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About 5 per cent. of civil service posts are reserved for UK nationals only. The remaining 95 per cent. of posts are open not just to UK nationals, but to Commonwealth citizens, and to European economic area, Swiss and Turkish nationals and certain of their family members irrespective of their nationality. Other nationals may exceptionally be employed in the civil service only in the very limited circumstances set out in the Aliens' Employment Act 1955; that is, to certain overseas postings, or if granted an alien's certificate in respect of their employment. During 2006-07, only
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66 aliens' certificates were in force throughout the civil service. Those arrangements are not consistent with our wish to build a civil service that reflects the society it serves and to attract the best of people.

In a nutshell, the Bill would give individuals the opportunity, irrespective of their nationality, to be considered for the vast majority of posts in the civil service, and in other posts of employment under the Crown. Appointment would continue to be subject to the existing rules of selection on merit, and the pre-appointment character and security checks undertaken in respect of all new appointees regardless of nationality would continue to apply.

The House should also be reassured that nothing in this Bill will change the requirements regarding eligibility to work in the United Kingdom generally. Requisite work permits will still have to be in place and there will be no question of individuals bypassing the immigration process.

The Bill will still allow certain posts to be reserved for UK nationals by giving to a Minister of the Crown, or to any person or body to whom that power has been delegated by a Minister of the Crown, the power to make rules imposing nationality requirements in respect of certain posts or categories of posts. It is intended that this power will be used only in respect of posts where considerations such as national security, intelligence, border control or diplomatic representation would apply, thereby requiring the posts to be reserved for UK nationals. This is assessed at no more than 5 per cent. of all posts within the civil service.

As this is a private Member’s Bill, section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which requires a statement of compatibility with convention rights where a Minister of the Crown is in charge of a Bill, does not apply. However, as a matter of good practice, it falls to me to express the Government's views on compatibility. The Bill will relax the current restrictions on eligibility for employment on nationality grounds in the civil service and in other posts of employment under the Crown. In doing so, it will not breach the provisions of the Human Rights Act.

Under clause 2, the reservation of certain posts to employees who are UK nationals will be authorised by rules made by a Minister of the Crown or by any person or body to whom that power has been delegated by a Minister of the Crown. The intention is that any such rules will preserve the rights of existing employees, and provision is made for that in clause 2(4). Indeed, any rules would have to comply with the convention under the provisions of the Human Rights Act. On those grounds, the Bill will be compatible with the convention.

On Queen’s consent, I also need to signal that the Bill has been subject to consultation with Her Majesty the Queen, as it has two identifiable impacts on the Crown. The first is the more technical of the two, but it will be of particular interest to this House. It is that the Bill will result in the existing royal prerogative in relation to the fixing of nationality rules under Orders in Council being replaced by a power for a Minister of the Crown to make rules and to delegate that power, as
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appropriate, to any person or body. In that way, the royal prerogative will be replaced by a power conferred by Parliament.

The second impact is that, as the Bill will extend to employment in any civil capacity under the Crown, it will also apply to the royal household. Employment in the royal household would therefore be open to people of all nationalities, unless rules similar to those planned for the civil service were put in place. Under the terms of the Bill, it would be possible for any such rules in respect of the royal household to be made by a person or body acting under a delegation from a Minister of the Crown. Accordingly, I can confirm that I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Crown Employment (Nationality) Bill, has kindly consented to place her prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of debating the Bill.

I want briefly to refer to some of the points raised by hon. Members in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller)—a very fine constituency represented by a very fine Member of Parliament—raised the issue of the rules to deal with anomalous situations. His contribution was helpful and constructive, and I can tell him that the Bill would remove existing restrictions and anomalies on eligibility for employment in the civil service on nationality grounds. If the Bill is passed, the Government intend any rules made under clause 2 to relate only to the small percentage of posts that will be reserved for UK nationals.

Mr. Heald: I notice that the new Leader of the House is with us. I shadowed her for some time at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and on behalf of the Opposition may I say that she made a major contribution and that we welcome her to her new responsibilities? I also congratulate her on her victory in the deputy leadership contest for the Labour party—it was a cliffhanger.

Andrew Miller: He is coming over!

Mr. Heald: I am not coming over, but I wanted to make that point.

Gillian Merron: I concur with all the hon. Gentleman’s comments. If I may speak on behalf of the Leader of the House, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generous welcome.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon discussed the timetable for Queen’s consent. A request was sent to the palace, which allowed ample time for consent to be given. I assure my hon. Friend that the Department kept on top of the matter in order to ensure that we would obtain Queen’s consent in time for today, and I am delighted that that has happened.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) asked about allegiance to the Crown. It is a matter of employment under the Crown that a civil servant owes allegiance to the Crown, whatever their nationality.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) asked about the employment status of a
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Commonwealth citizen whose country leaves the Commonwealth. I am happy to write to him on that important point.

