Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380-399)|
ROCHE MP, MR
MP AND MS
THURSDAY 25 APRIL 2002
380. Thank you very much indeed for that. We
will start with some general questions and then we will perhaps
come back to the specific areas that you have raised. This inquiry
that we are doing concerns patronage and public appointments.
"Patronage" is a rather perjorative word but it does
get at the idea that these are people appointed by ministers.
Why should members of public bodies be appointed by ministers?
(Mrs Roche) It is a good question. I suppose ultimately
when you look at the numbers of appointments madesomething
like over 1,000 bodies and 30,000 appointmentsyou have
to look at what would be the most appropriate system. At the end
of the day ministers are accountable for their actions and their
responsibilities to Parliament but what is needed is an open and
transparent system as to the way in which that appointment system
takes place. That is why it is absolutely right that we have the
Commissioner who is there to make sure that there is probity and
there is an open system. It seems to me that the key thing with
this system is that people appreciate what the system is and I
think our real difficulty is that people do not know how the system
works, how you go through the process, and the qualities that
we are looking for. We need to open the whole thing up.
381. We shall get on to all of that. If for
a second I can stay with the big picture before we go into the
detail. The reason I asked the question, and in your answer you
got into this territory, is that people say that ministers have
to do it because they are accountable for these bodies, but ministers
are accountable for civil servants but they do not demand the
right to appoint civil servants.
(Mrs Roche) No they do not, but we are responsible
for the advice that we might give to Parliament as a result of
some of the actions that those public bodies take. You have to
look to what other sort of system you could possibly have. You
have to look at the line of accountability. If you did not have
ministerial responsibility at the end of the day then members
of the public could quite rightly say, "Here we have public
bodies who have a great measure of independence who are operating
in a complete vacuum." I think in terms of public reassurance,
because vast systems of public money can be spent by these bodies,
people do have to know that there is some connection with the
electorate. It seems to me that the best connection is, first
of all, to ministers and then to Parliament and then of course
from Parliament to elected Members of Parliament and then the
382. But it would be quite possible for ministers
to specify the qualities that they wanted in public appointees
but not actually be formally responsible for making the appointments.
Just to extend the question, and I know Chris wants to come in,
we have done this precisely in relation to the Health Service.
We have set up an NHS Appointments Commission to break the link
with ministerial appointments because that had seemed to be contaminated.
The argument would be if we can do it in one field, why not across
(Mrs Roche) If we look to see what appointments take
place, and looking at the appointments I have made in my ministerial
career, you are quite right, ministers are there and they are
acting within the criteria and they will set the criteria. Ministers
certainly do not get into the stage of going out there and saying,
"So-and-so would be a suitable person, I know them,"
that is not the way this works. By the time it gets to ministers
it is at the very, very end of the process and names would be
put to ministers and by that stage it would have gone through
officials who are looking at the final balance. I regard the minister
as being a final check in the process and a necessary check, ministers
being the body, as I say, that is accountable to Parliament. Chris?
(Mr Leslie) Barbara's point is right and what you
have raised is a pretty big constitutional question about the
role of public bodies and where they sit. Sometimes we should
not neglect the obvious and the obvious here for me is that a
lot of public bodies are exercising functions on behalf of the
executive as opposed to the work of the legislature and are therefore
accountable to the legislature through ministers in their executive
roles. So even with the NHS Appointments Commission the appointments
are still ultimately made by ministers who are the vessels where
the buck stops ultimately for the actions, the advice and the
policy that actually is implemented by those public bodies on
behalf of those ministers. That is the constitutional position.
To alter that may be possible but then you would have to look
at the wider constitutional settlement.
383. Do you know how much time ministers spend
worrying about appointments?
(Mrs Roche) It is a good question. In a sense it is
driven by the imperative. A submission will come up. It will depend
on the department. From time to time there will be departments
which will have a lot of appointments and there will be others
which will have very few. I would guessand this is from
my own experience and the anecdotal experience of other ministersthe
thing that exercises ministers most (and it is difficult to quantify
the time) is the lack of diversity in the list that comes up.
