|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Dismore: I certainly accept the point that you are making, Madam Deputy Speaker, but part 2 of the Bill proposed by the Opposition deals entirely with those issues. I am trying to respond to some of the points that were made yesterday but which I did not deal with in the speech that I made then.
If someone is given British nationality, that is no guarantee of their commitment to this country and our security. That commitment can best be shown by a willingness to work in our public services. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst was concerned about the natural suspicion of foreign nationals that, he felt, was rampant throughout the country.
Mr. Dismore: Very well, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I could put it this way. It has been suggested that there is a suspicion of foreign nationals throughout the country. I challenge that, but even if it were the case, it is a reflection of the un-national, irrational xenophobia often displayed by Opposition Members. Some of the people about whom we are concerned, such as Mr. Abu Hamza, are British nationals and could join the civil service. By the same token, the widow of a British victim of 11 September could not, because she is an American national.
There is discrimination against Commonwealth and Irish citizens under existing arrangements, as they are excluded from applying for 25 per cent. of civil service posts. In fact, only 10 per cent. of posts need to be restricted on grounds of nationality for security reasons, but the definition of public service effectively excludes such people from 25 per cent. of those posts. There are severe illogicalities and anomalies in the system. For example, the wife of a British citizen who is a Chinese, Russian or Japanese national is forbidden from joining the civil service, but the Chinese, Russian or Japanese wife of a French citizen living in the United Kingdom is permitted to join the civil service. Surely, it is not right that the spouse of a foreigner can join the civil service but the spouse of a Briton cannot. As an illustration, I recently received an e-mail from Mr. Martin
I have tried to show that existing rules cause great distress, not just to people from overseas who would like to work for our civil service but to UK citizens who are their spouses. More importantly, they undermine the ethos of our civil service, which should, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe said, be open to appointment on merit with the exception of the 10 per cent. of jobs that have to be reserved to UK nationals for operational reasons. At the same time, those rules do not reflect the society that we serve. Part 2 of the Opposition's Bill is important, so I hope that they will support my ten-minute Bill when it receives its Second Reading. [Interruption.]
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the conversation that I was just having with my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie). I also apologise to the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) for not being present for all of his speech. He had the courtesy to write to me to say that he was going to mention me in his speech. Unfortunately, however, I had to attend a sitting of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, as a report is being signed off at the moment.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), who steered his Committee through an interesting, frustrating and at times downright difficult process. Having taken evidence from witnesses and undertaken many other tasks, we succeeded in publishing a draft Bill. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) was the single dissenting voice, but his minority report made interesting reading in its own right, because he raised many of the things that the Government will have to face when they introduce their Bill in this Session.
When I first came to the House, I did not have a view on whether or not there should be a civil service Bill. The Minister may not like this, but I changed my mind after a Select Committee visit to Bristol. We took evidence from hospital staff, teachers and many others in preparation for a report on the ethos of the civil service. We discovered an endemic culture of bullying and targets, and found that an all-pervading top-down ethos was being pumped into the people who were least able to defend themselves. I changed my mind about the need for legislation after meeting people at a certain level who found it almost impossible to get their voice heard. They did not believe that they could go to the topthey did not think that they would be listened to by the Minister or other Government members and they did not believe
As the hon. Member for Cannock Chase said, it is vital that the process by which the Bill is brought before the House and becomes law is bipartisan. When I first heard about the debate, I was fairly vociferous in expressing my views to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), who said that it would take place in the spirit of teasing out of the Government when the draft Bill was to be produced. The Government have now committed themselves to that, for which I must thank them.
What is the definition of a civil servant? As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) said, a civil servant should be a person who is paid for by the Crownin other words, by the Government. I agree. Our report states:
I want, if I may, to go slightly further. When we took witness statements, it became obvious that almost everybody saw the need for legislation of some kind. That is endemic in the Jo MooreSixsmith affair that started all this. When I came to this place, I had no experience of special advisersI had not been one, I had never met one, and I did not know what they did. All I knew was that Tony Benn had two of them, because he said so in his diaries some years ago. According to those diaries, they did exactly what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe saidthat is, they advised the Minister, and nothing more. They did not, for example, give executive orders. An enormous shift has taken place since then.
The role of special advisers has to be reviewed. As they are political, they must come under the control of this place. A special adviser is there to advise, not to administerif that is required, another Minister should
I remember Ministersnot this Ministersaying to the Committee, "This was in our manifesto in 1997 and has been in it beforeI'm sorry it has taken so long." I would have thought the Government's own civil service would say that legislation is vital. Certainly, when the noble Lords Wilson, Butler and Armstrong came before the Committee there was no doubt that they thought that there had to be some form of protection. They were incredibly capable menthe most impressive witnesses we have had, with the possible exception of Sir Andrew Turnbullas heads of the civil service. I did not agree with everything that they said, but I fundamentally accepted that they knew better than we did, given their longevity of service. It was interesting to talk to Lord Wilson in a private capacity when I happened to bump into him. He was very keen to get the Bill launched, either in the Lords or here. He felt that unless something happened soon, the frustration of many people, including civil servants, would boil over. That is why today's announcement by the Government is so vital.
The witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee were of incredibly high quality. When the Government consult on the Bill, I urge them to talk, in an open and frank manner, to those people, because weanother colleague, the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), has just come ingained a phenomenal depth of understanding in a very short time. I do not believe that hon. Members will seriously contest the Bill, although it will be tinkered with through amendments and suggestions, but that does not mean that we should not consult on it beforehand. I suspect that the Minister may find that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase and his Committee may look at the matter againwe may even move our own amendments.
I wonder how such a Bill will be affected by the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which comes into force in 2005. Will it mean that Select Committees are able to call for people whom we cannot call at the moment?
Having started from a point where I did not see the need for a Bill, I am now firmly wedded to it. We need it as a matter of urgent priority. Having listened to hon. Members, it is clear to me that it has the backing of the House. If the Minister wants to try to avoid some of the more ridiculous things that have happened in the past, and will happen in futurean article by Mr. Peter Riddell in The Times gave a clear account of thatone way of doing that is through openness and an Act that will give civil servants the protection that they require from this place, so that they at least know to whom they can turn when all else fails.