Ministers fight for right to private jobs

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Ministers must be allowed to take jobs with companies they have dealt with while in office and need not be subject to the same rules as senior civil servants, the Government will tell the Nolan inquiry into standards in public life today. David Hunt, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will present the Government's case to Nolan. His submission was released in advance yesterday.

He rejected the stance taken by former Cabinet ministers Sir Norman Fowler and Lord Younger at Nolan last week. They urged a time-limit, prohibiting ministers joining companies, similar to the rules for senior mandarins.

Mr Hunt said current regulations, stating ex-ministers must do nothing that questions their integrity or the integrity of the Government they served, were sufficient.

He described the row over the likes of John Wakeham, the former Energy Secretary, joining Rothschild, the merchant bank, as "unfair attacks." Mr Hunt said that Civil Service rules apply to people who retire after years of service with a pension.

"I hardly think they are the right rules to apply to someone in their 30s or 40s who overnight may find themselves to be no longer a minister or even an MP. Someone could be on a salary one day and no salary the very next day."

Mr Hunt rejected the suggestion repeatedly made to Nolan that MPs should be banned from being paid by specialist lobbying firms. He said: "The great strength of Parliament is that there is no bar on a specific profession."

Only in one area was the Government prepared to give ground. Mr Hunt published an 84-page report detailing the make-up of public bodies. Butit omitted details of NHS trusts, the target of much hostility.

The document was accompanied by a series of measures covering the way the appointments are made. Those applying to sit on quangos should not be the "great and the good" but "public-spirited and well qualified." Posts should be advertised and reasons why appointments are made should be made available.

He rejected the need for independent scrutiny of quango membership, saying: "At the end of the day the buck stops with the minister and he or she is accountable. Appointments are for ministers to decide because they are responsible to the floor of the House."

Jack Straw, Shadow Home Secretary, said the fact the Government was making any changes was an admission "to our charge that the current arrangments for quango appointments are wholly unacceptable".