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Session 2006 - 07
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General Committee Debates
Crown Employment (Nationality) Bill

Crown Employment (Nationality) Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mrs. Joan Humble
Austin, John (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
Baker, Norman (Lewes) (LD)
Bellingham, Mr. Henry (North-West Norfolk) (Con)
Bone, Mr. Peter (Wellingborough) (Con)
Brooke, Annette (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD)
Buck, Ms Karen (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab)
Chope, Mr. Christopher (Christchurch) (Con)
Davies, Philip (Shipley) (Con)
Dismore, Mr. Andrew (Hendon) (Lab)
Khan, Mr. Sadiq (Tooting) (Lab)
Knight, Mr. Greg (East Yorkshire) (Con)
Love, Mr. Andrew (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)
McIsaac, Shona (Cleethorpes) (Lab)
Merron, Gillian ( Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office )
Miller, Andrew (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
Slaughter, Mr. Andy (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab)
Alan Sandall, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Wednesday 11 July 2007

[Mrs. Joan Humble in the Chair]

Crown Employment (Nationality) Bill

Clause 1

Removal of existing nationality requirements
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
9.30 am
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Good morning, Mrs. Humble. I welcome you to the Chair. This is the first time that I have served in Committee under your chairmanship, and I am sure that it will be a good experience.
Without wishing to repeat my remarks on Second Reading and on many occasions in the House, clause 1 is the meat of the Bill. Its purpose is to open up employment under the Crown to all nationalities outside the existing restrictions, while empowering Ministers to introduce restrictions to reserve certain numbers of jobs for United Kingdom nationals—about 5 per cent. of the overall total.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): What will happen if the Bill passes through Committee today? It will obviously be discussed on Report, but how will it get on to the statute book during this Session, particularly bearing in mind the constraints in the other place?
Mr. Dismore: If we complete the Bill’s Committee stage this morning, we shall have a good slot on 19 October—all being well. Those in the other place try to act expeditiously in respect of Bills that start here, so we will have a reasonable shot at it, depending on the views that are expressed today and on Report.
A couple of years ago, the Bill managed to reach discussion on Report, so we shall wait to see how we get on now. Obviously, a lot depends on the view of the Opposition. I understand that they support it, as do the Liberal Democrats. However, no doubt we shall hear from them in due course.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman have hard case evidence that the existing law is causing problems?
Mr. Dismore: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this is not my first attempt with the Bill. I have received e-mails from people throughout the country explaining how the law affects them. In particular, I recall someone who e-mailed me from Portsmouth or Southampton because they were concerned about the position of their spouse. I think that the right hon. Gentleman was present at the debate on Second Reading, so he will remember our discussing the anomalous position of the spouse. We debated circumstances in which the spouse of an European economic area national could be employed, but the spouse of a British national could not, if the spouse in each case was not qualified.
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): I assure my hon. Friend that I have had cases in my constituency of spouses and children of people with joint American citizenship. In one case, a young man was turned away from the new deal programme. He was turned away from working on the front desk of the Employment Service, because he did not fulfil the criteria.
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend has made an important point. A Canadian citizen can be employed, but an American citizen cannot, because one is from a Commonwealth country while the other is not. I outlined a bizarre scenario on Second Reading concerning a terrorist suspect with United Kingdom nationality. For example, Abu Hamza is now in prison, but theoretically he is entitled to apply for any job in the civil service, but the widow of a 9/11 victim would not be allowed to do so, if she were an American national, which cannot be right.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has moved on to a slightly worrying subject. The country is currently concerned about terrorist cells infiltrating organisations, as has recently happened in the NHS. Is now therefore a time to be more careful rather than more liberal on such issues?
Mr. Dismore: My Bill will, in fact, achieve that objective. At the moment, we have a range of anomalies that introduces some unjustified restrictions without imposing others that might be justified. We must ensure that people who work in the UK are entitled properly to do so through the work permit system, the new points-based system or whatever. The Bill will not affect immigration or asylum law. People who want to work in the UK, whether for a commercial operation or the civil service, must have the appropriate certificates.
Another issue is the checks to establish whether a person is whom they purport to be and whether they have the right qualifications or security clearance. The Bill would not affect the security clearance arrangements for existing posts, but it would enable a Minister to say that a particular job is so important that it must be reserved for a UK national. As I mentioned on Second Reading, about 5 per cent. of the total are jobs in defence, the Foreign Office and security. Originally, when we started the campaign several years ago, it was thought that such jobs made up 10 per cent. of the total but, following detailed consideration, the number has been whittled down to 5 per cent., particularly because jobs in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs do not now need to be excluded.
