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The noble Lord said: I have tabled three related amendments, two of which we are considering in this group, which provide for recognition in the composition of the board of the needs of the regions and local authorities of England. The first amendment proposes that the number of ordinary, non-executive members should be increased from five to six, so that, just as there will be a non-executive member to reflect the interests of Scotland, another for Wales and another for Northern Ireland, there is room for another with the same role in relation to the regions and local authorities of England. The second amendment defines the representational role of that ordinary non-executive member.
I have been prompted to table these amendments by the Local Government Association and the Association of Regional Observatories in England. Long ago, I was the regional director of a number of government departments in the north of England and my first job was to produce a regional strategy. Therefore, I speak with some feeling of the need for an adequate information base in developing such a thing. Perhaps since my day the responsibilities are much greater: I understand that local and regional government are now responsible for something like £100 billion a year.
There is currently particular sensitivity over this matter among the English regions and local authorities, because in 2004 a recommendation by Professor Allsopp recognised that there was a need for better information
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I think it was Frederick the Great of Prussia who once said that diplomacy without an army is much like music without instruments. To develop a regional policy without an evidential base is much like a government Minister approaching the Treasury to ask for money without any reasonable arguments or evidential basis. When there seems to be a growing consensus among the political parties that it makes sense to devolve more decision-taking to local levels, we should provide the people with the responsibility for spending that £100 billion a year with an adequate evidential basis for it. To provide assurance in that respect, we need to look at the boards composition to ensure that, just as there is legitimate representation of the interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is equal recognition of the English local authorities and regions. I hope that the Government will be able to respond to this very modest amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Howard of Rising: Amendment No. 6 is intended to probe the Governments decision to set the minimum number of board members, in addition to the chairman, at five. Many groups not mentioned in Clause 3(4) may feel that they should also be represented on the board. Although it is not the Governments intention, I am concerned that there might be a misunderstanding that the aim of this lower limit is to exclude representation.
As we have heard, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, would like to balance the representation of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with a representative of the regions in England. His amendments, drawn from the briefing of the Association of Regional Observatories, are not surprising. The Local Government Association recommends a full quarter of the board being drawn from local data users, such as the emergency services. Outside the field of geography, many others could arguably have a useful role to play; for example, the Statistics User Forum. Presumably, there also need to be sufficient members with the appropriate experience to participate in the audit committee. If the board has only two non-executive members who do not already represent certain countries within the UK, those appointees will have to be impressive polymaths to satisfy the various competing groups.
With this amendment, I do not mean to offer an opinion on the relative value of each of those stakeholder groups. Clearly, it would be to the board's advantage to have as much expertise and representation as is feasible at its disposal. However, with all the special interest members, I cannot help wondering whether
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Baroness Quin: I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, for the reasons he has given. His comments derive from his considerable experience and involvement in regional issues. I hope that that experience will count with the Minister when he responds to this group of amendments and that he will be sympathetic, given his own track record in promoting and defending Oldham and the north-west during his time in another place.
I recognise and welcome the improvements to the quality of regional statistics that have been brought in under this Government. At the same time, the existence of regional development agencies and many other regional and local bodies means that they need to be able to put forward policies on the basis of good evidence and good statistics, as was argued by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. It is right that the board recognises the multinational nature of the United Kingdom and the age of devolution in which we live. The board does that in the formal recognition that it gives to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
While it is very important that that national dimension is represented, there is also the matter of scale and the distribution of the population within the United Kingdom. Therefore, the argument comes down strongly in favour of having some representation from English regions and English local authorities. I believe these amendments go very much with the grain of government policy and not against it. For that reason I hope that the Government will respond positively.
The Duke of Montrose: It may be no surprise to the Committee that the fact that Scotland is receiving due consideration on this matter is very pleasing to me. I would not wish to deny that to English regions, if the Committee feels that is proper. I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising on the membership being eight. With the Committees permission, I shall explain why my support is not strictly logical. I am the eighth member of my family to be a Duke in this House. All that I can offer the statisticians is that that shows that each generation has lasted, on average, 37 years. By a happy coincidence, today, 24 April, is the 300th anniversary of my ancestor being promoted to the dukedom and it is over 500 years since the title of Earl was conferred on my family.
