HC Deb 04 May 1967 vol 746 cc754-854

4.1 p.m.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of the Fourth Report from the Estimates Committee and of the Ninth Special Report from the Estimates Committee relating to Government Statistical Services. The Reports from the Estimates Committee have been the work mainly of the Sub-Committee dealing with economic affairs. When the Sub-Committee was first asked to undertake its inquiry, my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray) was Chairman, but then he was transferred to a higher sphere, and a more humble hon. Member on the back benches below the Gangway was asked to take on the job of Chairman of the Sub-Committee.

This was a very special and difficult task to undertake. If it had not been for the new practice adopted by the Estimates Committee of appointing a technical expert to the Sub-Committee, I should not have been able to undertake the task, and I am sure that my colleagues on the Sub-Committee would no have been able to conduct their inquiry with such expedition without that assistance.

I pay special tribute to Professor Graham Pyatt, who was the technical expert appointed to the Sub-Committee. It was an experiment, and it was the first time that a technical expert had been appointed. It can be said that the experience on this occasion augurs well for a repetition of the practice in future years.

All members of the Sub-Committee learned a great deal from this exercise, and I hope very much that our Report, which is the subject of this debate, will be accepted eagerly by the House and lead to changes in Government policy, because the purpose of the whole exercise was to see that the Government changed their mind on important matters of administration and policy.

I am glad to note that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs is to reply to the debate. When one considers the Department which he represents, it is an indication that already the Government have made a certain decision of policy. I am sure that we are grateful for that.

I want, first, briefly to deal with some of the recommendations which, though they are hardly minor in character, are much less contentious than some of the others to which I shall refer later.

The Sub-Committee's first recommendation is that the career prospects and the standing of statisticians in Government service should be improved. In the Ninth Special Report, the departmental observation indicates that some improvement has been made, but it appears that the recommendation has been accepted with a certain amount of reservation. It seemed to the Sub-Committee that, if we are to improve Government statistical services and bring statisticians into the realm of policy-making, their standing and career prospects must be improved. Other professional men such as economists and sociologists in Government service already have been given status and standing, and their career prospects are good. Statisticians have not yet achieved that eminence, and we hope that more will.

The Sub-Committee's second recommendation deals with the current discussions on a common register and suggests that they should be expedited, with a public statement on their conclusion. It is no accident that we ask for a public statement, because the public should be kept informed of what is going on. The Department in question has replied that agreement has been reached in principle, but it adds the qualification, "if it is decided to proceed" with a common register.

That is a qualification which, in practice, I hope will not have any effect. It may be that I am a little suspicious of Governments—the present one as well as previous ones—but, whenever I see a qualification, I regard it as a prognostication of future events and an indication that the qualification will have effect. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to resolve my suspicions.

Our third recommendation is that the Central Statistical Office should examine forms used by Departments to achieve standardisation. I am sure that that is a recommendation with which no one will quarrel. Standardisation, as you have said, Mr. Speaker, is a consummation devoutly to be wished. It is stated in the Departmental observation that the present procedure of consultation between Departments to avoid duplication will be re-examined. That, also, is a time-honoured form of words which can mean nothing and generally means very little. I hope that in this case ultimately it will mean something.

When forms are sent out, particularly to industrial firms, there is a need for some sort of standardisation. Firms should not be asked the same question twice, and certainly not the same question in the same week, as sometimes happens. Representatives of a business firm in my borough have expressed themselves as being rather fed up with Government Departments which do not seem to know what they want or when they want it.

Our fourth recommendation is that a standing group of persons with specialised knowledge of computers from both inside and outside the Civil Service and under the auspices of the C.S.O. should be appointed to examine existing computer installations, report on the development of computers and their application, and supervise the training of civil servants to deal with computers. That, too, has been accepted in principle. We have been told that the Treasury now exercises the oversight of this matter and that a standing group will be set up, but that the Government consider it appropriate that it should be under the Treasury.

I wonder why the Treasury will never let go of anything? It seem to want to control everything, whatever it is, sealing wax, and all the rest of it. Given a desire to increase the standing of the C.S.O., and given that the main burden of our Report is that the C.S.O. should supervise the Government's statistical services, the Government, or Treasury, suggestion is unacceptable to us.

Our fifth recommendation is that there is a need for a comprehensive public guide to official and semi-official statistics. Those who have been concerned professionally over the years with the use of statistics know how difficult it is to find their way about the tortuous world of Government and semi-official statistics. Before the war there was an admirable guide to official statistics. The Government have fobbed us off with the reply that this is unnecessary because the prewar publication was not very good.

This does not strike me as being a very good reason for not having a perfectly good, reliable, and informative guide to official statistics. There does not seem to be much enthusiasm on the part of the Government for this recommendation, but there is a real difficulty in discovering where information is to be obtained. This is especially so with some official statistics. I am advised, for example, that many marketing organisations have useful statistics, and that these are not always available to people who are not exactly in that sphere.

The next two recommendations deal with the co-ordination by the C.S.O. of Government statistical publications, and we recommend that steps should be taken to ensure that published series are supplemented by comprehensive descriptions of the methods used in collecting data. I am sure that these are unexceptionable recommendations, in the sense that nobody will be against them. These are virtues which I am sure everyone is in favour of, as distinct from the sins which we are all supposed to be against.

I turn now to a group of recommendations which may perhaps be of a more contentious character. Recommendations (8), (11), (12) and (13) refer to the collection and publication of industrial statistics. We have recommended that the C.S.O. should examine and advise on the existing arrangements for collecting and publishing these statistics. We recommend that a Standing Committee on Industrial Statistics should be established under the chairmanship of the C S.O., and here we have, in a very central position, the Central Statistical Office.

At the moment, industrialists do not know which Department is concerned. We have been told in the official replies that these statistics are available in the Departments, and that anybody who wants to know rings up the Department concerned, but if the person does not know which Department to ring, obviously he can never find the information. There ought to be some kind of central agency to provide information about where the stuff can be obtained, and this, we feel, is the job of the C.S.O.

There are available vast amounts of statistics which are not used because nobody knows where they are to be obtained, and the Government's reply, in simple and short words, is "rather wet". They are seeming to say that everything in the garden is lovely, when everybody knows that it is not. We regard this as a very important group of recommendations, and their acceptance would very firmly signalise the position of the C.S.O.

Recommendation (21) is concerned with the same sort of thing, namely, that Economic Development Councils should be closely involved whenever new statistical inquiries are addressed to industry. This is part and parcel of one of the central ideas in our Report, namely, that E.D.C.s should be closely involved in the collection and use of statistics, and also that the regions should be closely involved. I am glad to say that the Government accepted this. There is clearly a need to make more use of E.D.C.s.

I want now to refer to the vexed question of forecasting, and the place of statistics and statistical services in this respect. This is no doubt the most controversial aspect of our Report. I think it is worth noting that there was no controversy about this on the Sub-Committee or on the Estimates Committee. When one remembers how many political battles have been fought on the question of economic planning, one finds it surprising that there was no real controversy in the Estimates Committee about the use of statistics in forecasting. It may be, as some of my hon. Friends opposite—if I may so refer to them on this occasion—would say, that there has never been any, and this may be why there has not been more controversy about it, but the controversy may arise when we have planning. We shall see.

We recommend that urgent steps should be taken to increase research on forecasting methods, and on the data used in forecasting. This is something new. I am sure that 30 years ago, when some of us were learning classical economics—and, after all, I was brought up on Alfred Marshall at my university—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is dead now."] Yes, but he was very much alive in the corridors of academic power when I was an undergraduate.

I was brought up on classical economics. I did not need to know any maths, at all. Very few economists in those days needed to know much maths. One could get a first without them then, but these days one cannot get very far without mathematics in economics, either the old maths., or even the new maths. My daughter is studying economics at school, and she is trying to learn the new maths. I do not understand them at all.

The Government recognise the need for this research, and say that information will be published on methodology, but I want to take the discussion further than the Government have done in their reply. I want to refer to the February issue of Economic Trends and the article therein on "Econometrics research for short-term forecasting", and, secondly, the March issue of the Three Banks Review, in which there is an article entitled "Econometrics: Achievements and Prospects", by Professor Johnston, of the University of Manchester.

This is something new. I learned a great deal more about econometrics while I was a member of this Sub-Committee than I had ever thought possible about six months ago. In fact, I doubt whether I had heard the word very much before I found myself pitched into the position of Chairman of this Sub-Committee, but I would like to detain the House for a few minutes to talk about some of the things said by Professor Johnston, and some of the things said in the February issue of Economic Trends because I think that this is very relevant to this debate. In fact, I think that this is the most important thing discussed in this Report and in the evidence of the various witnesses which is printed in a series of appendices.

Econometrics is concerned not with qualitiative economic analysis, but with quantitative information about economic systems. The econometrician is concerned with discovering the evidence of relationship between economic facts. We have a good deal of evidence about the need for this. The econometrician assembles relevant statistical data and, using some method of statistical estima- tion, derives the best possible estimates of the influences of the various factors at work in a given situation. Without reliable statistical data, this is impossible; this is one of the things which we think should be aimed at.

Of course, economic data do not behave exactly as specified by simple or even complicated relations, and forecasts cannot be made with 100 per cent, precision. Some wonder whether they can be made with 10 per cent. precision, but no doubt other hon. Members will comment on that. The important rôle of the econometrician is to assess the likely error in relations of this kind, but, to achieve his task, he must try to evaluate and assess the statistical relations which he has obtained and judge whether he can obtain a model which is sufficiently realistic to be used for economic analysis and forecasting, or whether further research is needed.

Professor Johnston deals with some of the fields in which econometrics is important—studies of consumer behaviour, for example, and the behaviour of firms—and the working out of econometric models which attempt to consider the whole economy, and talks about three distinct forms. The first aggregate models he regards as rather crude: The crudest level of aggregation in a macro-model would attempt to describe the functioning of the economy by means of a set of econometric equations explaining only about six basic variables such as consumption expenditure, investment expenditure, exports, imports, the consumer price level, and the wage-rate. The second form he gives is that of fully disaggregated models, which is an entirely different approach to econometric model building pioneered by Professor Orcutt, who urges that research should fix on the level of the individual decision-making unit—household, firm, bank or local government agency.

