HC Deb 14 May 2004 vol 421 cc588-611

Order for Second Reading read.

10.43 am
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab)

I beg to move, That the Bill be read a Second time.

This is the second year in which I have tried to introduce the Bill under the 10-minute rule. Last year, it fell because of lack of time, but the real problem that it seeks to address remains.

The Bill's purpose is to remove restrictions placed on the employment of non-United Kingdom nationals in civil capacities under the Crown. In place of the current system, the Bill would open all civil employment under the Crown to applicants of any nationality, apart from such positions as would be restricted to UK nationals under rules made by the Minister for the Civil Service or by another Minister or Crown official to whom he had delegated the power to make such rules. Before I turn to the detail, I want to make it clear that the Bill does not deal with asylum, immigration or work permits, and it does not affect requirements for non-UK nationals to get leave to remain and to work in the UK before they can take up employment.

The rules restricting the employment of foreign nationals by the Crown have roots of more than 200 years. The Act of Settlement 1700 provides that no person born out of the kingdoms of England, Scotland or Ireland, or the dominions thereto belonging, should be capable of enjoying any office or place of trust, either civil or military. That prohibition has been amended over the years and does not apply to Commonwealth citizens or citizens of Ireland or to British protected persons employed in a civil capacity.

Section 6 of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919 provides that no alien shall be appointed to any office or place in the civil service of the state. "Alien" is defined in section 51(4) of the British Nationality Act 1981 as a person who is not a Commonwealth citizen, a British protected person or a citizen of Ireland. During the second world war, defence regulations permitted the temporary employment of aliens if no suitable British subjects were available. That provision was replaced by the Aliens' Employment Act 1955, under which prohibitions were relaxed so that aliens could be employed if they were appointed in a country outside the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man in a capacity that appeared to the Minister to be appropriate for aliens, or if they were employed in accordance with a certificate issued by a Minister, with the consent of the Minister for the Civil Service, in which case there must be no suitably qualified UK nationals available to do the work or the alien must possess exceptional qualifications or experience to do the job. Such certificates last five years and must then be renewed. In 2002ߝ03, only 47 people were employed under those certificates, 33 of them in the Ministry of Defence.

The European Communities (Employment in the Civil Service) Order 1991 amended the 1955 Act to allow nationals of member states of the European Communities and their spouses and certain children to take up civil employment under the Crown, apart from public service posts within the meaning of the EC treaty. The rights of nationals of member states of the European Communities were extended to nationals of member states of the European economic area by section 2(1) of the European Economic Area Act 1993.

Against the background of a possible legal challenge at the European Court of Justice, further changes were made in 1996 to put Irish and Commonwealth citizens on the same footing as all other non-UK European Community nationals. An amendment was made to the civil service management code to restrict the employment of Commonwealth and Irish nationals in posts reserved for UK nationals.

The effect of the existing rules is that foreign nationals may be employed abroad in any civil post under the Crown, which includes the diplomatic service, if the Minister considers it appropriate. However, as regards civil employment under the Crown within the UK, Commonwealth citizens, British protected persons and nationals of member states of the European economic area may be employed only in posts that are not public service reserved posts. Nationals of all other countries may be employed in UK non-reserved posts only if a rarely issued exemption certificate is in force.

Although 75 per cent. of civil service posts in the UK are available to Commonwealth, Irish or EEA nationals, the remaining 25 per cent., which require the special allegiance of public service posts, are entirely reserved for UK nationals. More posts are reserved than is operationally necessary, but that is unavoidable because of the present definition, on the basis of the EC treaty.

Attempts to define public service posts must follow EC case law and are subject to judgments by the European Court of Justice. That has given rise to a number of difficulties. As a matter of UK law, EU nationals can be admitted to civil service posts, but they cannot be admitted to posts that the ECJ regards as employment in the public service. The effect is that it is a criminal offence to employ, even by mistake, a non-Irish EEA national in a public service reserved post, or to employ any alien in any civil service post, apart from the tiny number of certificated exceptions.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con)

When the hon. Gentleman first introduced the Bill, he said that, although 75 per cent. of civil service posts in the UK were available to the people he described, the remaining 2 per cent.—according toHansard—requiring the special allegiance of public service posts were entirely reserved for UK nationals. I take it that that was a misprint, and that he meant to say 25 per cent. Can he explain why he wants his Bill to open up 90 per cent. of all posts to selection on merit, rather than the present level of 75 per cent?

Mr. Dismore

I will come to that in a moment when I make the argument; at the moment I am setting out the legal position.Hansard does seem to have made a mistake, because at present 25 per cent. of posts are reserved, whereas my Bill would allow the Government to reserve only the 10 per cent. of posts that need to be reserved for operational and security reasons. I will come to the detailed argument later.

As I was saying, the net effect of the present law is that it is a criminal offence, even if it is by mistake, to employ a non-Irish EEA national in a public service reserved post, or to employ any alien in any civil service post at all, apart from the certificated exceptions. Although it is legal, under the freedom of movement provisions, to employ in a non-reserved post the alien spouse of an EEA national living in the United Kingdom, it remains an offence to employ the alien spouse of a UK national—and with forthcoming enlargement, the anomalies are not likely to get any fewer.

This all sounds vary legalistic and technical, but the anomalies can best he illustrated by example. As I have said, the Bill does not change the rules on asylum and immigration in any way. In my constituency, as in many others, we now have long-standing communities from all over the world—from Iran and Iraq, for example—mostly comprising highly skilled professionals, often senior public servants in their home countries, who fled persecution by those dictatorships many years ago. They—and their children, who may know no other country—are entirely barred.

In Hendon we have large Israeli, Chinese and Japanese communities, and also UK citizens married to people of those nationalities. Assuming that they retained their own citizenship, those people would be barred from, for example, jobs in the Department of Trade and Industry, and therefore could not promote British trade overseas. The anomaly is that if their spouses were French rather than British, they would not be barred from working for the DTI. That is discriminatory against the spouses of UK nationals as opposed to those of other European Union nationals—an appalling anomaly.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)

If, as the hon. Gentleman says, those communities are of long standing, and if, as he is implying, they have some great loyalty to the United Kingdom and he wishes them to be able to work within our Government, why can they not simply take British nationality?

Mr. Dismore

The first answer is that, unfortunately, it takes some time to acquire British nationality. Equally, some might not wish to do so—

Mr. Forth


Mr. Dismore

Some people may wish, in the long run, to return to their own countries—but if we are serious about nation building in states that we are trying to help, what better way could there be of helping that process than training people in our civil service, how to do the job properly and effectively, so that when they return to their own country they will have that great experience of the British civil service and be able to help to create a civil service, and a democratic state, overseas. That is one example of why people may not want to take British nationality.

