Tony Cunningham (Workington): I am delighted to have this opportunity to share some of my concerns about appointments to public bodies. I am particularly concerned about the enormous power given to many members of public bodies, some of whom have responsibility for huge sums of money. Public bodies play an important role in helping to shape and develop Government policy. More than 1,000 non-departmental public bodies influence the expenditure of a total budget of about £23 billion a yearas I said, it is a huge sum. In addition, there are approximately 500 national health service trust and health authority boards.
Those appointed bodies, often referred to as quangos, have a considerable influence over public life. In that respect, I have no doubt that public bodies are a force for gooda force for progress and social improvement that is to be wholeheartedly welcomed. Indeed, because those bodies have the potential to be at the heart of delivering the programme of social justice to which the Government are committed, I would like to see more effort being made to encourage fair practice within them.
According to a paper on frequently asked questions published by the public appointments unit, appointments are made to public bodies using fair selection procedures in accordance with the relevant codes of practice. However, although such quangos have well-intentioned objectives, I am worried that those aims are not effectively realised.
In the mid-1990s, under the auspices of Lord Nolan, the Committee on Standards in Public Life established seven general principles that should govern public life. I am sure that we all agree on those principles. They are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. It will come as little surprise to hon. Members that such principles are reflected in the remit of many public bodies. However, the extent of openness of those organisations, and by extension their transparency, is questionable.
I wish to highlight the fact that although we have moved on from bodies being simply for the great and the good, a series of structural constraints on the process of appointment make it difficult to counter some of the problems that I am about to raise. Public bodies carry out some of the most important and prominent tasks in public life, but their members, unlike parliamentarians and councillors, are not elected, and the processes by which they are selected are neither well known nor well understood. A recent MORI poll stated:
The Nolan rules recommend that organisations use as many methods as possible to find suitable candidates for jobs in public service. The rationale behind that is surely to allow as wide a range of people as possible to apply. It is impossible to get precise empirical data to support the claim that I am about to make, but I am sure that colleagues will agree that we, as representatives of our constituents, are suitably placed to assess the extent to which they feel that they have adequate access to information about public and civic life. I am sure that so-called ordinary people in my constituency are not aware of the vacancies that arise in public bodies to anywhere near the extent that the Government would like. We might think that advertising on the internet would increase the number of people who apply for vacancies, but people in parts of my constituency have little or no access to the internet, so it does not often affect them.
The next issue is perhaps more parochial, but it is still of great importance. I am far from convinced that people in Cumbriait is nice to see the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) in the Chamberand particularly in west Cumbria, which I represent, have a fair opportunity to get involved in public bodies. The Committee of the Regions was set up because
West Cumbria and Furness have been identified as its top priorities, along with east Manchester and Liverpool, yet it has no west Cumbrian representative. If west Cumbria and Furness are such a high priority, we should have a representative.
The Government remain committed to increasing the range and diversity of all their public appointments. They are committed to ensuring that there is an equal proportion of men and women and a pro rata number of people from ethnic minority backgrounds. They are also attempting to increase public appointments of people with disabilities, and I am sure that we all share those sentiments. Since 1992, the proportion of women in non-departmental public bodies has risen by about 8 per cent. The proportion of people from ethnic minorities who hold a public appointment more than doubled over the same period, but the figure remains low. Indeed, according to The Sunday Times,
However, while gender and ethnicity are at least considered, regional discrepancies are not. Perhaps that is an important factor in explaining the relative disadvantages faced by the regions, and particularly the north of England. The Government are committed to promoting equality of opportunity in all walks of life, and discrimination by gender, ethnic background and age are unacceptable. I contend that discrimination by geographical location is equally intolerable. It is difficult to establish precisely the proportion of people in Workington holding a public appointment, becausestrangelyfigures published by the Cabinet Office are not broken down geographically. It does not report on quangos in Cumbria and tends to refer to "offices throughout England and Wales". That flaw must be addressed. Many of my constituents would be tremendously interested to know how many appointees to public bodies are residents of the 88 local authorities with the most deprived neighbourhoods. If we are serious about social inclusion, such people must be better represented on public bodies.
My intention has been to provide a constructive platform on which future public appointments can be made. The Government should feel no shame at the advances that they have made in actively encouraging more women and members of ethnic minorities to engage in all areas of public life. The Minister has expressed the Government's desire for a wider representation of people regardless of age, disability, gender, ethnicity, geographic or socio-economic background. There is no such diversity of representation at the moment. I hope that highlighting some areas of concern will lead to a genuine, informed debate about how we can widen participation in public life. I am sure that other hon. Members have much to add and would like to raise other concerns. I look forward to hearing from them.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): I congratulate the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) on having secured this important debate. The Government have built up a justifiable reputation for seeking to control every nook and cranny of our lives. One hears examples of the way in which they seek to control their Back Benchers so that many are reduced to clones who, if one is to believe the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), are induced not to spill the beans about what the Government, through Millbank and No. 10, try to do.
