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Baroness Sharples: My Lords, have any writers in residence been appointed to young offender institutions?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I cannot advise today. However, I am happy to undertake some inquiries and write to the noble Baroness. It seems something from which those institutions can benefit.

Lord Judd: My Lords, if rehabilitation is the main objective in order to turn young offenders into productive and responsible members of society, does the Minister agree that every penny spent on education and training within the present prison system is a penny well spent?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord. Over the current period of the Comprehensive Spending Review, £26 million is being spent specifically on education. We think that that is money well spent. It is a good investment and enables those young offenders in particular to get on to the welfare-to-work programme. We believe that that is one of the best and strongest contributions towards ensuring that those young people come out of the institution and lead a crime-free life.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the rise in the prison population, including those in the young offender institutions, creates a big problem? By the noble Lord's own reckoning, the figure is close to 70,000. Does the noble Lord accept that one way to promote education and training is to reduce the number of people in young offender institutions? The best way to do that is to make better use of community sentencing. Will the noble Lord consider the projects which NACRO has promoted? I declare an interest as chair of that body. It has worked effectively with a small number of people in such an institution. Does the Minister consider that he has an obligation to talk to other parts of the criminal justice system to ensure a reduction in numbers by better use of community sentencing? That is good for young people; it is good for young offender institutions; and, above all, it is good for the country.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it would be pleasant and desirable if the present prison population were to decline. However, we accept the sad truth: that while people commit serious offences, whatever their age, it is right to apply custodial sentences. We believe that prison works. We believe that prison can be a positive experience, and that we should pursue that objective. We want to get people into education and training to improve their opportunities when they come out of those institutions. One of the innovative schemes adopted is the detention and training order. It provides particularly for young people so that they receive training and education in the establishment to which they are located. When they come out that process of training and education will continue. We believe that that will provide more positive alternatives than a life of crime.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, is there a wide disparity between the young offender institutions in the amount spent on education? What advice is given to governors in relation to that aspect?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there are disparities across the entire prison estate of which young offender institutions are a part. We want to bring all establishments to a higher level. That is why we have made bids against the next round of the CSR. We put money aside last year to achieve that beneficial objective.

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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, does the Minister appreciate the gratitude on this side of the House for his support and reaffirmation of Mr Michael Howard's view that prison works?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am always grateful to the noble Lord for his help and support in these matters.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, how much is spent per head on the education and training of young people in young offender institutions? Perhaps the Minister will write to me on that point.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I confess that mental arithmetic is not one of my strongest points. I have the global figures. I shall happily try to provide the noble Earl in writing with a breakdown of those figures.

Lord Addington: My Lords, many of the young offenders have educational problems resulting from dyslexia. Will the Minister assure the House that there will be sufficient specialist trainers to ensure that those young offenders receive the appropriate training? If they have further inappropriate lessons from which they are bound to fail, it will reinforce their previous bad experiences from education.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am happy to give that assurance. The noble Lord makes an interesting point. Dyslexia is a problem experienced to some degree within the prison system. We are looking closely at good practice. I can advise the noble Lord that Pentonville has a very good dyslexia project, recently praised--dare I say it?--in a Guardian newspaper article on 28th March. Perhaps I may supply the noble Lord with a copy of the article. Simon Midgeley was extremely positive about the progress being made on behalf of prisoners who suffer from dyslexia.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, in answer to a Question for Written Answer last week, the Minister gave me figures of expenditure per head on education in the prison system over the past three years. Can the noble Lord break down that figure so that we can see how much per head has been spent in the past three years on young offenders and adult offenders respectively? It is vitally important that young offenders receive education which will be successful in preventing them from re-offending. Does the Minister agree, therefore, that more would be spent on young offenders than on adults?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord's surmise is probably not too dissimilar from mine. It is sensible that we invest heavily in the education of young people. After all, they are the future, whether or not they are in prison. We need to pay close attention to that.

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I am grateful for the noble Lord's first question. We shall look again at the figures to see whether we can provide a breakdown to the noble Lord in the format he desires.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, are specific targets of literacy and numeracy set in these institutions? If not, will the Minister consider that suggestion?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there are a number of key performance indicators. Some are of considerable value. The key one at present is to reduce by 15 per cent over the current period those who are on level 1. I shall consider the noble Lord's helpful suggestion against the other key performance indicators. Perhaps we can discuss the issue further.