There was a particular shortage in Northern Ireland because some 25 per cent. of the population were effectively excluded because they had Irish rather than UK nationality. That was resolved earlier this year by order as part of the St. Andrews agreement. There has been some movement, but the basic principles still apply, and they create a capacity for huge anomalies, which the Bill could resolve relatively easily. The Bill would ensure that we end up with a civil service that reflects the society that it serves, which is particularly important in London, while providing the necessary protection for sensitive jobs.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May I return to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire? Is the hon. Member for Hendon saying that there is a shortage of applicants for positions in the civil service, because I am not aware of any such situation in West Yorkshire? Alternatively, is he saying that the calibre of applicants is so low that widening the pool is necessary? Is the Bill a solution in search of a problem?
Mr. Dismore: No. I cannot comment on the position in Yorkshire, but in London, the civil service has a recruitment problem because, regrettably, the pay is not competitive in the London market. The figures show that 7 per cent. of the working-age population are entirely excluded from applying for jobs in the civil service, which amounts to some 330,000 people. That means that we end up with a civil service that does not recruit from the best talent and that has difficulty in recruiting.
It is important in London for the civil service to reflect the communities that it serves, as the police have found. It makes sense, for example, for a social security office in the east end to employ some staff who can speak the minority languages that their customers are likely to speak—apart from anything else, that makes such offices more efficient.
Mr. Knight: Is not the answer to move many of the civil service posts out of overcrowded, overpaid London and into the beautiful areas of, for example, East Yorkshire or West Yorkshire?
Mr. Dismore: The right hon. Gentleman has made a fair point. A large number of civil service jobs have been moved, but their offices must still service the population of London. We must ensure that the diversity of London is reflected in those offices. Some of the offices that have been moved out do not relate to the circumstances of their London customers and do not understand London, the languages spoken by Londoners and the cultures in London. Social security matters, such as pensions, are now administered in Glasgow, and it may be difficult for people there to relate to others who speak with, for example, a strong Yorkshire accent. I have been in London for more than 30 years, and my Yorkshire accent has lost some of its edge. I imagine that some would find it difficult to understand civil servants with a broad Glaswegian or West Yorkshire accent.
Ms Buck: Does my hon. Friend recognise that there are areas, such as wards in my constituency, in which 83 per cent. of children live in workless households? We have a serious problem of concentrated unemployment in London. In fact, we have more unemployed than in the whole of Scotland and Wales put together. However, there is a mismatch between our unemployed and the jobs available. It is clearly ludicrous that the very people who are unemployed and who would provide a high quality service to their own communities are excluded from front-line jobs, such as working on the front desk of a jobcentre or the Employment Service.
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend has made her point very well. If we look at unemployment levels, we see that six out of the 10 areas with the highest levels of children living in poverty are in London. People think that the streets are paved with gold in London. When hon. Members come to London, all they see are the environs of Westminster, the airports and the railway stations. They do not see what a lot of us see in our constituencies, which is deprivation and poverty, and they do not experience the huge, amorphous size of London with its different communities. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there are high levels of unemployment in some areas of my constituency, which are masked by those who are in work. If one looks at some of the east end wards, one sees high levels of unemployment.
Mr. Chope: On the hon. Gentleman’s desire for the civil service to reflect society as a whole, we know that society, sadly, incorporates jihadists, terrorists, drug dealers and so on. Why does the hon. Gentleman think it desirable that they should be proportionately represented in the civil service, which is what his Bill would achieve?
Mr. Dismore: That is a silly comment. If people from minority communities, from which some of those jihadists come, were able to get jobs that they are not now able to get, particularly in our orbit of Government, they would feel more included in our society and there would be far less incentive for them to get involved in some of those activities. I think the hon. Gentleman’s point works entirely in the opposite direction.
Mr. Bone: What is the hon. Gentleman’s view on Government policy? There seems to be a contradiction. I thought that the Government wanted people who come to this country—immigrants and migrants—to learn English. The hon. Gentleman’s proposal is that there must be people who speak other languages in social security offices. That seems to be a contradiction.
Mr. Dismore: I do not think that there is any contradiction at all. The fact remains that we deal with society as it is as well as how we would like it to be. It is of great benefit if people who come to the United Kingdom learn English, but many do not do so. For example, my constituency contains the second biggest Chinese community in Britain, and there is no prospect of Chinese elders learning English. They feel excluded, and they find it very difficult to interface with organs of the state. If we had civil servants who came from Hong Kong or China, for example, they would be able to relate to Chinese elders in Cantonese or Mandarin. That is being realistic about the society in which we live. We can have an aspiration about everyone knowing the language, but we have to service society as it stands.
