HC Deb 06 March 1995 vol 256 cc13-4
31. Mrs. Lait

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what plans he has for further devolution of public services close to the users of services.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. John Horam)

Extensive plans—including the launch next week by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and by me of a campaign for customers to nominate excellent services for the charter mark. That is an important way of giving people influence over the services that they receive.

Mrs. Lait

I begin by expressing regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) has resigned from a post that he graced with skill and good humour. I welcome my hon. Friend the new Minister to the Dispatch Box and to duties that I know that he will undertake with great ability. I thank him for his information about the charter mark. Can he assure me that Liberal-led East Sussex county council will not receive a charter mark until it changes its policy and encourages schools to become grant-maintained? Does my hon. Friend agree that only through organisations such as grant-maintained schools and health trusts can public services be delivered closer to those who use them?

Mr. Horam

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind remarks. I also pay tribute to the commitment and humour of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes), who will he much missed. My hon. Friend is right and makes well the point that grant-maintained schools are the epitome of the devolution that we are talking about. If East Sussex county council would pay more attention to that prospect, it would make much greater progress than clearly it has done.

Mr. Henderson

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box. The last time that he held office, it was for a term of three years. The people of Gateshead were terribly disappointed when the Conservative party was removed from office and the hon. Gentleman had to switch sides. The people of Gateshead may be less disappointed on this occasion, if he holds office for fewer than three years.

I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to have fully mastered his brief in the way that his predecessor did, but he told the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait) that the Government are intent on devolving power to local people and gave a couple of examples. Is that not a travesty of what is actually occurring in the delivery of public services? Is not ours the most quangoised and centralised society in Europe? Health services, training, economic development and, increasingly, education are delivered by quango. Is it not ironic that at a time when public support for the Government is so low, they have had to advertise for Tory worthies to serve on quangos, to do their dirty work?

Mr. Horam

The hon. Gentleman's remarks are absurd. The fact is that the number of quangos has declined by 36 per cent. Secondly, the actual services are delivered by grant-maintained schools and by GP fundholders—precisely the sort of small organic organisations that we need to run services successfully, and infinitely preferable to the large bureaucratic organisations that flourished under the fiat of Opposition Members.