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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. I am sure that she also agrees with me that there are times when for security reasons it is wiser not to display the British flag prominently.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, my Lords. The proposed regime in the Financial Services and Markets Bill is designed to tackle three types of behaviour: broadly speaking, dealing on the back of information unavailable to the rest of the market; giving a false or misleading impression of supply or demand; and behaviour which distorts the market, such as squeezes on the supply of an investment. The Chancellor's remarks on Internet access pricing fall into none of those categories.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer but beg to disagree with him. The statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in an interview with the Financial Times on 16th February caused much confusion in the market and resulted in a 7 per cent (£5 billion) drop in the value of British Telecom shares. Does the Minister agree that that must be categorised as "misleading" and that, according to various categories in the Financial Services and Markets Bill, it would be an abuse?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Baroness is entitled to her opinion about legislation which is before Parliament. No doubt she will express that view as we proceed with the Financial Services and Markets Bill. Certainly, there was nothing misleading about the Chancellor's statement. What he said was legitimate comment given his responsibilities. Competitive telecommunications are essential for the development of the knowledge economy in the United Kingdom. If the Government were not to say anything that might under any circumstances affect market prices, they would say nothing at all.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it would be a singular misfortune for this country as the development of the Internet proceeds apace if the price of access to it was significantly higher than in other countries?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend is entitled to hold that view. The Chancellor said that to promote competition Oftel would ensure that other operators were prepared to provide their own
Lord Razzall: My Lords, as someone who agrees with the thrust of the remarks by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, does the Minister accept that, nevertheless, where there is a system of regulation this is more a matter for the regulator than the Chancellor?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is entirely right. If, as seems highly unlikely, anyone considered this to be a case of market abuse, it would be a matter for the Financial Services Authority, and the House would not expect me to express a view on it.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there has been no change in the responsibilities of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Like other Ministers, he expresses views on a wide range of issues, not all of which are his responsibility. It is entirely proper that he should do so; otherwise, one would not have joined-up government.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in the guise of protecting the public, there is a tremendous amount of interference in all areas, even in supermarket prices? Does the noble Lord also agree that to say that all financial decisions should be made for us is to go too far?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I cannot imagine on what basis the noble Baroness draws those conclusions from the statement of the Chancellor which made no reference to supermarket prices or to decisions about pricing being taken for us.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my response to the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, was that market abuse was a matter for the regulator, not for us. The Question is about market abuse, and I am not aware that any reference has been made to supermarket prices.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does the Minister accept that, as a result of the Chancellor's statement, some £5 billion was wiped off the value of BT's shares? Does he also agree that if a person had read the interview with Gordon Brown in the first edition of the Financial Times and had sold shares short because the market had not yet been adjusted, that would be market abuse in the terms of the Bill now being considered on the basis that he would be using information not generally available to those in the
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the task force revolution, as it has been called, has attracted cross-party attention in this House, notably by Questions raised by the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Conwy and Lord Bruce of Donington. Numerous task forces have been empanelled since 1997 and it is appropriate, therefore, that they should be the subject of a debate at this time in your Lordships' House. They will prove to be one of the features which characterise the Blair Administration.
Though novel in function, and most certainly in number and rate of proliferation, they are but the most recent example of attempts made by all British governments since 1939 to improve their decision-making capacity. The mobilisation of civilian expertise from the worlds of science, economics, industry and commerce to assist in the planning and prosecution of the Second World War was the most successful co-option of outside skills and experience yet achieved. From the late 1950s onwards, successive peacetime governments have tried in various ways to emulate it. The Macmillan and Wilson governments set up and developed the National Economic Development Council (known affectionately as "Neddy") with its myriad of "little Neddy" tripartite offshoots and created a formal government economic service.
These developments were sustained under the Heath and Callaghan administrations. That golden age of the economist in government with its associated corporatist agencies came to an abrupt end soon after the change of government in 1979. But the abolition of the "Neddy" structure, though highly symbolic, merely gave way to the rise of the accountants and management consultants as the new breed of gurus
I make this preamble to place the task force revolution in context. It is but the latest variation on an enduring theme. Nevertheless--I say it again--particularly in view of the number and almost bacterial reproducing propensities, it is important to examine this new mutation in the art of government. The term "task force" is seductive in itself. What man--I specify the gender advisedly--in late middle age could fail to be roused by such a name, or would not want to be enrolled in one. For him, it evokes memories of the real world of Colonel Orde Wingate and his Chindit squads fighting in the Burmese jungles under cover behind the Japanese lines; or the fantasy world of Captain W E John's fictional hero, Squadron Leader Biggles. To be invited to join a task force holds out the prospect of being parachuted behind the lines of the "forces of conservatism", as the Prime Minister has called his major foe.
Many of your Lordships have responded to this clarion call, and some to more than one, to serve on task forces. Today we shall hear from noble Lords who have served on task forces; I look forward to their contributions made in the light of that experience.
For those of us not so favoured, the duty is to shine a searchlight on the activity of task forces. Are they really an aid to government; or are they subversive of representative democracy as we have come to know it? Are they part of the fragmenting of the state,
The first point is that we do not even know their approximate, let alone exact, numbers. Estimates vary widely, as is noted in the latest report of the Neill Committee. From Written Answers given to your Lordships' House that committee calculated that,
In a meticulous and painstaking work the authors, under Mr Barker's direction, unearthed no fewer than 295 actual, and 318 estimated, task forces and similar bodies which had been set up in the first 18 months of the new Labour Government, between May 1997 and December 1998. These involved no fewer than 2,459 outside members, that is excluding those from the Civil Service, occupying some 3,103 places in total because some of the members belonged to more than one body.
