My right hon. Friend occasionally receives representations on the matter. To my knowledge, she has received no such representations in the past six months.
Will the Minister confirm that there is no political bias whatsoever in health authority appointments? If there is no such bias, will he explain to the House why, when Southend primary care trust was established against doctors' wishes, we were presented with a choice between two Labour activists to serve on the trust, and that the Labour activist who was appointed happened to be the chairman of South Essex health authority, which had been the subject of a critical report? Will the Minister also explain why the Government have allowed Thurrock community trust to take over the Southend trust—again allowing the appointment of a chairman who suits the Government's agenda?
I can confirm that appointments to NHS bodies are made solely on merit. I find the hon. Gentleman's comments absolutely astonishing. He is a representative of the Conservative party whose spokesperson said, when it was in government, that she had never knowingly appointed a Labour person to any body. That is one reason why we have a transparent system and people are appointed on merit.
Will my hon. Friend also confirm that one of the substantial differences in appointments to public bodies under this Administration is the significant increase in the number of women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds who are now represented on such bodies?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I can confirm that, at present, 50 per cent. of the new appointments to non-departmental public bodies are women. That has led to an increase in the proportion of women on all bodies from 34 to 39 per cent. The number of people from ethnic minority communities who are being appointed is now at 12.5 per cent. of all appointments. That means that, in the total composition of the bodies, their number has gone up from 4.7 to 8.5 per cent. That is in line with the Government's commitment to increase the diversity on non-departmental public bodies.
I listened to the Minister's comments, but was there anything in the Nolan report that criticised the process of selection and appointment to health bodies?
I assume that the right hon. Lady refers to the latest Neill report. Under the previous system, independent assessors were not within the remit of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. In future, independent assessors, who were not part of the Nolan procedures, will come under the guidance of Dame Rennie Fritchie.