Ms Buck: Will my hon. Friend confirm that language is a very small part of the issue of representation? While it is significant, it is generally important in the delivery of public services from policing through to front-line employment and Government service that there are role models, mentors and representatives of our diverse society. Will he put on record that it is absolutely outrageous to imply that any action that improves the representation of minority communities in our services is in some way giving an opportunity to the tiny minority of people who are involved in terrorist and criminal activities and that it is effectively besmirching those minority communities to do so?
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend has made her point forcefully. I was being polite in responding to the intervention by the hon. Member for Christchurch, but I share her views. I have made the general points that arise from clause 1, and I hope that it will find favour with the Committee.
9.45 am
Mr. Chope: If nobody else is going to join in, then I will. It came as a surprise to me to find myself as a member of the Committee.
As the hon. Member for Hendon has said, clause 1 goes to the heart of the Bill. I had an open mind about the Bill, but in the light of recent events and the entryism that we have seen by enemies of our state into, for example, the national health service, we should be on high alert against relaxing the controls.
Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I understand the hon. Gentleman’s direction of travel, but the logic of his position is surely that there ought to be tighter controls on, for example, Commonwealth countries? There is no suggestion that Commonwealth countries necessarily produce people who are less inclined to those particular activities than non-Commonwealth countries.
Mr. Chope: There are all sorts of problems with the existing level of controls, and the hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing for tighter controls. If he wishes to table amendments to suggest that we should have tighter controls, I might support them on Report.
I would have thought that relaxing the controls is a move in the wrong direction, unless and until we establish proper border security systems in this country and know who is coming in and who is leaving. In the trial that finished earlier this week, which went on for the best part of six months, it was only in the last few days that the true identity of one of the defendants was discovered.
Philip Davies: I think the point that the hon. Member for Hendon was making was that if people felt more involved in our society and had access to jobs, they would not feel the need to commit terrorist offences. Does my hon. Friend agree that a number of people involved in the recent attempted atrocities were doctors, who were heavily involved in the local community and who had been given access to jobs within the public sector? Given that, does he agree that there is no evidence that the Bill will do what the hon. Member for Hendon has suggested?
Mr. Chope: I agree with my hon. Friend absolutely. It is a sad fact, but we have to accept it, that we are at war. We are at war with the jihadists—we are at war with the enemies of our country, our way of living and our society. During the second world war, we put restrictions on people of foreign nationality whom we thought were potential enemies of the state. We did that for state security reasons. I am not suggesting that we should do that in the present circumstances, but I suggest that the existing rules relating to Crown employment and nationality should not be relaxed at this time. We know that there is a group—a small one, admittedly—of determined people who are keen to undermine our society and destroy lots of innocent lives.
We should not treat the Bill with the levity displayed by the hon. Member for Hendon. As a good lawyer, he has been driven to draw up the Bill on the basis that there are a lot of interesting anomalies. We could have a jurisprudential discussion about whether the existing law is integrally consistent and whether it should be amended. His fascination with the minutiae and inconsistencies in the existing legislation had led him to propose a radical Bill, which would completely undermine the security of this country.
Many people are shocked to think that doctors employed in the national health service were intent on maiming and murdering. People would be concerned, if they thought that people with similar intent would have access to employment in the civil service, which they are currently denied. [ Interruption. ] I cannot understand what the hon. Member for Cleethorpes is saying, not because she is speaking in a foreign language but because she is speaking from a sedentary position.
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): If the hon. Gentleman is going to go on about the NHS, I would like to ask his opinion on Harold Shipman.
Mr. Chope: Harold Shipman was employed by the NHS—he is dead, is he not? He was convicted of mass murder, but I do not think that his intent in committing those murders was to undermine the security of our state. If I am wrong, perhaps the hon. Lady will intervene. However, we know that there are people in the country whose intent is to gain employment in sensitive areas, so that they are in a stronger position to undermine the security of our state.
Ms Buck: What are the hon. Gentleman’s views on the fact that it is entirely legal for someone in the categories that we are discussing to apply for an air-side job at a major airport, but they cannot apply for a job pushing papers at a desk in a jobcentre?
Mr. Chope: The hon. Lady has referred to someone pushing papers at a desk in a jobcentre—she may know that in my constituency the Government propose to close down the jobcentre and make the people who work there redundant. Leaving that on one side, the responsibility for contracts relating to air-side security is that of the contractors and the British Airports Authority, which must make their own checks and take responsibility for them. There is cause for concern about entryism by enemies of the state into those sorts of jobs, but my point is that we should not make it any easier for people to get into positions in which they can undermine the security of the state, and I fear that clause 1 will facilitate that objective.
