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1995 - PMQT Written Answers 19th July 1995

Below is the text of the written answers relating to Prime Minister's Question Time from 19th July 1995.


PRIME MINISTER:

Michael John Smith

Mr. Blair: To ask the Prime Minister if he has received the report of the Security Commission on the case of Michael John Smith.

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Lord President announced on 11 January 1994 that after consultation with the late leader of the Opposition, I had asked the Security Commission to investigate the circumstances in which breaches of security had, or might have, occurred arising out of the case of Michael John Smith, who was convicted on 18 November 1993 of offences under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1911; and to advise in the light of that investigation whether any change in security arrangements was necessary or desirable.

An appeal by Smith against his conviction was dismissed by the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) on 8 June 1995, but his appeal against sentence was allowed and the sentence was reduced from 25 years to 20 years. The Commission has now submitted its report to me and it is being published this afternoon as a Command Paper, with the exception of some technical and procedural details which it would not be in the public interest to publish on national security grounds. I am most grateful to the Chairman, Lord Lloyd, and to Sir John Blelloch, Sir Derek Boorman and Lord Tombs.

The Commission has fully examined the period of Smith's career in defence-related work. The Commission was critical of the initial failure by the Security Service to match Smith's record as a communist with his application for security clearance at EMI in 1976. The Commission felt that there was an unwarranted delay between Smith's identification as a potential threat and these facts being communicated to the Ministry of Defence and Smith's employer. It was concerned about the Security Service's eventual decision to relax its recommendations about Smith when he was put forward for clearance for work at GEC in 1986. It was also unhappy with the way in which the Ministry of Defence agreed to Smith having access to confidential information at GEC.

However, the Commission recognises that much has changed since these events took place. The threat from subversive organisations is much lower. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact no longer exist. In addition, the Commission has been called upon to investigate a number of other security breaches since 1978 when Smith's clearance was withdrawn and its recommendations have led to significant improvements in the areas of vetting, and more widely, in the field of protective security. Over the same period, Government Departments have also taken initiatives to improve protective security practices. In the light of all this, the Commission has made a number of recommendations. These, in summary, are:

(a) that the Security Service should continue to keep its organisation and internal lines of communication under review;

(b) that in cases where candidates lie during the security clearance procedure there should be a very strong presumption against the granting or reinstatement of a clearance;

(c) that an interview with a subject should be used where appropriate to resolve doubts about a security clearance;

(d) that the written levels of assessment of an individual should be unambiguous and that all relevant information should be made available to the relevant Government Department before a decision is made on an individual clearance;

(e) that decisions on the clearance of individuals working on contracts involving access to protectively marked assets in an industrial concern should be taken by Government Departments only after appropriate consultation with the employer;

(f) that levels of access granted to individuals in industry should be clear and capable of effective implementation;

(g) that in any case where a security clearance is subject to any limitation, that individual's behaviour and performance should be monitored and reviewed regularly by the Security Service with the employing company;

(h) that judgements based on experience should not be given excessive credence in work of the Security Service; and

(i) that appeal arrangements against a decision to withhold or limit clearance both in the civil service and in industry may need to be strengthened.

The recommendations of the Security Commission have been accepted in principle by the Government subject to further consideration of some detailed points: and work is now in hand to ensure that they are effectively implemented within government and in industry. I announced to the House on 15 December 1994 that following a comprehensive review of protective security arrangements generally, a new system for the security vetting of Government employees and contractors would be introduced from 1 January 1995. This will provide the opportunity to consider how best to implement the recommendations of the Security Commission.


Exchange Rate Mechanism

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Prime Minister what considerations led to the policy he adopted towards the ERM in October 1990.

The Prime Minister: The decision to participate in the ERM from October 1990 was taken in order to reinforce the Government's counter-inflationary policy at that time.


Consultants

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Prime Minister how many contracts and for what total sum were let out by his department and agencies for which it is responsible to (a) Coopers and Lybrand and its subsidiaries, (b) Peat Marwick and its subsidiaries, (c) Ernst and Young and its subsidiaries, (d) Arthur Andersen and its subsidiaries, (e) Price Waterhouse and its subsidiaries, (f) Grant Thornton and its subsidiaries, (g) Stoy Hayward and its subsidiaries (h) Robson Rhodes and its subsidiaries and (i) Pannell Kerr Forster and its subsidiaries for privatisation, market testing, management advice, accounting, audit, consultancy and other services in 1993-94 and 1994-95.

The Prime Minister: None.

Mr. Milburn: To ask the Prime Minister (1) if he will indicate which five consultancy firms have received most contracts from his Department by (a) number of contracts and (b) monetary value in the last five years for which figures are available; (2) how many contracts his Department has had with consultants; and what has a been the total cost in each of the last five years.

The Prime Minister: For this purpose my office is part of the Cabinet Office. I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service, on 18 July.

