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Mr. Chope: I am sad to report to my right hon. Friend that I have received no communication whatever. In fairness, it may be that because my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst is the lead name on the new clause, he has been the recipient of such information. However, had the Bill's promoter wanted to discuss the merits of the new clause, he would have sought and obtained the opportunity to do so by now. In the absence of anything from the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), one assumes that he and perhaps the Government oppose it. We shall have to find out.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con):
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has done a signal service in bringing the new clause to our attention. When the Bill came into Committee, as so often happens with private Member's business, we proceeded expeditiously on the sound basis that the best place for such a short Bill to receive scrutiny is on Report.
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The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) will recollect that I expressed reservations about the workings in practice of the proposal. Although it looks good on paper in terms of freeing up what has been called an archaic procedure, it has the consequence of leaving open an anxiety in the public's mind about what constitutes a civil servant and whether that requires a high standard of conduct and confidence in them. It also has the consequence, as has been highlighted, of doing something that we do frequently in this place. It pretends to remove what had been a blanket prohibition with very limited exceptions, but then gives Ministers power to regulate entirely as they see fitin this case so as to pick and choose which foreign nationals may thereafter be able to work in the civil servicesetting out rules that, to all intents and purposes, will be devoid of parliamentary scrutiny.
That is a serious matter, because once we, as a House, pass this Bill, we surrender our scrutiny rights, and it will be for Ministers to make those regulations. There must be a fear that, in the process, people will start to consider that they have been treated unfairly. They will have had their expectations raised as to their ability to apply for a civil service job, notwithstanding the fact that they are foreign nationals. However, they will then find that they are prevented from being in that employment by potentially complex rules introduced by the Government. They might be excluded because they are of a nationality that the Government regard as dubious in relation to working in the civil service because it might prejudice their impartiality or their ability to be a loyal servant of the Crown, or, even worse, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch pointed out, because they are married or related to somebody who falls into a category regarded as being of dubious loyalty to this country, or even as having inimical views about it. Effectively they would have no redress.
I suppose that the situation might be susceptible to judicial review, but that is a ponderous process, as we all know, and it is the only mechanism by which the Government's rules and guidelines would be capable of being tested. My hon. Friend has therefore touched on an important issue. If we are to free up the civil service in the way that the hon. Member for Hendon wantsI understand that the Government support his ideasthere ought to be a tribunal system to allow for an easy method of appeal if somebody feels that they have been unfairly excluded from taking employment with the Crown.
In Committee, I proposed a way round that, or at least one that might go some way to solving the problem. I suggested that an oath be taken by those who want to take up Crown employment in a civil capacity, on the basis that people might be uneasy about taking such an oath if they had hostile intentions towards this country. It would at least put people on the spot and require them to state publicly whether they intended to be a loyal Crown servant. That did not commend itself to the Government or the hon. Gentleman, and it was suggested to me that such an oath would present certain problems because it would have to apply to everybody, not just foreign nationals, and that could not be done in this Bill.
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I was therefore unable to take my idea further, but it was a matter that troubled me a great deal at the time, and the new clause goes some way towards solving the problem in a satisfactory manner. It provides for a framework of greater fairness and, above all, ensures that the Government are not simply given free rein to pick and choose which country is on the list of those prohibited. After all, such a list might change from week to week. It seems to me that an individual's country of origin has very little bearing on his likely loyalty to this country. Indeed, arguably, those who come from the countries that are most hostile to ours, and are perhaps living here as refugees, might be the keenest to serve this country and the Crown in a civil capacity and might do so extremely well. Yet in all likelihood those are the very people whom the Government will exclude, without any means of redress.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): It is precisely the people who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s, because they hated Nazi Germany, who were interned by the Government. That makes the point that the people who are here are often those whom we should trust most.
Mr. Grieve: I agree entirely. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister how the categories of countries are to be determined and what the rationale will be. I know that the Government exercised a supportive hand in relation to the Bill. Presumably, they would not have encouraged the hon. Member for Hendon to present the Bill in its current form had they not had in mind regulations and countries that would fall within those regulations. Given that the issue has not been debated in Committee, the Minister must now give the House chapter and verse on those countries that she envisages will present difficulties.
We are talking of two different things. The first is an individual's personal characteristics, which could lead them to be turned down for work in the civil service even if they are a British national. The second is the fact that an individual is associated with a specific foreign country. The Government must already know which foreign countries they will put on the blacklist, and in the course of this afternoon's debate the House should be told which.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Is it sufficient to have a country blacklisted? There may well be within a country with a pernicious regime nationals who oppose that regime and who would therefore be perfectly acceptable.
I agree entirely. One could break down the categories. Certain segments of the population in some countries are hostile to the Governments of those countries; such people could be regarded on first assessment as likely to be extremely loyal to this country. Then again, we must face the fact that we live in a diverse world and we are all individuals. To say something pleasant about the Bill, I have always maintained that its merit is that it correctly identifies the fact that blanket prohibitions are often foolish. We highlighted in Committee examples of British citizens
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who in the 18th century went abroad to take service with foreign Governments, which was fully permissible because they did not have an Act of Settlement as we have. One of my forebears did precisely that in Russia. They served those foreign Governments very well, but apparently that did not interfere with their loyalty to this country, as they tended to retire here.
Concentrating on an individual's qualities or lack thereof is very sensible. However, the Bill replaces one set of prejudices with another. A blanket prohibition whereby only British nationals may be British civil servantsother than in exceptional cases, when an Order in Council has to be passed and signed to enable them to take up serviceat least has the merit of having some rational sense behind it. The Bill would replace that with a system whereby the Government can pick and choose what regulatory framework they want to set up to facilitate the nationals of some foreign countries, who might turn out to be disloyal, and to disadvantage the nationals of other foreign countries, who might have served this country well.
That is why I think that the new clause proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch should be supported. Subject to the Minister's response, to which we will listen carefully, I shall support the new clause if it is pressed to a vote, and I encourage other hon. Members to do so as well.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): As has been mentioned, we are somewhat haunted by the absence of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), in whose name the amendments originally stood. I am sure that he is working extremely hard on behalf of the taxpayerin the Maldives I think, and no doubt I shall be corrected if I am wrong.
The arguments that have been advanced in support of the new clause are disingenuous, because it is essentially about wrecking the Bill. The right hon. and hon. Members who have put their names to it have all expressed opposition in principle to the Bill. In that connection, I exclude the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who has honourably indicated overall support for the Bill. He believes strongly that something needs to be done, but I suspect that he is somewhat out of step with the large number of Back Benchers who have queued up to try to wreck the Bill, no doubt for their own reasons.
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