A Turkish Cypriot, for example, is eligible for a non-restricted post, but Turk is not. The notorious Abu Hamza, the fundamentalist cleric who most people think should be kicked out of this country, if not put in jail, has UK nationality—at least, until the Home Secretary's efforts to remove his nationality come to fruition—and theoretically could be employed in any post, although I doubt whether he would want to apply or would stand much chance of passing the interview. By contrast, an American national widow of a British victim of 11 September would be entirely excluded from Government employment.

In our country, some 850,000 residents of working age are not UK, Commonwealth or EEA citizens, and are thus excluded entirely. In London, 350,000 people 9 per cent. of the population of working age—are entirely excluded, not just from the higher echelons, but from even applying for the most junior social security clerk's job. No wonder we have difficulty filling civil service jobs in the capital, when so many of my fellow Londoners are entirely out of the equation.

My Bill tackles these bizarre and discriminatory anomalies by sweeping away the existing complex interlocking legislation, and replacing it with a simple amendment to the Act of Settlement, so as not to prohibit the employment of any person in any civil capacity under the Crown, while at the same time empowering Ministers to make rules in respect of nationality requirements for certain categories of post, which I envisage to be those for which it is clearly necessary, and in the national interest, for the job to be reserved for a UK national. Those would account for about 10 per cent., not 2 per cent, of posts. It is expected that the Bill would open up 90 per cent. of posts to selection on merit, regardless of nationality, which would enable us to build a civil service that reflects the diversity of the society that it serves.

Since last year, support for my proposals has grown. In their evidence to the Pubic Administration Committee, the civil service trade unions said: For the record we should state that the present Civil Service Nationality Rules are blatantly discriminatory against people from the Irish Republic and the Commonwealth. This is not a situation which reflects well on the Government or the Civil Service and completely flies in the face of efforts to develop a diverse Civil Service which represents the whole community it serves and one which endeavours to provide equality of opportunity to all its staff.

In its first report of this Session, the Public Administration Committee—this was a unanimous decision of the Committee, including its Conservative members—said: This would be a much-needed reform and one that has long been called for and was to be welcomed and such provision should be included in primary legislation to be introduced when Parliamentary time allows.

Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East) (Lab)

Is my hon. Friend aware that when the Public Administration Committee was examining the Civil Service Bill, the only part that had unanimous support was the bit that he is talking about?

Mr. Dismore

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out, and I hope that it will be reflected in whatever transpires later today.

The Commission for Racial Equality fully backs the Bill, and I shall be very interested to see what position the official Opposition adopt, because my understanding is that they support the position behind the measure, in that they have put forward their own civil service Bill, based on the Select Committee report, and it includes the proposals in my Bill. It would be extremely anomalous if they were to try to defeat my Bill while promoting similar provisions in their own Bill.

The time has come to deal with this long-standing anomaly. The time has come for progress, and for making a civil service that reflects our society, while protecting the national interest. So I hope that my Bill will be able to make progress today.

10.56 am
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hindon (Mr. Dismore) on finally getting his Bill into a position where it would seem to stand a chance of making progress. He has been persistent, and, as we know, he is very skilful both with private Members' Bills and with Friday business. However, his skill is usually deployed in another direction. He is a well known assassin of private Members' Bills, so he and I will both enjoy the irony that today he has finally got his sad little Bill into a position where it stands some chance of making progress.

To dwell for a moment on the provenance of the Bill, the really interesting aspect, which I am sure will not have escaped the hon. Gentleman, is that the only reason why his Bill is in this position today is that on every previous Friday devoted to private Members' Bills this Session, other private Members' Bills have been ruthlessly assassinated by none other than the Government. I have checked the record for all eight such Fridays to date, and on six occasions Bills were talked out by Ministers, on one occasion by the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns), and—surprise, surprise—on the other occasion by the hon. Gentleman himself.

The hon. Gentleman comes before us with his little Bill, expecting us to give it a fair wind, when he himself has legendary skill in seeing off other private Members' Bills, so I hope that the House will not feel any obligation or necessity to be over-sympathetic to him today. I am certainly not in that position, and I shall explain why—although not at great length; that will not be necessary, because we shall return to the Bill another day, when I shall be able to deal with it in much greater detail.

On this occasion, however, I shall simply explain why I shall not support the Bill, either today or on any other occasion. My main problem with it is not just the principle—to which I am opposed—that aliens should be allowed into the inner workings of our Government, although that does strike me as a rather odd concept, but the fact that that in itself could be seen as challenging those rather narrow old-fashioned concepts of nationhood and national sovereignty. The key to those, I would have thought, is a sense of loyalty to the nation and of identity with it.

Brian White

In that case, why did the right hon. Gentleman not take the opportunity to remove from our civil service the aliens who had been there from 1919 onwards?

Mr. Forth

Sadly, I was not around in 1919. I have the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919 in my hand. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) will not be surprised to hear that we shall dwell on it—not at length, but at a canter. I would have supported the 1919 Act had I been a Member at that time, because it is excellent. I shall argue that we should not disturb its excellent provisions, as they are as valid today as they were then. That will be part of my deliberations and meanderings today. However, let me not be diverted from the opening groundwork for my remarks.

I have no hesitation in making a point about nationhood, national identity and all that goes with it because there is an insidious process at work. The hon. Member for Hendon was typically open about it when he said that, in this modern world, we must embrace people of all sorts of nationalities—aliens and all—take them to our collective bosoms and invite them into the inner workings of our Government. Even if one believes in multiculturalism—incidentally, I do not—that is several steps too far. It is one thing to welcome people to this country, another to allow them to settle here and absorb our culture and habits, and, indeed, to give them, in due time, indefinite leave to remain—leading on, if they wish, to an application for British nationality. Those matters are well established and perfectly proper. Indeed, they allow us and them the opportunity properly to explore their commitment to this country and to demonstrate that their loyalties lie with this country rather than that from which they chose to come.

If, as the hon. Gentleman said, such people choose freely to retain their other nationality while living here, thus denying themselves the right, for example, to vote, it is odd to argue that, in spite of their signalling the fact that their loyalties remain elsewhere, we should nevertheless allow them into our governmental process. At this, of all times, the argument appears bizarre. Tragically, in the early 21st century, we face terrorism, infiltration into our society and others, subversion of our society, and threats to our society by people who, admittedly and sadly, are sometimes our own citizens, but are all too often citizens of other lands. To try to change such a long-standing provision at this of all times strikes me, to put it mildly, as counter-intuitive.

