HC Deb 25 March 1996 vol 274 cc699-700
10. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many temporary civil servants are currently seconded from private industry. [20688]

Mr. Willetts

Two hundred and eighty people were seconded from the private sector to Government Departments during 1995.

Mr. Marshall

Does my hon. Friend accept that many people feel that there should be greater cross-fertilisation between the practical men of the private sector and the civil service?

Mr. Willetts

I very much agree. That is why my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has announced a target of a 10 per cent. increase in secondment to and from the private sector for 1996–97. I might add that the numbers involved in longer-term secondments as between the private sector and the civil service have trebled since 1979.

Mr. MacShane

The Minister is said to be one of the intellectuals or theoreticians of modern Conservatism. May I therefore put it to him that this mixing of the private and public interest may turn out to be unfortunate? It may prove impossible to distinguish between the private and profit-making interests of companies and the public interest, which concerns defending and representing the interests of the citizen. I invite him to consider that there may be a serious problem in that regard.

Mr. Willetts

The hon. Gentleman says that he is concerned about this issue. I assure him that of course the Government take steps to avoid any conflicts of interest. Any secondment must be looked at by the Department involved to ensure that there is no risk of any impropriety. I believe that the overall benefits to the quality of public sector management and civil service advice from secondment outweigh the risks about which the hon. Gentleman is worried.

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