Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-419)

MRS BARBARA ROCHE MP, MR CHRISTOPHER LESLIE MP AND MS HELEN GHOSH

THURSDAY 25 APRIL 2002

  400. I am making the assumption that will happen. My question really is is there a vision that the number of public bodies and appointees would diminish with regional government?
  (Mr Leslie) Again, you will have to wait for the White Paper. In general I am not going to get too fixated on trends in numbers other than saying that we need to keep an eye to preventing this massive growth and proliferation of the numbers of public bodies for the reason that I think there is a broadly efficient number for ministers to be able to keep track of and to manage. Certainly we will want to look at those functions that can be done at the regional level and, as has already been said, one of the concerns I have got is making sure we have got much more regional and national diversity reflected on the boards not just at the local and regional level but national strategic boards which are comprised of people reflecting much more all corners of the nation.

  401. I am hoping that there might be more elections and fewer appointments. Is there a role beyond the political parties for encouraging women to go forward for elected positions?
  (Mrs Roche) In general terms?

  402. In general terms. Each party is obviously looking at the situation but is there a government leadership role as well to encourage women to put themselves forward for election?
  (Mrs Roche) I think it is right to say that the mere fact of bringing in the legislation which allows political parties to use positive measures that are now within the law sends out an extremely strong signal. The important thing about that sort of legislation is that it has all-party support. That does send a very, very powerful signal to people. I think there is an important role that political parties can play. Anybody who is interested in the democratic deficit or in the fact we have low voter turn-out and not so much active participation in conventional politics knows that by encouraging more people to play a role, both in their communities and also to get involved in political parties, you help to re-engage the electorate. That is an incredibly important question and that is why I think the legislation so that political parties are able to do it—and it is totally up to them whether they want to do it—is so powerful.

Chairman

  403. Just a footnote to one of Annette's questions. All governments love setting up quangos. It is bread and butter to them. Every initiative has a quango attached to it. Is there a mechanism inside government and maybe in the Cabinet Office which tests this aspiration against the need to control?
  (Mrs Roche) No but we could have another quango to do that, Tony! To answer you seriously, I am not aware that there is. Chris may be able to tell me. On the other hand, remember that if you do set up such a body given the rules that attest to it, it has to fulfil certain criteria and there will be a cost implications, so that I am sure that will excite the Treasury, as an ex-Treasury Minister. And that is always a good check on those things. There is no overwhelming desire to set up these things because if you do set up a quango that comes with all the rules that that implies. Chris?
  (Mr Leslie) Obviously in the Cabinet Office we try marginally to keep track as well as to oversee departmental wishes to establish public bodies. We publish the annual inventory which hopefully you have found weighing down your brief this morning, which I think has been a useful innovation to have a bigger picture about the whole totality of public bodies. And there are the usual internal government procedures that we go through when departments propose to establish new public bodies. There are ways we can keep a strategic check on these things.
  (Ms Ghosh) In the Cabinet Office in my team, when departments are first thinking about why they are setting up an NDPB, we have a challenging and questioning function. What is it you want to do? Is the NDPB the right way to do it. I assume the department believes that it is the right thing to do. It then goes through the collective discussion Cabinet sub-Committee type route. This whole issue about in particular whether an NDPB in a particular situation is the right model or an agency is the right model or direct delivery by a part of a government department is the right model, is an issue which has been looked at quite closely. Some of you may be aware there has been an agency policy review which has been going on in the Cabinet Office which is likely to be published shortly. That is likely to raise these issues with the focus on delivery and how departments can deliver their PSAs. Departments will begin to look very closely at whether they have got the right mechanism for doing it and whether the kind of structure they have (whether it is an agency or whether it is an NDPB) is the right one? A new focus on PSAs and delivery and how we do it will raise the profile of precisely what the relative roles of all those things are. The landscape may conceivably change.
  (Mrs Roche) My experience in whatever department ministers are in is that you think very, very carefully before you establish a new body because there are so many hoops that you have to go through. There may be other avenues through which you can achieve that same aim.

