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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK
Fears raised over Whitehall politicisation
Civil service impartiality will be discussed at the TUC
The government is guilty of a "shameful" failure to introduce legislation protecting civil servants from political pressure, according to the chairman of an influential Commons committee.

As a trade union prepared to attack the "creeping politicisation" of Whitehall, Labour MP Tony Wright said it would be appalling if Britain did not get a Civil Service act.

It's now politically embarrassing and in some sense shameful that we haven't had a Civil Service act

Tony Wright MP
The problem is to come under scrutiny at next week's TUC conference, when the Association of First Division Civil Servants (FDA) calls for legal safeguards for its membership's impartial role.

The association, which represents 11,000 government officials, argues that a process of politicisation that began under the Conservatives has continued under Labour.

'Impossible not to legislate'

Dr Wright chairs the all-party Commons public administration select committee, which called for action on the issue earlier this year.

"The demarcation lines have to be transparent and properly policed," he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.

Tony Wright, chairman of the Commons Public Administration Select Committee
Wright says it would be "appalling" if no new law appears
"I think we've reached a point now where it's impossible not to legislate.

"It's now politically embarrassing and in some sense shameful that we haven't had a Civil Service act.

"The assumption is that there will be legislation and I think it would be appalling if there was not."

FDA general secretary Jonathan Baume said there was a "slow process" which was seeing the work of civil servants moving "into more political directions".

Effectively some civil servants were being put into a situation where they were expected to promote rather than explain policy, Mr Baume said.

Impartial history

Britain's reliance on an impartial Civil Service dated back some 150 years and government, as well as opposition, would be strengthened by legislation to reinforce that impartiality, he said.

"We do see this as being an important measure during a period of great constitutional change."

They are twisting the arm of the Civil Service to behave as a department of the Labour Party

Norman Baker MP
Liberal Democrat
The FDA now intends to put forward a motion at next week's TUC conference which is likely to receive widespread backing from other unions.

The motion attacks "the growing trend for the government of the day to use senior civil servants as direct representatives on their behalf, in turn making it more difficult for civil servants to fulfil their role in offering independent and impartial advice".

One of the factors prompting the move is the number of special advisors and political appointees brought in to Whitehall in recent years.

Arms being twisted

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Norman Baker said the union was right to express concern about the politicisation of the civil service.

"Labour must be prevented from bringing the Civil Service into disrepute," he said.

"They are twisting the arm of the civil service to behave as a department of the Labour Party."

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said the government was committed to both maintaining a "non-political permanent civil service" and to legislating on Whitehall when there was a suitable opportunity in its busy legislative programme.

"In the meantime... the civil service code and other documents set out very clearly for parliament and the public the framework on the way the civil service works."

See also:

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