Whitehall to block favours for ministers after Blunkett

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Indy Politics

Britain's senior civil servants agreed yesterday to bring in new rules in the wake of the David Blunkett affair to stop ministers abusing their position by giving special treatment to friends or constituents.

The plans were discussed at the weekly meeting in Whitehall of the permanent secretaries of all government departments.

In a move called "the revenge of the Sir Humphreys", the senior civil servants agreed that the need for tougher rules was shown by the inquiry into allegations that Mr Blunkett fast-tracked a residence visa application for the nanny of his former lover, Kimberly Quinn.

Their initiative is a coded warning to Tony Blair, who has dragged his feet over demands for a new Civil Service Act to prevent the politicisation of Whitehall and put the relationship between ministers and officials on a statutory basis.

Mr Blunkett's hopes of an early return to the Cabinet were dealt a double blow yesterday. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, said on BBC Radio 4: "He [Mr Blunkett] admitted that he had a conflict in the personal handling of this case. It was contrary to the rules of ministers. He has been found guilty of the offence, basically, that's what happened. Not so much an open verdict.

"He [Sir Alan] found he had intervened. But ... he has faced up to his full responsibility and resigned. That's the most a minister can do."

Friends of Mrs Quinn fired a warning shot at Mr Blunkett as he prepared for another round in his legal battle to win access to her two-year-old son, who he says he fathered. Her friends warned that she was "a voracious note-taker and diary-keeper" whose memoirs could "bang the final nail into Blunkett's political coffin". The published diaries could be worth up to £1.5m.

At yesterday's meeting of Whitehall mandarins, John Gieve, the Home Office permanent secretary, raised the need for new guidelines. Sir Andrew Turnbull, the cabinet secretary, agreed to look into the question and new rules are expected in the new year.

Mr Gieve has already brought in guidelines for Home Office staff, which say: "Particular care needs to be taken over cases in which a minister may have a personal interest or connection, for example because they concern family, friends or employees." Ministers should disclose their connection to the minister taking the decision, who should avoid "special treatment".

If ministers raise a case as a constituency MP, they should not take a decision on it but refer it to another minister. If ministers examine issues drawn to their attention by MPs, groups or individuals, their private office should record when and where the case was raised and what action was taken."

Mr Blair is expected to reject demands for a new Civil Service Act to be speeded up. Draft legislation was published last month but there is no prospect of it being introduced in Parliament before the election.