Lord Desai: I am in general support of the amendment. The relevant clause says, at least five. It is up to the board to have as many members as it likes. It does not say, no more than five. There should be room for more, but I am more concerned that we might begin to add non-executive members, on a variety of principles, without any real logic. Yes, perhaps English regions should be there, but someone will then say, What about London or Cornwall?,
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Viscount Eccles: Will the Minister address whether non-executive members of the board are all meant to be representative of some interest or there in their individual capacity? If I read the code for public appointments correctly, it does not recommend that members of boards be representative of particular interests, but that they are there in their individual capacity. That Scottish Ministers are consulted does not necessarily mean that a Scottish member selected would therefore see his or her role as primarily the representation of Scotland. I hope that the Minister can confirm that their interests should be wider, and that he gives his support to the minimum of eight. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai: the board is not constrained from having a larger membership. Under the Bill, however, it would need some sort of ministerial permission.
Lord Newby: I strongly support the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the noble Baroness, Lady Quin. A tremendous amount of government decision-making, not least on allocation of resources, already takes place at regional rather than national level, contrary to one of the myths of how we run the country.
One of the main roles of the regional development agencies, for example, is to produce a regional economic strategy. How on earth can they do that if they do not have adequate regional statistics with which to do so? If there were adequate resources in the regions to produce the statistics needed, the amendment might not be needed. Unfortunately, however, that is not the case. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, referred to Christopher Allsopps review of regional economic statistics, as a result of which the Government committed themselves to the production of further regional economic output figures. I understand that they have not been produced, however, because resources have not been made available.
The English regions need a voice on this body to ensure that their needs are not swept under the carpet. No doubt representatives from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will worry about the generality of the quality of the work of the National Statistician, but when push comes to shove they will also worry a lot about whether the statistics produced in their regions are adequately generated, and with adequate resources to do so. There is currently nobody with a similar interest in promoting the interests of the English regions. I therefore support the amendment.
On Second Reading, I asked the Minister to explain what the Chancellor meant when he said, in the Red Book produced with the Budget, that the ONS was establishing a full regional statistical presence in England by the end of March. We are now in the happy position of the end of March having happened, so the Minister can no doubt tell us exactly what a full
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Lord Davies of Oldham: We have had a most interesting debate, the cardinal point of which was expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. The board does not consist of representatives; it consists of individuals with expertise and experience to contribute. As he indicated, the fact that consultation will take place before appointments are made does not mean that the search is there for a representative individual; what is sought is a board that is able to fulfil its task. If it does not fulfil its task, it is quite clear, as far as the Government are concerned. We have not set a maximum number of non-executive directors, so if a case is made for additional expertise it will be for the Government to take a decision on that. It may be that what prompts the Government to do that is Parliaments commenting on the work of the board and being of the view that there would be value in extending the number of non-executive directors. It might be that Parliament will comment exactly as my noble friend Lady Quin suggested in her contribution and as suggested in the burden of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in terms of the significance of the regional position. However, we think that we have the size of the board right. There is flexibility that can take account of changing circumstances or additional representations, but we consider that the board that we have before us will be able to fulfil its functions and purpose.
I recognise the strengths of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. He wants to make absolutely sure that the board members expertise takes account of an important dimension of statistics that relate to the regions. I fully recognise that. However, again, this is not a representative body; it is an executive body doing a job on behalf of the public, and it has a most important role in the public interest as a whole. Therefore, I do not believe that it is consistent with the philosophy behind the concept of the board, as the Government have defined it in the Bill, to argue for representative non-executive directors in the way in which the noble Lord has suggested in his amendments. He has succeeded in emphasising that, in the appointment of the non-executive directors, such expertise would be of great advantage to the board and, of course, it will be part and parcel of the basis upon which decisions are taken. However, that is different from conceding to the concept of the amendments, which effectively would give rise to some kind of representative role with regard to the board.
I emphasise that, if the board at any stage looks as though it is not fulfilling its duty and is deficient in any respect, it can indicate where it may have weaknesses.
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Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I want to ask a question of clarification. Being a member of a number of boards, I understand the point about representation and non-representation. I was grateful for the noble Lords clarification in saying that people do not represent, but bring their skills to a board. If that is so, why do we have only three nations mentioned as board members but not England? The Food Standards Agency, which was similarly constituted, had Scotland, Ireland, Wales and also England represented as nations and it had a sense of equality. It meant that those representatives brought different skills and the knowledge of what was needed by their country. It is strange that my noble friend Lord Dearings eloquent speech about England was not accepted.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the point she makes. Consultation is specified in the Bill, not the creation of a representative quality for any individual appointed. It is right that a body set up for the whole of the United Kingdom has some respect for the views of the devolved Administrations. In the same way, I am attesting to the fact that todays debate and the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, my noble friend Lady Quin and others will emphasise the fact that expertise in regional statistics is an important part of the boards roleas if one could ever think that one could construct such a board without having due reference to that. The devolved Administrations are identified in the Bill for obvious reasons, but I hasten to emphasise the pointreinforced by the noble Baroness and excellently expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Ecclesthat this is not a representative body but an executive one.