History and current circumstances suggest that we should consider strengthening the provisions if necessary, rather than the other way around. Fortunately, through the wonderful foresight and political determination of our forebears, we have the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919 to protect us. There was no political correctness back then. They were the glorious days when people could speak their minds without fear of someone feeling their collar, and do what they believed to be right without looking over their shoulders and worrying about who would accuse them of racism, xenophobia, fascism or any other trendy accusation of the day.

In 1919, in the aftermath of the first war, our forebears had the eminent good sense to pass the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, of which section 6 states: After the passing of this Act no alien shall be appointed to any office or place in the Civil Service of the state. What wonderfully elegant and clear language. I wish that we had the same today instead of the convoluted nonsense that we often have to put up with. If we have time, we shall deal with an example in one of the succeeding Bills—I believe that it is the next measure that we shall consider. It is so convoluted, pretentious and politically correct as to be positively untrue. I hope that I shall catch your eye then, Mr. Deputy Speaker—although your successor will probably be in the Chair—to express those views about that ill-begotten Bill.

The clarion words of 1919 make a simple, elegant statement, for which we should be grateful. We should not revisit the provision, albeit so many years later, when if anything things are worse than they were in 1919. Nowadays, there is much more free movement of peoples, thanks to the wonders of modern transport. There is much more of an idea of globality and multiculturalism, and we as a nation have seen fit to welcome into our society generations of people who originated elsewhere—but who are not yet welcome, thanks to the 1919 Act, into our Government.

I should have thought that anyone who supports the Bill would want to pause and reflect a moment. I am more than a little surprised that our security services have not approached me and others, begging us to oppose the Bill on the basis that, even on the most superficial consideration, it must make their job that much more difficult. At least at the moment we should be able to sleep in our beds at night in the secure knowledge that all sorts of suspicious aliens have not inveigled their way into our governmental system and into the civil service. I sincerely hope that the Bill will not be enacted and I shall strive, as ever, to that end. I have had modest success to date. Today may not be my day, but there will be another.

Brian White

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake equally to oppose the civil service measure?

Mr. Forth

Yes, with gusto, because it contains the same ridiculous provision. The hon. Gentleman knows me well enough to realise that, simply because Conservative Front Benchers have been sufficiently naive to incorporate the provision into their Bill, the serried ranks of the Opposition that are present today will all march in the same direction. He knows me well enough to realise that simply because my hon. Friends, in their misguided innocence, have decided to incorporate the ridiculous provision into their Bill, it will get my support or escape my eagle eye. I assure him that I shall be here at the appropriate moment and if Labour Front Benchers do not oppose the measure, I shall.

The track record to date for this year shows that the assassins of private Members' Bills are overwhelmingly Ministers. I shall not go into detail, although I should be more than happy to do that if anyone tempted me. If the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East is still here at 2.30 pm, I shall give him my list and my analysis of who has killed what. In spite of my reputation, so far, I have not talked out any Bills this Session. The hon. Member for Hendon will he happy to hear that I shall not do so today. I shall keep my powder dry for another day, as he will not be so happy to hear. We shall meet again to consider the Bill after due deliberation.

However, I digress—something that you deprecate, Mr. Deputy Speaker We must ask ourselves why, this year, things are so materially better than they were in 1919 that we see fit to repeal section 6 of the 1919 Act. I would argue that surely it is the other way around: in many ways, sadly, things are materially worse now. The threats to this nation are greater than they were even in 1919 and any proposition that we should make it more difficult to prevent people who may wish to do us harm from entering our civil service is somewhat ridiculous. The Bill is the wrong measure at the wrong time, however well motivated it may be.

Of course, those who will shortly speak in favour of the Bill will talk of multiculturalism, the evils of discrimination and suggest that we should open our doors and even, as the hon. Member for Hendon said, act as some sort of training ground for other people's civil services. The latter may or may not be a good thing, but the extent to which it may leave us open to increased risks means that we should hesitate for some time before moving forward. I am happy to say that, mainly thanks to my efforts, we have hesitated so far. We will hesitate yet further if I have anything to do with it. The rush by so many of my colleagues from all parties to sign up to such a Bill worries me.

The record of consensual legislation is not good. Let us consider, for example, the Child Support Act 1991 and the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991—the list is long. Whenever a measure achieves consensus, I become even more suspicious of it than normal, be it introduced by Government or in a private Men bees Bill. The Bill, sadly, falls into that category, simply because—here, I can share a little secret with the hon. Member for Hendon, because he and I are old sparring partners—I am pretty sure that when my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) rises to speak, he will give it the support of the official Opposition, for reasons that are a mystery to me but that he, in his usual eloquent way, will adumbrate at. I hope, some length. However, the fact that Members on my Front Bench support the Bill in no way alters my position. I was dealing with the Bill long before they had even got round to reading it, so my position is clear and consistent and, I hope, will continue to be so. I was not moved even by the rhetoric of the hon. Member for Hendon. The 1919 Act was and remains excellent, and I wish that we were not attempting to repeal it.

I now turn to the Aliens' Employment Act 1955, which is also mentioned in this little Bill. It makes provision for the civil employment of aliens and the issue of certificates, as the hon. Member for Hendon outlined. It takes a rather sensible approach, which seems to have stood the test of time. As I understood it, the measure reverses the presumption, so that instead of opening our doors to anyone regardless of their nationality, it states that we would not wish automatically to allow people who have not chosen to express their loyalty or identity to this country by taking British nationality to work within our Government, but that we are prepared to consider in a very British way—on a case-by-case basis—those who may wish to be so employed and that, if they can satisfy us that their skills are relevant and that we need and would appreciate their services, we have a mechanism to allow them to do that work. The hon. Gentleman said that there was only a small number of such people. Perhaps the number should be larger. That is not for me to judge, but it is perfectly possible, in which case the mechanism should be cranked up a bit and more of those people should be allowed in—but only after they have been given a proper going over.

In these days of terrorism, subversion and threats to our society, it would seem a dereliction of our duty to our fellow citizens suddenly to tell them that we had decided that all sorts of people, from some very odd backgrounds, countries and nationalities, would be welcomed into our civil service without a high degree of security checking. Surely, our citizens would be far more reassured if we were to say to them, "Worry not, you have the protection of the excellent 1919 Act, with a mechanism that has stood the test of time since 1955 that allows us, in a discretionary way, to permit people to enter and work in our civil service."

