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I am in favour of the Bill. If it does not succeed today, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will come back with it, as he said he would, and that he might persuade
the Government to adopt it and put it in the Queens Speech. It deals with an anomaly, and I agree that it is a ludicrous situation. I hope that we will make some progress on that.
However, as I foreshadowed in my interventions, I am afraid that I will disappoint my hon. Friend. I cannot maintain the support that my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) gave to the measure when it last appeared before us. I am concerned that the new clause is flawed on two counts. The tribunal would lead to a proliferation in the number of public bodies. I am opposed to that. We have quite enough as it is. As was evidenced by the failure to secure even the broadest estimate from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch as to what the financial implications of the measure would be, it is unclear how much the tribunal would cost and who would pay for itthe litigants or the taxpayer. We cannot be led into supporting a measure that would have those consequences.
It is not terribly clear to me even after my questions as to how necessary the tribunal would be. We have the Human Rights Act. I thought that we might have missed something in Committee, but with due respect to my hon. Friend, it was pretty unclear from his response then how the justiciability of the Human Rights Act would affect these matters and whether we are duplicating a protection that already exists to people who might have considered themselves to be disadvantaged.
Mr. Chope: Perhaps I can explain. The difference between human rights legislation and the protection that I seek to give is that the human rights legislation deals with process, whereas I am concerned about individual injustice being rectified in front of a tribunal in the same way as individual employment injustice can be rectified in front of an employment tribunal.
Greg Clark: I take my hon. Friends point, but presumably the tribunal would have some locus when it comes to procedural injustice, as well as the outcome. A more convincing explanation of the interaction of the Human Rights Act and the tribunal would have helped.
Judicial review is available. I take my hon. Friends point that sometimes that is not accessible because it is expensive, but it is not that no mechanism is available. I was not convinced by his argument that we should add yet another public body to the list. However, if the case is to be made for a genuine appeal tribunal, I do not think that the proposed tribunal goes far enough. A tribunal that does not have a genuine right of redress is misleading.
If there is no obligation on Ministers to take into account, or act on, the considered views of a tribunal, when litigants may have gone to considerable lengths and expense to make their case, it would be most unsatisfactory. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said that the Bill would raise expectations among foreign nationals that they could be employed under the Crown. That is fine. We should be raising expectations. People may already have such expectations and are astonished that they cannot be fulfilled.
My concern about the tribunal is that it could raise the expectation that it has some power. From
correspondence and conversations with my constituents, I know how bitterly disappointed they are about the consequences of the parliamentary ombudsmans report into Equitable Life. That is an analogous situation in which expectations were raised, because complaints were investigated and recommendations made but Ministers roundly ignored them. There is a danger that we could be going down the same route.
Mr. Chope: I, too, have constituents who are concerned about Equitable Life, but unless I have missed something, my understanding is that the case is still being considered by the parliamentary ombudsmaneven at this late stage. She has yet
We have questions about who will serve on the tribunal and whether the tribunal can ever meet the expectations of litigants and people with genuine grievances. As a Front-Bench spokesman, I am enjoined constantly by the shadow Chancellor that our party, in preparing for government, should not enter into unfunded spending commitments. We are rigorous about that, so as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch failed to disclose where the money would come from and how much it would bedespite his 70-minute speechit would be reckless for our party to support from the Front Bench a clause that had such financial consequences.
Mr. Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his candour in sending out such a strong signal. He has indicated that he supports the Bill as drafted, but does he not think that the mere passage of the Bill might incur public expenditure?
Greg Clark: I am not sure that it would. It would allow the Crown access to the best people for the job. At present, we pay employment agencies to fill gaps in civil service employment so if there were more people to choose from it could contribute to economy in the public services, which we would all welcome.
I do not want to detain the House. Important points needed to be put on the record and I hope that in my interventions and these brief remarks I have been able to explain why I cannot lend my hon. Friend support from the Front Bench. None the less, we have had a good discussion; it is important to be candid about such proposals and give them a thorough airing, as we have done. I shall be interested in what the Minister says, especially about the financial consequences of the new clause. Perhaps she will allay my concerns that the costs could be substantial and that they could take the Government along a financial road that the Opposition are reluctant to go down.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office (Gillian Merron):
I urge the House to resist new clause 1. I have listened to the debate and am glad to
have heard again today the commitment to good legislation and transparency we heard in Committee.
