HC Deb 01 April 1976 vol 908 cc1572-4
Q2. Mr. Steen

asked the Prime Minister whether he considers advice from public officials when making recommendations about the suitability of appointing individuals to Royal Commissions.

Mr. Edward Short

I have been asked to reply.

Yes, Sir. Official advice is always available to my right hon. Friend in the exercise of his official functions.

Mr. Steen

Does the Leader of the House know whether the Prime Minister is aware that many of those serving on Royal Commissions and public bodies are either octogenarians or Civil Service favourites? Will he please advise the Prime Minister to see that a greater cross-section of the community is involved in these public bodies, particularly minority groups, such as women, blacks, the physically handicapped, and young people, and in this way to enhance his effigy at Madame Tussauds?

Mr. Short

I rather suspected that the hon. Gentleman would raise the question of age, so I had some research done on this matter. Of the last 66 appointments to seven new bodies, the average age was 52, and the ages of the chairmen averaged 59.6 years. On the point about extending the area, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Prime Minister has taken a number of steps recently——

Mr. Adley

He has resigned.

Mr. Short

I agree. His resignation will considerably broaden and improve the quality of people available to serve on public bodies.

On the second part of the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen), he will know that the Prime Minister has recently created the Public Appointments Unit, which has been instructed to publish in the first half of this year a directory of paid appointments made by Ministers. Also, there is great scope for advertising some of the executive posts. The hon. Gentleman may have noticed the recent advertisement for a Director General of Fair Trading. Changes are taking place in these matters.

Mr. Christopher Price

Will my right hon. Friend urge the Prime Minister, in his last few days of office, to get on with the appointment of the Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Legal Professions, as he promised he would? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a need to appoint a really distinguished layman to get a grip of the monopolistic practices of the legal professions, and that the sooner we get on with it the sooner we can do something about them?

Mr. Short

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agrees that the Chairman should be a distinguished layman and not a lawyer. In the case of this Royal Commission, neither the Chairman nor any of the members has been appointed so far. In the case of the Royal Commission on the National Health Service, the Chairman has been appointed, but not the members. In the case of the Royal Commission on Gambling, both the Chairman and the members have been appointed, and I think that it has now started work.

Mr. Michael Marshall

When the Lord President says that the average age of members of Royal Commissions is 52, is he giving a weighted average, or is it, as I suspect, that some are 104 and others are down to something near to zero?

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Although I cannot yet declare an interest, what is wrong with octogenarians?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish)

They are too old.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Too old for What? Will my right hon. Friend the Lord President inform the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) of what the great Bacon once said, namely, that extreme youth and discretion are ill-assorted companions?

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend asked what was wrong with octogenarians, as such. The answer is "Nothing—except that they are octogenarians." He answered the second part of his question himself.