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2nd Report, 2009 (Session 3)

Report on the legislative consent memorandum on the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill
(UK Parliament legislation)

Remit and membership

Remit:

To consider and report on the Scottish economy, enterprise, energy, tourism and all other matters falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth apart from those covered by the remits of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change and the Local Government and Communities Committees.

Membership:
Ms Wendy Alexander
Gavin Brown
Rob Gibson (Deputy Convener)
Christopher Harvie
Marilyn Livingstone
Lewis Macdonald
Stuart McMillan
Iain Smith (Convener)

Committee Clerking Team:

Clerk to the Committee
Stephen Imrie

Senior Assistant Clerk
Katy Orr

Assistant Clerk
Gail Grant

Report on the legislative consent memorandum on the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill
(UK Parliament legislation)

The Committee reports to the Parliament as follows—

Introduction

1. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill (“the Bill”)1 was introduced in the House of Commons on 20 July 2009. The Bill relates to (i) the Civil Service; (ii) Ratification of Treaties; (iii) The House of Lords; (iv) Public Order; (v) Time Limits for Human Rights Actions Against Devolved Administrations; (vi) Courts and Tribunals; (vii) National Audit; (viii) Transparency of Government Financial Reporting to Parliament.

2. Certain provisions in Part 1 (The Civil Service) and Part 5 (Time Limits for Human Rights Actions Against Devolved Administrations) of the Bill alter the executive competence of Scottish Ministers and so require the Scottish Parliament’s consent to a legislative consent motion.

Background to the changes proposed in the LCM

3. As the memorandum explains, it is only certain Civil Service provisions in the Bill that alter the executive competence of Scottish Ministers. As set out in more detail at Appendix 1 of the LCM2, the duties would relate to (i) certain functions of the Civil Service Commission and (ii) Special Advisers. All of the proposed changes relate to the attribution of new functions to Scottish Ministers. In summary:

  • The Minister for the Civil Service must consult the First Minister before publishing a separate code of conduct for civil servants who serve the Scottish Government and there is a duty on the First Minister to lay this code before the Scottish Parliament. (Clause 5(6))

  • The Minister for the Civil Service must consult the First Minister before publishing a separate code of conduct relating to Special Advisers who serve the Scottish Executive and there is a duty on the First Minister to lay this code before the Scottish Parliament (Clause 8(6))

  • A requirement that the First Minister personally selects for appointment those to be appointed as Special Advisers ( the policy intention is to enable the First Minister to appoint without the need for a delegation such as exists at the moment) (Clause 15(1) Scottish Executive part)

  • The First Minister is required to prepare an annual report on the number and costs of Special Advisers and there is a duty on the First Minister to lay this annual report before the Scottish Parliament. (Clause 16(2)(a)&(b))

  • Provision which enables Minister for Civil Service & The Commission to agree to the Commission carrying out additional functions in relation to the Civil Service and for any civil service management authority to provide the Commission with any information it reasonable requires. (Clause 17( 3))

  • A duty on the First Minister to lay before Parliament a copy of the annual report of the Civil Service Commission (Schedule 1, para 17(5))

The Committee’s consideration of the Bill

4. At its meeting on 13 January 20103, the Committee considered the legislative consent memorandum and took evidence from Jim Mather MSP, Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism and a number of Scottish Government officials. A number of points and questions were raised by the Committee. Before doing so, however, the Minister indicated that the proposed wording of the draft motion as set out in the LCM itself (see annexe) would be altered before final consideration by the Parliament.

5. Initially, the Minister and his officials described the proposed changes as “not contentious” and, in isolation, stated that they would not merit legislation in the Scottish Parliament. This was the justification for recourse to an LCM.

6. After a brief discussion on the merits of referring this LCM to the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, the main line of questioning and discussion was on the appointment process for Special Advisers and specifically the merits of whether these should be appointed only by the First Minister (and not by other ministers) and whether there should be a limit on the number of appointees to these posts. The Committee also asked about the role that Parliament should have in scrutinising these appointments and whether this should be on a statutory footing, the costs associated with Special Advisers and whether there should be a cap on the numbers of such appointments. Comparisons were made to the appointment of Special Advisers by UK Government ministers.

