Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
TUESDAY 19 MARCH 2002
KEEBLE MP, MR
280. Competition legislation is not only complex
it is extremely slow. Frankly, it takes years. You could solve
a problem by making somebody bankrupt.
(Ms Keeble) That is only one option. There is the
Ombudsman and there is HMSO, which regulates in terms of copyright.
281. So how do you appeal against the HMSO's
decision on copyright?
(Ms Keeble) You said is there any form of regulationwho
do you complain to? There are three. We are also, I would say,
as part of the Stage 2 of the Quinquennial Review
Chairman: You can complain to the Queen, you
can complain to all sorts of people, but it is not necessarily
very effective is it?
282. You can complain to the Minister.
(Ms Keeble) Yes, you can complain to the Minister
as well, and some people do that, I have to say.
283. Where do you refer it to?
(Ms Keeble) I do not, I deal with it.
284. So if there is a problem with copyright
(Ms Keeble) No, no, it should go to the relevant person,
clearly. If there is an issue about copyright HMSO is the regulator.
If there is an issue about the Companies Act legislation, I think
you would complain to the OFTand people do complain to
the OFT and it is not actually that complicated.
285. But the evidence we have got suggests that
people feel that they have not got a regulatoror at least
not one that is effective. Why do you think that might be?
(Ms Keeble) I am sure there are some sections of the
industry that feel there is not a regulator, and it is a serious
issue. I would say that there are some regulatory bodies that
impact on different areas of OS work. I certainly agree it is
something we have to look at under Stage 2 of the review. I completely
agree with that. I think there are issues about governance and
regulation which are extremely important and which we have to
deal with. I think the area where there is a gap is the area of
regulation for the geographic information market, as it were.
There is a gap there, I would agree.
286. On that subject, the Committee has had
sight of an article by the AGI (Association for Geographic Information)
Chair, which says of the Quinquennial Review: "It presents
an almost complacent view that there are no problems facing Ordnance
Survey that cannot be solved by giving it a little more competitive
market edge and paying its executives more". Do you think
the review could have been more effective if it had started by
considering OS's key role in the area, for example, that you just
mentioned, rather than taking it as a given?
(Ms Keeble) Yes. AGI was actually on the steering
group for the Quinquennial Review, of course, as were DTLR (my
department), the Cabinet Office and the Treasury. So they did
have an opportunity to make comments about what they thought about
the conduct of the review then. I think it is fair to say that
287. Wait a minute, the steering committee set
up the guidelines for doing the review; it did not actually produce
the review, did it?
(Ms Keeble) No, but I think if you are on the steering
288. So if you set up the guidelines you hope
someone is going to do the job vigorously. You can then hardly,
as a minister, complain if one of those people who set up the
guidelines feels that it was a whitewash.
(Ms Keeble) I still think that if you have particular
views about what a Quinquennial Review should cover and if you
think there is an issue about the core function and purpose of
OS, I think it would be fair to expect an organisation to flag
that up as something
289. Surely that was flagged up as part of the
(Ms Keeble) I would still repeat that AGI did have
a voice, they were not completely excluded from the process,
290. No, but they said "This is a key issue"
and then when the review was completed it did not really address
(Ms Keeble) They had a role on the steering group
and they were party to setting up the review. I think it is fair
to flag that up. I would say that I think that the Quinquennial
Review went very thoroughly through the options open to OS. There
are clearly issues that need to be looked at very carefully in
Stage 2 of the review, which is why we have gone down that road
instead of just saying "This is the decision, off we go".
Obviously, issues about regulation and core and non-core activities,
as it were, are some of the things that will need to be very carefully
covered during that Stage 2 review.
291. Just for the Committee's information, could
you mention the other areas that might be covered?
(Ms Keeble) I went through some of them in my opening
statement. The issues which I am particularly concerned to see
covered are issues about governance, which I think are extremely
important, the issues about regulation, the issues about financial
arrangements and a very thorough examination of the advantages
of either moving to government-owned plc status or retaining
292. But that was precisely the point that you
made; that, firstly, the second stage was not going to go over
anything that was looked at in the first stage and, secondly,
that it would be very strongly targeted at deciding whether it
should be a government-owned company or a trading partner. So
you have implied that the second stage is an examination of the
two alternatives, whereas the question we are asking is has anybody
looked at what the real core activities are and whether you get
into difficulties if for any reason techniques change and the
demands of government become different from the ones that they
were in 17-whatever it was. Even with the best governments, there
have been one or two changes since 17-whatever it was.
(Ms Keeble) Ninety-one.
293. There you go. Time moves on.
(Ms Keeble) The basic function is still there, it
is a national mapping agency. The difficulty is that because the
technology has changed the interpretation of what that means is
not the same
294. So you are going to take account of that
in the second stage and not just look at whether it is better
value to have a trading organisation or a government-owned company.
(Ms Keeble) We would have to look at some of those
Mrs Dunwoody: So you would, in effect, be re-doing
some of the work that was done in the first stage.
295. Is Ordnance Survey going to be made a government-owned
(Ms Keeble) That depends on the outcome of the Stage
2 review. What I have said is that I am minded to think that it
should move to a government-owned plc and I think there is a whole
variety of reasons for that. However, I think it is extremely
important that whatever structure we get for OS it is the right
one. It is in a very complex position, both because of the complexity
of the market and, also, because of the importance of what it
does for government services, so I want to make sure that, in
terms of both finances and the implications for government public
services, we get it absolutely right. Although I am minded to
say I think it should move to a government-owned plc, it is not
a closed mind.
296. Do you think that would be the right structure
to solve the conflicts between government and public interests
as against those of private enterprise?
(Ms Keeble) I think those conflicts are going to be
there whatever the structure is because of the points I made before;
that increasingly quite a lot of activities are going to come
under pressure because of competition legislation and, also, there
are big pressures coming up from Europe. Those are going to have
297. What are the pressures from Europe?
(Ms Keeble) They think that a whole range of government
services and information should be provided free of charge, as
I understand it.
298. What business is it of theirs?
(Ms Keeble) At present they are looking, primarily,
at environmental information. It is a way off yet but we have
to have a robust framework and be aware that that is on the horizon.
So the pressures are always going to be there.
299. Why is that on the horizon? Surely that
is not an area of competence for you.
(Ms Keeble) Let me just answer Mrs Ellman's points
first. I think what is important is that we get to a position
where OS can deal with those pressures but, also, where it has
a very robust financial framework so that it can continue to invest
in the development of its database because the Government has
a direct interest in having the highest possible quality of information
to inform public services.