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Public Bodies

Volume 521: debated on Wednesday 19 January 2011

6. What savings have been achieved under the Government's programme of rationalisation and abolition of public bodies to date. (34285)

7. What assessment he has made of the effect on public expenditure of his proposals for non-departmental public bodies. (34286)

The proposals for reform that I set out in the House last October are the most major change to the public bodies landscape that any Government have made in a generation. They will make a significant contribution to reducing the baseline of Government spending as part of the coalition Government’s deficit reduction plan.

While “The King’s Speech” is rightly being feted all around the world, the right hon. Gentleman’s Government are abolishing the organisations here in Britain that helped to make that film happen, as part of what even the Conservative-dominated Public Administration Committee has described as a “botched” bonfire of the quangos. Given that he cannot even say how much, if anything, this is going to cost, is it not typical of what the Government are doing in so many areas—ill considered, ill thought through, rushed and damaging?

Just to be clear, the purpose of these reforms is to increase accountability. The Government will not simply create incontinently new independent bodies in order to avoid Ministers having to make and defend uncomfortable decisions. Ministers should be prepared to make those decisions and defend them themselves—that is what democratic accountability is about, and that is the primary aim. However, we will save money. The changes to the public body landscape planned and announced by the previous Government, of whom the right hon. Gentleman was such a distinguished ornament, were much more minor than the changes that we are undertaking. That Government claimed that those changes would save £500 million a year; our changes are much more radical and will save a great deal more.[Official Report, 2 February 2011, Vol. 522, c. 10MC.]

I will tell the Minister what the real effects of his proposals are going to be, according to the Public Accounts Committee. There will be no savings. In my constituency, between his actions on Consumer Focus and the Scottish National party’s actions on Waterwatch Scotland, we have a shambles of job losses, reduced protection and no gains. Is the Minister going to be a man, step up to the plate and do the right thing, or continually try to defy gravity?

It would be quite interesting to know which of our plans for reforming quangos the hon. Gentleman disagrees with. His own party had in its manifesto a commitment to cut the number of quangos. It had such plans when it was in government, but sadly, as with so much else, it did not give effect to them. We will save money, but much more importantly, we will increase accountability, which is what this is really all about.

Public expenditure by quangos includes expenditure on lobbying, which is an abuse of public money. Will Ministers ban quango lobbying?

The code for public bodies already purports to make it impossible for quangos to employ lobbyists from outside in order to lobby the Government. However, that code has not been effective, and considerable amounts of taxpayers’ money have been spent by public bodies, frequently in order to lobby the Government for them to spend more taxpayers’ money. We will make absolutely certain that the code is watertight and that that becomes impossible.

One of the list of quangos to be dealt with in the Public Bodies Bill is S4C. There is genuine anxiety in Wales about the future of S4C. Although there is a debate to be had about funding, can the Minister at least assure the House of S4C’s continued existence?

There is no question mark at all over the continued existence of S4C, which plays a valuable part in the life of the Principality. I will convey my hon. Friend’s concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. However, S4C appears in the Public Bodies Bill in the schedule to do with funding arrangements, and that has nothing to do with its continued existence. [Interruption.]

Order. There are far too many private conversations taking place in the Chamber, and far too much noise.