THURSDAY 25 APRIL 2002
Tony Wright, in the Chair
Examination of Witnesses
MRS BARBARA ROCHE, a Member of the House, Minister of State, MR CHRISTOPHER LESLIE, a Member of the House, Parliamentary Secretary, and MS HELEN GHOSH, Director of the Central Secretariat, Cabinet Office, examined.
(Mrs Roche) Thank you very much. I will be brief but if I may set the scene on some of the things you would like to discuss with us - although of course there may be other things that you may want to put to us. Just to say that Chris Leslie and I work in the Cabinet Office supporting the Deputy Prime Minister across the full range of his responsibilities. I know you have already had a copy of the PQ which sets out those duties in some detail. In addition, as Minister for Women and Chair of the relevant Cabinet sub-committee (DAEQ) I hold responsibility for co-ordinating equality across Whitehall, implementing Article 13, and also the co-ordination of cross-cutting equality issues. Chris Leslie oversees in particular the work of the public bodies and public appointments team, which is a branch within the Central Secretariat of the Cabinet Office. We are supported today by Helen Ghosh from the Cabinet Office who is the Director of the government machine for propriety in public bodies and public appointments. Can I also mention to the Committee at this point that today especially I have come armed with reinforcements in that I am accompanied by a number of young women from the Wood Green District Rangers and Hornsey School for Girls. The reason why they are here today is that today is "take our daughters to work" day. It is organised by Girl Guiding UK and also the Guide Association, so it seemed particular appropriate today to bring them along to this Committee and I am certainly on my very best behaviour!
(Mrs Roche) The reason why it is absolutely appropriate is because we are trying very much to encourage more diversity and more young women into public life and to do more education in this area. I thought this was a wonderful opportunity.
(Mrs Roche) Indeed. I cannot claim, by the, way parental responsible for them! We do very much welcome the Committee's inquiry. We are very much open to change and new ideas and recommendations in this area. We look forward to your report. Our aim is to see more representation of women and men in public appointments. We also want to see pro rata representation of ethnic minority groups and certainly increased participation of people with disabilities. We want to look at any constraints and any barriers on this. Why is this important? I think it is important because when we look at our public bodies very much I believe that those public bodies are about improving all our public services and it is difficult to argue that our public services can be improved if we do not see all sections of our society there and represented. That goes for different age groups as well. We are pleased about this opportunity. I am in the process of leading a series of seminars across the country which are targeting women with relevant experience gained at a local level and encouraging them to apply for national appointments. So far, as a result of the seminars, as 91 per cent of the women who have attended have said they are more likely to apply. We are now looking to extend the programme to target business women, trade union women and also black and ethnic minority women. As I say, I see this as part of the agenda of public sector reform. What we want to do with public appointments is draw on the best from within the widest and most diverse pool of talent. We believe that this is absolutely essential to good governance.
(Mrs Roche) It is a good question. I suppose ultimately when you look at the numbers of appointments made - something like over 1,000 bodies and 30,000 appointments - you 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.
(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 electorate.
(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.
(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 guess - and this is from my own experience and the anecdotal experience of other ministers - the 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 a balance."
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Mrs Roche) We will do that.
(Mrs Roche) We might have to look at the diversity on that!
(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 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 developing - and again we know it will not necessarily hit the most disadvantaged groups - a 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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Mrs Roche) I cannot possibly think who she was talking about!
Chairman: Most of us here, I am afraid, apart from you. Annette is not one of those.
(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, come on.
(Mrs Roche) It is done by invitation but what we do do is consult with people in the regions - the 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.
(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.
(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.
(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 regional assemblies ---
(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.
(Mrs Roche) In general terms?
(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.
(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.
(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.
(Mrs Roche) Since I have been a Minister?
(Mrs Roche) That is a very very good question.
(Mrs Roche) As a much travelled Minister.
(Mrs Roche) I do not think I have ---
(Mrs Roche) Can I just answer the question.
(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.
(Mrs Roche) About three I should think, perhaps a bit more.
(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.
(Mrs Roche) Perish the thought!
(Mr Leslie) I think we do have those details and we also have recommendations from the interview and selection process.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Leslie) We will have to drop you a note on that.
(Mrs Roche) I assume that quite a lot of these things are done through individual departments. We will do a trawl.
(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.
(Mr Leslie) That is devolution. We are here to talk about those issues that come under the ambit of Westminster accountability and Westminster ministers. The Scottish Executive have their own policy and approach and are accountable for their own policies.
