Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 100-121)

PROFESSOR THE LORD PLANT OF HIGHFIELD

THURSDAY 8 NOVEMBER 2001

Brian White

  100. Given that you started this by being philosophical, can I bring you back to that and ask this. I read in the debate in October in the House of Lords that the Bishop of Oxford talked about a sense of noblesse oblige. There was a lovely quote by Sir Alec Douglas Home's mother saying. "I think it's so good of Alec to do Prime Minister". Is not that old concept of the great and the good doing public service what the public service ethos is all about and that day and age has long gone? What we are talking about today is public service provision, not public service ethos.
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) It is certainly true, I think, that historically the public service ethos had its roots—and I am not a historian—in something like this. With the reform of the civil service in the nineteenth century, you got away from the civil service being a nominated body—and this is a hot topic at the moment—or a body into which you bought towards the civil service as being essentially a meritocratic kind of body with open competition. I know it was a long time before the competition became properly open to men and women and people of different classes, but, neverthless, that was the ideal, that you would have an open and meritocratic sort of civil service. First of all, you had a civil service open to competition. That displaced a previous idea of the civil service where people were the same sort of people, they went to the same schools and the same universities and so on; they had a degree of common experience and understanding. The displacement of that by a more transparent and open civil service then meant you had somehow to create a new ethos for that new civil service that could not depend on the more aristocratic and previous noblesse oblige sense of values. Certainly in the late nineteenth century, people began to think about what kind of ethos could hold this new civil service together. That was combined with the fact that, particularly in the field of public health, more and more was being done by government but it was being done on the basis of expert advice that government itself was not necessarily in a postion to check because it did not have its own experts. If doctors said we had to change the sewers in order to get rid of cholera and all that kind of thing, they started doing that as a public exercise but they were not in a position really to check the professional view. In the paper there is a nice quote from someone in the Treasury at this period saying that we are on this kind of bandwaggon of increasing public expenditure, driven by expert views which we are in no position to check. Given the growth of professionalism and the replacement of the noblesse oblige idea by a more middle class civil service, then I think it raised this question of trust: how do you trust the professional and how do you create within the new civil service an esprit de corp, if you like? You replace it by the idea of public service, of doing public good, that we are committed to achieving the common goals of our society and all that kind of thing. I am sorry for that rambling reply to your question. I come back to your initial point that if noblesse oblige has been replaced by public provision, then there is not a third way but a kind of middle element in this. It is noblesse oblige which then actually is displaced by a sort of public service ethic relating to the new civil service primarily and how do you trust these new professionals who are driving public policy? Now I think we are much more sceptical of the civil service and of professional expertise. We are at your stage but I think there was actually an intervening stage as well.

  101. Which presumably has been characterised by the concept of the gifted amateur?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) Yes.

  102. You do not see a role for that within the voluntary sector or within any of the public sectors at all?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) No, I do actually. There was certainly the idea, again in the reform of the civil service, that all you needed to do was to read classics at Oxbridge and you could turn your hand to anything. I do not accept that but, nevertheless, it does seem to me that there are grave dangers in government by experts in that ultimately government is about values: what sort of society do you want to see; what kinds of needs to you want to meet, and so forth. These are not technical questions. They cannot be solved by an expert. You turn to the expert to help you figure out how to meet these needs or to achieve these goals, or whatever, but the actual goals that you are trying to achieve in a society are not a matter of expert judgment. I do think that you cannot make too much over to technocrats and experts.

  103. You mentioned Victorian changes that occurred. One of the interesting things is that in the Victorian era most of our modern infrastructure was based on public authorities setting up companies—gas, electricity and telephone boards—all public companies in the public sector as we would understand it, and creating companies that then went on to deliver services, which would be impossible under today's rules of the civil service, Treasury rules, et cetera. You were talking about the issue of bankruptcy and if a company cannot go bankrupt, it should not be in the public sector. Do you not think that there are opportunities for the public sector to create companies that are within the public sector and actually deliver services?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) Yes, I think that is right and I would not myself be opposed to that. The only point I was making in respect to Mr Prentice's question was the fact that for the most severe critic of the public service ethos, the public choice economist, having public sector companies will not solve the problem because the needs that they are meeting are so basic—health and education and so forth—that if they are seen to be failing, and therefore having potential for going out of business, the government is going to have to wade in and solve their problems for them, whereas in the private sector typically that does not happen. You just go to the wall if you are not performing effectively.

