Previous Section Index Home Page

The regiment was formed in about 1970 and performed sterling service in Northern Ireland over many years, but it no longer exists as a separate body. It has been absorbed into the Royal Irish Regiment. I can see why it
10 Feb 2010 : Column 981
might have been appropriate for the Ulster Defence Regiment, as a territorial force, which it always was, to be disqualified back in 1975. I am not sure whether that still applies. Will the Minister consult the Ministry of Defence and the Northern Ireland Office to see whether the reference ought to be amended in the light of present circumstances? I do not know the answer. It seems to be an anomaly.

The consolidated schedule is helpful in one respect. Members of the bodies listed know that they hold disqualified posts. Perhaps things have changed, and perhaps the Minister can reassure me, but in my experience there is very little information on what people should do about that if they intend to stand for election. I say that because in 1997 I was a member of the Audit Commission. As the Audit Commission is one of the proscribed organisations, that meant that I was disqualified from the House of Commons. I sought advice at that time from the Audit Commission and from others about exactly what I had to do to make sure that I was not inadvertently disqualified from being elected to membership of the House. I found it difficult to work out. Did I have to resign before nominations were opened; before the dissolution of the House; before nominations were closed; before the day of the election; or before the day that I was sworn in as a Member? Was I bound by the notice that I was required to give? If there were a sudden election and I handed in my notice as a member of the organisation, would I be able to resign with immediate effect? If I could not and the election were held three weeks after the day on which I handed in my resignation, would I be disqualified from standing?

Those are real issues for people in that position, and it would be helpful if the Government provided clear information to all the bodies listed. They could then distribute advice simply and easily to their members, chairmen or whoever the listed post holder might be, saying, "No, to comply with the disqualification Act you must tender your resignation with immediate effect on this date relative to the date of the election," or whatever the appropriate advice might be.

Mr. Greg Knight: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but would it not be better to supply the information to a single point of contact, such as the returning officer at the relevant local authority, rather than circulate it among quangos, where it might be lost or, at least, unavailable when needed?

Mr. Heath: Ideally, the information would go to both bodies, because the candidate deals with the bureaucracy of the body of which they are a member and the returning officer. They clear with the returning officer what they have to do as a candidate, but at the same time they clear with the particular body's personnel department-the human resources department or whatever it is called nowadays-what they have to do to disengage themselves within the appropriate time scale from their duties. In some bodies, a person's resignation has to be considered at the next meeting, leaving them in legal limbo unless they can persuade the organisation to hold an emergency meeting in order to accept their resignation.

That is not a huge point, and I do not want to labour it, but from my experience it ought to be sorted out. Happily, I sorted out my situation with the Audit Commission. I resigned at the appropriate time, and
10 Feb 2010 : Column 982
when I took my seat there was never any question that I was still a member of a body representing an office of profit under the Crown. The problem did not apply to me, but I was beset by doubt, which I should like extinguished for people in future.

Having said that, I see on the list no entries that are clearly wrong or any glaringly obvious omissions. The explanatory note is quite the longest that I, like the Minister, have ever seen, but sometimes a lot of information is a good thing, and the note answered any questions that we might have had. I am grateful for that, and I have no difficulty in supporting the motion.

4.33 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I agree with the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that the explanatory note is, indeed, very useful, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), on the Front Bench, says that if there is an incoming Conservative Government later this spring there will be a substantial cull of quangos. I cannot think of a better starting point than the consolidated list, which the Minister says will be drawn up as a result of this debate. It will be a convenient point of reference for all those quangos, and I hope that sooner rather than later we will have circulated a list of those that are going to be culled.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome makes a fair point that Conservative Governments have not always made a great success of maintaining a cull of quangos. Often, new quangos have come on to the scene. I remember the Matt cartoon that followed the establishment of the citizen's charter and the Citizen's Charter Advisory Panel. There are two people in bed, and the husband turns to the wife and says, "Darling, I can't sleep-I'm so excited about the citizen's charter!" The demise of the Citizen's Charter Advisory Panel is undoubtedly a good thing, and I hope that an incoming Conservative Government will not make similar mistakes in building up the quangocracy.

This is a serious issue, because it shows that the number of people who are disqualified from standing for Parliament is increasing all the time. Those people represent the Executive-the state-and those of us in this legislature who wish for a smaller state would like to see a substantially reduced number of people who are disqualified from being able to stand for Parliament, because that would show that the legislature was going to get larger relative to the number of people in the Executive.