In conclusion, the changes that the Bill will introduce are deregulatory and will be welcomed by Departments and agencies. The nationality rules, as they affect employment or holding office in a civil capacity under the Crown, have been the subject of critical correspondence from MPs for many years, and I am glad that the Bill will receive cross-party support today and that the Government support it.

10.45 pm

Mr. Dismore: I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on her new appointment and, more importantly, on her support for the Bill. I hope that this is the start of an excellent relationship and that we will take the Bill through Committee, should it find the favour of the House. As nobody has opposed it, I hope that it will.

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) asked when the last prosecution for illegal employment took place. I suspect that there has not been one, because the civil service makes the necessary checks to ensure that it does not employ people illegally. I am sure that a permanent secretary would not like to be in the dock for employing somebody who should not have been so employed. I made that particular point to show how serious the restriction is and what would happen if someone were employed unlawfully.

My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the Bill’s compatibility with the Human Rights Act 1998. As Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I was very pleased to hear her say that. The Committee has not scrutinised the Bill yet, but bearing in mind my views about that Act, I would be surprised if the Committee did not endorse the Bill as a measure that enhances human rights rather than simply being compliant.

I listened to what my hon. Friend had to say about Queen’s consent. I know that her Department was hassling the palace, because I was hassling her Department by e-mail and phone. If the difficulties were not in the Department, then presumably they were at the palace.

Mr. Greg Knight: Presumably the Bill cannot apply to three members of the royal household, namely the Treasurer, the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Vice-Chamberlain, who are also Members of this House.

Mr. Dismore: I assume that that must be the case. Those offices under the Crown are probably distinct from employment in the civil service, which the Bill addresses. Those posts could become reserved positions, if they are important to national security. The answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that if those posts are not reserved, they ought to be.

Mr. Heath: If those posts were to fall under the Bill, there would be an employment relationship. That would be a disqualification under the Disqualification
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Act 1975, and the office holders would therefore cease to be Members of the House.

Mr. Dismore: The hon. Gentleman is right—it is a bit like the Chiltern hundreds. I would hate to see my hon. Friend the pairing Whip disappear because he was employed rather than undertaking an office of profit under the Crown.

Mr. Heald: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that any elected Member of this House would have to comply with the Representation of the People Act, so it would not be open to someone outside the EU or the Commonwealth to come here as a result of the Bill?

Mr. Dismore: We are heading off into the realm of fantasy. If we had to address that situation, I am sure that we could deal with it in regulation. I will not try to work out exactly who is or is not entitled to sit in this House—I am not sure whether Commonwealth citizens are entitled.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) asked what would happen if a country were to leave the Commonwealth. I suppose that the same issue would arise if a country were to leave the European Union. In such circumstances, the contract of employment would be void because of its illegality under existing employment law. [ Interruption . ] The hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth), who is a professor of law, may correct me if I am wrong—it is a little while since I did my employment law in this respect—but I think that that would probably the be the answer. It would become illegal for them to be employed and the contract would be void with no rights of enforcement for compensation.

Mr. Heald: I recollect that under the Aliens’ Employment Act 1955 the Minister for the Civil Service is able to give his consent and so would be able to intervene in an unusual case where there were compassionate circumstances.

Mr. Dismore: The certificate could be granted only in very restricted circumstances—that is, if no UK national was available to fill the post or if it required some very high level of skill. The hon. Gentleman might be right in certain circumstances, but the generality is that the right to a certificate or the power to grant a certificate may not apply.

Mr. Heath: I do not want to prolong this erudite discussion, but the answer may be that the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919 provides that no alien shall be appointed to any office. The person would qualify at the point of appointment; it does not say that they should not be employed.

Mr. Dismore: The hon. Gentleman may be right. That issue might be for the House of Lords were it ever to arise. I sincerely hope that it does not, because it would probably bankrupt the civil service unions. Of course, under my Bill it would not arise, as the hon. Gentleman conceded in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller). The avoidance of such arguments is another good reason why the Bill should proceed.