This is one of the difficulties in dealing with forecasting, that we are so often trying to deal with the aggregation of a myriad of individual decisions of individual firms, Government Departments, local authorities, regions and groups of industries. We are affected by decisions in foreign countries over which we have no control. This all goes to building up the picture.

The third form the professor talks of is planning models and, in particular, the Stone planning model for the United Kingdom, which, he says, … is essentially different in character from the short-run models that we have described.… It is first of all concerned with longer-term objectives for Professor Stone has argued rightly that we have been exceptionally preoccupied in this country in recent years with a stream of short-term crises and have had no longer-term objective to guide our short-term actions. He then deals with one or two very special problems.

It seemed to us that, if we are to improve our forecasting, whether in the short or in the long term, this kind of quantitative economic analysis is needed. We can do this only if we improve our statistical services along the lines suggested in our Report. There is no doubt that, in the last 20 years, there has been wide confusion between short-term and long-term economic planning or at least attempts at such. Many people would argue that we have never really succeeded in planning for the short or the long term. This does not mean that we should not try, however, or that it is wrong to try.

After all, for those of us who are Christians, the fact that we are not very good Christians does not mean that Christianity is invalid. It has been going for 2,000 years, but so far we have been trying to plan for only 20. So perhaps there is some hope for us yet, even for some of the sinners opposite——

Mr. Michael Hordern (Horsham)

In 2,000 years?

Mr. Hamling

One never knows. After all, I am sure that even hon. Members opposite believe in immortality.

One of our difficulties in the last 20 years has been stop-go, which is a product of the short-term mind. Certainly, since last July, we have been back in the "Selwyn Lloyd" mode. I am using that expression, Mr. Speaker, not disrespectfully but in a historic sense, because there is no doubt that it will go down in history to describe the era of stop-go.

This certainly contradicts the Government's long-term aim to expand industrial investment and production. There seems a contradiction between the aims of short-term and those of long-term forecasting here. This may be because our forecasting techniques are not accurate enough but so far we have not achieved satisfactory planning because those techniques are insufficiently refined.

The article in Economic Trends deals with statistics for research in short-term forecasting. It is unfortunate that it has not caught up with the idea that we ought to think more of long-term planning, but perhaps we cannot have everything in five minutes. The recommendation that this kind of research should be developed ought to commend itself to the Government.

Our later recommendations deal with manpower and the setting up of a Standing Committee on social statistics. Obviously, we cannot think only in terms of economic statistics. About 20 years ago, economic surveys were presented annually to the House by the post-war Labour Government, and a very important part of them was manpower considerations. Perhaps if those surveys had been continued, and particularly if research had continued into the compilation of manpower statistics initiated in those early post-war years, we might have been saved many of the difficulties which we face today.

Our final recommendation in the Ninth Special Report deals with the place of the C.S.O. in the hierarchy of government. Recommendation (23) says: The Treasury should review the position of the C.S.O. in the Government machine with the object of enhancing the co-ordinating role of the C.S.O. and their authority at ministerial level. From our point of view, the exercise would fail unless this recommendation were accepted or at least treated with the seriousness with which it was presented. The reply of the Government, however, is: The position of the C.S.O. in the Government machine has recently been reviewed, and the Government is satisfied that it is best left where it is. I hope that that is not the verdict of the House. I hope that my hon. Friend, when he replies, will tell us that the Government have thought again about it.

The Government's observation on our recommendation continues: The co-ordinating rôle of the C.S.O. is best exercised at a point in the Government machine which is detached from both political and Departmental interest; and the Cabinet Office combines this advantage with the office service facilities of an ordinary Government Department. In our view, the Cabinet Office is too much under the influence of the Treasury. The Treasury, in this context, is a short-run Department and not the long-run Department that the situation demands. We want to get away from the Treasury. We would much prefer to see the C.S.O. where the D.E.A. now is in the Government, because this is concerned with economic planning—and the Treasury is not and never has been. The Treasury is concerned with collecting money and trying to see that no one spends it. It always fails dismally at that as well.

We want to see the C.S.O. given real status in the Government, where statisticians will be involved in policy making, where they will be concerned with the long-term direction of the economy. In the long run, this is the best way in which the statisticians can serve the Government and the nation. I hope that the Report will be received sympathetically by the House and that, in reply, my hon. Friend will give us some good answers on behalf of the Government.

4.33 p.m.

Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)

I hope that the House will not resent my brief intervention. I am aware that I have not given adequate attention, thought and reading to this excellent Report. But even from the cursory study that I have been able to make, I realise that I can congratulate those members of the Estimates Committee who have given so much time and thought to what is obviously a splendid Report. I hope that the Government will regard the recommendations in a sympathetic manner. The Report is a great step forward.

I intervene only because I have had a great deal to do with statistics, both as a businessman and as a Minister at the Board of Trade, where the statistical side came under me. I have the highest regard and respect for the C.S.O. statisticians and those at the Board of Trade and at the various other statistical sections in the Government. Individually, they are first rate and they work hard and intelligently. Nevertheless, I am acutely aware that most of the improvements in the Government's statistical services have not come from suggestions within the Government, but as a result of pressures from outside.

I recall stumping the country as a very young man and writing articles on the need for a census of distribution. I was in my 20s and my party was then in office. There was a good deal of opposition. People thought I was being idiotic in thinking that such a thing was the function of government. Nevertheless, we now have a census of distribution and it has been followed by a census of production.

We must not just look to the Civil Service to say what statistics should be gathered or co-ordinated. Indeed, while I do not denigrate the excellence of the Report in any way, I believe that even more than what is suggested in the Report is required. The Report brings out clearly that most business firms regard themselves as suppliers of Government statistics rather than as users. Paragraph 60 of the Report says: …. in Your Committee's view it is undesirable, that the government statistical service should regard industry primarily as a source of information rather than as a consumer of information whose wants are to be satisfied and whose appetites should be encouraged and developed. It is Your Committee's view that the development of industrial statistics in all their facets is of such great importance that there is a need for an authority above the level of departmental statistical divisions to coordinate all current and future activities. I entirely endorse that view and I support the recommendation for a central register, a place where one can see all the statistics currently available and where all the data which Government Departments can supply is made available I hope that the Government will accept the need for such a central co-ordinating body.

In addition, it would be in the interest of all of us, in Government, Opposition and in business as a whole, if there were also a standing liaison committee to coordinate the work in relation to all the statistics that are required and could be made available. Many statistics are collected but they are not made available. They have been collected, but no one sees them and they are not analysed or tabulated sufficiently. A great deal more could be done with the statistics which have already been collected, but which are unanalysed and are therefore unavailable.

The Government should consider the establishment of a body representing such people as the C.B.I., various trade associations, the Institute of Statisticians, the Royal Statistical Society, various market research organisations and many others to see what information should be made available to industry and commerce. I am sure that industry would be prepared to pay for this information. At present, one gets a dusty answer from most Government Departments if one asks for statistics to be broken down in an unaccustomed way. There is nothing wrong with the Civil Service attitude but it is simply that no one believes this provision of special statistics to be a function of government.

I believe that these statistics could be supplied and tabulated by the Departments and a charge made. If we go into the Common Market, as I hope and believe we will, many statistics will be needed. For example, motor manufacturers get the trade figures about vehicle imports. These are broken down into commercial or passenger vehicles, but that is not sufficiently helpful. The Customs and Excise has all the details of the imports and it would greatly help the export drive and improve our position in relation to approaching entry into the Common Market if these figures were broken down as to source or country of origin and types or make of vehicle.

All this information is available. The car manufacturers would be happy to pay for it. There are a hundred and one different examples where industries of various kinds know that information is available in Government Departments, but find it extremely hard to extract it. Even where they can get it, they find that it is difficult to get it out in time for their purpose.

Therefore, in addition to the proposed committee to look into the use of computers, I suggest most sincerely, both as a businessman and as someone who at one time had something to do on the Government side, that a body should be set up to liaise with industry. Mention has been made of advertising the availability of the information, but I think that it is much more important to have a running liaison service so that industry may know what statistics are available and suggest to the Government new figures that should be extracted. A charge could be made, as I say, for the tabulation and production of the information that industry needs. It would be a service for which I know industry would be quite prepared to pay. Again, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his Committee on the excellence of this document and I hope that the Government will consider my suggestion for a permanent business liaison committee.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. R. F. H. Dobson (Bristol, North-East)

I start my remarks with a testimonial to two of my hon. Friends who have been associated with the work of the Sub-Committee on Economic Affairs—the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), who acted as its chairman in its later stages, and my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray), who was his predecessor before being elevated to his present position in the Government. I can best give them their testimonial by repeating words used by one of my colleagues and friends who works at the University of Bristol after the publication of the Report. He thought that this was one of the best six Reports of the Estimates Committee since the war.

That was not said from any position of particular friendship, or to persuade me to carry on with my association with the Estimates Committee, but expressed a genuine feeling that there was in the Report something of value to the country, and certainly of value to the academics and the statisticians.

It is strange that every few days we hear of Government statistics of various kinds and one constantly meets people who say that there is not enough of them, or that they are collected badly, or that there is not enough co-ordination between Government Departments. Much of the Report always seems to lead back to the sort of recommendations that emerged at the last meeting of the Committee, so it does not seem possible to over-stress the importance of what is said.

I must confess, however, to a little disappointment at the Government's attitude to the recommendations, and I want, in that connection, to put my own statistics before the House. Of the 23 recommendations presented to the Government, it seems that three have been officially anticipated and that 10 have been accepted for action. The Government want to give further consideration to seven, and three recommendations have been rejected.

Hon. Members may query my statistics, but the important thing is not so much their accuracy as the fact that in my view it is the most important recommendations that have been rejected. It is the significance of those that are rejected to which I want to draw particular attention.

All of us felt that control of Government statistical information was a crucial adjunct to the additional planning we on this side want. It is true that the Government have agreed to look at the recommendation again. The observation on Recommendation (23) is that The position of the C.S.O. in the Government machine has recently been reviewed … but adds—and this is why I put this in the rejection class: … the Government is satisfied that it is best left where it is. I believe that very few people take the same view.

The Government have accepted some extremely useful recommendations, and I would draw attention to paragraph 107 of the Report, which my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West has also mentioned. This refers to the C.S.O. as a central organisation. The Committee was very much inclined not to lay down any hard and fast ideas about where the C.S.O. should be situated—we thought that it was not our job to do that. We made some suggestions, but above all else, we did not want it to remain under Treasury control in its present form.

