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Mr. Waldegrave : No, the hon. Gentleman can wait. Let us celebrate the turnaround to the present position--a net inflow of £60 million a week from privatised industries, and a huge cut in the size and patronage of the state.
Mr. Meacher rose
Mr. Waldegrave : I will give way once more to the hon. Gentleman, if he promises to remain seated after that.
Mr. Meacher : The right hon. Gentleman has now been speaking for 36 minutes, and he has not even mentioned the key point made by Opposition Members. Irrespective of the advisory and fairly unimportant quangos that have been removed, we are concerned about the quangos with substantial executive powers--and the fact that they have been packed with Tory appointees. When will the right hon. Gentleman come to that point ?
Mr. Waldegrave : I have already dealt with the classic example that the hon. Gentleman picked--housing and the Housing Corporation. We have indeed increased the powers of the Housing Corporation, for a very good reason : we support the housing association movement. The hon. Gentleman has had plenty of opportunities to oppose that policy over the past 14 years, and we do not resile from it by one inch. Many of the plum posts that have now gone were those to which Labour Governments used to appoint their friends in the old days, in the name of scaling the commanding
Column 472heights of the economy. Those were the days of true state patronage ; indeed, so many key jobs went to Labour's non- elected trade union cronies that it was not clear whether the state was giving patronage to the TUC or vice versa.
Here is a typical product of the corporate state under Labour. Let us remember Mr. Jack Jones. As The Guardian observed in a leader on 17 July 1978,
"he may have retired but he is by no means idle. He
remains--according to a recent written reply in the Commons--deputy chairman of the National Ports Council and a member of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, the Anglo-German Foundation for the study of Industrial Society, the British Overseas Trade Board, the board of the Crown Agents, the EEC Economic and Social Committee, the Iron and Steel Advisory Committee, the National Advisory Council on the Employment of Disabled People, the National Economic Development Council, the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure, and the UK National Commission for UNESCO".
Then there were Mrs. Jones's appointments. I have no time to go into them.
In 1977, 39 members of the TUC council between them held 180 state appointments. David Ennals simply fired 32 chairmen of health authorities whom he suspected of Conservative sympathies, replacing them with Labour placemen. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), in a famous scandal, fired Diana Macleod from the National Gas Consumers Council to appoint a Labour placeman. Incidentally, the Labour party is still at it : 21 governors were removed from Hull's schools last year and seven from the East Riding's schools entirely because the Labour party wanted to ensure maximum control and prevent applications for grant- maintained status.
The fact that Labour dares to attack us over appointments to quangos shows that it believes the British people have a very short memory. Those were the days of real power patronage--when poor Mr. Wilson bleated, "Get your tanks off my lawn, Hughie", as hon. Members may remember, when the Prime Minister's son-in-law became ambassador in Washington and when George Woodcock explained how to get on to the gravy train. This is how it was done, apparently :
"seniority, the muscle power of your Union and competence. These are what you need to get a public job, and in that order of priority".
It was too much even for some of Labour's supporters. I have here an article from The Scotsman , dated 4 August 1978. One Councillor George Foulkes was very indignant about the whole matter : he was worried that the Scottish Office had so many posts to fill that "they were in danger of running out of enough experienced and creative thinking' people for the posts that needed to be filled". I somehow do not think that Councillor Foulkes's definition of "creative thinking" strayed far from the Labour line.
I have a list of known Labour supporters whom we have appointed to posts. I am proud of that--and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made some play of one example at Question Time today. We do appoint people to public jobs on merit, and I do not claim for a moment that all the talent is on one side of the political spectrum.
We had difficulty with the health service appointments, because before the election the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) threatened Labour councillors and others if they were tempted to take posts on trust boards. As the House will remember, he went further and threatened NHS employees with dismissal if they carried
Column 473out Government policy. [Hon. Members :-- "That is not true."] It is true : the right hon. Member for Islwyn, then Leader of the Opposition, disowned him for it.
