Examination of Witness (Questions 80 -
WEDNESDAY 4 APRIL 2001
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not profess to be
an expert of the detail of it in any sense.
81. In a very small way I used to have a hand
in trying to write these things. Every year we used to try and
make them clearer than the last. I think the general consensus
was they did slowly become clearer. Over the last four years they
have become completely incomprehensible. The Red Book does with
numbers what you are doing with illustrations. It is now incomprehensible,
even to people extremely well versed in the subject. What I want
to raise with you, since you have responsibility for the production
of an overall Government report and since you mentioned that other
departments are independently producing their own reports in their
own way, what we desperately need is somebody with a clear mind
coming to these reports and trying to produce statistics and facts
in a way that is more easily digestible and understandable. Do
you think that is the sort of role which with your more roving
brief, not being trapped by a department, you would be interested
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not want to comment
on the detail of the Red Book, the idea of trying to make government
publications clearer, more digestible and more consistent with
each other and more attractive for the public to read seems to
me to be an incredibly important matter. That is why we published
the Annual Report. That is why in what we did in the most recent
one, 1999/2000, we took trouble to try and make it more digestible.
I am not sure who is the most appropriate person to do it but
in principle I think that is a very important goal to aim at.
82. When you say you are not sure
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Sorry to interrupt. Can
I come back to the
83. To the hidden meaning of the illustration?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, to the picture. A
revelation has come to me and I am able to explain to you what
it means. The pink is the number of years to train a nurse, the
blue is the number of years to build a hospital and the yellow
is the number of years to train a GP. It is utterly clear I would
Chairman: Would it not have been clearer if
someone had explained that in the report?
Mr White: It does say it.
84. Where does it say number of years to build
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Those words are not used
but if you look at the first one it says "nurse" under
the pink pills, 1997, 1998, 1999, hospital under the blue pills,
five of them, and similarly GP and the numbers of years it would
85. What about training? Where does it mention
training on this page, for example?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It does not use the word
Mr White: It takes three years to train a nurse
and seven years to qualify as a GP.
Mr Lammy: I think it was aimed at Generation
X because I got it. I understood it. It was very obvious to me.
86. It was obvious to you and I am very impressed.
I am also very impressed by the speed and clarity of thought of
your staff, Lord Falconer.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I was passed a note actually.
87. It comes back to my comments at the beginning
really. I just want to pursue this point a little bit more about
trying to get numbers clearer. I strongly agree with some of the
points made by Mark about clearly understood numbers that people
can use that are in a series that does not change too often. We
need somebody now in Government who is prepared to take on the
responsibility of trying to provide that. Would you be prepared
to do so? Would you be prepared to discuss with the Prime Minister
the idea that there should be somebody even if, as you said a
moment ago, you were not sure
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would certainly be prepared
to discuss and think about how one can progress the idea of having
greater consistency in what is said. I include in that making
sure that there are series that you can compare year-on-year and
also greater clarity in what is said in documents published by
the Government. Both of those things we would regard as things
to aspire to in relation to all publications that come out of
Government and things that we would say that we had aspired to
in relation to the Annual Report, although obviously in a number
of respects have not entirely succeeded.
88. Just to put on record and to correct what
Michael Trend said, the Labour Party did not say it would not
increase taxes. What Labour said was that it would not increase
the basic and higher rates of income tax, nor the basic rate of
National Insurance. It was never said that there would be an ethical
foreign policy, but that there would be a foreign policy with
an ethical dimension, which is a little bit different but it shows
you can quite easily take things out of context and make something
out of it which is not there. That is part of the problem with
this document. The problem here is that it tends to fall between
the two stools that Mark Oaten and Brian White have put forward,
in that we have a report of where money comes from and how it
is spent, and then trying to put the much broader issues of what
Government is trying to achieve and what it wants to do. The report
does not really do either of those things very well. Perhaps the
Government needs to look at separating out those aspects and making
two reports to people on an annual basis: "this is what we
are raising and this is where it is going" and then something
else that looks at those broader aspects.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would see force in that.
