Examination of Witness (Questions 620-640)|
THURSDAY 9 MAY 2002
620. Someone from the private sector would say
"that is exactly what we do with our organisations".
(Baroness Prashar) That is true. We have had discussions
with people in the private sector. I suppose the difference is
their concern is bottom line and they are not working or operating
within such a strong political context. Delivering services or
providing policy analysis is a very different technique within
a political context. I think there are differences. Of course,
that is not to say that other organisations are not value based,
of course they are, but they have their own different set of values
and they work in very different contexts.
Chairman: I wish we had more time to explore
that with you and I am sorry that we do not but I am grateful
621. I want to quickly return to the question
of public appointments. The Commissioners are responsible for
up to 12,500 of the 30,000 appointments. Do you publish any details
of the representative groups, gender, ethnicity or, indeed, disabilities?
(Baroness Prashar) We are not concerned with public
appointments, but with Civil Service appointments.
(Baroness Prashar) Yes, in our annual report we do
publish the appointments that we make with the proportion of minorities
and so on. But the responsibility for diversity and equality of
opportunity is for the Cabinet Office, we do not have that responsibility
623. In terms of the actual numbers of people
on public appointments, and some of them have got many public
appointments, do you not consider in terms of the Commissioners
themselves, and looking through the list of the Commissioners
I notice a lot of them have got a number of other appointments
on outside bodies, that in certain circumstances there could sometimes
be a conflict of interest?
(Baroness Prashar) We are very mindful of that because,
as you can imagine, they are part-time it would be very difficult
to get people who are not doing anything else. That is one of
the questions we do ask when we appoint them, whether there will
be any conflict of interest in what they are doing. In all of
them that was not the case. Obviously if there was a particular
appointment being made where we felt there was a conflict of interest,
we would make sure that they were not involved in that particular
624. So when they are looked at in terms of
the position of a Commissioner would you look at all the details,
(Baroness Prashar) Yes.
625. That would be your responsibility on that
(Baroness Prashar) Yes.
626. What would be the position if something
came to light after an appointment had taken place which they
had left off the CV?
(Baroness Prashar) It would depend but I think we
would terminate their appointment.
627. Can I just very quickly turn to the Civil
Service Act. You said earlier that not everyone believes we need
a Civil Service Act. Who do you think is heading up the campaign
against the Civil Service Act?
(Baroness Prashar) I do not think I would call it
a campaign being headed up against it. I think what we need is
a healthy non-partisan debate about this because to me the process
of getting the Act is just as important as getting the Act. As
I was referring to earlier, the Civil Service, its health, and
where it is going, does not get discussed very openly because
civil servants by training do not speak out in public, although
there are exceptions. I think the time has come to have a debate
about it to air the pros and cons, and merits and demerits. I
have come to the conclusion that we do need an Act but it would
be very helpful to have a debate to see what might be in the Act
and to discuss with those who are against it and why they are
against it. That is what I would like and I hope that your Committee
will make a contribution to that.
628. Thank you. Just a couple of very, very
quick final questions, if I may. Do you think the principle of
appointment on merit should apply to special advisers too?
(Baroness Prashar) It depends on what kind of special
advisers. In my view there are political advisersand that
is where the chemistry must be right and the comfort leveland
I think it is for the minister to decide, but if you move into
the area of expert advisers I think it would be in everybody's
interest to make sure that you get the best person with that expertise.
Then there may be some areas where it is evident that there are
not very many people with that particular kind of expertise and
do you really want to go for competition.
629. Whatever the job specification is would
you not want the best person?
(Baroness Prashar) Yes.
630. So I do not see why the principle of appointment
on merit would not apply across the board. The point of ending
cronyism is that you cannot just appoint your buddies to jobs
at public expense.
(Baroness Prashar) I make the distinction that to
me there are two kinds of special advisers, political advisers
who give political advice and I think
631. No merit there. There would be no merit
test needed to come in there.