(Mrs Roche) Where they are devolved responsibilities, as Chris says, that is devolution. One would hope and also one would expect that what the Parliament will do would be perhaps to look at what we are doing. We obviously keep in touch. It may well be that they will perhaps decide to look at some of the same practices we have followed on diversity. We would welcome that, of course we would.
(Ms Ghosh) Of course Dame Rennie, to whom you have obviously already talked, is fully involved in all the arrangements for setting up the new separate Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland. She is fully seized of the importance because she believes so strongly in her own procedures.
(Mr Leslie) I think you are going to be one of the first in the queue at the Vote Office for the White Paper.
(Mr Leslie) It will be out in due course, of course. The point you are making, though, is that if there are bodies for which we are responsible -
(Mr Leslie) --- That we try and get the best reflection possible of those people on the ground locally, those communities that are served and using the services of those public bodies. We have got to find a way of reflecting that. I do not know Bridgewater that well. I am sure there are a whole range of different people, dare I say men and women as well in Bridgewater who may be able to serve on public bodies and we should be encouraging them to come forward.
(Mrs Roche) It is not easy. I was quite involved in the discussions over structural funds when I was DTI Minister. I negotiated the deal on behalf of the UK. It is difficult whenever you are talking about the regions. Of course you will get different bits of the region which feel they do not get their share of the cake and the trick in this, of course, is to make sure you have processes where you try and involve as many people as possible. I think the RDA in your region has been very successful and has managed to marry quite a lot of these different things together. I completely understand some of the issues there have been.
Mr Liddell-Grainger: I am not sure that business in the South West would agree with you. I think they feel the bias ---
Chairman: This possibly takes us slightly beyond our remit, fascinating though it is.
Mr Liddell-Grainger: To an extent. We are talking about appointments to public bodies.
Chairman: We are talking about appointments to public bodies.
(Mrs Roche) That is our prediction if we added the numbers of women in the WMC and the EOC. We had the Women's National Commission and the EOC and that is our prediction for the way that the figures were going. At the end of the day what we are after very simply is the best people for the job. That is what we expect. What we want to appoint is the best people for the job. The difficulties with our procedures and the lack of awareness means that we do not get the best pool of talent. What the research shows is that they do pretty well in an objective and open process. The problem is because of lack of awareness people do not put their names forward.
(Mrs Roche) Health has done pretty well, has it not?
(Mr Leslie) A lot of the trends on diversity go from local to regional to national and the local and regional tend to be more diverse. We need to look at those national strategic public bodies. That is where I personally feel the focus for attention should be.
(Ms Ghosh) There are these super tables here.
(Ms Ghosh) Indeed, as the Minister mentioned, the Department of Health does do well with 54 per cent men 46 per cent women for example. That sort of figure reinforces the point that the Minister made earlier that we do comparatively very well where women (in this I particular case) can see a close connection between the situation and the scope of the body. So, for example, National Health Service bodies which will come under that DOH figure will do extremely well. Women see an instant connection and also there is the relative visibility of those bodies locally. Whether this department does well and that department does not so well may to some extent be a function of this very fact of visibility and women wanting to make a difference in areas where they feel they have a role.
(Ms Ghosh) The Export Credit Guarantees Department does extremely badly.
(Ms Ghosh) Money - women cannot cope with finance so that must be the answer there! As I say, all these figures are readily available here. The Treasury does not do very well. Perhaps that has got the same problem there.
(Mr Leslie) I feel I should defend the Treasury.
(Ms Ghosh) OFTEL does not do terribly well, DEFRA does not do terribly well.
(Mrs Roche) The Treasury will be noted. Its card is marked!
(Ms Ghosh) I am only quoting from very publicly available figures and they include ethnic minority and disability figures.
(Mr Leslie) The point that we were making is do not forget that the Treasury will not have a lot of public bodies that are locally and regionally based. Because they tend to have disproportionately more of the national strategically based bodies they will therefore reflect those same difficulties that most other departments in the country have. For those bodies where the appointments are supposedly seen to be requiring particular qualifications or particular specialisms those are the ones where we need to put more effort into achieving diversity.
Chairman: Your apologia would have been noted in the right quarters. There will be bells in a minute that will ring twice, if you can just stop talking while the bells ring for the note takers and then we will proceed after. But until they ring, Kevin Brennan.
(Mrs Roche) Ministers.
(Mrs Roche) It can happen.