  104. If you privatise a company that is a public service, that may be a private company delivering on the basis of profit and loss, but if the need is still there, surely the government will still have to step in?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) That is what I am saying: it will. Therefore, for the public choice critic of the public service ethos, this is why publicly-funded private companies to deliver public services are not a solution to the problem of bureaucratic self-seeking or producer interest groups because a government cannot allow them ultimately to fail in the way that normal private companies can fail. If they do that, the government itself will lose the confidence of the people because the people expect their health and educational needs to be met. If the state has to step in to underpin private companies that are failing to do that effectively, then from the public choice perspective, which I do not share, but looking at it from their point of view, this will not work. You will not get over the problem of entrenched producer interest groups.

  105. If the National Grid as a company collapsed tomorrow, the government would have to step in?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) Exactly, yes.

  106. Is not the real problem that all these PFIs, PPPs and the rest, are a basic way of getting around the public sector borrowing requirement definitions. Is that not what the fundamental argument is and it is one argument that nobody will talk about?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) You may be right. I do not know. I suppose all I would say is that the general issue here, it seems to me in the context that we are currently talking about, is how far you can actually bring private sector disciplines to bear—and I am talking about in a commercial sense not the voluntary sector at the moment—on the public sector when the ultimate sanction of the private sector, namely that you do go to the wall, cannot presumably operate in the public sector because government will always have to step in to meet the needs if a private sector company fails to meet them, because these are basic needs, entitlements, rights of citizenship that the government cannot afford to allow not to be met. How far private sector management can actually work effectively without the ultimate private sector sanction of bankruptcy is I think an interesting question but it is not something that can be solved theoretically; you just have to wait and see, I think.

Mr Lyons

  107. I am conscious of the voluntary sector again. Would it be unfair to say that the voluntary sector would always be absolutely correct in the present situation and the future situation because there is no alternative to it? Where would you go if you did not want to fund a voluntary sector project? What would you do?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) You being government?

  108. Yes?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) I think there is an enormous incentive for the government to look to the voluntary sector in the present circumstances, partly because the evidence—and this was cited by John Edmonds last week—is that people in this particular sphere of public sector goods are not very trusting in the private sector. Rightly or wrongly, they do not seem to have a great deal of trust in the private sector. But also there is a clear concern about government failure—this government particularly—to be able to provide services at a level that people want. If you have a relative lack of trust in private sector solutions, commercial sector solutions, but equally a grave concern about whether the government can actually deliver on those, then the third way, if you like, is to look to the voluntary sector where there is a high degree of trust, unlike vis-a-vis the commercial sector, and where government can fund but not provide. So you trust the voluntary sector, or have confidence in the voluntary sector, to produce the goods and that the voluntary sector embodies that degree of trust, which the private sector does not. From the government's point of view, there is an enormous incentive to look to the voluntary sector to do this, but in doing it, the big danger is that it may override precisely what it is about the voluntary sector that it finds valuable: its lack of vested interests, its capacity to innovate, the fact that there is a high degree of public trust. If government is putting large amounts of public money into contracts in the voluntary sector, it is then going to want all the panoply of targets, best practice benchmarking, which brings the government much more directly into the voluntary sector and, over time, could erode precisely the things about the voluntary sector that makes it look to be an attractive partner for government in the delivery of services. I think that is a big issue.

  109. At least for somebody in local government there is a need to almost have service agreements, targets, for the funding, for the money?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) That is absolutely correct. At the moment, and this is very important and I say this with my NCVO hat on, the relationship between government and the voluntary sector is, I will not say controlled but mediated through the compact which was signed between the Home Office and the NCVO not long after the government came to office. Alun Michael, who was then a Home Office Minister, was absolutely crucial in developing that compact, which, as it were, sets out the terms of engagement with the voluntary sector and the government. But at that stage I do not think anyone quite envisaged the possible potential huge expansion of the relationship between government and the voluntary sector in relation to service delivery. I think there will have to be close attention paid to the relationship between the voluntary sector and the government because the government could end up undermining precisely what is attractive in the sector for it.