We accepted what Government witnesses said about its remaining independent and above the political battle and not being associated directly with Government Departments, but we wanted it to report directly to a Cabinet Minister. If the Government are serious on this point, as we hope they will be after this debate, it is to be hoped that they will again look at this matter.

The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) spoke of publicity in a general and in a particular sense, and Recommendation (5) is very important in that connection. Once again, I was a little disappointed by the reply from the Government. Although I do not put the recommendation in the totally rejected class—perhaps one might say that it is in the pending file—and while I accept the observation that a mere catalogue would be of no use, the Government did not seem to treat the recommendation with the urgency one would have wished.

They cannot overlook the evidence of other individuals, other Government Departments and firms which made it clear that there was need for a more comprehensive guide to official and semiofficial statistics. In many cases we were guided by Professor Pyatt, who suggested there was no way of getting the information unless the Government undertook to provide a suitable guide. In connection with both Recommendations (5) and (6), advertising—if that is the right word—of information would be very valuable.

If I have a slight criticism to make of the Report it is that, for various reasons, it does not lay enough stress on regional and sub-regional statistics although we mention this subject several times, and it is commented on in paragraphs 92 and 93. We had a difficult choice to make in this connection because, as is mentioned in paragraph 95, we knew that an inquiry was being conducted into regional planning statistics by Mr. Jackson and so we were slightly inhibited from making a very stringent comment on the matter at that time. Nevertheless, we were fully seized of the feeling that sub-regional and regional statistics are very important.

Although we do not make the point, I repeat that there is a need for statistical information about public corporations, with their differing boundaries in different parts of the country. Without this information we cannot relate region with region or sub-region with the whole region. It is useful and very necessary to have this information in order to know something of the split-up in the country.

The Report itself—I certainly do not want to get technical about it—had some things to say in a futuristic manner. The hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern), in another debate yesterday, complained of the use of economic models. I hope that today he will not follow those remarks from the Opposition Front Bench. I had the impression that he did not think that the way in which we could plan the economy was by the use of models. I draw attention to Professor Moser's evidence, on pages 353 and 354. It is true that that evidence was connected with educational matters, but it seemed to me that this was the way in which we could design a model economy which would give us some of the answers.

It is not that they would always be accurate, but they would be trend answers which would always be useful and if we used them we would have the information about the economy much sooner. I do not know whether I have gone too far in suggesting that because Professor Moser was rather cautious in what he said about things outside his field of study, but I think that we can take a lesson from what he said in favour of our use of economic models.

The Report itself has done several things and I want to mention three of them particularly. First, it has opened discussion on the Government's statistical services. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West has already mentioned two distinguished periodicals which have given the matter publicity and have mentioned the Report. The Report was mentioned in the week in which it came out, in the Economist, where it was given a good write-up.

Secondly, probably as a result of its technical detail, the Report has stimulated fresh thought in the field of statistics and econometrics. Thirdly, it would be fair to say that for the statisticians themselves it has thrown a better light on the classes of statisticians and the job they have to do. It was very fitting that when they gave evidence the statisticians appeared to feel very much the Cinderellas of the services when involved in decision-making and not having the opportunity at all times to put forward their point of view. The Committee considered and listened to their pleas for a possible new class of econometricians, but I was not sure that we could go that far.

I hope that the House will agree that this has been a useful job which has been done in the Committee. I hope very much that the Government will reconsider the major points I have tried to bring before them. If many people in the country, and certainly hon. Members on these benches, accept that the basis of planning starts with good statistical information and that here we have tried to take a very careful and determined look at this matter, they will see that this Report may be vital to our economic recovery today.

4.54 p.m.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth, Langstone)

The excellent Report produced by the sub-committee of the Estimates Committee on the Government statistical services is a testimony to the stoical endurance of the members of that subcommittee in face of an overwhelming avalanche of fact. As Henry Adams once reminded us, practical politics is the art of ignoring facts. That is a charge which cannot be levelled at the members of the sub-committee. The Committee has made a series of very sensible recommendations which could be summarised as serving four primary objectives.

The first is to enhance the quality, standing and resources of the statistical departments and particularly the Central Statistical Office. The second is to enhance the compatibility of different official statistics, and indeed of official and private statistics. The third is to improve the range and structure, and, indeed, the value of official statistics by demonstrating much more effectively the scope, availability and relevance of statistics to those who both provide and use them. The fourth is to encourage the switch to computers.

No one, I think, would find fault with any of these admirable objectives, for we live—this I think is beyond dispute—on the threshold of the numerical age, the age of quantification. Whether we like it or not, whether we understand or fail to understand its great dangers, we shall have to learn to live with it.

Two other objectives deserve to be considered seriously. One I had hoped to find discussed at great length in this Report, but it is barely mentioned. The other stems directly from the likely consequence of a successful application to join Europe. The latter obviously was outside the Sub-Committee's immediate terms of reference, but the second objective of compatibility must now be considered on a much larger scale and a much wider canvas.

Our statistics will have to be compatible with those of the Common Market. They will have to measure the same things in the same way and proceed from similar definitions. This presents a very considerable challenge which, in my experience, will not be met in under a very considerable number of years. Unless it is met, however, the estimates of markets and efficiencies—these are things we shall have to investigate on going into Europe—and estimates of incomes and investments will be largely misleading.

The first objective I refer to only briefly as later it will form my main theme. It rests simply on the proposition that unless statisticians shout from the rooftops that their representation of reality is at its best impressionist, they cannot complain if politicians, forever seeking certainty where there is none, misuse the products of their labour and blame them and their figures when the structures which ambitious Governments inevitably seek to build on those representations collapse under their own weight and sink into the sands without reaching a firm bedrock of reality.

It was Bertrand Russell who reminded us that although it may seem a paradox, all science is dominated by the idea of approximation". Throughout this Report there is an assumption that statistical representation can achieve a degree of perfection which I believe to be unattainable. More statisticians, more computers, more compliant and numerically articulate industrialists, and the statistical millenium will be at hand. This is not only an untenable assumption; it is dangerous, and I hope to demonstrate why.

It was Francis Bacon who once said that all governments are obscure and invisible". We have had some further experience of Governments since that was written, and I think the general view today is that they have improved their visibility without reducing their obscurity, and, of course, we do not always like what we see. This Report is a Report on the visibility of the machinery of government, for statistics and information are the lifeblood of Governments, and while a Government may often govern much less effectively than is justified by the quality of its information, few Governments except those fortunately presided over by the rare statesman of genius—and we must exempt the present Government from that—ever govern better than the quality of their information permits.

But there is already here a danger which is better faced than ignored. It is a danger which occurs at two levels, as it were. The first is the level to which I have already referred—the belief that an almost perfect, which would imply almost perfectly up-to-date, statistical representation is possible. The second is a natural second tier, for it is very easy for a Government who have increased the range of the State's binoculars, bringing ever wider and more detailed economic landscapes into view, to succumb to a major temptation. In the economic and social field the state cannot pretend to control or be held responsible for what it cannot see or measure.

The moment new planes of economic activity are uncovered and brought into vision, the critics get to work and an extension of centralised control, once this is seen to be possible, becomes for many immediately and overwhelmingly desirable. All the false analogies swim into view—"We must control the levers of power". "We must inject a new dynamism into the economy". "We must take the brakes off" or "put them on". "Give us the facts, and we will finish the job". "Let us plan our way out of this mess". If only we could measure the present, it is implied, we could then forecast the future, and then, having forecast it, ensure that the forecasts are fulfilled.

As the illusion of omnipotence perpetually fades, we are tempted to conclude that better, earlier, or more comprehensive statistics and economic information would guarantee the success which has so far eluded us. This belief has been greatly reinforced by the advent of the computer, and with some solid justification, for the appetite and digestive powers of that machine are so prodigious that statistical performance has, in a sense, broken through the sound barrier.

But I am not so much afraid of statistical prodigality, for that will run up against one scarce resource which computers cannot increase. I refer to the number of human beings with the necessary powers of statistical and analytical judgment to put all this material to some constructive use, to improve the quality of decision, for that is all that matters, and that is the end product.

What I am much more concerned about is the danger that the inherent weaknesses of all statistical representations of national economic or social matters will be overlooked and that sheer statistical abundance—the prodigality of the computer; the prodigality of an enhanced and reinforced Government statistical machine, enormously reinforced by the power of the computer—will be allowed to swamp the necessary fundamental caution and scepticism with which all statistical output, however respectable and virtuous its parentage, should be treated.

What I am pleading for is that one simple concession should be made to this situation by all the statistical departments of State and, indeed, by the Central Statistical Office, and by all Ministers who present quanitative information to the House of Commons. I ask that they will always state at the foot of every stable, at the bottom of every chart, at the beginning of every numerical declaration about the balance of trade, the balance of payments, or the growth of the national product, the statistical limits of error in their data.

Professor Stone entitled the very interesting memorandum which he contributed to the Sub-Committee— Official statistics: A golden treasury or a working tool? I am not quite sure what his own choice was. Even if the best statistics are fine gold in the arsenal of economic management, they are very largely gold which bears no hallmark.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that, since all the figures which Ministers have to report from time to time are themselves the result of a series of complex statistical data, it would be well-nigh impossible for them to lay down any satisfactory criteria of error for the figures.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman makes my case, because, if the foundations are insecure, how much less secure must be the structures which are built upon them. We have to take these structures upon trust, knowing full well that they vary, not from 24 to 22 carat gold, but from 24 carat to gold plate. If my impression of much of the economic and statistical output is any guide, there is a great deal more gold plate about the place than there is 24 carat gold.

Over and over again we have heard in the Chamber about whether the gross national product will increase by 2.4 per cent. or 2.4per cent., whether unemployment has gone from 1.8 per cent. to 2.1 per cent., or in the other direction, and whether the distribution of incomes has changed by 0.5 per cent. or 07 per cent. in favour or against some group.

With humble apologies to those on both sides of the House who may feel affronted, this is the most terrifying nonsense. It is terrifying because it is so plausible, so respectable, and apparently so important. But it remains nonsense, none the less. This is an ambitious and, it may well appear to hon. Members on both sides, an arrogant claim, but I hope that hon. Members will allow me to develop the argument before they finalise their conclusion.