Lord Carter: My Lords, after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, in the first debate today, my noble friend Lord Bassam will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement being made in another place on the licensing laws White Paper.

European Union: Select Committee

3.7 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Lord Jopling be appointed a Member of the Select Committee in the place of the Lord Trefgarne.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Government Resources and Accounts Bill

3.8 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Resource accounting and budgeting is a vital part of the Government's modernising agenda. This Bill marks a major milestone on the way to full implementation of the biggest reform and modernisation of the management of the country's public finances since the time of Gladstone. It demonstrates this Government's commitment to introducing best-practice accounting methods in line with the code for fiscal stability. The Bill will deliver three major reforms. First, it introduces resource accounting and budgeting into government accounts and modernises the operation of other aspects of the Exchequer and Audit Departments Acts. This will improve the way Parliament votes and scrutinises public spending. Objectives and outputs will be costed through more effectively underpinning the public

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service agreements. There will also be better information on buying and using assets with improved comparisons between public finance initiative/public private partnership projects and government capital spending.

Secondly, it provides enabling legislation for the preparation and audit of consolidated accounts for the whole public sector. Thirdly, it enables us to set up Partnerships U.K--a new body designed to make the public sector a better client in PFI and public private partnership deals.

Work of resource accounting and budgeting began in 1994 under the previous government and has been taken forward with enthusiasm by this Government. I know that our proposals to move to resource accounting and budgeting will be welcomed on all sides of the House.

For those of us who have not followed the technicalities of the move to RAB, resource accounting applies accruals accounting techniques to central government by focusing on resources consumed rather than cash spent. When that was said in the House some time ago, my noble friend the Chief Whip said, rather scornfully, that we were simply introducing into government accounts double entry book-keeping, which was first invented in 1492. Perhaps a little less than 500 years later we are finally catching up.

The main change from the current system is in the treatment of fixed assets. Resource accounting will reflect the cost of consuming fixed assets and the cost of holding them through a charge for depreciation and the cost of capital, rather than just the cost of acquisition as under the present cash-based system of accounting.

Resource accounting is based on generally accepted accounting practice (GAAP) in the United Kingdom, covering the accounting and disclosure requirements of accounting standards, issued by the Accounting Standards Board and the Companies Act, to the extent that this is appropriate to central government. During its passage through another place, the Government amended the Bill to meet concerns that the Bill, as originally drafted, did not sufficiently commit departments to preparing accounts according to best practice.

Resource accounting will form the basis of resource budgeting so that we can plan and control central government expenditure on an accruals basis. Subject to parliamentary approval, supply will be voted on an accruals basis under resource accounting and budgeting and resource accounts will replace appropriation accounts.

Resource accounting and budgeting apply the best financial reporting practices of the private sector to central government. For the first time, we will produce the equivalent of the main financial statements from commercial accounts. That includes a balance sheet, an operating cost statement, a statement of recognised gains and losses, and a cash flow statement.

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But resource accounting and budgeting go even further. Under the new system, there will also be a summary of resource outturns, reflecting parliamentary control and, critically, a statement of resources by departmental aims and objectives under their public service agreements. This enables us to focus on outcomes not on inputs; the products of our spending, not just the size of our investment. In turn, we can ensure that future public spending is planned and controlled prudently.

The Government are moving forward with the implementation of resource accounting and budgeting. The spending review currently under way is being conducted on a resource basis. In the light of the results of the "dry run" of the review process carried out last year, the Government decided to bring new resource elements into the control framework in two stages. The new resource items, such as capital charges which did not feature in the cash system, are being included in AME--annually managed expenditure, which is not subject to firm multi-year limits--for this review, with a view to incorporating them into DEL--departmental expenditure limits, which are multi-year budget plans--for the next review in 2002.

If, during our debates on the Bill, we hear references to AME and DEL, their meaning will now be clearer. Incidentally, the third edition of the Government's paper, Resource Accounting and Budgeting, was published in December last year. Its glossary of terms has been invaluable to me and I recommend it to other noble Lords. Terms and acronyms are introduced perhaps more than some of us would have wanted.

Departments are proceeding with the implementation of resource accounting systems. I shall not pretend that this has been a trouble-free process, not least because "double running"--which is bringing in the new system while continuing to run the old one--is inevitably doubly demanding, doubly time-consuming and makes deadlines doubly difficult to meet.