Mr. Milburn: To ask the Prime Minister which firms of consultants employed by his Department over the last year have been paid more than £1,000 per day.

The Prime Minister [holding answer 12 July 1995]: For this purpose, my office is part of the Cabinet Office. I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service on Monday 17 July, Official Report, column 903.


Small Businesses

Mr. David Shaw: To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the results of (a) his policies and (b) his Department in helping small businesses over the last 12 months as against the previous 12 months; and if he will publish the performance indicators by which his Department monitors those achievements and the statistical results of such monitoring.

The Prime Minister: The Government recognise the crucial role played by small firms in the UK economy and aim to help them by providing sound economic conditions--keeping inflation and interest rates low; reducing legislative, administrative and taxation burdens; and where appropriate provide direct assistance in the forms of specialist advice and support and easing access to finance.

The recently announced White Paper "Forging Ahead" outlines a programme of measures to assist the growth and competitiveness of the small firms sector.

Specific measures to assist small firms are the responsibility of my right hon. Friends, the President of the Board of Trade, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales. For details of specific programmes, I refer the hon. Member to their replies today.


Mr. Ghanzanfer Ali

Mr. Madden: To ask the Prime Minister if he will urge the Government of Azad-Kashmir to release from Mirpur district prison Mr. Ghanzanfer Ali to obtain medical treatment in the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister: Ghanzanfer Ali was admitted to a civil hospital in Mirpur 10 days ago. Our High Commission in Islamabad is obtaining details of his medical condition.


Millennium Commission

Mr. Chris Smith: To ask the Prime Minister in what capacity the membership of the First Secretary of State of the Millennium Commission has now been confirmed.

The Prime Minister: There has been no change in the status of the First Secretary of State as a member of the Millennium Commission since his appointment by HM the Queen on 17 February 1994.


Scottish Education Department

Mr. John McFall: To ask the Prime Minister what consideration was given to the role of the Scottish Office Education Department during the merger of the Department of Employment and the Department for Education.

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has ensured that ministerial responsibility for education and training in the Scottish office are combined. In addition, he has agreed with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment arrangements to ensure close consultation on labour market issues, including agreement of the annual performance targets for the Employment Service and new initiatives to help unemployed people.


Advertising of Government Posts

Mr. Michael: To ask the Prime Minister if it is his Government's policy to advertise posts in its employ on the basis of offering a salary but inviting applications from those willing to work on a volunteer, unpaid basis.

The Prime Minister: I have asked my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to write to the hon. Member.


Single Currency

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Prime Minister what considerations underlie his decision to hold open the possibility of the United Kingdom accepting a single currency in the future.

The Prime Minister: I believe that we should judge whether or not to join a single currency on the basis of our national interest, given the circumstances of the time. We do not know what those future circumstances might be. It is therefore too early for us to make a decision one way or the other. Furthermore, as I told the House on 28 June, Official Report, columns 893 94 , I believe that it is essential for this country to participate fully in the debate over economic and monetary union, to make our practical views count and to stand up for our interests in Europe. We would forfeit our influence over the debate if we exercised our opt-out now. That would not be in our interests.


Computer Equipment and Consultancies

Mr. Milburn: To ask the Prime Minister (1) if he will list the top 10 suppliers of computer equipment to his Department and its agencies in the last five years, indicating the total value of the contracts received;

(2) which firms have won computer consultancy contracts from his Department or its agencies over the last five years, indicating the number of contracts per firm;

(3) how much his Department or its agencies have spent on computer consultancy in each of the last five years; and what is the expected expenditure over the next five years.

The Prime Minister [holding answers Wednesday 12 July and Friday 14 July]: For this purpose my office is part of the Cabinet Office. I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service, on 18 July.


Honours (Civil Service Secretaries)

Mr. Berry: To ask the Prime Minister (1) how many honours in the birthday list were awarded to personal secretaries in the civil list;

(2) how many honours in the birthday list were awarded to (a) civil servants, (b) local government officials, (c) local authority councillors and (d) police officers.

The Prime Minister [holding answer Monday 17 July 1995]: My recommendations for the birthday honours list contained 1,055 names. Of these 434 were given specifically for their voluntary service, and many others had also given voluntary service which supported their other claims. The list included 10 personal secretaries in the civil service out of a total of 171 civil servants at all grades, including many working for agencies. The list also included 11 local government officials, 13 local authority councillors and 28 police officers.


Arms Sales (Iraq and Iran)

Mr. Alfred Morris: To ask the Prime Minister if any United Kingdom bank involved in the sale of arms to Iran or Iraq during the Scott inquiry acted during that time in the service of Her Majesty's Government; and in what capacity.

The Prime Minister: [holding answer Friday 14 July 1995]: I am not aware of any such involvement. If the right hon. Member has any relevant information on this subject he will wish to make it available to the appropriate authorities.