HC Deb 21 October 1998 vol 317 cc1266-7
5. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

How many quangos have been (a) abolished and (b) brought under direct democratic control since 1 May 1997. [54720]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle)

Since 1 May 1997, Ministers have abolished 44 quangos and have announced plans to abolish 37 more. The Government's recent paper "Quangos: Opening the Doors" set out a range of new measures for improving the accountability and openness of all quangos which remain. We have already started to implement these policies, which include supporting and encouraging closer co-operation between local authorities and quangos with local offices.

Mr. Heath

Here is a job for enforcement, because that really is pitifully slow progress after 18 months. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, for Ministers to be appointing about 30,000 people who should be appointed by election by the people, is unacceptable? Does he further agree that replacing Tory cronies with Labour cronies, or even Liberal Democrat cronies, does nothing for accountability or democracy?

Mr. Kilfoyle

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's charge, I can only say that he should understand the exact definition of a quango as established by the Conservative Government in 1980. None of those had a locus within local authorities, with the exception of some, such as urban development corporations, which have obviously gone, and the Funding Agency for Schools for England, which will be abolished in 1999. As regards the membership of the quangos, this Government have been far more open about appointments to those quangos and their terms of reference.

Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough)

Although I welcome the steps that have been taken so far in abolishing a number of quangos and opening up the process, I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister to speak to his colleague, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, particularly since he has just sat beside him, about the future role of the training and enterprise councils, particularly the growth and development of the regional development agencies. If my hon. Friend is looking for a pilot area for regional development agencies to take over the role of the TECs, I suggest that the east midlands should be at the top of the list.

Mr. Kilfoyle

I wish that it was within my gift to make my hon. Friend that promise but, unfortunately, I cannot. The publication "Quangos: Opening the Doors" is only the beginning of a process and, within the Cabinet Office, we continue to review the role, designation and membership of all quangos.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

What will the Government do to democratise the gigantic quango that they will create if they go ahead with the ill-thought-out plan to remove hereditary peers from the House of Lords?

Mr. Kilfoyle

The answer is extremely simple. We will be maintaining faith with the electorate. We set out clearly and unequivocally that we would abolish hereditary peerage in the House of Lords as the first stage in its modernisation, and that we fully intend to do.