Examination of Witness (Questions 20 -
WEDNESDAY 4 APRIL 2001
20. You just ask for their money, do you not?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think there are
any free gifts that come with paying your income tax.
21. Is there a possibility at that point when
you are asking folk for money that there could be perhaps a greater
explanation of where the money is going within Government?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is a table of where
taxpayers' money is spent.
22. Do we send that when we send out the actual
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We do not, no.
23. We are sending a piece of paper to virtually
everybody because we are virtually all paying tax, but is there
not perhaps an opportunity to get some of this information across
at the same time in the way that I think you require local authorities
to do when they are asking for council tax? You have got to do
the piece of paper anyway, why not actually soften the blow slightly
so that people know where their money is going?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think there is merit
in that suggestion and it is worth looking at. There would be
those who would say, if you did that, "that is the Government
trying to use the Inland Revenue as a means of pushing Government
propaganda", but there is a lot in what you say.
24. It could be there are those who would argue
that it would be the beginning of trying to restore some confidence
that what you raise actually goes to something and people being
able to understand the relationship between the two.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not dissent from
25. That is good. If you like that idea, here
is another one. It has always struck me as odd that Governments
have done the Annual Report but we as elected politicians get
elected and, frankly, we can disappear for four or five years.
When I made my Maiden Speech I suggested that MPs should be required
by law to produce annual reports themselves so that we are seen
to be accountable. I got lots of laughter and lots of "That
is a silly idea. When you grow up, when you have been here a bit
longer you will realise just how impossible that would be".
I have done it and others are starting to do it now. Do you think
that it should be a statutory requirement as a basic principle
that if they do nothing else MPs should perhaps produce an annual
report setting out what they have been doing, and should it be
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think it would
be appropriate for me to comment on that. I think the Government
should definitely produce an Annual Report and I think each Department
should produce an Annual Report. I think it is for each individual
MP to decide how he is accountable to his electorate. I do not
think it would be right for me to comment on whether or not statute
should impose a requirement on MPs to actually be accountable
in a particular way. I could see difficulties in imposing such
a statutory requirement because the major accountability for MPs
is the fact that if what they do does not find favour with their
electorate then there is an opportunity to change the MP at the
26. Or the Government.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Or the Government, exactly.
27. You have accepted the principle of doing
something each year to be seen to be more accountable, four years
is quite a long period.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Government is right
to have undertaken that burden and to have indicated this Government
will accept it as long as they are a government. There are totally
different issues, it seems to me, arising in relation to MPs.
28. Do you quite like it as an idea, or not
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think it would
be right for me to comment.
29. I am going to get to the picky points, there
are going to be even more now, why do we have to have ten different
versions of the front cover, it must have cost an awful lot of
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We think it is incredibly
important to try and engage the public in what is going on and
what the Government is doing. Having ten covers, which did make
it more expensive, was, rightly or wrongly, thought to be a way
to make it more attractive to the people who saw it.
30. How would they know which cover they were
missing out on?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Some of them focused on
particular services, education, health, crime fighting and different
sorts of particular activity.
31. It looks like ten different people to me.
If that was successful then I assume there would have been lots
of people who filled in the feedback form. What percentage of
people who got it filled that in?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Can I get somebody to
find me the figure and come back on that one.
Mr Oaten: That is enough, I have been picky
32. Can I take you back to the timing of the
Annual Report. If you are in business you produce an annual report
to tie in with your AGM and your annual accounts, why is it not
linked into the budget process or the CSR process?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because this is a report
of what the government as a whole does. It is much more, as it
were, performance and delivery orientated than simply an account
of what we intend to spend, which is what either the Spending
Round or the Budget is about. The reason it is in July is because
as it happened we became the Government in May of a particular
year, we did not have one in the first year, we had one in the
second year and we had that at the end of the summer term, that
is a time, as you know, that lots of sessions, school being the
obvious one, come to an end and it seemed to be a convenient and
sensible time to do it.
33. It comes back to the point that the Report
is divorced from the spending, the point that Mark Oaten has made
on the Council Tax, when you send out the Report of what Council
Tax does it is very much more linked back to what people are paying
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is not divorced from
it but it is describing what is being done. It is a descriptive
process rather than simply identifying what your plans are in
relation to expenditure. I think it would be a mistake to publish
it at the same time as the budget because it would get completely
lost in the budget or the Spending Review process. The Spending
Review process only takes place once every two or three years,
so that would not be enough, and if it happened at the time of
the budget it would get completely lost.
34. You talked about each department having
its own departmental report and the business plans that each department
has, could you explain how the different reports link together?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They do not link together
at the moment. What the departmental reports do is they tend to
contain quite a lot of statistics about each individual department.
They will not have as much prose, as this will, as a proportion
of what they say and it is basically a list of statistics relevant
to each individual department.
35. You will know we have just done a report
on modernising government and looking at how well the White Paper
of two years ago was carried out. One of the things in that was
there were a lot of target measures and a lot of aspirations,
again if you look at the Annual Report, tying those aspirations
to what the Government has actually achieved, it is quite hard
to tie the two together?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think in the next report
that we do I think we need to identify a number of important targets,
the PSA process, for example, and refer to them in the report.
We obviously learn from each one that we do. There is not enough
in the report of actually identifying what those targets are and
how they connect in with the priorities of the Government and
what progress has been made in relation to them. All of the information
that is available is published, but it would be of value to bring
it together because then there would be a bit more meat in the
36. The other point is that the report is very
much a view from Whitehall
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
37.rather than necessarily reflecting
how much more complex government as a whole it is, given the devolved
administrations, given the role of regional offices and given
the role of Europe, but the Annual Report is still very much a
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that it
is fair to say it is a "Whitehall view". A lot of the
prose was about the experience of people on the ground. I open
it entirely at random, these two pages are devoted to the perspective
of a doctor in Norfolk as to what the Government has done. It
does not purport to set out what the devolved administrations
have been doing in any detail, because they produce their own
account of what they have been doing. It does refer to Europe.
Ultimately you have to choose what you think are the five or six
areas of activities which are the most important, and that is
what the Report has done.
38. The point I am trying to get to is it is
very much a view from the Government to the citizen rather than
the citizen actually
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I contest that. I think
if you look at the content of it, it is giving the perspective
of people on the ground. The vast majority of the pages of this
report are about what people's perspective is from, as it were,
living the life of the citizen rather than being a person in Whitehall.
Another page at random describes the perspective of a Manchester
Metrolink tram driver.
39. How do you go about selecting those people?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Research throughout the
country sought to try and identify people who would emblemise
what the message you were trying to get across was, what you were
trying to describe and who would be good at doing that.