The Labour leopard has not changed its spots. In other areas, where Labour does not intimidate people--or, perhaps, where the people are not so easily intimidated ; people like the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer)-- we find distinguished Labour supporters on quangos. I know that the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the British film industry is extremely useful to the British Film Institute. That is the proper tradition. That is the tradition that we shall maintain, that is the tradition of the House and the country. It is the tradition of fairness and impartiality, which my party will uphold, and it needs no lectures from Labour in doing so. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the amendment and make some sense of this absurd motion.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) : In response to a point of order before the debate began, Madam Speaker set the theme for the debate. She said :
"It is important that the Executive are answerable to the House". That is what the debate is about : the transfer of responsibility from Ministers who are accountable to the House to organisations which are not accountable to the House and can, therefore, behave in a reckless and dangerous manner without being held to account on the Floor of the House of Commons.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that in the national health service we have an "open and accountable structure". I shall tell the House of Commons how the open and accountable structure of the national health service operates as a result of the activities of and legislation introduced by the Government.
On 17 March 1993, my constituent, Lorraine Kelly, of 16 Bates street, Longsight, walked out of Burton house, which was affiliated to Withington hospital in Manchester. Lorraine Kelly was a diagnosed schizophrenic. She had entered Burton house on 3 December 1992 and her sister had asked for her to be placed in a secure unit. Lorraine Kelly was under close observation. She was supposed to be looked in on every five minutes because she had twice attempted to commit suicide. She was not looked in on every five minutes and on 17 March she walked out of Burton house. It was impossible to trace her until, on 1 May last year, her body was found in the Manchester ship canal. Miss Kelly's sister first asked the Secretary of State for Health to inquire into that extremely serious matter. The Secretary of State for Health, as is characteristic of her when she is approached on a matter relating to an individual, immediately passed the buck. She passed the buck to something called the NHS management executive and it immediately passed the buck to the South Manchester health authority, from which nothing useful has been heard since. However, the sister of my constituent was not prepared to accept the circumstances in which Lorraine Kelly was allowed to die, or perhaps to kill herself, just like that. She contacted the Mental Health Act Commission, set up under statute by the Government in 1983. On 22 April 1993, a
Column 474person called Miss Teresa Quinn, signing herself as an administrative officer, wrote from the Mental Health Act Commission to say that Miss Kelly's query was receiving attention. Almost a month passed by and then another person, called Jeanette Wilson, an executive officer of the Mental Health Act Commission, wrote again to my constituent's sister, saying that it was sorry to hear of her death and recommending further action, not by the commission, but by my constituent.
My constituent persisted. In November last year, she received a letter from someone called William Bingley, who is the chief executive of the Mental Health Act Commission. I have discovered, after nearly a week of attempting to obtain information from a Government who believe in open government, that he receives £41,000 a year for being chief executive. He wrote to my constituent's sister, saying that the Mental Health Act Commission was pursuing two concerns. That was in November, more than three months ago. On 7 December 1993, my constituent's sister received a letter from yet a fourth person in the Mental Health Act Commission, Anne Hill, administrative officer, saying that the commission was continuing to investigate my constituent's complaints.
My constituent's sister is taking legal action and she has now been told on the telephone that the Mental Health Act Commission will refuse to continue its investigation unless she drops her legal action. It is nearly a year since her sister disappeared and it is 10 months since her sister was found dead.
We have a totally unaccountable system in which a Secretary of State who should have responded to that extremely serious matter did not respond but passed the buck. The matter should have lain with the Secretary of State, but what has happened is that it has been passed from organisation to organisation, including the Mental Health Act Commission, which messes about, and has four people--no doubt paid substantial salaries--writing letters that refer scarcely, if at all, to letters sent by other employees of the Mental Health Act Commission.