The hon. Member for Workington has given us an excellent opportunity to debate the question of public appointments that affect our lives. I shall start by considering the areas on which I could not agree more with himand, I suspect, with the Minister. We need the best individuals from all walks of life and from all backgroundswhether ethnic or gender backgroundsto contribute to the vast array of public bodies in this country that rely on the selfless duty and commitment of those who want to serve. However, on considering the areas in which such individuals are needed, one discovers that all is not well with regard to appointments.
The national health service, for example, is a crucial area, especially in the light of the problems that we have all faced with it over the past few years. As the hon. Member for Workington said, there are 373 chairmen of NHS trusts and slightly more than 1,800 non-executive directors. Until 1 April, the health authorities that were created in 1999 will remain in place, with 520 non-executive directors. Those were all public appointments, made before 2 July last year through a process that eventually depended on Ministers. In addition, from 1 April the strategic health authorities will come into
All those bodies require a significant number of appointments. Because of the numbers, a significant temptation or potential for patronage is vested in the power of Ministers. That is a worrying fact, and the remedy that Ministers have sought to apply to the health service in the form of the Appointments Commission has not rectified the problem but accentuated it.
The Minister can be a bruiser on occasions, and will no doubt make the point that when the Government were in opposition they made the accusation that the health service was stuffed with Conservative placemen. Before he gets too excited about that statement, I should state that the reality was very different, but if one spins a yarn often enough it takes root, regardless of its accuracy. Figures given by the Government in written answers have proved the fallacy of that statement. Of those appointed to NHS bodies who declared a political activity in the last full year of the last Conservative Government, 8.2 per cent. were Labour supporters and 7.2 per cent. were Conservative supporters, with the Liberal Democrats left drifting further down the scale. The Minister could argue that that shows the failure of the Conservative Government. His Government have not made the same mistake, because they are systematically packing the bodies with Labour placemen.
I make my case about the health service through information given in written answers and the Government's own statistics. When Dame Rennie Fritchie became Appointments Commissioner in March or April 1999, she received so many criticisms and complaints about the appointments process that she carried out an investigation. Her report makes interesting reading. She says that in the 1998 appointments round in the north-west national health service region, 70 per cent. of the 109 candidates declared political activity on behalf of the Labour party. She also cites the example of a former Conservative Minister
It transpired from the report that a former Conservative Minister had acted as referee for someone who was seeking a position in an NHS body. The candidate's politics were unknown to the referee, but the individual was known in the local area in which the position was sought and was well qualified as a result of experience gained in professional life. Time and time again, that individual was turned down for a position,
Furthermore, more and more of those who are being placed on NHS trusts and the old health authoritiesI suspect that nothing has changed with the introduction of new strategic health authorities and primary care trustshave declared affiliations to, or act on behalf of, the Labour party. I am not suggesting that simply being associated with politics, be it Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat or any other sort of politics, should be a barrier to a public appointmentof course it should not. Just because one engages in political activity does not mean that one does not have a great deal to contribute, outside that sphere, to a public body.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that most of those people, whether they are Conservative, Labour or Liberal party members, are also active in voluntary and political organisations in their local communities, so they are exactly the people who should be appointed to NHS trusts, for example? It is not that the current situation is anti-Conservative or anti-Liberal Democrat: the establishment is anti-anyone who has any political affiliation.
Mr. Burns : No, I am afraid I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course, many people who are politically active are also active in their communities, but as a Member of Parliament, visiting charitable organisations and local businesses in one's constituency, one encounters many people whose political activities are probably zerocertainly unknownand who contribute in their different ways to the local community. However, the figures show that about a third of those who are appointed have a declared political affiliation, and of those a significant numberfar more significant than the Liberal Democrat and Conservative appointees added togetherhappen to be Labour activists.
Before anyone accuses me of fiddling the figures, let me tell hon. Members that these figures were provided by Department of Health Ministers during the past year or so. Between 2 May 1997 and 31 March 2001, successive Secretaries of State at the Department of Health appointed 5,543 individuals to trusts, PCTs and health authorities. Of those who declared a political interest, 5.2 per cent were Conservatives, 3.9 per cent. were Liberal Democrats and a staggering 25.1 per cent. were Labour activists. Between 1 April and 2 July 2001I use that time scale because on 2 July the Secretary of State ceased to have a role in the appointments, as the Appointments Commission came into force4.5 per cent. of appointees were Conservatives, 2.9 per cent. were Liberal Democrats and 25.2 per cent. were Labour activists.
Once the Appointments Commission was established and had started its work on 2 July, one would have assumed, from the rhetoricbearing it in mind that the members are appointed by the Secretary of State for Healththat the situation would have been different. Ministers would argue that the purpose of the commission is that it should be independent and not influencedas Ministers might bein its appointments. However, extraordinarily, the situation has not improved. Between 2 July 2001 and 10 January 2002, 4.9 per cent. of appointees were Conservatives, 5.4 per cent. were Liberal Democrats and 23.5 per cent. were Labour activists.
