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Civil Servants (Employment Tribunals)

5. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): If he will make a statement on the circumstances in which junior civil servants are entitled to have their cases submitted to employment tribunals in cases of alleged misconduct. [40121]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Christopher Leslie): Civil servants have the same rights of access to employment tribunals as other employees.

Mr. Dalyell: In the light of Lord Butler's remarks in the other place, to which my hon. Friend the Minister's attention has been drawn, do we have the assurance that the junior civil servants in the Moore-Sixsmith case will be treated according to fair process?

Mr. Leslie: The former Cabinet Secretary, Lord Butler of Brockwell, said that the relationship between special advisers and civil servants was generally very productive. As well as the general right to access industrial tribunals, civil servants also have extensive internal appeal opportunities, to the civil service appeal board and to the civil service commissioners. My hon. Friend will accept that it would not be appropriate for me to detail the particulars of any individual case on the Floor of the House of Commons.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Is it not rather worrying that so many civil servants have had to look to appeal procedures as a result of their run-ins with one Cabinet Minister? The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions lost a press officer when he was at the former Department for Education and Employment, and since then he has lost a head of press, a deputy head of press and junior press officer. He has even, belatedly and reluctantly, lost a special adviser. Should not the right hon. Gentleman take out some sort of block booking with the appeals service?

Mr. Leslie: That was very droll. We have been around the block on this matter with the hon. Gentleman far too many times. I do not know whether he is getting bored with asking the same question, but I am certainly getting bored with answering it. The permanent secretary has issued his statement and dealt with all these matters. It is time that the hon. Gentleman put them into perspective.

Ministerial Code of Conduct

6. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): If he will revise the ministerial code of conduct. [40122]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche): A revised ministerial code was published in July 2001. Since then, in response to a recommendation from the Public Administration Select Committee, the Government have agreed to amend paragraph 27 of the code.

Mr. Turner: I thank the Minister for that answer. Is she aware that the Deputy Prime Minister has just said that the ministerial code will not be contained in the future civil service Act? Is it right that the Prime Minister should be

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judge, jury and—occasionally—executioner with regard to breaches of the civil service code when he has not justified the trust that people placed in him in connection with the cases of the hon. Members for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) and the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions? When the Prime Minister needs our trust, would it not be appropriate that he earns it?

Mrs. Roche: That was the most astonishing outburst. In response to the report by the Public Administration Committee, the Government have revised the civil service code. That code was left unaltered by the previous Conservative Administration whom, if the hon. Gentleman had been in the House at the time, I am sure that he would have supported. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has published the ministerial code and altered it in the way recommended by the Select Committee. I am sure that that action has the overwhelming endorsement of the House.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): Despite the attitude of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), does my hon. Friend the Minister think that it would be useful to have a meeting with Opposition Front-Bench Members on this issue? At such a meeting, would she consider raising with them the report from the Public Administration Committee published in February last year? It touched on this matter, and included the concern that the Opposition could not give a categoric assurance that Short money was being used exclusively for parliamentary purposes. Is there any information from the Opposition on that matter?

Mrs. Roche: Of course, I should be delighted to meet the Opposition at any time. My door is always open to any hon. Member. If the Opposition want to raise the matter with me, I should be delighted to discuss it with them.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Does the Minister agree that it is essential that the ministerial code be amended to ensure that Ministers at all times comply with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Committee on Standards and Privileges and not avoid their recommendations, as the Deputy Prime Minister did?

Mrs. Roche: That is not the case. Let me deal with this once again, as Conservative Members peddle this line at every opportunity. The Committee on Standards and Privileges has investigated the matter and dismissed all charges of impropriety. It reflects no credit on Conservative Members to peddle this line time and time again. I strongly believe that it brings the House into disrepute.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): What is wrong with giving a statutory base to the ministerial code?

Mrs. Roche: The reason is very clear: Ministers, quite rightly, are responsible to Parliament.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): Most people will recognise that Ministers are accountable to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister decides whether they are in violation of the ministerial code. As the

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hon. Lady says that she is so happy for us to have a conversation about this, I am delighted to do so. First, will she confirm whether the amendment to the ministerial code recommended by the Public Administration Committee and accepted by the Government has been made with immediate effect or will it take effect only when the ministerial code is next revised after the next election? Secondly, will she consider revising the ministerial code to include a specific provision that Ministers should tell the truth in all circumstances, not just to this House, and then send a copy to the Transport Secretary?

Mrs. Roche: The Government inherited the original wording of paragraph 27 of the code from the previous Conservative Government. We accepted that announcements on Government policy should be made straight to Parliament.

I will of course be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. He will be aware that the code's opening paragraph makes it perfectly clear that Ministers' responsibilities are to the public and to Parliament.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is the Minister aware that for the past quarter of an hour the House has been discussing the fate of three people in one Department? One—the journalist, the friend of the media, the Tory BBC and all the rest—is being treated like an Olympic gold medallist. I remind the House, the Minister and the Tories that way back, when the Tories were in power, they dismissed 20,000 miners at a stroke and never shed a single tear. Then they got stuck into the shipbuilders, the textile workers and all the rest. Let us get on to the real people for a change.

Mrs. Roche: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Conservative party knows all there is to know about unemployment policy in that respect.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Notwithstanding the Minister's reply to the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), does she understand that members of the Standards and Privileges Committee believe that there would be great benefit in incorporating in the ministerial code of conduct an explicit requirement to co-operate fully with both the commissioner for standards and the Committee? Will she reflect on that and consider it further?

Mrs. Roche: I appreciate that point and understand that it has also been made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) in business questions. When the consultation process is under way, the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends may well want to make representations of that kind.


7. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): If he will make a statement on progress towards his target for making electronic communications from the public to all Government Departments feasible. [40123]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche): All Departments can be contacted via e-mail. The Government are committed to providing those services that can be delivered electronically by 2005. The latest

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figures show that more than 50 per cent. of Government services are now available online, with 74 per cent. predicted by the end of this year.

Lawrie Quinn: Has the Minister had a chance to study last night's Adjournment debate in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen)? Can she confirm that the so-called digital divide will not be used as an argument by the civil service or the Government to prevent targets being met or improved upon so that the public can have access to e-government?

Mrs. Roche: I am aware of the debate that took place last night and can give my hon. Friend the reassurance that he needs. It is right for us to ensure that we can deliver more services online, and it is also right to try to ensure that people who are currently without internet access receive those services. That is why—to give one example—the Department of Trade and Industry and the Post Office have just completed a six-month pilot of public information kiosks in post offices.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Seventy-four per cent. is an encouraging figure, but will the hon. Lady look at how many online Government services are accessible to people who do not have Windows? An increasing number of services are accessible only if one has Windows, so that rules out people who use Apple, Unix or other software. Will she ensure that the Government's choice of software is dictated by the need for maximum access rather than by relationships with software companies?

Mrs. Roche: As a former DTI Minister, I understand the hon. Gentleman's point and will ensure that it is brought to the attention of the relevant officials in the Department.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Does the Minister agree that there should be two-way communication? There should be ways for the Government daily to describe their policy to the electorate. For example, they could explain why, today, there will be no statements on Zimbabwe, on the police dispute or on the fact that the channel tunnel is closed. All we shall have is a worthy—although no doubt important—statement on audits and accountability.

Mrs. Roche: That was a valiant try—the hon. Gentleman is ingenious in his methods. When the Government have something to communicate to the House on all those matters, I am sure that he will be the first to know.

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