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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, for explaining the amendment. His understanding of it agrees with mine.

Perhaps I may speak about what we have been doing with regard to public service agreements. PSAs have been a revolutionary step in transparency and accountability. For the first time, in March this year, the British Government published a full statement in each department's annual report of performance against a detailed set of measurable and specific targets--every one of the targets set as a result of the 1998 Comprehensive Spending Review. This innovation, which has come to fruition since the amendment was first proposed--it has been in the pipeline since the targets were published--goes further than the amendment in making information on government performance widely and regularly available.

I am glad to say that in most cases the Government are on course. But the reports published in March are full and fair. Where information was not good, this

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was reported. Where slippage is concerned, we owned up to it and have explained why it happened. Where a target had fallen due for completion within the reporting period, and had not been met, the reasons were stated and the remedial action in train was set out. This is a step further in openness and accountability to Parliament and the public than any previous government have been brave and confident enough to undertake. But the Government recognise that this performance reporting revolution needs to be supported by good quality information from robust measurement systems. It is in our interest, and the interests of Parliament and the public service staff, to avoid cynicism and doubt about the information we publish.

The amendment proposed seems to aim at two of the objectives that the Government have been keen to promote through the PSA process: annual reporting of information; and the quality of that information. But it misses the mark on both counts. First, putting on a statutory basis the full and open reporting we already have in place would add nothing except rigidity, which would be counter-productive, into the system. PSA targets are only rarely tied to a financial year, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, will recall. As everyone who has taken part in government or public life will know, one cannot measure what happens in a department by what happens in a financial year. Sometimes it will be shorter and sometimes it will be longer. Much more useful than a statement linked inflexibly to a financial year is the practice we have now of reporting progress in a reporting period, and the proper reporting period, giving fuller commentary on success and slippage, even when the target deadline falls outside the period.

Secondly, treating the PSA targets like a financial audit, which is what the amendment in effect does, misses the point on information quality too. The NAO does not presently have the expertise to perform an information quality-checking function. The new statistics commission--I acknowledge, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins said, that it does a different job--has been set up with the express purpose of commenting on departmental systems and commissioning audits in areas of concern. It should be given a chance to get established before other forms of validation are introduced.

That is not to say that we are opposed to the idea of external validation of performance information. Far from it. Indeed, I hope I have said that we recognise the benefits for the credibility of information that an external validator could bring. That is why we have created the statistics commission and used the NAO to audit the assumptions behind fiscal forecasts. These are both instances of our commitment to finding the right external process to validate a system where it is well bedded in and there is a convincing argument for bringing in an external body. Ministers have already said that we have an open mind. In principle we are willing to see the performance information systems being subject to external validation.

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However, the system has not yet been given a chance to bed down, nor has any worked-through and convincing proposal been made. The blunt instrument contained in the amendment is unsuited to the circumstances. There are several stages we need to go through before we introduce an external validator into this process. The statistics commission needs to be allowed time to find its feet. It will have an important role in quality assuring national statistics, which will be used to support many PSA targets.

The review of the noble Lord, Lord Sharman--and I am sorry to repeat the argument again, but it is still valid here--has a remit to look at these issues, among others. We need to give validation serious consideration and not prejudge that review. Many different things are meant by validation. There are many different kinds of information and systems that could be validated. Exactly the same form of quality assurance may not be appropriate for every part of government, nor all at the same time. I say this with some feeling as someone who spent a good deal of his business life in the monitoring and evaluation of public policy and who published a number of papers on the subject. Many PSA targets depend on information collected by local agents or bodies outside the public sector--bodies like my company in the past. The Treasury has been leading a group of experts, involving the NAO and Audit Commission, in working up a performance information strategy which is looking at many of these issues. That group is considering a number of options. It is not yet clear to the Government that the NAO will always be the best answer.

