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Lord Moser: Perhaps I may make two brief points. The Minister has not responded to or commented on the main argument for the move to the Cabinet Office, which is the co-ordination argument. He has failed to recall that we are dealing with a decentralised system, so how can one argue that the Treasury, as one of the key consumers, would be a less biased head than the Cabinet Office? However, my real reason for speaking again is to address the Ministers seemingly powerful point that this is such a minor issue that it does not warrant such an apparently major attack. I shall come clean. When the whole idea of the transfer was first mentioned, I had many opportunities to hold talks with Treasury officials and Ministers, and I was impressed by the idea of a board which was going to have total responsibility. However, the more I talked, the more I realised that the Treasury was going to hang on to quite a lot of the so-called residual responsibilities, some of which have entered the drafting of the Bill and some of which have not. The longer that went on, the more I realised that the TreasuryI am not talking about fundingwas intent on remaining a powerful
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Baroness Noakes: We have had a good debate. The noble Lord, Lord Moser, has reinforced his main points and I will not seek to do that again. In addition to giving us an interesting view of the background to our national statistical service, he emphasised that the most important point is the perception of independence. A number of noble Lords who have spoken feel strongly about this. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Jenkin referred to this as the single most important sign of changea sign to the outside world that the new statistics arrangements are a break with those of the past. We have to remember that at the moment the Treasury is associated with what happens in the Office for National Statistics in ways that are not always helpful to the perception of independence. Whatever the truth behind events such as the Network Rail decision, there lingers a thought that the Treasury has more involvement than perhaps it should.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, reminded us about the issue of resources. It is important that someone in Whitehall is batting for the Statistics Board in any discussions about resources for statistics. We cannot trust the Treasury always to make the right decisions, whether on a one-year or a five-year basis.
The noble Lord said that these amendments are technically deficient. They were approved for use by the Public Bill Office of another place and we have had specific discussions on their terms with the relevant office of your Lordships House. I believe that these amendments are fit to be put before noble Lords for decision and I seek leave to test the opinion of the House.
The noble Lord said: It is to be hoped that this amendment will continue the useful debate in another place on the appointment of non-executive board members. The Minister made it clear that he saw no loss of independence for the board if the Minister played the primary role in deciding the appointment. Indeed, he considered it inappropriate for anyone else to make the decision, given the executive function of the board. Although some would think that this argument is rather misapplied, given that the Treasury is only to appoint the non-executive members of the board, the amendment is intended not to deal with who makes the appointment but to probe what procedure the Government are planning to use to make the appointments.
Obviously it is good to hear that, especially as the code of practice includes a requirement for every appointment to be scrutinised by an independent panel. It is to be hoped that the noble Lord will agree to put this reassurance in the Bill, as our amendment
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Lord Newby: The amendment is in two parts. It is keen to ensure that there is open competition and that that competition should be overseen by people who are independent of the board and, as one presumably now says, the Cabinet Office.
It is essential to have an open competition. It is important to have an assurance that that will be the case. The Minister referred earlier to the track record of the Treasury and the Chancellor in making major appointments; he referred to the MPC. Whatever the strengths of the individuals who sit on the MPCand those individuals have been very goodthere has been nothing vaguely approaching an open competition for appointments to it. There has not even been a closed competition; it has been a question not of a knock in the middle of the night but of a phone call, with the Chancellor asking Would you like to be on the MPC?. It is important that that approach should not be repeated for the Statistics Board and that there should be an open competition.
I am less convinced that the competition should be overseen by people who are independent of the board and the Cabinet Office. If the competition is open, the Cabinet Office should be capable of conducting it in an acceptable manner. Presumably that is the way in which the Nolan principles operate in most casesthere is an open competition but the department or the Minister making the appointment makes it without the belt-and-braces approach of having an independent overseer.
The Government have said many times, both here and in the other place, that they intend to ensure that all appointments are carried out in an open way in line with the guidance from the Commissioner for Public Appointments. As I have said, the Treasury Committee endorsed this approach and the Government will of course be accountable to both Houses of Parliament for their discharge of this obligation. It is unnecessary to provide further detail in the Bill.
The Government will ensure that the approach taken to appointments is consistent with good practice, as promulgated by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. That includes the requirement for the involvement of an independent assessor through the appointments process.
I should like to comment on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising. I have sat on committees under the guidance of OCPA and there has been no possibility of the Government distorting the results of the appointment process. It just does not happen. Noble Lords opposite asked a question about an appointment, which I answered a month or so ago; I am afraid that their evidence was quite wrong. We are sure that the commitment that we will operate under guidance from OCPA will ensure that the process is fair and reasonable.
Lord Howard of Rising: I am glad that the Minister agrees with the spirit of the amendment. Will he go further by giving it practical application in having one single applicant chosen by an outside body? That would genuinely ensure that there is no distortion. Some would say that there have been distortions in government appointments; for example, there are very few monetarist economists on the Bank of Englands advisory board. I urge the Minister to take that on board. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 24 is a probing amendment, exploring what circumstances would lead to the Government feeling that the power in Clause 4(5) should be exercised. It is difficult to imagine circumstances in which a non-executive board member would need to be compensated. Non-executives in the private sector rarely if ever receive compensation for their resignation or loss of office. If the power has not been used previously, is it really necessary? If the Minister cannot think of a time when the power would unquestionably be necessary, the Bill would be improved by its removal. I hope that he will consider the amendment carefully. I beg to move.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I am apprehensive about the subsection, because it could be used to ease out non-executive members of the board who had somehow displeased the Government. They could say, Would you go, and well pay you some compensation?. I am afraid that one has at the back of ones mind the not very salutary case of Sir Alistair Graham, who is not having his appointment as chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life renewed and appears
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Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: As we have heard, Amendment No. 24 would remove the ability of the board to pay compensation to a member if, for any reason, they left office early or the Treasury considered it otherwise necessary to pay compensation. It is important to maintain this provision. It might be required if, for example, a non-executive member of the board were to finish an appointment early for reasons of ill health. I have served on a board where a non-executive director became extremely ill and was paid compensation to leave.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, made a point that does not have great substance. He chose as an example the case of Alistair Graham, which has been discussed previously in this House. He was not sacked. He came to the end of his contracted period of chairing the commission and, as with every other previous chairman, his term of office was not renewed. I do not accept the notion that the Government might try to get rid of members of the board who cause them discomfort by offering compensation, but a non-executive member having to leave for reasons of ill health is an important consideration. For that reason, we are not prepared to agree to the removal of the subsection.
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