HC Deb 12 June 1995 vol 261 cc493-5
27. Mr. MacShane

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what steps he is taking to implement the Nolan recommendations. [26059]

Mr. David Hunt

The Government welcome the broad thrust of the Nolan recommendations in so far as they affect the Government and we are now considering a detailed response.

Mr. MacShane

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the public concern that just four of the Conservative Members of Parliament chosen to serve on the proposed House of Commons Committee hold 23 paid directorships or consultancies between them? Is not that concern reflected in the Gallup opinion poll reported in The Daily Telegraph today, showing that nine out of 10 members of the public do not want Members of Parliament to take any outside payment of any sort?

As the Minister responsible for appointments to quangos, what will the right hon. Gentleman do now, before the Committee reports, to ensure that future quango appointments are not part of the Tory fund-raising operation?

Mr. Hunt

The Nolan report concluded that there was no substance to many of the allegations that have been thrown around. The hon. Gentleman should reflect on that. I hope that this House can now get on with setting up the relevant Committee to look into the way in which this House should respond to the Nolan recommendations.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is unsatisfactory for single organisations to write cheques for £4,000 apiece—cash for votes—for the election expenses of many of our political opponents? Does he further agree that it would make sense for Members of Parliament to judge their own conduct by what I call the local newspaper test—if they are doing something that they would not want reported in the local newspaper, either they should not do it or they should tell the local newspaper?

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend raises some important points, which I hope Labour Members will consider carefully. I read some speculation somewhere that at a recent Labour party conference—which seemed to be an awful lot of something about nothing—Labour said that it was looking into its links with the trade unions. I hope that it does so and comes forward quickly with recommendations.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Given the huge public support for the Nolan recommendations—all the answers to all the questions showing eight or nine people out of 10 supporting them—does the right hon. Gentleman think that for the Government to propose for the implementing Committee a group of people who are not only not all senior Conservative Members of the House, but clearly have a vested interest in a result that will allow hon. Members to continue being sponsored from outside the House, exactly confirms the public prejudice that we are always trying to look after ourselves first and the public second?

Why did not the Government propose Members of Parliament with no outside interests, so that there could be a clearly impartial decision reflecting the view of the public that we need to sweep away the old order and bring in a far more free-from-interest order in accord with the public view of the day?

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman should read and reflect on the report in full. He would then realise that it states that many of the allegations that have been thrown around have been found to have no substance. It is a fundamental recommendation of the Nolan committee that Members of Parliament should be free to continue with outside interests. That was a specific recommendation. Of course the House must carefully consider the Nolan recommendations, but that is a matter for the House and not for me.

Mr. Hawkins

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would he sensible to ask the Nolan committee to look into the corruption and malpractice in so many Labour-run local authorities—in particular, the incompetence in the social services department in Islington when it was run by a lady who has now escaped to the Labour Benches, the employment of illegal immigrants in Hackney, and the employment of a teacher in Lambeth even though he is a trade union leader?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Labour Members will never be taken seriously until all of them give up every penny of trade union sponsorship both for themselves and for their constituency parties?

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend has issued an important challenge to Labour Members. I know that there is increasing concern about the way local government is being administered in certain parts of the country. My hon. Friend's voice will have been heard and the supportive reaction that he received noted. Indeed, the Nolan committee has already said that local government will be an area for further inquiry; no doubt my hon. Friend's remarks will be taken into account when it meets to consider taking further steps.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

In view of the comments made by the Chancellor's hon. Friends this afternoon, will he reconsider the Government's opposition to the proposal that the Nolan committee should look into party political funding? Would it not be helpful to everyone to have that inquiry brought forward and held as quickly as possible?

The Minister is directly responsible for appointments to quangos and he has said this afternoon that he fully supports Nolan's recommendations on that issue. He also made that clear in a debate six weeks ago. What steps has he taken to implement the Nolan committee's recommendations about appointments to quangos? What is he doing about those who hold office on quangos who were not appointed on merit? Will he give an assurance, in the spirit of Nolan, that Ministers have stopped packing quangos with Tory nominees?

Mr. Hunt

I wish that the hon. Lady would read the Nolan report, as it clearly labels as untrue each and every one of the allegations that she has just made. The report says that there is no evidence of such packing. There is no evidence that people are appointed on anything other than merit. It is about time she reflected on the recommendations and words of the Nolan report, rather than trying to invent allegations which cannot be proved. We have put forward our policies very clearly. We have already laid out our response to the recommendations in the debate in this House. We are now preparing our detailed response, which will be published as soon as possible.