In the circumstances, I pay tribute to departments, which have done a tremendous job in producing their resource accounts alongside their cash accounts, and to the National Audit Office for its support during the process. It is hardly surprising that there has been some slippage. Not all the accounts came in on time and not all were unqualified. But we believe that enough progress has been made to suggest that, fundamentally, we remain on course to deliver on time.

In the longer term, our aim is for resource accounting and budgeting to lead to "whole of government accounts" (WGA), which is the natural next step. Whole of government accounts will fulfil the commitment given in the code for fiscal stability to produce accounts for the whole public sector on a consolidated basis if possible. Audited whole of government accounts will improve the information available to support the conduct and monitoring of fiscal policy. The accounts will also improve accountability to Parliament and provide greater transparency for taxpayers.

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However, to produce full audited whole of government accounts we will need greater conformity of accounting policies, systems and procedures and these are major challenges. So the Government have decided to adopt a staged approach where we will first concentrate on delivering audited accounts covering central government, departments, agencies and non-departmental public bodies. A final decision to extend coverage to the whole public sector will be taken in due course when the outcomes of various possible developments in financial reporting and further development work is clearer.

The Bill also paves the way for Partnerships UK, which is central to our drive to modernise our key public services. Partnerships UK will be a new public/private partnership, operating in the private sector, but with a clear public mission. It will offer a long-term home to the type of deal-making skills available to the public sector on a temporary basis in the Treasury task force.

Public/private partnerships are a cornerstone in building public services for the 21st century and we must maximise their contribution to our modernisation programme. In order to do so, we need to enlist the best possible skills and expertise, and the only way to do that is by drawing on the best of both public and private sectors. Public/private partnerships enable the Government to harness the disciplines of the private sector by introducing private sector investors who put their own capital at risk. In this way, public/private partnerships are helping to improve value for money, so enabling the Government to provide more public services and to a higher standard.

We have already had one step-change in the delivery of public services' infrastructure since this Government came to power. During the past two and a half years we have fundamentally reformed the PFI and put it on a more sustainable and successful basis. That has been achieved by prioritising projects, ending universal testing, offering a fairer deal to staff and standardising contracts. The flow of deals has risen rapidly as a result. In less than two years, contracts with a combined value approaching £5 billion have been signed, compared with £4 billion during the whole of the previous Parliament. The PFI will generate some £11 billion-worth of new investment over the period 1999-2000 to 2001-2002.

The next step is to use the PFI to drive forward our modernising programme. This means expanding the PFI and applying it to sectors where it has not been extensively used, enabling smaller projects to combine. Therefore, the PFI is a more cost-effective option.

We need to be a better and more intelligent and effective partner, client and procurer of private sector services. Delivering better partnerships will require bridging the gap between the skills base of the public sector and the private sector's understanding of public sector requirements. Partnerships UK is one of the mechanisms with which we expect to do this.

It will of course be a novel private/public partnership. Partnerships UK will fulfil a unique role--there is nothing to equal it in the private sector--

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of addressing the weaknesses, particularly in terms of skills and commercial experience within government. It will be a co-venturer, strengthening the public sector client in a transaction. PUK will help the public sector to raise its game, in the same way the Treasury task force has done. Together with PUK, the public sector can become a more effective client, which should mean more opportunities for everyone; more deals, lower costs and greater clarity and speed in PPP deals.

In addition to its role in the PFI, we expect Partnerships UK to help us to supplement transactions in our wider markets policy to use public sector assets. Not only will it improve deal flow in existing PFI sectors, but it will open up new sectors and develop new models of public/private co-operation. The Bill paves the way for Partnerships UK. It provides the statutory authority for the Treasury to incur the expenditure and make the necessary financial provision to establish Partnerships UK's businesses.

It may have been noted that debate on the Bill in another place was focused largely on whether the Bill gives sufficient powers to the Comptroller and Auditor General. This Government fully support the work of the Comptroller and Auditor General and recognise the importance of his being independent of government and the need for him to have wide-ranging powers to report to the House of Commons. The Government listened to the concerns raised and made a number of amendments to their original proposals as the Bill progressed through another place.

