§ 8. Mr. Heppell
To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans he has to increase the number of next steps agencies in the next 12 months. 
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service (Mr. David Willetts)
With some 70 per cent. of civil servants already working under next steps arrangements, we are getting very close to the original estimate of covering three quarters of the civil service. There are currently 124 agencies in operation, as well as Her Majesty's Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue, which operate on next steps lines. I would expect about two dozen more agencies to be set up in the coming year.
§ Mr. Heppell
Does the Minister agree with the views expressed today in The Guardian by the former chief executive of the Prison Service, that all Government agencies should be protected from incompetent and over-excited Ministers?
§ Mr. Willetts
The framework within which staff in next steps agencies work is very clear: they are civil servants; they are bound by normal civil service rules; they are accountable to Ministers; and Ministers, in turn, are accountable to the House.