Nolan finding will be dismissed

Government angers watchdog on standards in public life by warning it wi ll reject any call to ban ex-ministers from taking jobs immediately. Chris Blackhurst reports
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Indy Politics
If the Nolan committee on standards in public life recommends a ban on ministers taking up jobs in business immediately after leaving office, the Government will reject it.

That was made clear yesterday when David Hunt, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, presented the Government's views to the inquiry. Lord Nolan, the law lord who heads the inquiry, was said by one committee source to have been incensed by the Governmentalready having decided to reject his findings.

In angry exchanges with Mr Hunt, one committee member, the Labour MP Peter Shore, said he was "surprised and disappointed" at the Government's attitude.

Another committee member, Tom King, a former Tory Secretary of State for Defence, also appeared incredulous - not least because last week two senior Tories, Sir Norman Fowler and Tony Newton, who still sits in the Cabinet, both said they thought minstersshould be barred from taking jobs in business for two years.

They said that within that period, the same time limit imposed on senior civil servants,their proposed appointments should be subject to scrutiny.

Not so, according to Mr Hunt. In a prepared statement, he said: "In all the areas under consideration by this committee the Government will look carefully at any recommendations made. But on the business appointments of former ministers, I have to say that I believe, and the Government believes, that it is still right to leave decisions about these matters to the judgement of individuals."

Asked by Lord Nolan if that meant the Government's mind was made up, he replied: "We set up the committee to advise us. You are free to tender whatever advice you think."

Mr Hunt defended the Government's stance on the basis that ministers were already covered by guidelines set out in Questions for Procedure for Ministers, which state they must not do anything to bring into question their own integrity or the integrity ofthe government in which they served.

Against the backdrop of claims of ministers joining boards of companies they have privatised or worked closely with while in government, Mr Hunt said John Major had asked for evidence that they had abused their integrity, and had received none.

Sir Robin Butler, the Cabinet Secretary, who accompanied Mr Hunt, said the rules for senior civil servants, who are vetted by the Business Appointments Committee if they join industry within two years, had been "working well".

In a reference to the claim from Mr Hunt that the issue had been whipped up by "slurs, innuendoes, downright lies" in the press, Mr Shore said there was deep public concern about former ministers joining companies with which their departments had dealt while in office.

Mr Shore thought "the rules for higher civil servants... should be appropriate for ministers". Mr Hunt's case for the status quo, which brings into question the need for the Nolan committee to consider the issue of ministers taking jobs at all, may fall ondeaf ears.

The Government's argument has undoubtedly been weakened by the evidence of Sir Norman and Mr Newton.

Peter Rose, the inquiry spokesman, said: "The committee will listen to all the evidence, including the Government's views, in reaching its report." His emphasis was placed heavily on the word "all".