HC Deb 11 November 1996 vol 285 cc6-7
5. Ms Hodge

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what proportion of public budgets are currently administered by non-departmental public bodies. [1301]

The Paymaster General (Mr. David Willetts)

The proportion of general Government expenditure administered by NDPBs in 1994–95 was 6 per cent.

Ms Hodge

Further to the answers given earlier, will the Minister tell the House whether there is a list of people in NDPBs who are vigorous and attractive proponents of Government policy? If so, how many of them make a financial contribution to the Conservative party?

Mr. Willetts

Appointments to NDPBs are not made on the basis of political activity or affiliation; the key considerations are aptitude and ability. It is clear that the Labour party wishes to make political capital out of the matter. If Labour has a policy of deliberate non-participation—I refer to a Labour party document—that has nothing to do with us.

Mr. Rowe

Does my hon. Friend accept that the freeing up of a great proportion of the public service from the dead hand of Government Departments has been enormously helpful? Does he also accept that we must ensure that several NDPBs that administer Government policy are freed up further and are not subjected to central Government constraints that prevent them from operating as effectively as they might?

Mr. Willetts

My hon. Friend probably knows that we have reduced the number of non-departmental public bodies from 2,167 in 1979 to 1,227 now. The reason why the Opposition maintain that the number of quangos has risen is that they regard grant-maintained schools and hospital trusts as quangos. We know that they are not.

Mr. Alan Howarth

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, as public service functions are increasingly devolved to NDPBs, agencies and private contractors, it is important that the conventions that underpin democratic accountability are brought up to date and strengthened? Will he undertake, on behalf of the Government, to lay before Parliament in good time—so that Members of Parliament have the opportunity to satisfy themselves that their constituents' interests will be well secured under the Government's proposed new arrangements—the draft contract for contracting out the Benefits Agency medical services?

Mr. Willetts

I am afraid that I cannot comment on the final point, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have published a consultation paper on the wider issue with which he began his question—the legal framework governing propriety and accountability arrangements in public bodies. We published that paper in response to the first Nolan report.