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Mr. Cash: In fact, as was mentioned in Committee the other day, there have been three chief executives in the past year or so. I believe that the Minister will confirm that.

Mr. Osborne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was referring in particular to Chief Executive Ms Lomas, who received a bonus.

Ms Rosie Winterton: Before my time.

Mr. Osborne: I believe that it happened after 1997.

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The failures highlighted by the PAC over a number of years were reinforced by the Department's quinquennial review, to which the Minister referred. It noted:

That is Sir Humphrey-speak for a complete mess. As a result of the review, the Public Trust Office was abolished and its trust work transferred. I suspect that a sorry history of poor management and lack of financial accountability led to the current position—the Government have had to accept that the work of the Public Trustee, which has been self-supporting since 1906, cannot remain so in future. I accept that. There is no mileage to be made from making vulnerable people in our society pay for the mistakes of Whitehall.

I end with a couple of questions which I should be grateful if the Minister would consider. The explanatory notes state rather vaguely:

Before we give the Bill a Second Reading, I should be interested to hear from the Minister what level of public subsidy she envisages as a result of the Bill.

The explanatory notes also state that the current deficit is about £1.9 million. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, speaking for the Liberal and Liberal Democrat parties, made a good point. The Government state in the explanatory notes that they intend to reduce the deficit, but how will that be achieved? By how much will fees increase? Even if they do not increase by 100 per cent., which would have been the case if the law had not changed, by how much will they increase in order to reduce the deficit?

Finally, Baroness Scotland pointed out in the other place that, as a consequence of the administrative changes that led to the abolition of the Public Trust Office,

Can the Minister say why the accommodation and overhead costs increased so dramatically, so that we can be sure that we are not still suffering from poor financial management in her Department, and so that we can be reassured that the culture change about which the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome spoke will take place?

5.16 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): I shall speak briefly in a very brief debate—so brief that when I saw the Minister's name appear on the annunciator I rushed in, but by the time I arrived she had finished speaking. I apologise to my hon. Friend for not being present during her speech.

It is unusual for both sides of the House to support a measure, and I am glad that we are supporting it. I welcome the Bill, which will provide for the necessary changes to ensure that the work of the office and the trustee is made more efficient. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said that we should be cautious when we seek to amend an Act of Parliament that has been around for 100 years, but I think that that fact itself makes it ready for amendment.

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Mr. Heath: I said that it was not the Act's longevity that gave it added value, but the fact that it was introduced by a Liberal Government.

Keith Vaz: Liberals are always claiming credit, especially for their own Acts.

I see my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) in his place. He has the Adjournment, and I do not want to detain him or the House. I shall make three quick comments. First, I am glad that the Government have responded so positively to the points made in the quinquennial review. They have acknowledged that errors were made. However, when the Government create executive agencies, as the Conservative Government did in 1994, the degree of ministerial involvement will inevitably be less effective than if that body were part of the Government's work. With executive agencies, Ministers and officials must wait until matters are brought to their attention. We should not criticise the officials of the Lord Chancellor's Department for what they have done. They reacted as they ought to have reacted when matters were brought to their attention.

Secondly, it is important that the work of the Public Trustee should be publicised. The fact that not many people know of the existence of that office may be due, in part, to the fact that when things go wrong, we do not get to hear about it unless we sit on the Public Accounts Committee or the matter is brought to our attention in some other way. I hope that we will hear from the Minister that the Lord Chancellor's Department will provide more information about the office, so that its work can be brought to the attention of the public, especially those who are vulnerable and who need the support of the Public Trustee. If we publicise such information, we will be much more careful about the way in which organisations and executive agencies are reviewed. That will mean that more ministerial attention is directed to that area of policy.

As for the quinquennial review, there were resource and other recommendations. I know that the Government have accepted the recommendations, and I hope that they have all been implemented. At least we can hear from the Minister that she hopes that they will be implemented in the near future. There has been a change of name and there has been a relaunch, but it is not enough to change a name. It is necessary also to change the ethos, the structure and the way in which things are done. I hope that my hon. Friend will tell us that the process will continue.

5.20 pm

Mr. Cash: We have had a short but useful debate. To take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), I had some slight misgivings about the fact that, as the Minister said in another place, the office has been relaunched as the Public Guardianship Office with effect from 1 April 2001. There is a problem because we have the Public Trustee Act 1906, we have functions that are repeatedly referred to as Public Trustee functions, but we have a relaunch as a Public Guardianship Office. There could be some confusion in the mind of the public. There has been an example of that with the rebranding of the Post Office as Consignia, with a return to the previous name.

In the spirit of co-operation and good will that has been generated during the debate, some significant points have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton

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(Mr. Osborne) raised some important points about the Public Accounts Committee and the way in which it has conducted its functions. We have also heard some criticisms about the practical operations of the office.

I conclude by requesting the Minister to consider the uncertainty and confusion that can arise, especially when we are dealing with people who are not necessarily learned in the law. They merely want to have their affairs dealt with properly. If names are not consistent with the Act and if we do not have clarity, there may be some confusion.

5.23 pm

Ms Rosie Winterton: With the leave of the House, I shall respond to the debate. As has been said, it has been short but thoughtful.

I am grateful for the support that Opposition Members have shown so as to give the Bill a fair wind. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) suggested that the work of the Official Solicitor and the Public Trustee is perhaps not widely known. I take on board his points about seeing whether we can give wider publicity to the work that is undertaken. I assure him that a considerable amount of information is available on the internet. I accept, however, that clarity is important.

During the debate, there has, perhaps, been some confusion about the work of the Public Trustee as opposed to that of the Public Guardianship Office. I can assure the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that our changing the 1906 Act implies no criticism of the Act. It suited the times, but obviously things have moved on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (John Cryer) referred to one of his constituents—he works assiduously on behalf of his constituents. I think that the issue to which he referred would have been dealt with by the Public Guardianship Office. Following the 1999 report and the quinquennial review, the trust work was transferred through the Public Trustee to the Official Solicitor's office. The Public Guardianship Office dealt with people who had mental incapacity problems and, perhaps through the enduring power of attorney, had receivers or needed receivers to be appointed. The work of the Public Trustee is somewhat different, as it will administer funds that have come through the trusts. As I mentioned, the Public Trustee will be responsible for administering the compensation awarded to vaccine- damaged children. None the less, in the light of the specific problems that my hon. Friend's constituent may have experienced with the Public Guardianship Office, I shall take up the matter. I think that he has written to me once already, but if he would care to do so again, I shall certainly look into the matter.

Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), mentioned the relationship between the Public Guardianship Office and the Official Solicitor. The hon. Gentleman also spoke of the efficiency of the Public Guardianship Office and enduring powers of attorney. He mentioned the fact, as he did in Committee last week, that some fees were increased but that a number of fees went down. I was disappointed that the Opposition chose to

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divide the Committee on that matter, as I believe that the remissions policy that we introduced is extremely important and protects some of the least well-off people.

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