There are too few women, too few people from black and ethnic
minorities, and a pretty limited age group. That is the thing
that exercises people most and that is a common complaint. You
will get ministers who say, "There are no women or no black
people on the list", and officials will say, "We could
not think of anybody in the process", and the ministers will
say, "Go back there and try again because we want to see
384. There is no reason why an Appointments
Commission could not be charged with that responsibility to get
that balance but we have explored that. Do you know how many public
appointments are outside the orbit of the Commission for Public
(Mr Leslie) I think most of public appointments come
under the remit of Dame Rennie Fritchie's Commission which is
working on enforcing the code. There are a small number of Crown
appointments which are vested with the Prime Minister and, again
for, historic reasons tend to be made by him. The Archbishop of
Canterbury is a classic example. Helen, you might have an idea
about specific numbers.
(Ms Ghosh) I believe it is about half of the total
number of appointments that are made. The NDPBs and the Prime
Ministerial appointments fall outside the remit of the Commissioner
but for the reasons that Chris said.
385. I do not think that can be right. The NDPB
appointments come within the orbit of the Commission.
(Ms Ghosh) Which are at 30,000 appointments. I expressed
myself wrongly. About 15,000 appointments of the very specialist
kind that Chris describes, for example ecclesiastical appointments,
are not within the remit of Commission for Public Appointments.
386. Just as a way of clarifying things it would
be very helpfuland I know it is difficult for you to say
just nowif you could let the Committee have a note on those
outside and then of course the question would be, when we are
talking about a range of Prime Ministerial appointments/prerogative
appointments, what is the rationale for having a category of appointments
outside the orbit of the person who has been put in charge of
making sure the system works well.
(Mrs Roche) I would say history but Chris?
(Mr Leslie) A lot is history. The short life so far
of the existing Commissioner for Public Appointments has been
pretty good in its record and it has extended quite rapidly over
a large number of appointments. Not all appointments are the same.
Some are quasi judicial or tribunal based and they have different
criteria, qualifications and processes. We are constantly looking
at the scope. We will be looking very shortly at the existing
orders covering the role of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.
Devolution is an issue we need to start to reflect a little bit
more. As those constitutional changes come so too we have got
to look at the scope of the work of the Commissioner.
(Ms Ghosh) As the Minister said, many of those appointments
are extremely specialised, regius professors in universities and
so on. There would be an issue about the efficiency of pulling
them all in under the auspices of the Commissioner.
387. Any information you can give us will be
(Mrs Roche) We will do that.
388. Thank you. We are trying to compose a Committee
entirely of those with the same name. We have only made progress
in one direction so far.
(Mrs Roche) We might have to look at the diversity
389. Taking you back to the question of gender,
you mentioned how you have been to some of the regional seminars.
What were the main reasons given for women not being able to take
up public appointments or not putting themselves forward for public
(Mrs Roche) Thinking it is not for them. What is fascinating
about this is that if you look in most of the regions and you
look at local appointments, if you look for example at lay magistrates
or you look at the local health trusts or school governors, women
are extremely well represented at sometimes well over 50 per cent,
but that somehow does not translate into national appointments.
First of all, sometimes they feel that what is required is technical
knowledge that they did not possess. There is a great deal of
apprehension, to be absolutely frank, and that is a criticism
of the process. There are stories of women who have applied and
never had any feedback and that is a major criticism. People not
understanding how it works. They think that somehow the central
list means that you have access to all the departments and that
clearly is not how it works at the moment. Thinking perhaps it
is all a bit too London centric. Remuneration is an issue. All
of those things can be a barrier. The most interesting thing sometimes
is the application form itself. We have changed the application
form. At one stage it had a section listed "honours".
There is nothing wrong with honours at all but there was an implication
that if you did not have an honour perhaps you might not be considered
for a public appointment. All of those things.
(Ms Ghosh) To put a gloss on that, the Department
of Transport, Local Government and the Regions recently did some
research into precisely this point and, as the Minister said,
there is a whole group of issues but probably the ones that came
out as top of the list of the reasons why women did not get involved
were awareness of the opportunities existing, which of course
is part of the object of the regional seminars, but also issues
around confidence and whether my competencies fit the model. As
well as the series of regional seminars, what we are looking at
very closely is how we can more actively make women particularly
at the very local level (where, as the Minister said, there is
diversity and the figures look good) apply and how do we translate
that from the local level up to the regional and smaller national
appointments. We think possibly one way we might do that is to
give regional offices a more active role in identifying women
and people from minority groups at a local level and actively
picking them, mentoring them and giving them shadowing opportunities
so they both have access to information and they grow their confidence.
