The main focus at present is on a Parliamentary Commission akin to the Banking Commission of both Houses which reported last year. That has been proposed by the Public Administration Committee, endorsed by the Commons Liaison Committee of chairs of select committees, and has now been backed by the majority of speakers in a Lords debate on January 16th on the Civil Service. But the Government, both ministers and civil service leaders, is not persuaded. The Lords debate, initiated by Lord Hennessy, was a parade of twitter-length speeches (no more than three or four minutes long) from all five living former cabinet secretaries, ex-ministers, academics and various other authorities. Much was predictable: concern that the longstanding values of the Civil Service are being threatened by proposals on permanent secretary appointments and extended ministerial offices. Yet the extent of the worries cannot just be dismissed as ‘better in our time’ worries, even though little specific evidence was presented of actual, as opposed to feared, politicisation. There are real, and deeply felt, concerns about ministers not being presented with robust, impartial advice. And, as several peers said, the role of ministers should not be left out of any inquiry. However, the debate […]

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