If one considers the figures for all the work that the commission has done up to the latest time for which figures are available, which happens to be 4 April 2002, the situation is even worse. Some 4.5 per cent. of appointees were Conservatives and 4.4 per cent. were Liberal Democrats, but the proportion of Labour appointees increased from 23.5 per cent. to 26.5 per cent. Sadly, there is something rotten in the system, whether under the new Appointments Commission system or the old system of Ministers giving final approval to appointees. A disproportionate number of those declaring a political affiliation are from the governing party.
I can come to only one conclusion, given the record and the history of this Government. In the press and information units of the Departments, where we used to have a totally non-political civil service, there is increasing politicisation, as the unfortunate ongoing saga at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions has shown. Mr. Alastair Campbell at No. 10 Downing street has control of information officers and the flow of information across the board. The media are manipulated with good news stories and through what used to bethe spin doctors are losing their touchthe highly skilled practice of burying bad news. One comes to the conclusion that the Government are continuing the politicisation of our society through the appointment of people to public bodies.
It does no service to public bodies or the local community for those bodies to be stuffed with Labour party political hacks. Some are being rewarded for an undue length of time in local government or for retirement from this House. Some who fail to get elected to the House or a local authority are given such jobs as a recompense both financially and to massage their egos.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Is the hon. Gentleman contending that the Appointments Commission is acting improperly, or is he saying that we have a high proportion of Labour activist applicants and that that may reflect a wide public assumption that a person will not be appointed to a position unless he or she is a supporter of the Labour party?
Mr. Burns : I am certainly not accusing the Appointments Commission of wrongdoing, but I believe that it has failed to meet the aims for which it was ostensibly set up. I am also arguing that if a person happens to be a Labour party activist, the system is slanted to benefit such an applicant in appointment to the jobs that he or she seeks.
The statistics show that in recent years there has been a dramatic increase in people with a declared political affiliation being placed on a public body, and an exorbitant increase in those with a political affiliation on a body being supporters of the ruling party. The system is becoming more and more tainted, so we should seek a return to a system in which the person with the best qualifications is appointed, rather than one in which a person is favoured because they happen to support a political party. I am not confident that we will see that during this Government's lifetime, but that does not mean that we should not hold the Government to account over what they are doing about what is, in effect, a distorting and a stuffing of our public bodies with political appointees
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): I congratulate my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) on securing the debate. He spoke so eloquently, and touched on so many subjects, that I have little to add. However, as he looked in my direction when he spoke about the lack of black and Asian representation on public bodies, I thought that I would make a small contribution.
The subject has greater urgency following the events in France on Monday. The far right was successful in France because it portrayed the immigrant community there as spongers, rather than contributors. In Britain, we can learn the lessons of France and ensure that the black and Asian community plays a leading role in the way in which society operates.
We have an impressive and talented ethnic minority group in Britain. It is settled here and is now in its second generation. Young black and Asian men and women make a great contribution to our public services, but sadly their contribution to public bodies has not been of the order that some of us would like. In 1997, I published a report entitled "The Glass Ceiling", and in its opening I quoted the Prime Minister's speech in Brighton on 30 September 1997 when he said that we cannot be a beacon to the world unless we allow the talents of all our people to shine through. That was a commitment from the highest level that the Government would be different, and that they would ensure that black and Asian people were properly represented, not just in the civil service, but on public bodies.
I am pleased to say that progress has been made. I congratulate the various Departments, which have, during the past five years, attempted to ensure that black and Asian people are appointed to public bodies. However, one should consider the appointments that were made up to 1997 in three Departments. In the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, there were 225 appointees, none of whom were of Asian origin; in the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, there were three out of 134; even in the Home Office, there were only 16 out of 332. At that stage, the Department of Health would not release its figures. I am glad to say that the present Secretary of State for Health has not only ensured that the names of ethnic minority people are published, but that a register is now produced each year setting out how many have been appointed. In the overall figures, of the 2,005 appointments made in 1997, only 35 were of people of Asian origin. I hope that when the Minister replies, he can give us the up-to-date figures.
I know that the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) thinks that people like me are just clones of the Minister because we Back Benchers are fairly well controlled, but it is actually much easier to ask the Government to produce the figures than to request the information through parliamentary questions. Judging by the amount of money that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) has spentmore than £500,000 I thinkit is probably cheaper too. Politicians, from the Prime Minister downwards, are committed to ensuring that such appointments are made.
I pay tribute to the work of Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary. When appointed, he made sure that issues of race and diversity were very much a part of his term in that post. He has just managed to appoint the first Asian permanent secretary before leaving office, which he will in July this year. I very much hope that when Sir Andrew Turnbull, the new Cabinet Secretary, takes over, he continues the excellent work of Sir Richard Wilson.
When I published my survey, I found that one of the most interesting facets of the whole debate on public appointments was the lack of understanding of how they were made, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington also referred. That is especially important in the black and Asian communities. When I wrote seeking information before the publication of the report, I discovered that some people on the public appointments register had died. Because that register, from which the pool of talent is drawn, was not regularly updated, there was a risk that the information held on it was very old. I notice that the Government now advertise for those posts. Obviously, that means that information is current, but can the Minister tell us whether the problems encountered in the past over the way in which the civil service gather information have diminished? That would be one way of ensuring that we can modernise the system.