John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab): My constituency has a substantial Nigerian population. There is not a particularly high level of unemployment in that community, but any one of my Nigerian constituents would be eligible to apply for a job in the jobcentre. My constituency also contains a substantial Somali community, which has high rates of unemployment, but members of that community would not be eligible to apply for a job in the jobcentre. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a certain illogicality in that, which the Bill will address?
Mr. Chope: As my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk says from a sedentary position, in that case one community comes from a Commonwealth country and one does not, which relates to my earlier point. The promoter of the Bill has become fascinated by what the hon. Gentleman has described as an “illogicality”, and he has failed to see the bigger picture.
That reminds me of when I practised as a barrister. In a case in Westminster county court, my client and the defendant were both employees of Nigerian Airways. At the end of the case, the judge said that he did not know which of the two Nigerians to believe, so he decided to judge in favour of Nigerian Airway’s more senior employee, which was the sole ground on which he delivered his judgment. That is a bit of an aside, and I do not have a similar story from my experience in the courts that relates to Somalis. I am sorry that my intervention has led me down that particular garden path.
John Austin: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is worried about Asian Tories becoming Ministers.
Mr. Chope: I suspect that the entryism of some doctors into the NHS was facilitated by the desperate need of the NHS for more doctors. [ Interruption. ] I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Conservative party does not have a desperate need for more Asian representatives—we have got masses of Asian members already, so we are not going out there looking for more and thereby facilitating entryism.
The Chairman: Order. Contributions by members of the Committee should be made when hon. Members are called, not from a sedentary position. Can we have some order to this debate and let the hon. Gentleman be heard?
Mr. Chope: I am very grateful, Mrs. Humble. That reminds me that there was recently a story in the newspapers, which was no doubt true, that six Asian Labour councillors have joined the Conservative party in Ealing, Southall.
Mr. Knight: Is the point not that one cannot be a Tory Asian Minister, unless one is also a British subject?
Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right and has got the kernel of the point. That is why a Somali national would not be able to get a role as a Member of Parliament on the Conservative side or any other.
I was also concerned that the hon. Member for Hendon, who promoted the Bill, was not singing in tune with the new leadership of his party when he said that we need greater use of minority languages in places such as jobcentres and health centres. I thought that the new Prime Minister was absolutely insistent on the idea that those who come to this country from overseas and do not speak the English language should be encouraged to do so, and that one way of doing that was to ensure that access to services, particularly benefits advice, should not be provided in 100 different languages, but in the primary language, English.
When the hon. Member for Hendon spoke in support of clause 1, I understood him to say that he thought that we should bring more employees who speak minority languages into the civil service, which would achieve the reverse effect of the new Prime Minister’s objective.
Ms Buck: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that one could have a masters degree in English from one of our top universities and still be completely incapable of understanding the benefits system?
Surely the issue is that there is a proportion of people, particularly elders, for whom it will remain difficult to achieve the level of English necessary to negotiate oneself through the benefits system. That is not affected by the fact that the overwhelming majority of migrants entering the country speak English or are learning English.
The issue, however, is not only about the English language, and to harp on about minority languages is to pursue a red herring, if that is the right analogy. Surely we want a broad representation of people from different communities in our public services, who can occasionally provide language support and who are also culturally understanding and sympathetic to the wide range of experiences of our communities, which is important for the quality of services and those communities. That will help us because we face a particular challenge with regard to recruitment and retention in front-line services in many of our cities. People who have lived in this country for many years and have leave to remain are barred from applying for those jobs.
The Chairman: Order. I think that the hon. Lady has made her point.
Mr. Chope: I do not disagree with all that the hon. Lady has said. At the moment, however, people who have culturally different backgrounds or different languages can become UK nationals, once they have spent the required time in the country. Having become UK nationals, it is open to them to join the civil service and take up the role that she has commended. In recent years, the number of people who have come from overseas with what we would describe as minority languages and who have become UK nationals has increased enormously. There is, therefore, a much larger pool of people who have those qualifications, as the hon. Lady would describe them, and who are now UK nationals and can be recruited to the civil service, should that be the wish of employers. The Bill is, in a sense, made less relevant by that large increase in the number of people who have settled in this country and gained UK nationality. In staying here for five or more years to achieve that objective, they have indicated that their desire to use the UK as their primary place of residence is probably genuine and that this country is the focus of their loyalty.
10 am
I do not disagree with the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North. However, the solution is to be found not in relaxing the laws, but in ensuring that people who have become UK nationals can provide the sort of services to which she referred. I take her point that many elderly people in the Asian community find it difficult to communicate and that they rely on their families and friends to do so for them. I am not sure that the availability of multilingual personnel in jobcentres and benefit offices, for example, will necessarily be a solution because the Government policy seems to be closing down what one might describe as the face-to-face interview part of the civil service.
