HC Deb 24 May 1988 vol 134 cc188-9
10. Mr. Litherland

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received about former civil servants and members of Her Majesty's forces accepting outside appointments with defence contractors.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Tim Sainsbury)

The Government have received the House of Commons Defence Committee's report on the acceptance of appointments in commerce and industry by members of the armed forces and officials of the Ministry of Defence. As usual, a Government response will be made to this report in due course.

Mr. Litherland

Can the Minister explain why the Ministry of Defence hindered the inquiry of the Select Committee on Defence into the increasing number of civil servants and military staff who have taken up cosy, lucrative positions with commercial defence weapon contractors? When will the Government come clean and lift this shroud of secrecy on a matter that is of legitimate public concern?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand when I say that it would not be right for me to anticipate the Government's response to the report, which, of course, we are taking very seriously.

Mr. Latham

Will my hon. Friend confirm that one of the benefits of Mr. Levene's appointment is that it will try to bring to an end some of the cosy relationships that existed in the past? Is my hon. Friend aware that the next time I get a letter from an admiral on behalf of a defence company it will go straight into the wastepaper basket?

Mr. Sainsbury

I agree with my hon. Friend that there are many benefits in the more competitive approach of defence procurement that we have introduced. I hope he will accept that, on the face of it, it would not seem very sensible completely to deny to the country and, indeed, to industry and commerce, the benefit of people who have experience of the armed forces.

Mr. Rogers

Does the Under-Secretary of State accept that the Opposition have grave misgivings about the relationship to major defence contractors not only of service men and ex-civil servants but of ex-Cabinet Ministers such as the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)? When will the Government draw up a more effective code of conduct so that politicians do not step out of jobs in which they give contracts into companies where they place contracts?

Mr. Sainsbury

I shall confine my answer to the points arising from the question. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we take very seriously the issues about which he speaks. We try to take the greatest care to avoid approving any appointment that could give rise to a suggestion of a conflict of interests. We shall be replying to the report in due course.