Clause 2

Crown Employment (Nationality) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:31 am ar 18 Gorffennaf 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Power to impose new nationality requirements

Question proposed [11 July], That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question again proposed.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I hope that in the week that has elapsed since we last discussed the clause the Minister and the Bill’s promoter will have had the opportunity to reflect on the very pertinent points that were made during that previous debate. As you might recall, Mrs. Humble, I was going through the detail of the clause, explaining why I had substantial reservations about quite a lot of it.

The final point that I want to make relates to clause 2(4)(b), which says that the rules may include provision

“allowing any Minister or other person or body to grant exemptions.”

It seems to me that that is an extremely wide provision. I would have no objection if the rules allowed any Minister to grant exemptions, but even in this new world of legislating by delegated authority, to allow any person or body to grant them is a bridge too far. I hope that the promoter will be able to give me an undertaking that the provision will have been modified when we get to Report, so that it is less wide-ranging.

That brings us to subsection (5), which is purely informative, and on which I do not think that I need trouble the Committee. Before I finish, I should like to note the power of the membership of the Council of Europe. You may have noticed, Mrs. Humble, that one of the members of the parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe has been promoted to acting Parliamentary Private Secretary, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead on that.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Secretary (the East Midlands), Cabinet Office

The Government support the clause, and I thank Committee members for the full debate in our last sitting. A number of specific points were mentioned on which I should like to comment. I hope that my responses will assist the Committee in lending its support to the clause.

We have discussed the provision in clause 2 that will allow parliamentary scrutiny of ministerial decisions. To pick up on a point made by the hon. Member for Wellingborough, who is not in his place today, the Bill as drafted would not require that rules be subject to some form of parliamentary scrutiny. Furthermore, the European Communities (Employment in the Civil Service) Order 2007 sets out the categories of post that will be reserved for UK nationals, and as an Order in Council it was subject to parliamentary approval.

There is therefore merit in the argument that any new rules should likewise be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I shall, of course, consult the relevant Departments and security agencies, but I assure the Committee that as the Bill progresses to Report, I shall reflect seriously on a point that was very well made.

I am also happy to consider the suggestion to clarify clause 2, which allows a Minister of the Crown to delegate the power to make rules to any person or body. Let me explain why that provision was included in the first place and then give the Committee some assurances. The Bill will apply to the Crown in all its capacities, and it will extend to employees of the royal household, which means that if the Crown wished to reserve certain posts in the royal household for UK nationals, under the terms of the Bill a delegation to do so would need to be provided by a Minister of the Crown.

As we all know, the security of the royal household is paramount, and with that in mind the current designation of “any person or body” was included in the Bill in the case of the royal household to allow a Minister of the Crown to delegate the powers to make rules to, for example, the Lord Chamberlain, who is one of the chief officers of the royal household in the UK. Having said that, I assure the Committee that I agree that it would helpful to clarify that reference, and I will be happy to do so as the Bill progresses.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I am grateful to the Minister for that important statement. Does she agree that it might be more straightforward to exempt the royal household completely from these provisions rather than adopting the device in the Bill as drafted, which gives the power to grant exemptions to the head of the royal household?

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Secretary (the East Midlands), Cabinet Office

What matters is that the Bill performs the purpose that we have discussed. I am keen to ensure that we improve that proposal on Report, so that it satisfies us in respect of matters such as the royal household and so that it can do its job. I understand the point, which was well made, and I assure the Committee of my willingness to work to ensure that all hon. Members are aware of the intention of the Bill.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

Conservative Members approve of and appreciate what the Minister is saying. However, there will come a point before Report when her thoughts will have crystallised. Assuming that the Bill passes its Committee stage, rather than leaving it until the day of the Report stage, will the Minister write to members of the Committee beforehand to let us know what she proposes to do?

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Secretary (the East Midlands), Cabinet Office

The Government support the Bill, and I am keen to do whatever is necessary to ensure that it proceeds. Therefore, if that would be helpful to  the Committee, I shall be happy to do so. I am sure that the promoter of the Bill will be equally helpful.

There was reference in our previous discussion to concern about defining more precisely the term “living with”, which is used in clause 2(2), and perhaps I can help the Committee in that respect. Clause 2(2) permits additional restrictions to be made in the rules on access to highly sensitive posts. For example, the current requirements for access to posts in the security service are set out on the website as follows:

“You must be a British citizen and one of your parents must also be British or have substantial ties to the UK.”

