Examination of Witness (Questions 360-376)
MR MARK THOMAS
THURSDAY 18 APRIL 2002
360. Do you think there are too many public bodies? I think last year there were around 1,000 public bodies which spent £26 billion.
(Mr Thomas) I think they do seem slightly reticent to disband themselves. Once they are up and running they like to keep going. Out of the 50 that we looked at, as I said, five have ceased to exist. The example again of Partnerships UK I found incredible that you should start with a task force, move on to a Government body and then finally privatise itself, and it is still functioning under the Treasury, I find that incredible. I think that shows a real resilience, that is almost Darwinism. It is incredible.
361. Finally, if you were given a choice in terms of a public body, which one would you want to be on?
(Mr Thomas) I do not know. Which public body would I like to be on?
Brian White: Standards and Privileges.
Sir Sydney Chapman
362. The Press Complaints Council.
(Mr Thomas) To be honest, I do not have an interest in being on a public body.
363. What if you were selected by lot, would you accept?
(Mr Thomas) No. It depends, I would have to consider what the remuneration is.
364. This is a paradox. You have spent an hour and a half telling us how this is the epitome of public service.
(Mr Thomas) I have not said it is the epitome of public service. I have cited examples where there has been public service and people doing communal work which is really important stuff. If you live on a housing estate with high crime then actually to get people to stop nicking your car is really important, it really is, getting them to stop smashing the windscreen and nicking the stereo is important, to actually have a decent place to live is important. If that scheme actually stops people doing it then that is a really good valuable thing.
365. Of course. I just cannot quite understand why you would not want to get involved in all these bodies that you keep telling us are so rewarding.
(Mr Thomas) Because I think for somebody like myself I can achieve far more through working on things like the Ilisu Dam Campaign, which is something that I am incredibly proud of. We had to fight tooth and nail to stop that project going through, which we did with some help from MPs.
366. Would it be a kind of contamination, do you think, to be involved in the orthodox process?
(Mr Thomas) For me personally?
(Mr Thomas) Yes, you do have a point there. One of the questions that I am often asked is when we do Internet chats and people write in, people often say "Why do you not stand as a Member of Parliament". There are all sorts of ways you can interpret that. My answer is
368. I though they were a trail of slime.
(Mr Thomas) That is one of them but the other is, the quote is the last person you want in the White House is the only one who wants to be there, the person you want is dragged kicking and screaming all the way. I tend to think that is a reasonable summation of how I feel about it.
369. You did stand for Parliament, did you not? You got 122 votes.
(Mr Thomas) You are absolutely right. I do not think I was entirely serious about getting elected.
370. The voters sussed that out.
(Mr Thomas) I think the campaign slogan which was "Vote for me and I will say anything that you like unless of course I do not agree in which case I will not" might have given a hint that I was not entirely serious about it. Having said that, I was pleased that I managed to get more votes than the Natural Law Party and the Nazis, I was very pleased with that. If I had got less than them I would have been very upset.
371. What would be your views in terms of Members of Parliament having outside interests and directorships? Do you believe that should be one of the rules of coming into this place that they should not have outside interests?
(Mr Thomas) Yes. I think that actually if you are coming to work here, you get paid a good wage, you are here to represent people and to serve the public. You have been elected to do that. People do not sit there and say "We will elect you to serve us and also work on the board of X". I do not have a problem with that at all, I think that is an entirely good idea that we say "no outside directorships at all". I would be in favour of limiting the number of terms that MPs can serve as well.
Sir Sydney Chapman
372. Could you not extend that logically to say that if you are a Member of Parliament you should not write articles for newspapers or appear on television programmes?
(Mr Thomas) Certainly if you said you should not appear on television or radio, I would say no, the whole point is we want politicians to be answerable, that is the whole thing. That is why we are discussing Tony Blair and should he be more answerable, yes. We want those forms of the media to be used properly, or I do.
373. I am going to have to call this to a halt. It is a great tribute to you and the session that we have gone on for almost two hours, much longer than we thought. It has been extremely valuable as well as interesting.
(Mr Thomas) Thank you very much for inviting me. I have enjoyed it.
374. Thank you for preparing the material for us and thank you for promising to send us more material. We shall try and do justice to it.
(Mr Thomas) Hopefully it will be with you in the next two weeks. There is one further thing that I might ask, if I might. It comes back to a central question which is this. We have discussed here how do you get people more involved, how does Parliament become more involved with that process which is happening outside. This afternoon I have set up a small phone studio. We are going to have a phoneathon. We have got a few people who are coming along to try and track down the people who are mentioned in the report and try and get to the bottom of the discrepancies and find out whether there are plausible reasons, whether there are reasons for not being included or whether there are any other motives going on here. I would be more than happy to invite every single one of you to come and join us.
375. I am sure you would.
(Mr Thomas) Absolutely. I am giving you an opportunity to come and join us to phone these people up. If you would like to spend the afternoon or part of the afternoon doing that, we would love to have you along. I will give you a sandwich and a glass of water which will be under 50 quid.
376. Thank you for that invitation. Could I say to you, also, that if Members do not take it up it is not because they are sleaze bags, it is probably because they have got diaries bulging with things to do.
(Mr Thomas) We can hold the dates open. If anyone wants to see me, we can negotiate on it.
Chairman: We have had a splendid session. Thank you very much.