If someone were to ask whether that was bureaucratic, I should reply, "Yes, it is." It would be one of the very few occasions when a bit of bureaucracy might not be a bad thing—although I hope I shall not be heard to say that often in this place—because, it would provide us with a degree of security. Instead of pen-pushers of the kind that we have increasingly in our health and education services, people would be tasked to strike the necessary balance between the need to provide our citizens with security and reassurance and the flexibility to allow—

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD)

I am following the right hon. Gentleman's argument closely. Is the logic of it that he would support legislation to extend the scope of the existing provisions to include those who work in local government?

Mr. Forth

I should be tempted to do so. If the hon. Gentleman were to bring forward a Bill of that kind, he might be able to persuade me to put my name to it. Who knows? I shall have to think on my feet, which is always dangerous; it is difficult enough when I think sitting down, so thinking on my feet is always a bit of a test, but I shall have a go. I should have thought that, self-evidently, there was probably less risk to national security in local government than in central Government, but, given the nature of the risk from terrorism, sadly, elements of the responsibilities of local government could touch on the security of our communities. In fact, the more I think about the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, the more I like it. Perhaps he and I should work together on some future occasion.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con)


Mr. Forth

Ah, the author of the notorious Civil Service Bill is now with us—the Bill that I have pledged to oppose because it contains the nonsense that is in the Bill we are discussing. However, I welcome my hon. Friend and of course I give way to him.

Mr. Heald

My right hon. Friend and I disagree about the central purpose of the Civil Service Bill and about the need for it, but I have a question about the point that he was making about local authorities and security. Is he aware that the Civil Contingencies Bill, which is going through this place, imposes the primary duty for responding in an emergency, including major terrorist incidents, on local authorities?

Mr. Forth

That seals it: I am now with the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow). When he brings forward his Bill to extend the excellent provisions of the 1919 Act, it looks as though I shall be right with him. It sounds as though my hon. Friend will be, too.

I should like to make it clear to my hon. Friend that I do not disagree at all with part 1 of his Bill, but his judgment suddenly deserted him when he decided to insert those ludicrous nationality provisions in part 2, and that is why I shall have to oppose it.

Mr. Heald

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene again. I apologise for not being in the Chamber for the beginning of his remarks—I had thought that we would reach the Bill somewhat later. If people from Commonwealth countries or from the now extended European Union can work for our civil service, what would be the particular objection to, say, an American?

Mr. Forth

That is a good question. My own dear wife is an American by birth who has taken British nationality and is very, very proud to have done so. I do not think that I am giving away a great family secret by telling the House that she regards herself as arguably more British than American, although by retaining her American nationality she gets me through the US immigration channel when we go to the United States, for which I am always grateful and tell her so, as we enter that great land of the free with a smile on our faces.

The answer to my hon. Friend is that in our increasingly misbegotten membership of the EU and the rather ill-judged enlargement of the EU, we have put ourselves in a position where, for the moment, we have no option but to allow nationals from all those countries, of which we know little, the entry to our civil service that he has just mentioned. It gives me no great joy, but I accept it as a fact for the time being.

The Commonwealth is a different case altogether. I think that we can rely on the fact that most of our brothers and friends from all the Commonwealth countries are people we feel we know well and are comfortable with; we have accepted them for a long time. However, there are many other countries throughout the world, mainly in the middle east—let us not mince our words—that we should feel very uncomfortable about opening our doors to in the way that the Bill suggests without knowing very much about their people.

There is a distinction. Indeed, it would be naive to suggest—I hope that my hon. Friend is not doing so—that somehow in this modern, politically correct, bending-over-backwards multicultural world we should see everybody in exactly the same light. I hope that is not how he expects us to conduct ourselves either in government or in our international relations. I am not well versed in the ways of the world, or of the global and international sphere, but even I would have thought that it was easy these days to make a distinction between the countries and people who are relatively well disposed to us and those who are not.

That is the essence of the Bill. It is about whether we want to be politically correct or to have common sense and see the world as it is. That, as much as anything else, is what I am resisting.

Before I was somewhat sidetracked—something I resist if I possibly can, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I was talking about the Aliens' Employment Act 1955, yet another excellent piece of legislation with which the Bill seeks to interfere. As the long title states, it is: An Act to provide for the employment of aliens and British protected persons in civil service under the Crown". There we are. The provision already exists. It is properly bureaucratic and makes the sort of provision that we continue to welcome in these increasingly difficult times. Section 2(2) of the 1955 Act, however, made me smile because it says: Any question arising under this section what Minister is the responsible Minister in relation to any service shall be referred to and determined by the Treasury. If there is doubt about responsibility today, we all know who has the last word, and the same thing applied in 1955. The people who framed the Act were sufficiently perspicacious to allow for that eventuality.

My hon. Friend's intervention suggests another line of thought, for which I am grateful. I always like a bit of refuelling, as we say in the business. On this occasion, however, my speech will be brief. As the hon. Member for Hendon—an expert on these matters—knows, seeing this business through to 2.30 pm is not a realistic option in this case, so I shall have to deploy other means on another day to try to prevent his Bill from reaching the statute book. Friday debates allow us to be more expansive than usual, so when my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) suggested another line of thought, I was more than happy to pick it up. He did not use the word "reciprocity", but it is a useful term. In the welter of good will, the opening of our doors and arms and the allowing of aliens into the deepest recesses of our Government, we may wish to consider—I may get the Library to research this for subsequent debates—how many of the countries of which we now say we are fond and which we wish to clasp to our bosom welcome UK nationals in their Government workings.

I shall return to that when I have further and better information. I have but a slim sheaf of papers today, but the hon. Member for Hendon is usually armed with volumes of paper, through which he expertly picks. I shall follow his example on subsequent occasions. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe dealt with my point about reciprocity when he extols the virtues of this sad little Bill. He has probably already considered the matter, given his assiduity, so perhaps he or, indeed, the Solicitor-General can say how many other countries welcome UK nationals to work in their civil services or their equivalents. That would be an interesting measure of whether we are in or out of step with current thinking. I may be proved wrong, but my instinct tells me that precious few other countries allow UK nationals to work in their civil service. Why should we be the fall guys or the mugs? Sadly, we often appear to be an easy touch and that is a large part of the problem that the Government are experiencing with the broader issue of asylum and immigration. Like it or not, we are seen as a soft touch, allowing people easy access and entry.