Lord Newby: I realise that the Minister may not have at his fingertips the answers to the questions that I asked him. However, before Report, will he write to me and to other Members of the Committee who have spoken today, because this is an important issue?
Lord Davies of Oldham: I will do a little better than that. I will emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that work has progressed in this area. Although I cannot be specific in the terms he has mentioned, I will expand on that in writing to him.
Lord Dearing: The Minister has gone some way to meeting the substance of the amendment. I concede that it is not well drafted. It would be wrong in
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The noble Baroness said: I rise briefly to move Amendment No. 8 and to introduce the various amendments in this very large group. They have the effect of replacing the Treasurys role in relation to the Statistics Board with that of the Cabinet Office.
The noble Lord, Lord Moser, tried hard, with our support and that of the Liberal Democrat Benches, to add his name to the amendments, but was defeated by the greater powers of bureaucracy, which I can assure Members of the Committee are still alive and well in your Lordships' House. I hope that the Committee will accept my brief introduction to the group and then let the noble Lord, Lord Moser, speak in more detail to the amendments. He will address the substance of the group and I will start with some of the mechanics.
There are nine amendments in the group to which the Liberal Democrat Benches and these Benches have subscribed. They are Amendments Nos. 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 19, 23, 26 and 239. In addition, there are 23 amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Newby and Lord Oakeshott, with which we fully agree. They are Amendments Nos. 27, 75, 200, 205, 206 and all the other amendments in the group from 210 onwards. There are two amendmentsAmendments Nos. 208 and 209which we understand that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, or the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, will not press. That leaves 20 amendments which are similar in form but different in detail. Amendments Nos. 125, 127, 129, 131, 133, 137, 138, 140, 142 and 145 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising and the noble Lord, Lord Moser, amend various clauses to replace the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the Cabinet Office. The equivalent Liberal Democrat amendmentsAmendments Nos. 126, 128, 130, 132, 134, 136, 139, 141, 143 and 146use the Prime Minister as the replacement.
We sought arbitration through the Public Bill Office, which advised us that both groups would be acceptable. Members of the Committee will therefore understand that this issue has involved the most delicate negotiation between the parties. I can today announce that we have forged an historic agreement, as on this occasion we will be supporting the Liberal Democrats. This has the advantage of replacing one office of government with anotherreplacing the Chancellors with the Prime Ministersand therefore probably not making much difference in practice, at least for the next couple of years.
Before turning to the noble Lord, Lord Moser, to speak to these amendments, I remind the Committee that the restoration of public trust is the driving force behind our approach to the Bill. This allows us to create a new regime which is in fact independent but perceived as independent. We should not underestimate the power of symbols to indicate a new beginning. Perhaps I may quote what the former director of statistics at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Mr Tom Griffin, said in his evidence to the Treasury Select Committee in another place:
Lord Moser: I thank the noble Baroness for allowing me to speak at this point. I have no problem with the bureaucracy here; it was just that partly because of my age it took me some time to get up to the Public Bill Office. I was therefore a bit late, but never mind.
I support the amendment, which would give the residual roles for Ministers to the Cabinet Office rather than to the Treasury. It is an important issue and I assure Members of the Committee that I am not governed by nostalgia. I do not regard my days as goldenthey were interestingbut this issue is relevant to the purposes of the Bill; namely, independence from Ministers and trust, to which we keep returning. We need to remind ourselves of what we are talking about: the residual roles. The main roles performed by Treasury Ministers in the past are to be transferred to the new Statistics Board. We have all welcomed that publicly and in your Lordships House. It is to be a non-ministerial department that will report to Parliament. Everybody has welcomed it including the Royal Statistical Society, the Statistics Commission and your Lordships. Equally, everybody has recognised that there will be some so-called residual roles. They are not major. Some appear in later clauses to do with what happens if the board is responsible for some failures in operation. There are also questions about appointments, who lays the report before Parliament, PQs and other matters. There are a number of residual responsibilities, which are all that we are talking about.
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