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Members Of The Board And Agencies

Volume 978: debated on Wednesday 6 February 1980

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I beg to move amendment No. 14 in page 4, line 35, leave out from beginning to 'and' in line 40.

With this amendment it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 15, 16 and 30.

In Committee my hon. Friend undertook that the Government would introduce an amendment on Report to meet the concern expressed by the Opposition about changes that we propose to make in the procedure for the future appointment of the chief executives of the NEB and the agencies. We provided for the Secretary of State to nominate the chief executive. The amendments provide for the boards to appoint their own chief executives with the approval of the Secretary of State.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is difficult to hear what is being said.

In the original Bill we provided that the Secretary of State should nominate the chief executives of the NEB and the agencies. The amendment provides for boards to appoint their own chief executives, with the approval of the Secretary of State. This was asked for in Committee, and I am sure that it is welcomed. We are also discussing Government amendment No. 15, which disqualifies the chief executive of the NEB from membership of the House of Commons and of the Northern Ireland Assembly. That is not controversial and it will be welcomed in all parts of the House.

:The House might be surprised, but the Opposition welcome the amendments. If it were not so late and if we did not know that Government Members have a fascination for later debates, we might have made fun out of this issue. I accept that the Government listened carefully to Committee speeches when the difficulties involved in the original plan were highlighted.

We said that the Government had only recently appointed in their own mould new members of the NEB and new chairmen of the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies. We believed that the Government could place trust in such people. It would have been gross betrayal of that trust and a negation of their appointments if they had continued with the proposal that the Secretary of State should make chief executive appointments. I understand that the previous members of the NEB made strong representations about the difference between the policy-making role of the Government and the managerial role of the members. That was a dilemma for the Government.

Among all the proposals in the Bill, this is the Government's only concession to reality and to the representations by their supporters. The original proposal might have slipped through in the middle of the night when Ministers were still enjoying the election result. If that is true, it betrays an enormous Freudian slip, which indicates more about the Government's attitude to the way in which the country will be run than many of the things that they are doing today.

The Government are abolishing what they call quangos—the method by which Governments of all political complexions have chosen to run a number of areas of the economy and the environment and many sections of society. They have abolished quangos in the name of an obsession with saving costs. At the same time, they are instituting a bureaucratic, centralist Government philosophy that they used to decry vociferously when they were in Opposition. We can judge from the people whom the Government put in charge of the agencies and other organisations that are still conducting the business of government that the reality is very different from the philosophy that they used to put forward.

I said in Committee that the philosophy behind the original proposal, which is to be eliminated tonight, was an illustration of the role that the Government saw for the NEB and the agencies. In the words of a leader in The Guardian, they were going to reduce the role of the NEB and the agencies to the level of
"the average bucket shop operator in the region of the Chiswick flyover".
The Government have shown tonight a slight indication that reality is catching up with their philosophies. In that spirit, the Opposition give a great welcome to the amendments.

I have never heard an hon. Member say "Thank you" in so many words.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 15, in page 4, line 42, at end insert—

'(1A) In Part III of Schedule 1 to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 and in Part III of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975 there shall be inserted, at the appropriate place in alphabetical order—

"Chief Executive of the National Enterprise Board.".'.

No. 16, in page 5, line 1, leave out subsections (2) to (4).—[ Mr. David Mitchell.]