Clause 2(2) is intended to permit restrictions of that kind to be continued in the rules that will be made under the new legislation. The detailed provisions will be set out in the rules, because it would not be appropriate to include that level of detail in the Bill itself. The restrictions imposed in relation to a few highly sensitive posts have included requirements concerning the nationality of those living with the post holder. Again, the detail of the requirements would be a matter for the rules rather than for the primary legislation. However, given the concerns that have been expressed, which I have taken on board, I assure the Committee that we will reflect on whether any change is needed to restrict the scope of the rule-making power, in so far as it permits requirements to be made in relation to those living with the holder of a reserved post.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning a concern that I expressed at our last sitting. I wanted to know whether there was a legal definition of the phrase “living with”, which seems to me to be open to various interpretations. I seek the Minister’s assurance that she will tie that down.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Secretary (the East Midlands), Cabinet Office

The point is well made and has been taken. That is one of the matters that we wish to clarify.

The hon. Member for Christchurch asked about clause 2(1):

“Rules may be made imposing requirements as to nationality which must be satisfied by a person employed or holding office in a civil capacity under the Crown specified in the rules.”

As I recall it, the hon. Gentleman was concerned that future change of rules could jeopardise the position of people who are employed by or who hold office in a civil capacity under the Crown, requiring them to be removed from the post.

To clarify matters, the subsection allows rules to be made reserving specified posts for certain specified nationalities. That allows certain posts to be reserved for UK nationals, if it is thought necessary. The hon. Gentleman alluded to the fact that the rules might change—that would be the exception—to reserved posts currently occupied by non-UK members of staff for UK nationals. If they did, it would indeed be necessary to move those staff members to posts in a non-reserved area.

The hon. Member for Lewes sought an assurance that staff in sensitive posts in the civil service that were outsourced should be subject to proper vetting and security checks. Although the subject is outside our remit, Mrs. Humble, it might help if I try to reassure the hon. Gentleman. It seems to me that the real issue is the  pre-appointment security screening of contract staff. The document “HMG Baseline Personnel Security Standard”, which is published by the security policy division and civil service capability group in the Cabinet Office, is a comprehensive guide for civil service departments and agencies to the pre-employment screening of Government staff and contractors. Its purpose is to ensure that departments and agencies have in place manageable arrangements for checking these categories of staff. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the security policy division in the Cabinet Office carries out an annual security compliance exercise throughout the civil service to ensure adherence to the guidance. However, if hon. Members have any particular concerns, I will happily look into them.

The hon. Member for Shipley, who is not in his place, asked whether clause 2 would allow an EU-wide body to make changes to employment rules in this country. I confirm that the answer is no.

Our debate on clause 2 has been wide-ranging. I will happily consider those matters referred to today before Report stage. That said, I am glad to confirm Government support for the clause, and I hope that the Committee will join me in that.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Llafur, Hendon

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s assurances on the Government’s position. As I said in an intervention on the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, I will certainly be happy to work with him. He made an important point about parliamentary scrutiny. When I visit Bridlington in early August, I shall cash in his offer of a free drink and we can discuss some of the details.

The hon. Member for Christchurch mentioned the royal household in an intervention, but I disagree. For instance, if the royal household wanted to employ a United States citizen, it should not be prevented from doing so. It is a permissive provision, not compulsive. If Her Majesty wanted to employ someone from the United States, or from any other part of the world, she could. That intervention was somewhat misplaced. Indeed, I would be very pleased if Her Majesty gave her consent to the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

Can the hon. Gentleman see that a problem could arise as a result of the Lord Chamberlain having delegated authority under the Bill? If he puts someone in post from the United States, but then decides that that person is no longer suited to the royal household, he can use his delegated powers under the Bill to make the post exempt, thereby preventing that person from being employed by the royal household. Does the hon. Gentleman see that as a potential problem?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Llafur, Hendon

The hon. Gentleman has already made that point in more general terms, but we can look at the detail when considering the specifics of clause 2. It is important that people should have job security. We must try to deal with that issue when we reflect on our debate on clause 2.

I agree that we should have time to consider the matter. There is nothing I dislike more—I am sure that other Back Benchers agree with this—than a Bill being strung with amendments at the last minute. It would be  far better for us to take time over the recess to work out the details and to see whether we can find common ground on the way forward.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I do not speak for this side of the Committee, but speaking for myself, in the light of the statement by the Bill’s promoter that he is willing to reconsider the clause and make changes, it would be churlish to divide the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.