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10.41 am

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I begin with an apology. I may have to leave before the final speeches because of constituency commitments, some of which I have cancelled because I am keen to participate in the debate.

Much can be said about the work of public bodies, but I intend to address a narrow point. Sport is a classic example of British administration in which independent public bodies are charged with implementing policy. What exercises me is how Ministers can deliver what is expected of them. We have not yet squared that circle.

I am concerned about appointments to public bodies. I want to consider whether the system of appointments is satisfactory and whether all sections of the community are properly included. The answer, as the Minister admitted,

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is not yet. Things are not improving, which is of great public concern. Although it is clear from his welcome remarks that efforts are being made to improve the system, my report on the work that is being done is that things are not good enough yet. I hope that we do better.

The Minister said that 33 per cent. of appointments to public bodies have been women, but Dame Rennie Fritchie's report makes it clear that this year there has been a decrease—admittedly marginal—in the number of female appointments, from 39 to 38 per cent. Although there has been a marginal increase in the number of women who chair bodies, there has also been a slight decrease in the number of appointments of people from ethnic minorities and a small decrease in the number of appointments of young people and disabled people. The record reflects a marginal backwards movement in our attempts to ensure that people are properly represented on public bodies. I expect better under a Labour Government. There is a will to do better, and we need to focus on how we can deliver on it in practice.

There are lessons to be learned. It will not surprise anyone who is interested in equal opportunities that although there has been a marginal increase in women chairs, the bodies with the most impact are dominated by men. For example, those executive non-departmental public bodies that pay more than £50,000 have a ratio of men to women of 6:1; for those that pay between £20,000 and £50,000, it is 4.5:1; and for those that pay between £10,000 and £19,000, it is 4:1. It is only in the lowest paid bodies that women are in a majority.

There is a problem with the level of authority and appointments, but what can we do about it? We need to address how people navigate their way into such appointments at any level, from local governing bodies—many people start on school governing bodies—to a dynamic executive NDPB. Finding a road in—the initial navigation—confuses most people. There are welcome initiatives, such as mentoring and shadowing schemes and the public service week, but I have the strong impression that the main route in for most people is via a network of which they are a part.

We know that such networks reproduce themselves. That is their nature. There is an urgent need to construct different types of networks. Public appointments reproduce a middle-aged-plus, middle-class, white male network. The Government's first job is to put substantial energy into creating different networks. We do not want one network to provide the motorway into public appointments. In addition to alleyways, byways and country lanes, we need to create different networks in every Department, to link and plug into voluntary action in communities and in those networks that are led by people who do not represent the classic appointees.

The network may provide a route to a system, but we need to confront the criteria that are used to determine many appointments. Every Department should be required to conduct an equality audit of the criteria that they use for public appointment. In my experience, such an audit can radically transform the types of people who are appointed. For example, a proper criterion for making an appointment to a body that deals with health or education should be experience of using those services. A person

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may not have extensive boardroom experience, but extensive experience at the school gate should allow him or her to match the criteria and be appointed.

Mr. Andrew Turner: I sympathise with the hon. Lady's argument, especially in relation to people who are not used to sitting on committees and have not absorbed the committee culture. What concerns me is that having got on to the committee, they find the culture so hostile that it is impossible for them to make their point.

Fiona Mactaggart: That is an admission of failure on the part of our public bodies. We also need to audit properly the practices of those bodies that silence voices. I remember vividly being a very young member—it was a long time ago—of the governing body of a further education college. In those days, I did not have the confidence to call any of the other members by their first names. I called them Mr. So-and-so and Mrs. So-and-so, but they all called each other by their first names. Because I was so much younger, I did not feel that I had the authority to do that. It took courage—hon. Members will know that I am not short of that—to bust through that feeling and challenge a culture that, accidentally, had excluded me by its way of working.

As well as experience of public services, another appropriate addition to the appointment criteria might be commitment to a public service ethos. Many women and members of the ethnic minorities are or have been employed in the public service, but that is not counted as relevant experience for appointment. We also undervalue voluntary activity, especially if it is informal, when appointments to public bodies are considered. Many people have, for example, voluntarily organised school runs and child care circles, but those activities do not significantly contribute to their CVs, unless they have had clever training in how to present them. As a result, a set of major management skills are simply not recognised in appointment criteria.

The first task is to perform an equality audit of the criteria. The second is to make it easier for people who would like to know how to put themselves forward for public appointments. One problem that inhibits the under-represented groups in even applying is a form of self-censorship. I vividly remember a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) about how the discrimination that she had faced in life because she is a woman was often self-created, but that the discrimination that she had faced because she is in a wheelchair was often physically in front of her. We need to make it easier for people to see their way in. I recommend the creation of a single website—it would improve access only for people with access to the web, but more people will have such access in future—that explains what bodies exist and gives information about appointments.