Secondly, we need to know more about the composition of task force members. The Barker study gives us some sort of a profile. The largest single category goes to private, including privatised, business and its trade associations. Together they comprise 35 per cent. Thirty-one per cent of seats are held by "not-for-profit" public sector producer interests. By contrast, it was found that consumer or user interests amounted to only 15 per cent as against the combined 60 per cent of all types of producer. There is something of an imbalance here.
The issue of membership is crucial and has been addressed in the latest Neill report. While the report recognised that task forces, which are meant to have a short-term remit, need not observe Nolan procedures regarding membership, it recommended that those existing for more than two years should be reclassified as non-departmental public bodies and, as such, be subject to the appropriate appointment procedures. My view is that such reclassification should occur after one year, bearing in mind Sir Christopher Foster's view. The inventor of the task force idea said that in attempting to co-ordinate complex policy issues,
Flexibility and informality, however, must not be allowed to disguise from the public gaze the work being done by task forces. Some, such as the Football Task Force "after a near fatal start", have produced and published a useful number of reports. Some were debated last week in your Lordships' House. That, I suggest, is how it should be. Such a process, with few exceptions, should become standard practice. Especially noteworthy were the task forces' practice of holding public meetings, and visiting cities beyond London.
The Government remain somewhat coy in their public utterances about task forces. For example, in answering the Starred Question put down by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, concerning their accountability to Parliament, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, replied,
As things stand, it seems that task force reports will not be published as a matter of course, which is most unsatisfactory because it fetters parliamentary scrutiny. As Stuart Weir, the director of Democratic Audit, observed in his commentary on the Barker study:
Finally, I turn to a nagging operational question regarding the ultimate effectiveness of the task force revolution. Even if every task force were to produce brilliant reports, strictly to abide by the canons of transparency, accountability and avoid even the slightest whiff of sleaze, there remains the dilemma which they were meant to resolve. They are set up to provide joined-up solutions to government, to aggregate and render symmetrical otherwise disparate and discrete programmes and policies, by breaking down and through the barriers of Whitehall departments. They are to help short-circuit the vertical thinking and processes of the bureaucracy by suggesting new ideas and practices. They are to be the conduits by which lateral thinking could inspire horizontal solutions to the "wicked issues", as Peter Mandelson has described them, that straddle departments. For the sake of the efficiency of government, we hope that the task forces will be successful in dealing with these systemic issues.
However, the dilemma remains. Having sorted out the issues and the obstacles that retard coherent policy making, there is the problem of delivery: how to get recommended action implemented. Task force remedies are being put to the very structures that gave rise to the problems in the first instance. It is a dilemma that has confronted all modern British Governments. Government support will be essential including, if necessary, prime ministerial intervention if task force recommendations are to have an impact on future policy. In this regard, we shall watch to see what happens with football.
It is too early as yet to assess whether task forces will succeed where other experiments have failed. We must hope that they will be effective and a useful supplement to parliamentary democracy. If they fail, like the erstwhile "little Neddies", they are likely to be judged by history as but the latest manifestation of what I would call "Rotary Clubs in drag". I beg to move for Papers.
Lord Warner: My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, for giving us the opportunity to discuss and debate task forces. First, I declare an interest. I was the chairman of the task force on youth justice that operated between June 1997 and July 1998 and I am a member of the ministerial task force on the Government's response to the children's safeguard review. Both those experiences were totally positive.
I also speak from the perspective of having been a senior civil servant for more than 20 years. I have worked in local government and have chaired health authorities and a government inquiry as well as a task force. I have seen government from those different perspectives. The one thing I can say unequivocally is
I want to make two contextual points relating to this Government's use of task forces. First, we should bear in mind the reductions in the senior Civil Service they inherited. In the two years prior to 1997, the previous Government conducted senior management reviews in all the major departments which led to a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in the senior Civil Service. This represented a significant reduction in the policy capability available to the new Government in 1997. Before people get too excited about the increase in the number of task forces involving outsiders and the number of special advisers, they might reflect on the reduction in government policy capability left by the previous government.
Secondly, there is inertia to change in the Civil Service machine. I say that as having spent more than half my working life within that machine. There is a strong philosophy of continuity across different governments; there is a strong culture of departmentalism; there is a lack of direct operational management experience among many senior civil servants; and there is considerable gender and ethnic imbalance in senior posts. These all raise doubts about how well equipped the current Civil Service can be to run modern government on its own in terms of policy advice and operational implementation of change.
Perhaps I may give your Lordships a quotation from John Major's autobiography. His account of the 19 departmental responses to a minute he sent to them about action on the Citizen's Charter appears at page 252. He states:
In the context I have described, I believe that it is totally reasonable for a reforming government, elected overwhelmingly on a change agenda after 18 years outside government, to enlist the help of a lot of outsiders using methods like task forces. Indeed, I would go further and suggest that it could be deemed to be a dereliction of duty on the part of the Prime Minister and his colleagues if they had not done so.
I have looked at the number of task forces established since May 1997. The use of these has not been as excessive in relation to the scale of the problems to be tackled as some have suggested. Drawing on the information from the House of
What is interesting is the membership of these task forces: 46 participants were Ministers; 162 were civil servants; 256 were from the wider public service; 80 were from the voluntary sector and 178 were from the private sector. This does not strike me as an overwhelming mass of businessmen sweeping through government. This actually shows Ministers and civil servants being exposed to a fair spread of expertise and backgrounds in grappling with difficult issues. I consider that the Government should be congratulated, not sniped at, for the way in which they have opened up government in this way.
I have some problems with the approach adopted in the Democratic Audit document. My sense is that they have spread their net much wider than task forces and have included many advisory groups and internal reviews that do not have the same change and implementation orientation as task forces. All governments conduct internal reviews; all governments use advisory groups. There is nothing very new about that. However, sweeping all these together in a piece of work about task forces seems to twist the argument a little.