Throughout his evidence Professor Stone stressed what he described as the operational significance that statistical information acquires in an era of planning. He suggested that "nobody planned" in the 1930s, a point of view with which I would quarrel, and he suggested two conclusions. The first was that much more is going to be demanded of official statistics in the future than has been demanded in the past", a statement which I would both endorse and qualify. The second was that the remedy for a failure to match economic data with planning ambitions lies with Parliament and not with the statisticians". That may well be so, but the bargain which I hope Parliament will strike with the statisticians is that, if we provide them with the resources to produce more and, as they and we must hope, better statistics, they will hall-mark the output so that we will be able to distinguish the working tools from the impressionist numerical paintings. We are leaving behind, hopefully and rightly, the concept of caveat emptor in trade, and I hope that we may also do so in statistics.

I will illustrate this argument from two fields of statistical output, both of them much discussed. In each case I shall be relying heavily on the work done by Professor Morgenstern at Princeton on this subject, and, although much of the data he uses is American, I believe his conclusions to be wholly relevant to our experience. I have seen nowhere any argument to suggest that they are not.

Before turning directly to Professor Morgenstern's analysis, I want to stress what I believe to lie at the heart of this problem. A very large volume of statistics is based on attempts to measure, with varying degrees of precision, physical flows of goods. This can often be done with great accuracy, but generally these measurements do not acquire economic significance unless and until they have been valued. Every inventory of stock involves economic judgments. Every analysis and valuation of debtors involves a probability distribution through time. Every calculation of depreciation—that is, every balance sheet in the country—involves an assessment of economic as well as of physical obsolescence. We start, as it were, with cotton wool and not with marble.

Yet, once the judgments have been made, the raw data is presented by accountants and statisticians in the form of balance sheets, profit and loss accounts, operating accounts and statistical returns, which define these judgments and detail these quantities to the last Is., and indeed, to the last penny.

The point that I seek to make is that no computer, no doubling of statistical staff, nor regional government, no increase in the willingness of firms or trade associations to assemble and provide data, can escape from the basic limitations inherent in the data itself. We may improve the quality, but we cannot possibly eliminate the influence of judgment and measurement on the basic raw material of almost any statistical series of any significance to the State.

This is perhaps the most fundamental reason why the control of complex economic systems always has been, is, and, as I see it, will remain, infuriatingly difficult and unpredictable. The vision of statistical perfection will always recede, like a mirage, into the horizon of uncertainty.

To illustrate my argument, I shall now refer to the work of three men, all of whom seem to have been studiously ignored by the practitioners of national economic information—Simon Kuznets and Oskar Morgenstern in America and Harry Burton in the United Kingdom. In his great study of national income statistics in the United States, Kuznets reached the conclusion that the utmost refinement of technique—I stress that phrase—left a margin of error in national income statistics of plus or minus 10 per cent. Sixty per cent. of the 520 cells from which the aggregates were constructed in the National Bureau of Economic Research Paper on the subject had inherent margins of error of over 40 per cent. On these results, Morgenstern comments as follows: The almost religious attention paid to Gross National Product would lead one to expect that criticism would be reacted to sharply. This has not been the case". Even the President's Council of Economic Advisers, Morgenstern says, have never investigated their accuracy and as a consequence draw wholly unwarranted conclusions from alleged 1 per cent. changes of these great aggregates". This charge can be levelled at many others. Some years ago, the reliability ratings awarded to our own national statistics were carefully considered by Harry Burton, who reached almost identical conclusions. As far as one can judge, the principal reaction here in the United Kingdom and in the United States is silence—"Let us not talk about it; it is too embarrassing". I believe that in Germany—I say at once that my sources for this belief are second-hand—the Government have forbidden the agencies responsible for producing national income data to indicate the errors underlying the source data. That is, at least, a positive reaction.

The criticism of national income statistics must, of course, almost, though not necessarily, by definition apply equally to the currently fashionable discourse on growth rates. On this, Morganstern's comments are truly devastating. A growth rate of two significant digits, he argues, is impossible to establish. Even the first digit is in grave doubt. Yet the emphasis of public discussion is on the second digit, and usually the first decimal … as if a distinction between 3.2 and 3.3 per cent. were really possible. Such contentions are entirely unwarranted A growth rate simply cannot be computed with the stated or demanded degree of refinement and reliability. Later, he suggests that, Precise uses of 'growth rates' are entirely inadmissible whether for comparing different countries or short periods of the same country. I hope that I have by now said enough to substantiate the argument that there is an urgent and overriding national statistical requirement. The limits of error of our principle national indices—shall we say the ones regularly and continually used by politicans and economic journalists—must no longer be tucked out of sight in "Sources and methods", a document which seldom sees the light of day. They must be attached to their statistics like the kitemark of the British Standards Institution or the stars attached by the A.A. and the R.A.C. to the names of their listed hotels. [An HON. MEMBER: "Up to five stars?"] Yes, five stars, if they are good enough. It is rather more important that we should be able to grade the quality of our national statistics than that we should be able to grade the quality of our hotels.

I turn now to another subject touched on in the Report. The sub-committee was, rightly, concerned about the statistical relationships between Government and industry. Yet the evidence presented by industry was, as I see it, drawn from a very narrow segment. Apart from the Confederation of British Industry, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the Royal Statistical Society—which, I imagine, would not wish to be classed as an industry in any sense—Courtaulds was the only industrial organisation which gave direct evidence to the Committee. This is a pity, for though many witnesses were aware that few industrial and commercial organisations have the statistical resources and competence of a Courtaulds, the experience and attitudes of small and medium-size organisations would have been a useful counterweight.

Professor Stone argued in his memorandum that, In order to plan or control a system it is necessary to understand its dynamics", and be believes that much can be done by securing a sophisticated return of information from a comparatively small number of, as he defines them, "large articulate firms". I would not dispute this, but it is precisely in the other area, the very large number of medium and small statistically inarticulate firms, that a great improvement in the whole quality of numerical analysis can make such a vast contribution to their own and national productivity.

Underlying much of the evidence bearing on this point is an assumption that all that needs to be done is to inject larger and larger numbers of statisticians and economists into Government and industry. If I may say so, this indicates a rather naive approach to the problem. Where people of these qualifications are most needed, they are, paradoxically, least likely to be used intelligently, for where they are most needed is precisely in those firms and industries where the old saws about, "Lies, damned lies and statistics" are likely to raise the loudest laughs.

The vast majority of concerns in the United Kingdom undoubtedly make far too little use of the data and techniques which are available and which, for all their imperfections, are valuable. Instead, there is management by instinct, management by private data in little black books. Forecasting the economic weather with computers is derided, and what matters is the wet finger to the wind.

But this produces a curious situation. A great deal of knowledge and data becomes highly personalised, and the arteries of information coincide closely with the arteries' of power. Statisticians and others brought in to improve the information system will be accused of seeking to change the power structure, and to their own advantage—possibly, but not, not invariably, a correct judgment. This is a sociological problem of the greatest importance, because it is not the statisticians who need to be numerically more articulate but the managers and executives, particularly at middle management level. This poses a much larger problem of education and time, and, if there is one thing we are short of in Britain today, it is time.

I could not endorse more wholeheartedly the evidence of those witnesses who stressed the contribution which economic model building could make to our understanding of national and economic problems. I was interested when the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson) referred to Professor Moser's evidence, because Professor Moser said that the model of the education system to which he had referred will rarely be a sophisticated description of the education system and its great merit is that it forces one to think "comprehensively". Perhaps his use of the word "comprehensively" is ambivalent in that context, but I was very pleased to see that Professor Moser said of this model that It is no better than the statistics one feeds into it"— referring again to the point which I was making earlier.

Properly and intelligently done, with appropriate allowances for the quality of data, this model building can be immensely fruitful, and undoubtedly, by the end of the century, we shall see in model form on computers representations of reality which are at present almost undreamed of. But, until we have in industry a whole generation of executives who understand just what an economic model is, we shall not get very far. Most of them can understand the need for a mock-up of an airliner's fuselage or the body of a new car, but the model of a company's marketing or cost structure, festooned with mathematical formulae and oozing magnetic tape, sends shivers down the spines of most executives, and I think it lowers the temperature appreciably in this Chamber.

This is the transformation which is really needed, a transformation which will not be brought merely by increasing the number of statisticians in industry. It may be brought about, but then only slowly, by a steady and perceptible rise in the intellectual quality of all the main streams of management recruitment. This is the fundamental issue. Nothing less will suffice, and the other solutions are, in my view, much less than second best. On the whole, they do not work at all.

5.20 p.m.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)

I echo the congratulations that have already been given to the Committee on the work it has done. However, I am very disappointed at the attitude to the Report that the Government seem to be taking.

It is not very often that I refer in a speech here to both a former Liberal Prime Minister and a former Conservative Prime Minister, but I think that it may be apt to do so on this occasion. It is said of the late David Lloyd George, probably quite erroneously, that to avoid worrying about the problems of a par- ticular day during the First World War he used to read a newspaper of a year previously. Thus, he would today be reading a newspaper of 4th May, 1966. He used to say, "Look at all the fuss they made about those things and nothing happened. Therefore, there is no need to get excited about things now."

It may be all very well to maintain the calm of a politician, but it is no use for statisticians. To quote from a later Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Macmillan when Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget speech of 17th April, 1956: … I am told that some of our statistics are too late to be as useful as they ought to be. We are always, as it were, looking up a train in last year's Bradshaw. He said later: More complete and more up-to-date information will not only help in the proper ordering of the national economy, but it will help industries themselves by enabling them to foresee more accurately the conditions in which they will have to operate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th April 1956; Vol. 551, c. 867–9.] The first thing we must do when we consider a statistical service, whether Government or otherwise, is the functions of one that is efficient. I suggest that there are three essential functions. First, it must correct the relevant, and probably only the relevant, statistics, because too much can be nearly as bad as too little. Secondly, it must be able to present and publish information in such a way that industry and the general public can appreciate it. Thirdly, it must be able to analyse statistical information and produce some relevant conclusions. I shall not follow the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) in his scepticism about some of those conclusions.

Let us consider the Government statistical service in the light of those criteria, first, from the point of view of collecting required information in various spheres. I am afraid that we must come to the conclusion that very few of the essential data are available. I shall not quote every possible example, but we could quote many. When we consider the figures of migration, for example, we find that the annual Command Paper has now been discontinued, with the winding up of the Oversea Migration Board, and there are no later figures available.

