One part of the government’s civil service reform agenda that has received scant attention is the proposed revision of the Osmotherly Rules – the Government’s guidance on civil servants’ relationship with select committees. As the new Institute for Government paper Civil Service Accountability to Parliament concludes, revising this document – and the conventions summarised within it – is an insufficient solution. Based on the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, the Osmotherly Rules set out several restrictions on civil servants’ dealings with select committees. The rules state that civil servants appear before select committees “on behalf of their ministers and under their directions”, and to provide factual information rather than to explain or justify policy decisions. Margaret Hodge MP has criticised ministerial accountability as an anachronism which is “plain daft” in an age of government complexity. In the 30 years since they were first published, the Osmotherly Rules have never been endorsed by Parliament, and last year the Liaison Committee, comprising the chairs of Commons select committees, rejected the rules outright. In our paper, we explore the state of the relationship between select committees and Whitehall departments, and examine the nature of frustrations on both sides. Some committees were frustrated that they […]

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