I believe the document, Ruling by Task Force, is rather misleadingly entitled, probably so named as a way of boosting sales. Task forces do not rule; they make proposals to Ministers, who take decisions, announce those decisions and then answer publicly for them. The Democratic Audit report goes on to talk of people being, "invited to the party". That is pretty loaded language. My experience of task forces is that not a great deal of partying goes on. They are constructed to do a time-limited job of work. The Democratic Audit report appears to suggest that they should be set up to be representative. I would suggest that task forces should be judged by whether they are fit for purpose and whether they deliver a good product at the end of their labours, not whether they are representative or conform to Nolan/Neill-type rules for quangos in their appointments. The Democratic Audit document simply does not begin to engage with the issue of effectiveness, which is the measure by which I would judge task forces.
Finally, I want to say a few words about my own experience of task forces. First, there was the ministerial task force on the children's safeguard review established by Frank Dobson. That led directly to the Children (Leaving Care) Bill currently before Parliament and owes a great deal of its success to the commitment of Frank Dobson to improving the lot of children in care and exposing the government machine to outside influences, including a child who had been in care and who sat on that particular task force. I would suggest that care leavers' loss will be London's gain in due course.
The result was two pieces of legislation--the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999--where the practical implementation of youth justice legislation had been thought through in advance by people with practical experience of the system. This has led to widespread local support for the changes being introduced. Throughout the period of its work, the task force advised Ministers on the basis of what it thought was right and practical, not on what it thought Ministers wanted to hear. All the task force's reports were laid in both Houses of Parliament, though I cannot claim that I was overwhelmed with questions as a result of that piece of open government.
In conclusion, I would say that our system of government requires a continuing leavening of outsiders to help with detailed policy formulation and practical implementation. This work needs to be done more frequently before legislation is produced. Task forces are an effective model for doing such work, provided that they are appointed on a fit-for-purpose basis and not on a representative basis.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, rather like my noble friend Lord Warner I, too, have felt it important for governments of all political persuasions to have available to them all the advice they can get. I have also long been an admirer of the British Civil Service. With very occasional exceptions, its integrity, loyalty and intellectual firepower have served governments and the British people well for a century or more. But the apolitical strength of the Civil Service, both actually capable, and intended to be capable, of serving governments of different political parties (even when one party has been in power for as long as 18 years) suggests to me that--certainly for the present Government and governments in general--they would be wise to supplement Civil Service advice with advice from others. That advice can come from many different sources.
Since the 19th century (although there may have been one or two before that) all governments have, from time to time, appointed Royal Commissions and departmental commissions to draw, at least in part, on the world outside Westminster and Whitehall in order to examine a broad area of policy that could benefit from a wide-ranging review. The former Prime Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, did not much like Royal Commissions. I recall that there was a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, but apart from that commission, I do not believe that she appointed any others. However, her view was, I believe, an aberration in recent times. It has not been
In some areas where there is a need for more ongoing and developing policy and advice, in particular in specialised fields, more permanent bodies need to be established and have been established by many different governments. The one I know best is the Law Commission, first set up in 1965 by the Labour Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner, to keep under review all of our law and to publish reports on the need for reforms and change. The members are paid; there is a paid staff and it carries out the kind of detailed, long-term work that a mainstream government department, whose priorities must focus on more immediate day-to-day concerns, is not geared up to doing. The Law Commission pioneered a system of working papers (Green Papers) to ensure that every possible viewpoint would be canvassed before it composed its final report. That is a technique, or method of working, which has been followed by government departments and many other public bodies. In other words, the Government's advisers on law reform themselves seek out advisers.
Then there are individual special advisers, in particular those with political experience close to that of the party in power, who have increased in number under the present Government, as noble Lords opposite frequently remind us. I believe that the present Government have adequately answered the criticisms. To my mind, special advisers provide part of the help and assistance any modern government require if they are to fulfil their election mandate, and in particular if they are--to echo the words used by my noble friend Lord Warner--a government of change.
To my mind, task forces are simply another source of help and advice, but they are closer to Ministers and officials than are the traditional Royal Commissions or departmental committees. They have the advantage of being set up informally and flexibly, with broad terms of reference, to assist a particular Minister or department. Members are unpaid and, like Royal Commissions, their work is made possible by the apparently infinite capacity and willingness of people in so many walks of life to contribute something from their own knowledge and experience to government and to their fellow citizens. That feature of British life, which accounts for the longstanding success of our system of lay magistracy, our jury system and our prolific and invaluable voluntary organisations of all kinds, is surely something that we should cherish. Task forces involve a partnership between government and non-government interests to find solutions to specific problems.
Task forces do not run Britain; they do not govern Britain. They are not a subversion of democracy. They are helpmeets for our democratic institutions and the way in which they work provides a useful addition to
Of course, there could be a danger that task forces and, for that matter, consultation more generally will delay, prolong and even stultify effective decision-making by government. No doubt government is wary of that, and Parliament and this House must be wary of any ministerial procrastination, excused by assertions that the matter is one for the such-and-such task force. There may also be a danger that consultation with a task force will become exclusive and confined. However, there seems to be no sign of that. Typically, Green Papers and opportunities for comment are available to all. Surely, as a general point, the best decisions are those that are informed by full consultation but are also expeditious.
Politico's (the excellent bookshop which many of your Lordships know in Artillery Row, not far from here) recently published the book to which the mover of this Motion, the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, referred. It is called Ruling by Task Force: Politico's Guide to Labour's New Elite. It provides a helpful list. As my noble friend Lord Warner said, it goes beyond task forces in the strict sense. It has a fuller list of all kinds of advisory boards and is most useful as an index. I was rather disappointed to find that I was not in the index because being a member of a task force is obviously a popular activity.