Finally, many departments are relatively new to the process of systematic gathering and reporting of performance information. It is sensible to give them a little time to refine their systems and improve them before deciding whether and how to check them externally. I argue therefore that it is premature to introduce a statutory requirement in that area. The Government have shown themselves open in principle and in practice. We have made a radical first step in transparency. But this is a dynamic area. The Government are willing to move towards external validation, but only on the basis of a thorough examination of the needs of departments, Parliament and the public.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I have listened carefully to what the Minister said. I recognise the progress which has been made and to which he has referred. Having said that, I still have considerable doubts about the position of the statistics commission. The NAO has a particular relationship with Parliament and to Select Committees in general. However, taking into account everything that the Minister has said, I think that the amendment is not premature. I believe that there is a case for putting it into operation at this stage. I beg leave to ascertain the opinion of the House.

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5.27 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 11) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 99; Not-Contents, 176.

Division No. 1


Anelay of St Johns, B.
Astor of Hever, L.
Attlee, E.
Belstead, L.
Biffen, L.
Blackwell, L.
Blaker, L.
Blatch, B.
Boardman, L.
Bowness, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Brittan of Spennithorne, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Burnham, L. [Teller]
Byford, B.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L.
Chadlington, L.
Clark of Kempston, L.
Coe, L.
Colwyn, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L.
Courtown, E.
Crickhowell, L.
Cuckney, L.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Eden of Winton, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Ferrers, E.
Flather, B.
Fookes, B.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Geddes, L.
Gilmour of Craigmillar, L.
Glentoran, L.
Goschen, V.
Hanham, B.
Hayhoe, L.
Henley, L. [Teller]
Higgins, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Hogg, B.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Hunt of Wirral, L.
Hylton-Foster, B.
Jopling, L.
Kelvedon, L.
Knight of Collingtree, B.
Lane of Horsell, L.
Liverpool, E.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Marlesford, L.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Monro of Langholm, L.
Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Moynihan, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Northbrook, L.
Norton of Louth, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Onslow of Woking, L.
Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Peel, E.
Platt of Writtle, B.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Rees, L.
Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Renton, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Ryder of Wensum, L.
Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Seccombe, B.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Skelmersdale, L.
Stewartby, L.
Stodart of Leaston, L.
Strathclyde, L.
Swinfen, L.
Taylor of Warwick, L.
Tebbit, L.
Thatcher, B.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Trefgarne, L.
Trumpington, B.
Vivian, L.
Waddington, L.
Wade of Chorlton, L.
Wilcox, B.
Windlesham, L.
Young, B.


Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Alli, L.
Amos, B.
Ampthill, L.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B.
Avebury, L.
Bach, L.
Barker, B.
Barnett, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Billingham, B.
Blackstone, B.
Blease, L.
Borrie, L.
Bragg, L.
Brennan, L.
Brett, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brookman, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Bruce of Donington, L.
Burlison, L.
Carter, L. [Teller]
Chandos, V.
Christopher, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clement-Jones, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Craig of Radley, L.
Crawley, B.
Currie of Marylebone, L.
David, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Desai, L.
Dholakia, L.
Diamond, L.
Dixon, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Dubs, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Evans of Watford, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Falkland, V.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Filkin, L.
Fitt, L.
Gale, B.
Geraint, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Goldsmith, L.
Goodhart, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Grabiner, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Grenfell, L.
Hardy of Wath, L.
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harrison, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Islwyn, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord Privy Seal)
Jeger, B.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Judd, L.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Laird, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Lipsey, L.
Lockwood, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Longford, E.
Lovell-Davis, L.
McCarthy, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L.
McNally, L.
Marsh, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Mishcon, L.
Mitchell, L.
Molloy, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Nicol, B.
Palmer, L.
Parekh, L.
Patel, L.
Patel of Blackburn, L.
Paul, L.
Peston, L.
Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Puttnam, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Razzall, L.
Rea, L.
Redesdale, L.
Rees-Mogg, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Rennard, L.
Richard, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Roper, L.
Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Sawyer, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Serota, B.
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Shepherd, L.
Sheppard of Liverpool, L.
Shore of Stepney, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Simon, V.
Smith of Clifton, L.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Smith of Leigh, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taverne, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thornton, B.
Tomlinson, L.
Tordoff, L.
Turnberg, L.
Uddin, B.
Varley, L.
Walker of Doncaster, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walpole, L.
Watson of Richmond, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Winston, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4 Jul 2000 : Column 1432

5.38 p.m.

Clause 8 [Comptroller and Auditor General: access to information]:

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