  110. You would accept that in the voluntary sector, as in health and elsewhere, this mix that you mentioned earlier on, ethos and ethics in terms of habit, tradition, behaviour, exists to a different degree, obviously depending on the length of time the organisation has been around. I was fascinated by this to an extent that, if that exists, and in the past that has been a plus for the organisation and it has allowed it to develop to its present level or present stage, then surely something that breaks that ethic or that ethos must undermine the confidence of the people who deliver that service in terms of delivery—the point you made about Germany and elsewhere—and that we are in some areas failing to deliver. Part of it must be that the people who deliver, the staff in the main, do not lose the ethic or the ethos but it is undermined because of the difficulties they face as a staff group. You make the point about partnership being important to that aspect. The partnership will not sustain itself, I would suggest to you, if you are not all working for the same organisation. What would you have in common with a private company working in the same area? Would that ethic or ethos be lost?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) Yes, I think all these are dangers. As I have said throughout in the paper, I do think that you cannot actually run the public sector without appealing to something like ethos/confidence/trust. These seem to me to be absolutely critical. To go back to the first point that I made, it is impossible, given the complexity of the goods to be distributed, issues about equity, issues about impartiality, to write the rules that just control behaviour. If you are in a business and you are making widgets, then you know exactly what it is you have got to do and the business is all geared up at different levels of the hierarchy to produce a definite, clear and rather circumscribed goal or goods. It is not like that in the public sector because the goods are complicated; the goods are in some respects abstract, like health and so forth; the process of delivery has to be guided by equity, impartiality and so on. You cannot write rules that just tie people down to the delivery of goods of that sort and guided by those principles. So there has to be discretion about how those goods are going to be delivered by people on the ground. That discretion means that you have got to trust them. OK, they have to take responsibility as well for the judgments that they make, but you do, at the end of the day, have to trust them. That trust will be developed through being part of an organisation with a particular ethos. It is very important that the ethos is not undermined. One worry I have is that the more and more rule governed we make the public sector and the more you treat people as if they are knaves, they will behave as if they are knaves, basically. This we know since the time of Dava Hume in the eighteenth century. If you assume bad motives and devise rules on the assumption that people have bad motives, then do not expect them to behave from good motives. Therefore, I am worried about just taking the kind of rule culture or target culture too far because it will, I think, be a kind of reverse Gresham's law: the bad motives will drive out good motives.

Chairman

  111. That is interesting. Alternatively, if you assume good motives, that simply can give you a cover for all kinds of appalling practices. That is what gave Shipman his way in because we say, "Oh, trust in what makes these things go round" and in fact that produces a total lack of accountability. Surely that is the real challenge, not to take all this at face value but to say, "Come on, let us actually operationalise it". That means building in all kinds of accountability, does it not?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) Yes. In a sense, that is the argument in the paper. I say that I only give one cheer for the public service ethos, not three. There has to be a role for it because how many times have we had public inquiries, particularly, for example, about horrific child abuse or murder cases, and people have said, "We have to have this inquiry to produce rules so that this sort of thing will never happen again", and of course it does happen again. It is entirely predictable that it will happen again because you cannot actually write the rules with sufficient specificity or with sufficient sanction to govern every contingency. People are going to behave in specific circumstances and use their discretion about how they behave, whether they are doctors or teachers or professors, whatever it might be, and there will not be a rule that will govern what they are doing. In that gap between rule and providing a service, there has got to be trust. I am not saying that we should not have the rules. I agree with you that the assumption that you can just rely on pubic servants' sense of the public good and therefore we should all back off is obviously tripe. But we do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water.

  112. It is not a question of trade-off. It is a question of balancing up in each case what you think you are getting from this public service ethos in terms of the value you describe, equity and trust and all that sort of thing, against what you may be losing through not having properly specified contracts, possibly with the private sector, and the proper range of accountability.
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) Yes, I agree with that and I am not dissenting from anything you say. I just want to emphasise the other side of the equation, though, that we should not think that we can write contracts with sufficient specificity that somehow we can therefore operate without trust or ethos. We both used to teach in the same sort of areas of academic work. You will recall, and I think I quote in my paper, one of the greatest twentieth century sociologists Emil Durkheim saying "not everything in the contract is contractual". For there to be a contract, there has to be trust, there has to be integrity and promise keeping and so forth, but these are not themselves part of the contract. The contract cannot exist without those. We have to take that view into the public service as well. However clever we are at devising a contract, it cannot operate without what is not contractual: the trust, integrity and so forth. We have to be careful that we do not drive all that out because, if we do, the contract itself will not work.