Of course, the title of that book is highly exaggerated, as I hope the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, will agree. It must be rather irritating for some people to read "Labour's New Elite"; for example, David Mellor, chairman of the Football Task Force; the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, chairman of three task forces; and the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, chairman of the Advisory Group on Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools. The truth is that the great majority of members of task forces are simply people with appropriate skills and experience. Of course, a number of members of task forces are Labour people; indeed, some sit on these Benches. However, there is really very little evidence here to back up charges of cronyism, let alone charges of heads in the trough.
It seems to me much more surprising that a Labour Government should appoint a former Conservative Chief Whip, the excellent Sir Alastair Goodlad, to be the well-paid representative of the Government in Australia--our High Commissioner there, no less--than that they should seek the unpaid advice of various Labour Party members in developing Labour Party and Labour Government policy, as individuals or as members of a task force that is comprised also of members of other parties and of none.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am very pleased to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, on initiating the debate. I see that he has been trying to do so for a few weeks, and I believe that this is a very useful occasion. He was, of course, characteristically modest about his own contribution to the book, which I suspect will be referred to repeatedly. My noble friend Lord Borrie quoted from it--Ruling by Task Force: Politico's Guide to Labour's New Elite. Indeed, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, was responsible for commissioning the study through his involvement with Democratic Audit.
I shall speak fairly briefly today about my own experiences as vice-chairman of the Football Task Force. Yes, I appear in the index from which, certainly, my noble friend Lord Borrie, is missing. I shall not go into detail because your Lordships were kind enough to listen to me just over a week ago when we discussed the report of the task force on commercial issues.
I start with a more general point about the task force process. I agree very much with what both my noble friends said concerning the way in which task forces have come about and the contribution that they have made. However, it is also important to bear in mind that it is a phase which is now coming to an end. Yesterday, I talked to a very senior civil servant who has worked in two departments. She has been involved with task forces in both. Her view was that after Labour came into power in 1997 and the task force process began, there was a great increase in that process of outside bodies. I am not sure whether Mr Barker is right that 318 task forces and external bodies were set up in those first two years; I have not counted them all. However, undoubtedly there was a great increase in the process.
The civil servant described to me that it was like opening a window and letting fresh air and light into departments which had found that they were almost in a bunker, and had been for perhaps four or five years. With the windows closed, the people inside the bunker were not able to receive or to take on board any outside advice. I believe that it has been a helpful process for the windows to be opened in that way, allowing fresh air to come in. Of course, the process is now drawing to a close: the task forces have limited lives and those that are not task forces are being turned into non-departmental public bodies, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, described; and quite right, too.
Perhaps I may say a little about the process with which I was associated in the Football Task Force. I suppose that from the beginning the two feelings that I had about it were of clarity and enormous confusion. The clarity was that the commitment to set up a task force on football was in Labour's election manifesto. It stemmed from a clear concern about what was happening in the game and what was happening to
The confusion stems from what the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, has described as "a near fatal beginning". Perhaps that is over-selling the point a little. It is echoed in what Mr Barker describes in his book as,
One of our difficulties was in relation to membership. Certainly, if we were to start again, I would go down the route described by my noble friend Lord Warner and pick people who serve on task forces as individuals because they are capable of making a contribution and are known and respected in their fields, rather than because they are representatives or, in the case of our task force, effectively delegates from the industry which we were supposed to be examining.
Another area of confusion we encountered related to our budget and the way in which we were to be paid. If we were again to go into this process, it would be set out very clearly at the beginning. We were living a complete hand-to-mouth existence, never quite knowing if funds would be available to pay the researcher and administrator whom we hired at a very modest salary. Indeed, latterly we had a young man working for us who did it for nothing because he regarded it as a useful part of his academic studies. Even though we had four reports to publish and an extensive programme of visits to various areas of the country as part of our public consultation, the total cost was still less than £130,000. As the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, said during the debate last week, that was the reason why we did not seek to ascertain the basis of football regulation in places such as Hawaii, Bali or the Seychelles but, instead, concentrated on less exotic places such as Sheffield, Birmingham and Newcastle.
There was a debate about whether or not the income for the task force could be supplemented by sponsorship. I recall that the then Minister was rather keen that that should be the case. However, the task force members felt that to take sponsorship from any source would have tainted our independence, and I believe that that was right. The members took the view that the task force was a government body for which the Government should accept responsibility and therefore fund, and I believe that that was undoubtedly the right view. That in the end was what we did with a very modest budget.
The other area in relation to which we encountered immense confusion was over the time-scale in which we were supposed to work. The officials who set us up, who were dealing with an election commitment but clearly had not much experience of this sort of activity, rather thought, like the generals in World War I, that it would all be over with by the first Christmas. The intention was that we would meet on a few occasions in London, see some people, publish a report and then quietly go away after about six months. But our extensive terms of reference meant that that would have been quite impossible, and certainly not possible if we were to do our main job; namely, to hear what people in the country felt about the industry into which we were looking and the things that needed to be done to it. In the end, therefore, our life was extended for rather longer than I would have liked. I would have preferred us to have finished our work by the summer of 1999. It was extended to two years and five months and, of course, we finished in December.
Our administration was also very much on a shoestring. We had immense assistance from the Football Trust. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who was the chairman of the Football Trust when the task force was set up and whom I am pleased to see in his place today, was enormously helpful in ensuring that at least the task force had a base and a place in which to hold its meetings.
The publicity that the task force received was also an important part of our activity. It was very much a task force that needed public response and publicity. Each report was published with the aid of a press
Other noble Lords have referred to some of the weaknesses in the system, one of which is the point about accountability. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that last week's debate on our task force's report on football is the only one that has been debated in your Lordship's House. The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, nods in agreement. It is desirable, as a matter of course, that task forces which attract great public interest should be debated in this House, and ideally in another place as well.
