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Supporting Civil Service Impartiality through Due Diligence Guidance

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 20 July 2023

This Government are committed to protecting free speech, the impartiality of the civil service and ensuring taxpayer money is not used to fund speakers who have expressed or supported extremist views.

I have instructed the Cabinet Office to review and update cross-civil service diversity network due diligence and impartiality guidance and the Cabinet Office guidance on learning and events in the Cabinet Office. I expect the guidance to be reissued in the early autumn but have withdrawn the current guidance until that review is complete.

Given that this guidance has been the subject of previous parliamentary interest I wished to inform the House.

Ministers and MPs on all sides of the House have an obligation to help support the impartiality of the civil service. I believe we also have a role in ensuring civil servants are provided with support so that they can be reassured that in organising taxpayer funded or supported events they have taken appropriate steps to prevent that impartiality being called into question.

For this reason guidance was developed to help avoid civil servants (acting on behalf of cross-Government diversity networks) or Cabinet Office officials issuing invitations to individuals or organisations who have expressed or supported extremist views being advertised as speakers at taxpayer funded or supported events, which might lead to the impartiality of the civil service being called into question or its reputation otherwise brought into disrepute.

It has become apparent that the issued guidance may have been adapted for utilisation in areas for which purpose it was not intended and may also be at risk of being misinterpreted by implementing bodies outside of the Cabinet Office. It is important that we protect civil service impartiality but not in a way that could result in adverse unintended consequences. I am equally committed to protecting free speech and I have considered the way in which the guidance has been implemented.

For that reason I have decided to withdraw the current guidance, review it and reissue it in the early autumn having ensured that the guidance strikes the right balance in the way it supports our civil service colleagues in protecting the service’s impartiality.

I remain committed to issuing guidance that protects both free speech and the impartiality of the civil service, whilst ensuring taxpayers are not funding speakers who have expressed or supported extremist views. These are not mutually exclusive goals. I will place any updated guidance in the House of Commons Library upon its issuance.