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Circumstances leading to the Resignation of a Senior Civil Servant

Volume 732: debated on Tuesday 2 May 2023

On 6 March 2023, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and HM Paymaster General announced in reply to an urgent question that the Cabinet Office had been asked to look into the circumstances leading to the resignation of Sue Gray, the former Permanent Secretary for the Union and the Constitution, and committed to update Parliament as appropriate.

This process has involved interviewing relevant persons to establish further details on the contact between Ms Gray and the Leader of the Opposition. I can update the House that Ms Gray was given the opportunity to make representations as part of this process but chose not to do so.

I hope the House will understand that, in order to maintain confidentiality towards an individual former employee, I am unable at this stage to provide further information relating to the departure of Ms Gray whilst we consider next steps.

All civil servants are required to follow the civil service code which sets out the four core values of the civil service:

Integrity—putting the obligations of public service above your own personal interests

Honesty—being truthful and open

Objectivity—basing your advice and decisions on rigorous analysis of the evidence

Impartiality—acting solely according to the merits of the case and serving equally well Governments of different political persuasions.

Section 4.4.9 of the civil service management code sets out that all members of the senior civil service are in the “politically restricted” category, which places further restrictions on their political activity.

In addition, there is a requirement under the directory of civil service guidance, which underpins the civil service code, that

“contacts between senior civil servants and leading members of the Opposition cleared with...Ministers.”

The impartiality and perceived impartiality of the civil service is constitutionally vital to the conduct of Government. Ministers must be able to speak to their officials from a position of absolute trust, so it is the responsibility of everyone in this House to preserve and support the impartiality of the civil service.

Separately, the Cabinet Office has made submissions to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACoBA), the independent appointments watchdog, in relation to Ms Gray’s application for advice under the business appointment rules, prior to her taking up an appointment as chief of staff to the Leader of the Opposition. The Government’s confidential assessment is in line with the usual process and ACoBA will consider evidence from a range of sources to make a recommendation on any appropriate restrictions on the appointment. As set out in the business appointment rules, the aim of the rules includes avoiding any reasonable concerns that

“a former civil servant might improperly exploit privileged access to contacts in Government or sensitive information”.

The decision on any recommended restrictions on the appointment is for ACoBA.

The Government will provide a further update to the House in due course.