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19 May 1999 : Column 1045

Oral Answers to Questions


The Minister was asked--


1. Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): What progress has been made in providing Her Majesty's Government's publications in readable form for people with sight impairment and other disabilities. [83639]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Dr. Jack Cunningham): Arrangements have now been put in place to enable people with visual impairment to obtain key Government publications in suitable alternative formats, including braille, large print and audio formats.

Mr. Clarke: Is my right hon. Friend aware that organisations which deal with people with sensory impairments are keen to encourage the Government to provide first-class information from Departments? Those organisations have praised the Department of Trade and Industry, but have expressed some disappointment that the recent White Paper "Modernising Social Services" was not available to them. Will my right hon. Friend encourage all Departments to walk that further mile to make information available, especially in braille and on tape, to that important group of people?

Dr. Cunningham: Yes, I will do that. The recent White Paper "The Future Management of Crown Copyright" stated that, in future, when Departments contract for the publication of their work, they will be encouraged to make provision for the publisher to supply data in electronic form and in a form suitable for translation into other forms. The "Modernising Government" White Paper is certainly so available. As my right hon. Friend will know, the Royal National Institute for the Blind has a copyright licence, issued free of charge, to reproduce all Crown and parliamentary texts in braille, audiotape and braille-coded floppy disk formats.

People's Panels

2. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): What steps he is taking to evaluate the work of people's panels. [83640]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle): It is for the individual organisations that have set up people's panels to evaluate them. The Cabinet Office will carry out an independent evaluation of the people's panel.

Mr. Swayne: I find that answer extraordinary. Will the Minister undertake, in this age of open government, to publish a list in the Library of those policies that have been changed as a consequence of the deliberations of people's panels? Will he also undertake to ensure that,

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on Second Reading of Bills, Ministers will report to the House how any provisions have been altered as a consequence of the intervention of the people's panel?

Mr. Kilfoyle: The hon. Gentleman may have found that an extraordinary answer, but it was an extraordinary question. First, it was not clear whether he was referring to the people's panel or to the current trend for establishing people's panels, or citizens' panels, by local government around the country. That is the distinction that I tried to make. Secondly, the deliberations of the people's panel do not dictate policy: policy makers decide policy and the people's panel merely informs their considerations. Thirdly, if the hon. Gentleman has a specific question for any of the people's panels that have been set up, it is the responsibility of the organisation that established them.

Charter Mark

3. Jacqui Smith (Redditch): What plans he has for the promotion of the charter mark scheme. [83642]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle): The Government are committed to developing and expanding the charter mark. At least 80 per cent. of applicants secure better performance from applying. We shall continue to promote it through a dedicated seminar programme, targeted contacts with the public sector and the use of local, trade and technical media.

Jacqui Smith: May I tell my hon. Friend that the departments of Redditch borough council and Alexandra hospital which achieved the charter mark have been encouraged by it? Meanwhile, I am often struck during meetings with voluntary organisations by the extent to which they provide high-quality services and work in partnership with public sector organisations. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would make sense to encourage those organisations to apply for the charter mark, and to extend eligibility criteria so that they may do so? Will he outline the Government's plans, or any action that they have taken, to promote the charter mark among voluntary organisations that work with the public sector?

Mr. Kilfoyle: I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Alexandra hospital, two units of which have applied for the charter mark and learned from the experience. From 2000, any voluntary sector organisation that provides a public service and that receives more than 50 per cent. of its funds from public sources will be eligible to apply for the charter mark.

Public Appointments

4. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): If he will make a statement on the maintenance of political balance in public appointments. [83643]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Dr. Jack Cunningham): All appointments are made on merit. Political affiliation is not a criterion for appointments, except on a very small number of bodies that include cross-party representation.

Mr. Brady: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his response. He will be aware that I have had cause to raise

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a concern with the independent Commissioner for Public Appointments about the large number of Labour councillors appointed to health trusts and authorities. Given that the Nolan report and the Neill report recommended that appointments should be made from lists held by the independent commissioner, not Departments, when do the Government intend to put that recommendation in place? When will the commissioner control the list, rather than the Minister and his right hon. Friends?

Dr. Cunningham: It is not surprising that local councillors of all political persuasions play a part in local health authorities and other organisations. The attitude of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues betrays the fact that they engaged in the systematic appointment of their friends and cronies when the Conservatives were in office. That is not our approach. The Government accept the Nolan principles, and we abide by them.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): As Members of Parliament, we are asked to comment on bishops and health chief executives, but we are not always asked about regional development agency chairmen or chief executives. Where is the consistency in that?

Dr. Cunningham: Anyone can nominate anyone for a public appointment. Indeed, anyone can offer himself or herself. The process is perfectly open and straightforward, but if my hon. Friend has a particular complaint, I should be happy to discuss it with him.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): I welcome the Government's acceptance and implementation of the Nolan proposals. The Minister said that Members of Parliament sometimes play a useful role in encouraging people of suitable qualification to go forward for public appointment. However, will he take on board the fact that the responses of different Departments are extremely variable? It may be helpful if the Government went beyond merely signalling adherence to the Nolan principles by indicating that they would be willing to accept such advice and help as is offered.

Dr. Cunningham: Yes, we are open to advice and help from all Members of Parliament from both sides of the House. I have recently encouraged colleagues in the north-west to put up suitable candidates for nomination for appointment to the Bench in the Duchy of Lancaster area for which I have responsibility as Chancellor.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Will my right hon. Friend take great care to consider the political balance of many existing lists? Some of us are increasingly concerned by the number of Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and, in particular, ex-members of the Social Democratic party who now sit in the other place who are being appointed to positions of considerable importance. It worries some of us very much indeed.

Dr. Cunningham: It just goes to show that you can't satisfy all of the people all of the time. In the Duchy of Lancaster, it is important to achieve political balance not

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only on the Bench but in the membership of the advisory committees for appointments to the Bench. I am pursuing that agenda with the appropriate people.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): But in an attempt to satisfy some of the people some of the time, will the right hon. Gentleman place in the Library, and tell me when he has done so, a list of all those who have been appointed to public office since 1 May 1997, together with their known political affiliation? May we also have a list of those who have not been reappointed, with their affiliation?

Dr. Cunningham: By definition, all names of people appointed to public office are already in the public domain. I am not sure that I intend to go to extraordinary, costly, bureaucratic lengths to republish all their names. The reason people are not reappointed these days is either that they choose not to continue or that, according to the Nolan requirements, their time is up.

Sir Patrick Cormack: What does the right hon. Gentleman have to hide? Why can we not have the political affiliation of these people? Their names may all be published in various places, but can we not have a list of them with their political affiliations?

Dr. Cunningham: We have absolutely nothing to hide. The appointment of people to public positions since May 1997 is far more open and balanced than it ever was in the 18 years of Conservative Governments.

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