Civil service exposure ‘good for accountability’ – Sir George Young

Select committees are right to hold civil servants to account, former Conservative chief whip tells UCL event

michael_cockerell Photo Louise Haywood-Schiefer

By Sarah Aston

05 Mar 2015

Greater scrutiny of the civil service by select committees improves the accountability of government, Sir George Young has said.

Speaking at a UCL Constitution Unit event last night, the former Conservative chief whip said ministers as well as officials were now getting "tougher treatment” from committees than had previously been the case.

“I think the House of Commons was always slightly miffed when the civil servants said: ‘that is a matter for the minister’, when the civil servant knew the answers to the question, or knew much more about it than the minister,” Young said.

“So I think parliament probably welcomes the increased exposure of civil service to this sort of questioning. It’s not just civil servants who are getting slightly tougher treatment from the select committees, it’s everybody and it may be that senior civil servants are better able to look after themselves than some of the other witnesses.” 

Young was responding to a question from former cabinet secretary Lord Wilson, who said the Public Accounts Committee of the 1970s had not been a "formidable” force and was “worlds away” from its modern-day status under chair Margaret Hodge.

Young’s comments were backed by fellow panellist Jack Straw.

The former justice secretary said: “Some experiences [in front of select committees] can be bruising, just as the job of politician has become more perilous, so has the job of a civil servant.”




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