In my constituency it is proposed that the jobcentre and more post offices will close. Those are the sort of places where people can go and have a face-to-face interview with somebody, either in English or an alternative language. Such opportunities are reducing as a result of Government policy and people are expected to go online or contact remote call centres. It is then much more difficult for such people to be understood and for them to understand what is going on.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the leader of the Conservative party will adopt a policy to help the more vulnerable people in society by ensuring that we keep such offices open. People who do not find it easy to articulate themselves on the telephone or on the internet should be able to have face-to-face interviews to discuss their problems that they have with representatives of the civil service. That is the way that we should be going, but the Government are closing down the offices where people can meet bureaucrats with faces rather than deal with faceless bureaucrats.
John Austin: On a point of order, Mrs. Humble. Is the policy on open access relevant to the debate?
The Chairman: If it were not relevant I would have stopped the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). He was responding to a point made earlier, but I ask him now to refer to the debate on the clause.
Mr. Chope: I am sorry, I will do just that. I am being led down too many little garden paths by the interventions of Labour Members.
The last point in my jottings is that the Bill does not deal with immigration or work permits. That point was made by the hon. Member for Hendon and is set out in the summary of the explanatory notes. Although the Bill does not deal with them, we know that there are real problems with immigration and work permits. We need to take that into account in considering whether the law should be relaxed in the way that he suggests.
If I had confidence that our immigration and work permit systems would remove potential enemies of the state under their systems of vetting, I would have a lot more confidence in the Bill. However, one reads articles in newspapers every day that lead one to have greater concern that our borders are porous, that people are coming and going without any control over them, and that there is an enormous amount of identity fraud and identity theft. There are no checks on those who have a work permit and the system is being abused. In those circumstances, I think that it would be reckless to relax further the rules relating to Crown employment. That is why I am very concerned about the clause.
The idea that we might tighten up the rules, which was raised by the hon. Member for Lewes, is an interesting one. If he catches your eye, Mrs. Humble, I hope that he will expand on his proposals so that we can improve the Bill on Report.
Norman Baker: I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Humble, and congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon on getting his Bill this far. It is rare for a presentation Bill to make such progress. The last one to do so was the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, with which he is associated as the bovver boy for the Labour Whips, a role that he performs assiduously, if somewhat transparently on occasion.
I shall leave aside my consideration of that and focus on the logic of this Bill. The current rules are inconsistent and, to use the word used by Labour Members, illogical. From the point of view of logicality, there are two directions of travel: the direction of the Bill is towards loosening the rules and applying the controls only of the normal immigration process and the vetting process that rightly applies to certain jobs; the other direction is towards a rather insular, second world war approach, which is to say that we are so frightened of society at large that we can trust only British nationals.
There is no logic in saying that someone from a Commonwealth country is any less of a risk than someone from a non-Commonwealth country. With due respect to the Commonwealth, that is not a proposition that can be sustained in any logical argument. We are faced with a choice between moving to the more liberal regime proposed in the Bill, or battening down the hatches, shutting the doors and relating such jobs only to British nationals, so far as we can.
Mr. Bone: If we were having this debate after hundreds of young people had been killed outside nightclubs and scores of people had been killed in an airport, would the hon. Gentleman take the same view?
Norman Baker: I have not taken any view yet. I shall come on to say which view I take. Sadly, as we know from terrorist problems that have occurred in this country, many of those problems are related to UK nationals who were born here. We need to examine the reasons for that as a society. Even the batten-down-the-hatches, world war two approach, which some advocate, would not prevent those nationals from securing jobs in sensitive areas because of their nationality, although security checks and vetting processes are quite properly carried out. For those who are rightly concerned about security, as I am, the issue is to ensure that the vetting process and the security clearance are appropriate for each individual. That relates not to nationality, but to whether the individual is trustworthy in a particular position. I would like the Government to do more on that, rather than worry about whether someone comes from a Commonwealth country.
Mr. Chope: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about having a secure vetting process. Does he accept that, for quite a lot of aliens from non-Commonwealth countries, basic things such as birth certificates do not exist?
Norman Baker: I was not aware that, these days, there are many societies where birth certificates do not exist or where basic rules of how society is structured do not apply. I am not sure which countries the hon. Gentleman has in mind. Those rules apply in America, for example. I would be surprised if there were not birth certificates in America, Brazil, Argentina or any other country that would qualify for membership of the civilised world, so that is rather a red herring.