Mr. Heald

I hope that I am not trespassing on the good will of my right hon. Friend, but the Civil Service Bill, which is the fifth Bill on the Order Paper and, sadly, will probably not be reached, consists of three parts. Part 1 proposes a statutory code for civil servants and establishes a proper framework to define the role of political appointees, civil servants and Ministers. Part 2 deals with whether people such as Americans, the Swiss and others could be part of our civil service. The First Division Association has said that, if people come into our civil service from private industry or, in this case, from abroad, it is helpful to have the structure and rules firmly embedded. Individuals outside may not know the culture of our civil service as well as people who have worked for it and know our country's customs and traditions. Will my right hon. Friend look at the interplay between those two parts of my Bill?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. Before the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) responds, I should point out to the House, if it is not already obvious, that, unlike the procedure of grouping of amendments, there is no procedure in the House for two different Bills to be grouped for discussion. I recognise that the Bills share a measure of commonalty, but I urge hon. Members to try to maintain a sense of distinction and deal only with the substance of the Crown Employment (Nationality) Bill.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You know me well enough to know that I take no little pride in always staying in order. I generally manage to do so and, even though my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire has tempted me, thanks to your guidance, I shall not respond to his invitation, save to say that I rarely pay any attention to what trade unions say. It does not impress me that some ghastly vested interest or trade union has expressed a view and that will not influence my thinking one jot. My hon. Friend has also suggested a subject for amendments that may be tabled on Report. He mentioned Americans and the Swiss, and that may be fruitful territory—but more of that anon.

I turn to the statutory instrument of 1991 referred to in what, as the hon. Member for Hendon will appreciate more than most, has turned out to be a useful list of repeals. I do not want to dwell on the European Communities (Employment in the Civil Service) Order 1991, but it is a quirky measure and, lest the packed House thinks that I am being too serious, I will share it with hon. Members to lighten the mood. Amusingly, it says: At the Court of Saint James, the 21st day of May 1991, Present, the Counsellors of State in Council. The measure was therefore introduced as an Order in Council. It goes on to say: His Royal Highness The Prince Andrew, The Duke of York, and His Royal Highness The Prince Edward, being authorised thereto by the said Letters Patent, and in pursuance of the powers conferred on Her Majesty … do on Her Majesty's behalf order, and it is hereby ordered, as follows". That is a charming little niche of our legislative process, with which the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East and I are more familiar than perhaps we would wish. The provision is a revelation, because it suggests that law is being made by none other than their royal highnesses the Duke of York and Prince Edward. That does not make it any less valid, but I just thought that I would share it with the House. Individual Members must decide whether or not they are reassured about the provenance of that statutory instrument.

In that measure, we were forced to change our provisions to include nationals of member states of the European Union. Reciprocity is relevant and I would like to know—I may have to ask the Library—how many Brits are working in the French civil service. That is a random example, and there is no reason why I should pick on the French—in fact, there are many reasons why, but I shall not go into them now. How many Brits are working in the Greek civil service or in the civil services of any of the 25 members of the European Union? I shall let the question of reciprocity rest for the moment, but it will provide fruitful ground in later consideration of the Bill.

I was going to deal with the Race Relations Act 1976, which is also mentioned in the Bill, but I believe that hon. Members have got the gist of my argument. I have been unusually brief and I can see the hon. Member for Hendon thinking that mine has been a wimpish performance, but he knows and I know that I would be wasting a lot of my time and effort and, frankly, some of my ammunition if I dwelt on the Bill for too long on this occasion. It could be tested by means of a Division, or—as I think more likely—we could return to it on Report for a thorough examination of its content, and of the possibilities of expanding, strengthening or tweaking it. We look forward very much to that day.

Let me return, in a closing thought, to the point at which I started. One of the fascinating aspects of this year's cycle of private Members' Bills is that so successful have the Government been in killing off so many Bills—most, as it happens, tabled by Labour Members: it is just one of those little ironies—that there are now very few in the pipeline. As I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman at the outset, having been unsuccessful in the ballot he, typically cleverly, slipped his Bill in as a ten-minute Bill; but because his Government have killed off so many of his colleagues' private Members' Bills, he has suddenly found himself in his current favourable position. I confess that that makes this more challenging for me, but as I have not faced many challenges during this private Member's Bill year, I am quite looking forward to it.

Mr. Heald

I tabled a written question asking the Government what they were going to do about Crown nationality. The answer they gave was, "Support the hon. Member for Hendon's Bill." That may explain why all the other Bills have been blocked, thus giving the hon. Gentleman's Bill a free passage.

Mr. Forth

This is, in any case, almost certainly a Government Bill in only the thinnest of disguises. While I have the greatest respect for the hon. Gentleman's legal expertise and powers of analysis, much of what he said in his brief introductory speech sounded very much like a Government brief. That is for him and the Government to know—it is not for us to speculate on it excessively—but smuggling in Government Bills in the guise of private Members' Bills is, of course, a long-established practice. It simply makes it all the more sad and regrettable that my hon. Friends are choosing to sign up to it, but such are the politics of today. No wonder people cannot tell the difference between one party and the other.

11.32 am
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con)

At the heart of the Bill is a simple question: who should be eligible for employment in a civil capacity by the Crown? I want to begin by considering that question.

It can be argued that only British citizens should be eligible for employment in that capacity—on the ground, I suppose, that the Crown should be served in a civil capacity only by those who have identified themselves with it by holding British citizenship.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Goodman

That was, indeed, the argument presented by my right hon. Friend.

I suspect that even most of those who want to see the closest possible identification between the Crown's civil employment capacity and British citizenship would find such an arrangement excessively restrictive, because it would limit the pool of talent and ability from which the Crown could draw in a way that would allow no exceptions from that rule, however deserving they might be on an individual basis. But that is, of course, not the principle that governs the Crown's civil employment capacity. Employment by the Crown, in a civil capacity, of British citizens only, is not the status quo.

As the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) pointed out, when the Bill was first debated on 20 January and again today, British protected persons, Irish citizens, Commonwealth citizens, all European Union nationals and European economic area nationals are currently eligible to serve the Crown in a civil employment capacity, with the exception of the so-called reserved posts. Furthermore, as the hon. Gentleman also pointed out on 20 January, freedom of movement provisions render the alien spouse—I use the legal terminology here—of an EEA national eligible to be employed in a non-reserved post, while the alien spouse of a UK national remains ineligible.

It is also worth noting that foreign nationals are currently eligible to serve the Crown in a civil employment capacity abroad, and that foreign nationals are eligible to serve the Crown in a civil employment capacity domestically in certain narrow circumstances, which the hon. Gentleman described. It is here that the status quo is to be found.

The next question that confronts us is this: is it reasonable to allow the anomalies that exist under the status quo to continue? For anomalies there are in plenty. I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman along the legislative trail that he described—from the Act of Settlement 1700 to the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919 to the European Communities (Employment in the Civil Service) Order 1991 to the Aliens Employment Act 1955 to the European Economic Area Act 1993—but I want to linger for a few moments on some of the anomalies that he mentioned on 20 January and today, and to add a few variants of my own.