The issues involved are wide ranging--perhaps more so than some of the interested parties in this debate would have us believe. They concern not only the issues raised by members of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons, such as the rights of access, the validation of performance information and the audit of non-departmental public bodies, but also issues such as the role of audit in modernising government, including the audit of joined-up activities and the impact of risk-taking and innovation.

Those are matters for serious reflection and debate and they need to be examined together. That is why the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has decided to set up a study of all aspects of central government audit. That study will cover not only the issues of concern to the Public Accounts Committee, but also issues such as how central government audit links in with the modernising government agenda, and particularly the question of how audit impacts on risk-taking and innovation. Other important issues include the quality of audit, the links with other auditors, the duplication of the work of inspectors and regulators, and overseas experience. It would pre-empt the outcome of the study if we used the Bill to extend the Comptroller and Auditor General's power more than we have done already.

I am pleased to say that the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee has agreed to take part in the study. The appointment of a steering group to oversee the study is currently under way, and it is hoped that

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it will include representatives from government, Parliament and independent experts in audit and accountancy. In particular, I am pleased to say that the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, has agreed to lead the project team which will carry out the study which, it is intended, should be completed by the end of this year. I hope that the House will join me in welcoming this study which will ensure that central government in this country has strong and independent audit and accountability arrangements suitable for the modern world.

The Bill will make major steps towards the full implementation of important aspects of our modernisation agenda for our public services. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. (Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

3.22 p.m.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, we on this side of the House do not dissent from the view expressed by the Minister that this Bill represents probably the most important change in our financial arrangements since the time of Gladstone. I believe that it is true to say that since 1866 there have been only two occasions when we have had primary legislation of this kind. There have, of course, been various improvements, for example, with regard to the introduction of cash limits, and other reforms which resulted from implementation of recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure, which I chaired in the other place some years ago.

None the less, this is a most important occasion. Indeed, I believe that it would be true to say that it is an opportunity for a generation to get things right. It is extremely important that we should get it right because, given the pressure of other measures which the government of the day may feel are more important, we know only too well the difficulties of getting Bills of this kind into a legislative programme. Therefore, during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House, we on this side of the House intend to do everything that we can to ensure that it is as satisfactory as possible.

Although we certainly welcome the move to resource accounting--indeed, over the years I and my noble friends have been involved in this matter--one has only to look at the first few pages of the report of the debate in another place at the Second Reading of the Bill to realise that considerable doubts have been expressed in another place. I believe that those doubts are reflected also in your Lordships' House. Indeed, those who laboured in this particular field over many years were remarkably apparent in the course of that debate. It had not been going for more than a moment or two before Mr Dale Campbell-Savours expressed doubts. Before we knew where we were, other Members intervened, not least Mr Robert Sheldon, who succeeded me as the chairman of the Liaison Committee and for many years was chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and the present chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and so

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on. Therefore, while we all welcome the proposal to move towards resource accounting, we have considerable reservations about some aspects of the matter.

Having waited so long, I believe that it is unfortunate that there have been criticisms about the lack of consultation that took place immediately before the Bill was introduced. I understand that the PAC was not consulted on the draft Bill and the National Audit Office received the Bill in draft form only three weeks before its publication in its present form. Therefore, those matters of concern exist and make it more difficult to get matters right. However, I very much hope that in the course of the Committee, Report and Third Reading stages we can make a considerable contribution in that respect, which, of course, is the duty of your Lordships' House.

In its ninth report on the Bill, published only recently, the PAC expressed concern over some matters and the Minister responsible appeared before the committee to discuss some of them. None the less, in its report the PAC said that,

    "the Minister's solutions are discretionary. These are matters which affect Parliament's ability to hold the Executive accountable, and it should not be for any government, or any individual government department, to have discretionary rights over Parliament's powers".

It is important that the matters that are in dispute should be dealt with in primary legislation and not left to the discretion of government, which in effect would be given the analogy with the private sector. That would mean that individual companies can decide the rules regarding how their accounts should be presented. Clearly, that is not true. I am glad to see that I have some support from noble Lords opposite.

Another important matter is the question of timing. It is most important that we do not introduce the new system until we are sure that it works. Again, in its report the PAC states strongly that the existing cash-based system should not be discontinued until Parliament, through its relevant Select Committees, is satisfied that the new system provides the same level of accountability assurances as does the existing system. Therefore, I do not believe that it is true, as has been suggested in some quarters, that we shall simply rubber-stamp what was true otherwise.