7. The Minister outlined the process to be used and the merits of the move that the appointments should be made by the First Minister (and not by other Scottish Ministers), and confirmed that there were no plans to increase the current complement of 10 Special Advisers.

Recommendation to the Parliament

8. The Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee then discussed whether it wished to recommend to the Scottish Parliament that consent be granted to the UK Parliament to consider the Bill as set out in the legislative consent memorandum. After discussion the Committee reached agreement without division.

9. The Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee therefore recommends that the relevant provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, introduced in the House of Commons on 20 July 2009, so far as these matters alter the executive competence of Scottish Ministers, should be considered by the UK Parliament.

Annexe

LEGISLATIVE CONSENT MEMORANDUM
UK CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM AND GOVERNANCE BILL

Draft Legislative Consent Motion

The draft motion, which will be lodged by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, is:

“That the Parliament agrees that the relevant provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, introduced in the House of Commons on 20 July 2009, relating to the Civil Service and Human Rights Claims against Devolved Administrations, so far as these matters alter the executive competence of Scottish Ministers, should be considered by the UK Parliament.”

Background

This memorandum has been lodged by John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, under Rule 9.B.3.1 (a) of the Parliament’s standing orders. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 20 July 2009. The Bill can be found at:

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2008-09/constitutionalreformandgovernance.html.

Content of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill

The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill relates to (i) the Civil Service; (ii) Ratification of Treaties; (iii) The House of Lords; (iv) Public Order; (v) Time Limits for Human Rights Actions Against Devolved Administrations; (vi) Courts and Tribunals; (vii) National Audit; (viii) Transparency of Government Financial Reporting to Parliament.

Provisions Which Relate to Scotland

It is only certain Civil Service provisions in the Bill that alter the executive competence of Scottish Ministers

The Civil Service in Scotland is part of the unified “Home Civil Service” operating in Great Britain. The Northern Ireland Civil Service is separate. The Bill would put the Home Civil Service on a statutory footing without altering the administrative arrangements currently established through Orders in Council. Essentially, the reform relates to the legal status rather than the nature or operation of the Home Civil Service. The Bill also contains provisions relating to the code of conduct and appointment of Special Advisers.

The Bill includes the following general provisions on the Civil Service:

  • the establishment of the Civil Service Commission as a statutory NDPB, with responsibility for upholding core values in the context of recruitment, appointments, audit, appeals, etc;

  • an obligation on UK Ministers (namely, the Prime Minister & Foreign Secretary) to publish codes upholding the core civil service values for application in the Home Civil Service and Diplomatic Service;

  • a discretionary power which enables a separate code of conduct to be published for Special Advisors who serve the Scottish Government

  • appointment arrangements for Special Advisers;

  • a general power for UK Ministers (the Prime Minister & Foreign Secretary) to manage the Civil and Diplomatic Services on the basis of a Civil Service Management Code; and

  • Civil Service recruitment and appointment arrangements.

The Bill introduces time limits for human rights actions against Northern Ireland Ministers and Welsh Ministers. An amendment has been tabled introducing consistent protection for Scottish Ministers.

Reasons for seeking a Legislative Consent Motion

There are various reasons for seeking a Legislative Consent Motion as opposed to legislation in the Scottish Parliament.

First, the Government supports the general principle of putting the Civil Service on a statutory footing; and supports that aspect of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill.

Second, the Government is committed to the establishment of a separate Scottish Civil Service; but has concluded that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill is not the best vehicle for promoting such proposals. Substantive change in this area is a complex and long-term project, which the Government continues to pursue separately with the UK Government.

Third, the Civil Service is a reserved matter and the Bill will not alter the current practical arrangements under which the Civil Service in Scotland works for the Scottish Government under management arrangements largely delegated to the Permanent Secretary.

Fourth, the Legislative Consent Motion is required because the Bill would impose certain duties on Scottish Ministers, as detailed below; and those duties are of a routine nature.