We could also ensure that the appointments are not only published in the mainstream press. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington quoted The Sunday Times. We see public appointments advertised in such newspapers, but if we want more black and Asian people to sit on public bodies, we should advertise in the ethnic minority press and on ethnic minority television and radio. We should seek nominations from a wider range of people. The hon. Member for West Chelmsford said that he does not recommend people. Such matters are difficult because, as hon. Members know, people come to us and ask for our support. It is important for them to realise that they do not need the support of politicians to be considered. That would be the best way of getting really talented people to serve on the committees.
We are coming to an era in which people have a career in quangocracythey do not just sit on one body, but are appointed to others. That is grossly unfair. We want to ensure that the most talented people come forward for what are not full-time appointments. In some of the posts people are paid, but they always, inevitably, spend more time on them than that for which the remuneration, which is pretty low overall, provides. We should introduce a rule that prevents people from serving on more of those bodies. Unless they have retired, I do not see how people have the time to serve
We have a great deal of work to do, but the enormous power of appointment is very important. In the debate on race and citizenship, the need for more black and Asian people to be elected to Parliament and appointed to the House of Lords is discussed, but elections come only once every five years and can only get us so far, although people can stand for local government and be elected as councillors. The Minister's power, and that of the Cabinet Office and other Ministers, is absolutely enormous as far as public bodies are concerned.
We can change the shape and face of Britain by making our public appointments reflect the whole of society. The shadow of Le Pen is, of course, now over Britain, and we should take the leadership role about which the Prime Minister spoke in September 1997. We have the largest settled black and Asian population of any country in Europe. Many black and Asian people who live in Germany and France do not even have the right to vote. We have a huge contribution to make to the European debate. Let us start by giving the black and Asian population the chance to contribute and to serve, and make them truly a part of our multicultural society.
Helen Jones (Warrington, North): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) on securing the debate, and on the lucid way in which he set out some of the difficulties in the public appointments process.
I want to concentrate on another aspect of the matter. Although I recognise the progress that the Government have made in appointing more women and people from ethnic minorities, I particularly want to consider the situation of our more deprived communities. We are all, of course, primarily interested in our constituencies, and constituencies such as mine can show a great deal about how deprived communities are treated. There are few people from deprived communities, and indeed from certain areas of the country, serving on our public bodies. That issue ought seriously to concern us if we really want to create a civic society in which all kinds of people participate in decision making.
I have asked a number of questions about what has happened in my constituency. It is fair to say that some areas have made better progress than others. Progress has been made in appointing more people from my constituency to the magistracy, for example, but the raw figures hide a more serious problem because people from the most deprived communities do not sit on the bench. Bewsey, the most deprived area in my constituency, has no magistrates. Orford, which is the centre of my constituency and covers several wards, has only four magistrates. Things such as that pose a serious problem. Those communities are not represented, yet seven magistrates from outside Warrington sit on the bench. The people who have most experience of crime and antisocial behaviour do not, for whatever reason, have an input into the process of administering the law, which makes us all poorer.
In the past, my constituency had one person on the North Cheshire health authority and one person serving on the Warrington hospital trust. There were six members, four of whom were from Warrington, South and two of whom were from Warrington, North, on the old Warrington community health care trust, which has now ceased to be. Under the new Appointments Commission, we have one member on the new strategic health authority and one member on the hospital trust, which now covers both Warrington and Halton because the hospitals have merged. I have to say to the hon. Member for West Chelmsford that, contrary to the argument that he was making, in an area that is overwhelmingly Labour, there is only one person with a declared Labour affiliation on that trust. We have one member on the new Five Boroughs mental health trust.
It is, however, appointments to the primary care trust about which I am most concerned. They highlight the problem because the primary care trust serves the Warrington boroughthe two constituencies. There are five non-executive appointments plus the chairman. Of those six people, only one comes from Warrington, North. The other five come from three wards in Warrington: two from Stockton Heath, one from Lymm and two from Appleton. Statistically, that seems a very unlikely result.
There are 24 wards in the Warrington borough, and I find it odd that three of those wardsincluding one of the small wards, Stockton Heaththrow up so many members of the PCT. I have to ask why. It is not geographical balance. When I raised that with the appointments commissioner for the north-west, he was rather unhelpful. I am sorry to say that I would rate him as the most smug and self-satisfied public official whom I have ever encountered in my years as a councillor or a Member of Parliament. He told me that the commission appointed the best people. I cannot believe that all the best people come from such a small geographical area.
We have to ask whether there is a flaw in the appointments system. I think that there is. I know of applicants whose applications were not acknowledged. I know that when the interviews took place, the interviewees were asked very technical questions. One of the interviewees, being a fairly lively lady, asked the chair of the PCTwho had been appointed by thenwhat he was looking for. She was told that he was looking for someone with financial or medical expertise. That is not the job of non-executive members. It is the job of the professional executive committee.