(Mr Leslie) It can happen. The point is that because ministers are ultimately accountable to Parliament for the appointments that they make they have, of course, the freedom and ability to look around and pick the best people who they feel are there to do the job, so in certain circumstances they might want to look at general criteria alone, in other circumstances they might want to suggest that people put themselves forward, it is on a case by case basis really.
(Mrs Roche) It is difficult because so much depends on the appointment that you are talking about. In the main you may be thinking about the criteria. If it is just a thing that is coming up the whole time you may not be looking at criteria at all if it is a regular appointment to a public body where in some cases you will have two or three people retiring and some other people going on, it really may just be at the end of the process. Then you will be looking at not only the three places that you are replacing but what the body looks like with it. Sometimes you will be looking at a mix of experience and new blood coming through.
(Mrs Roche) It does happen.
(Mrs Roche) It sometimes does happen but very often a lot of these appointments - I hate to use the word routine because they are doing important things - are fairly routine appointments into numerous important but worthy bodies. Clearly if you are doing something that is new and something quite high profile then you might be looking at it slightly differently. I would say it was the exception rather than the rule but it does happen.
(Ms Ghosh) It would just be a guestimate. Obviously the key thing from our point of view is that wherever the suggestions come from, and when it is a high profile appointment lots of people may know about it and ministers might get suggestions from parliamentary colleagues, in each case there will be an open invitation, that is a key requirement of Dame Rennie's rules, and what we are most interested in is that wherever the initial pool of applicants comes from the right procedures are followed thereafter in terms of making it entirely fair and open.
(Mr Leslie) I think there is and I think Dame Rennie Fritchie as Commissioner for Public Appointments, enforcing her Code of Practice, together with the role of the independent assessors who work in the individual departments are really rigorously making sure that is the case.
(Mr Leslie) She would report if there was any issue.
(Mr Leslie) I think that the appointment process is quite clearly set out from those applications that arise to the drawing up of the shortlist, the interview process, to the actual appointment process. The independent assessors and the Commissioner are able to monitor those statements.
(Mrs Roche) In my experience officials are certainly very well aware of the proprieties and what the process has to be because in a sense they are accountable for their own actions through this process as well. Again, in my experience, so are ministers.
(Mrs Roche) I suppose it would depend on how that suggestion was made. If it was a sort of "oh, so and so might be interested", that might get recorded in the Private Secretary's note, it might not.
(Ms Ghosh) The straight answer is there is no formal procedure, as far as I am aware. The whole point is once a person has got in through the door, or rather put in their application, in a sense you would not want them to be flagged up "this is a ministerial case", you would want everybody to be considered on the same flat playing field.
(Ms Ghosh) Not necessarily.
(Mrs Roche) Not necessarily.
(Mrs Roche) Certainly if there was a feeling on behalf of the officials or the independent assessors that there had been an impropriety, or even the suggestion, then of course Dame Rennie should be involved. As I understand it, Chris is the expert here, that is how Dame Rennie's relationship with the independent assessors works, is it not, they are her eyes and ears?
(Mr Leslie) That is right, but ultimately ministers are responsible and accountable for who they appoint and if a minister feels that they want to make a particular appointment then they account to Parliament for that, that is the way the system works.
(Ms Ghosh) When she does her post hoc audit of the appointment she would have access to all the relevant papers. If it were a case where that was formally recorded obviously she would be able to pick that up. As the Minister said, if the minister happened to say "you might consider so and so, he" she, I hope, "might be the right person", it is so informal that you would not necessarily have a record of it.
(Mrs Roche) The Minister of the Economy.
(Mr Leslie) I watched the Mark Thomas Product on television, bits of it, last night.
(Mr Leslie) You were featured actually.
(Mr Leslie) I noticed the suggestion about a jury style selection. My own view is that that obviously would radically conflict with the principle of appointment on merit, that is getting the best person, the best qualified person, for the job. Obviously there are certain situations with juries where you have a trial by your peers and so on, but if you look at the list of public bodies some of them are very specialist scientific advisory groups and it would be very dubious whether we would be serving the nation well if we selected those at random. I can see the concept involved, that you might increase diversity, but you might also have a detrimental effect on other areas.
(Mr Leslie) I think there is merit in having lay people on the boards of some of the very specialist committees to serve precisely that purpose, a non-executive director function of asking questions, making sure things are explained in plain English, making sure that the specialists account to those who are non-specialist on those particular boards as part of the dialectic process that goes on in those public bodies. I think you have got to get the balance right and most people in this country would want the best people for the job on some of these particular public bodies.