Given the arguments relating to the shortage of applicants for particular civil service posts that the hon. Member for Hendon made, and those of the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North about the juxtaposition of Nigerians and Somalis, there is no logical reason for maintaining the current situation. There would be no advantage in moving to a second world war approach, with the hatches battened down.
Shona McIsaac: Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that one of the largest groups of people excluded from applying for such jobs are Americans?
Norman Baker: Yes, indeed. Some might argue that some Americans have terrorist inclinations themselves, although they tend to be those who are elected rather than those who are not—that was not very well expressed, but the basic point is there. The logic for the current situation is not maintained. The logic for a tighter regime is not maintained.
I have one final point: how will we deal with people who are in our society today if there is a concern about what individuals might or might not do? Will we try to isolate ourselves and say, “You must keep these elements out of what we are doing” and “Only we can be inside the castle. You must be outside.”? What will be the consequence for society if we adopt that approach? Or should we lessen the threat that exists by having a more open, objective, welcoming approach where people can be treated on their merits individually, irrespective of their origins or their history? Is that not more likely in due course to lead to better community relations and lessen the sorts of problems that we have?
Having analysed the Bill in that way I would be happy to support it, as is my party, but that is subject to assurances from the Minister or whoever that proper security and vetting checks will be in place to ensure that any individuals, from wherever they come, whether they are UK nationals or from anywhere else, can be picked up and are not allowed to get into positions where we would not wish to find them.
Mr. Bone: I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon on introducing the Bill. None of my remarks were intended to criticise his motives in doing so. I am sure that they are totally honourable. I just think that it is the wrong time to do so. We have to err on the side of safety. We should not change something that is not broken. These measures go back to 1700 and have worked pretty well since then. As a Conservative, I am always pleased to conserve what is working well.
The hon. Gentleman did not acknowledge that aliens can come in and work in the civil service now under the Aliens Employment Act 1955. Unfortunately, the notes that were provided for the debate do not provide up-to-date figures of how many certificates were granted.
Mr. Dismore: If the hon. Gentleman had read my speech on Second Reading he would have seen the figures. The current number is 66. The point about the 1955 Act is that those posts can be offered only under a certificate to people who have very special skills that cannot be provided by a UK national. They are very few indeed and they have to have exceptional qualifications or experience to do the job. That is why the number is small and primarily in the Ministry of Defence; 37 of them work in that Department.
Mr. Bone: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for updating us. That arrangement is therefore possible, but there are rigorous checks. Is that not the way we should be going? He said that the circumstances must be exceptional, and that is good too.
May I deal with something that has not been touched on, except in the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks, and that is the situation in London? If I understand the argument, there are not enough people employed in London jobcentres because the wages are not high enough, but that if we allowed people to come in from alien countries they could fill those jobs and undercut labour rates in London.
Ms Buck: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman grasps the nature of the people that we are talking about. They are not being brought in to fill these jobs. They have many years’ residence and have indefinite leave to remain or similar status but are debarred from a large proportion of jobs for which they would be suitable. The fundamental premise of his point is therefore wrong.
10.15 am
Mr. Bone: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for trying to correct me. Of course, it must be accepted that people are coming into this country, and when they do so, they will go into jobs, which could undercut the labour rate of civil servants in London. That is the argument. I have a solution to that problem. I understand that we do not want to send jobs up to Yorkshire: it is too far away and people cannot be asked to do that. However, let us consider a short 50-minute ride on Midland Mainline down to Wellingborough, which has higher unemployment now than at the end of 1997 and £2,000 per person less public expenditure than Scotland. Surely, the solution is to move organisations to Wellingborough, thereby relieving the pressure on jobs in London and creating employment in the east midlands—and everybody is satisfied.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a sensible, practical point. The same argument could apply to King’s Lynn, where the Government are closing jobcentres. They have moved the Pension Service away from Norfolk completely and are downgrading and closing some of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs operations. Far from encouraging Government jobs, they are doing the reverse and closing them down.
Mr. Bone: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. He explains things exactly as they are. I have outlined the practical solution and the law not need be changed to do that. It is dangerous to change the law unless there is a reason for doing so.
Norman Baker: Will the hon. Gentleman give me an example of a problem that has arisen so far from someone who is not a UK national but is presently able to occupy one of those positions—in other words, someone from a Commonwealth country? If he can do that, the logic is that the vetting procedures are already in place and are working properly. If that is so, there should be no problem extending the boundaries, unless he is arguing that people from Commonwealth countries are inherently less of a threat than people from outside.