Mr. Hamling

Is my hon. Friend aware that the figures of migration published a century ago are better than they are now?

Mr. Roberts

That may well be true.

Again, in the sphere of the balance of payments there are no figures of portfolio investment or oil industry investment by country. There is no figure of the stake of overseas countries in Britain, and that is very important, particularly for some of us in areas like South Bedfordshire.

When we consider simple things like housing we find that there is inadequate information on rents. There is no official figure of the average local authority rents in England and Wales, and there is very little about private sector rents or on distribution of tenants according to the ranges of rents paid. There is very little information about house prices apart from those asked for purely new houses.

We could go on and on in this way. For example, the published figures of employment vacancies are really no indication of the true position, for we know the problem of married women who are only paying industrial injury benefit contributions. The problem of car registrations is another that affects my part of the world; there are no figures by make of car. Similarly, no national figures about local government elections are available for parties—hence the marginal disputes between the two sides of the House as to various turnabouts and so on in local politics.

The matter can well be summarised by what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology said on 13th February. He told the House: One of the difficulties about discussing this subject"— he was referring to the brain drain, which is probably one of the most vital national issues— is that the facts and statistics that are necessary are not fully available. I do not criticise the party opposite for the decision it took in the past, but this difficulty continues. There were understandable reasons, but, having discontinued the statistics, it is difficult to get accurate figures."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1967; Vol. 741, c. 137–138.] That is a fair summary of the position. The figures in many directions are simply not available. In addition, there is the genera] delay in obtaining figures. The supreme example of that is the census of population. There was a fairly thorough analysis quite promptly in 1951, but we are still waiting for many of the conclusions and findings of the 1961 census, although computer facilities have greatly improved in the intervening period.

A simple thing like the Annual Abstract of Statistics is now running late. We are now getting it towards the end of the year, whereas a short while ago we would get it towards the summer. That sort of thing happens right along the line. There is perpetual delay with the census of production. To quote Mr. Macmillan again, late statistics are very little good. There certainly is a problem with the absence of statistics and delay in their collection.

Mr. Will Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)

I am intervening only because of my hon. Friend's mention of Mr. Macmillan. I shall not launch into an illiterate attack upon statisticians, but I hope that unlike the hon. Member for Porthsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd), who is leaving the Chamber, my hon. Friend will pay some attention to ideas. I was in the House when we used to wait every year for the Economic Survey. We had a wealth of statistics but no ideas, and, anyway, the statistics were inaccurate every year. I do not see that there is any difference of one gets them in May instead of November, if they are not accurate.

Mr. Roberts

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am fully aware of the shortage of ideas when the Macmillan Government were in office.

Statistics are certainly not available in many spheres, and there is delay in obtaining them.

I turn now to the presentation and publication of statistics, and for very good reasons I shall confine myself to the Monthly Digest and the Annual Abstract. Perhaps I ought to explain that there is a division within statisticians. There are those who are concerned with industrial problems and there are those who used to be called source statisticians. It has often been a problem for those involved in things like marketing and operational research to find the sources of statistics, official or otherwise. I shall confine myself to the Monthly Digest and the Annual Abstract, because often that is all we have available to us.

As has been said, there is a great shortage of comprehensive guides to official and unofficial statistics. Probably the most famous contribution in this respect is that made by Professor Kendal—"Sources and Nature of Statistics of the United Kingdom", which is still a classic of its kind. A contribution was also made in 1966 by "National Income Statistics, Sources and Methods". Generally, however, there is still a great shortage of information about statistical sources, which means that many people, including even industrial statisticians, have often been groping in the dark when trying to get pieces of information, and the problem for industrialists as such has been even more acute. They have not know where to find the information which they have sought.

One of the problems associated with the actual statistics when they are found is that there is often no guide at all to the degree of error associated with them.

Mr. Hamling

The statisticians do not know, do they?

Mr. Roberts

It is not quite as simple as that. For example, there has been some contribution about the relevant range of error in the National Income Statistics, but it is true that in the great bulk of the work in the Annual Abstract there is hardly any guide to the range of error.

Mr. Hamling

Would not my hon. Friend agree with me that the degree of error is sometimes mentioned in the introduction which will refer to a figure, say, five years hence, and that five years later it is sometimes discovered that the degree of error should have been twice as much? What use, therefore, are current statistics?

Mr. Roberts

That is a point. However, one should attempt to establish some sort of error margin in data and some attempt has been made to provide it in the National Income Statistics. In general, there is little or no guide and this leads to considerable problems. It has been said that politicians quote what they regard as devastating figures without realising how great is the range of error associated with those figures.

Mr. Hordern

What the hon. Gentleman is saying is most interesting, but does he not draw the conclusion that, if statistics themselves are sometimes in doubt and have a variable value content, it is unwise to draw up a National Plan upon such statistics, a plan which may be acted upon by the whole economy and the whole country?

Mr. Roberts

There is an old saying that some information is better than no information at all. Obviously, anyone who plans an industry or a country, or anything else, has to work according to what figures are available.

Mr. Hamling

Will not my hon. Friend note in passing that we now have it from the Opposition Front Bench that it is the considered view of the Opposition that national planning should never be attempted because we might be wrong?

Mr. Roberts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is far better to depend on some plan, some model, even on the match sticks theory. One has to work to what figures one has. The point which I was making was that the figures generally have a considerable margin of error.

For instance, the figures of the 1961 Census estimated that there were about 1,000,802 homes without water closets. I do not know how, but it has now been found that the figure should have been nearer 1,500,000, a difference of about 492,000. That may not seem to matter very much, but it matters to those 492,000 households without water closets.

There has to be some guide as to the level of error involved in such statistics. There ought to be footnotes explaining the nature of the tables with which one is dealing. There are often changes in the criteria by which certain data are measured. I can give a simple example. Judging from the figures of juvenile delinquency for 1963 and 1964, one might conclude at a glance that juvenile delinquency fell between 1963 and 1964. In fact, that was not the case. What the figures in the Annual Abstract fail to show is that in February, 1964, the age of legal responsibility was altered from 8 to 10. This vital piece of information completely changes the nature of the figures. It is, therefore, important that there should be footnotes to explain the nature of official statistics and as far as possible to provide some criteria of their accuracy.

There is a great shortage of these official publications. The number in this country is considerably less than that in many other industrialised countries, although the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Economic Affairs are to be congratulated on the number of figures which they are now making available. However, in other directions there is a shortage of statistics. Hon. Members may be surprised to learn that the Annual Abstract is far smaller than that published in most other industrialised countries. It is far smaller than that of the United States, and, what is more surprising, smaller, I believe, than those of Switzerland, Israel or even Luxemburg.

There is a general feeling that there is a shortage of official publications giving relevant statistics. It is overwhelmingly important that there should be a resumption of the public investment white papers. There is also the need for another census of wholesale distribution. I believe that the last one was in 1950. I regret to have to say it, but the nationalised industries seem prone to discontinue their statistical publications. Among the casualties are British Railways statistics and the annual census of transport staff. Some figures seem to have disappeared altogether.

Finally, I come to the analysis of statistical data, but because I turn to it finally does not mean that I think it least important. Indeed, in many ways it is by far the most important. It is certainly the most neglected not only in Government but in private industry. Many industrial firms have statistical departments which consist of a place where weird and wonderful figures are filed and passed on to the Government when asked for. Little use of such data is made in decision taking or forecasting.

We should pay tribute to the work done by the D.S.I.R. and which is now done, partly at any rate, by the Ministry of Technology. The D.S.I.R. tried to educate private industry in operational research techniques, the use of computers, in significant factors affecting industrial production and in economic models and forecasting.

I am particularly concerned with forecasting, perhaps because at one time—I am sure many hon. Members will be surprised to know this—I sat at the feet of Professor Johnson, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West referred. This was many years ago when Professor Johnson was only a humble lecturer. Although Professor Johnson may feel that he has had many men of greater ability at his feet, I have great respect for his ability and his contribution to statistics.

It is essential that we run industry and the country not only on what happened yesterday and what is happening today but also on some estimation of what will happen tomorrow. Some times those of us who, like myself, have had training in statistics ask Minister for estimates on various matters, including an estimate of what will be the position by 1968 or perhaps even 1970. We are horrified to hear time and again the sort of answer, "I am not a crystal gazer. Do not expect me to look into a crystal ball." It is time they started to look somewhere—not into crystal balls but certainly to an efficient Government statistical service which collects the necessary data, provides the public and industry with that data and draws conclusions as to what the future may bring.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)

I apologise both to the Joint Under-Secretary of State and to the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) for not being able to stay for the remainder of the debate owing to a previous engagement. I say this because some of my remarks may modestly stray into controversy, and I regret that I will not be able to defend myself from the excellent ripostes to which I shall be subjected.

The Motion asks us to take note of the Fourth Report. That does not put a great strain on our loyalty. I am delighted to take note. The Report adds fascinating reading to the volumes we may have collected upon the development of Government policy and the weapons available to the Government for the execution of that policy, particularly upon the range of information available to the Government whenever they seek to identify those areas of the economy to which they wish to direct their interventionist appetites, appetites which are enjoyed by most of their supporters and which excite a certain amount of caution on the part of those of us on these Benches.

Mr. Hamling

All hon. Members opposite?

Mr. Biffen

Many of us. Certainly I have held that view ever since I have been here. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a standard speech."] We all have a standard speech which we make from time to time. I accept that there may be nothing that I say this afternoon which is not reasonably predictable. Be that as it may.

Mr. Dobson

Would the hon. Gentleman care to give the HANSARD reference of his speech. We could then look it up and this would save him the bother of delivering it again.

Mr. Biffen

That would be moving perilously near the American system of reading into the Congressional Record and that I would not wish to support.

I have three points to make. First, the general attitude towards economic statistics; secondly, the relations between Government and industry, which are specially covered from paragraph 49 onwards in the Fourth Report; thirdly, and most important, the incomes policy, which is the subject of paragraphs 87 and 91.

We delude ourselves into thinking that we live in a rather more rational and scientific age than our forebears. I fear that this is not so. I believe that we live in an age of particular mysticism and that the mystical religion today is economics.

