Press Notice 32, Session 2006-07

14 June 2007

Business Appointment Rules must prevent “insidious influence” and command public confidence, says Committee

Suggested changes to the Business Appointment Rules, the rules on allowing Crown servants-civil servants, diplomats and potentially special advisers-to move into jobs outside, take too narrow an approach which would not prevent “insidious uses of influence”, says the Commons Public Administration Committee in a report released today, 14 July 2007.

Sir Patrick Brown was charged by the Prime Minister with reviewing the existing rules in light of the increasingly common interchange between the public and private sectors.  He recommends that the public reassurance offered by the rules should simply be that “a Crown Servant can have no incentive to provide favours to an external body in return for future employment” - the single test - with a “single sanction”, a two year delay in the appointment, applied only if a Crown servant had a “material influence” in the decision that favoured a potential future employer.

Although the Committee regards Sir Patrick’s report as having made some valuable suggestions for improving the Business Appointment Rules, it does not find the “single test and single sanction” approach he puts forward satisfactory: “It might prevent straightforward corruption, but would not deal with more insidious uses of influence, and would not command public confidence.”

The Committee argues it is inappropriate for former Crown Servants to move almost directly to positions where they can lobby Ministers or former colleagues. The Committee does not think that safeguards based on monitoring or assessing contacts and influence once in the new post can work. Similarly, the Committee do not think that a reminder of the continuing duty to keep confidential material confidential in a new post is sufficient, but that the Advisory Committee should take into account the extent to which the departing official has been involved in particular policy issues and consider a delay in the appointment.

Sir Patrick’s proposals implied separate systems for Crown servants and Ministers; currently the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments considers applications from Ministers as well as civil servants. However, Ministers are only obliged to seek advice; they are not obliged to take it. The Committee considers that departing Ministers should also be obliged to take the advice on business appointments.

Tony Wright, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The Business Appointment Rules help prevent corruption, but they also have a wider purpose in ensuring public confidence. The fact that there is increasing interchange between the public service and the private sector is a reason for clarifying the rules, and ensuring that everyone is aware of them, not restricting their scope.”

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The Committee was nominated on 13 July 2005. 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 Membership of the Committee is as follows:
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), Mr Charles Walker (Con) (Broxbourne), Jenny Willott (Lib Dem) (Cardiff Central)

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