HC Deb 21 October 1998 vol 317 cc1268-9
10. Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

How many representations he has received about employment in the public service of citizens of the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland. [54730]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle)

Since April 1998 we have received five representations, including one from the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), written with the support of 32 other hon. Members. Some have pressed the case for reversing the 1996 change to the civil service nationality rules. That meant that new entrant Irish and Commonwealth citizens ceased to be eligible for 25 per cent. of civil service posts, known in European Community terms as "public service". Others have sought early progress on introducing legislation to open the civil service to recruitment on merit, regardless of nationality.

Mr. Canavan

Does my hon. Friend agree that Irish and Commonwealth citizens have traditionally made an important contribution to public service in this country? Given that in June 1996 the previous Government changed the rules so that Irish and Commonwealth citizens are now debarred from some 25 per cent. of civil service posts, will the Government take steps to end such unfair discrimination, which reduces the employment prospects of many individuals and deprives the civil service of many talented potential recruits?

Mr. Kilfoyle

Those in post before 31 May 1996 would be eligible for the full range of civil service posts. Nevertheless, it would require primary legislation to amend the Aliens Restrictions (Amendment) Act 1919 in order to effect changes. I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend's concern and we are currently examining the position.