The economists are the high priests and the statisticians are their acolytes. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) performed a great service in making out the powerful case that he did about the limits of error that there are in the figures presented to us, and on which we fashion policy. Make no mistake, it is a failing of us all to engage in "growthmanship", to suggest that power should be entrusted to us in this Chamber, because we have the ability so to arrange the affairs of the country that a certain, predetermined rate of growth in the national product, or gross domestic product, at a certain rate of consistency—I know that I will carry the hon. Member for Stoke on Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) with me on this—is within our grasp, if only we can have the right tools and the right responses, induced if necessary by the exercise of the right authority on the part of Government.

This is a very dangerous myth which has been with us for a long time, particularly, dare I say it, since Keynes. There is now a widespread belief that Governments, by frequent intervention with fiscal measures, can by light touches on the brake or accelerator, keep the economiy in a fairly steady condition. Even the Chancellor's conversion to the view of Professor Paish, I suspect, is prompted by a belief that at least it provides steadiness, even if it does not provide maximum growth. I am not saying that this may not be true. All that I am saying is that it is an act of faith to believe that it is true. In my view it cannot be scientifically demonstrated.

My second point has to do with the anxiety which seems to have concerned the Committee, that there should be a far freer flow of information between industry and Government concerning the major statistics of manufacturing and distributive enterprises, such as the rate of investment, level of stock and presumably their prices and the general market distribution of their products. It was widely argued that this should be done through the Economic Development Committees. I was not surprised that recommendation No. 21 said that the Economic Development Committee should be closely involved whenever new statistical enquiries addressed to industry are being contemplated and should have an opportunity of commenting on the form and context of questions. This is innocent enough, but all my observations of the Economic Development Committees lead me to believe that the flow of information between the Government and industries grouped into Economic Development Committees will encourage the worst aspects of cartelisation and protection. By sharing information with the Government, industrialists will hope to hook the taxpayer and Government into pulling them out when they run into difficulties. There will be no shortage of business men who want assistance.

I am particularly sceptical when I hear that people of such distinction as Mr. Catherwood, who was schooled in that well-known cartel industry, the aluminium industry, saying that he would like to see amendments to the Restrictive Trades Practices legislation, and then to be told that this is what the Government propose. Equally I am sceptical to be told that the machine tool Economic Development Committee is very anxious that more information is made available about the type of machine tools now being imported. This is presumably, so that home manufacturers can be guided and taken along by the hand in an attempt to secure the market when, if they had faith in their own free enterprising ability, they should be out there, identifying what are the type of machine tools being bought by manufacturing enterprises, and deciding whether or not they can enter into this type of manufacture.

The most important part of the Report concerns the incomes policy. The Committee has given us ample evidence, in paragraphs 87–91. It is entitled, "Productivity, Prices and Incomes". The final sentence says: Your Committee regard … as of considerable significance in the implementation of the incomes policy and are concerned at the paucity of factual knowledge which is readily available in this field. This is a useful starting point.

There are no recommendations, alas, arising from this, and therefore no observations, although we might have some from the Joint Under-Secretary. What worries me is that the whole basis of the prices and incomes policy proceeds on the assumption that the Government have the ability to identify and select. Once one undermines that ability, then any justice, any equity which might be claimed for the policy, falls to the ground. Yet the Joint Under-Secretary's colleague, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour comes here, week after week telling us, when we are asked, legally, to freeze some modest income arrangement, that this is a small price to pay because the policy is working and these freeze orders are for a few mavericks who seek to break the line.

However, says the hon. Gentleman, the general policy is working, and all is well. This is nonsense. He cannot stand at that Box and say, "I know that no other movements in incomes have taken place, these are the only ones and these we are freezing." He does not know that, it is an act of faith on his part, based upon the aggregate figure available, which covers a myriad of prices and income movements.

It so happens, from an examination of the statistics, that the movement in the aggregate figure in this credit squeeze is not significantly different from the movement of the aggregate figure in the credit squeeze of, say, Mr. Thorneycroft, when there was no thought of a prices and incomes policy. I ask the House to reflect one stage further. The information available on incomes comes, broadly, under two headings for employment purposes. There is information concerning wages and information concerning salaries.

This is an arbitrary division. For most of us, in terms of commonsense, whether a man is paid as a salaried employee or whether he earns his living by being paid a wage at an hourly rate, should not be a matter of material significance. But it is; it is vital to the working-out of this policy by virtue of the Government's statistics. Take the question of wages. The one point which is brought up is wage rates. What does the Committee say on wage rates? It says: Information on recognised wage rates is available but not on actual rates paid or on salary rates.

Mr. Hamling

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that there is imprecision on wage drift and on earnings also?

Mr. Biffen

Yes. Do not incite me!

Mr. Hamling

Go on; we are enjoying it.

Mr. Biffen

This is the reality behind a policy of arbitrarily moving in and setting aside the law of contract or of negotiations which have been hitherto freely undertaken between employers and employees.

Therefore, I should like to know on what basis the Government can take this interventionist and, to my mind, offensive action. Wage rates do not bear any relation to the actual level of earnings. We are told the level of earnings monthly, but there is nothing on salaries. The Government antennae are more sensitive to movements in wages than they are to movements in salaries because there is nothing to touch the antennae concerning salaries, apart from an annual index.

It is therefore hardly surprising that one was sceptical when, on 7th April, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour on being asked about the number of employees thought to have had income increases during the period of severe restraint, said: The corresponding information about salary changes is not available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th April.] When he was asked about the number of employees whose incomes had been statutorily frozen as a result of action taken under Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act, he said that the numbers were 29,400, but I have no reliable information about the number of employees indirectly or directly affected who may be classified as salary earners."—[OFFICIAL REPORT.] My guess is that the 29,000 were predominantly wage employees.

Mr. Dobson

Would the hon. Gentleman give the reference in the Report?

Mr. Biffen

These are replies by the Ministry of Labour to Parliamentary Questions tabled by me.

Mr. Dobson

I thought that they were answers given by the Department in the Report we are discussing.

Mr. Biffen

No. These are examples of the inadequate statistical knowledge available to the Ministry of Labour demonstrated in questions about how the policy was working out during the period of severe restraint.

Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)

My hon. Friend may recall that he asked a Question in June last year, I think, about the numbers of people employed in the salary-earning and wage-earning categories. The latest figures given were for 1961. That is referred to on page 36 of the Report.

Mr. Biffen

That is true. Another Answer which I received from the Ministry of Labour on 7th April this year was that 41 per cent. of all employees are thought by the Ministry of Labour to be trade unionists. This is a vital matter, because it is the collective bargain which is known to the Ministry of Labour much more than the private negotiation with people who are non-unionised. Therefore, in view of the 60 per cent. who are non-unionised, one is entitled to ask whether the Ministry knows as much about the movement of incomes of these people as they do about the movement of incomes of people whose incomes are, at least in part, determined by collective bargaining.

That question was addressed to the Minister of State at the Department of Economic Affairs earlier today. He said that the Government did know as much about the movement—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman was present. I could hardly think of a supplementary question to put. It was not the answer which I expected.

Mr. Hamling

May I suggest a supplementary question: "Is it not true that the Minister knows as little about unionists as he knows about non-unionists?"

Mr. Biffen

Yes. That was the only answer he could give, because he knew nothing.

It is on this basis that we are asked to sanction a highly controversial policy which involves Government intervention to determine individual rates of pay. We have not even started to consider how much the Government know about fringe benefits. We should not think that they are not significant, particularly as they affect salary earners at the upper end of the scale. The Hay-M.S.L. could reveal a good deal to the House about that form of emolument for higher-paid executives.

Mr. Hamling

Golden handshakes.

Mr. Biffen

I do not say that it is a bad thing; I merely say that it is a factor which must be taken into account.

But we have a Government who are congenital Nelsons whenever this question is raised. Every Tuesday evening it is the Battle of Copenhagen for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour as he firmly fixes his spyglass to his blind eye and says, "I can see none of these difficulties. All that I can see is 20 delivery drivers of the Crown Bedding Co. or the unfortunate employees of the Rothesay Burgh Council." They can be seen; they are visible. Therefore, they incur the wrath, the intervention.

Reading this Report convinces me more than I was convinced before that there are vast areas of the most significance in the movement of incomes about which the Government know nothing. We must ask ourselves whether it is consistent with a free society that the Government should be given the power to know all these movements in incomes. I do not believe that it is consistent with a free society. Certainly it is not consistent with an enterprising society, with maximum initiative and opportunity, that the Government should be invited to learn about the amplitude of detail which makes up the movement of incomes. I have talked only about incomes. If I were to talk about prices, this speech would have been twice as long.

6.7 p.m.

Mr. Eric Moonman (Billericay)

I have no doubt that the problems set out in the Report have made it extremely difficult for parts of the prices and incomes policy to work. I agree that some of the sections in the Fourth Report bear this out. Since last July Members have spent probably 100 hours or more in examining the Tightness of the policy. This is a just criticism which can be made.

Paragraph 91 of the Report refers to the fact that the lack of implementation of the incomes policy is due in part to the lack of factual knowledge. There are two very important examples in that paragraph. However, it was a pity that the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) decided to make a political case out of the lack of statistical information, which is at the heart of today's debate. The force of his case and the energy with which he presented his arguments, which some of us on this side of the House would support, was wasted because of his desire to introduce a purely political concept.

Getting the right information is a problem. Getting information which can be properly quantified is a problem. These are the sorts of things which this debate is about. We must not drag the question of prices and incomes through this debate. The hon. Gentleman has misjudged the mood of those who wish to make a contribution to the debate. He said that his speech was predictable. He should not have bothered to make it at all. I cannot be too critical of the hon. Gentleman, because the two previous speakers—I hope that they will not take this amiss—seemed to be developing their speeches in such a way as to cut out the time available to other hon. Members.

I want to ask the Minister to give some reference to this important question which is raised in paragraph 91. Quite clearly, it is a major criticism. There is no reference to it in either the observations or the recommendations, and the House has a right to know about it. The fact that it is not mentioned is something which we cannot allow to go before the end of the debate.

In passing, may I say how enthusiastic we were to hear the report of the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, who, I see, is now leaving the Chamber.