Mr. Bone: The hon. Gentleman has made the point for me, because he asks whether I can point out this or that. However, he could not point to great hordes of people marching around the cities of our nation saying that this is an unjust law. There just is not that amount of support. In all seriousness—this is an important issue—that might be the right way to go, but because of the real risk of terrorist cells, we should not take that chance now.
Shona McIsaac: Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge the following facts? In my area, the majority of people excluded from applying for the jobs in question are Americans. There are a lot of American firms in the area. Will he acknowledge that some of the people involved worked in the public sector in the US, but are excluded from employment, simply because a spouse is relocating to the UK—and this country loses that talent?
Mr. Bone: Unfortunately, the Americans decided to opt out of the Commonwealth rather a long time ago. It is reasonable to exclude Americans. I was worried because the hon. Member for Lewes implied that elected members in America were encouraging terrorism. If I understood him, what he said is totally wrong and appalling. Perhaps he wants to correct me.
Norman Baker: I will if the hon. Gentleman wants me to. That is way beyond the scope of the Committee, Mrs. Humble, but since I have been asked to deal with it, I should like to do so. I am afraid that the actions of the American Government—the way their foreign policies operate—encourage terrorism, but that is beyond the Committee.
Mr. Bone: If the hon. Gentleman believes that, he could not possibly support this measure, which would allow Americans to apply to join the civil service.
John Austin: I have in my constituency a substantial number of Nepalese, many of whom served in the Gurkha regiment, giving loyal service over many years to the British Crown, yet they would be debarred from taking a job in our local jobcentre.
Mr. Bone: There is merit in the Bill, but on balance, I think that it would be wrong to do that now, because of the terrorist threat that we face. That is my objection to the Bill, and I am afraid that I will not be able to support it.
Mr. Knight: Listening to the debate, what is emerging is that the hon. Member for Hendon, who is presenting the Bill, has logic on his side. I congratulate him for getting this far with this measure, because the aspect of our existing law that troubles me is that the Chinese wife of a French national could be employed here as a civil servant and yet the Chinese wife of a British citizen could not. I understand that that is the legal position. That has caused many of my hon. Friends and, indeed, many Members from all parts of the House to conclude that we should have this Bill.
The measure that allows a French national’s wife to be employed here is the European Community (Employment in the Civil Service) Order 1991, which amended an earlier Act to allow nationals of member states of the European Community and their spouses, as well as certain children, to take up civil employment under the Crown. So I can understand why many members of the Committee are saying that we should support the Bill, because of this powerful and logical argument. But of course, there is another way forward, and it is the way forward that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley would no doubt support. We could discard the Bill and seek to put in place arrangements to pull out of the European Union, thereby bringing logic back to the existing situation. I hope that my hon. Friend, whom I believe is a member of the Better Off Out campaign, will tell us how that could be done.
So, in my very brief contribution to this debate, I should like to say that the hon. Member for Hendon may have logic on his side, but that does not mean that we should support the Bill.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Gillian Merron): I should like first to echo the warm words of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, expressed nearly an hour ago, in welcoming you, Mrs. Humble, to the Chair. I am sure that you have found this morning’s sitting an interesting experience, and we look forward to continuing in the Committee with you in your role.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon on obtaining what was originally the support of all parts of the House when we last debated this matter in the Chamber and on showing such determination in bringing the Bill to this stage.
The Government support the clause, and I hope that I can inject a note of calmness into the debate this morning, which I feel is necessary. My hon. Friend has already pointed out that the effect of the clause is to remove the existing legislative restrictions on eligibility on nationality grounds for employment or the holding of office in a civil capacity under the Crown. I certainly share my hon. Friend’s view that we are committed to a civil service that reflects the diversity of the public that it serves. The clause provides an opportunity for the Government to remove what are very outdated restrictions that have no place in a modern democracy, and we are certainly committed to improving diversity and opportunity.
Mr. Chope: In that case, when the Prime Minister makes his statement to the House this afternoon about next year’s legislative programme, will he include a commitment to legislate if the Bill fails to receive Royal Assent in this Session?
Gillian Merron: Perhaps it would be wise of me to say that the hon. Gentleman may wish to wait until the appropriate time, as we all must, because of course, the Prime Minister comes to Parliament before he goes elsewhere in making his intentions known.
Security is the area that I should like to bring a little logic and calmness to, perhaps bringing us down to reality. In my view, the Bill would have no effect on national security. I hope that all parts of the House are committed to ensuring that national security comes first. I assure hon. Members that all persons, regardless of nationality, taking up employment or holding office in a civil capacity under the Crown continue to be subject to the usual stringent pre-appointment security checks.
