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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am most grateful for the way in which both noble Lords have responded to the Statement. It was very constructive. I shall certainly pass on to my noble friends the request for a debate, possibly to match that in another place, to take place during the spill-over period. However, I say that without prejudice to the outcome.
I should like, first, to tell the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that I believe he was a little disingenuous in what he said. Secondly, perhaps I may preface all my responses to what both he and the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said. Before I respond, I should like to repeat something that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, said in the introduction to his report. He said:
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was fairly scathing in his criticisms that although we had responded to 45 of the 55 recommendations, we had not done so wholeheartedly enough. He asked what assurances we can give about whether the procedures will be open and capable of clearing people's perceptions of those of us who operate in public life. The work of the commissioner and of the advisory committee on public appointments and the fact that departments will have to set up advisory bodies with an independent element will go a long way to clearing up some of the doubts in people's minds about how we operate publicly. The vast majority of people who take up public appointments in this country not only give generously of their time, energy and enthusiasm but mostly do so with great distinction and great integrity. We must remember that.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, was concerned about the term "knowingly mislead". We shall, of course, debate the matter in much more detail when the time comes, but the use of the word "knowingly" here refers to wilfully or wantonly knowingly misleading the House. We in this House have a proud record. Those of us who sit on the Front Benches in this House may have gone through the pain of unwittingly misleading the House, but we have a tradition in this House of Ministers coming to the Dispatch Box to make amends for any statement in which they may have misled the House unwittingly. That is a very different matter from knowingly misleading either House. If we knowingly mislead the House, the culpability is ours personally. There is a real distinction to be made. We recognise that distinction in our suggestion that we alter the Questions of Procedure for Ministers in both Houses.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, asked why the Government have undertaken only to review the legal framework for propriety for quangos. He asked why there is to be no immediate action. The answer is that in Recommendation 45 the noble and learned Lord,
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, queried Recommendation 14 and said that there had not been a full response from the Government. I repeat that the Government accept Recommendation 14. The way allegations are dealt with will depend very much on the nature of the case. An investigation is not necessary in every case where impropriety is alleged. Examples are given. I refer to where allegations are malicious, trivial or can be dealt with promptly in a personal statement by the Minister concerned. In such cases, investigation is not needed. However, where the gravity or complexity of an alleged impropriety is such as to merit further internal or even external advice or investigation to establish the facts, the Government agree that there is a range of alternative courses of action to be decided in each case by the Prime Minister in the light of the circumstances. The Government agree also that it is important to uphold the principle that advice from civil servants to Ministers should not normally be made public.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, also said that we have not accepted for all Ministers the three-month gap which applies before a Cabinet Minister can take up a post. Many appointments will not raise any issue of impropriety. Some Ministers may return to a family business or a previous profession, for example. Where no issues of improper advantage apply, a three-month gap would serve no purpose whatsoever. The advisory committee on business appointments will decide each case on its merits and advise the Minister accordingly.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, referred to the amendments in Annex A. He said that they are not all amendments to Questions of Procedure for Ministers. They are amendments to principles suggested by the Nolan Committee, which readily accepted that the detailed drafting was a matter for the Prime Minister and the Government. The present Prime Minister, my right honourable friend, was the first to publish Questions of Procedure for Ministers. In the noble Lord's day, there could be no debate about the text because in those days it was regarded as confidential.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, also referred to the activities of health authorities and said that they should be as open as those of local government. I believe that he was referring to quangos also. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, and his committee examined the issue of openness and recommended that executive NDPBs and NHS bodies should develop their own codes on openness and build on the Government's code of openness. We have accepted that. We have endorsed the committee's standard of best practice on openness, including on opening meetings to the public and making the minutes of such meetings available to the public. The noble Lord also referred to public appointments and questioned whether the commissioner would be independent of the Cabinet Office. I assure the House
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, also referred to the Government's response on the delaying of appointments. He asked why our response was not stronger. It is important that there is interchange between the public and private sectors. The rules need to reach a balance between that and providing safeguards to ensure that there is no impropriety in appointments. That is the whole point of opening up the procedure. Each case will be considered on its merits by the advisory committee on business appointments, which will advise Ministers directly. If the advisory committee thinks that a delay or behavioural condition is necessary, it will offer that advice. My understanding is that the advice will be made public.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, where a former Minister is advised not to take up a particular post for two years, is it the intention of the Government that his ministerial salary will be continued for that period?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is not the intention of the Government that the salary will be continued. The recipient of such advice is not bound by it, but the advice will be made public if that person decides to take up the job. If the advisory committee advises that somebody should not take up a certain job for two years and must wait two years before doing so, one has to assume that, on the basis on which it came to that view, it would be improper for that person to take up that post and that it would therefore be proper for that person to take up a post elsewhere. The answer to the noble Lady's question is: no, the Government would not pay the salary in the meantime.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister two questions. I refer first to the new commissioner for public appointments. The noble Baroness indicatedI think that I quote her correctlythat he or she will be an "independent person". We welcome that, but will any Minister of the Crown be associated directly or indirectly with that appointment? Will any Minister of the Crown be consulted before that person is appointed? We should be grateful if the Minister could answer that question.
Secondly, the Statement indicates that the consultation period for the new Civil Service code will be extended until the middle of September so that additional comments can be made. We do not have any difficulty with that, but when will a Statement be made by the Government on that new Civil Service code? Does the Minister recognise that many of the gravest concerns arising from the Nolan Reportand, incidentally, some arising apparently as a result of the investigation by Sir Richard Scottbear directly on this issue? It is an issue of the highest importance. When will we have a Statement from the Government on that point?
On the second point the noble Lord raises, first, as he has said, there will be an extension of the consultation period. A debate has been promised in another place. I shall take back to my noble friends and the usual channels the request for a debate in this House. The Government will consider their response in the light of that debate. I cannot say when they will respond. I think that the noble Lord will agree that my right honourable friend is anxious that we respond as quickly as possible to all the outstanding points. I have no doubt that he will do the same with this issue.
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