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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Government agree that the proliferation of nuclear weapons is indeed a threat. That is why the Government urge those countries who have yet to sign the non-proliferation and comprehensive test ban treaties to do so as quickly as possible.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on assisting the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, by her clarification. Will she further make matters clear to him by persisting in the suggestion I made that our right honourable friend should introduce an additional addendum to the mission statement making clear the matters on which she touched this afternoon?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the mission statement was made and circulated in the form in which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State wished it to be circulated. However, I can assure the noble Lord that that in no way detracts from the commitment in the manifesto.

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Career Civil Servants and Political Appointees

3.10 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy about filling posts normally held by high ranking and experienced professional civil servants with political appointees, particularly in the Prime Minister's Office but also in other government departments.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government are committed to a strong and impartial Civil Service. The Civil Service Order in Council was amended on 3rd May to allow up to a maximum of three posts in Downing Street to be filled by special advisers carrying out executive functions in addition to their advisory role. It is the Government's view that the political impartiality of the permanent Civil Service will be reinforced by clearly distinguishing political advice and support in that way.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that interesting Answer. Can he inform the House what special qualities and experiences Mr. Alastair Campbell has to make him better qualified to be the Prime Minister's press secretary than the long-established civil servant who normally holds that position? Can he also tell us what duties the Prime Minister's principal private secretary would normally carry out but which will now be undertaken by Mr. Jonathan Powell in his newly-named role, "Chief of Staff"?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in response to the first part of the noble Baroness's question, the precedent of appointing outside press advisers and heads of the press office started as long ago as 1931. There is nothing new in having an external head of a press office and I do not wish to comment on Mr. Alastair Campbell's specific qualifications.

As to the issue of Mr. Powell, again, the office of Chief of Staff was established many years ago. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Sunningdale, was the Chief of Staff to the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, from 1979 to 1985. There has never been any question of Mr. Powell taking over any of the roles of a permanent civil servant which would be inappropriate. For example, he will not have any responsibility for non-political contacts with the Opposition; he will not be concerned with the career management of civil servants; nor will he work on honours except in relation to political working Peers.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, what are we to make of the piece in today's Financial Times which appears to suggest that there is to be a second set of government press officers working from Millbank and apparently offering rival versions to their counterparts in the Civil Service?

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I know of no such suggestion.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, does the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, agree that the advantage of having political advisers is that it removes the temptation offered to Ministers to ask civil servants to carry out overtly political activities? Is it not within the recollection of the noble Lord what Mr. Heseltine did? He asked civil servants to prepare lists of friends who would make statements supporting the policies of the then government. Was that not an entirely improper way in which to use Civil Service resources?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord; his memory is correct. When I am asked about the role of career civil servants in No. 10, I recall the characteristics of career civil servants such as, for example, Sir Bernard Ingham or Sir Charles Powell. They were distinguished civil servants but also known for their loyalty to the Prime Minister of the day.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, does the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, recall the interesting debates we had on this subject in the last Session of Parliament? Perhaps he will find time to re-read them and observe the remarks of his own party then in Opposition. Many of those debates were held at the instigation of our late and much regretted colleague, Lord Bancroft, whose memory I revere and whose example we should all follow. Does the Minister agree also that the principles to be followed remain the same? Those principles are the selection of civil servants by independent persons; their promotion by a similar system of evaluation on merit; and, in the final stages of their career, the choice marked by the absence of any a priori objectives such as, "One of us. Not one of us".

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I share the noble Lord's reverence and respect for the late Lord Bancroft. Indeed, as was clear at the time, I share his view that nothing should be put in the way of proper selection processes on merit for the Civil Service. However, we are talking about a maximum of 50 people in a Civil Service of 450,000. We should keep a sense of proportion.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I welcome the initial reply from the noble Lord. But has he noted the reported comment by an eminent Civil Service Commissioner that political patronage might now be replacing the traditional British system for public service appointments? Is the first division of civil servants now missing the strong advocacy they previously had in the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord's question is imprecise. He does not name the Civil Service Commissioner or give the date. But I can reassure him that Sir Michael Betts, the first Civil Service Commissioner, gave a briefing to journalists on

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28th May to coincide with the commissioner's annual report. He said that he had no cause for concern over the current situation.

Lord McNally: My Lords, will the Minister assure us that the Government will not be bullied by the establishment on these matters? Surely the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, is right that a political appointment is far preferable to a "Is he one of us?" appointment from the career Civil Service? Will the Minister recognise also that fundamental changes took place in our Civil Service under the previous administration? It may be necessary to look at the balance between career civil servants, political appointments and bringing in people from outside as part of the modernisation of our Government. That should not be deflected by the establishment ganging up on Ministers.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, noble Lords from the Conservative Benches appear to think it funny when I agree with the Liberal Democrats in this House; but I do. The changes that have been made are small changes in numerical terms, but they are important to establish the separate role of political advice from the proper role of the career Civil Service.

Lord Mishcon: My Lords, is it not a relevant factor that we now have a Government which have definite and firm political aims and objectives which they want to carry out most effectively?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, my Lords.

Disability Benefits: Effect of Judgment

3.18 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take steps to notify severely disabled people of the significance for their benefit claims of the judgment of this House in Secretary of State for Social Security v. Fairey (also known as Halliday).

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, since the commissioner's decision of 14th October 1994 the Department of Social Security has requested additional information from customers claiming attendance allowance or the care component of disability living allowance about their social activities. That information has been taken into account when making decisions on entitlement and subsequent payments. The decision of this House in its judicial capacity delivered on 21st May confirmed the need for that action.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. Does my noble friend agree that that

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landmark judgment entitles disabled people, for the first time, to seek social security to enable them to live their lives as normally as possible? That is in striking contrast to the previous position where they simply received necessities for their existence. However, the judgment will be of little help if people do not know about it. Why cannot my noble friend and the Government inform those disabled people on the lower rate of the disability living allowance so that they are aware of the vital importance to them of the judgment?


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