Mr Prentice

  113. My police authority is Lancashire. I remember speaking to the top brass not long ago and she was talking about targets. If there is not a target, then it will not get done. Maybe we have just got to re-visit the targets and have a look at the targets because this is all about nurturing efficiency in the public sector. There are people out there who feel very antipathetic towards the public sector and who believe it deserves 20,000 volts of electricity through it, just to make it efficient. That brings me to the point I want to ask. In your lecture you said that individuals do not enter the public service out of a concern for self-interest. Is it the case that many people enter the public service because it is a cushy life? There is large-scale absenteeism in the police force and in some local authorities. I heard only yesterday that in one local authority, and I will not mention it as it might embarrass everyone, there is 16 per cent absenteeism. There is a kind of informal rota: on Monday it is your turn to be absent. Given that these kinds of things exist and there are Spanish practices, why is it wrong for the government to say that it is going to look for proxies for competition to energise the public sector and make it deliver, so let us have targets?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) Again, I do not dissent from that. In the early 1990s I did quite a lot of work on things like citizens' charters and so forth and how you could have enforceable rights to services and what that might mean as a way of trying to constrain public sector behaviour. I am all in favour of that and being clever about it and trying to devise schemes that would allow that sort of thing to happen. First of all, I am all in favour of that but we should, nevertheless, recognise that, however sophisticated our targets are, however extensive our range of rights and entitlements and the citizens' charter is, and however specified our contracts are, it is in the nature of rules that there is always going to have to be discretion. This is not really an empirical claim: a rule is general and a situation is specific. So there is always going to have to be the exercise of judgement and discretion between knowing the rule, knowing the target, knowing the entitlement, and what you actually do in this particular case and ensuring that that judgment is exercised properly or appropriately by the pubic sector worker, which does require some degree of participation in a common understanding of the ethos of that body. I fully accept that, and this is in a sense precisely where the problem is and I think Mr White said it about the House of Lords debate. I would recommend not that you read my contribution to that debate but that of Lord Skidelsky who very much came to this originally from a kind of public choice/new right perspective. He has now been converted to thinking that you have got to have the Government providing public services. What we have got to crack, and he is quite right about this, is how not to throw out the baby with the bath water by going down the rule governed target, contract, entitlement route, all of which you have to go down. Nevertheless, when you have gone down that road, you have still got individuals who have to exercise judgement, who have to take responsibility and exercise discretion. You cannot get away from that. The question then is how do you ensure, because you cannot do it through rules, that that judgement and discretion is exercised appropriately. The appropriateness is given by the ethos of the institution. I agree with you entirely: you cannot rely on the ethos for the whole delivery, otherwise you do get these distortions—absenteeism and all that sort of thing. But you cannot get away from the ethos. That is all I am saying.

Annette Brooke

  114. What sort of role in all of this do you put on leadership? You are talking about individuals pursuing their self-interest and I think the definition of self-interest and people's perception of self-interest at a particular point in time is obviously quite relevant to all of that. But could you comment on the leadership within the model?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) This is an interesting issue because one of the criticisms of the public sector is that, because it is seen by critics to be full of vested interests and vested interests in the existing way of doing things, whether it in universities or wherever else it might be. There are just existing ways of doing things that people feel attached to and they have an interest in continuing in that way. How do you change vested interests so that the organisation can come to meet new needs in new circumstances? That is a big issue. One way of doing it is to say, "Well, what you need to have are people who are capable of exercising leadership to try to override vested interests or to get around vested interests and so forth." What we need in the public sector are people who can play that kind of role. The point about leadership, I suppose, is that it is precisely in some ways leadership that goes both outside the ethos of an organisation in so far as that has become corrupted into vested interests, but it also goes outside rules and regulations and so forth, because the leader is someone who has a vision of how you can get to somewhere different. I am not putting this very well. A public service is full of vested interests so that the ethos leads people to accept that you get around that by breaking to a degree with the ethos, but equally you cannot do it by rules and regulations because the whole point about leadership is that you are somehow going beyond the existing system. How do we marry up Gordon Prentice's interests in targets and contracts with my insistence that ultimately you have to pay some attention to the ethos? Those are two ends of the spectrum if you like, and somewhere you have to allow for the capacity to innovate, which goes beyond the ethos, but equally cannot be guided by targets and rules, because that is rather against the idea of leadership. So where in the pubic sector in this new world would you try to link together these two things at the end of the spectrum? It would be very dangerous to drive out leadership just because you might be driving out precisely the ability to adapt to meet new circumstances.