In my constituency there is a small Chinese community. I believe that as matters stand—perhaps the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—a Chinese citizen married to a British citizen of Chinese origin would not be entitled to employment in a non-restricted post, but a Chinese citizen married to a French citizen would. For "French", of course, I could—as has already been pointed out—substitute the nationality of any citizen of the EEA or the newly enlarged EU. I could have said "Latvian" or "Lithuanian", for instance. Similarly, a Chinese citizen of British origin married to a British citizen of "white ethnic origin"—the terminology used in the official census—would not be entitled to employment in a non-restricted post, but a Chinese citizen married to a French citizen would.

Mr. Heald

Am I right in thinking that if—heaven forfend!—my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) were French, his wife would be able to work in our civil service, but because he is British that is not the case?

Mr. Goodman

I think my right hon. Friend said that his wife had taken British citizenship.

Mr. Forth

That is the point.

Mr. Goodman

I believe that had she retained her American citizenship only—I understand that she has dual citizenship—she would fit into precisely the category described by my hon. Friend.

Let us consider once again the extremist, fundamentalist and—I have to add—at present British, by citizenship, cleric Abu Hamza, whom the hon. Member for Hendon mentioned on 20 January and today. He is on record as saying, with reference to 11 September: Many people will be happy, jumping up and down. America is a crazy superpower and what was done was done in self-defence. As matters stand, Abu Hamza is eligible for employment by the Crown in a civil capacity, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, while an American widow whose spouse was murdered in the 11 September atrocity would not be.

There is reason for us to pause here and reflect. Abu Hamza, as we know, is at present a British citizen. The hon. Gentleman could have added that Asif Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, the suicide bombers responsible for the murder of three people and the injury of 55 in a beach-front pub in Israel called Mike's Place, were British citizens. Richard Reid, who attempted to blow up a transatlantic flight, was a British citizen. Most British Muslims—and Muslims in High Wycombe with whom I have discussed these matters—condemn such acts of terror unreservedly.

It is worth pondering the fact that a British citizen who, despite his or her citizenship, hates this country and everything it stands for is none the less currently eligible for employment by the Crown in a civil capacity—while an American, Israeli or Turkish citizen, for example, who respects, admires and even loves this country, but does not wish to abandon his or her own citizenship, is not eligible for employment in such a capacity. Is it reasonable to allow such anomalies to continue?

I acknowledge that there is an argument for answering that question with a "yes". I may be mistaken, but I doubt that large numbers of foreign nationals have written either to the hon. Member for Hendon or to the Solicitor-General, clamouring for a change in the law and for employment under the Crown in a civil capacity. However, as we have seen, the anomalies give rise to so many inconsistencies and injustices that the most sensible course is to create a more rational framework for eligibility for such employment. Since the Bill, which has the support of Members from all the main parties in the House, offers a more rational framework, we see merit in it, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) made clear when speaking from the Front Bench on 21 January, the day after the Bill's First Reading.

The context in which my right. hon. and learned Friend was speaking is important. He was calling on the Government to introduce a civil service Bill in this parliamentary Session; indeed, such a Bill was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), with the support of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition and others. A civil service Bill was originally proposed by the Public Administration Committee, which, like most Select Committees, is dominated by members of the Government party. The Bill is, I understand, supported by the Liberal Democrats and the other minor parties.

Part 2 of that Bill is effectively identical to the Bill before us. The hon. Member for Hendon acknowledged that in his First Reading speech, when he said: Last week, the Conservative Opposition proposed a Civil Service Bill, based on the PAC draft, so they, too, appear to agree with my proposals, as provisions in the Bill that I presented last year were incorporated in the Select Committee's report and appear to have been added to the Opposition's Bill. In that respect the hon. Gentleman was correct. He continued: I believe that they will advocate their Bill … tomorrow."—[Official Report, 20 January 2004; Vol. 416, c. 1227.] Indeed we did, and the hon. Gentleman, having made it clear to the House on 20 January that his Bill is effectively the same as ours, voted the next day against our Bill, which is effectively the same as the one for which he had voted the day before. What is worse is that he persuaded, by my count, 75 of his colleagues to do exactly the same.

Mr. Dismore

I ought to clarify the position. I very much support the proposals in the Opposition's Bill that reflect mine, but of course their Bill contains many other proposals about which I am less happy. Perhaps I can remind the hon. Gentleman of the position of the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger), who voted for the Select Committee report, against my Bill and for the Opposition's Bill, so he has changed sides twice.

Mr. Goodman

If I remember rightly, the hon. Gentleman made the same point about my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater on 21 January; I cannot speak for my hon. Friend. However, I hope that the hon. Member for Hendon tells the Israeli, Japanese and Chinese citizens in Hendon, to whom he referred today and on First Reading, that he was offered a chance, on 21 January, to vote in principle for exactly the measures that he proposed in his Bill, but he voted against them. We will have to see what they make of that. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has offered that explanation, and that the cause was not an momentary lapse of concentration.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe said on 21 January, part 2 of our civil service Bill is, in his words, the least important part of our Bill"—[Official Report, 21 January 2004; Vol. 416, c. 1330.], but it is, as I said, a part. It is worth dwelling on that for a moment. I want to make it clear that although we believe that there is merit in this Bill—we could scarcely do otherwise given that it reflects the measures in part 2 of our Bill—it does not, of course, follow that the arguments advanced for this Bill, on the one hand, by the hon. Member for Hendon and, on the other, by us, are exactly the same.

As I said, our support for this Bill is based on the principle that it is right to tidy up the anomalies, and that it offers the prospect of a reasonable framework for doing so. At present, there are 7.8 million economically inactive people in Britain; 2.7 million people are drawing incapacity benefit; and about 1.6 million of those 2.7 million say that they want to work. Most of these people are currently eligible to be employed in a civil capacity by the Crown, so we are not entirely convinced by the arguments about labour shortages put forward by the hon. Gentleman on First Reading. In addition, Britain is becoming more diverse, not less, at least partly because of the rise in the number of minority ethnic British citizens, so we are not convinced by the hon. Gentleman's argument, put forward on First Reading and again today, that we need the Bill to reflect the increasing diversity in our society.