The other area of importance, if a task force is to have any lasting value, is following up and implementing reports. We have no machinery for doing that. We have disbanded. The report has been sent to the Minister and the Minister will now engage in consultation with the various interests involved. If those reports are to have value, it is important that there should be some mechanism for watching whether or not our recommendations, which were accepted by everyone at the time, are implemented. For example, one very important recommendation on racism was implemented immediately by the passage of a Private Member's Bill, with the support of the Government, to make racist chanting an offence. That is a positive development. However, there are other recommendations which need to be considered and implemented, particularly in relation to ensuring that clubs comply with the requirements for disabled access and so on.
To sum up, our experience was that the process was worth while. We had a dreadful beginning, caused by confusion and possibly inexperience on the part of many of the people involved, but there was a determination to get at the heart of the issues and study what we were given to examine. We were thus able to produce four worthwhile reports which have been generally well received and, I believe, accepted. However, I accept entirely the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, about the need to move on and to say that the task force now needs to be replaced by something different.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lord, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton for introducing this debate. My remarks are at least intended to be relentlessly non-partisan. I do not believe that we are
I shall make a few remarks from the vantage point of what I would describe as a life mission to explain to the poor, anxious, confused citizens, what the heck we do here in their names. I founded and have for the last 10 years been the chairman of the Citizenship Foundation, and that is indeed our principal purpose. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will forgive me if I look at this debate from the vantage point of the man and woman in the street.
The first thing I say is that task forces do, of course, feed through into legislation. They are intended to produce recommendations. As the last speaker made clear, one of the aspects of a task force's output may be to see the extent to which governments take notice of and implement their recommendations. There has developed--I will not call it a game--a tradition of the effectiveness of task forces being partly measured by the number of their recommendations.
With regard to the feed-through of task forces, whether they be properly so called or are of that nature, whether they are 295 established in two and a half years or a great deal fewer, the nature of our present form of government is, I fear, to legislate a great deal too much and to legislate in a manner that is far too complex. Let me give a few statistics. In 1998 we produced in Westminster 2,500 pages of new, mainstream statute law. We produced 1,000 pages of secondary legislation. To that must be added 10 feet of shelf space of European directives and regulations for that year, another 3,000 pages of mainstream law reports and as much again of specialist law reports; and all this before we come to consider governmental guidelines and the like which are of a quasi-statutory nature.
Although these statistics may seem pointless, they demonstrate that the sheer output of this place is grotesque. I am sure that we would all agree that the Bills which we nightly have to try to track, amend and debate are often way beyond our ken. Even we lawyers, who are supposed to understand the parliamentary and drafting refinements, are often lost with the legislation of which we are guardians.
My impression--and it is not just my impression but the impression of all those in the citizenship field--is that over the years, the impact of that on the public mind has been deleterious in the extreme. Perhaps I may refer to the book published only a fortnight ago by Professor David Buckingham of the Institute of Education. He spent a great deal of time trying to assess the relative state of mind and knowledge of under-25s in this country vis-a-vis politics and the political process. The conclusions do not surprise any of us in the field but they are depressing. He reports an almost total lack of identification with the formal political process; a good deal of identification with single issue pressure groups of one kind or another--charities and so on; but as to what we do and say here and in another place, today, this week and this year, there is an almost complete--wilful, it might seem--disregard.
He describes the state of mind as being one of a sense of exclusion by ordinary young adults from that political process. I am afraid that I concur with that. The report carried out by Essex University and Duke University, a five-year study of the extent to which citizenship is a reality or not in this country as compared with America, reached broadly the same conclusions. Indeed, the situation in this country in terms of civic engagement and civic mentality was a good deal worse than in the comparable communities within the United States.
Therefore, as a matter of urgency, we must cut back on the number of task forces we set up, whatever name they may have, and we must cut back also on the amount of legislation that we put out, however urgent it may seem. Of course that cannot be done in isolation. It must be done in concert with a return of powers to local communities.
All governments say that and try sincerely to do something about it. However, it is an extraordinarily difficult problem to address in the global age. But I say with some passion that very often we use the words "efficient" and "effective" in relation to government and legislation in a way that is more an assessment of our own efforts--the amount, sophistication and, as we may think, the well-judged nature of the legislation--than of its impact on mother earth.
I am afraid that there is an extremely unfortunate dislocation between business standards and values and democratic standards and values. Men and women in the street tend to be extraordinarily slow to even become aware of what we do in their names. They are extraordinarily slow on the uptake in relation to the new agencies which are created for their benefit. For example, the regional development agencies are an extremely important new tool of central Government's attempts to regionalise. They are virtually unknown to the man and woman in the street virtually a year after they are up and running.
One of the greatest conundrums with which we must try to grapple is that the very people for whom the legislation is most intended--the poor, the disadvantaged, the dispossessed and the disabled--are the self-same group who are the slowest to take on board change. Their lives, in so far as they have any rootedness, significance or any sense of place and identity, are often most bound up with the small aspects of local government and local autonomy--what is left of it--with which they can identify.
Therefore, I put it to the House that the pace and volume of change emanating from this place is wholly inconsistent with what I would call real democratic effectiveness. Until we take note of that, we are driving ourselves into an extremely dangerous corner. It is no accident that the mass of young adults do not identify with politics; do not have a sense of ownership of it; and feel excluded from it. It is no accident that Professor Buckingham calculated that only 40 per cent of the under-25s turned out to vote at the epoch-making general election in May 1997. It is possible that fewer than 15 per cent of them voted in the Euro-elections this May.
We cannot ignore those signs, much though we may wish to. They are indubitable and have huge consequences for us. I suggest that one of those consequences is in relation to the work that we do in task forces.
