HL Deb 05 April 1976 vol 369 cc1405-8

2.44 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government in what circumstances senior civil servants are permitted on retirement to accept directorships or other employment with commercial organisations with whom they have been dealing before retirement or who are engaged in similar business activities.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shepherd)

My Lords, a full copy of the rules governing the acceptance of such appointments by senior civil servants is in the Library. They are designed to ensure the avoidance of any ground for suspicion that serving officers might be ready to bestow favours on firms in the hope of future benefits to come.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it has been suggested by reputable newspapers—and I understood that an inquiry has been instituted—that a former director of sales at the Ministry of Defence went straight to an armaments firm in Jersey? In imports via Jersey—which for some ridiculous reason does not require export licences—he partook in the export of arms direct from several ordnance factories to South Africa, which is alleged to have participated in the sending of the 41 Centurion tanks which went to Jordan and finished up in South Africa or Rhodesia. Is my noble friend aware that we have a full account of the discussions which took place of the meeting at which existing civil servants and the Customs officers of Jersey discussed these matters and hoped to make these arrangements? So it is alleged.


My Lords, this particular matter is under consideration, but I would remind my noble friend and the House that on 3rd July 1975 my right honourable friend the Prime Minister concluded that the present rules were sensible and adequate. But he proposed that in the case of the most senior Crown servants we should set up an advisory committee to consider any case referred to it. The advisory committee has, in fact, been functioning for some months.


My Lords, would the Minister be good enough to say whether there is any variation in treatment between senior officers of the Armed Forces and civil servants? If there is a discrepancy or a difference, would he be good enough to see that the higher standard should apply to both Services?


My Lords, there is no difference between those who serve in the military forces and those who serve on the civil side.


My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House will be aware that I am a member of the advisory committee which was set up only within the past year. Does he agree that while the responsibility for decisions in individual cases lies with the Prime Minister of the day, the advisory committee, none the less, does its best, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, to give full and impartial advice?


My Lords, that is so. I am very grateful for the intervention of the noble Lord. I know of two decisions, with which I personally very much agree, which were recently taken by the advisory committee and which were accepted by the Prime Minister.


My Lords, in view of the serious allegations by my noble friend Lord Hale, can my noble friend say whether an inquiry is taking place into these allegations?


My Lords, I beg my noble friend not to take everything that appears in the Press as being the gospel truth. This matter is being looked into, and I do not wish to go any further than that.


My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that since civil servants retire at a relatively early age, in many cases they can make a major contribution to the country by serving commercial industry thereafter? Is this not something which the Government should encourage?


My Lords, I am not certain in your Lordships' House what is an early age. But undoubtedly, as civil servants retire at 60 or 65 (whichever the case may be), many can render very great service to industry and commerce. I think that the general rules have applied since 1937, and I believe that we should rely upon those rules. Where civil servants can play a useful part in industry and commerce we should welcome it.


My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the principle which we are now discussing should perhaps also apply to Ministers?


My Lords, if my noble friend tables a Question on that matter, I shall seek to answer it.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether there are any rules for Ministers? Is there an insulation period before they can accept responsibilities in nationalised industries or other bodies; or are there no rules for Ministers? If there are no rules, would it not be worth while considering whether there ought to be some rules?


My Lords, this is a different question to which there cannot be, nor should there be, a snap answer. Ministers are in a different position. Ministers themselves very rarely conduct the sensitive negotiations between Government and industry which civil servants conduct. I think there is a difference here; but, my Lords, I think one must also recognise that Ministers are not pursuing a career in the way that civil servants are, and that when they lose office they still have a home to keep. To deny them an opportunity to earn an income would, I think, certainly reduce the number of those available to Prime Ministers as candidates from which to choose their Ministers.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his declaration that people taking jobs after retirement is of benefit to the community might be a little more true if there were not 1½ million unemployed? Furthermore, is he really saying that he views with benevolence the possibility of someone who knows all the rules and regulations of the Ministry of Defence taking immediate employment with an armaments firm outside the jurisdiction of this country but inside its commercial comity?


My Lords, under the rules, which have prevailed ever since 1937, anyone who is of Under-Secretary rank or above—and the equivalent applies to the military service—and who wishes to take up employment on retirement must make an application to the respective Minister. The respective Minister then has to decide. In certain cases, this is a matter for the Prime Minister as Minister for the Civil Service. As to the first part of my noble friend's supplementary question, there are a number of people who have made a major contribution within the Civil Service and who are still able to play a great part, by way of strengthening industry and commerce, in overcoming the present unacceptable level of unemployment. My Lords, at this moment we are not a country which can turn aside those who have capability, and above all else integrity, in the furtherance of industry and commerce.

The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (The Earl of Listowel)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, on behalf of the Committee of Selection, That the Viscount Amory be added to the Select Committee on Commodity Prices in place of the Lord Gain-ford resigned.—(The Earl of Listowel.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.