We have here as vivid an example as it is possible to find of what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster called an "open and accountable structure" : a person who should have been watched, a person who was suicidal, was not watched : a person walked out of a hospital and died in dreadful circumstances ; and, nearly a year later, my constituent's sister might as well have forgotten about it because nothing has been done. That is what the Government are creating--a corporate state, in which responsibility is being transferred from Ministers accountable to the House of Commons to organisations, people and institutions who do not give a damn ; and the reason why they do not give a damn is that they cannot be called to account on the Floor of the House.
When I first entered the House of Commons as a Member in 1970, it was possible to raise a matter and obtain a reply. Now one has a Secretary of State for Health, like other Secretaries of State, who is simply a postbox, drawing an extremely large salary and doing nothing for it to redress individual grievance, which is what the House of Commons is about if it is about anything.
Mr. David Nicholson : I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should make what appears to be a party political issue of a tragic and grave case of maladministration. Has he or his constituent referred that serious matter
Column 475to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, who acts as the national health service commissioner, to whom constituents can refer matters directly without having to go through a Member of Parliament ? The Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, on which the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) and I both serve, examined a case from Wigan last week which was similar to the one that he mentioned, although not nearly as grave, and took it most severely.
Mr. Kaufman : I referred the matter to the Commissioner on Monday, but the hon. Gentleman is being impertinent when he says that my argument is a party political point. My constituent was in distress, and gave me permission to raise the matter publicly and to name her, because she was so angry that, nearly a year after she wrote to the Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Lady had not responded to her and nothing had been done about it. I am afraid, therefore, that it is the hon. Gentleman who is making a party political point about a terrible example of negligence leading to death and human grief.
The Mental Health Act Commission is a statutory agency and that example of something that happened with the agency is something about which I have campaigned in the House since I returned to the Back Benches. It is not all the rubbish that the Chancellor of the Duchy talked about abolishing this quango or creating that quango ; it is about transferring activities that were formerly the responsibility of Ministers accountable to the House to agencies which are no longer accountable to the House for their individual activities. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster nearly made a very important commitment. Referring to me gratuitously, he said that I was campaigning to get responses from Ministers and that I had the right to get responses from Ministers. However, when I intervened to ask whether that meant that I would receive a reply from a Minister when I had written about a matter that had been transferred to an agency--Opposition Members fairly said yes and that it also applied to other Members of Parliament--the Minister resiled from what he is on the record as having said : that I had the right to a reply from a Minister. He said that, of course, the agency would reply in the first place and that I should have the right to come back to the Minister.
If I refer back to the Minister, however, I do not have the right to a reply from him. Unless I make a complete pest of myself, as I have been doing for 18 months, all that will happen is that the Minister will refer the issue back to the chief executive of the agency, poor Mr. Michael Bichard, who wishes that I had never heard of him, just as I wish that I had never heard of him. The Mental Health Act Commission--a statutory body- -is only one such agency. Before a general election, at the end of a Parliament, civil servants are authorised to speak to members of the shadow Cabinet. Before the previous election, the Secretary to the Cabinet tried to persuade us of the virtues of "next steps" agencies and expressed his hope that, if a Labour Government were elected--it is very proper that he should anticipate that possibility and it is the right way for civil servants to behave in the run-up to a general election--they would continue the "next steps" agencies. That is all water under the bridge, but, if we had been elected, I am afraid that I should have done my best to stop the growth of those agencies.
Mr. Waldegrave : The right hon. Gentleman is making a fair speech, but it is fair to put it on the record that the present leader of his party supported the "next steps" agencies at that time.
Mr. Kaufman : My right hon. and learned Friend did not and does not support the transfer of accountability away from the House, which is continuing relentlessly.