I conclude by commenting on observations made by the noble Lords, Lord Warner and Lord Borrie. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, said that "a host of practical proposals for implementation at local level" had come forth from those task forces; and indeed they have. There is a host, a flood, of them. They flood the citizenry. It is no good saying that they are damn good proposals. In my view, the only test is whether they hit their target; whether they are taken up and understood; whether, on the ground, they achieve the purpose of those who put them forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said that "every possible viewpoint" will be canvassed in relation to those task forces and consultations. I must tell the House that consultations are becoming ineffective. There is a sense of incredibility about most consultations undertaken by government. Those who should respond to consultations are often too busy to do so. Those who would do so do not believe that it is worth while to do so because they believe that the Government, or the task force, or whatever, have made up their minds and do not really want to hear their views. They believe that they are merely going through the motions. That is untrue; it is not fair; but that is how far too many of our fellow citizens see it. It is no good us saying that that is rubbish. They think that.
I take the case of the Access to Justice Bill, which is an extremely important measure in relation to legal aid. There was a great deal of consultation. I believe that five consultation documents were issued. The last and most crucial of those was sent to every firm of solicitors in the country--78,000 solicitors. How many responses were received on this biggest shake-up of legal aid since it was introduced? There were 30. That is among a professional group.
I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will have something to say about that, because he is involved with that Bill. I am really not trying to score points. I am merely trying to point out realities. Consultation is not working. Let none of us delude ourselves into thinking that the glossy brochures have done the trick. The latest three, Wiring It Up, Adding It Up--and what is the other one, Blowing It Up?--were published this year. They cost £18 each. It is all very well saying that they are on the Internet. Many people do not have the Internet, particularly the less confident, the poorer and less connected members of our society. They do not have it. One of those brochures costs £18 for 105 pages. In response to a question from me last week, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said that there are a lot of pages. Indeed, there are but it is £18 for 105 pages.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde : My Lords, I join noble Lords in welcoming the debate instigated by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. I am not a member of a task force, nor do I chair one, although I am on the receiving end of much of the work carried out by task forces in the area of social exclusion. I want to share with the House my experiences of the outcome of some of that work.
While I fully respect the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, I disagree with him in his attempt to try to caricature task forces as surrogate Royal Commissions, "little Neddies" or the NEDC. Task forces are entirely different.
I have been fortunate enough to have been a member of the NEDC and I was privileged to be a member of the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords. My experience of working with task forces is completely different and has been much more invigorating.
Task force work is untidy, but to caricature it in that way is to misunderstand the nature and intention of the work. I am privileged to be chairman of a housing corporation which is on the receiving end of the work of the Social Exclusion Unit and of related task forces. The corporation welcomes that opportunity. The establishment of such task forces has opened doors for the corporation in ways that were not possible before.
Before one responds by saying that that is the fault of civil servants, or departments, or organisations, or non-departmental public bodies or politicians, one must remember that on run-down estates there are issues of poor health, poor education and poor housing. Those matters are not disconnected. One problem cannot be dealt with without dealing with the others.
The establishment of task forces has enabled us to make those connections and to deal with them in a way that is not distant from those whom we serve--and all those in public life serve. We can now analyse problems (often the easiest part), establish what needs to be done and set up the processes by which the solutions can be carried out. I believe that Ministers from government departments do not work together simply because that is a requirement, but to achieve
The term, which I do not like, "joined-up thinking"--making the connections--is used in relation to anti-social behaviour. In Liverpool neighbourhood renewal is needed and in May of this year there will be a conference. A Minister from the Home Office will work with the local authorities, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, ourselves, and the people who live there. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool will chair one of the groups in the area. Anti-social behaviour will be discussed. Young people will be involved and we shall learn from each other. It is hoped that government policy can be changed. It is not just about legislation. With respect, I suggest that the outcome of the work of the task forces has more to do with policies and priorities than enacting legislation. It is about learning lessons and getting better information.
As a result of the task force on teenage pregnancies--a concern of us all--work is carried out on the ground with the Department of Health, the DETR and the housing corporation, in providing homes and working with the young women. At the same time, it provides education for the potentially vulnerable young women who may be the teenage mothers of the future.
The issue of people sleeping rough has also come out of the work of the Social Exclusion Unit. In the 1970s I was a member of the Supplementary Benefits Commission. In those days we used to refer to people who slept rough as "people of no fixed abode", which is the term that I prefer. Nevertheless, the issue was the same. The issue is still with us. Now, as a result of the task force, we have not only budgets and policies, but also work is carried out across government with civil servants being accountable and having to deliver against set targets with improvement year on year. Such issues cannot be dealt with in three or six months. It will take years to improve the present situation.
The Egan Task Force was one of the first to be set up by the Deputy Prime Minister accountable to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. As a result, money is now being spent in the area of construction that is changing the nature of how we construct houses in Britain. The construction of homes in Britain can be as much as 30 per cent more expensive than current comparable work elsewhere. That was the result of work carried out by a task force. No one can say that that is not positive. A housing corporation on the receiving end of such work welcomes that. There is a responsibility to ensure that taxpayers' money and private sector funding that matches it is invested in a way that meets the requirements of that task force.
As to the nature of task forces--the second aspect of the debate--I enjoyed the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, when he talked about being parachuted in. He also referred to the title of a book, Ruling by Task Force: Politico's Guide to
A public service is being provided that will work with the people of the area. The next time I meet those people in the run-down estates who have come to believe that no one cares about them I can tell them that they now have an opportunity to be asked for their views, rather than public policy telling them what will happen. They are now the elite. I am sure that they would be delighted to be given that badge of honour.
That wide public policy of development involves different government departments in a much broader and a much more inclusive way. How we develop public policy, how we set our priorities and most important of all how we deliver them and monitor the outcomes of the delivery of such services are also involved. We should not do that from the point of view of the politicians, or indeed from the point of view of the task force, but from the point of view of those on the ground who are affected by the changed policies.
