My Lords, all Members of Parliament are invited to nominate candidates for appointment to those NHS bodies which serve their constituents. The people they nominate are expected to complete application forms and, if considered suitable, are interviewed in the same way as all other applicants. In addition, for chair appointments local MPs are invited by NHS Executive regional chairs to comment on the candidates that they recommend to Ministers.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. We all look forward to the report next week by Dame Rennie Fritchie on appointments to NHS trusts. From earlier reports it appears that that paints a rather different picture from that presented today by the Minister. If those reports are true they suggest massive hypocrisy on the part of this Government, particularly when they were so vociferous in their opposition to the previous government for doing exactly the same thing. Can the noble Lord categorically deny that Labour MPs have no influence over the appointment of those trust members? Furthermore, can he give a definitive answer as to whether it is political affiliation or skill and experience which determines a person's appointment to an NHS trust?
My Lords, I am unable to comment on the report of the Commissioner for Public Appointments before it has been published. However, I can tell the House that we have adopted a vigorous approach to the appointment of non-executive directors and chairs of NHS bodies. These are very important positions which must be filled by the best quality people, and we believe that the procedures that we have adopted enable us to do that.
My Lords, I do not believe that an exact breakdown of the numbers in the different categories is available, but I am happy to see whether I can provide that information. We believe that national advertisement is an important part of the process of receiving nominations. But all nominations, whether they come from MPs or through national advertisements, are dealt with in the same way; namely, through a sifting process and panel interview where an independent person is always present.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in Oldham the Government reappointed as chairman of the NHS trust a prominent member of the local Conservative Party who, in my experience, is one of the few people from the party opposite with any real commitment to or knowledge of the health service?
My Lords, even I have appointed Conservatives to positions in health authorities and trusts, because at the end of the day we are concerned to appoint the best possible people. We appoint people who have affiliations to all political parties and to none. The key is to get high quality people.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that about six months after the present Government came to power I asked a Question and was informed that about 15 Conservative and well over 100 Labour councillors had been appointed? As to the appointments procedure, can the Minister say whether there is still an obligation to interview all those who certify themselves as disabled? Is he aware that I sat on an interviewing panel which came to the unanimous view that some of those who had certified themselves as disabled were not disabled? How does the Minister suggest that a more objective assessment can be made of those who are entitled to claim an interview as of right because of a supposed disability?
My Lords, my understanding is that the procedure is as the noble Baroness describes. However, we need to be very cautious before we change it. Although I accept that there may be instances in which the system is abused, nevertheless it enables people, particularly those with disabilities, to be considered for appointment, which is very important. As to the appointment of councillors, I suspect the answer is that there are very few who belong to the Conservative Party.
My Lords, does the Minister share the reported concern of the Commissioner for Public Appointments that political criteria should not take precedence over other experience? If the noble Lord shares that view, is it merely a coincidence that 546 Labour activists compared with 149 Conservatives have been appointed?
My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Baroness. I have already said that we make the appointment on the basis of the quality of the applicant without regard to political affiliation. I pray in aid that in 1999, 76 per cent of the people we appointed declared no political activity.
My Lords, the noble Lord is certainly right about the previous government. One can only describe the approach of the previous government as the packing of boards with Conservative supporters and so-called independents who, none the less, could always be called upon to vote with the Conservatives.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that in my area the balance is reasonable and proper? However, a few years ago, I was so horrified by the multitude of Conservative appointments and scarcity of Labour appointments that when I discovered that the Wentworth constituency Conservative Party had not shared in that loot I offered a strong protest at its being disregarded by its own government.
My Lords, the Nolan Committee, which considered these matters early in the decade, received more complaints about the process of appointments to NHS bodies by the party opposite than on any other issue.