HC Deb 19 May 1999 vol 331 cc1049-50
7. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

What progress he has made in ensuring that people from a wider range of backgrounds are appointed to public office. [83646]

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

The Government are committed to ensuring that public appointments are open to candidates from all backgrounds. We are making progress in increasing the numbers of women and ethnic minority people who hold appointments.

I am also taking forward work to mainstream equality of opportunity issues into all Government policies.

Fiona Mactaggart

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I am glad that progress is being made on appointing more women and more members of ethnic minorities to public bodies. However, I am still concerned about the appointment of young people to public bodies. The most recent report of the independent Commissioner for Public Appointments revealed that in the year before the election of this Government there had been no appointments of anyone under 38 years of age to a public body. I was struck by a report published last week by Demos and Save the Children Fund, which showed the degree to which young people feel alienated from a political system that they feel has turned its back on them. Is my right hon. Friend able to do more to appoint young people to public bodies?

Dr. Cunningham

My hon. Friend raises an important point. She is right to say that it is a recurring weakness in the system. We can do much better than has been done in the past. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall be devoting some time and attention to trying to make better progress in the aspect of public appointments to which she has referred.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

Does this approach extend to the appointment of special advisers, and has the Minister discussed it with the Lord Chancellor?

Dr. Cunningham

I certainly will not make any public comment about the impending court case involving my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor. As the right hon. Lady and some of her hon. Friends, especially the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie)— incidentally, he was a special adviser for six years and was one of the architects of the boom and bust policies of the previous Government—have had much to say about special advisers, I would point out that, in the last two years of the previous Conservative Government, Ministers and their special advisers spent far more on travel abroad than has been spent by Ministers in the first two years of this Government.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Is it not a fact that for 18 years we saw public appointments filled by Tory lapdogs? In the past two years, have not the present Government made appointments based on merit, involving people living in the local community who use services such as the local NHS?

Dr. Cunningham

Yes, indeed. It is because of the abysmal performance of the Conservative Government that we have the Nolan principles and the Neill committee report on these matters.

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