Fifth, the Legislative Consent Motion is required because the Bill will revoke the Convention Rights Proceedings (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2009 and amend s100 of the Scotland Act.

As discussed in more detail at Annex A, the duties would relate to (i) certain functions of the Civil Service Commission and (ii) Special Advisers. Some of the legal judgements are finely balanced; but we think there are 6 provisions that require a Legislative Consent Motion. All of these relate to the attribution of new functions to Scottish Ministers. In summary:

  • The Minister for the Civil Service must consult the First Minister before publishing a separate code of conduct for civil servants who serve the Scottish Government and there is a duty on the First Minister to lay this code before the Scottish Parliament. (Clause 5(6))

  • The Minister for the Civil Service must consult the First Minister before publishing a separate code of conduct relating to Special Advisers who serve the Scottish Executive and there is a duty on the First Minister to lay this code before the Scottish Parliament (Clause 8(6))

  • A requirement that the First Minister personally selects for appointment those to be appointed as Special Advisers ( the policy intention is to enable the First Minister to appoint without the need for a delegation such as exists at the moment) (Clause 15(1) Scottish Executive part)

  • The First Minister is required to prepare an annual report on the number and costs of Special Advisers and there is a duty on the First Minister to lay this annual report before the Scottish Parliament. (Clause 16(2)(a)&(b))

  • Provision which enables Minister for Civil Service & The Commission to agree to the Commission carrying out additional functions in relation to the Civil Service and for any civil service management authority to provide the Commission with any information it reasonable requires. (Clause 17( 3))

  • A duty on the First Minister to lay before Parliament a copy of the annual report of the Civil Service Commission (Schedule 1, para 17(5))

These provisions are not contentious and, in isolation, would not merit legislation in the Scottish Parliament. The Government therefore considers that the Parliament should agree to the provisions being enacted via the UK Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill.

Consultation

There have been calls for some time to bring forward legislation for the Civil Service. In 2003, the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee published a draft Civil Service Bill and, building on this, the UK Government launched a consultation “A draft Civil Service Bill – A Consultation Document”, (CM 6373, November 2004).

Against this background, The Governance of Britain Green Paper (CM 7170), published on 3 July 2007, proposed that the governance of the Civil Service, currently based on the royal prerogative, and the fundamental values of the Civil Service – impartiality, integrity, honesty and objectivity – should be set out in statute. That principle has won widespread support.

The Scottish Government has, in the context of its White Paper on Scotland’s Constitutional Future, argued that future of the Civil Service in Scotland is an area that could be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government.

Financial Implications

The statutory provisions mirror administrative arrangements already in place. The Financial Memorandum for the Bill indicates that no additional financial demands are expected as a result of the civil service provisions of the Bill.

Conclusion

The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill does not address the question of how best to develop the Civil Service in Scotland over time; but nor does it preclude that discussion in future. It simply puts current arrangements on a statutory footing. In that context, the Legislative Consent Motion concerns 6 relatively minor and uncontentious provisions in the Bill, which would not on their own merit separate Scottish legislation.

Human Resources & Corporate Service Directorate
November 2009

Appendix 1

UK CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM AND GOVERNANCE BILL (CR&GB)
LEGISLATIVE CONSENT MEMORANDUM

This annex outlines provisions in the UK Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill related to the Civil Service on which a Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) in the Scottish Parliament is required.

Background

There are 6 draft clauses in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill that are relevant:

  • The Minister for the Civil Service must consult the First Minister before publishing a separate code of conduct for civil servants who serve the Scottish Government and there is a duty on the First Minister to lay this code before the Scottish Parliament. (Clause 5(6))

  • The Minister for the Civil Service must consult the First Minister before publishing a separate code of conduct for Special Advisers who serve the Scottish Executive and there is a duty on the First Minister to lay this code before the Scottish Parliament. (Clause 8(6))

  • A requirement that the First Minister personally selects for appointment those to be appointed as Special Advisers. (Clause 15(1) Scottish Executive part)

  • The First Minister is required to prepare an annual report on the number and costs of Special Advisers and there is a duty on the First Minister to lay this annual report before the Scottish Parliament his annual report. (Clause 16(2)(a)&(b))

  • Provision enables Minister for Civil Service & the Commission to agree to the Commission carrying out additional functions in relation to the Civil Service and for any civil service management authority to provide the Commission with any information it reasonable requires. (Clause 17( 3))]

  • A duty on the First Minister to lay before Parliament a copy of the annual report of the Civil Service Commission (Schedule 1, para 17(5))

Discussion

There is nothing novel or contentious in these provisions.

