HC Deb 29 June 1976 vol 914 cc195-6
Q5. Mr. George Rodgers

asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to ensure that, in future, appointments to the office of Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration are not restricted to former permanent secretaries and other senior civil servants.

The Prime Minister

There never has been a requirement for this post to be held by a former civil servant. In future appointments, as previously, consideration will be given to all suitable candidates.

Mr. Rodgers

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when I recently pursued a complaint with the Parliamentary Commissioner because I considered that a Government circular was misleading, the Parliamentary Commissioner was unable to handle the case because he had signed the circular in question, and he passed it on to a deputy? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that that is an incestuous situation? Is there any reason why a trade unionist should not be appointed to that office?

The Prime Minister

I see no reason why a trade unionist or even an employer should not be appointed to that post in due course. My hon. Friend has raised a difficulty, but one which I imagine does not often occur. The appointment of a civil servant at least has the advantage that whoever is appointed knows his way round Whitehall, and that is important in these matters.

Mr. Evelyn King

Does the Prime Minister accept that Parliamentary Com- missioners, locally as well as nationally, have done an extraordinarily good job, and that many hon. Members and their constituents have reason to be grateful to them? Will he consider extending their powers?

The Prime Minister

From my own personal experience, I would agree with the hon. Member. I have had constituency cases that have been investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner. He has done so with great thoroughness, though not always to the satisfaction of myself or my constituents—but that is only to be expected. I do not know about the case for giving further powers to the Parliamentary Commissioner. If the hon. Member has anything particular in mind perhaps he will let me know.

Mr. Mellish

No doubt my right hon. Friend will be looking for people with a great deal of experience in Whitehall. Will he bear in mind the fact that I am only half-employed these days, and I am very willing to consider the job? In fact, I reckon I am just the boy to knock some of them about.

The Prime Minister

I can think of no one better. In this case, I assure my right hon. Friend that canvassing will not exclude him from consideration for the post.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Does the Prime Minister realise that in most countries this position is held by a former politician? Will he undertake to read the report of the Select Committee on this subject, because it has a very pungent paragraph dealing with this point? The report will be published shortly.

The Prime Minister

I shall undertake to do this, as I know the hon. and learned Gentleman's interest in these matters. Although Parliamentary Commissioners have done a good job in the past, I have no particular view about the post continuing to be held by a civil servant. This was settled when the Parliamentary Commissioner was appointed last January. I do not know about the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman made about politicians, but I think it is true that there is certainly a number of countries in which former civil servants are given this post.