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Quangos

Volume 301: debated on Wednesday 19 November 1997

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6.

What representations he has received about changes in the working practices of quangos. [15095]

Over the past few years quangos have been roundly criticised for being too secretive, unaccountable and unrepresentative. Last week I published the "Opening Up Quangos" Green Paper, which addresses those criticisms and sets out our plans to make quangos more open, accountable and effective.

This is open to widespread consultation and I look forward to receiving the views of people from throughout the country.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. I welcome the Green Paper, which I am sure will shine light on the secretiveness and unaccountability of the quangos set up by the Conservative Government. Given my right hon. Friend's commitment to freedom of information, may I ask him whether quangos will be covered by a freedom of information Act?

We shall introduce a number of measures to open up quangos, including open annual meetings, publishing the minutes and annual reports. We are also, keen to encourage a wide cross-section of the community to become involved. The freedom of information legislation, as I said, will have wide coverage, right across Government. I cannot anticipate what the White Paper will contain, but I am pretty sure that my hon. Friend will not be disappointed.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the effectiveness of quangos essentially depends on who is selected to serve on them? When they consider that matter, will quangos refrain from selecting people purely on the basis of political correctness?

I am delighted that at long last the hon. Gentleman, and I hope his colleagues, have seen the light. We live in a pluralistic society, and it is important that quangos and other bodies that help to advise the Government represent a cross-section of our society. I believe that one of the reasons why quangos got such a bad name over the past 18 years was the manner in which the previous Government stuffed them with their own appointees.

Does the Minister recognise that most citizens are not interested in changing the working practices of quangos, but rather in bringing them under direct democratic control, especially at local level?

Nowhere do people feel more strongly about that than in Northern Ireland. What steps do the Government intend to take to restore democracy to the Province?

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. The document that I produced last week referred to the 1,000 or so quangos that are national, but in addition to those, there are thousands that have regional, provincial or local application. I hope that out of the consultation and the on-going debate on democracy and about our devolution proposals, we will find it possible for some of the local and regional quangos to be subsumed by local government.