Also we are well aware that we need to make the availability of
opportunities more transparent. We are developingand again
we know it will not necessarily hit the most disadvantaged groupsa
much more rational web site sort of system. I think people find
the current system of a central register and then individual departmental
advertising systems rather untransparent, but to have a central
system where, possibly with help from the government office in
the regions or local contacts, local women could get access directly
to a departmental list under the area of their interest, see the
opportunities coming up, hit a button, and get an application
form, would be a wonderful way of dealing with this problem of
awareness. Awareness came out at top of the list.
390. Do you find any regional variations?
(Mrs Roche) We are about halfway through. It seems
to me from what I understand so far on the feedback that the issues
are very, very similar. It is lack of awareness about the process,
and it is really getting over the message that serving on a public
body can be very rewarding in terms of the contribution that you
can make to public life. It also sends to people the message that
they have the skills to do it. I do not think there are many regional
variations. Things are remarkably constant, as I say, in terms
of numbers of women who are active in local life.
391. I would suggest that perhaps in the public
bodies in which I have been involved, a large majority of the
women would be professional women, whereas in my constituency,
for instance, we have a large proportion of people with high benefit
dependency at the lower end of the economic scale. They themselves
would find an obstacle in terms of what their aspirations are
but also one of the important things is ability to travel. It
is a very important subject. They may well have to travel to and
(Mrs Roche) That is right and one of the reasons people
are put off from applying is that they think that all the bodies
will be based in London, which is not the case. Sometimes expenses
are available for people and there is no awareness of that. We
are trying to do two things. The first thing to say about the
seminars is that we aimed the seminars at those women who already
have some experience of public life. We are aiming it at people
who are perhaps already magistrates or school governors, perhaps
very active school governors, or members of local trust boards.
So they are active locally but they have not made the leap to
national. We want to do something about that fairly immediately.
I absolutely agree with you that there is a different programme
that we need to encourage about getting more people in their own
communities as well in terms of working people to become school
governors or to become magistrates. That really is a task. There
is a particularly important reason for this. If I look at another
side of the work I do in terms of the present government offices
or some of the new deals for regeneration programmes, we want
very many of those to be community led. They are totally community
led. The onus is not on the local authority, it is on the local
people who have got control of the monies and therefore we need
to encourage more people to come forward and feel that public
service is a good thing and, of course, that has to start in schools.
392. Is there not an argument, taking what Helen
has just said, that rather than taking it down to regional level
for appointments perhaps there is an argument to take it down
to more local levels to people who know the localities, for instance
a hospital trust or
(Mrs Roche) You are quite right, people have seen
what we have done and they have said, "We want one in our
area." We cannot do it everywhere. There is nothing to stop
people using the template that we have come up with or some of
the packs and information on ways of doing it, and organising
it themselves. We could say this is what we use. This is the method
that we have found successful for example in the way in which
we have done it. We have had somebody who has been on a public
body and shown how they have made it and what they have done.
Dame Rennie Fritchie has been very helpful and come along and
spoken and given an overview. We have done some case studies.
That has proved to be a very helpful template and we have had
some good feedback on it. There is no reason at all why we cannot
provide a do-it-yourself pack for people to do it which other
local bodies may well want to take on.
(Mr Leslie) We had a useful debate in Westminster
Hall on Tuesday. It looked precisely at many of the issues raised
here and how we can get greater regional and national diversity
as well. A lot of these issues we have got to focus in on a lot
more because of the perceptions that you have talked about. What
certainly I am interested in, and Barbara I know is interested
in, are fairly radical thoughts. I know you are going to produce
a report and we want to look at suggestions about how we can engage
more with local communities and particularly lower income groups
from wider social backgrounds as well. This is exactly what we
need, not diversity just for the sake of it but because it enriches
the output of the bodies we are talking about.
(Ms Ghosh) Back to the local point. For example, one
issue we might like to explore is whether we can make more use
of local strategic partnerships. From my previous experience working
on regeneration type projects you get these marvellous local people
emerging through things like chairs of tenants at a very, very
local level who you know could be stars. Very often they will
get involved in things like local strategic partnerships and perhaps
that is a way at a local authority level we could harness that
kind of local community involvement to make them aware of the
opportunities and, as I say, to mentor and shadow and all the
kind of things the Minister is describing. That would be a micro
climate in which one might try and do that.