Perhaps I may spend a moment or two summarising our concerns before I turn to matters in more detail. First, I refer to the way in which the accounting definitions are produced. In our view, the Bill as it stands gives far too much discretion to the Treasury in this regard, particularly, for example, in relation to Clause 7. We shall wish to pursue that point and I shall comment on it again in a moment. Secondly, there is concern about the extent to which the Comptroller and Auditor General at the National Audit Office has the requisite powers to extend his inquiries wherever he may feel it appropriate and in sufficient depth. Thirdly, in relation to the government accounts provision, I believe that there are concerns regarding the format of the elaborate manual with which we have been provided. Fourthly, I mention the important question of balance sheets.

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The Minister spent much time dealing with the issue of the public/private sector and the proposed new body. I shall leave my noble friend Lord Bridgeman to deal with that rather than concentrate on it myself. However, all those matters are important. I also believe that it is extremely important to distinguish between the measures which Parliament provides for the control and authorisation of expenditure and those which are available so far as concerns the economic analysis of what the Government are doing. There is a slight danger that those two are confused. The existing cash system is largely concerned with the first. There is little by way of analysis of the second. That is one of the main reasons that we welcome what is now proposed.

As regards the second, I ask the Minister: who takes what decisions on the basis of the new accounts? Secondly, how are the new accounts to be debated by Parliament? As I say, the Public Accounts Committee is concerned that the two should be run side by side, but obviously the intention is that eventually we should have only resource accounts.

Those matters do not generally attract a great deal of attention, even in another place. Indeed, it is quite difficult to discover what the existing system is--I notice the noble Lord smiles--so much so that I found the best source was in the National Westminster Bank Review of August 1978 written by someone called Higgins. That is the only summary that I have ever been able to find about how the existing system actually works.

That is a matter which we should be worried about in relation to the authorisation of the accounts. As I understand it, instead of the existing appropriation accounts, which are deadly dull but cash-related, it is proposed that we should have accounts which are on a resources basis. So if I understand it correctly--and the Minister will no doubt put me right if I do not--the appropriation accounts in the new format will consist not only of the cash arrangements but also, for example, an allowance for depreciation. That will mean that the accounts are based more on assumptions than has previously been the case.

Having looked in some depth at the resource accounting manual, I feel bound to say that it would have been very helpful indeed had there been some form of pro forma accounts so that we could see what they look like in practice. It surprised me that that was not so. Perhaps in Committee we may have that sort of material provided for us. It would be helpful to have in particular some idea of the timetable of the approval procedures in the House of Commons on the new basis.

I return to the various concerns which we have expressed and, I am afraid, introduce a slightly partisan note into the proceedings, but only for a moment or two. We are concerned that the definitions used in those new accounts should be determined by an independent body and not, as the Bill is presently drafted, by the Treasury. In the course of debates last year on the welfare Bill, I drew attention to the way in which the presentation of the working families' tax

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credit for amounts involving some £5 billion meant that there was a switch out of social security spending and the change was regarded as a tax cut, thereby making it much easier for the Government to say that they had cut social security spending as they promised.

I quote from a statement made by a spokesman for the OECD on Radio 4 on 16th November. He said that,

    "we have clear guidelines on how we treat tax credits that were established in the early 1970s. If the tax credit is given to a family that have not to pay any tax because it is a low income family, we treat this tax credit as a social expenditure".

That is quite contrary to what the Government are now doing and have been doing in order to improve their presentation. That is an example--but it relates to £5 billion--of the way in which, if the definitions are not determined impartially, the government of the day, whoever they may be, can alter the way in which their accounts are presented.

I turn next to the second point I made with regard to the extent to which the Comptroller and Auditor General and the NAO can investigate those matters. I quote from a comment made at col. 595 of Hansard. I may be rather biased because it was made by my Pair of some 25 years' standing, Mr Alan Williams, a long-term Member of the Public Accounts Committee. He said:

    "We find that we have eroded the democratic duty of the House to scrutinise the Executive, especially on the financial front. It is not only the growing sums of money that are moving outside the net of NAO scrutiny with the altering of the structure of government, with agencies and so on. It is not only the volume but the percentage"--[Official Report, 6/12/99; col. 599.]

which is increasing. Again, we shall need to consider that matter very carefully.

