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Public Bodies: Appointments

Volume 577: debated on Wednesday 12 March 2014

The Minister will recall that when in the 1980s the then Conservative Government abolished the metropolitan county authorities, the Government were scrupulous in making arrangements for the successor joint boards to recognise the rights of minority groups on the local authorities as well as the majority groups. Such arrangements do not pertain to the new combined authorities that I see from today’s Order Paper we are bringing in. Why is that?

I will look at the point that the right hon. Gentleman raises. The truth is that in the last year for which the commissioner for public appointments has published figures on public appointments, actually slightly more appointees declared a Labour party affiliation than a Conservative party affiliation, but for appointments generally we seek people with some commercial experience of running large organisations who can bring to bear the same desire for efficiency and eradicating waste as we are showing in central Government.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that the rather artificial and silly row about Conservatives being appointed to public bodies has now thankfully come to an end? Also, I inform him and the House that the Public Administration Select Committee is going to have a look at the relationship between public bodies and their sponsoring Departments, to see how they perform in bad times as well as good, how they deal with crises and how accountability should be improved.

I of course welcome that inquiry. This is an important issue that should be kept under considerable review. Where the Executive and Parliament forgo the ability for a public activity to be directly accountable to Parliament, we need to understand very clearly how that responsibility is being executed.

I am not sure that the row has come to an end, because in recent weeks we have learned that a Tory donor has been made chair of Natural England, that a former Tory Member of this House has been made chair of the Care Quality Commission, and indeed in the Cabinet Office an impartial civil service post, heading up the appointments unit, has gone to a former member of Conservative central office. So can the Minister, who is of course a former Tory party chairman, explain why an exemption was agreed to give Laura Wyld that Cabinet Office post?

One has to admire the gall of the hon. Gentleman, given that the Government of whom he was a supporter relentlessly stuffed public bodies full of Labour donors and Labour lickspittles. It was the most appalling abuse of power. We are running things in a substantially better way, as the statistic I have just disclosed illustrates. Further, I can inform the hon. Gentleman that the number of women appointed to public appointments is now up to 45% for the last period, which is significantly better than anything his Government ever even began to achieve.