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Civil Servants: Employment in Private Sector

Volume 690: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What are the restrictions on civil servants taking employment in the private sector following termination of their service in areas where they have had experience during their service.

My Lords, civil servants are required to act in accordance with the rules on the acceptance of outside appointments set out in the Civil Service Management Code. The rules apply for two years after civil servants have left the service.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Does he agree that it would be naive to think that the public service and private enterprise have not come closer together? There is nothing wrong intrinsically in that, but public perceptions are such that they require safeguards to be put in place, as they have been; the code suggests two years, as he says. Is he happy that two years is enough? I am not suggesting that there is a problem, but it could arise and the Government could well be criticised if it were later found that two years was too short a time.

My Lords, it will be recognised that quite a number of the applications occur for taking up appointment over a shorter period. When criticism has been advanced, it has been over that factor. Most often, that criticism has been readily refuted. I do not think that there have been any cases where civil servants close to the end of the two-year period have sought an appointment and then received criticism for doing so.

My Lords, very senior officials, such as Treasury Permanent Secretaries or Cabinet Secretaries, have broad experience in almost every department of state, as we have learnt today if we did not already know. Given that broad experience, no one is suggesting for a minute, I hope, that there is anything wrong in their taking up appointments. Who devised the rules? Was it the Cabinet Secretary? What is the penalty if they are breached?

My Lords, my noble friend will recognise that Ministers are responsible for the application of the rules. He is right that very senior members of the Civil Service are likely to be much in demand because of the wealth of their experience. He will recognise that they have to be approved by the independent Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. Its members include the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon and the noble Lords, Lord Maclennan and Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, some of whom I can see in their places today. They give their advice to the Prime Minister or to a senior Minister on whether such appointments should go ahead. That is a sufficient safeguard for probity in this respect.

My Lords, does that apply at all levels? Will the Minister define “employment”? Does it mean paid employment, or would people be entitled to take up work with a charity or some similar organisation that might be unpaid but might use the information that they acquired in their post?

My Lords, the arrangements vary according to the level of post that the individual has held in the Civil Service. As the noble Baroness would rightly recognise, the arrangements that apply for former Cabinet Secretaries are not going to apply to a clerk in the Department for Transport, for example. However, the concept is the same. It must be clear that, as my noble friend Lord Barnett indicated, because of the obvious advantage that might accrue to a private enterprise as the result of the experience of an individual in the public service, safeguards are there under the code to which all civil servants subscribe and which is part of their conditions of service.

My Lords, the Minister has acknowledged my interest as a member of the committee. Have the Government received, and will they reply to, the report on ethical regulation from the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Administration? Secondly, will the Government give consideration to the possibility that it might assist members of the Civil Service to find highly appropriate work in the private sector if they were directly to employ across the board the services of executive recruitment companies?

My Lords, that is an interesting point from a very important source. Of course, I acknowledge that the Select Committee on Public Administration in the other place is doing very important work on these issues. The Government will respond to its recommendations in due course. That serious work has been going on for a considerable period of time. That committee is there to be concerned about the whole range of ethical standards in public life and probity. Its recommendations will require significant consideration by the Government.

My Lords, do the rules apply to political advisers, who may have the same sort of inside information?

My Lords, specials advisers certainly come within the framework of these rules as well. Their case is slightly different, in that they are finally vetted not by Ministers, but by the head of the Home Civil Service, for obvious reasons. However, political advisers are civil servants of a special kind, and they fit within the broad parameters of the arrangements that I have described.

My Lords, the Minister’s reference to the Civil Service Management Code prompts the question when we might expect to see the Civil Service Bill.

My Lords, I thought that that question might arise. It is the first time that it has been directed at me. I am in a position of saying, “Not yet”.