Examination of Witness (Questions 260-279)|
THURSDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2001
260. You have two or three times in the course
of this session talked about a Bill. We are very interested in
a Civil Service Bill and I think the Committee has a view on this,
that we are in favour of it. I would interpretI am sure
you would notsome of your remarks as saying a Bill would
make your life a lot easier and it would make life clearer. Can
you tell us is this Bill on the horizon, over the horizon, over
(Sir Richard Wilson) I did not in any way intend to
convey to you the thought that a Bill would make my life easier.
261. I know you did not.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Nor is it actually what I think.
That is not why I think a Bill is a good idea. I think that the
time is right to have a Bill. Over the last five years or so we
have put in place a number of different codes. I think we are
now at a time where there is more public interest in issues to
do with the Civil Service than there has been in the past. Some
of the things that we have been discussing have existed a long
time and what has happened is that the public have become more
sensitised to them rather than that the issues are new. I also
think that there is much less understanding of the Civil Service
now than there was at some points in the past. I think we have
reached a time where a Civil Service Bill would give us an opportunity
once and for all to have the debate about special advisers, about
what the Civil Service is for, what the ethics are or what the
code is that should govern our behaviour and to put it on a statutory
basis. The Government has made a very clear commitment to having
a Civil Service Bill in their reply most recently to the Sixth
Report of the Neill Committee. They have included some commitments
as to what the Bill will contain, including a commitment that
it will put the Civil Service Commission on a statutory basis
and it will include a cap on the number of civil servants. What
I would like to see though, I think this clearly will be a Government
262. Do you mean a cap on the number of special
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes, that is in the response.
Mr Trend: We were all trying to correct you.
263. That would have been quite an announcement
you have just made.
(Sir Richard Wilson) I am so sorry, can I correct
the record? That was a slip. What we must ensure is that whatever
Bill is brought forward, and I have cleared this with the Prime
Minister, should be a Bill that commands as wide assent as we
can achieve, that is done on the basis that it commands support
across the parties and is not, as it were, just being pushed by
one party, and that it is a Bill which does not itself become
a political football. On the Civil Service Code we worked closely
with this Committee to put the code together, this Committee played
an important role in that, and I hope that we can formally or
informally work with this Committee as well as those people outside
who are interested in the Civil Service and what it might contain,
including people in academia, in the media, even some people present.
If we could do that I would welcome it.
264. Can I press you on the timetable.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes.
265. I am trying to press you on it.
(Sir Richard Wilson) I cannot obviously make a commitment
about the Government's future legislative programme, that is not
for me to do and it would not be proper for me to try to do it.
What I can do though is say that I would like to embark on this
process of consultation in the next few months and see if we can
see what progress we can make by, say, Easter. I think we should
issue a consultation document and we might have discussions before
we issue a consultation document just to get the issues running,
and then have a proper consultation process in accordance with
our own code, and then see if we can get to a position where drafting
the Bill can take place.
266. So something will happen by Easter?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Oh, yes. I would like to embark
on that process and I have got the Prime Minister's approval that
we should embark on a process of consultation. He attaches importance
to this and I think we should put this in hand. I would just repeat
that I would very much welcome it if this Committee could support
what I have said, that we should do it in a way which takes it
outside party political controversy and have it in terms of a
proper debate about the issues but not make it contentious.
Chairman: I think what you have said will be
warmly welcomed here and we would like to proceed on this basis
and we accept your offer.
267. I have one more question on this chart.
On the last chart there was a Cabinet Minister responsible for
the Civil Service and now he seems to have disappeared.
(Sir Richard Wilson) The Cabinet Minister responsible
for the Civil Service is the Prime Minister.
268. Ah, so it is absolutely clear?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Absolutely clear. It says if
269. Totally clear?
(Sir Richard Wilson) If you look at the description
of the Prime Minister it says "and Minister for the Civil
270. So the next time we say that we want to
discuss the Civil Service with the Cabinet Minister responsible
for the Civil Service we will get the Prime Minister? We will
write and invite the Prime Minister because we usually get you
or, indeed, the Minister who is responsible for the Civil Service,
which is very nice of course.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Chairman, it has always been
the case that the Prime Minister is the Minister for the Civil
Service. I am not going to make any undertakings that the Prime
Minister will appear before this Committee and I would prefer
not to go over ground which I have gone over with you before.
271. That is what I expected you to say. There
is in my mind anyway now a real option to invite senior advisers
to the Government to come before this Committee. This has also
been resisted. I can understand why the Prime Minister resists
coming before this Committee, although I think he should come
before some Committee in the House to answer questions properly
which he has not done at Prime Minister's Questions. That aside,
there are people now in positions of enormous power and responsibility
who are not able to bat aside questions like the Deputy Prime
Minister on the basis that he does not know the answer or he has
got a funny political retort. We have previously had Alastair
Campbell before the Committee, a second request did not succeed.
Are there grounds to think that some of the people at the heart
of Government who are not elected politicians and who are not
Permanent Secretaries could appear before this Committee? What
is the golden rule which stops this happening?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I think it is the convention
that Ministers can decide who they wish to represent them in appearances
before the Committee. I think the proper course, if this Committee
feels strongly on this issue, is to issue whatever invitations
they wish to issue and for those then to be properly considered
272. That is an invitation.
(Sir Richard Wilson) In that connection, can I just
demonstrate a point I made earlier, and draw attention to an article
in the Daily Mail in 1974 which is entitled "Who Really
Runs Britain Now".
273. Which you happen to have to hand.
(Sir Richard Wilson) "You rarely see them but
some have more influence than civil servants and are paid more
than Ministers" over the whole rogue's gallery of special
Chairman: We take the point.
Mr Liddell-Grainger: Where are they now?
Chairman: They are all Ministers now.
274. You were going on about bringing in expertise
and making it all open and all the rest of it, but the permanent
staff of the Cabinet Office has over doubled to 5,000 people,
which is costing us the not inconsiderable sum of £170 million
extra. I do not understand yet from everything you have said how
that brings value to what you are doing, which is looking after
the Cabinet Office and hopefully making it more open. I do not
quite understand how this follows.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Would it help if I gave you some
275. It would indeed.
(Sir Richard Wilson) The Cabinet Office at 1 April
was roughly 2,200. The total strength is now a little under 5,000.
The biggest element in that increase are the government offices
in the regions which have been moved from the old DETR to the
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The figure for staffing of
the government offices plus the Regional Co-ordination Unit is
2,265. In addition, we have brought across roughly 80 staff from
the Home Office who deal with emergencies, and we have also brought
across from other departments 15 staff who deal with issues of
gender, diversity and equality. If you add that up it comes to
close to 5,000.
276. It does.
(Sir Richard Wilson) There are other minor movements
in and out. For instance, the Drugs Unit that supported the Drugs
Czar went out to the Home Office and there have been one or two
other movements of a pretty small kind out as well and a certain
amount of winding up. The net result is that there has been an
increase in the size of the Cabinet Office a great deal smaller
than the 3,000 figure.
277. Can I follow on from that to the Forward
Strategy Unit, which comes under your control. It seems to have
all those people who are coming in from the outside to advise.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Correct.
278. Do you see yourself then as a manager of
(Sir Richard Wilson) The Prime Minister has appointed
a small number of unpaid advisers from outside who are on a panel
and they are offering a day or two a week.
279. But you are in charge of them?
(Sir Richard Wilson) This is something which has existed
under governments of all complexionsthat people can be
brought in to support a Prime Minister and to give him or her
advice on an unpaid basis. They are not employees of the organisation
and therefore I am not their manager.