Thirdly, the Government are to produce accounts which are broadly in line with the private sector, both with regard to the profit and loss account and with regard to balance sheets. Perhaps I may say a few words about that.

My understanding is that as regards the profit and loss account, many items will not be included. In particular, as I understand it, the whole of local government will not be included and important items like schools, hospitals and so on will not be included. Moreover, surprisingly, the other side of the equation will be far from complete. No doubt the Minister will correct me if I am wrong but my understanding is that on the income side of this account, equivalent to a profit and loss account, income tax will not appear. That seems to be an extraordinary way to set about things. It may be simply that I have misunderstood the matter but no doubt the Minister will tell me whether that is so.

There are other areas which are omitted but in a different sense. I see nowhere in this any proposals for the House appraising what in the private sector one would call "capital budgeting"--the approval of individual investment projects. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how that is to be done and, similarly, what

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is to be done about the performance measures about which the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in particular has been very concerned.

Drawing the analogy between the private and public sectors, the Government have said that they are going to adopt something closer to the private sector approach. But their approach to balance sheets is rather strange. I am 100 per cent in favour of producing government balance sheets. Indeed, I am strongly in favour of trying, as far as possible, to produce national balance sheets. Those could be very useful indeed. We have an enormous document here--the National Assets Register. That is one side of the balance sheet. But one looks in vain for a national liabilities register. How is the balance sheet to be constructed?

It is absolutely clear that some important items will be missing; in particular, the long-term liabilities of the national insurance pension, which clearly should be included if one were going to try to create a national balance sheet. Some estimate of that needs to be made. And so the balance sheet side of the matter, which I greatly welcome, does not appear, as yet, to be in a very comprehensible and certainly not a comprehensive form.

Perhaps I may just run one hobby horse for a moment. In the whole of the post-war period, we have said that the economic objectives are high economic growth, low inflation, a high level of employment and a balance of payments more or less in equilibrium. In many respects, if we can get the balance sheet going, there is a strong argument for having a balance sheet where you can see what is happening in relation to inter-generational transfers. A government may seem to be doing well for a long time but in fact, all they are merely doing is robbing the future to pay the present, or vice versa. So I welcome the balance sheet aspect but am sorry that it is not, as yet, in a form which would seem to be either comprehensible or comprehensive.

I have already said that my noble friend Lord Bridgeman will deal with some of the aspects with regard to the public and private sector. I conclude by saying that one of the great innovations of the past 20 or more years has been the introduction of departmentally-related Select Committees. Alas, while they are responsible for the monitoring of policy and administration of the expenditure of the various government departments, they have not been terribly good at monitoring the expenditure. I very much hope that that situation will improve in the future.

In that context, I refer to the latest report of the Liaison Committee under the chairmanship of Mr Robert Sheldon which puts forward some strong proposals for increasing the degree of government accountability by using the Select Committee system more effectively. It is a beautifully produced and well argued report which deserves congratulation.

However, the provisions in the Bill will need to be refined--in particular, in the respects which I have mentioned--if the matter is to proceed as we should like in increasing the level of government accountability in what is otherwise a rather dull area.

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The introduction of departmental reports certainly helped in that respect, but we need the right financial framework in which those matters can be dealt with. I hope that during the course of the Bill's passage through your Lordships' House it will be possible to meet the various criticisms made of it as it now stands and, in particular, to ensure that we have a firm basis, if not for the next century then at least for some considerable time to come.

3.40 p.m.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, I am in two minds about the Bill. The first says what a good Bill it is. What it proposes seems to make sense; more than that, it should be an extremely important measure. What can be more important than that the Government know what they are doing when they propose to spend our public money? They must know not only how much cash they spend but the resources they use and how the use of resources relates to the aims of the various departments. To achieve effective government, it clearly makes sense to treat capital investment differently from current expenditure and, in dealing with fixed assets, to know how we use them. It makes obvious sense to make a charge for the cost of capital and a charge for depreciation. In so far as those provisions are innovations, they are sensible measures. Therefore, three cheers for giving us a proper balance sheet and a statement about operating costs, profit and loss, and cash flows.

