HL Deb 07 February 2005 vol 669 cc542-4

2.50 p.m.

Lord Goodhart

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will respond to the 10th report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Getting the Balance Right: Implementing Standards of Conduct in Public Life.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the committee's 10th report was published on 19 January. We will give it careful and thorough consideration and respond in due course.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, I am aware that the Government have two months in which to reply to the committee's report. In considering it, are the Government likely to accept the conclusion of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, in paragraph 2.5, that the public appointments system must be reformed, in a way which carries greater public confidence and reflects more accurately than at present the Seven Principles of Public Life"? Having regard to previous reports of the committee, will the Government take on board also the recommendation in the report of the Public Administration Select Committee, published last Thursday, that allegations of misconduct by Ministers should be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, the ombudsman, and not by a person chosen by the Prime Minister or the Government?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord will not be surprised to hear me say that it would be premature for me to comment on those matters. They will obviously be part of the Government's broad consideration of this very important, detailed report. We will make our response fully available and open for debate in due course.

Lord Sheldon

My Lords, the report points out the need for close alignment between the public appointments system as it stands now and the Civil Service appointments system. What action does the Minister propose to take to encourage that closer alignment?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we have been looking carefully at the matter. As I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate, it will be among the issues that come up for debate and will be part of our consideration of this report.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that, when coming to their conclusions on the matter, the Government will take full account of the need to avoid eroding public confidence in the independence of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, which the present holder of that office so successfully achieved?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, Dame Rennie Fritchie has done a first-class job, as everybody in government acknowledges. We greatly respect her views on all those matters. We will all benefit a great deal if we think long and hard about her record and reputation. Of course we want to ensure the highest possible standards in public appointments.

Lord Borrie

My Lords, has the Minister noticed the statement made in the report that, only 50 per cent of the employees in … local government … were aware of the Public Interest Disclosure Act, and the protection this affords an employee", who blows the whistle on fraud or corruption? Will the Minister endorse the committee's proposal that there should be a review of whistle-blowing procedures in the various organisations concerned to ensure that best practice, especially that of the Audit Commission, prevails?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point in drawing attention to that part of the report. We will give it a great deal of thought. The noble Lord is right: much more will need to be done to ensure that people understand the importance of that protection; and, indeed, that much more knowledge about best practice is shared.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, in considering the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, will the Government take into account the views expressed by Sir Alan Budd on his appointment by the Home Secretary to look into that particular affair? His comments are very interesting.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we take very careful account of comments and views expressed, particularly from respected persons such as Sir Alan Budd. No doubt they will form an important part of our response.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the committee's finding that the ability of local councillors to represent their constituents' interests in planning matters has been "unnecessarily curtailed"? Will the Government act on the recommendation to reform the code of conduct?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it would be premature of me to make a big comment on that, but—certainly from my own experience—I am rather drawn to agree with the noble Baroness's first set of observations. It will be part of an important debate and perhaps needs to be looked at again.