PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE
Memorandum to the Liaison Committee
1. The Public Administration Select Committee
met for the first time in Session 2001-02, on 18 July 2001. We
first took oral evidence, on the New Centre of government, on
18 October 2001. During the Summer Recess, we held a planning
Seminar at which experts in the field of public administration
exchanged views with Members on issues likely to be of interest
to the Committee during this Parliament.
2. The Government sent us some very late, and
in some cases inadequate, Responses to Reports published by the
Committee in the last Session; one reached us 11 months after
publication of the Committee's Report. Because there had been
major developments in that period, we adopted the unusual approach
of publishing a substantive Report along with the Government Response.
This enabled us to hold the Government more fully to account and
to engage Ministers in debate on issues of real topical importance.
This is an approach which we believe other committees could usefully
adopt as standard practice.
3. The first of these cases was the First Report
: 'Public Participation: Issues and Innovations: The Government
Response to the Committee's Sixth Report of Session 2000-01'.
We were concerned that since the Committee published the report
last Session, the crisis in public participation had deepened
, as shown by the low turnout in the June 2001 General Election.
The Government's Response contained few targets and timetables
for delivery. Our short Report stressed the urgency and seriousness
that was required from the Government in tackling the issue of
public participation. One interesting and helpful development
in the original inquiry also attracted attention during the year
- the running of an online consultation to gather views on issues
related to public participation.
4. The Second Report was on 'The Ministerial
Code: Improving the Rule Book: The Government Response to the
Committee's Third Report of Session 2000-01'. We welcomed the
Government's Response, and we were pleased that it incorporated
a number of our recommendations, especially on the responsibility
of the Prime Minister for ensuring that the Code is upheld by
Ministers. We were however concerned that since the General Election,
the Prime Minister had taken responsibility for the Office of
Public Services Reform and the Forward Strategy Unit, without
there being a select committee that could hold him to account.
We also re-iterated our view that the non-appearance of the Prime
Minister before select committees was a gap in parliamentary accountability
that had to be closed.
5. The Third Report was on 'Special Advisers:
Boon or Bane: The Government Response to the Committee's Fourth
Report of Session 2000-01'. We re-iterated our original conclusion
that there was value in the employment of these advisers, and
our recommendation that the Government should advertise special
adviser posts publicly. The use of a more transparent appointment
process would, we believed, greatly strengthen public confidence
in the propriety of Government. The Report on the other hand praised
the Government for its recent progress on the regulation of special
advisers. For the first time ever, there is now a specific code
of conduct for advisers, containing an explicit requirement to
uphold the impartiality of civil servants and guidance on contacts
with the media. The Government rejected the Committee's recommendation
that a separate fund should be established for the money spent
on Special Advisers, and financial assistance given to opposition
parties to conduct parliamentary business (known as Short Money).
This is an issue that we will keep under review.
6. The Fourth Report was on 'Ministerial Accountability
and Parliamentary Questions: The Government Response to the Committee's
Second Report of Session 2000-01'. The Report emphasised the need
for openness and accuracy in answering Questions as a crucial
element in ministerial accountability. We will be monitoring departmental
performance and will publish a full report later this year.
7. One technical issue continued to cause some
difficulties: the IT-related problems which arise when select
committees attempt to incorporate large amounts of material from
external sources into their reports. This had caused particular
difficulty in the previous Session with the Fifth Report of 2000-01,
'Mapping the Quango State'.
8. We have taken evidence on two separate occasions
for an inquiry into The New Centre of Government - the growing
apparatus based in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office. We took
evidence from the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of State
for the Cabinet Office and Sir Richard Wilson, Cabinet Secretary,
Head of the Home Civil Service. We are not producing a report
on this inquiry at present, but will return to it later this year.
9. We have so far held six evidence sessions
in our current inquiry into Public Service Reform. We are currently
preparing a report for the first part of the inquiry, which we
expect to publish in March. This examines the concept of the public
service ethos and the implications for this of private sector
involvement in public services. The second part of the inquiry
is likely to be held in the autumn, when we will take further
oral evidence on public service reform.
10. For the first time, we produced an 'Issues
and Questions Paper' setting out the main themes of the public
service reform inquiry, offering an opportunity for the public
to contribute views on the main themes. This attracted many very
useful and well-focussed responses and will prove very helpful
when we come to frame our reports. We intend to make this a regular
feature of future inquiries.
11. Following the publication in November of
the Government's White Paper 'The House of Lords: Completing
the Reform', we are currently taking evidence from a wide
range of Parliamentarians, including, the Leader of the House
of Commons, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords
and the Lord Chancellor. We expect to publish a report immediately
after completion of oral evidence, at the end of January, to meet
the Government's consultation deadline. This inquiry is part of
a wider inquiry into Public Appointments and Patronage.
12. We will also be taking oral evidence when
we look at the matters arising from the Reports of the Parliamentary
Commissioner for Administration and the Health Service Ombudsman.
This is an annual inquiry, and we will also hear oral evidence
from the Parliamentary Secretary of State at the Cabinet Office
who is responsible for ministerial oversight of the Ombudsman.
Evidence will be taken in three sessions, and it is not yet known
if we will produce a report at the end of the inquiry.
13. Also this spring we will be conducting a
single evidence session with the Commissioner for Public Appointments;
this is an annual inquiry into the work of the Commissioner and
14. We also expect in the near future to take
evidence on a Government consultation paper on the long-promised
Civil Service Bill.