The Bill is important also for the proper functioning of Parliament. It gives us better information about spending plans and how money is spent. In fact, one of the basic questions which concerns Parliament is how we control the executive, with which the Bill is after all concerned. It never ceases to fascinate me how little Parliament is interested in some of its basic functions, such as the control of the executive. The excitement of debates seems sometimes to be in inverse proportion to their importance. Many years ago, I was chairman of the House of Commons committee which was one of the first of the Select Committees considering public spending as a whole. It was called the General Sub-Committee of the Public Expenditure Committee. It was an important and key committee because it looked at the whole of government spending; yet although we were concerned with the principles of spending and with the best way of presenting the spending, often we could not obtain a quorum.

I remember one occasion in one of our meetings when we were looking at billions of pounds of government expenditure. We did not have a quorum because something far more exciting was happening on the Floor of the House: the affair was being discussed of an MP who had gone for a swim, or apparently gone for a swim--he had not really gone for a swim--and what the House should do in the circumstances. That was important and exciting; our task was relatively unimportant and dull and we did not have a quorum. If one looks at the number of noble Lords taking part in this debate, which is not an unimportant debate, one feels that excitement is perhaps again in inverse proportion to the importance

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of the subject matter. On the other hand, looking at the list of speakers, one can expect that the quality of contributions will no doubt make up for the lack of quantity.

Perhaps when we come to amendments in Committee there will be a great stampede and rush to take part in our deliberations, or perhaps not. I have no doubt that there will be important matters to discuss. A number have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. A number were raised in Committee in the House below. The question of an independent body to look at the presentation of accounts is obviously an important one. Many questions were raised about the relationship with the National Audit Office; what the range of its powers should be and what rights of access the Comptroller and Auditor General should have. It may well be that we do not actually have to discuss those matters because they will be considered by the committee of my noble friend Lord Sharman, in which case no doubt the House will be greatly relieved.

I regard this as a generally good Bill. I am afraid that I have little to add to the excellent points made by many speakers in the debate in another place. I shall break with all tradition in this House by not repeating them.

I turn to the second part of my approach to the Bill: my doubts. I approach the Bill with a certain amount of scepticism and even cynicism. New approaches to the presentation of accounts and, indeed, the control of public spending, have a long history. Like the management tools of the private sector, they are subject to fashion. I have a long memory on the subject. I remember that when I was in the Treasury in the late 1960s we had the latest tool: PPBS--I believe that it stood for "Public Programme Budgeting Systems"--which was to give government far more effective control over public spending. Then there was a change of government. I believe it was when the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, was Minister of State at the Treasury that we had a brand new tool: PAR--"Policy, Analysis and Review"--which was to give Parliament and government a choice between different measures and to make it far more clear how parliamentary control could be exercised and how governments could manage matters.

In the 1980s there was yet another measure, for which I have forgotten the acronym. It was a measure with which Mr Michael Heseltine was much associated. He was the only member of government actually interested in those matters. I believe that he was in the Ministry of Defence at the time. He was determined to see that the management tools of government expenditure would be infinitely more efficient than anything which had ever happened before in history. I cannot remember exactly what happened to that initiative.

The trouble is that Treasury Ministers read out their briefs, but most of the time they do not understand them. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, was an exception. I have no doubt that the Chancellor understands everything; that he understands this

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particular measure; and that he probably devised it with his advisers. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, always understands all these measures. He is an absolute polymath in the many areas on which he speaks in the House. But generally speaking, it is a matter of rather more interest, concern and understanding on the part of the Civil Service than it is on the part of Ministers or parliamentarians.

Such new measures do not always work out; for example, the wonderful new weapon which we were recently given: public service agreements. There was an article today on the subject in the Financial Times. They were to give us value for money and performance measurements. It was obviously sensible to see how effective government measures for spending money actually were. The only snag is that they do not work, at least according to the learned author of the article in the Financial Times. There are too many targets and they are not sufficiently focused. The targets which are set can be disturbing, such as reducing the waiting lists in the National Health Service. They can have the opposite effect from the efficiency they are supposed to promote. Furthermore, the three-year timetables for the public service agreements do not fit the Government's spending plans, where the Government's programmes begin to be reviewed within a period of one year.

I hope that the Bill is not merely a legislative enactment of another passing fashion. On the face of it, it makes sense. It should produce improvements. We shall have to wait and see. Meanwhile, we on this side of the House wish it well.

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