HC Deb 14 June 2004 vol 422 cc746-7W
Mr. Austin Mitchell

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps; he takes to avoid conflicts of interest when advisers horn outside the Civil Service are seconded to the How Office to work on projects; and what restrictions are placed on the abilities of such advisers to participate in the bidding process for contracts arising from that advice. [175105]

Fiona Mactaggart

Secondments are part of the Interchange initiative, which promotes the exchange of people and good practice between the Civil Service and other organizations—public, private and voluntary. Interchange provides opportunities for civil servants to learn new skills, widen their experience and develop ideas. It also brings in skills and experience from other sectors.

When advisers from outside the Civil Service are seconded into the Home Office to work on projects, they are informed in the secondment contract that they will be subject to the Official Secrets Act and will be expected to abide by the conditions and rules governing the conduct of civil servants. In particular, they are informed that they will need to avoid situations that may lead to conflicts of interest. The secondment contract, which is drawn up between the secondee, the seconding organisation and the Home Office, also states that the secondee shall keep all commercially confidential information secure and shall not release any commercially confidential information to parties outside the Home Office—including the seconding organization—without its written approval, instruction or request.

The Home Office recognises that ethical behaviour in tendering for contracts is of the utmost importance, because the activities may involve the spending of public funds and are subject to close scrutiny. It is imperative that the integrity of the department as a whole should be maintained. Accordingly, the Home Office does not allow secondees to take part in any bidding processes that involve the organisation from which they are seconded.