HC Deb 02 April 1973 vol 854 cc18-21
16. Mr. Ridley

asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he intends to announce the results of his review of the conditions under which civil servants may taken positions in private firms after their retirement.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

My right hon. Friend is answering a Question on this subject today from the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Donald Stewart).

Mr. Ridley

Does not my hon. Friend agree that there could be concern if, after they retired, civil servants approaching retirement age were offered employment by industries for which they now have some responsibility? Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that my right hon. Friend's reply, to which he has referred—which I have not seen—and continuing surveillance will take account of the risk and make sure that it does not occur?

Mr. Baker

The gist of my right hon. Friend's reply will be that there has been a careful review of the existing rules, that in general we are satisfied that they are working satisfactorily, and that at present, therefore, we have no proposals to alter them. But I can give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks that the rules will be kept constantly under review.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will the Minister give an assurance that retired civil servants will not be allowed to take up jobs with firms that are in contractual relations with the Government? There is a good deal of concern in Scotland about the matter. Incidentally, will the hon. Gentleman tell us the latest stage of play with regard to Mr. Pottinger?

Mr. Baker

The latter point does not concern retired civil servants. It concerns gifts. The hon. Gentleman will recall that I answered several questions on that matter last year. Police inquiries are continuing. The rules are that all officers of the rank of under-secretary and above —that is, down to the third tier from the top in the Civil Service—must obtain the Government's consent before accepting, within two years of retirement, offers of employment in business and other bodies with which their Department or branch of government is in contractual or special relationship. Where the positions held are of a special or technical character, a similar requirement below under-secretary applies. We are satisfied that these rules are fully carried out.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I think that my hon. Friend will agree that in recent years the occasions have been pretty rare when approval has not been granted. Will he assure us that attention is being paid to the evidence that is forthcoming from the Poulson bankruptcy case, including one instance in which it was suggested that an official had left the Ministry of Housing to work for Mr. Poulson and then returned to the Ministry of Housing afterwards? Surely that is a bit much?

Mr. Baker

The reason why, on retirement, civil servants are allowed to join companies was reinforced by the Fulton Report, which said: civil servants do have valuable contributions to make to other areas of our national life; it should be natural for others to wish to employ them. Provided the rules are observed, I think it is fair that this expertise should be made available to the nation.

Mr. Sheldon

Now that the Government's policy is in the direction of greater involvement between Government and industry, added impetus is given to the need to watch the position much more carefully than might have been necessary a year or two ago. Is the Minister aware of the great misgivings of a number of people about those senior civil servants who join industry having had previous involvement in the granting of considerable sums of money, as a result of the discretion that civil servants have today? Is a record kept, even after the period of two years, of where senior civil servants have gone, and what kind of employment they have taken?

Mr. Baker

That would be quite difficult to do. In the case of civil servants who have left the Civil Service it would be difficult, practically, to trace each person's subsequent career. But I shall consider the possibility of placing in the Library details of the specific cases we have had over the past few years, if that will help the hon. Gentleman.


Dr. Mabon

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to draw your attention to Question No. 16 for oral answer today. You will recall that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Civil Service Department said that he could not give an answer but could only refer to an answer which was being given to a Written Question from the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Donald Stewart) today.

I cannot find that Written Question by the hon. Member for the Western Isles— but I have had only a short time in which to search for it. My main point is not so much to find where the Written Question is—although that would reinforce the point—but to ask you whether this is correct practice. Is it in order for hon. Members to put down Questions in precisely the same terms? If it is not, how can a Minister shelter behind a Written Answer which denies a Member who had put down an Oral Question the chance of putting a well-informed supplementary question to reinforce his point?

I am not necessarily blaming the Parliamentary Secretary to the Civil Service Department because I do not know the nature of the Question which the hon. Member for the Western Isles is reputed to have put down for Written Answer, since I cannot find it. Nor am I necessarily seeking an answer from you today, Mr. Speaker. But I submit that, as this could be the beginning of an undesirable practice, we would welcome your ruling.

Mr. Speaker

I have taken note of what the hon. Gentleman has said and will look into it.

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