Mr. Heath: I suspect that the hon. Gentleman might agree that for every quango there should be a regular test of continuing usefulness. That should also apply to international organisations, which often get set up and are then maintained by their own status rather than because of any continuing usefulness. When I was elected leader of Somerset county council in 1985, I found that we still had a light horse committee charged with ensuring that there were enough light horses in Somerset to maintain the yeomanry in the first world war. I abolished that, and I think it was wise to do so.

Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Looking through the explanatory notes at the list of quangos that have been set up relatively recently, one is
10 Feb 2010 : Column 983
bound to wonder, in several cases, whether they retain a justification to this day. I hope that some of those will be the subject of the cull that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire is promising.

All these quangos represent a larger state than we would wish, as well as a lot of additional taxpayers' money. I am grateful to the Government for enabling us to see the extent to which the quangocracy has grown under this Government, at a time when, contrary to what is sometimes said, the civil service has also been increasing. For a time, the quangocracy increased as a lot of civil servants were hived off into agencies. We have seen an increase in agencies and a hiving off of civil servants, but also an overall growth in the size of the civil service and, therefore, in the size of the state. That is unsustainable in the current economic circumstances and, in any event, a bad thing for our country because it starves the private sector of resources and thereby damages our competitiveness and economic viability as a nation.

I will not say any more. Although it disappoints me not to have the opportunity to divide the House, I do not see that there is any scope for doing so on this particular matter.

4.38 pm

Barbara Keeley: It is important to emphasise that the 1975 Act is concerned with maintaining the independence of this House and safeguarding hon. Members from undue influence by the Executive through the exercise of patronage. That is an honourable aim. There may be some difficulties involved in keeping the list up to date, but it is well worth while to do so. This is clearly something that took some decades to come about. I take on board the point made by the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara). The House could look to update this more frequently.

It is fair to say that there were some surprises for all of us who read the explanatory notes, although the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) knew about this from his previous experience when standing as a parliamentary candidate. It behoves everyone involved with elections, from returning officers in local authorities to those in political parties, to make it clear to people that they should check the position because all parliamentary candidates have to sign up to this. There appears to be a time lapse in the case of some bodies whereby people may not know that the office that they are holding is one that makes them open to disqualification-for example, surprisingly, the chair and board members of NHS foundation trusts. When somebody holding an office in the gift of the Crown, or perhaps on a lottery body that is dispensing Government funding, is a parliamentary candidate for some time, there is a question whether the political stances that they might take will clash with their employment.

This has not been mentioned in the debate, but of course modern methods are used. The list is kept on websites, both commercial and official, so the information is updated regularly for people who need it.

As I have been tempted in this direction, I shall make a correction to the suggestion that the number of quangos has risen. The latest Cabinet Office report, "Public
10 Feb 2010 : Column 984
Bodies 2009", shows that the number of non-departmental public bodies has fallen by more than 10 per cent. The Government have also set out proposals in the "Smarter Government" White Paper to further reform and rationalise the arm's length sector.

Mr. Chope: The Minister says that the number has fallen, but since when?

Barbara Keeley: We are not meant to be debating quangos per se, but-

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): You brought it up.

Barbara Keeley: Well, I did not actually bring up the number of quangos.

There has been a suggestion that there are too many board members of quangos, or that they are too well paid. There is an annual Cabinet Office report on public bodies, which shows that there were 38,000 people on the boards of public bodies in 1997, which has now fallen to about 12,000. There are fewer posts, and many of them are not highly paid. In fact, some are unpaid. We announced proposals in the pre-Budget report to further control public sector pay, and such posts are part of that exercise.

I have made the point that the information is kept on websites, but perhaps we can tie those websites into this process and make them clearer. I take the point that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome about the Ulster Defence Regiment. The motion is to update the schedule to the 1975 Act, rather than the Act itself, but I imagine that it will have to be tidied up at some point. However, we do not have to be concerned about posts that disappear, because people cannot be in them to be disqualified from being in the House of Commons. This exercise is really just to tidy up the list, but if there are any anomalies we will need to take a view on when the Act needs to be updated. I shall certainly do that.

The process of considering when an office holder has to resign should be clear. I understand that the Cabinet Office gives guidance to candidates at the point of their potential resignation because of disqualification.

