Top job for Welsh Tory rekindles row on quangos

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Indy Politics
A fresh row over prominent Conservatives heading quangos broke out last night after the party's Welsh chairman was reappointed to a top consumer job despite objections from the National Consumer Council.

The Department of Trade and Industry is to announce shortly that Beata Brookes, who took over as chairman of the Welsh Conservative Party a year ago, is to have a second term as chairman of the Welsh Consumer Council. Lord Strathclyde, the consumer affairs minister, has ignored concerns expressed by Lady Wilcox, the chairman of the National Consumer Council, that the appointment could create a conflict of interest. Mrs Brookes earns between pounds 9,000 and pounds 10,000 in total for her two jobs as chairman of the Welsh council and membership of the board of the national council.

Although making it clear that she had a high regard for Mrs Brookes' personal abilities, Lady Wilcox suggested to the Department of Trade and Industry that an alternative candidate would be preferable in view of her party post. Rhodri Morgan, Labour MP for Cardiff West, last night wrote to John Major challenging the appointment. He complained that it 'undermined an already disreputable system of political patronage'.

In an Early Day Motion, Mr Morgan accused the Government of using public appointments to 'subsidise' Conservative Party activities. In his letter to Mr Major, Mr Morgan said that since her original appointment Mrs Brookes had been elected as Welsh party chairman - 'a position many people in Wales would consider to constitute a conflict of interest with any claim she may have to impartiality in representing consumers'.

The NCC, of which the Welsh Consumer Council is formally a sub-committee, declined to comment yesterday beyond saying it looked forward to working with her. A spokesman said that appointments were a matter for the DTI.

Miss Brookes, who is a former Conservative MEP for North Wales, was appointed chairman of the Welsh Conservative Party last May, two years into her term as chairman of the consumer council. She achieved prominence when she unsuccessfully challenged Sir Anthony Meyer for his parliamentary seat in Clwyd North West after the latter stood against Margaret Thatcher for the Tory leadership in 1989.

Yesterday she dismissed the issue as a 'dead duck', saying Mr Morgan had raised it several times before and it had been dealt with by the Prime Minister. 'I never mention or discuss politics in the consumer movement. I am there to look after the consumer and as far as I am concerned here is no conflict of interest whatsoever.'

Under her chairmanship, she said, the WCC had attacked the Government 'head-on' over issues such as the need for Welsh to be a commercial language in use on the high street.

The DTI yesterday insisted that political affiliations were not taken into consideration in the choice of public appointees.