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Volume 78: debated on Monday 29 April 1985

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asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many persons were seconded to the Civil Service during the last 12 months for which figures are available.

There were 116 secondments to the Civil Service from organisations in industry and commerce in 1984. The details are given in a report on the interchange programme published today by the Management and Personal Office, copies of which I am placing in the Library of the House.

I understand that the number of secondments has increased in recent years. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Civil Service would benefit from a greater increase in interchange? Does my hon. Friend agree that, if there were a reciprocal process, especially with civil servants being seconded to industries, this could only be beneficial?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the interchange programme is generally extremely useful and beneficial to all concerned. The numbers coming into the Civil Service from outside and the numbers seconded from the Civil Service to industries and organisations outside are increasing. I very much hope that this trend will continue.

Does the Minister accept that the appointment of some people from outside the Civil Service to temporary posts, such as Mr. Levene's appointment, has drawn unprecedented strictures from the Civil Service Commission, which has pointed out that established procedures were set aside in Mr. Levene's appointment? Will the hon. Gentleman give a firm commitment that in future all appointments from within and outside the Civil Service will be based on open competition and not on political patronage of any kind?

The principle of fair and open competition for Civil Service appointments is an extremely important one, which has been maintained over the years and must continue to be maintained. The suggestion that the procedures followed in Mr. Levene's appointment were wrong is misplaced.

On secondment, it has been the long-standing practice of successive Administrations not to believe that a qualification certificate from the Civil Service Commissioners was required. Only at the time of Mr. Levene's appointment did legal advice come forward saying that such a certificate was required. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, the Government immediately took steps to recognise the position. In the event, Mr. Levene was not seconded. He was appointed under a fixed term contract not exceeding five years. The proper procedures were followed.