HC Deb 09 August 1972 vol 842 cc1725-6
38. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he will make a statement on the progress being made on the re-examination of the code of conduct relating to civil servants and their receipt of gifts from firms or persons in contractual relations with Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I have nothing at present to add to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the hon. Member on 20th July, and to my reply to the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) on 19th July.—[Vol. 841, c. 162 and 614–5.]

Mr. Hamilton

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a degree of urgency about this matter? He has just referred to the cost of the Questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis). I think he said that the total cost was about £38,000. One of those Questions was tabled to the Secretary of State for Scotland and asked whether Mr. Pottinger had obtained permission to receive the gift of £11,000 or so from the Poulson firm and the answer was a very short "No". In view of that, is it not monstrous that this civil servant should now be retired on full pay when it was quite clear that he was infringing the existing code of conduct and that if he had been dismissed it would have saved £10,000 of the total cost of £38,000 of the Question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North? Since more unnamed civil servants have been mentioned in the Poulson affair, will the hon. Gentleman treat this matter with a far greater degree of urgency?

Mr. Baker

As the hon. Gentleman will know, police inquiries are taking place into the Poulson affair. It would be unfair—and the Government take this view—for the Civil Service to take disciplinary action against any of the people mentioned until those inquiries are completed because it might be held that such disciplinary action would prejudice the people involved. I have already instituted inquiries about the other unnamed civil servants who have recently been mentioned in the case, but I am not in a position to say any more at this time.

Mr. Whitehead

Whatever the outcome of the Poulson case, is it not abundantly clear that the widespread public concern justifies the establishment of a full and comprehensive register of the interests of civil servants and people in local government?

Mr. Baker

That raises a much wider question. I am not at all satisfied that a register of the interests of civil servants would be manageable or appropriate.

Mr. George Cunningham

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Civil Service should not take disciplinary action in respect of a clear breach of discipline because perhaps criminal proceedings will be instituted in respect of more serious offences?

Mr. Baker

What I am saying is that if the Civil Service were to set up a disciplinary committee to examine the case and action followed, it might prejudice particular people concerned in the case, and it is the custom in cases of this sort for the police inquiries to be completed first.