I am intrigued by the comments of the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) but welcome the fact that he joins me in resisting the new clause. I very much share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) that the new clause literally does not fit the Bill. I explained in Committee andin view of the time, I shall have to put it like thisI would have liked to reiterate in the debate on the second group of amendments that the Governments intend only a small percentage of civil service posts to be reserved for UK nationals in any rules made under clause 2. Indeed, the Government fully support my hon. Friends desire that the vast majority of civil service posts should be open to all, regardless of nationality. Of course, candidates should be selected on merit, on the basis of fair and open competition, and with all the usual safeguards. We have the best civil service in the world and the best civil servants serving us in this country. We should continue to develop and progress to protect that position.
Lembit Öpik: Given the Ministers comments and the expressed support of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats for the Bill, if it were to fall today, would she introduce it as a Government Bill, knowing that she would get support from all parties?
Gillian Merron: I can certainly give a commitment that the Government are committed to ensuring that the Bills provisions progress, because we feel that that is the sensible way to preserve our place in the world with regard to having the best civil service. The House is aware that some posts in the obvious sensitive areas of security, intelligence, border control, diplomacy and immigration will be reserved for UK nationals, but those posts comprise only about 5 per cent. of all civil service positions. I am sure that the House will agree that it is necessary and perfectly proper for those posts to be reserved for UK nationals.
Philip Davies: Given that the Minister saidquite rightly, in my opinionthat we have the best civil service in the world, based on the current arrangements, can she explain why the Bill is so necessary? How do her remarks about opening things up to foreign nationals meet the Prime Ministers pledge about British jobs for British workers?
I draw the Houses attention to the fact that the Bill provides for rules that contain the flexibility to enable Ministers and, if necessary and appropriate, heads of the security and intelligence services, to grant exemptions in certain cases. I consider it wholly unjustifiable and unnecessary for the Bill to provide for the possible creation of the tribunal suggested in new clause 1. It is an unnecessary level of bureaucracy,
which I would have thought hon. Members would be as keen to resist as I am. I note that the new clause contains only the provision to make recommendations.
I make my comments about the measure being unnecessary and unjustifiable in view of later proposed amendments, which hon. Members will have seen, in which the Government have been most responsive to the Committees deliberations. If we were to get to them, they would introduce parliamentary scrutinysomething not currently in placeand make it quite clear that we are talking about posts and not people. In that respect, the new clause does not fit the Bill, and I urge the House to resist it.
Mr. Chope: This has been a good debate, albeit slightly truncated. The promoter of the Bill, the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), said that he was surprised to have it sprung on him, but he has had more than three years notice of it. He said that he has been trying to get this Bill on the statute book for five years, and every time it comes back, there is scope for it to be improved. That is what we are trying to do today. Surely the serious point is that, if the Bill is that important to the Government, it should be a Government measure. The press tells us today that the House will be underemployed in the coming season because we do not have enough legislation. It is sad that we should describe ourselves as needing legislation in order to be occupied. However, if that is the case, and there are spare days, why do not the Government use them to introduce the Bill so that they can get the credit for it?
Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend makes the important point that there is a hidden agenda. However, perhaps the Government do not want to be seen to support the proposition in public because they believe that they may come in for some criticism at a time when immigration into this country has increased massively. I am not going to go into that now because I hope to discuss it when we consider one of my amendments in the next group.
I encourage hon. Members to take with a pinch of salt the Ministers reply to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). She said that the Government were committed to the provisions in the Bill, but those words hardly suggest enthusiastic commitment by the Government to the measure. It amazes me that, after five years, during which the Government claimed to support the Bill, they have not taken it over.
As the Minister said, we are talking about only 5 per cent. of civil service posts being affected by clause 2, whereas, three years ago, the figure was 10 per cent. That probably has more to do with the increase in the numbers in the civil service than reduction in the scope of clause 2 compared with the current position. The hon. Member for Hendon does himself and the House a disservice when he describes those who ask questions about the Bill and those who support a right of appeal, as outlined in the new clause, as xenophobic. We are quite the reverse. The new clause would enable people who would be counted out under clause 2 to be
counted in after an appeal. It is the opposite of xenophobiaI presume that that is xenophilia. I therefore describe myself as a xenophiliac on the matter.