The guidance says nothing about parliamentary constituencies, but I remind the Minister of the answer given to me by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Ms Blears):
The same situation can be seen in national bodies. I asked Departments several questions about how many people from my constituency had been appointed to non-departmental public bodies. Most of the answers were notable for their brevity. The answer was "None" for the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Department of Trade and Industry did better in one respect, in that it managed to appoint one person from Warrington, North to the employment appeals tribunalan event for which we were tempted to put out the flags. However, when I asked the DTI and the Home Office about other appointments, I received the usual answer that we all expect, about the information being "not held centrally". That raises some interesting questions.
How can we possibly monitor the make-up of national bodies if we do not hold the information? What information is put before a Minister when making an appointment? How do we manage to write to people to tell them of their appointments if we do not know where they live? Does that make a difference? I think that it does. If we are interested in promoting a civic society, and we want to involve people in decisions about how society moves forward, we must ensure that a cross-section of the community is involved and that areas are not excluded from the process.
The Government are committed to ending social exclusion, but they can do that properly only if people from the communities are involved in the delivery of the services. If we do not involve them, we lose a lot of experience and expertise. The people who live in our poorer communities know most about tackling poverty. Those who suffer most from crime and antisocial behaviour can tell us the most about what affects their lives and their neighbours' lives. Those who live in health-deprived communities can tell us why people do not access services. For example, there is no point designing health services that people in the communities cannot access because there is no public transport, or lecturing people about healthy diets if they do not have access to cheap fruit and vegetables. We need their
Nationally, there must be proper monitoring to ensure that appointments to non-departmental public bodies reflect the regional diversity of the country. It may come as a surprise to some officials in Whitehall that not everyone with brains lives in London. In fact, those of us from the north argue that people with brains opt for a better lifestyle outside London. In addition to the existing criteria for appointments to public bodies, regional diversity should be encouraged.
I suggest that the Minister talk to his colleagues in the Department of Health about the criteria of the NHS Appointments Commission. Locally, it should be required actively to seek out, encourage, train and support people from under-represented sections of the community. If the PCT in my area does not have confidence in my constituents, why should my constituents have confidence in it? That is the key. I want my constituents to get a fair deal in representation on other bodies. At present, they and many people in similar communities do not, and that must be addressed if we are serious about encouraging participation in public life.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) on initiating the debate. I want to concentrate on appointments to health bodies and to draw attention to my concerns about the way in which the NHS Appointments Commission operates in Durham.
As has already been said, the commission was set up following Dame Rennie Fritchie's report in 1998. The view of the Secretary of State for Health was that an independent commission should be set up, because that was the only way to reassure the public that appointments were being made fairly. The NHS Appointments Commission's website refers to the need
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones), I find Sir William Wells's attitude high-handed. He gave the clear impression that he did not want to be at the meeting, and that he thought it an affront that an elected Member of Parliament should question him or his organisation. Things were so bad that 10 minutes into the meeting I told him that I thought it was a waste of time. That pricked his conscience a little, and he started to listen to what I had to say. The chairman of the commission's lack of interest in the concerns of an elected MP is representative of the mindset of the rest of the organisation.
I raised three questions about the case of Kevin Earley. First, if the appraisals that Mr. Earley undertook were good, why did the commission not automatically reappoint him to the chair of the North Durham NHS trust? Secondly, why had he not received full reasons why he had been removed? Thirdly, when the commission failed to make an appointment first time around, why did it exclude at least one chair of a primary care trust from its shortlist of candidates?
The answer to the first question is simple: the commission did not use the appraisals. It consulted the regional director of health, Mr. Peter Garland. Mr. Earley's reappointment was in his hands, even though this is the same Mr. Garland with whom Mr. Earley crossed swords a year earlier about the appointment of a new chief executive of the North Durham trust. I have long suspected that this was Mr. Garland's attempt to get his own back on Mr. Earley, and that is now evident. I tried to find mention of a consultation with the regional director in the appointments procedure, but could not find one anywhere. The case is clearly an example of someone employed by the health service determining who sits on a health board. That cannot be right.
Until I intervened on Mr. Earley's behalf, he had been given no reason why he had been removed. I could not find mention of a decision not to use appraisals anywhere in the procedure book. It is clearly the commission's trademark that it makes up the rules as it goes along. On the subject of existing chairmen, the document, "The Appointment Process for NHS Chairs and Non-Executives", says:
There is no mention of the regional director. I even looked in annexe D, which is headed "Exceptional Procedures", but I could not find any mention of it there. It is ironic that it was Sir William Wells who gave me a copy of the document at our meeting.
In my Adjournment debate, I questioned the basis on which the shortlist of the new candidates for the trust was drawn up, as it does not appear in the appointment process document. In my meeting with Sir William Wells, he admitted that it was not part of the procedure. I also asked why one of the chairs of the party trust was
Equal opportunities has already been mentioned. Mrs. Dorothy Burnett, who applied to be a non-executive member of the local primary care trust, asked me whether I would support her application, and I did, as she was a very able candidate, a committed trade unionist and a past president of her union who sits on the employment appeals tribunal, was an observer to Nicaraguan elections in 1999 and lives in one of the most deprived parts of my constituency, Tantobie. She applied last August and received an acknowledgment on 5 September. After that, she received no further communication and had no reply when she tried ringing the number given in the letter. In January, I wrote to Dr. John Marshall, the regional commissioner, to find out what had happened to her application. She received a letter on 3 February saying that she had been unsuccessful because of the high number and standard of candidates. To date, I, the local Member of Parliament, have not received a reply. How the commission treats Members of Parliament should be examined. If
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Obviously, the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) could dig deeper into his treasure store of the workings of the appointments system, but time does not permit him to do so.
The hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) has done us a service in bringing this matter before us, because of the extent of public bodies to which such appointments are made, the value of the public service done on them and the serious failure to get to grips with the under-representation of various groups, including women, ethnic minorities, people from particular parts of the country or, as the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) so effectively described, from deprived areas within regions and constituencies. She is a model of a Government supporter holding Ministers vigorously to account, which is not a contradiction in terms. The practice should be encouraged.
The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) made an interesting trawl through the figures. He might have looked at the figures for water authorities during the earlier years of the Conservative Administration, too, which showed similar trends. All parties should recognise that if procedures are not in place for public appointments that are not heavily influenced by political preference or affiliation, difficulties will be experienced and circumstances such as exist now will be created. In
Various concerns have been expressed. Much reference has been made, as perhaps it should be, to gender balance, because of the continuing conspicuous failure in that area. The Departments that have shown an improvement in the proportion of women on public bodies are the smallest, and include the Cabinet Office and the Export Credits Guarantee Departmentall the Departments that started from a very low base. The record of large Departments, such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has vast numbers of appointments, is frightening. The Department still achieves only an 87:13 male to female ratio of appointments. Its target is only 80:20, and it seems unlikely to meet it. That shows how far short it is falling of the objective of achieving a better balance. Let us compare departmental figures with those for the Scottish Executive, who have a male to female ratio for public appointments of 53:47. It is obviously possible to do a great deal better than most Departments in England are doing.
Achieving a gender balance presents a serious problem, which Dame Rennie Fritchie has examined. It has been suggested that the emphasis that she places on the legal framework may be a factor in that and other problems of representationbecause of the merit argument. I am not arguing that people should be appointed to jobs for which they are not suitably qualified or appropriately experienced. In the appointment of single posts, such as chief executive or chairman, a particular mix of qualities will be required and one will want to get the best person available.
If one appoints several people to a body over a period of time, however, one wants it to be broadly representative, so background and experience are relevant factors in assessing merit. We must ensure that merit is defined in that broad context, especially in bodies that, taken together, are expected to be representative and to reflect a variety of backgroundsas most public bodies should.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) spoke about the representation of ethnic minorities. I agree that we must advertise the opportunities for public service and contributions one can make to public life that are available to people in ethnic minorities, as to other groups. A more active effort is required to overcome any feeling that there might not be a place for ethnic minority groups in the apparently closed world of advisory bodies.
The hon. Member for West Chelmsford spoke extensively about the problem of achieving political balance. It is especially acute in the national health service, in which so many appointments have been necessary because of the constant reorganisations and the creation of new trusts. In my experience in the north-east, in the earlier years of this Administration, appointment lists were stuffed with people who could
There was conspicuous representation on the lists of people who had lost their positions as leaders of councils, for example, which included some able and competent people. However, the new system is designed to escape such clear bias in the lists. It is disappointing to hear that, in the experience of hon. Members from other constituencies, the new system may be failing to draw on the full range of people who should serve on public bodies.
To some extent, the appointments reflect the applicants: many applications in the north-east were from Labour activists. We should not simply accept that. Rather, we should counteract it: efforts should be made to recruit from a wider group than those who recognise, perhaps because of their political experience, that they would have a good chance of being appointed to a public body.
The hon. Member for Workington quoted a newspaper article that probably referred to a recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research about public bodies in the field of culture and media. The report pointed out that such bodies were heavily white, middle-class and Oxbridge in their composition. Some are Government-appointed bodies, although some of the worst offenders are self-appointed bodies. High sheriffs, for example, are appointed by their predecessors. Those who have a political affiliation are almost invariably Conservative, and in rural areas they are almost always landowners or have substantial landowning or farming interests. We should examine cases in which people appoint their successors, which is the case with some of the cultural bodies referred to in the report. That should be of concern to the Government.
Too many responsibilities are in the hands of unelected bodies. People often say that they do not want regional government. We have regional government, but it is not elected: it is conducted by people who are appointed and are therefore the product of a system that, as we all recognise, has serious defects. Whenever possible, responsibilities should be handled by elected bodies, whether existing ones such as local government, or regional or specialised elected bodies. There is a role for unelected or partly unelected advisory bodies that draw together a particular mix of experience, but we would much rather put major executive responsibility in the hands of people who have to account to the public and who may lose their jobs if the public are not satisfied with how that responsibility is discharged.
Some of the many unelected advisory bodies and taskforces seem to escape the public body rules because they are temporaryeven though they seem to last a long time. The new lobbying to get on taskforces is increasingly leading to questions about whether political donors are more likely to be appointed to taskforces than others. The proliferation of temporary taskforces, which are not particularly transparent in their appointments systems, suggests that whole areas of policy are being influenced by those who have come to public positions through a defective appointments
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): I, too, congratulate my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham), on securing this debate and on the interesting way in which he opened it. He raised a series of concerns, which have been developed by other hon. Members.
