the First Division Association said: The FDA has made the point in our evidence and separately that the special adviser system is a good one; it is an asset ... special advisers are an asset to the civil service; they are an asset to Ministers". The independent review of government communications made similar points. We hold that view, as did the ninth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Of course, it is important that special advisers observe the highest standards of conduct. I remind the House that the Government introduced a model contract for special advisers, which sets out clear, transparent terms and conditions for their employment, and a code of conduct for special advisers that the Select Committee on Public Administration described in 2001 as, a clear statement of the role of advisers and a helpful strengthening of the protection provided to the neutrality of civil servants". Our track record on that is a strong one. No doubt, views will be expressed on the matter in the future, and we will have more discussion and debate.

In the past two centuries, there have been at least three major reforms of our Civil Service: the NorthcoteTrevelyan report; the Haldane report in 1918; and the Fulton report in 1968. Each was, by any reckoning, a major milestone in the history of the Civil Service, but there has never been a Civil Service Bill. As the present Cabinet Secretary, Sir Andrew Turnbull, said earlier this year, we have lived without one for 150 years. We accept the case for a Civil Service Bill, and we are taking our time to bring forward legislation that will be fit for purpose.

I repeat my opening remarks: the Government place the highest importance on maintaining a strong, politically impartial Civil Service that is fit for purpose and equipped to deliver. For the reasons that I have given, the Government place great emphasis on Civil Service reform, but, as we take the work forward, no one should be in any doubt about our commitment to uphold the highest standards of propriety in our conduct of government.

6.10 p.m.

Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach

My Lords, all that remains for me to do is to thank everyone who has taken part in this debate. There have been a huge number of speeches, but they have all been by heavyweight speakers. I congratulate the two people who have given maiden speeches. I have known the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for more than 40 years, as my wife had the privilege of being in the same sixth-form class as her in school, but I had never met her or heard her speak until today. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, gave a most authoritative speech. The humour and intellectual curiosity of both speeches were terrific.

As I listened, I thought what a privilege it is for this House to have new Members with such experience of public service and such lively minds. On behalf of everyone in the House, I say to the new Members that we look forward very much to hearing them in future. I thank also the Minister for his response to this Motion and, in particular, for his defence and upholding of the values of the Civil Service and its independence. I am especially grateful for the fact that the Government have now got to the stage of drafting something that we will see during this Session. That is great news. Across all parties and all Benches, I think that we would all applaud them for that. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, will forgive me. In the previous debate, the Minister did not get his full time to reply. Perhaps I may point out to noble Lords that in the debate standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, there is one minute to spare. Any other time will be taken from the Minister.

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