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Senior Public Appointments: Widening Access

Volume 643: debated on Wednesday 27 June 2018

We want to ensure that public boards represent the people they serve. That is why in December we launched our diversity action plan, which committed to 50% women and 14% ethnic minority representation by 2020. Just last month, I appointed Lord Christopher Holmes to undertake a review of removing barriers that disabled people might face when applying for public appointments.

What proportion of appointments made to public bodies are people from working-class backgrounds and what proportion went to private school?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point about our making sure that public appointments reflect the country as a whole. That is why we have taken a number of measures to increase diversity based on the Bridge report recommendations.

I am sure that the Minister agrees that we have a huge amount of talent for public appointments, including in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, so will he set out what he is doing to ensure that regional voices are heard around senior public appointments?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Diversity means not just ethnic diversity or gender diversity, but regional diversity. That is why, for example, we recently held an event in Glasgow to encourage people in Scotland to apply for public appointments.

One way in which we could widen public appointments is to limit the amount of them to just two per person, instead of the gravy train that seems to appear as far as public appointments are concerned.

As ever, my right hon. Friend is absolutely correct, and I take on board his recommendation. Diversity also means ensuring that we do not have the same old faces constantly applying for and succeeding in winning public appointments. That is why, as part of our diversity measures, we are encouraging a wider array of people to apply for public appointments.

Does my hon. Friend think that online abuse acts as a deterrent to people putting themselves forward not just for elected office, but for public appointments? Does he also agree that such abuse should be dealt with robustly and that we all have a responsibility to call it out?

Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we will be launching a consultation shortly to deal with exactly that point.

Edward Timpson was appointed chair of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and of the new Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel. Andrew Tyrie has been appointed chair of the Competition and Markets Authority. Baroness Stowell was appointed chair of the Charity Commission. They are all probably worthy appointments individually, but a clear pattern is emerging, so will the Minister confirm that the main criteria now for senior public appointments is that someone has to be a former Tory MP or Cabinet Minister?

As ever, the hon. Gentleman makes a rhetorical flourish. Sadly, the facts just do not bear it out. The Government’s code for public appointments is clear that political activity is neither a judgment of merit nor a bar to becoming a political appointee. If he looks at the statistics, he will see that of 1,000 candidates in the past year—2016-17—4.9% were Conservative and 4.8% were Labour.