  404. Who is the guardian? I was not wanting a new body. Is the Cabinet Office not the body that deals with that?
  (Mrs Roche) As Helen says, we would certainly know and certainly with the publication it is there and we would be able to say these are the bodies and these are the steps that you must go through, but if you are going to do it I suppose at the end of the day the person who holds the ring is collective government because you would have to get Cabinet government agreement to set up any such body. So we are each other's guardians, if you like.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  405. How many people have you personally appointed since you have been in post?
  (Mrs Roche) Since I have been a Minister?

  406. Yes?
  (Mrs Roche) That is a very very good question.

  407. Roughly?
  (Mrs Roche) As a much travelled Minister.

  408. Just take the Cabinet Office.
  (Mrs Roche) I do not think I have—

  409. What about you, Christopher?
  (Mrs Roche) Can I just answer the question.

  410. A little more quickly please.
  (Mrs Roche) Since I have been at the Cabinet Office with Patricia Hewitt it would have been some of the new commissioners that have come on to the Equal Opportunities Commission.

  411. How many do you think?
  (Mrs Roche) About three I should think, perhaps a bit more.

  412. What about you, Christopher?
  (Mr Leslie) The broad totality of my esteemed appointments has been the Advisory Committee on Advertising and I think there were about eight of those. We do not have that many public bodies in the Cabinet Office fortunately, or unfortunately, so we do not get that many vacancies coming up.

  413. But you have had 36 since September last year. The reason I am asking is not just to make mischief.
  (Mrs Roche) Perish the thought!

  414. It is that you get people in front of you, you look at the CV, and you ask yourself whether or not these people are right. We have gone round this issue slightly. Are you given what their ethnic background is and the suitability of that for the particular post?
  (Mr Leslie) I think we do have those details and we also have recommendations from the interview and selection process.

  415. From the Civil Service? They will vet it. Let's take the advertising side, they will say, "This is somebody from an ethnic background, this is why we think they are good—because they will look at whatever dimension." Is it that specific?
  (Mr Leslie) No, the advice from officials is always based on the merit of the individual and their ability to do the job. That is the overriding principle. It is a very difficult question if you are asking about how do we square a move towards improving diversity whilst also appointing the best individual for the job. That is a very difficult thing to do when looking at individual appointments in a linear sequence.

  416. That is what you do as ministers. You look at those ones as individuals. You have appointed four between you roughly and there will be a lot more. You have really got to make a decision, sit and think about it, "Do I or do I not. Shall I go against my civil servants?" It is easy with bishops but not so easy with other people. It is much more difficult with somebody you are not quite sure about.
  (Mrs Roche) I am not quite sure about that. You must also always remember that by the time it comes to us it is at the end of the process so there will be an earlier time when you have had a discussion with your officials about what criteria you are looking at so you will have come to a view. My view on this is if you are an open and good minister that the discussion that you will have had with your officials will be one of you equally trying to determine the best sort of criteria. It is very rarely that a list is going to come up that you are going to violently disagree with because between you you will have had advice and discussion about the criteria.

  417. As a matter of interest, how does the Prime Minister fare on appointments? How many people has the Prime Minister appointed? It is a rhetorical question because I do not know myself. What is his target like for percentages from women and from ethnic minorities. Do you know the answer to that?
  (Mr Leslie) We will have to drop you a note on that.

  418. I am intrigued because the Prime Minister has enormous power of patronage and I am wondering if he is hitting his targets. The Cabinet Office is trying to hit targets.
  (Mrs Roche) I assume that quite a lot of these things are done through individual departments. We will do a trawl.

  419. I am thinking of him personally. He has enormous patronage in the Lords and other areas.
  (Mrs Roche) The interesting thing about the Lords is the Prime Minister has given up quite a lot of the traditional powers of patronage in the Lords. The interesting thing in recent years about those people who have been appointed peers is that they show a much better range of diversity, particularly on ethnicity, and in that they have a much better record than the Commons I have to say. We can certainly provide you with some information.

  Mr Liddell-Grainger: There is an area I am quite interested in and that is Scotland. You have a Parliament and I notice in this that there is a problem with Scottish.

  Chairman: A problem with Scottish? Could you just elaborate.


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 26 June 2002