We do not support the Bill on those grounds; we support it because it offers a way of tidying up anomalies to achieve better order. We will naturally want to consider very carefully any amendments to the Bill that are tabled in Committee. As I said, we see merit in the Bill because it offers the prospect of a more rational framework, replicating, as it does, the proposals in the more comprehensive Civil Service Bill promoted by my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. Heald

My hon. Friend has encapsulated the arguments. On his final point about the more comprehensive Civil Service Bill that I presented to the House, does he agree that as the Government have long promised such a Bill, and indeed they promised a draft Bill in this Session, should not this small Bill be part of that process? Is it not a bad sign of the Government's good faith that they strongly support this Bill, which is a small part of the overall measures that we are calling for, because it looks as though they may be kicking the Civil Service Bill that we need into the long grass?

Mr. Goodman

My hon. Friend has put his case extremely well. Perhaps the Solicitor-General could deal directly with that point when she begins her reply.

11.47 am
Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD)

I shall reflect on some of the points made in the debate and during the earlier stages of the Bill and its predecessor. It has been suggested that the measure is being rushed, but it seems to me that it has already been the subject of detailed scrutiny by the Public Administration Committee. In addition, if the Government publish a draft Bill in due course, that will be the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny.

I start by beginning where the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) finished. We have the Opposition's Civil Service Bill; we have the PAC's draft Bill; and we have the promise, from the Dispatch Box, of a draft Bill from the Government. This is a bit like London's buses: suddenly, three turn up in one go, although we are still waiting for the third, which is, in some ways, the most important as it is the one that, in the end, we will all be asked to get on. It will be the vehicle that delivers legislative change, so it would be useful if the Solicitor-General told us what is in the Government's mind and what the timetable will be for publication and deliberation.

Mr. Heald

The Bill that I presented is the Public Administration Committee's Bill, but would it not have been better had the Government simply said, "Well, let's have pre-legislative scrutiny of that Bill."? If they had further ideas, those could have been presented as part of that pre-legislative scrutiny.

Mr. Burstow

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Given that that work from the Public Administration Committee is already well under way and given that it has garnered a good deal of cross-party support, it would have provided a good platform for embarking on pre-legislative scrutiny. Obviously, the Government would have had the opportunity to feed in any additional changes that needed to be made.

It seems to me that such legislation, more than any other in terms of the civil service, needs that foundation of cross-party support to be built in from the outset to ensure that what eventually makes its way on to the statute book is legislation that provides a long period of stability and certainty. However, I want to return to discussing the Bill before us.

This is a modest measure that attempts to tackle genuine, practical anomalies that arise, at least in part, from this country's membership of the European Union. The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), in various contributions in relation to the measure, has outlined the scenarios flowing from that, as did the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), who spoke for the Conservatives. Like him, I am struck by the example given by the hon. Member for Hendon of the wife of a British citizen—who might be Chinese, Russian, Japanese or, for that matter, American—being forbidden from joining the civil service. However, if the Chinese, Russian or Japanese wife of a citizen of another EU member state were to apply for the civil service, the current legislative position would not debar them.

Some advance an argument that appears to suggest that anyone who is an alien is, by definition, an enemy of the state who therefore should not be eligible to work for the state, but I find that hard to accept. The better test, first and foremost, is whether the person has the merit and ability to do the job and whether, depending on the sensitivity of that job, they pass the necessary security checks.

I asked the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) whether, on the basis of his logic, he sees the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919 extending to local government. He was tempted, and indeed invited me to become a co-conspirator in such a development. I have to say that I have no wish to do so.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Burstow

I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman by telling him that, but it is important to put the record straight. If he were to introduce such a measure, that could mean, for example, debarring Bob Kiley, London's transport commissioner, from providing a service.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Burstow

The right hon. Gentleman may be delighted by that, but it is interesting that that could be one consequence of extending his view of the legislation.

The right hon. Gentleman suggested that this is a matter of political correctness, multiculturalism and so on, but I do not see it in those terms. The Bill is fundamentally about tackling basic anomalies that arise from the piecemeal nature of legislation passed by this place, and it ought to progress. We have heard clearly that he has identified ample scope for further debate on various aspects of it, so I look forward to consideration on Report with some trepidation, as, I am sure, does the hon. Member for Hendon. The Bill ought to secure a Second Reading today, and it certainly has the support of the Liberal Democrats.

11.53 am
The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman)

The Minister who normally would be responsible for responding to the debate on the Bill is not in the House today, for the best possible reason: his wife Jacqueline has just given birth to their baby daughter. We in the House tend to focus more on deaths, but perhaps we can pause for a moment and offer our congratulations to my hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and his wife.

Rather in the way that schools have supply teachers, I am a supply legislator this morning. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who has made the case very clearly for the Bill, which the Government support. As other Members have said, this is not the first time he has made that case. Important points were covered by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), who spoke for the official Opposition. The Government support, by and large, nearly everything he said, so I will not repeat those points. Points were also made by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow). The Government support those as well so I will be as brief as possible.

The Government want a good civil service. I hope everyone agrees with that. We want the very best for this country. One way to achieve that is to have the widest possible pool available to those who are recruiting to the civil service. We do not want them to be tied up with unnecessary red tape, but to get down to the business of recruiting who they need.

Mr. Heald

Is it as bad a sign as I think it is for the promised draft civil service Bill that the Government are so strongly pushing this Bill? There is a background noise, which makes me wonder whether the draft Bill is finally about to land on the Table, but apparently not. Can the Solicitor-General give us an update on the draft Bill?

The Solicitor-General

I will do that in a moment.

We all agree that the necessary protection must be in place, especially for employment in the civil service, which requires sensitivity and diplomacy and which has security implications. Nothing in the Bill threatens that. Surely we all also agree that these who are in this country lawfully and are entitled to work should not face unnecessary restrictions. I would hope that the Bill commends itself to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) on the basis that it is a deregulating measure, because is cuts unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape. The Bill is also in the interests of the civil service, not just in the interests of those who might want to work in the civil service.

Hon. Members dwelt on the anomalies in the system. The Bill replaces that system with a rational system. All hon. Members recognise that the current system is complex; the proposed system is straightforward, clearer and more transparent. It replaces the bureaucracy involved with dealing with an alien certificate with straightforward procedures.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill has a chance of making progress, and I hope that it does. I also hope that all hon. Members will leave aside the many grudges that the bear from previous Bills. They should focus on this Bill and the important task it performs, instead of settling old scores.

Mr. Goodman

On an entirely grudge-free point, the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) made it clear that if his Bill becomes law, he envisages that only 10 per cent. of civil service posts will be reserved for British nationals, as opposed to the 25 per cent. currently reserved for them. Do the Government agree with that view?