At the end of last year, there were 92 "next steps" agencies, in addition to 31 executive units of Customs and Excise and 33 executive offices of the Inland Revenue. The total number of civil servants in "next steps" agencies or working along "next steps" lines was 349,655 compared with 262,965 civil servants directly accountable to the House. A considerable majority of civil servants, therefore, are now working for agencies that are not directly accountable to the House. The figures that I have just cited were for the end of 1993. Since then, more agencies have been created. We now have the War Pensions Agency, which has a budget of £55.8 million and a chief executive with a salary rising to £55,740, and from 1 April there will be a Prisons Agency. The existence of the latter means that if right hon. and hon. Members have a constituent in prison who, for example, wishes to be transferred nearer home on compassionate grounds, unless, like me, they are determined to make complete and continual nuisances of themselves, the Home Secretary will refuse to deal with the case and it will be transferred to the Prisons Agency. The Government are relentlessly creating these bodies, but, unlike the dock labour board or the Housing Corporation, for example, whose activities were created to be separate from the House, these agencies mean the direct transfer of accountability away from the House. That impinges on the right of right hon. and hon. Members to deal directly with Ministers on issues of individual grievances which is what this House is about, if it is about anything at all.
There is more. In the national health service, in addition to the Mental Health Act Commission, there are regional and district health authorities, trusts, consortia, purchasing authorities and God knows what else. In addition to the organisations that are publicly known, even if they are not publicly accountable, Ministers have made a number of informal arrangements.
If an hon. Member writes to the Foreign Secretary about an immigration or visa case, unless he is like me and causes trouble, he will get a reply not from the Foreign Secretary or another Minister at the Foreign Office but from a civil servant at the immigration correspondence unit. I refused to accept such letters and sent them back to Lord Howe, who became very annoyed and thought that I was exploiting my status as shadow Foreign Secretary. I was not ; I was exercising my right as a Member of Parliament.
The same is true of immigration cases and dealings with the Home Office. If one has a problem with someone at a port of entry, one is supposed to talk to an immigration officer. I am not going to have a row with an immigration officer about a constituency issue because it is not fair to him and it is not fair to me. If I am to have a row, I shall have a row with a Minister because that is whom I am elected to have a row with and that is what he is appointed to do. He is not appointed to transfer problems to an immigration officer who operates within the rules. A Minister has the right to use his discretion to vary the rules, which is why one needs to be able to talk to a Minister.
Column 477When I first became a Member of Parliament in 1970, Ministers looked at almost everything. I dealt with members of the Conservative Government and I know that they examined individual cases. Now, however, they look at almost nothing. I want to know how a Minister can be held accountable for something that has not crossed his desk. That is the crucial issue. When I was a junior Minister, Ministers were given a boxful of letters to sign. They were in draft form, but Ministers read and signed them. Even if they did not read them, they signed them and were accountable for having signed them. Today, Ministers do not read them. Letters are passed across their desks on a conveyor belt and go to an agency, a unit, a trust or heaven knows what and the Minister is no longer held accountable.
It is curious that, in terms of the number of members of Administrations, this is the largest in the history of this country. Lady Thatcher's was once the largest, but the present Prime Minister has increased the membership even more. However, I do not know how Ministers spend their time. There are more than 100 but they have so little to do for which they are accountable.
I have been in correspondence with Madam Speaker on a most interesting matter referred to me by a constituent, Mr. C. Narrainen, who discovered that it is permissible for a member of the public to send a petition to a Member of Parliament without putting a postage stamp on it. I referred the matter to Madam Speaker and, after having had the matter investigated by the Serjeant at Arms, she told me that the Post Office had confirmed that an address or petition forwarded to a Member of Parliament or the House of Commons may be posted free of charge and set out certain conditions under which it should take place.
Parliament regards the right of redress of individual citizens as so important that it says that individual citizens may write to their Member of Parliament, send them a petition and not have to pay for sending it. But what is the good ? They sign their petition and they are allowed to send it without a postage stamp, but they may as well not put it in a post box. They may as well put it in a litter bin, because when it comes here, the right hon. Gentlemen and Ladies on the Government Front Bench pay no attention because they are not accountable for what takes place.
The House of Commons votes supply. It does not vote that supply to be misused by agencies, but to be accounted for by Ministers. The House of Commons is about people. Thomas Rainborowe said in 1648 : "The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he."