I welcome the debate and the establishment of task forces. They are able to move more quickly. The "little Neddys", the NEDC and the Royal Commissions all have a tight framework within which they are required to work. That is not the steel ring that applies to task forces. Noble Lords will probably have heard of the Holly Street development in Hackney, which is a part of London that some people have given up on. There has been a rebirth of that community. Some of it resulted from the work of a task force, although the previous government started the process.
In quietly getting on with it, the Deputy Prime Minister has held two full meetings since the scheme was launched to tell people what is happening. That does not simply mean asking people like me. At those meetings, of which there is another on 6th March in London, we have with us the tenants and the people involved on the ground. With due respect, that is the real difference. We shall not all succeed, but we are trying. My experience of task force work related to the Social Exclusion Unit has been a positive one. It has not got everything right, but who has? However, it is making a real difference to the people whom we all serve. I have no cynicism about the role of the task forces that have a fixed term of life.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, the whole House will feel gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, for bringing forward this subject for debate today. A goodly number of us delayed our holiday to express our gratitude in person and those who opted for deferred gratitude will see it expressed on their behalf when they receive the Official Report in the morning. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, also for supporting, through the Rowntree Reform Trust, the work of the Democratic Audit under Stuart Weir and Tony Barker on the admirable report which provides us with the factual information without which this debate would be much impoverished.
Noble Lords may know how it feels when one has been standing at the bus stop for hours and two come along at once. That happened to me with these bodies. I had spent 18 years doing little more than criticise governments and then I was invited, within two weeks, to join, first, the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care of the Elderly and the Jenkins committee on the electoral system. In my case, a third bus then came along a bit later when I was invited to join the Davies panel on the financing of the BBC. I am inclined to treat that one rather like the old Soviet photographs of the politburo in which people were brushed out as their stars waned; after Monday's announcement an awful lot of Davies is extinct, but I had the pleasure of serving on what was a good panel.
I use the term "task force" widely, but there is now a proliferation of titles which is quite bewildering for the layman. There are Royal Commissions, committees, panels--been there; got the T-shirt--task forces; inquiries and working parties. Although distinctions can be drawn, it is not clear that they are consistently drawn. The terminology could do with a bit of sorting out.
There are times in life when a quantitative increase in something means that a qualitative change has taken place. I have no doubt that in the past few years the growth in task forces has amounted to a qualitative change in the way we are governed. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, referred to it as a "revolution"; that is barely over-egging the pudding. It is an inevitable revolution for two reasons.
The first involves the changing nature of the British Civil Service. I can assure the House that I shall not launch into one of those panegyrics common in this Chamber on the virtues of the old British Civil Service, turning into a lament that it has been laid low by either Margaret Thatcher, John Major or Tony Blair. But I have no doubt that it has changed. For one thing, as noble Lords pointed out in this debate, although the numbers are not precise, it is clear that there are fewer of those keen, young principals (as they then were) who in the past could make their career by taking over one of the task forces or working parties and shaping its work. It was interesting when I was on the Davies panel, the secretary to the inquiry--the admirable Paul Heron from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport--had the full range of his other policy work to do at the same time as he was solely responsible for guiding that panel. As I said, fewer people are available.
Those people are also different in nature. We were admirably served on all the bodies on which I served, but the modern civil servant is much more open to public opinion and is much more interested in learning. In the old days when one wanted to know public opinion one would say, "I will ask the Permanent Secretaries when they meet next week", because Whitehall received their opinions as the opinions of the public. The new breed is much more open. I compare the work of the Civil Service today in those working parties and commissions with that of the 1970s when I was involved in government. In the case of most civil servants, the ability to write concise
That is the Civil Service side; on the other side, policy can no longer simply be made in Whitehall because the world has changed. Twenty or 30 years ago we were an island in that we could do most policy work in a vacuum in Whitehall; we had specific command over factual information; information was kept secret and a little elite was able to control events. The world today is not like that. It is open; it is global; governments must carry people with them and not just lay down the law. The world is highly complex. The consequences of that were ably spelt out by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. In this modern environment we cannot simply have a Whitehall monopoly. We have to open up the system. That is what the growth of the task forces achieves--and it is an achievement to be welcomed, not deplored.
But like so many of Britain's constitutional revolutions, this one was not planned or thought through; it is something we fell into. I should therefore like to devote my remaining remarks to how we can improve a system that has grown ad hoc and make the new system more effective in the future. I shall do that by taking a number of examples because I am supposed to speak for 12 minutes and not 12 hours.
First, little central guidance is given to the task forces. When they start their work, they are each asked to invent their own wheel. A specific example of that is that if one is running a modern task force, one wants to consult the public and ascertain public opinion on a specific subject. We did that on all the bodies with which I have been involved. There are well-known techniques for doing that, such as employing the Cabinet Office's people panel, public opinion polling, focus groups and consultation meetings. There are various devices, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. By the time I reached the third group, I found it time-wasting to have to go again through the arguments for and against different techniques without any use of the corpus of knowledge which exists as to which are the right ways of measuring public opinion depending on the answers one wants to reach. We had to devote a lot of time to that, but it could have been dealt with by central guidance. A lot of time could have been saved and the work helped.
The second point is a thorny subject, but fortunately I no longer have to declare an interest: payment. Almost all the bodies are now unpaid. Royal Commissions used not to be unpaid, but they are now unless one can fix things. Ministers do not want to spend money unnecessarily and rightly point out that there is no shortage of volunteers for those bodies. That is correct. People will become members for nothing. But there are certain costs to the non-payment rules. It is fine if one has a generous employer, a private income or a pension; it is not so fine if one is not well off. The people available to do the work reduce if there is a firm rule against payment.
