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Central Policy Unit

Volume 164: debated on Monday 18 December 1989

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To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what guidance is issued to senior civil servants at attendance of meetings of the central policy unit.

Guidance on the circumstances in which civil servants may attend or participate in activities organised by outside bodies is set out in the personnel management handbook, copies of which are available in the Library of the House.

Is the Minister aware that, according to recent press reports, civil servants have been attending committees of the Centre for Policy Studies, a body established by Sir Keith Joseph and the Prime Minister a few years ago? Will he confirm that civil servants are at liberty to attend briefing committees of bodies that are associated with political parties?

Clear guidelines are set down as to what civil servants can and cannot do. One key criterion is whether or not a particular organisation is part of a party political organisation. That is not the case in respect of the Centre for Policy Studies. Clear guidelines lay down that if civil servants attend meetings they must show impartiality, observe the confidences of Government, and show discretion in respect of any controversial issues.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his contribution to the White Paper on the financing and accountability of next steps agencies. It is a great step forward in the programme for setting up agencies within Government.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the White Paper a new trading funds Bill, which will allow many of the newly constructed agencies of Government to operate within more commercial disciplines. That is good both for management and for the best use of Government resources.

Does the Minister agree that this country has a long and honourable tradition of civil servants, including senior civil servants, being divorced from party politics? Is it not unfortunate that a number of civil servants, certainly those based at No. 10—Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell immediately come to mind—are very much associated in the minds of right hon. and hon. Members and in the minds of the public with a Conservative Government?

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman's question. He knows as well as I do that the Civil Service demontrates the highest standards of impartiality. There is no shadow of doubt about that. It has demonstrated that impartiality under Labour Governments as well as under the present Government.