The Solicitor-General

Yes, we do. The point, however, is not the fixed percentage, which is, of course, an estimate, but the purpose of the protections, which will cover as many or as few people as necessary.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said disparagingly that it sounded as though my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon was reading out a Government brief. That was unfair. My hon. Friend made the case in terms of his constituency as well as more generally. The right hon. Gentleman said that my hon. Friend does not deserve much sympathy, but we should consider my hon. Friend's case, which I think is a good one. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he opposes the measure because of its baggage, but we are not being asked to address the baggage or, indeed, the symbolism; instead, we are being asked to address the practical measures. The right hon. Gentleman says that he opposes the principle being changed, but that is not happening because the principle does not apply at present in the way he describes.

I find it rather curious that the right hon. Gentleman feels that the Bill will somehow undermine nationhood and national identity. Let us remember what we are dealing with here. There are 530,000 people employed in the civil service, who include, for example, driving examiners and filing clerks in the Child Support Agency. I do not see that our nationhood or national identity depend on a presumption of excluding people from those jobs. That does not make sense. The right hon. Gentleman says that he is suspicious of the consensus. Sometimes it is right to be suspicious of consensus in this House, especially if it is backed by a great tabloid furore outside. However, there is no tabloid or populist furore over this Bill—there is a total absence of that—and the consensus that we have here is pragmatic and sensible.

The people who operate the system do not think that it currently makes sense or affords necessary protection, and they support the Bill. It is right to listen to the people who operate the system.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst also mentioned reciprocity and said that we should consider what other countries do. With respect, that is beside the point. We should not be saying that we are doing other countries a favour and they should therefore do us one in return—that is not the point. What we are doing here is in the interests of our own country and civil service, so whether or not other countries are doing the same is not a matter for us. We are doing this because it is right, not because we are doing anyone a favour.

I shall conclude my comments by placing some formal matters on record. The Bill is compatible with the European convention on human rights. I also need to signal that the Bill has been the subject of consultation with Her Majesty the Queen. Accordingly, I can confirm that I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Crown Employment (Nationality) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of debating the Bill.

Mr. Heald

The right hon. and learned Lady will recall that I asked her about the overarching civil service Bill that we have been promised since 1997. The Deputy Prime Minister promised us that Bill in 2002 and the Cabinet Office Minister promised it in January. Where is it, and can the right hon. and learned Lady give us an idea of whether it will come this Session, as promised?

The Solicitor-General

As I promised earlier, I shall deal with that now that I have finished my formal points. The Government have given a commitment to publish a draft civil service Bill for consultation in this parliamentary Session. In taking work forward on that, the Government are taking account of the draft Bill published by the Public Administration Committee in January this year, to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Brian White

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that one of the matters presented in evidence to the Public Administration Committee was the fact that there is no definition of what a civil servant is? Have the Government looked at that issue?

The Solicitor-General

The Government are looking at all the issues, and have considered, and continue to consider, that point.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) raised the question of the process for the Government's Bill. We recognise that there is widespread interest in both Houses in the relevant issues, and there will be full consultation on the Government's draft Bill, although the precise form and scope of that consultation are still to be determined.

I conclude by warmly congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon on the way in which he has taken his Bill through. It makes a lot of sense and will do some good. At the end of the day, we all want to support that.

12.4 pm

Mr. Dismore

With the leave of the House, I should like to thank both Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen for their support for the Bill. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) for expressing the view that the present situation is riddled with anomalies, which is the bull point that I put forward in support of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) is no longer in his place—

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD)


Mr. Dismore

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, who is temporarily not in his place, was absolutely correct to say that we should aim to appoint to the civil service on merit and ability rather than reserving such posts only for UK nationals.

The only opposition to the Bill has, predictably, come from the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), and I fully accept his point that he has been consistent on this issue, whether on my Bill or an Opposition Bill. He does not believe in a multicultural society. That is a rather old-fashioned view, and one that is out of step with modern society. He is opposed to the concept of being politically correct, and regards political correctness as not being common sense. Well, sometimes it is not, but often it is. In this case, it is not merely politically correct but common sense to deal in this way with the weird and wonderful anomalies that everyone accepts exist.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about opening up the inner workings of government, but we are not talking about the inner workings of government in the context that he would have us believe. We are not talking about permanent secretaries; we are talking about people much further down the civil service food chain, where it is appropriate for people to contribute to our society.

Mr. Forth

How does the hon. Gentleman know that we are not talking about permanent secretaries? There is a trend now, which may or may not be a good thing, to bring very high level people into the civil service from outside, either to reinvigoraie it or to bring a real-world view into government. That is a judgment for another day, but his bland assertion that we are not talking about permanent secretaries might turn out to be entirely untrue. It is quite possible that we might have permanent secretaries of rather interesting origin and provenance in the future.

Mr. Dismore

The right hon. Gentleman has made his point, and I am sure that he will develop it further in the later stages of the Bill. I would simply say to him that we are talking about reserving an estimated 10 per cent. of posts, and I think that those will be senior posts.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked why foreign nationals could not become naturalised UK citizens, and that is a fair question. The problem is that our present rules on naturalisation require a significant period of residence before a person can apply, and the procedure takes an awfully long time to go through. In those circumstances, we have to recognise that there are people who have a lot to offer our society who should not have to wait that long before being able to take up a civil service post. In my office I employ an EU national who wishes to become a British national, but it is taking him an awfully long time to achieve that position. In discussing the Civil Service Bill, I gave the example of a Mrs. Martin, a Turkish national whose husband has written to me about this matter. She has a 2.1 degree in public administration and wants to work for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, but is unable to do so.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the certification process and said that it had stood the test of time, but it is in fact a very restrictive and complicated process. I do not agree that it has stood the test of time; I believe that it has been shown to be very outdated. He also made a big song and dance about terrorism and subversion. I am sure that he is aware that I take a particular interest in that issue. Indeed, I have dealings with some of those in the anti-terrorism world, and none of them has raised any objections to the Bill. The hon. Member for Wycombe illustrated the strong point that nationality is not synonymous with involvement in terrorism by saying that several British nationals have been involved in such activities. The suicide bombers of Mike's Place were two examples.

Let us not forget that we train members of other countries' armed forces in our own armed forces. The Government are talking about bringing Libyans over to train at Sandhurst. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst rolls his eyes, but I think that that makes my point. It is only the civil service that we are talking about here, not the armed forces. I think that that defeats his point. He thought that I might find his speech a little wimpish. It was a cameo performance, if I may put it that way. I know that he would regard it as wimpish if he were to serve on the Committee, although I would obviously like to invite him to do so.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said that I would view the Report stage of the Bill with trepidation, but as the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst knows, I never regard a Report stage with trepidation. I regard it as a great challenge and I look forward to the resumption of our trial of strength on that occasion, should we reach that stage.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).