It is not just "this is what we are raising, this is what
we are doing with it", there needs to be some descriptive
element of what your priorities are and how you think you are
doing with it, which goes beyond simply, as it were, pounds, shillings
and pence. I think the report attempts to do that. One of the
messages that comes out loud and clear from this Committee, which
was present at the time, is you do need in the printed document
some more facts in terms of: identify your targets, identify how
you are doing against themtargets that you yourself have
setcompare how you are doing this year with how you were
doing last year. The balance has got to be struck between having
enough of those but also making it a document that is compendious
enough to be an account of what the Government as a whole has
done for the year and also making it readable and attractive to
the general public.
89. I am glad you said that because you have
hit on the point I was going to come to next, because that is
not in there. There are not the hard statistical outcomes on the
issues that Government needs to concentrate on, things like literacy
and numeracy, things that should be in there because the effect
of those issues on people's lives is tremendous but does not come
out in a report presented in this way. What Government needs to
be saying, is `these are our targets, these are the reasons for
them, and this is the progress we have made to date'. I think
one of the other reasons why you will always have a problem with
a document like this is that things change, life changes, and
what was planned as a priority five years ago may not be a reasonable
thing to do now. That needs to be explained, why what might have
been reasonable as a Government target four or five years ago
has changed and why there is a need to now shift the emphasis
to something else.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I accept all of that.
We could do a lot of those things in next year's and the year
after's report, I think. The Chairman made the point that one
of the critical things about a report like this is credibility.
If you are going to do it year on year you have got to take note
of what the response was to it. I do not say this in a partisan
way but of course the Opposition will attack the contents of the
report and seek to rubbish the report, but that does not mean
that one cannot learn the lessons that we got from the wider views
that were expressed on the report the last time it was published.
90. I think one of the difficulties that has
been referred to is that manifesto commitments are not always
so specific that you can actually say "yes, done that".
Having a list of 177 with a tick box approach to it just will
not work. Maybe that is something else that needs to be looked
at as well.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think there is value
in the discipline of constantly setting out what the manifesto
commitments were and saying how we perceive progress on those
and people can then respond to what we say the progress has been
on that. That does seem to me to be quite an important exercise.
If, as you say, Government has decided that one of its priorities
has changed and does not wish to pursue one particular one then
we should say so. I think it is a good discipline for a Government
to, as it were, list them each year and say how we are doing on
91. I do not disagree with that. The point I
would make is that some of those commitments are not things you
can put a tick against, they are ongoing.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Then that is for the Government
which has made the commitment to explain how it is getting on
in relation to that. To have a low inflation economy, that is
not a one-off, you have got to describe how you are doing and
people can judge your own explanation against what they perceive
to be the position.
92. I hope this has not been asked already.
I just wanted to be clear at who you believed it was aimed?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a report to Parliament
and, therefore, in the first instance it is a report for the Government
to tell Parliament what it has done in the year, but it is intended
to be a document accessible to and digestible by the general public.
93. So how many were printed?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The number that was printed
Mr Lammy: Fifty thousand?
94. It says 50,000 somewhere.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Fifty thousand, yes.
95. And 10,000 were bought?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In fact, 14,000 is the
figure of the total sales but I think a number of those were actually
sold internally to the Department for Education and Employment,
as it were. The numbers that were sold to the general public were
lower than that.
96. There were no reports of queues in Tesco's,
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think there were
queues as such in Tesco's, Chairman. 6,300 were sold by Tesco's,
so at least 6,300 were bought by members of the general public
as opposed to Government Departments.
97. Is it be hoped ultimately in the future
that the report sells more to the general public than to arms
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That might be a hope,
yes. Let us be frank, government reports, by and largethe
Denning Report and the Profumo Affair are the only ones that sold
massive numbers. I do not think we should have unrealistic aspirations
in relation to this.
98. In the context of voter apathy, politics
being very media-driven, some people believe, one might take the
view that the Government's attempt to at least consolidate what
it believes it has done and its message is something that should
reach the people.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is very much what
we hope to do. We think the Annual Report is an important discipline
for any government, not just this Government, for any government,
to place itself under to seek to get to a wider audience than
otherwise how the government think it has done over the last year.
99. How much money did the Government spend
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It spent in total £145,000
on the report, none of which was on advertising. I do not think
there was any advertising because I think it got a lot of editorial
coverage, which got into the minds of the public in a way which
did not require it to be advertised on television or in the newspaper.