HC Deb 21 April 1999 vol 329 cc890-1
3. Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

If he will make a statement on the work of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. [80294]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Dr. Jack Cunningham)

The Commissioner for Public Appointments, Dame Rennie Fritchie, is independent of Government. She publishes a code of practice on making public appointments based on merit, audits Departments' application of her code, and investigates complaints for public bodies within her remit.

Mr. Vaz

I welcome the steps that the Government have taken to increase the diversity in their public appointments. However, does the Minister agree that there is still a lack of awareness among the public as to how those appointments are made? Will he ensure that the new commissioner advertises vacancies and potential vacancies as widely as possible to ensure that the pool from which the appointments are made includes the widest possible cross-section of people?

Dr. Cunningham

Yes. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that we be able to draw on the widest possible range of experience. Only yesterday, I had similar discussions with the appropriate committee in respect of the appointment of magistrates in the Duchy of Lancaster area. It is essential that everyone should have the opportunity to volunteer for the public services that are so important to us all.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Does the commissioner take into account the political allegiance of those who are appointed? Will the right hon. Gentleman publish a list of those who have not been reappointed in the past two years and those who have and their political allegiance? Will the good lady have the chance to consider the appointment of the director-general of the BBC in that context?

Dr. Cunningham

As the hon. Gentleman knows, all public appointments are subject to the Nolan rules. As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman also knows—but for the removal of any doubt, I will remind him—that the appointment of the director-general of the BBC is a matter exclusively for the governors of the corporation.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

It was a pleasure to see my right hon. Friend in the city of Lancaster yesterday to discuss public appointments on his very first visit as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. What impression did he glean from his meetings with the business and scientific community in that most glorious city?

Dr. Cunningham

It is indeed a pleasure to tell my hon. Friend that I very much enjoyed my first visit to his constituency and to the city of Lancaster to meet leading city councillors and business people and to visit Lancaster university, which I am delighted to say is one of the top 10 universities in the country in terms of its teaching and research performance.