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Public Bodies: Transparency in Service Delivery

Volume 698: debated on Thursday 8 July 2021

Accounting officer system statements already set out which public bodies a Department is responsible for, and their spending is set out in each Department’s annual report and accounts. Public bodies data is also published in the public bodies directory. The recent declaration on Government reform reasserts our commitment to transparency in government. The declaration includes specific commitments on public bodies, including increasing the effectiveness of departmental sponsorship of arm’s length bodies.

As legislators, we have an important and indeed necessary relationship with upholding the spirit and the letter of the law. However, in my experience hon. Members seem more likely to be sacked for their attempts to uphold such a principle. What message does the continued opacity, prevarication and law-breaking of this Government’s most senior Ministers and advisers give to our children, public bodies and industry, or does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster simply have no shame over his own unlawful conduct?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I appreciate your comments on language in this House. I am afraid I disagree with the hon. Member’s characterisation of this Government. As the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has already set out, there is a nuanced judgment from the Public First case in particular which does not agree with the way the hon. Member has characterised how the Government conduct themselves.

It would appear that my lack of donations to the Conservative party makes my chances of becoming a Government non-executive director rather slim, but my question to the Minister today is this: how many non-executive directors currently in post on those Government Department boards to scrutinise Ministers were appointed by Ministers? Will the Minister commit to overhauling that current system for appointing non-executive directors, so that these roles stop just being cushy jobs for friends of Ministers who are being paid over £1,000 a day each of taxpayers’ money?

I can speak for the Cabinet Office non-executive directors. We have a fantastic team that is drawn from across party political affiliations. She will be aware that we have Baroness Stuart, who is a former Labour Member. We also have people with no political affiliation whatever, including people such as Anand Aithal. We have Henry de Zoete, and we have Lord Hogan-Howe, who is a former Metropolitan Police Commissioner. They were appointed because of their merit, not because of their party political affiliation.

I think that made my point for me, thank you.

Last month, an Information Tribunal said that there is

“a profound lack of transparency about the operation”

of the freedom of information clearing house. Can the Minister confirm categorically that every single freedom of information request received has been treated in exactly the same way, with no different approach for certain journalists or campaigners?

I can confirm that we treat those information requests on a case-by-case basis, and the background of who is asking is not a criterion for how we treat that request.