The hon. Member for Hendon criticises the new clause on the basis that I got it all wrong. Fortunately, he did not pursue the suggestion that it should not have been selected. One of the reasons for his confusion is that he has anticipated our accepting the amendments in the next group. We have not accepted them and, therefore, his reference to posts rather than people does not apply. He shakes his head, but clause 2 is entitled Power to impose new nationality requirements and states:
Rules may be made imposing requirements as to nationality which must be satisfied by a person employed.
as to nationality which must be satisfied by persons of a description specified.
Although Government amendments would make persons posts, they have not been passed. Perhaps that will happen later today, but it has not happened yet. We must therefore consider the new clause as introducing an appeals procedure under the Bill as it was presented to the House and considered in detail in Committee. It therefore does not wash for the hon. Gentleman to say that the new clause does not fit the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman says that there is no requirement that the appeal process must result in the Minister accepting the recommendation. However, that is a point in favour of the new clause and shows how reasonable it is. If, for instance, some sensitive information comes to light in the context of the security service, the Minister can take that into account, even though the tribunal that I propose to set up perhaps would not have been able to do so in its considerations. Again, that argument is not a valid objection to the new clause. The other point that I find odd is that three years ago the hon. Gentleman said that he was neutral on the new clause. Now he is allying himself against it, but he has not produced any arguments in support of that position, other than the fact that those on his Front Bench are against it and he perhaps thinks that it is in his best interests to go along with them.
I much enjoyed the contribution that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire made. He shows himself to be a person of generous spirit. We obviously wish him well in his campaign to become the president of his partysome of us wonder why he is not setting his sights even higher, to become leader of his party. I think that he would be the first Estonian-born leader of the Liberal Democrats or, indeed, of any party in this
Mr. Chope: Absolutely, Mr. Deputy Speaker; although if the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire was engaged in that activity, he would not have been with us today, and we have all benefited from his contribution to the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) was polite but quite persistent in suggesting that the terms of my new clause were not robust enough. He persisted in his criticisms in a series of interventions during my introductory remarks and said that we needed a much more watertight appeal mechanism. As I said earlier, new clause 1 is a lot better than it might otherwise have been. Because we are potentially dealing with security issues, there is a reason to say to the Government, Well, there may be circumstances in which you wont be able to accept the recommendations of a tribunal, although I would hope that that would happen in the minority of cases. However, we have made a reasonable attempt to secure a form of words that could not be criticised on the grounds that I am being naive about national security. There is no reason why a tribunal would necessarily be able to have before it all the information relevant to national security matters. That is why there should be a residual discretion, to be exercised reasonably by the Government, in considering the appeal process.
My hon. Friend also asked why we could not have an appointments commission deciding on the composition of the tribunal. Again, I do not disagree with the principle of the idea, borne out of his strong and understandable feeling that too many appointments to bodies are rigged by the Government. The proposal has not been included in the new clause, again because we hope that the Government would be more benevolent in their outlook and not feel the need to pack a tribunal with its own devotees, but instead be quite content to let people with objective judgment and experience take on that role.
My hon. Friend also said that new clause 1 should contain a requirement that we see the draft regulations first. As I pointed out to him, there is nothing in the proposal that precludes the provision of draft regulations, and it would indeed be desirable to see the regulations in draft so that they could be the subject of consultation. Such consultation would not, however, mean that the regulations would be acceptable either to me or to other hon. Members. It is within the Governments remit to decide what the regulations should be. My hon. Friend also expressed his concern about the European convention on human rights and wondered whether there would be a duplication involved.
The most pertinent comments, which went to the heart of the issue, were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). He is an avowed and unapologetic supporter of the Bill, and he is concerned that the Government say that they support it yet are not prepared to introduce such a measure in Government time. He is also worried about the proliferation of public bodies, and I share that concern. I would be happy to work with him, as we prepare for government, to draw up an agenda for significantly reducing the number of such bodies.
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