HC Deb 11 November 1996 vol 285 cc7-8
6. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many staff are currently employed in his office and at what cost; and if he will make a statement. [1303]

Mr. Freeman

There are currently 452 staff in the Office of Public Service. The salary and associated costs for September 1996 totalled £1,468,000.

Mr. Greenway

That is money well spent. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that all his researches show that there can be no cherry-picking from the social chapter and that, if it is implemented, it must be implemented as it is? Does he agree that anyone who pretends that one can choose one bit of the social chapter but not another is misleading his audience, as the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) seems to be trying to do with the Confederation of British Industry?

Mr. Freeman

I find myself in full agreement with my hon. Friend. If one accepts the social chapter, one must accept all its consequences, which would be extremely expensive for the British economy and put people out of work.

Mr. Derek Foster

Is not the Office of Public Service still compiling a list of vigorous and attractive proponents of Government policy who have benefited from Government privatisations and contracting out? Will not Government mouthpieces be rewarded with further contracts, and will not those who refuse suffer? Will the list include businesses that are already big donors to the Tory party, businesses that have former Tory Ministers as directors and businesses that have Tory Members of Parliament as consultants? Is that not a minefield of conflicts of interest—a scandal that should be investigated by Lord Nolan's committee?

Mr. Freeman

The scandal is not as the right hon. Gentleman describes: it is that there should be any attempt to slur the independence of the civil service. There is absolutely no connection whatever between contracts placed after competitive tender on the proper advice of civil servants and those who are political supporters of the Conservative party. It is a scandal to suggest that there is any connection between the two, and I refute that charge absolutely.

Mr. Hawkins

Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports that reinforce the Labour party's hypocrisy? The shadow Secretary of State for Wales has complained about those who serve on bodies in Wales, but it has now been revealed that his party agent accepted such appointments. Does that not demonstrate the Labour party's hypocrisy on such issues?

Mr. Freeman

I am not aware of the case that my hon. Friend cited. However, I repeat to the House what my hon. Friend the Paymaster General said a moment ago: under Sir Len Peach, the new Commissioner for Public Appointments, competence is the only criterion for appointment to any body.

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