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On the question of why there would be the power to make rules under the Bill, the answer lies in my introductory remarks. Because the current law is so complex and has developed over such a long period with so many amendments and amendments to amendments, we have ended up with an enormous, complicated chain. The Bill would provide the flexibility to change things as and when circumstances may change, without having to go through the whole rigmarole of hoop jumping that has got us where we are today.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) indicated support for the Bill on behalf of the Opposition. I take his point about the Civil Service Bill, but, as I said, the problem with that was that it was a very big Bill that was not really appropriate for private Members’ legislation. If there were to be such a Bill, there is a strong argument for saying that the Government should introduce it. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman’s Bill did not progress because it was not really suitable as a private Member’s Bill, as I am sure he would privately concede.

The number of reserved posts has fallen primarily as a consequence of the European Communities (Employment in the Civil Service) Order 2007. If the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire wants to look at the detail, articles 2(6), (7), (8) and (9) set out the extent of the restrictions, which are common-sense restrictions that clearly involve some thought as to what is necessary for operational reasons.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the late Eric Forth’s point about the question of nationality. The late Mr. Forth and I used to joust across the Floor of the House on most Fridays. We had mutual respect and, I think, a degree of friendship and acknowledgement of each other’s skills in trying to frustrate Bills or, in my case, trying to get them through. I do not think that he tried to get his own Bill through, but he certainly used certain techniques to get his hon. Friends’ Bills
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through. He used to come in on a Friday morning to see the lambs to the slaughter. It was a question of who had had the common sense to try to consult a little beforehand about the tactics that should be involved. We used to enjoy those exchanges and compliment each other. I would take it as a compliment if Eric Forth were trying to frustrate my Bill, and I think he would take it as a compliment that I managed to get as far as Report stage two years ago. Let us see how we get on with this particular measure today and in the next few weeks.

The substantive point concerned nationality. Of course, it now takes some time to get UK nationality, and rightly—it is not something that should be handed out with the rations or in a box of cornflakes. It is important to recognise that some people may want to keep their own nationality with the long-term object of returning to the home countries from which they fled as refugees. In those circumstances, it would be good for our country to be able to offer them posts in the civil service and to gain their experience of overseas methods of administration. Equally, it would be good for them, should they be able to return to their own countries—on the restoration of democracy, for example—and become re-engaged in their service, to take with them the experience of the British civil service, which I think is the best in the world, and thereby enhance those countries’ administration. Leaving aside refugees, we may want to be able to help countries in other parts of the world through mutual secondments and exchanges whereby people are employed in the respective civil services, again to gain that experience for the purposes of spreading good practice. At present, that would be very difficult.

I think that I have dealt with most of the points raised in the debate. I hope that the Bill will find favour with the House and go into Committee. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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Historic Counties, Towns and Villages (Traffic Signs and Mapping) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

10.56 pm

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I am delighted to be given a second opportunity to talk about the Bill that I am putting before the House for its Second Reading. It originated as a ten-minute Bill. I am thrilled that it has come up again and delighted to be able to present my argument to the Minister.

Essentially, what needs to happen in our country is the restoration of identities at every level, whether it be a county, a town, a village or even a local community or small hamlet. Everybody is proud of where they come from—I certainly am. As the Minister knows, our new Prime Minister represents the town where he grew up and lived in his younger days, and so do I. It makes a Member of Parliament particularly proud to represent their home town. I hope that the House will understand when I say that Members who represent the local community where they went to school and were brought up understand it more than if they are parachuted into a constituency with which they have few links.

I have deep-rooted links to my constituency and to my county of Essex. I am proud to come from Essex, but Essex is a particularly obvious example of how local government administrative changes over the years have ripped counties apart and put pieces of them into other areas—in my case, into Greater London. My part of the country is not the only place so affected: there are many examples of the red pen of the bureaucrat in Whitehall decimating local identities and taking away real meaning from towns, villages, communities and, indeed, counties. If we fail to understand and acknowledge the history of this country, the traditions, the roots and everything that was founded so many centuries ago, and if we allow short-term ideas to get in the way of upholding those traditions, the country will be the poorer as a result. The main purpose of my Bill is to restore identity.

When I travel, as I do all the time, from Westminster to my home town of Romford, it never ceases to anger me that there is no sign to say that I am crossing the historic county boundary of Essex. The Minister may know that the boundary is the River Lee, which was the historic boundary of Essex for many centuries before the local government changes of the 1960s and 1970s, yet there is no indication of that.

I know from speaking to many people in my part of the country that they are proud of their local identity and angry about being branded part of “Greater London”. They understand that, for administrative purposes, there are occasionally reasons to create a regional administrative authority; there is also a purpose in creating an electoral boundary. However, those boundaries are only for administrative and electoral purposes and should never be allowed to take away the true identities of counties, towns, villages and communities the length and breadth of this country. That is exactly what has been happening since the changes were made.

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