I welcome the fact that there has been an increase in secondments between industry and the Civil Service in recent years. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that the numbers are still small and that secondments ought to be encouraged further? I recognise the difficulties of full-time secondments, even for short periods. Will my right hon. Friend therefore consider encouraging part-time secondments—for example, by encouraging civil servants to take non-executive directorships in companies, provided that taking such a position in no way conflicts with their departmental interests and responsibilities?
I appreciate the continuing interest that my hon. Friend shows in the subject. It is important to have an even stronger interchange between the Civil Service and industry and commerce, and with other activities, too. My hon. Friend is right to focus attention on secondments, but also to consider other ways in which such an interchange can be achieved. The Government are reviewing all the arrangements that can be set up to achieve greater interchange between the Civil Service and the commercial sector, and we are considering a number of options, such as more flexible secondment, the Whitehall and industry scheme, non-executive directorships, better training, late entry schemes and so on. These must be considered as a package rather than as single measures.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the scandals about defence contracts currently developing in the United States? Does he think that there are dangers for Britain in having too close a link between contractors and business men who provide goods and services to the Government and civil servants? Is there not too much possibility of corruption? Surely the Minister should ensure that there are enough safeguards so that we do not go the same way as the United States.
I do not know whether I should commiserate with the hon. Gentleman, who, just a few seconds ago, was on the Front Bench, but has now gone to the Back Bench. He suggests that there is sometimes a conflict of interests between the duties of civil servants who take outside jobs and their duties as former civil servants. There is a clear procedure for this, which is supervised by the Diamond committee. The most important thing is to ensure that there is no conflict of interests. I am satisfied that the procedures which are working now are satisfactory. Provided that there is no conflict of interests, it is healthy that civil servants should have experience of commerce and industry.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, political rhetoric apart, we should be aiming for closer partnership between industry and the Civil Service? Does he agree also that the Civil Service can provide enormous opportunities in, for example, the provision of apprenticeships in Boscombe Down, which is in my constituency, and that the commercial sector can develop a new relationship with the Civil Service, as at the public health laboratory service at Porton Down?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that he has a large number of civil servants in his constituency, many of' them specialists, and that quite a number of them have experience of such interchanges. The way in which my hon. Friend asks his question shows that there are many ways in which an interchange can be achieved. My hon. Friend has given a couple of examples.