Another disadvantage to non-payment is that it is difficult to put moral pressure on people to attend the vast numbers of meetings involved if we know that every time they attend a meeting, they lose money. Also, if there is no payment, the representatives of the special interest groups are keen to come along, but those involved as mere representatives of the public good may be less inclined to make the financial sacrifices involved. So although we do not need to pay people to appear on task forces, there should be greater flexibility in that regard. We heard this morning the phrase, "invitations to the party". I am afraid that this party is a little like tea at the Ritz; that is, it is open to those who can afford it. That is undesirable.
The third point that I should like briefly to make on improving matters concerns the follow-up process. Of course, this varies but, broadly, unless I made considerable efforts to find out what was going on regarding the various reports in whose creation I had been involved, no one would have contacted me to tell me. That is plain daft. By the time you have finished doing one of these things intensively for a long period of time, you know quite a bit about the subject. Indeed, with due deference to those sitting on the Bench in front of me, you may even know a little more than Ministers, although they must of course bring their political judgment to bear in such matters. Sometimes when you press for information you find out that Ministers are debating X, Y and Z to which you devoted a good deal of your time and, if someone had called you, you would have been very happy to explain why the report came to its conclusion and why the arguments that people are reconsidering from scratch are not viable.
My final point concerns timetables. A difficult syndrome arises here. Ministers get the idea that they must have a report. They then sit around for many months deciding who to put on the committee, how to structure it, and so on. It takes ages and everyone enjoys thinking of appropriate names. However, after spending months setting it up, they suddenly realise that they promised the report by a certain time. They then say that the committee must have a very tight timetable and that it must report within, say, six months. Once the report is received, they then spend a very long time considering its findings.
Of the three reports in which I have been involved, two had manageable timetables and one did not. The Royal Commission on long-term care was promised in the Labour manifesto. For reasons that I understand, it took eight months to establish and we were then given a frenetic timetable for getting a really complicated piece of work accomplished in just over a year. I do not believe that we should have accepted that timetable, but that is what we were given. Of course, a year later we have not received a response from the Government because, quite understandably, they cannot respond until they have some more money to spend under the Comprehensive Spending Review. People should be much more aware of that syndrome. Although Ministers will do what they will do, it is important that that aspect should be considered with
I have just given four examples. I could give the 12-hour version, but I do not think that noble Lords would welcome spending part of their holiday listening to me. However, I have one practical proposal to put to the Minister. We now have the Centre for Policy and Management Studies--another remarkable and welcome innovation in government--which is in a position to look at such matters under the leadership of Professor Ronald Amann. I very much hope that we will set in place the machinery that will enable the Government to look at the experiences of the task forces that we have had; to talk to the civil servants and, indeed, to the members of the task forces; to talk to the recipients of such reports; and, on the basis of the experience of how things have gone, to say how this revolution--for that is what it is--could be made into a revolution for the better, and not for the worse.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, the whole House will be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, for having introduced the report to which he referred. Having read it three or four times, it seems to me that he made a most remarkable summary of its contents. I am bound to say that in general--and possibly in opposition to four or five of my own colleagues, which is not unusual--I support the noble Lord's conclusions.
Of course, when my party came into office in May 1997, after, unfortunately, having to endure 17 years in opposition, no one can dispute the fact that there was a great shortage of experience on the ground; namely, experience of government, of administration and, indeed, of business administration. Therefore, in my view, the Government were right to seek what assistance they could in the urgent circumstances that accompanied their coming into office. It is all a question of degree. There can be no doubt that many task forces have achieved the most admirable results and that, in general, they have had a very benign influence on government--or perhaps I should say a benign influence on Ministers.
I observe that distinguished former civil servants now in this House have not been reluctant to praise the forces to which they now belong and the new vocations they have assumed. However, their enthusiasm for a new situation can always be exaggerated. I have in mind, for example, my noble and very good friend Lord Borrie. With the greatest respect to him, when he said that such task forces cover a very wide spectrum of people--indeed, many types of people--I thought that he was possibly pushing it a bit. All this has to be carried out against a context.
We should remember that we are discussing task forces, the details of which have been put forward in the document, Ruling by Task Force. All this falls within a context in which there are no less than 165 companies--outside task forces--with representatives
Therefore, when we consider the number of people who are on task forces we should remember that they are comparatively limited in number. In task forces at present there are no fewer than 1,107 persons representing business interests; that is, 35 per cent of the total number of people involved, which is about 3,000. No fewer than 1,107 are representatives who come direct either from private companies--whether they be producers, retailers or whatever--or trade associations. That is an overwhelming majority. I do not altogether complain about that, but it is the effect upon parliamentary democracy that bothers me.
After the last great war, which lasted only six years, we formed a Labour government without task forces. However, we had some of the most remarkable achievements in British history. We did that without task forces. There was a certain degree of opposition, not least, I have to report to the House, from a Civil Service that possibly differed slightly from the one that we have had during the past two years--but that is another story. We had a democratic government composed of democratic representatives, most of whom had had experience in the forces. They were quite capable not only of formulating but also of enacting, passing and putting into operation some of the most beneficial legislation to the country as a whole that has ever been achieved.
This time, we were in opposition for 17 years, and it is a bit difficult. Indeed, as I know very well at my age, time passes quickly. At present, we have a situation involving civil servants and private interests. As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, will know, they are not generally on the Northern Irish scale, which tends to have minimal representation for private interests. It is assumed for all practical purposes that the moment they pass those portals after appointment to a task force they suddenly become politically neutral. They go through a cleansing shower, as it were, which immediately washes from them any kind of deep political convictions they may have had before and become virtually political innocents--as white as driven snow--in terms of all kinds of political belief or any deeply held political conviction.
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