2 January 2009
PASC CALLS FOR GREATER INDEPENDENCE FOR ETHICAL REGULATORS
Civil service bill should be a priority.
Link to Report
In a short report published today, the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) calls on the Government to adopt a “coherent and principle-based approach” to ethical regulation that is “designed to secure the independence of ethical regulators from the Executive”. The Committee states “that it is unacceptable and incompatible with genuine independence for the ethical regulators, which were created to regulate government, to be appointed by government and funded by government”.
The report follows up a major piece of work that the Committee carried out in 2006-07, to which the Government has only just replied in full. That work looked at bodies set up to ensure the integrity of the executive, in particular at the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Civil Service Commissioners, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, the House of Lords Appointments Commission and the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. Steps the Government had taken since then in the direction of putting two of the bodies on a statutory footing, although “positive”, nonetheless “suggest a piecemeal and potentially inconsistent approach”.
While PASC agrees with the Government that all of these bodies “perform a valuable public service in ensuring that high ethical standards in public life are upheld” and that they “have demonstrated their ability to act robustly and autonomously in practice”, the Committee identifies “a key point of principle” that the Government has not addressed: “the fundamental importance of making sure that ethical regulators are independent of the Executive, given their crucial function of scrutinising the Executive’s actions”. PASC points out that:
“under existing arrangements, the ethical regulators are appointed by government and funded by government. Government could reduce their funding or abolish them if it wished to do so. This is not what we had in mind when we concluded that the ethical regulators needed to be “robustly and conspicuously independent”.
The Government has not made clear whether or not it agrees with the Committee-and PASC calls on it to do so.
PASC also expresses its disappointment that “no firm commitment was made in this year’s Queen’s Speech to bring forward a bill putting the civil service on a statutory footing”. The Committee urges the Government to make time available for this as soon as possible, remarking that recent events involving civil service leaks “reinforce the urgent need to enshrine key civil service values such as political impartiality in legislation”.
Committee Membership: Tony Wright (Chairman) (Lab) (Cannock Chase), Mr David Burrowes (Con) (Enfield, Southgate), Paul Flynn (Lab) (Newport West), David Heyes (Lab) (Ashton under Lyne), Kelvin Hopkins (Lab) (Luton North), Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Con) (Bridgewater), Julie Morgan (Lab) (Cardiff North), Mr Gordon Prentice (Lab) (Pendle), Paul Rowen (Lib Dem) (Rochdale), Charles Walker (Con) (Broxbourne), Jenny Willott (Lib Dem) (Cardiff Central)
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