Skip to main content

Health Authorities: Senior Appointments

Volume 504: debated on Wednesday 22 February 1989

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

3.1 p.m.

Whether in the future chairmen and senior executives of health authorities in the National Health Service will be drawn only from the supporters of a particular political party.

No, my Lords. As now, all health authority appointments which fall to the Secretary of State will be made on the basis of the individual's personal qualities and ability to do the job. The general manager of each health authority will be appointed by the non-executive members, and the other executive members by the non-executive members acting with the general manager. Their political allegiance, if any, should be irrelevant.

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that if that becomes a fact many of us will be encouraged? Is he also aware that over the past nine to 10 years in many parts of the country, particularly in Wales, there has been growing disquiet at the proportion of members of the Conservative Party in the health authorities, which has increased year by year? That has resulted in a loss of balance and undoubtedly a loss of talent to the NHS.

My Lords, I can only repeat to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, what I said in my original Answer. The importance of these demanding and exacting positions is that the right person for the job should be appointed, regardless—I repeat, regardless—of political affiliation.

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that in many parts of South Wales, at any rate, it has been impossible to get a job unless one belonged to the right party—and the right party is not the Conservative Party?

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a serious issue behind the Question put by my noble friend? Is it not disturbing that there have been many Ministerial appointments from the Conservative Party to the National Health Service in recent times? Does the noble Earl understand the suspicion that some people have that it could be designed to assist in pushing through the extremely controversial proposals for reorganisation which we are debating later today?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, will not be surprised to hear that I cannot agree with that question. I repeat, we are looking for people with the appropriate background, experience and personal qualities needed to lead their authority in carrying out its responsibilities. They might or might not be of the Conservative Party. It is their ability, and only their ability, which is the factor in deciding who to appoint to such positions.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it is the Government's policy to remove from health authorities the people appointed from the local authority in the area? Bearing in mind that such people are the only members of the health authorities who have to face the electorate, does not the Minister consider that such a policy is a terribly retrograde step? Will he consider the measure and perhaps withdraw it?

My Lords, as explained in the White Paper, and as I explained to the House on 6th February, health authorities presently are neither truly representative nor management bodies. The removal of directly appointed local authority members is one of the Government's measures aimed at creating smaller, more businesslike authorities which bring together executive and non-executive members to provide a single focus for effective decision-making.

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the same principle of political and ideological impartiality applies to appointments outside the National Health Service or whether, for example, on those principles the vice-chairman of the IBA was recently appointed?

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will realise that that is another Question for another day.

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that my personal experience indicates that there is a bias towards Conservatively-minded appointees? When I resigned as a regional chairman I was asked to recommend a successor. The Secretary of State asked me what political party my proposed successor belonged to and how many Members of Parliament in the region, South-West Thames, he knew personally. Most of them were Conservatives.

I am naturally interested to learn of the experiences of the noble Baroness, but I very much hope that that situation does not parallel itself across the country. I cannot comment further.

My Lords, I did not quite hear my noble friend's reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. Did he say he agreed or that he disagreed? I think that most people who recognise the situation over the past few years agree wholeheartedly with the noble Baroness. Which answer did my noble friend give?

My Lords, I believe the noble Baroness was referring to the Opposition party and therefore I agree.

My Lords, referring to the noble Earl's reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, and his first Answer to my Question, is he aware that if that theory was put into practice there would not be grave disquiet throughout the country about the continued excessive appointment of members of the Conservative Party to these bodies? This disquiet is so grave that I ask the noble Earl to at least convey those feelings to the Secretary of State for examination. The theory outlined by the Minister is supported by all, but the theory has nothing whatever to do with what is going on in practice and which is favouring the Conservative Party.

My Lords, if it is a fact that Conservative Party members are finding themselves appointed to some of these positions it is not because they are Conservatives but because they are the right persons for the job.