I wish to develop the point that the prices and incomes policy is one which has often been misunderstood in certain quarters. The evidence of the lack of information is borne out by a number of reports. I have referred already to the Fourth Report of the Estimates Committee. I want now to add a quote from a statement by the National Board for Prices and Incomes which was made in the form of a Press release on 18th April. It says: Wage negotiations are normally conducted on the basis of information about wage rates and limited information about average hours worked and average earnings available from public statistics. Because of the important differences that often exist between basic rates of pay and total earnings due not only to overtime pay but to other supplementary earnings, this information is often inadequate for a proper basis of negotiation under an incomes policy. It goes on to make the point that that is particularly the case when the industrial classification of published statistics of earnings differs materially from the structure of wage negotiating machinery.

That is a criticism which is borne out not only by the Report of the Prices and Incomes Board, but by the type of information which we receive from the Ministry of Labour. The way of meeting the difficulty is to try and get some degree of co-ordination of the information, rather than criticising the whole concept of Government policy on this. What we want is some unification of material.

If we take the weekly and hourly rates of the wages indices, there is almost a jungle of information. They went haywire in January, they show a sharp rise over December, and the same sort of rise as last year. In reality, the weekly rates of wages did not move up in that way. According to the Ministry of Labour, the wages indices moved this year and last year in such a way as to be very misleading. The reason for it is that the index, automatically or by decision, has been calculated so that it reflects increases in basic or minimum rates and not actual rates. I would suggest that the Ministry makes it quite clear in future that the indices were based on recognised minimum rates of wages because, unfortunately, that is not what the public has generally assumed.

It is interesting also to bear in mind that we can learn from the experiences of other countries. In Holland, just after the war, it was decided to engage in an incomes policy. As a preliminary basis to that work, it was decided to have a full job evaluation of all work. That is essential information before attempting to manipulate the material as it comes.

I want to make two or three observations on the presentation of materials. In my opinion, Recommendation (5) is right, but I am surprised that the observation which follows is extremely cautious when it does not need to be.

On the wider use of statistics and the problems of scarce professional resources, which are dealt with in Recommendations (8) and (12), I would expect the Minister to indicate whether he feels that the rather cautious language contained in the observation is something to which he can add, because, again, this is something which needs close attention.

My third point on the presentation of material is that sometimes in the reports of the Ministry of Labour and of the other Departments covered by this inquiry the language needs some modification. I am sure that we recognise the extraordinary success of Northcote Parkinson and his law, and there is no doubt that it touches on some aspects here.

A fourth point which I will make is about typographical improvements which are necessary in some Government documents. As an ex-printer, I can only feel that the document described as "a list of principal statistical series available" is one which is in urgent need of improvement. It is a most difficult docu- ment to follow, and there is no doubt that it is something which could be improved.

One of the points stressed in both the Report and in the minutes of evidence is the need to make sure that industry is aware of the material and the statistical information available. Any medium-sized or small company would find this booklet a serious challenge, and it should not be. With the exception of the larger organisation, there are few people who will be attracted to searching for information that is needed.

That brings me to the point of industry's responsibility. Clearly, the majority of firms have now co-ordinated an approach to the receipt and analysis of outside statistics, whether they be from Government sources or trade federations. In that connection, the evidence submitted to the Sub-Committee by Courtaulds is unique. Here is a company with a large specialist staff and where personnel are encouraged to understand and use statistical methods. Nevertheless, what we have to get across to companies in the medium and small-sized range is some form of digest which brings together many of the pieces of information which are scattered throughout many documents and require a great deal of effort to discover.

The Government ought to encourage industry to undertake more positive research itself. That is something on which, in terms of statistics which are relevant to the Ministry of Labour, we spend a great deal of time studying "negative" factors. The Ministry encourages industry by its own analyses of absenteeism and labour turnover. We ought to be asssessing the reason why people are coming to work and why they decide to maintain a high average of attendance. It is because of this negative, almost punitive, factor in our research in the personnel management field that so much effort is devoted to the negative side. The Government ought to be prepared to encourage industry to involve itself in other types of research than negative ones.

At best, industry regards statistics as an operational "thing". This is not an academic exercise. I do not think that it JS interested in the political arguments which have been advanced. It wants to see how far the information which it is asked for can be given quickly, and speed is of the essence. Industry will always react to duplication and overlapping, and that is a very serious criticism which can be made against Government Departments. This, again, is something contained in the Report, and to a very small extent in the Departmental Observations.

Let us look at some examples of duplication and overlapping. The D.E.A. conducted an inquiry into occupational trends from 1964 to 1970, calling for particulars of expected changes in administrative, technical and scientific staff. This overlaps with the work of the Committee on Scientific Manpower and the Ministry of Labour inquiry on employment in the metal using industries.

To take another example of overlapping, in 1965 the Chemical Industries Association was obtaining for the D.E.A. data for the industry's forecast for the National Plan. Then it was asked by the Manpower Research Unit of the Ministry of Labour to provide long-term data of exactly the same sort for an inquiry which the Unit was conducting on future requirements for skilled and scientifically trained manpower.

If we can look at the problems of overlapping in terms of industries and Departments, the forms will look after themselves. While it is right for hon. Members to raise the difficulties and refinements of particular types of forms which have been distributed, it is the reason why the forms go out in which I am interested. That is something which aggravates industry and which can be easily dealt with, but it has been allowed to continue. What we are talking about is how to use the information we have, and how this can be put into operation quickly.

We do not need to go very far into the problems of servicing organisations. My short check on the House of Commons Library suggests that the statistical section is very small, and this is probably why hon. Gentlemen are less inclined to be here at what I consider to be an important debate. The Library consists of three clerks, one typist, a part-time officer and a clerical officer. This is the centre of power, as it were, in the Library to deal with statistical work.

This is nonsense. It does not mean that they are not attempting to provide Members with what is sometimes a unique service, but it is not enough when we consider that there are 630 Members here, and I am suggesting that this is something at which we ought to look, as well as encouraging industry to be more effective.

The whole problem of servicing affects Government and industry, and I would therefore, like to make some proposals to deal with this. First, I think that we must have a more critical function by a central Government Department or agency of all the material distributed. The C.S.O. could be given responsibility for commenting on the relationship between statistical series put out by different Government Departments. Such critical analysis must be taking place already, and I therefore ask my hon. Friend to tell us whether this can be published.

Secondly, a great deal of information is being collected by independent bodies. I am sure that many hon. Members are grateful for the work done by Incomes Data, and no doubt my hon. Friend will comment on this. This organisation produces a very useful record of economic and financial information, but always directed to the operational needs of industry, and as far as I am concerned it is the only place where one can get a complete statement of productivity bargains.

This, again is an omission on the part of the Ministry of Labour and the D.E.A. While it is true that references to agreements are reported in the Press, and in Press releases, there is no one central source for this information. The only place where I have discovered this is in the organisation to which I have referred.

Thirdly, greater care should be given to the qualitative aspect of Government inquiries. In many respects we have only the material. We have to sort out how useful it is, and whether it can be directed to the proper channels.

Fourthly, it would be useful to study the methods of other countries in the many inquiries that were made. There is a great deal of documented evidence, but we do not have any other country's experience. We have the views of individual professors, and references to the work of Departments, but I do not think that we have any useful contributions about how a country operates its statistical services. This would be helpful. and it is something into which the Committee could look.

It would be a pity if this debate concluded without a reference to all those who are engaged in Government statistical work. Those who add and tot up through the night do so with little public sympathy, and it would be a pity if it also became a question of failure to understand the work that they were doing because of the political arguments mentioned by hon. Gentlemen opposite.

6.24 p.m.

Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham)

I join the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) in expressing our admiration for, and appreciation of, the work done by the statistical offices. We are asked in this debate to note both the Fourth Report of the Estimates Committee and the Ninth Special Report relating thereto. It has been said already that we are prepared to welcome the Fourth Report from the Estimates Committee, and all I am prepared to do is to note the Ninth Special Report.

I shall be very surprised if the Report does not receive considerably more attention than it has done up to now. It is a regular mine of information. It has done what Radcliffe did for the private sector—unearthed the methods of calculation, and indeed the very machinery of government, which will prove invaluable to economists, and, I dare say, to political commentators. Certainly, this debate provides an opportunity, of which we have made plentiful use, of making political comments on some of the economic methods employed.

I do not wish to spend much time on the political arguments which have been raised so far, but I must say that among the interesting features of the Report is the number of condemnations on Government policy and of other attitudes and methods of Government Departments. For example, few people could have anticipated such condemnation of the National Plan as appears in the Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs describing how the Plan was drawn up in the first place. To say, as the right hon. Gentleman does, that selecting a terminal year and making a single assumption about the level of output to be achieved in that year meant some loss of conviction in the Plan is nothing to the credibility gap that will emerge to anyone reading this Review if another Plan is produced, which I feel sure it will. This was rather confirmed by Sir Eric Roll, who said that in his judgment the Plan was drawn up too hastily.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) attempted to have some fun by saying that there was no difference in the Committee in its attitude to planning. The hon. Gentleman is not making the distinction quite clear between forecasting and planning, and this may be the opportunity to state my views on this question.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite are united on the need for planning, whether compulsory, or, as they call it, voluntary planning. We on this side do not accept planning of any kind. We accept forecasting, and there is a real distinction between these two matters. We rely on some of the evidence that was produced in the Report, and not just on a philosophical objection, but on practical objections, to the absurdity of drawing up a whole complicated National Plan stretching years ahead when one starts on the basis of very weak statistics.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) and the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts) about the weight which should be given to statistics and that this weighting should be given publicly.

Paragraph 29 on page 36 of the Report deals with the difficulty of drawing up effective statistics on the balance of payments. It says: But for balance of payments purposes imports have to be expressed in expected future values and this requires the taking of a view of the course of world commodity and other prices, an area where it is notoriously difficult to find any reliable predictive tools. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know this as well as I do. One our our prime difficulties is that of forecasting any effective or reliable figure for the balance of payments, and our practical objections to building a plan on such a weak array of statistics as are available, and the difficulty of trying to consolidate them into a practical plan are confirmed by the experience of other countries.

During the last 18 months I have visited the Dutch Central Planning Bureau, the French Commissariat du Plan, Germany, and more recently the Council of Economic Advisers, in Washington. Experience in all these countries shows that where one tries to draw a hard and fast plan, stretching years ahead, it is almost certain that disaster will follow. This has been the French experience. They have had five devaluations since the war, and the production index a few years ago was the same as in 1919. The best advice to the French has to be to buy gold and to put it under their beds, and this is what they have done. The Dutch have been referred to as a nation who believe in planning, but the Dutch play says that figures constitute a forecast and not a plan.

