Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Better Government Programme

3. Mr. Edwards: If he will make a statement on the progress of his better government programme. [15092]

Dr. David Clark: We are making good progress in developing the better government White Paper, which will set out a vision for public service into the new millennium. Our aim is to make government simpler and more responsive to citizens. That will partly be achieved by using the latest developments in information technology to improve the services we offer. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set the target that one quarter of Government services should be deliverable electronically within the next five years.

Mr. Edwards: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the better government initiative

19 Nov 1997 : Column 312

should involve the talents and experience of those in local government, where a number of improvements in service delivery have already been introduced?

Dr. Clark: Yes. I think it essential that we involve ordinary citizens at every level of government. Ordinary citizens do not distinguish between tiers of government, whether central or local; all they are interested in is the quality of the service that they receive. The better government initiative aims to end the perception that government is only about queues and forms. I am determined that local government will be involved in the initiative because local government is involved in many exciting initiatives in service provision. In order to co-ordinate and learn from those experiences, I recently set up a working group as part of the central-local partnership initiative, so that we can look at the various pilots and try to spread best practice.

Mr. Jenkin: May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he has told me in a written answer that it is not Government policy for Ministers to be accessible by e-mail? With all the talk about better government and information technology, would it not be a good idea either for Ministers to have e-mail addresses instead of handing out a sheaf of replies consisting of "I will reply to the hon. Gentleman as quickly as possible", or for him to tell me that Ministers have no intention of having e-mail addresses?

Dr. Clark: The hon. Gentleman does not understand my answer correctly if he thinks that I am saying that it is not my policy to encourage Ministers to have e-mail addresses or to use them. In fact, I do have an e-mail address and it is public. My reply to the hon. Gentleman was that the information is not held centrally and therefore I cannot provide him with the answer for which he asks.

Mr. Coaker: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the better government programme is absolutely essential if we are to bring government closer to the people, overcome some of the cynicism people feel towards government and take better decisions in the future?

Dr. Clark: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We fought the last election on the issue of the regeneration of our country, economic, social and democratic. Part of that appeal was the democratic appeal and, through our better government initiative, it is our hope and intention to involve many more of our citizens in the running of their country.

Non-departmental Public Bodies (Women)

4. Mrs. Ballard: What measures he will be taking to increase the number of women on the boards of executive NDPBs. [15093]

Mr. Kilfoyle: All Departments encourage women to apply for public appointments and are committed to fair selection procedures. As part of that process, Departments are currently drawing up individual plans for the increased representation of women on public bodies. Those plans will include specific targets for each Department and will cover the period 1998 to 2001.

Mrs. Ballard: The Minister will be aware that, of those women who currently hold public appointments, the vast

19 Nov 1997 : Column 313

majority are in unpaid, not paid, appointments. When drawing up his targets, will the Minister ensure that there is a target for equal representation of women in paid as well as unpaid appointments?

Mr. Kilfoyle: It is certainly the Government's policy to encourage women to participate at every level within what is commonly known as the quangocracy. The commissioner for appointments has set out a code of practice in which equal opportunity is a central element. In addition, the public appointments unit is actively seeking more women nominations to its list--it currently stands at 31 per cent. of its total--so that Departments have a ready reservoir of willing and--[Hon. Members: Able."] That is not my word. I am talking about willing and well qualified women who are available for appointment to both paid and unpaid non-departmental public body jobs.

Mrs. Gorman: Will the hon. Gentleman consider looking at the staffing of foster homes, which are often privately run, many of which have been in the news lately for severe abuses of children? Does he agree that, if more older women were used to head those institutions, there would be less of the abuse that we keep reading about in our newspapers and which is such a disgrace? Older women would not have the wool pulled over their eyes in these matters.

Mr. Kilfoyle: I do not know if the hon. Lady is suggesting that the Government should nationalise private foster homes--I doubt whether she is. What the hon. Lady is suggesting is not within our remit, but I will pass on her comments to the appropriate Ministers.

Charter Objectives

5. Mr. Simon Hughes: If Her Majesty's Government plan to provide for penalties or sanctions for non-compliance with charter objectives; and if he will make a statement. [15094]

Mr. Kilfoyle: We are committed to relaunching the charter programme so that it meets the needs and wishes of people who use public services on a daily basis. That is why we are currently consulting on how best to do this, including looking at issues of compliance. Details of the new programme will be published as part of the better government initiative.

Mr. Hughes: Are Ministers aware that the patients charter, to which the Government are committed, says:


that last word is in bold print--


    "of admission into hospital to cover all admissions into hospital."

When the Government took office, there were 155 people for whom there was no treatment in 18 months and, yesterday, we learned that there were 818 people for whom there was no treatment in 18 months. As a result of the guarantee being broken, will there be compensation for the individuals affected, will they be admitted to hospital, or is the guarantee--it is much more important than a pledge--worthless in terms of guarantees about NHS treatment under this Government?

Mr. Kilfoyle: The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of

19 Nov 1997 : Column 314

State for Health in which he likened turning round the situation on waiting lists to turning round a super-tanker. The previous Government left a dreadful legacy, and that is why my right hon. Friend and the Government have taken immediate action, including the provision of £269 million this year. They have appointed a waiting list action team, led by Stephen Day, with task groups in each of the eight regions to ensure that by next March we have looked at that 18-month limit and are turning round the huge lists that were bequeathed to us by the last Government.

Quangos

6. Kali Mountford: What representations he has received about changes in the working practices of quangos. [15095]

Dr. David Clark: Over the past few years quangos have been roundly criticised for being too secretive, unaccountable and unrepresentative. Last week I published the "Opening Up Quangos" Green Paper, which addresses those criticisms and sets out our plans to make quangos more open, accountable and effective.

This is open to widespread consultation and I look forward to receiving the views of people from throughout the country.

Kali Mountford: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. I welcome the Green Paper, which I am sure will shine light on the secretiveness and unaccountability of the quangos set up by the Conservative Government. Given my right hon. Friend's commitment to freedom of information, may I ask him whether quangos will be covered by a freedom of information Act?

Dr. Clark: We shall introduce a number of measures to open up quangos, including open annual meetings, publishing the minutes and annual reports. We are also, keen to encourage a wide cross-section of the community to become involved. The freedom of information legislation, as I said, will have wide coverage, right across Government. I cannot anticipate what the White Paper will contain, but I am pretty sure that my hon. Friend will not be disappointed.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the effectiveness of quangos essentially depends on who is selected to serve on them? When they consider that matter, will quangos refrain from selecting people purely on the basis of political correctness?

Dr. Clark: I am delighted that at long last the hon. Gentleman, and I hope his colleagues, have seen the light. We live in a pluralistic society, and it is important that quangos and other bodies that help to advise the Government represent a cross-section of our society. I believe that one of the reasons why quangos got such a bad name over the past 18 years was the manner in which the previous Government stuffed them with their own appointees.

Mr. William Ross: Does the Minister recognise that most citizens are not interested in changing the working practices of quangos, but rather in bringing them under direct democratic control, especially at local level?

19 Nov 1997 : Column 315

Nowhere do people feel more strongly about that than in Northern Ireland. What steps do the Government intend to take to restore democracy to the Province?

Dr. Clark: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. The document that I produced last week referred to the 1,000 or so quangos that are national, but in addition to those, there are thousands that have regional, provincial or local application. I hope that out of the consultation and the on-going debate on democracy and about our devolution proposals, we will find it possible for some of the local and regional quangos to be subsumed by local government.


Next Section

IndexHome Page