(Baroness Prashar) I think with a political adviser
it is obviously the chemistry, the comfort level and so on and
it is for the minister to make sure that he or she has the best
person that they want, but when it comes to expert advisers you
are looking for certain expertise in a particular area and I think
if they are making a contribution to policy development then it
would be important to have that done on merit. Given my background,
even if not as a Commissioner, I do believe that it does help
if you appoint people on merit because you open it up to everybody
and I think as a principle it is a good thing no matter what appointment
you are looking at.
632. So some special advisers should be appointed
(Baroness Prashar) Yes.
633. Thank you very much for that. Let me just
quickly ask you this. In this country we never abolish institutions,
do we, we set them up and we never get rid of them because we
do not do that kind of thing, we let them just mutate or wither.
Do we need Civil Service Commissioners? They were set up for a
particular reason at a particular time. If we made sure we had
a Cabinet Secretary who was safeguarding the Civil Service and
we have now got a Commission of Public Appointments to make public
appointments work well, why do we need the Civil Service Commissioners?
(Baroness Prashar) Let me agree with you first because
I do think that it is good to visit any organisation to say is
it needed, is it past its time. I am not saying that the Civil
Service Commissioners are needed because I am currently the First
634. That would be a good reason.
(Baroness Prashar) That would be a good reason but,
on the other hand, as I indicated to you I am part-time and the
Commissioners are part-time so we are not here for job protection.
If we did not exist we probably would be invented. Although we
have been around for about a century we have seen a growth in
regulators. You mentioned the Public Appointments Commissioner.
There are now various ombudsmen and so on. I think the Commissioners
do provide protection. Although I would not want the Commissioners
to become busy-bodies enquiring and taking up responsibility,
I personally believe that self-regulation is a good thing and
I would like to see Perm Secs and ministers themselves acting
as custodians of these principles because it is in the public
interest and they ought to be setting an example. But things do
go wrong and the Commissioners provide protection and assurance.
When things do go wrong civil servants can come to us and we provide
635. But they do not.
(Baroness Prashar) I said they can given that we have
It could give comfort to Perm Secs if they find a minister is
difficult or a situation is getting out of hand. I think in that
sense it is important to have an external body. Also it provides
assurance to the public. If you did not have the Commissioners,
and you did not have their annual report, then you would have
to rely on the word of the ministers or the Perm Secs that things
are fine. I think you need something which provides public assurance
that the integrity, the impartiality of the Civil Service is being
636. Let me put the same question from a different
angle and I think is one probably you would be able to sign up
to. Instead of just providing a sort of constitutional comfort
blanket, which is what you are describing, for goodness sake why
not give it a job? We need people who do all kinds of things.
We need people who police the boundaries. We need people who go
out and investigate issues, report on these big issues all the
time. At the moment we have this situation, as Michael asked questions
on earlier, about the Sixsmith affair and we have got chaos, the
Cabinet Secretary's words, chaos reigning in a department, boundary
lines being trampled across and a Civil Service Commission can
have no role in this at all. Issues about secondees coming into
Government, the public-private interface issues, all these crucial
issues, this is the modern agenda for a Civil Service Commission,
is it not?
(Baroness Prashar) Absolutely.
637. So I do not want to abolish you now, I
want to send you off to do all these things.
(Baroness Prashar) I happen to agree with you because
I have to say one almost feels a sense of being impotent because
you are watching what is going on. I did feel that it would be
important for a body, whether the Commissioners or anybody else,
to have the responsibility or the power to enquire, make sure
the balance is kept and that boundaries are observed. I think
a more proactive role for the Commissioners would be desirable.
638. Good. That is probably the note upon which
we should end. We have had a very interesting session with you
and I am sorry we have ranged rather widely but we have got a
lot out of it. Thank you very much indeed. Is this the first time
you have been before a parliamentary committee?
(Baroness Prashar) I have been before parliamentary
committees before, that was some time ago, but this is the first
time before you as a First Commissioner.
639. I suspect that we will do this more often.
(Baroness Prashar) You can examine our annual report
in the future.
640. We could ask the Queen to come and talk
to us about it.
(Baroness Prashar) Thank you very much.
Chairman: Thank you.
1 Note by Witness: They don't at present but
might in future if we have different powers. Back