The hon. Gentleman said that about £23 billion of public money had been spent by non-departmental public bodies. The latest figure that I have is £25 billion, but whatever the exact figure it is a substantial sumand it has increased since the Government came to office. The Minister may say that the number of quangos has been reduced, but the number of people employed by them and the amount of public money that they spend has increased substantially since Labour came to power.
The hon. Gentleman was right to lead off by saying that the fundamental issue, which relates to a whole range of concerns expressed in the debate, is accountability. A number of clear concerns have been expressed by members of both main parties this morning, and I hope that the Minister will address them by saying how appointments are made. I hope that he will also deal with the widely expressed concerns about the workings of the NHS Appointments Commission. I know that that body is new, and that it is the responsibility of the Department of Health; none the less I hope that the Minister will take our concern as a sign that a debate on that subject on the Floor of the House would be useful in the not too distant future.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), in his characteristically robust way, flattered the Minister shamelessly by calling him something of a bruisera remark that I suspect the Minister will have framed in his smallest room before the end of the week. In a characteristic tour de force, my hon. Friend spoke of the appointments system in the NHS and more broadly, sayingthe Minister would not expect me to make my speech without gently tweaking his tailthat it is important to put things in context.
The Government are of course entitled to take the view that they have won two general elections, that they are now in office, and that they would expect to appoint more supporters of the Labour party than supporters of other parties. However, that needs to be put in the context of what happened at the general election. For every vote won by the Conservative party, the Labour party had 1.3 votes; the evidence now is that for every appointment of a Conservative party member by the NHS Appointments Commission, five members of the Labour party are appointed. That seems a little out of kilter with how people voted at the general election.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) made some important points. I imagine that all of us here today would thoroughly endorse what he had to say about the unfortunate events in France, and would endorse his wish for a steady growth in the proportion
I strongly endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about the horrors of people making what he called a career in quangocracy. I endorse his view not only because, as he pointed out, if some people are getting themselves appointed to a multiplicity of quangos, it will mean fewer appointments for everyone else, but because if people are spending all their time on one quango or another, the very merit that they supposedly bring to those quangostheir outside experience and linksis likely to be lost.
The hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) made an excellent speech. I very much agreed with everything she said. I hope that she will not regard praise from the Conservative Front Bench as damning her further, as she has already been praised by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)we are not trying to bury her political career. She is right that if our civic society is genuinely to mean anything, the issue of geographical representation must be carefully considered. I imagine that, like me, she would not expect any Minister in any Government easily to be able to divide the number of appointments made by central Government by 650 and allocate them evenly to constituencies, but she is right to say that some constituencies and types of constituency are under-represented.
I recognise that the hon. Lady represents an area where social deprivation and exclusion are widespread. My own constituency is in many ways more fortunate, but some people there feel excluded, as the hon. Member for Workington said. That applies throughout Cumbria because of its geographical distance from London, the difficulties in rural areas and the differences that arise even within regions, because Cumbria is very different from other parts of the north-west. The Government have a responsibility to address those issues of geographical representation. It would be helpful if the Minister would say whether the Government would like to address those issues, because I believe that any positive comments from the Government would be widely welcomed across the political divide.
The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) raised some extremely powerful and cogent concerns about the workings of the NHS Appointments Commission. He is clearly much more familiar with the details of the cases to which he referred than I am, but he seemed to raise matters of grave concern. Certainly, the principle that those who are to be supervised by NHS bodies should not have a hand in deciding who should be on those bodies seems to be correct, and that reinforces the need to consider how the Appointments Commission is working in the health service.
In addition to paying tribute to the hon. Member for Warrington, North, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed also made a fair point when he said that there had been difficulties under successive Governmentsthis is not something that has suddenly sprung to life since 1997. He said that the best way of
We might differ about whether that should be achieved through regional government. Some of us are concerned that that would result in decisions that are currently taken at county level being hoovered up and decided at a more distant level. None the less there is a case, as the Conservative party has proposed, for Parliament to take on a role comparable with one in the American system, whereby Select Committees play a part in approving the appointments of very senior officials to non-departmental public bodies.
For example, we have suggested that that should apply to some of the individuals who have been mentioned in the debate, such as the head of the NHS Appointments Commission. Perhaps one way of ensuring that that person has a more constructive working relationship with Members of Parliament of all parties would be to decide that such an appointment could go ahead only with the support of the relevant departmental Select Committee. The hon. Member for North Durham is nodding his head, so he recognises that that might be one way to counter people's perceptions of arrogance and unaccountability.
Given the statistics that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford has quoted today, perhaps he would like to reflect on the somewhat ironic comment by the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who in 1996 was shadow Secretary of State for Health:
We have a huge number of these wonderful tsars. I was going to read out the list, but it is so long that I do not have time. After going through a list of two or three dozen tsars, one comes upon the classic title of the "red tape tsar". That seems a little ironic to some of us.