  115. Something that concerns me is that people whom you might regard as leaders actually are receiving sums of money when they fail in the private sector. Take BT as the most recent example. I am not quite sure that it is as simple as saying that there is not risk in the public sector. It is a different type of risk but it is certainly not just straight money for people who might be regarded as leaders. Maybe we are just not rewarding the sorts of skills that we need. Let me throw that out as a final point.
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) I think there is risk in the public sector. I can think of quite a good case. I do not think it would be improper for me to mention it. A vice chancellor of a university who was doing a widely admired job in terms of increasing access and participation from groups which were not normally brought into university actually ended up being sacked because the quality assurance bodies decided really that that university was not meeting the targets, rules and regulations side of things, if I can put it that way, as monitored by the research assessment exercise and the teaching quality assurance agencies. There you had someone who was really trying to change the agenda of the university in quite a charismatic kind of way but he actually fell from a very great height, despite his capacity for leadership, because he fell rather foul of the more rule-governed side of universities. That is the sort of thing I was trying to get at, how you somehow leave space for leadership and innovation from the top of an organisation when the organisation is embedded in a very strong framework of rules, regulations and monitoring. I think that is quite a big issue. I do not have much to suggest to meet your question but I think it is quite a big issue.

Mr Heyes

  116. I wonder if a solution to this dilemma might be found in democratic accountability. If the essence of the public service is indeed trust—and if the trust can be threatened by vested or producer interest groups, or people are sceptical about professionals, trade unionists or whatever and we need mechanisms to constrain them—such as CCT, Best Value and rigorous monitoring—rules as you call them—I wonder to what extent this scepticism can be balanced or assuaged by democratic accountability. Or are democratically elected politicians just another vested interest?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) That is a very big question. There is a sort of answer in the literature which I draw your attention to, without passing much of a judgement on it. It is this, and it is a kind of two-pronged answer. First the major problem with making public services more democratically accountable to the elected representatives of people whom they serve is that the public sector worker, whether it is a doctor, a social worker or whatever, has a much stronger incentive to try to keep accountability at bay than the democratically elected representative has to try to ensure accountability, because, as an elected representative, you have a very large number of bodies and individuals to try to make accountable to you. Vis-a"-vis any particular service or any particular individual, your incentive to render the police authority or the chief constable or the local health service accountable is diluted by the number of bodies that you are trying to make accountable; whereas for each person working in the service, they have a very focused incentive not to make themselves, if they possibly can, accountable to you or whichever other elected representative it might be. There is an asymmetry of motivation. The person working in the public sector has motivation, focused motivation, not to be readily accountable. The elected representative has a relatively weak incentive vis-a"-vis any particular area of the public sector compared with people who work in it to be accountable. That is the first answer. The second answer is that typically, and this obviously is not true all the time, there is asymmetry of knowledge. This is obviously particularly true of things like the health service. The doctor knows far more about the service to be delivered and on what terms and what counts as good practice and so forth than does the lay elected representative. Therefore, given that asymmetry of knowledge, there are grave difficulties in accountability, particularly in those services depending a good deal on expert delivery. There is a kind of asymmetry of knowledge between the provider of the service and the elected representative seeking to make it accountable. I am in favour of trying to strengthen democratic accountability but we do have to recognise the force of those two constraints: motivational and knowledge-based constraints.

  117. The issue is about the span or size of the accountability. If that is the problem, is that not an argument then for more politicians and more democratic control, which is a quite a question when you contrast that with the fact that vast areas of public provision are at best only indirectly democratically accountable? That trend, it seems to me, is accelerating. Should we not have more politicians and more democracy?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) Certainly the point about motivation is one that you have to get around. Perhaps what you need is not just more elected accountability—accountability to elected representatives—but perhaps more focused accountability, so that there are elected representatives with a particular focus on a particular service, to get away from this sort of dilution. If you are elected to cover the whole waterfront, then your ability to make someone or some service accountable is weak compared with their motivation not to be made accountable. I have not thought about this before but one way of trying to get around that would be to have more focused forms of accountability. I am not even sure about that. I am skating on thin ice here because many of you know far more about local government than I do, but many of the biggest public sector scandals which have occurred have been over social services, particularly child abuse in children's homes, all those sorts of things, and yet local councils have social services committees whose focused job is supposed to be to keep the child provision in their patch up to the mark. Yet they have lamentably failed to do it in a number of well publicised cases, even if they have the elected representatives focusing on just a particular service and failing to make the way that service is delivered accountable. I just do not know is the answer. It is a long way of saying I do not know.