Special Advisers

In relation to Special Advisers, the current arrangements for selection and annual reporting rest on administrative delegation of powers from the Prime Minister to the First Minister. These would be formalised by the Bill, including through the new provision of a code of conduct for special advisors to the Scottish Executive. In addition, the current limit of 12 advisers would be removed, and an annual report to Parliament would be required in the interests of full transparency. These do not introduce any fundamental changes to existing arrangements. The Bill:

  • provides for the appointment of Special Advisers by the First Minister (when read alongside s51 of the Scotland Act 1998);

  • provides that the appointment must end no later than the time of the appointing Minister’s term of office ends;

  • exempts Special Advisers from the principle of selection on merit on the grounds that they are personal appointees of Ministers and takes account of the personal and temporary nature of their work;

  • gives a discretionary power to the Minister for the Civil Service to publish a separate code of conduct for special advisors serving the Scottish Executive and requires the FM to lay this code before the Scottish Parliament;

  • exempts Special Advisers from the provisions on impartiality and objectivity under the civil service code, recognising their political allegiance to the Government of the day ; and

  • requires the First Minister to prepare an annual report about Special Advisers appointed by Scottish Ministers and to lay that report before the Scottish Parliament.

The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill no longer sets an upper cap on the number of Special Adviser appointments. In part, this is because greater transparency and accountability are to be ensured through the publication of an annual report on the number and costs of Special Advisers.

Civil Service Commission

The Civil Service Commissioners contribute to the development of an effective and impartial Civil Service and support its core values of honesty, integrity, objectivity and Impartiality, by giving an assurance that appointments are made on merit on the basis of ‘Fair and Open’ competition.

Current arrangements already involve them in appointments to the Civil Service in Scotland, and in annual monitoring/ reporting of associated procedures and practice. What changes as a result of the Bill is the independence and perceived independence of the new Civil Service Commission from government, in line with the general principle of a statutory Civil Service.

Scottish interests are safeguarded in relation to the appointment of the First Civil Service Commissioner (on which the First Minister will be consulted) and via the transparency implicit in the laying of an annual report before the Scottish Parliament.

The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill would not materially change the role of the Civil Service Commissioners. Where the need for a LCM arises is in relation to the requirement for Scottish ministers to provide any information it reasonably requires to carry out the additional functions the Minister for the Civil Service might require them of them (investigation of issues). This could nominally involve hitherto unforeseen requirements for participation and provision of information by the Scottish Government. The Bill would:

  • establish the Civil Service Commission (CSC) as a statutory NDPB independent of Government;

  • require the CSC to publish recruitment principles;

  • require the First Civil Service Commissioner to be appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister following consultation with the devolved administrations and the main opposition parties;

  • provide for the CSC to undertake an audit function and to report annually (with reports laid before the UK and Scottish Parliaments and the National Assembly for Wales); and

  • provide for the CSC to hear complaints and appeals.

Human Rights Claims against Devolved Administrations

The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill as amended at Part 5 to introduce a time limit for human rights actions against Scottish Ministers, will revoke the Convention Rights Proceedings (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2009 and invoke amendment to the Scotland Act 1998.

Conclusion

The duties imposed on Scottish Ministers by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill and covered by the proposed LCM are not neither contentious nor high profile, nor is the proposed amendment to Part 5 of the Bill. If anything, they protect Scottish interests, albeit at the margins of the Bill, by delivering legal formality and transparency in the context of Special Advisers and the Civil Service Commission.

Human Resources & Corporate Services Directorate
November 2009


Footnotes:

3 Scottish Parliament Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee Official Report 13 January 2010.