HC Deb 05 February 1963 vol 671 cc233-4
Q3. Mr. Mason

asked the Prime Minister if he has now considered whether the 25 year-old rules governing the movement of civil servants from the Civil Service to industry, contained in Cmd. 5517, are still appropriate in present circumstances; what alterations he proposes; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

I have reviewed the rules set out in the White Paper Cmd. 5517 of 1937. I am satisfied that these rules have achieved the purposes for which they were drawn up and that in their operation account is taken of changing circumstances. I will, with permission, circulate a fuller statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Mason

The Prime Minister has not indicated to what extent he has made this inquiry. Is not he aware that the Ministry really responsible for the Questions on the Order Paper is the Ministry of Aviation? That Ministry has flouted the rule embodied in the White Paper to which the Prime Minister has referred, especially in regard to paragraph 5 (a) dealing with civil servants who have lent their services within two years of the restraint period and joined industries with which they were in contractual relations? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is the Ministry that deals with all the mammoth contracts involving mis- siles, rockets, arms, aircraft, aero-engines, and so on? Surely a further statement is required. The Prime Minister should consider having an inquiry into the Ministry of Aviation at least.

The Prime Minister

The statement that I am circulating is inevitably a rather long one. If the hon. Member wishes to take up any specific point, perhaps he will put down a Question after the circulation of this statement.

Mr. G. Brown

It would be acceptable to most of us, and I hope it would be acceptable to my lion. Friend, if the Prime Minister is willing to discuss it with us after we have seen his fuller statement. But does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that although the basis agreed between himself and Mr. Gaitskell earlier seems to be true, when one looks at the wording of the Command Paper of 1937, inevitably the words there set down do not cover the existing situation, as there have been so many changes in Government relationships with the outside world since then? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore keep an open mind in the matter until we have seen his fuller statement and then be willing to have discussions with us about it?

The Prime Minister

After the statement has been circulated I shall be very ready to answer any questions. In view of the feeling about long answers in the House, since the statement was rather long I thought it wiser to have it printed.

Mr. Brown

I do not know whether the Prime Minister listened to what I said, but he used different words. I did not ask if he was williing to answer any question. I know that he would be willing to do that. I asked whether he would be willing to have discussions with us about it after we had seen the statement.

The Prime Minister

That is another question. I would like to consider it. In answer to the original Question, I said that I would naturally answer any points which the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) might care to raise.

Following is the statement: In accordance with the undertaking which I gave on 13th December. I have examined the operation of the rules set out in the White Paper, Cmd. 5517 of 1937, governing the acceptance of business appointments by retired civil servants and officers of the Armed Forces. In the past ten years, 126 civil servants, and 62 officers of the Armed Forces retiring after service in the Defence Departments, have been given permission to take up appointments under the procedure introduced by the White Paper—an average of somewhat less than 20 a year. Hon. Members may be interested to have these figures. But the important consideration is that there should be no ground for suspicion that officers of the Crown Services may be influenced in the course of their official relations with business concerns by hopes or offers of future employment in any of those concerns: and I am satisfied, from the review I have carried out, that the operation of the rules has met this essential requirement. There is one point I think it important to put on record. The terms of the 1937 White Paper were directed to avoidance of any ground for suspicion that serving officers might be led to bestow favours on firms in the hope of future benefits to come. But it is also important to guard against the risk that a particular firm may be thought to be gaining an unfair advantage over its competitors by employing an ex-public servant who during his service had access to technical information which those competitors could legitimately regard as their own trade secrets. This risk has increased since 1937, as a consequence of the speed of technical development in certain fields and the wider scope of Government contracts, In practice it has not been overlooked, and I am assured that consideration of this point is now to be regarded as a regular part of the procedure for dealing with all applications for permission to accept an offer of employment. There is another side to all this. As I said on 13th December, there is often a positive advantage to the community if able people with appropriate experience move from the public service into industry. It would not be right to set up unreasonable obstacles in the way of this movement—provided always that the integrity of the public service is safeguarded. I have satisfied myself that the existing procedures are adequate to ensure this.