Letter: Blair's impartial Civil Service

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article of 2 June is rightly dismissive of the charge of politicisation of the Civil Service made against the incoming Labour government. Despite all the hullabaloo, all the Government has done is to increase slightly the number of special advisers and to strengthen the political control at Number 10, so lacking under John Major, by appointing two political advisers with executive powers. In contrast to Mrs Thatcher, who politicised civil servants by enticing them to become her personal aides, Tony Blair has made it clear from the start that his press secretary, Alastair Campbell, and his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, are political appointees who would have to leave if the Labour government is voted out.

The real questions about the Civil Service are the following.

First, are they in a position to give impartial advice to ministers? I understand that the Prime Minister has sent a memorandum to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robin Butler, stressing the importance of the policy advice role of the Civil Service.

Second, are they prepared to carry out swiftly and efficiently ministerial decisions? On this point, the Civil Service is to be congratulated on the smoothness of the handover from a Conservative government which had been in power for 18 years.

Third, are civil servants protected from being required to act in a manner which is unconstitutional, improper or unethical? Since 1995, the Civil Service code, drafted by the Treasury Civil Service Select Committee, has given civil servants the protection of an independent appeals procedure covering these matters.

Lastly, are civil servants as open and as helpful as possible to Parliament, especially when giving evidence to select committees? The resolution on ministerial accountability, drafted by the Public Service Select Committee and overwhelmingly adopted by the House, makes it clear that civil servants have an obligation to provide full and accurate information to Parliament.


(Durham North, Lab)

House of Commons

London SW1