asked the Minister for the Civil Service what initiative he is taking to encourage appropriate civil servants to seek unpaid, non-executive directorships of United Kingdom companies.
The report on the work of the Management and Personnel Office, which was published in January, referred to non-executive directorships as one of a number of ways in which the Government encourage the interchange of staff between the Civil Service and industry and commerce.
I welcome that initiative and development. I know that my right hon. Friend agrees that it is to the benefit of the country as a whole that there should be a greater interchange between civil servants and industrialists and business men, and I recognise the difficulties of secondments being full time. Will my right hon. Friend look carefully at part-time interchanges, not only with more civil servants taking up non-executive directorships, but with more industrialists and business men being appointed to ad hoc advisory bodies dealing with administrative problems of the Civil Service?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the more interchange that we can get between the public sector and the private sector, the better it will be. About 40 civil servants have outside, non-paid directorships and they are getting important experience which will be of benefit to the Government. As my hon. Friend knows, there are a number of other schemes. I have improved the targets for the Government and industry secondment scheme, and there is also the straightforward possibility of bringing in outsiders on contract, which can help the Government's service.
I welcome the numbers that the right hon. Gentleman quoted and I hope that they will be increased. Will he acknowledge that business men can learn a great deal, particularly at senior levels in the Civil Service, where they operate in a completely different environment, which is useful to them when they return to their business careers?
I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman. It is important that we should continue to encourage business men to come in on secondment. Just under 200 do so at present, and I am trying to encourage more to come in. It is good, not only for them, but for the Civil Service, which benefits from their experience.
I welcome the steps that my right hon. Friend has taken, but does he agree that the secondment figures are lamentably low and that an interchange of staff is immensely to the benefit not only of civil servants but of business men? Will my right hon. Friend and his colleagues exert their political will — that is what is required — to ensure that there is more coming and going between industry and the Civil Service?
I accept that the number of civil servants with non-executive directorships is very low. It is only a start in the right direction, but I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to persuade more businesses to take on civil servants so that they can get valuable experience. The Government and I will do whatever we can to encourage that process.
Is the Minister not worried about the close links between the Civil Service and big business, given the various recent allegations about Ministry of Defence staff becoming involved in work for manufacturers supplying Government contracts? Ought not the Minister to advance with considerable caution, in view of concern about the possibility of corruption?
Of course it is important to establish that there is no clash of interests. However, the hon. Gentleman seems to have a hostile attitude towards the private sector. If we as a nation are trying to create more wealth, the more civil servants who have experience of wealth creation, the better it will be for the country.