Press Notice No.21
GOVERNMENT KEEPS UP MOMENTUM ON CIVIL SERVICE BILL
PASC CHAIRMAN WELCOMES PROGRESS AND CALLS ON PARLIAMENT TO ACT QUICKLY
Tony Wright MP, Chairman of PASC-the Public Administration Select Committee-today commented on the publication by the Government of a draft Civil Service Bill:
“I welcome the appearance of the Government’s draft of a Civil Service Bill and consultation paper. This package fulfils the Government’s promise to PASC that it would bring forward a draft before the end of the Session, in response to our own version which was published in January. It keeps up the momentum on this issue at a time when major reform of the Civil Service is in the air.
“Most important, the draft sets out the Government’s five principles in considering Civil Service legislation. These include the need for such legislation to command cross-party support and the importance of avoiding anything which would hamper the Civil Service’s flexibility and responsiveness. These are excellent principles which can be agreed by all concerned with the future of the Service, and set the framework for discussion on this issue.
“Now the ball is firmly in Parliament’s court. At the heart of the Bill is the principle that Parliament should be established and recognised as the guarantor of the values of the Civil Service. I believe that there is therefore a responsibility on both Houses to examine this Bill promptly and thoroughly. A joint committee of both Houses is one possibility, though there are others which might be explored.
“I will be asking my Committee to consider in what way it could assist this process, notably by pre-legislative scrutiny of the Government’s draft in the near future. I am sure that PASC will warmly welcome a number of parts of the new Bill, including statutory backing for the Civil Service Commissioners and the Civil Service Code, and the greater clarity which is promised with respect to the functions of special advisers.
“Other parts of the Government’s policy are less satisfactory, and I am sure the Committee will be seeking to clarify a number of these issues in the course of its work. The Government’s Bill appears, for instance, to be less explicit than PASC’s as to the exact nature of Parliamentary scrutiny of the Civil Service Code. The Government also sees a somewhat more restricted role for the Civil Service Commissioners.
“In addition, the Government has reversed its policy on the control of the number of special advisers. Whereas it told the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 2000 that it would include in Civil Service legislation “an overall limit on the number of special advisers”, the consultation paper makes it clear that the Government now believes that no such no limit is appropriate. Indeed it suggests that the current limits on the numbers of special advisers to ministers in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly should be removed.
“PASC’s own draft Bill provides a mechanism by which Parliament could approve an overall limit on special adviser numbers. No doubt the Committee will be asking the Government to describe the new circumstances which have prompted this significant policy change.
“There is still a suspicion in some quarters that the Government is not really committed to Civil Service legislation, and that suspicion will be reinforced by the fact that this consultation document is still asking whether a Bill is necessary at all. However, I would prefer to see this as a significant constitutional moment, when for the first time a Government comes forward with a firm proposal to put the Civil Service on a statutory footing, and give its core values constitutional protection. The task now is to move rapidly from a draft Bill to legislation, which I should like to see early on in the new Parliament”.
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For further information please telephone Philip Aylett, Clerk of the Committee on 020 7219 3498
Tony Wright may be contacted for press inquiries on 020 7219 5583
Publications and evidence, including uncorrected evidence, is also available on the Internet at
For information regarding forthcoming meetings including venues and times please call the House of Commons Committee Information Line on 020 7219 2033 (updated daily).
15 November 2004
NOTE FOR EDITORS: The Committee was nominated on 16 July 2001. Its terms of reference are to examine the reports of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsmen, and to consider matters relating to the quality and standards of administration provided by Civil Service departments, and other matters relating to the Civil Service. The members are:
Tony Wright (Chairman) (Lab) (Cannock Chase)
Mr Kevin Brennan (Lab) (Cardiff West)
Mr Kelvin Hopkins (Lab) (Luton North)
Annette Brooke (Lim Dem) (Mid Dorset and Poole North)
Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Con) (Bridgewater)
Mrs Anne Campbell (Lab) (Cambridge)
Mr Gordon Prentice (Lab) (Pendle)
Sir Sydney Chapman (Con) (Chipping Barnet)
Hon Michael Tren (Con) (Windsor)
Mr David Heyes (Lab) (Ashton under Lyne)
Mr Brian White (Lab) (Milton Keynes North East)