393. There used to be a phrase "ladder
(Mrs Roche) That is exactly it. We all know from our
own constituencies the person in the local church, the parish
council, the local organisation for the disabled without whom
that bit of the community would not run. Some people are perfectly
happy to carry on doing that and that is great, you do not want
to take them away. Very often many of those people have transferable
skills that you could use and therefore it is providing that ladder
of opportunity and progress if people want it, and not everybody
will want to do it but some will.
394. It is about getting people on the ladder
and moving them up it if they want to go. If we could see the
DTLR evidence that would be extremely useful to us. When Dame
Rennie came she talked about "pale grey and stale males".
(Mrs Roche) I cannot possibly think who she was talking
Chairman: Most of us here, I am afraid, apart
from you. Annette is not one of those.
395. Thank you, I think, but I am an ambassador
for the Guides, to put my credentials forward on those grounds.
(Mrs Roche) I am afraid I stopped at the Brownies.
I can exclusively reveal I was a Pixie!
Chairman: I was expelled from the Boy Scouts.
Mr Liddell-Grainger: What for?
Chairman: This is for a private session. Annette,
396. I did not lead you astray. I think it is
a very good initiative that the Girl Guide movement has organised
today because it is just the sort of thing we want to have a promotion
on. You do not need your own daughter, everybody here could have
adopted one. We need to know more about those initiatives. I do
not know very much about the seminars but who gets invited and
how are they advertised? Could you expand a bit on that.
(Mrs Roche) It is done by invitation but what we do
do is consult with people in the regionsthe local business
community, the local authority, local magistrates, local health
boards. This is not targeted at everybody, it is targeted at women
who are already in public life in some way. We are looking for
something like 100 people to take part because that is where it
is workable. It is run over a morning where what we do is there
is an overview, some case studies, advice on preparing your CV.
We have got the Women's National Commission involved because it
is no good running a seminar and leaving it at that, you have
to provide some sort of support so we have got a network with
the Women's National Commission showing where other posts are
coming up as advertised appointments and there is a website. We
launched the first one through the good offices of the WI in Abingdon.
There are all sorts of partner bodies that we use.
397. I have a slight concern that there is an
element of patronage in who gets invited to these things because
you mention local experience and certainly my local experience
is that there are some leading women in the area but they tend
to hold quite a few positions and they will always be the first
people invited to something. How do we break through that?
(Mrs Roche) It is correct to say that we are targeting
these, you are absolutely right, because in a sense it is part
of this ladder. Given that we have got only something like 34
per cent of women, we have got 4.8 per cent of ethnic minorities,
and we have got 1.5 per cent of women from black and ethnic minorities
we do need to try and make some sort of step change. The great
thing to do would be to say we are going to go for it straightaway
but the first bit of the strategy is to look at why is it that
you have got all these women involved locally. If you look at
the figures they are there as magistrates, they are there as school
governors, so why is this not translating into public life? In
the short term that is the strategy but there is a wider area
of work that we need to do which, as Tony says, is that ladder
and then inviting more people. I see these things spreading. You
start here and then you go wider.
398. I agree there is a longer term agenda to
really widening participation. Could I ask Christopher a question.
I have got a quote which is probably out of context from you from
a debate and it is talking about appointments to non-departmental
public bodies and task forces and you say that the Government
want to keep numbers to a minimum and the five-year review process
will look at the fundamental questions, etcetera, etcetera. What
progress are you making in reducing the number of these appointments?
(Mr Leslie) I was talking about the number of bodies.
In 1997 there were around 1,128 something like that and now we
are at about 1,025 so there has been roughly a ten per cent drop
in numbers, but sometimes circumstances come along where a particular
issue requires greater attention and we may need to look at establishing
a public body here and there. We are not being completely inflexible
about it but we do want to keep a lid on the vast proliferation
of the number of quangos because of wider concerns about the history
of the quango state in general. We recognise that public bodies
play an important role. They oversee about £25 billion of
public expenditure on behalf of ministers, so they are very important,
as the appointments to them are very important. That is really
where we are with that. I do not know whether you think that is
sufficient or not but I think we have always got to keep an eye
on the numbers.
399. Do you have any targets or are you thinking
about targets in the context of moving towards regional government
in terms of the fact that there might be much more scope for elected
bodies given elections in the regions?
(Mr Leslie) We have got a White Paper on Regional
Governance coming out shortly. There may be or there may not be
issues addressed in that and I would not want to pre-empt it today.
Suffice to say if you look at our manifesto commitment on elected