I would expect from the Minister an admirably well intentioned declaration of Government belief in wider access to appointments and greater openness and transparency. However, we need to hear about how the Government propose to make the process even more democratic than he would maintain it currently is, and whether he can address hon. Members' concerns, not least those expressed by his hon. Friends about the workings of the NHS Appointments Commission.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Christopher Leslie) : I shall try to live up to expectations, although the text of my speech has more pages than there are minutes left for me to deliver it, so I hope hon. Members will forgive me if I have to pass as quickly as possible over as many issues as possible.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) on securing the debate. It has been both refreshing and wide ranging, even if it has featured cross-party compliments going from one side to the otherperhaps too many for my liking. My hon. Friend stressed the need to broaden awareness and knowledge of the appointments processes. I would like to touch on those processes and develop that theme, but first it is important to consider the nature of public bodies. They operate at arm's length from Ministers, but Ministers are ultimately responsible for what they do. Some public bodies are well known in Parliament and have a high profile with the general public. Others are less well known, but all of them have an impact on our lives, whether they are concerned with the development of policy or the delivery of public services, or whether they help define issues or advise Ministers in that process.
There has for decades been a concern about the proliferation of so-called quangos. The Government are committed to keeping their number to a minimum. There are now fewer in the UK than at any other time during the past 20 years. As of 31 March there were 1,025 such bodiesa 10 per cent. decrease since 1997.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) made an important contribution when talking about the composition of these bodies. Of the roughly 30,000 individuals serving as board members, 34 per cent. are women. However, his particular concern related to the proportions from ethnic minority communities. In 1992, 2 per cent. of board members were from those communities, and in 1997 the proportion was 3.6 per cent. As of 2001, it is 4.8 per cent. There has been some progress, although I accept that a lot more still needs to be done to ensure that we focus on increasing involvement among the black and Asian community. I will read his report, entitled "The Glass Ceiling", and consider it for the future.
The accountability of public bodies is extremely important. Ministers are accountable to Parliament on behalf of the public bodies within their Departments. We have tried to take steps since 1997 to promote greater awareness of what such bodies do and to make them more open and accountable to the communities that they serve.
We publish detailed information on all public bodies. We intend to publish the next edition before the end of this year, and the intention is that that should include, for the first time, summary information on the arrangements that each body has in place for ensuring greater openness and transparency in what it does. I pay tribute to Dame Rennie Fritchie, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, who is responsible for governing the appointment processes and ensuring that the code of practice is properly adhered to.
Clearly there are many communities in which we need to make extra efforts to encourage applications for places on the boards of quangos. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) was articulate in voicing her concern that lower income groups and deprived communities are not sufficiently represented. Successful local boards are those with a wide range of people from diverse social, economic and employment backgrounds. We must engage proactively with individuals who, although they have the skills and abilities to do the job, for some reason do not know when vacancies arise, or how to apply. I shall continue to examine policies and practices to see how improvements might be made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Workington also made comments about the regional development agency in his area. It is difficult to achieve a balance in all specifics and to secure appointments on merit. I am assured that a member of that RDA, John Dunning, does live in Cumbria. Strict proportionality is never fully attainable, but I recognise the need to keep a close eye on such matters.
I have a deep-rooted concern about achieving diversity nationally, not just to represent the composition of the nation better, but to enrich the character and the work of public bodies. I am anxious to ensure that we are clear about our targets and aspirations. Gender, ethnicity and disability all require more attention; there have been positive improvements, but there remains a historic, lingering under-representation of women, ethnic and other minorities and disabled people. We have introduced various measures to address that problem, and seminars throughout the country have encouraged women to join public bodies. None the less, greater national diversity is still required, so the Government will continue to promote vacancies nationwide, so that people living in all areas of the UK have a fair chance of winning seats on boards.
There have been comments about the NHS Appointments Commission, particularly from the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), who developed his frenzied conspiracy theory at length. In April 2001, we established the independent NHS Appointments Commission, which has effectively taken NHS appointments out of the political domain. The appointments that it makesthere have been more than 4,500 to various trustsstill come under the remit of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, Dame Rennie Fritchie. She has said that there is no significant difference between the political activity of applicants and that of those appointed, nor is there evidence of any political bias in the appointments process. My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) made a number of points about his discontent with a
I want to stress the ways in which the Government can ensure faster progress on diversity, which should have high priority in our policy approach to public bodies. We publish the annual report to give all Departments a strong incentive to improve their performance. The Cabinet Office will now focus on making greater efforts to help Departments to apply best practice in making appointments to the public bodies that they sponsor, so that they can meet the published targets on diversity.
Work is also in hand to identify new initiatives and policies in order to broaden the range of options available to Ministers. That will allow us more radically to drive progress on diversity in its widest sense, while preserving the overriding principle of selection on merit. Merit is always our overriding principle, but we must keep a close eye on diversity issues. Our main focus must be on putting the right people in the right posts so that they can deliver higher quality public services. That must be the outcome that we all seek, and I am glad to have had this opportunity to highlight those matters.