Letter: Lack of democratic accountability in the 'sleazy state'

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Sir: Mary Braid and her colleagues gave an excellent snapshot of quangos in 'The sleazy state' (17 March). However, the article cannot relate the real magnitude of the transfer of power because of the scale of quango operations and qualitative change in their nature.

It has taken me in excess of 700 parliamentary questions merely to obtain the names of those appointed to run the unelected state. Some departments were loath even to give names. Thus, after a nearly two-month wait, and the intercession of the Speaker, the Armed Forces Minister tells me that 'the delay in answering has been caused by the need to establish whether board members would be content for their names to be published'. Hardly a case of national security - four Ministry of Defence quangos in question are the boards of the Fleet Air Arm, Royal Marines, Royal Navy Submarine, and Royal Air Force Museums.

No, it is the cult of the secrecy at work here, emanating from a recognition that full and accessible information about quango appointees will show how a corrupt government has blatantly put key supporters into areas once considered the sole remit of elected government. More insidiously, representatives of major companies are providing crucial advice through quangos to government on issues in which there is an overwhelming conflict of interest. Look at the composition of the Overseas Projects Board, and check it against contributors to the Conservative Party who make millions from overseas projects. Look at the quangos that advise on the poisoning of our food and environment - the members are overwhelmingly on the payrolls of drug and chemical companies.

A future Labour government must undertake a number of things. First, those areas of our national life involving health, training, education and development must be shifted back to direct, democratic accountability and control of Parliament within departments of state. Second, the placemen and women, and the Tory timeservers, must be removed from their cosy sinecures on those quangos that will remain. Third, those quangos that remain must be fully accountable directly to Parliament through the appropriate minister. Fourth, a Labour government must collate and publish a full list of all those appointed to quangos, their period of office and their remuneration, and register their interests (if any), both political and financial. Finally, a full annual report must be presented of all the activities and costs of each quango to Parliament.

Perhaps then we can begin to look at a more open government and a more open society.

Yours sincerely,


MP for Liverpool Walton (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1