The poorest he that is in England has the right to have his or her case considered by a Minister of the Crown and to get a response through his or her Member of Parliament. It is because the Government are destroying that right that the debate is so important.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : If I understand the Opposition correctly, they are making some interesting claims. Their motion asserts that the use of quangos and contractors somehow undermines accountability, that it somehow lowers service quality, that it somehow increases fraud and waste and, most strange of all, that it threatens standards in public life. At the outset, it would be churlish not to admit that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr.
Column 478Meacher) made quite an eloquent speech supporting such nonsense. Some of it was passionate, some of it, I must admit, was amusing and a little of it was even thoughtful, but absolutely all of it was wrong--for two simple reasons. In fact, the reasons are so simple that the Labour party ought to be able to grasp them.
First, the whole Labour case that we have heard today, and that, I fear, we shall hear in the future, is founded on false assumptions. Secondly, Labour's arguments are always riddled with muddle, with confusion and with misunderstanding. If one could ever disentangle that nonsense, it would reveal that the whole case is misguided and deeply damaging to the very institutions which it seeks to protect. As it always does, the Labour party seeks to make its case by using the same two totally false assumptions. The first is that, somehow, elected bodies, by definition, are more accountable than quangos. Secondly, for some reason that I have never managed to fathom, it assumes that public sector services, by definition, are superior to private sector services.
Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South) : They usually are.
Mr. Wilshire : The hon. Gentleman says that usually they are, but he needs only to examine what happens in the real world to discover that that is total rubbish. Both assumptions are not only false, but, as I hope to illustrate, utter nonsense.
Labour's first assumption, that elected bodies are somehow more accountable than quangos, reveals its lack of understanding at its absolute worse. When Labour Members assert that, they demonstrate that they do not understand the real meaning of accountability or understand the real role of elected representatives ; worse still, they demonstrate that they do not even understand the true nature of local involvement in the whole process.
What are we to make of Labour's failure to understand what accountability is really about ? We have heard a lot about what it is not about, but what are we to make about that failure to understand the truth ? There are two amazing examples of that muddled thinking running through every attack that the Opposition make on quangos and on the so-called lack of accountability. The first bit of muddle is that Labour is always obsessed with the concept of accountability as power over something and as control of something, hence its preoccupation time and again with who runs what. While accountability is in large measure about power and control, it is also about something else, which is even more important : duty to other people.
Mr. Kilfoyle : Would the hon. Gentleman accept that accountability also depends on all relevant information about a body in question being in the public domain and being readily accessible to Members of Parliament and to the wider public ?
Mr. Wilshire : That muddle is coming through again. The hon. Gentleman asks about accountability. Accountability has nothing to do with public bodies other than a public body being a part of the whole. Accountability, as I shall show in a moment, goes way beyond that. Confining any discussion to public bodies and elected representatives and the sort of argument that the hon. Gentleman is using demonstrates how bereft of understanding the Labour party is on that matter.
As I was saying, accountability is equally about duties, such as the duty to find the lowest possible cost and the
Column 479duty to find the best provider, whether in the public sector or not. The hon. Gentleman is falling into the second part of the muddle that I keep hearing. The Labour party uses the words "accountability" and "democracy" as though they are interchangeable when, in reality, they are not. As the hon. Gentleman was in danger of demonstrating, when accountability becomes an obsession over the power and control in public bodies, two things happen. One becomes totally preoccupied with service providers and the provision of service and one begins to say that they must be accountable, therefore one must control them and so one must have information.
I was complaining about the hon. Gentleman because he instantly went into the "I must have" syndrome, which is deadly damaging. If one gets into that mind-set, one overlooks the duty to focus on the needs of people and so people exist only to use the services that one has deemed to be appropriate.
Mr. Kilfoyle : The hon. Gentleman has completely misinterpreted what I said. Will he answer my question about information ? If information is not available, how does one begin to assess whether a body is in any way functioning properly, much less whether it is accountable in any objective terms to the House or to anywhere else ?