To highlight what those checks are for the benefit of the Committee, they involve checks on criminal records, residency for the previous five years, previous employment, references and more stringent vetting in particular posts that involve national security. I put it to the Committee that we already have those provisions in place, and I assure hon. Members that the Departments involved in national security, such as the security and intelligence services, the diplomatic service, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office are able to reserve posts for UK nationals where necessary and appropriate. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon welcomes that reassurance.
Norman Baker: Will the Minister indicate the range of positions that are to be retained only for UK nationals and whether the Government have any intention of narrowing or widening that?
Gillian Merron: The Bill would allow the appropriate Minister of the Crown, or anybody else to whom that power was delegated, to make the rules restricting certain categories. To give a general answer, across the civil service, we would expect that the rules will be needed to prohibit employment of non-UK nationals in the posts to which I have referred. Currently, about 5 per cent. of posts are reserved on that basis. It is intended that that approach, which was adopted in the European Communities (Employment in the Civil Service) Order 2007, will be mirrored in the rules under clause 2, which we will come on to.
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend will be aware that the European Communities (Employment in the Civil Service) Order 2007 sets out the restrictions that apply. My understanding that those restrictions—the generic departmental restrictions and those that involve the nature of the work—are set out in that order and will apply under the rules created by the Bill.
Gillian Merron: Indeed, that is the case. I hope that my comments and those of my hon. Friend are helpful to the hon. Member for Lewes.
Mr. Knight: Is there any legal definition of what is a civil servant?
Gillian Merron: I am waiting for inspiration on that one and will return to it. Perhaps I can make a few points about the Bill before coming back to it. It is important to remember the points made by my hon. Friend: the primary purpose of the Bill is to amend or repeal legislation that goes back to the Act of Settlement 1700, which prevents the employment of
“aliens in any civil employment under the Crown, including the civil service.”
Although the legislative position has eased over the years, it remains the case and is worth restating that, other than UK nationals, only Commonwealth, EEA, Swiss and Turkish nationals and certain family members of EEA, EU, Swiss and Turkish nationals may be employed in the UK civil service, irrespective of their nationality.
As has also come through in the debate on the clause, the Bill would also ensure that we do not have in the civil service a present alien spouse anomaly caused by the interaction of UK and EC law. I heard the call from a number of Opposition Members to withdraw from the European Union. I am sure that that will be of immense interest to the leaders of the Opposition parties, as well as to Labour Members. However, at present, certain non-EEA spouses and dependants of non-UK EEA nationals are eligible for non-reserved civil service posts, whereas the non-EEA spouses and dependants of UK nationals are not. Therefore, for example, the American husband of a French national living in the UK would be eligible for employment in the civil service, whereas the American husband of a UK national would not. That does not seem to be particularly useful.
On the legal definition of a civil servant, I should be delighted to write to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire. It is very complex legally, so it would be appropriate for me to set that out for him.
Mr. Bone: On the Minister’s earlier remarks about how the Bill would have no effect on security by changing the law, have the Government consulted the security services and, if so, what was their opinion?
Gillian Merron: Of course we have, and the security services are quite content with the arrangements. The Bill is not about weakening our security checks. They will remain as they are, and they will be improved as and when we need to do so, for all people. That is the important point.
We have the best civil service in the world, and the clause and the Bill give us an even greater opportunity to ensure that we can recruit the best of the best to the best civil service, to serve us in this country.
10.30 am
Mr. Chope: The Minister helpfully said that she will write to members of the Committee with the definition of a civil servant, but is she saying that she believes that the reference in clause 1(1) to a person
“being employed or holding office in a civil capacity under the Crown”
should be properly defined in the Bill? If she is saying that, the Government could move an amendment on Report to that effect.
Gillian Merron: The Bill deals not with definition, but with who can be employed. That is its remit.
Mr. Knight: Pursuant to the Minister’s earlier response that she would write to me about the definition of a civil servant, if the Bill is approved by the Committee, will she write to me before Report?
Gillian Merron: I am very happy to give that undertaking.
Philip Davies: I was curious when the Minister said—she was absolutely right—that we have the best civil service in the world. If the current rules have delivered to this country the best civil service in the world, why do we need to change the rules to have different people employed in the civil service?
Gillian Merron: May I suggest that it is our responsibility to people in this country to strive to keep doing better? I am in no doubt on that point, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in paying tribute to the civil service and the civil servants who serve us.
The changes proposed in the Bill are deregulatory and welcomed by Departments for their flexibility and pragmatism. I am glad to confirm Government support for the clause.
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 5.
Division No. 1 ]
Austin, John
Baker, Norman
Buck, Ms Karen
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
McIsaac, Shona
Merron, Gillian
Miller, Andrew
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Bone, Mr. Peter
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Davies, Philip
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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