(Mrs Roche) I know Dame Rennie was saying, and this may have cropped up in some of the informal seminars that you have had, about the example of some of the lottery bodies with the lottery numbers who had done it and a random selection of people but then interviewed them to see if they fit into some process.
(Mrs Roche) There is nothing wrong with barristers, they have a role to play in life.
(Mr Leslie) But if you are the Advisory Committee on Ancient Wrecks and Monuments and you want to select from the totality of the country at large, I do not know, you have got to look at who you are selecting from amongst. Also the propensity of people to want to get involved is important. Those boards that will want to look at increasing their own diversity will obviously be able to consider for themselves their own composition and make recommendations if they wish to broaden out, if they wish to look at things like this, that is what they have done in the National Lottery situation.
(Mrs Roche) Just one comment and one observation on that. The point with a jury is an interesting area but what a jury is charged with is not to make a finding on the law but to make a finding on fact as citizens applying some sort of test, it is a finding of fact. What I think we require from appointments on public bodies is to add value. Something that comes out very, very strongly from the seminars from those women who are members of the black and ethnic minorities who have got on to public bodies and have then come along to the seminars to say how they have done it, their advice is you do turn yourself not into the overwhelming expert but being able to ask the searching and the penetrating questions and you do gain experience from being on a public body which may well equip you to get on to a public body which could be more difficult technically, but using those analytical skills that you have acquired from another body you can do that. As a lay representative it allows you to at least put those questions to people who have the technical expertise.
(Mr Leslie) I had a look through the evidence that he supplied to you when he appeared before you and I dug out the guidance that we have issued from the Cabinet Office to public bodies about requirements for registration of interests and conflicts of interest. I think it is quite clear that there are requirements for members of public bodies to comply with the law and also to comply with best practice and have those registers kept. Certainly I will want to look a bit more at what we can do to record those efforts made by public bodies to open up their proceedings, to be more transparent about their membership. I think in the next edition of the volume we produce to public bodies I will certainly want to see some level of summary included about transparency and openness.
(Mr Leslie) I have certainly started to look through the evidence provided and I think we will discuss it with our departmental colleagues who have responsibility for those particular public bodies and look to see whether there are any intractable difficulties. I have not spotted anything earth shattering. We have got to keep bearing down to make sure that we do have open registers and interests, I think that is an important principle, I certainly would not quibble with that.
Chairman: We have not got time to explore this in greater depth. Michael?
(Mr Leslie) I smile a lot.
(Mrs Roche) Shortly I think the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday.
(Mrs Roche) I did not, no.
(Mrs Roche) I think you raise an extremely important subject. I do think that the subject is an important one. I did not hear the interview this morning. I was in my office and, sadly, the only deficiency I can find about the Cabinet Office is that the aerial on my radio is so bad that I can hardly get a reception, but there you go. I do not agree with almost the overall picture that you paint of relationships between officials and civil servants. I understand completely the point that you make that officials are there to serve and cannot answer for themselves. I can only speak from my own experience of a number of different government departments to say that I do not think that this Government could have got off to such a good start as it did in 1997 without the help and support of the Civil Service. I thought it was quite remarkable how they could suddenly implement a programme in the robust and professional manner that they did. Speaking for my ministerial colleagues, we are grateful to them. I think that the system works best when there is confidence and respect on all sides. In my general experience I think that is generally the case.
(Mrs Roche) I do not think this is the case. I think that generally ministers appreciate the fact that generally speaking there is a whole reform that needs to be done, the whole thing about modernising government, but generally speaking we are extremely well served by our officials.
(Mrs Roche) Of course, Mr Trend, I note what you say.
(Mrs Roche) It certainly came up from the DTLR research.
(Mr Leslie) We need to be fairly grown up about it and rather than take potshots at appointees to public bodies, who I think do a lot of good work, often on a voluntary basis, we need to recognise if payment needs to be a consideration to enable us to broaden diversity, to particularly engage lower income groups and wider, more diverse social backgrounds then we do need to eventually look at that much more closely. It is too easy to sometimes throw figures around on salaries and remunerations. I do think we need to have a more sophisticated debate about it.
(Mrs Roche) If you go for a quota line you then come up against the question of appointment on merit. I think those targets are achievable but what you need to do is put in the positive measures in order to achieve them. I think that is the best way.
(Mrs Roche) If you would like to come to the seminars we would be very happy to welcome Members of the Committee there.
Chairman: I think we are discussing this as a possibility anyway. We thank you for your invitation. Thank you very much indeed.