Mr. Wilshire : During my attempts to obtain information when I served on other bodies, when I was a councillor and when I was here, I found that by working at it, I got the information that I needed. It is as simple as that. If the hon. Gentleman is having difficulty, perhaps he should examine his methods of trying to get information. If one confuses accountability and democracy, one diminishes both. If one confines accountability to the public sector, one damages the elected representatives and freezes out any involvement at all of people who are not elected or of the customers and clients who use the services.
May I give one example of what I am trying to say ? In the real world, not the fantasy world of the Labour party, a headteacher is not only accountable to the local council, although the Labour party would have us believe that that is what it is all about ; in the real world, a headteacher is also accountable to pupils, to parents, to his profession, to staff and to local taxpayers. That is why I say that accountability goes so much further than the question of involving elected representatives in the process.
I shall say a word or two about Labour's failure to understand the real role of elected representatives. The hon. Member for Oldham, West thought that he was being clever in his reaction to my intervention, but it was a demonstration of my point. Labour's attacks on quangos and its wish to pack them with councillors reveal that it believes that elected representatives must have some sort of statutory role before they can make any worthwhile contribution. That simply is not true. If one believes that point of view, one ends up restricting the involvement of councillors in the bodies on which they sit. That again results in an obsession with service provision. For example, if a councillor can interest himself only in the services which are delegated by Acts of Parliament--the point that the hon. Member for Oldham, West was making when he was complaining that provision of certain services has been taken away from local government--issues such as hospital closures, vandalised telephone kiosks or a lack
Column 480of decent shopping facilities in the locality could never appear on a council agenda, according to the hon. Gentleman's thesis. That is the point that the hon. Gentleman ducked. Happily for us, even Labour councillors understand how wrong he is, because they do put such matters on agendas and discuss them. They understand that the real role of elected representatives goes far further than the bodies to which they can be appointed.
Similarly, the other point that the hon. Gentleman ducked is that if we followed his line councils and councillors would never be able to use their legal discretion to support pressure groups seeking to improve services in the public sector. Happily councils do exactly that, and long may they continue. If the Labour party does not understand that those are correct roles for local councillors, I am sorry, but they do not understand the nature of the beast that they are talking about.
The third muddle into which the Labour party gets itself centres on the question : what is the real nature of local involvement, be it in a quango or in a public sector service ? When they seek to cure the imagined ills that they tell us about Labour Members cannot think beyond the simplistic solution of making local involvement mean local government involvement. Once again, they undermine the real role of councillors.
The blinkered thinking that we keep hearing from the Labour party exposes something else that it does not understand-- the reality of local government taking place out there. [ Laughter .] The hon. Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) may laugh, but let him try to answer a question. If he has had the same experience of local government that I have, does he not agree that what I am about to describe is what happens in the real world ? Labour Members seem to assume that the United Kingdom is somehow blessed with an enormous pool of elected representatives with sufficient time and adequate skills to serve on all the boards, committees and panels that they would seek to set up if they ever formed the Government.
My 11 years in local government taught me something different. Anybody who has served in local government knows only too well about the farce called the council annual general meeting. Somewhere on the agenda, at item 10 or whatever, is the appointment of representatives to outside bodies-- the very thing that the Labour party wants to happen more. At that point in any AGM councillors are press-ganged to serve on dozens, if not hundreds, of bodies
Mr. Wilshire : I and thousands of other councillors have sat through that process. Councillors are press-ganged into service, and no one explains the responsibilities or ever asks for a report back on what happened last year
Mr. Lewis : My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that he felt that one of the roles of Members of Parliament and councillors was to act as advocates for the people whom they represent. I endorse that. The bodies that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) is talking about are vital to the well-being of the people whom councillors represent. Typically, councillors live within the community that they represent. When I was a councillor-- for far longer than 11 years-- people used to knock on my door to secure my advocacy in various arguments with public bodies, and
Column 481now that I have been in the House for 11 years, they still do. Tonight we are saying that there has been a huge transfer not only of power but of the spending of public money, away from locally elected councillors who are accountable and available, to business people who may not even live in the area.