Another point that we have not touched on is that parliamentary candidates may not be successful, after which they can be reconsidered. For candidates who were members of NHS trusts, in the civil service or office holders in any of the relevant posts, there is guidance on how they can be taken back into their post. I understand that the only problem would be if a parliamentary candidate had been so controversial and had taken such positions that they were no longer considered fit for office, but that is a very small consideration.

Mr. Heath rose-

Barbara Keeley: I give way to the hon. Gentleman.- [Interruption.]

Mr. Heath: I am sorry about the noises off, because I actually think that this is quite an interesting point. I am not sure whether people are aware that it is possible for someone to be reappointed after a period. I am interested in whether that would go through without the normal requirements for re-advertisement and selection,
10 Feb 2010 : Column 985
and whether posts can be held in abeyance and then filled by Executive order. Will the hon. Lady write to me at some point with information about that?

Barbara Keeley: I am certainly happy to let the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire have the guidance that the Cabinet Office uses. Interestingly, one of my concerns has been that I can foresee people being caught in a situation of not having a great prospect of success and wanting to get back to their posts afterwards. Both in the civil service and in the posts that we are considering, people can be reconsidered to be taken back after the election if they have not been successful. I will check what the guidance is and let the Opposition spokesmen have it.

We have had a useful look at the list today, and updating and tidying up the schedule is important. It is important also to say that the process is ongoing; we recently had the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, which updated the schedule. As Members have said, it is important that the list of office holders disqualified from standing as Members of this House is as up-to-date as possible before the forthcoming general election. If the House agrees to the motion, a reprint of the 1975 Act will help provide a more accurate picture. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

10 Feb 2010 : Column 986

Crime and Security Bill

4.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I beg to move,

With the leave of the House, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), will respond to points raised in, and close, the debate. I do not intend to outline the purpose and effect of the proposed new clause in detail, because this debate focuses on the motion before us. Members will have the opportunity to debate the measure fully in the Bill's remaining stages. However, it may help hon. Members if I set out the Government's reasons for the change.

The Licensing Act 2003 saw the biggest reform in licensing law for more than 40 years. It impacted on around 200,000 businesses.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): The Minister, in leading for the Government on this motion, rightly said that members of the Public Bill Committee can discuss the contents of any amendments and new clauses. However, given that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is the lead Department in this area of the Bill, will we have the pleasure of his company in Committee and him leading for the Government?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I assume that I will do so in the remaining stages of the Bill, and I hope that my presence in the House will be welcomed by all right hon. and hon. Members. Clearly, my hon. Friend and other Home Office Ministers are leading on the Bill and are taking it through Committee, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.

I was talking about the impact of the 2003 Act on the people of the country. It affected 200,000 businesses, non-profit making clubs, charities, and community and voluntary groups, and almost the entire population of England and Wales who live in the vicinity of, or who visit, licensed premises. I believe that the Act has been a considerable success in many areas. We have seen effective action taken by local authorities and the police, working in partnership, to contain problems.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I welcome the proposal. Has the Minister had an opportunity to read the Select Committee on Home Affairs report, "Policing in the 21st Century", which deals with alcohol-related crime? Does he feel that, as a result of the measure, there will be a reduction in alcohol-related crime?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Rather than the Minister replying to that, I should just say that the right hon. Gentleman's intervention is really not appropriate to today's discussion. I am sure he will have the opportunity to raise that matter with the Minister at a later stage.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Thank you for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, but we obviously appreciate the work of the Home Affairs Committee and look forward to discussion in due course.

10 Feb 2010 : Column 987

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): If the House passes this instruction, it could wholly change the dynamic of the Committee. What power will the Committee have, if the House approves the instruction, to call new witnesses on the sale of alcohol?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I would have to check on that to give the right hon. Gentleman the-

Mr. Burns: Do you not know?

Mr. Sutcliffe: At this moment, I do not have- [ Interruption. ] No. I am a licensing Minister. The sale of alcohol and the licensing of premises is a matter for DCMS, and the other issues affect the whole Government. I appreciate the point made by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), and I will write to him in due course on the effect of the measure on the Committee. It will not have a massive effect, because the issues will be the same.

We have never been complacent on alcohol issues. On presenting the statutory guidance made under the 2003 Act to Parliament in July 2004, the then Secretary of State for Culture stated in her foreword:

Next Section Index Home Page