Clarke set to farm out drafting

PARLIAMENTARY Counsel may soon be out of a job and their role of drafting Government legislation handed over to private practice lawyers, if Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke has his way.

Clarke made known his support for privatising their role when delivering a recent lecture for the cross-party think-tank European Policy Forum (EPF).

The Treasury says Clarke is keen on the idea and has won informal support from fellow ministers, although he is not yet committed to it.

However, the Association of First Division Civil Servants (FDA) takes the threat seriously and is concerned about conflicts of interest and confidentiality.

The FDA says in its members' newsletter that it will make an “emergency submission” to the Nolan Committee on potential ethical conflicts which may arise.

It believes Clarke will pilot the privatised drafting this autumn with the forthcoming Finance Bill.

The FDA is demanding clarification on what parts of the bill will be contracted out, and whether civil servants will have the chance to compete for the work. It is also calling for private sector lawyers to demonstrate that they are not handling taxation work for other clients before taking on the bill-drafting work.

A Treasury spokeswoman says Clarke is considering contracting out not just for the Finance Bill, but for all government legislation. “He was keen on this when at the Home Office.”

Redundancy for the Parliamentary Counsel has not been ruled out, she says.

The EPF itself proposed the use of private lawyers for drafting last year, because of the “increasing concern about the volume and quality” of new law.

EPF director Graham Mather, a Conservative MEP, says Clarke is “keen as mustard” on the idea. Mather expects a fight with civil service officials over the issue.

Parliamentary Counsel comprises 46 staff including 24 lawyers. The department's total costs last year were u3.4 million.