The hon. Gentleman talks about councillors not having the time to go on outside bodies. The same argument applies to business people. I often wonder how they find the time to run their businesses as well as half of local and national government.
Mr. Wilshire : I struggled for a moment or two to understand what relevance the hon. Gentleman's intervention had to what I was saying, but I found out when he referred back to powers being taken away, and again demonstrated that obsession with powers.
The council annual general meeting is crucial to the case that I am making about why the Labour party's solution will not work. Nobody ever asks for the attendance records of outside bodies, because that would be deeply embarrassing. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster described his experience with the health authorities in Bristol. I do not know whether he recalls that when he and I both lived in that area I served on such bodies, but I know only too well that the attendance records for the appointed councillors from local authorities on all the health authorities in Bristol were desperately bad, whatever their political persuasion. What happens when the reluctant appointees finally get to the outside bodies to which they have been appointed ? They probably discover that meetings clash, and that they have council duties at the same time. They probably also discover that the bodies on to which they have been press-ganged require skills that they do not possess, and even that some of the meetings are so boring that they never bother to go again. That is the reality of local government. That is why relying exclusively, or almost exclusively, on councillors will not work.
Mr. Hall : I know that the hon. Gentleman speaks as a former leader of Wandsdyke district council. Does he claim that the experience that he has described to the House happens throughout local government ? That is not my recollection of what happened when I was the leader of Warrington borough council.
Mr. Wilshire : It is nice to know that there is the isolated example that we could all follow, if only we knew where to find it. I do not suggest that everyone was as I described, but I was involved in local government for a long time, nationally as well as in my own council, and I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the experience that I have described occurred throughout the country, irrespective of the political party in control.
Finally, I shall say a few words about Labour's second false assumption-- that public sector delivery of services is somehow or other, by mystical arrangement, superior to private sector delivery.
Mr. Garrett : It is in some cases.
Mr. Wilshire : In some cases yes ; in other cases no. That claim reveals more of Labour's muddle and confusion on delivering services. Labour should concern itself with meeting people's needs. It is our real specialist task,
Column 482whether we have been elected as Members of Parliament or as councillors, to ensure that needs are met, to listen to people's problems and to ensure that arrangements are made to meet their needs. It is not necessarily our task--certainly not exclusively our task-- to meet those needs, either by providing the services ourselves or by poking our political noses into the businesses and organisations that provide the services.
If public services suffer from low standards, as the Labour motion suggests, and from waste and fraud, as Labour claims, that is more likely to arise from political involvement than from political disengagement. When Labour Members are busily attacking the private sector I always suspect that they are doing so in defence of their public sector union paymasters. The jibes that they use demonstrate that they simply do not understand. Labour's most common jibe is that privatisation does not improve services. Well, it did with British Telecom, as we find out if we listen to telephone users, and it did with British Airways, as we find out if we talk to regular air travellers.
Another jibe that the Labour party likes to use is that market testing does not save money. [Hon. Members :-- "It does not."] Tell that to the millions of householders whose dustbins are now emptied by the private sector. A further Labour jibe is that quangos and contractors somehow lead to corruption. However, if I remember rightly, T. Dan Smith was a councillor, and Poulson went to prison for his dealings with local government contracts.
When all those jibes fail, the Labour party falls back on the few contracts in which it can find examples of things that have gone wrong. But in reality such mistakes are usually made because the contract rather than the contractor has got it wrong. And who writes the contracts ? The beloved public sector that the Labour party sets out to defend as though it had a magical ability do things better. So much for Labour's motion and Labour's case. The motion makes claims that are simply untrue. Their case is founded on false assumptions and their arguments are riddled with muddle and confusion--rather like a lump of old timber gnawed away by woodworm and covered with fungus. Until they understand what accountability really means, until they understand the real role of elected representatives and until they put people before the providers and their paymasters--the trade unions--they deserve to fester on the Opposition Benches. That is exactly where they will stay if they continue to come up with this sort of nonsense.
Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro) : This debate is on a constitutional issue. We have no written constitution, so we rely on convention and checks and balances for our democracy. We rely on the protection of elected representatives and accountability to the public. In that context, and in the context of this debate, I shall raise four main points : public sector accountability ; burgeoning political patronage by Ministers ; the huge mismanagement of public money ; and the resulting destruction of our democracy, especially local democracy.
First, on accountability, it is simply wrong in principle for democratically elected councillors and Members of Parliament to be increasingly replaced by ministerial appointees. Despite Margaret Thatcher's promises in 1979 to contain the power of non-elected bodies, we have seen a real increase. In 1980, she said that there would always
Column 483be pressure for new bodies and the Tory Government would be robust in resisting them. What she should have said is that they would be robust in redefining them.
In real terms, spending by quangos has grown by 20 per cent. since the Conservatives won power in 1979, promising to cut them back. Government sources have said, and the Minister said today, that the number of non- governmental public bodies has fallen from 2,167 in 1979 to 1,412 in 1993-- perhaps it is a little less now.
The official Cabinet definition does not include all the executive bodies that the public regard as quangos. For most people, the term "quango" refers to all government by the non-elected. For them, the term includes all appointed bodies, from national health service trusts to training and enterprise councils.
A recent report by the Cardiff business school rightly estimates that unelected appointees to quangos have one fifth of the nation's public expenditure at their disposal. More than £25 billion has passed from local authorities to quangos. The report calculates that, by 1996, there will be approximately 7,700 quangos, on any ordinary person's definition of these things, spending some £54 billion of taxpayers' money.
Each Bill that is brought to the Floor of the House--whether it concerns education, health, transport, the police or training--seems to remove still more power from democratically elected local representatives, and passes it to non-elected Government appointees. Examples of this increase in the power of quangos and the erosion of the power of local elected representatives can be seen in all aspects of society.
In education, grant-maintained schools, sixth form colleges and further education colleges have all been removed from oversight by locally elected, locally accountable councillors. Education is becoming controlled by quangos that are responsible solely to the Secretary of State. Bodies such as the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority determine much of what should be taught in schools while further and higher education funding councils dominate life in colleges and universities. The Funding Agency for Schools directs Government money to opted-out schools. In areas where more than 10 per cent. of pupils are in opted-out schools, it will increasingly have enormous education planning powers.
In the health service, local authority power has been removed in favour of Government appointees. Local representation was scrapped under legislation for the NHS internal market. At the same time, representatives from community health councils lost their right to speak at meetings. Taxpayers' money is going into the pockets of unelected officials and bureaucracy, instead of being spent on patient care.
Recently, the Minister finally admitted that, since the introduction of the internal market, the cost of NHS management and bureaucracy has almost doubled--from 6 per cent. to 11 per cent. In other words, bureaucracy shoots up, and money that should have been spent on health care is going into the pockets of non-elected bureaucrats, many of them appointed by Ministers.
Plans to change the composition of the police authorities will reduce the number of locally elected representatives. Listening to debates in the House of Lords, it is interesting to note how frequently former Ministers, who defended these things here, argue against the next step when they get to the House of Lords and have a little more freedom.
Column 484Local representatives would be marginalised by the appointment of five members of each authority by the Home Secretary. That would centralise power and remove any checks and balances on the role of the state over the police force. Unelected appointees would be able to demand money from the local authority to pay for what they deem the local police force should be doing, rather than responding to local representatives.
I must add, at least for hon. Members on this side of the House, that it is extraordinary to see the number of letters from local magistrates, who are not normally considered a body representative of radical or left-of-centre politics, making the precise point that I just made.
Mr. Streeter : On the point of double standards in public life, does the hon. Gentleman think that the public interest was served by the Liberal leader of Devon county council, Councillor Brian Greenslade, recently voting in his capacity as a county councillor to continue with the county council, and then going back to north Devon and voting in his capacity as a district councillor to abolish the county council ? Is that the sort of double standard that the Liberal party espouses ?