  Mr Heyes: I will desist from being drawn on that.

Chairman

  118. On that, surely there is another fork to that which is that you would expect, on David's argument, that democratic local authorities, because they are accountable to the electorate, would be seriously interested in upping their delivery, their performance, because they are going to be held to account for it, and yet we know, do we not, that in practice that is often not the case. Often they are more interested in giving an account of how well they are doing when in fact they are not doing very well at all. We could say the same of a central government all the time. You have these two elements: one that says accountability should improve delivery but the other which says, "Oh, well, we will give the impression that we are doing it, even if we are not, because that is in our interests as well". It is all confusing. Let me ask a couple of things to end with. I am really fascinated, and I know that you wrestled with this at the time in the early Nineties, with the business of the prisons. We have not got time to do justice to it now. You have obviously thought a lot about this over a long period. Just tell us in simple terms; if you have a prison which is failing, just not doing the business, and there are lots of problems ,as we know, of the prison service for all kinds of reasons, and if you have the option of having that service run by a private contractor and some evidence to show that in fact this produces improvements, on what grounds would one not do that?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) It is a good question. Let me just explain how I saw it myself before I try to answer the question in slightly less personal terms. When we were in opposition, the argument was put strictly in moral terms and there were two moral arguments: one, it was wrong for private companies to make profits out of punishment. You could elaborate why that is wrong. We cannot go into all that this morning. Secondly, that the ability to incarcerate people was perhaps the most fundamental and far-reaching power of the state. Max Weber's definition of the state is that it has the monopoly of legitimate violence. If you are then contracting out to the private sector something that is absolutely core to the role of the state, then is there any firm idea of what the core of government actually is, what the core of the state is? Those are the two moral arguments that I found quite convincing, I have to say, as did many of my colleagues in Home Affairs in both Houses in the 1992-1997 parliament. We then gained office and of course the moral arguments were overridden by two sorts of arguments: one perhaps about economic efficiency; and the other, which is quite interesting from the public sector ethos point of view—I suspect that the Conservative government that brought in private prisons, and our government continued them, were probably not over-impressed by the idea that the Prison Officers Association was suffused with the public service ethos.

Mr Lyons

  119. Just on that, how can a prison fail? It cannot be because they do not like the decor? It cannot fail.
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) I think this goes back to the point about if the state is bound to step in if things go wrong—and I am raising this as a question, I have not an answer to it—how far can private sector management work effectively when the ultimate private sector sanction is not actually available in a straightforward way?

Chairman

  120. This is where ideology comes in, and I am sorry we are stumbling into this right at the end. It is tested for all of us, is it not? I remember my shock some years ago, coming from where you do, and being told how vastly improved had become the system of transporting prisoners between prisons and police stations when the thing had been contracted out to the private sector. Policemen told me it had been chaos before and now the prisoners arrive at court on time and it is all done properly and the process is vastly speeded up. You see the point. It is like the prisons' point. I thought: here am I, as it were ideologically opposed to doing such things because the state has a monopoly of legitimate violence, and yet here is part of that monopoly being exercised better by people who are not state employees?
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) As I said, that is a good question! It does lead to this interesting conundrum of what the core provision of the state should be. If you push it down this road too far, you do get to the position really of the kind of libertarian who takes the view that the state should provide only strictly public goods; that is to say, those that require co-operative production, and from which you cannot exclude non-contributors—things like clean air and defence would be strict public goods. But you cannot really justify an ultimate role for the state beyond that if you push this kind of argument. A very interesting question which I do not know the answer to, and perhaps some of you do, is: if you think that the state can legitimately contract out prison services and so forth, what happens in the United States in those states where there are executions? Is this done by the private sector, or is the person who pulls the switch or starts the injection going always to be a public official or can you actually tender for the role of executioner? I do not know. There are private prisons but are executions done by private operatives? This would be a real case of farming out a core function of the state.

  Brian White: We contracted out to the church.

Chairman

  121. Does it matter to the person who is being executed whether it is being done by a private official or a public official? It is a fascinating question.
  (Lord Plant of Highfield) I think Henry VIII arranged for a private executioner from France to come and execute Anne Boleyn as a special favour. Whether she appreciated it, I do not know!

  Chairman: This has been fascinating. It has been good to have you here without being included on one of your courses. Thank you very much indeed. We have enjoyed reading you and listening to you and we shall enjoy looking at what you have said in print, too.


 
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