HC Deb 17 October 1994 vol 248 cc16-8
24. Mr. Peter Bottomley

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the progress he has made in modifying the research councils, as outlined in the science White Paper.

Mr. David Hunt

The new system came into being on 1 April and is working well.

Mr. Bottomley

Will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that all the research councils and industry not only work competently together, but try to show the country that they are doing that, so that those of us who help fund the research councils realise that we are getting value for money and that it will help the prosperity of the country?

Mr. Hunt

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. First, it is important to establish a positive partnership between all the key players to promote scientific research. Secondly, we must get the message across in language that everyone can understand, so that people recognise the high quality of research being undertaken and the significant advances that are being made right across the spectrum. We want a much greater public understanding of science to develop.

Dr. Bray

Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster ask the research councils jointly to undertake a review of the career structure and prospects of research scientists, particularly at the post-doctorate level, because they are continuing to deteriorate?

Mr. Hunt

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the career prospects of research scientists. I want the leading scientists who come out of our universities and other academic institutions to be given much greater recognition in industry, not only in terms of pay, but with regard to their place in it. If the hon. Gentleman has any particular ideas about how better we can promote that aspect, I would be extremely pleased to hear from him.

Mr. Batiste

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the fruits of "The Forward Look" programme will be incorporated into the priorities of research, especially that of the research councils?

Mr. Hunt

Yes, because one of the most fascinating aspects of our White Paper, "Realising our Potential" has been the establishment of 15 technology foresight panels that cover key areas right across the spectrum. Leading industrialists, leading scientists and leading users of science have sat down together to work out new programmes that look forward five, 10, 15 and 20 years. My hon. Friend is right; when we publish "The Forward Look" next year we will be able to incorporate in it the preliminary results from some of those technology foresight panels. The results of that process can only be very good because it will feed into the research councils the priorities that we need to maintain in the coming years.

25. Mr. Raynsford

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what consideration he has given to promoting greater accountability and openness on the part of quangos, agencies and non-departmental public bodies.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

The setting of performance criteria, quality standards and targets and publication of more information are examples of how the Government are encouraging greater accountability and openness.

Mr. Raynsford

Does not the Minister accept that after 15 years of accepting a deterioration in and an undermining of democratic institutions, and substituting rule by 1,000 quangos, it is time for the Government to call a halt? Will the Minister now concede that there is a case for an open and public review of the work of all quangos and that subsequent decisions should be taken to replace wherever possible non-democratic bodies with those that are democratically accountable?

Mr. Hughes

Arising directly from the hon. Gentleman's question, now it is rule by nearly 1,000 fewer quangos than before. As well as the delivery of services, people believe that it is important that information is made available to them. The whole thrust of public sector reforms has been towards more transparency, clearer allocation of responsibility and greater responsiveness to the user than before. However, I would not expect the Labour party either to know or to care about that.

Mr. Hawkins

Will my hon. Friend confirm that since 1979 the number of non-departmental public bodies has fallen by 36 per cent? Will he also confirm that it was the last Labour Government and previous Labour Governments who were particularly keen to set up quangos, especially in Labour local authorities, such as Lancashire county council? Does he agree that it is Labour Governments who are particularly keen on putting Labour placemen in power wherever possible and Labour local government which believes in non-democratic institutions and the appointment of Labour placemen?

Mr. Hughes

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We do not need to hear what the Labour party says it would do, we can see what Labour does when it runs councils—it puts its Labour placemen in power. Although Opposition Members may say one thing today, we heard the Labour party spokesman on Scotland tell the Labour party conference that the party plans to create more quangos.

Mr. Meacher

When will Ministers have the guts to stand up for the work of their own Departments? Is not it obvious that it is not Derek Lewis who should be taking the rap for high security prisoners escaping from Whitemoor gaol, but the Home Secretary? Is not it equally obvious that it is not Ros Hepplewhite who should be pilloried for the ill-judged procedures of the Child Support Agency, but the Secretary of State for Social Security? When are Ministers going to stop hiding behind the skirts of the quangocrats they appoint and instead take responsibility for their own dirty work?

Mr. Hughes

The Ministers responsible for any non-departmental public body or agency are accountable to Parliament and their degree of independence is useful in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. The National Audit Office is either auditor of, or has inspection rights to, non-departmental public bodies and, of course, it inspects what agencies do. It would be very useful if the Labour party stopped talking about mechanisms and for once mentioned the customer—whom the Labour party does not care about.