Mr. Tom Harris: My hon. Friend's points about accessibility to quangos have a parallel in the debate about encouraging women to enter Parliament, and I know that she has been involved in efforts to encourage women to stand as candidates. Those efforts have failed to the extent that we have had to change the law to make all-women shortlists legal. Is not what she suggests simply the same old method that has failed in our party?

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend anticipates the final point of my remarks. It has always been my view

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that when trying to make a horse drink, we should offer encouragement before dunking its head in. We need single gateways and simpler sources of information. When I have encouraged constituents who are appropriate candidates for appointment to public bodies, I have found it difficult to give them sensible information about what opportunities exist in suitable areas. For example, I know someone who works in public service, has much experience in building up ethnic minority businesses and is fanatical about cricket. He could contribute substantially in several areas—such as sport and business—but I could not direct him to a single website or publication that would give him information about what opportunities might exist. We need to simplify such information.

The third task is to form a clear policy for advertisements for jobs. I remember when the Greater London council took a policy decision to advertise posts in ethnic minority newspapers. Just that decision changed the nature of the people who were appointed to posts at all levels in that public authority. We are not as rigorous in public appointments now, and it is wrong that the main ethnic minority newspapers and publications aimed at women who are seeking employment are not used as a matter of course for advertising public appointments. Those who look in The Guardian, The Times and The Daily Telegraph are a peculiar minority bunch, and we need to ensure that those who are not in that class of people can find out about public appointments that might give them an opportunity to serve.

More work needs to be done to build on the shadowing and training initiatives. Dame Rennie Fritchie's report describes some impressive work in that area, but individual public bodies need to mount their own efforts to build on that. I also recommend that those who make appointments to public bodies take some risks, especially with young people. In many ways, it was a risk appointing me as a teenager to the board of an FE college, but I was a good governor and stayed on the governing body for a long time. Those who appoint people to public bodies should be given an opportunity to take a risk with one appointment—a wild card—and perhaps appoint a young person. Some of those appointments will fail, inevitably, and I do not suggest that risks are taken with appointments to chairs or with people who lack a broad enough range of experience. However, unless we take some risks, we will continue to reproduce the old pattern. There are places that we can look for appropriate young people, such as those who are attempting the Duke of Edinburgh award or who are involved in their student unions. They are not considered by those looking to recruit to our public bodies, but such young people have much to offer.

We must also consider using force to deal with the problem. We should consider imposing a quota on appointments to public bodies that have an especially poor record of appointing women, members of the ethnic minorities and disabled people. Let us be honest and admit that there are some constant recidivists. Unless we target them, they will not change. I asked for an information sheet from the Cabinet Office on appointment statistics, and I received some figures for 1999.

Hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that 92 per cent. of those appointed—more than 1,000—by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were men.

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However, we all know how involved women are in food and food preparation in the family, and in managing and coping with the farm when the husband is out on his tractor. The second-worst was the Ministry of Defence, where the figure was 84 per cent., followed by financial institutions such as the Inland Revenue, the Royal Mint, the Export Credits Guarantee Department and the Treasury. They were in relative contrast to the Department of Health and the Home Office, but not one Department had a majority of women appointees.

The best was the Department of Health, where 44 per cent. of the appointments were women. However, we all know that the largest group of employees in the health service are women and that, very often, it is women who negotiate entry into the service. Within the family, women often manage the connection between the family and the health service. However, not even in the Department of Health were the majority of appointees women.

We have had enough of the voluntary approach. The Minister should force those Departments with the worst inclusivity records to become more interested. Until we use some stick, the carrot will continue to fail. This is not just a mad feminist ranting from the Back Benches. I have looked carefully at our public service and it is not serving people like me properly. Until the voice of women is heard in the Treasury, the Bank of England and other financial institutions, we will miss out on a different perspective and, as a result, we will do the job worse.

Women need representation. Without it, institutions fail because they ignore not half of the population, but more than half. My remarks about women apply also to disabled people, who are physically excluded from many of the services provided or supervised by public bodies, and who are not counted in policy making. They apply also to those in ethnic minorities who, in many ways, have been the worst victims of the kind of networks that I have described.

Our record on this is just not good enough. I want to praise the Minister for calling the debate and for having the courage to admit that not enough progress has been made. But those of us who support him might start not only to encourage him, but to shove him forward, because it is not enough to make good statements or to have good intentions. We must have a strategic plan that delivers.

Labour has been in power for five years and has not made a sufficiently substantial impact on appointments to public bodies. There has been good will, but there have not been enough powerful instruments to ensure that that good will is implemented. I suspect that, in many cases, the usual channels and the usual networks have produced lists of chaps for Ministers to approve. Ministers have been busy and have had neither the energy nor the time to say, "Let's have some chapesses. We are bored with this." So the chaps have carried on getting through, and many of them are very good chaps. However, they cannot do all the work on their own. Until we get proper representation of currently excluded groups, we will fail our communities.

Non-departmental public bodies have huge responsibilities in terms of public service. They cannot properly serve the public unless they include all sections of the public in decision making. At present, they are failing to do that.

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