Mr. David Marquand (Ashfield)

I understand the hon. Gentleman's distinction between forecasting and planning, but am a little surprised at his vehement objection to planning when it was the Conservative Government who set up the N.E.D.C., which began this country's exercise in indicative planning. Is he saying that this, too, was a mistake?

Mr. Hordern

Not at all. I do not describe that as planning, but as forecasting. I will say later what I mean by forecasting and I think statistics can provide proper assistance for the formulation at least of Government policy if of no one else's.

I was referring to some of the highlights of the Report, some of which are perhaps not so important, but which nevertheless provide some amusing interludes in a very serious work. Professor Stone has been mentioned. As one who does not agree with his views on economic planning, I was amused to see that, after he said, We need a little more of the spirit of 'What's good for the nation is good for General Motors' and a little less of 'What's good for General Motors is good for the nation' he admitted, in answer to one of the first questions put to him by the Committee, that most of his researches were paid for by the Ford Foundation.

Those of us who do not agree with Professor Stone's views obviously find some comfort in what Sir Eric Roll had to say about his being too theoretically perfectionist in some matters. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology obviously learned something after Professor Cairncross and Sir Alexander Johnston had finished with his views on economic models.

I warmly congratulate the Committee on its achievement in eliciting so much of the mechanics of economic decision-making, even if this was not its primary purpose. For the first time, it is possible to make a qualitative judgment about our statistical services. If we have had many criticisms and comments to make, this is only because we can, for the first time, make a valid comparison on what we have learned from the Report. We have come a long way from what the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South referred to, Mr. Harold Macmillan's remark about Bradshaw.

The Treasury referred to a transformation in the range and reliability of statistics. This is evident from any comparison with the previous position in this country but this is not the only comparison which should or could be made. It was impossible not to conclude from my visits to Holland, France, Germany and the United States that the statistics themselves there are far more meaningful as a basis for economic discussion, and, therefore, in their value for business and industry, than the statistics which business and industry have provided in this country. I do not mean that our statistics are not very informative and valuable, but, in the way they are presented, they compare unfavourably with the practices in other countries.

The reasons for this are partly technical and partly political, and I wish to comment on the Committee's recommendations under these two main headings. I deal, first, with what I regard as its most important recommendation, for a common register.

The Department's observation on this recommendation and the C.S.O's evidence in Appendix 4 were discouraging. The Department said that agreement had been reached in principle on the value of a common register, but that … final decision must depend on numerous practical points which have to be settled. The Appendix says: It is not always realised that for practical reasons different reporting units have to be used for different statistical series and that the decision on the type of unit to be used in any particular case has to be flexible in order to minimise the demands on the responder. But what could minimise those demands more than one common register by which all the classification could be kept with a different form of coding? This is surely obvious. All the evidence suggests that a common register is essential, as also is the need, as far as possible, to evolve a common form of inquiries for different industries.

To say, as the Department does, that some questions are deliberately repeated in Government Departments for purposes of control or comparison merely shows an alarming ignorance of the technical capacity of an advanced computer system. I therefore welcome the Committee's recommendation that a standing group with specialised knowledge of computers drawn from within and without the Civil Service should be appointed under the auspices of the C.S.O.

But I did not like the Department's reaction, that the chairmanship of such a Committee should fall to the Treasury Management Group. This is like asking Scrooge to promote luxury cruises to the Bahamas. On its own evidence, the Treasury should not have this responsibility. I believe that a separate Department of State should be set up to introduce new technical thinking and techniques into the Civil Service. The Treasury recently published a number of occasional papers, one of which I have here, called The Design of Information Processing Systems in Government, but even this was published without the Treasury's responsibility and its description of computer techniques is pretty elementary.

According to the Statistical Office, 13 Departments were using their own computers for statistical purposes at the end of 1965, another three were installing them and six Departments sent out work for processing elsewhere. In the United States, there are about 3,000 computers in Government service, which is rather more than all the computers installed in this country.

I am sure that the Treasury's Organisation and Methods Department makes frequent visits to the United States and the Continent to study computer developments in Government. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can give us details of the number of visits. However, I cannot believe that they are made at a high level, since so little has been done in Government Departments in this respect. I appreciate, of course, that the number of computers which I gave in the Government service covers only the statistical services and that there are other computers for other purposes, but even so they lag so far behind the practice in other countries that I cannot believe that the figure is acceptable——

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

Although there may be a shortage of computers in Government service in this country as compared with the United States, would the hon. Gentleman not agree that there is a similar or even greater shortage in private industry here as compared with the United States? Would he therefore conclude that the Committee which he considers setting up to look after scientific management or organisation should also include in its sphere the education of private industry in these modern techniques?

Mr. Hordern

I do not. I spoke on this last night in the debate on establishing a Post Office computer grid. I am all for establishing more computers in Government service, but if private industry does not install enough it has a painful way of learning that it should. I am against intervention and certainly do not favour Government intervention in the supply of computer power to industry.

I ask this question of the Under-Secretary because, when I was in Washington a few weeks ago, one of the Congressmen on the Joint Economic Council complained to me that they had only two computers to check the Administration's own calculations. I have talked about the enormous number of computers in the Government service there. To draw a comparison, if hon. Members in this place complained that we had only two computers to check what the Government purported to be their forecasts for the current year, we should be in a good position. I thought that that comparison was useful.

Difficulty may arise because the quality of our middle and junior grade civil servants is so high, compared with other countries, that the incentive to install computers on the part of the Administration is not so great. There is also the possible fact that the extra flood of work imposed on these civil servants has not been as high in Britain as elsewhere.

The readiness to adopt new methods and techniques cannot come merely by looking at them or by attending courses to study them. This is what the Report recommends. It can come only by a constant interchange of top management—between civil servants, representatives of industry and the universities—a practice which is widely followed in the United States.

The status and career prospects of statisticians should be improved, although one of the recommendations of the Committee, about pensions, should be specially considered and may be dangerous in this context in the sense that if pension arrangements are made especially attractive people may have less desire to move either into university or industrial life. It is this interchange of top personnel between these three strands of national life which is an important factor in the United States and which could be profitably followed here.

I notice that in discussing the nature of the task of statisticians, some hon. Members feel that their job should not be only to study and evaluate statistics. This is a good point, since industry is more and more demanding a common form of service. It might be that somebody has expertise in economics, statistics or accounting, but more and more, as computers are used in large companies, there is a requirement for people with strands of expertise to have knowledge of all these professions. Statisticians should be able to get experience not just in computer techniques, from the point of view of the administrative part of the statistical services, but, also, that they should be encouraged to gain proper economic experience in business and industrial life.

I turn to some of the political points arising from the Report. First, I make a special plea to make what statistics we have as realistic and credible as they can be. I refer particularly to the gold and dollar reserve figures, which come out each month and which everyone in the world knows are totally unreliable, sometimes blatantly misleading. Either they should be accurate or not published at all.

Secondly, the production index. It takes, on average, 50 days before the figures are announced here, whereas in the United States it takes only 15 days. The Department's explanation for this is that it takes almost all this time to gather the returns from industrial firms. Why should these firms be so reluctant to pass on this information? The principal reason must be because they are not sufficiently interested in the statistics which the Government provide. This is borne out by the fact that, as the Report says, out of 347 companies asked, 30 said that they never noticed Government statistics, 104 that they never used them and 166 that they sometimes found them useful.

The problem cannot be solved by investing more in advertising. If anybody now wants statistics, he must know where to begin to look for them. If he does not know where to start looking, it can be a discouraging process. A great deal of time and effort is spent by many people in extracting consistent economic figures. There should be a library to which they can go and ask for the fullest figures on any subject, rather than turning to the Journal, which may contain the figures, but about which one must know something in the first place.

What does the Department do with the statistics it has? Does the Board of Trade use them as, for example, a basis for examining new policies and for improving efficiency in industry? What sort of analysis is made of the statistics? The fault in all the discussions and reports is that, in the first place, statistics are not sufficiently reliable, are difficult to readily obtain, that not sufficient analysis is made of them, and that no informed descriptive work is done on the meaning of the analysis that is done. Does the Board of Trade make an assessment of the statistics to enable a number of predictions, or even one, to be made about the probable course of events if present policies are pursued? This is what I mean by a forecast on the lines of the forecasting done by the Dutch.

The nub of the political case about this Report concerns the forecasts the Departments make to their Ministers and whether these forecasts should be made public. There seem to be three main reasons why the Government are reluctant to publish Departmental forecasts. The first is because the forecasts themselves may be shown to be technically deficient in the way in which the statistics have been gathered or interpreted. The second is because the predictions may be politically embarrassing—for example, forecasts in respect of wages or unemployment. The third is because the forecasts may prove to be wrong and, therefore, bring the Government's capacity to manage the economy into disrepute.

The Committee stated, in paragraph 80, that if forecasting procedures were to be improved it would be shortsighted to restrict the flow of information. My hon. Friends and I are convinced that the supply of meaningful forecasts from the Treasury is woefully inadequate. We need a full survey into the current position rather on the lines of the Annual Report of the Council of Economic Advisers in the United States. This is a bulky document, a copy of which I have with me, but it is a readily readable interpretation of current statistics and the way in which the administration of the economy will develop. It is widely read throughout business and industry in the United States.

All that we get from the Chancellor is the admission that he feels like a mixture of Old Moore and Captain Coe. He will be treated like a mixture of those two unless and until he produces an intelligible commentary supported by the fullest statistics and calculations. In that respect, one cannot help but mention the failure of the National Plan, which did not produce nearly enough statistics or a meaningful analysis or commentary of how the figures which were projected had been arrived at in the first place.

One of the principal reasons for the decline in manufacturing investment is that industry does not have a realistic idea of the Government's short-term thinking about the economy. In fact, international organisations like O.E.C.D. have a much better idea of our balance of payments official forecasts—whether or not they learn about them unofficially—than anybody here. The Chancellor of the Exchequer must realise that his statements and forecasts, although wrong, would be treated with much more respect if we could see how they had been arrived at.

I therefore welcome this Report. I am sure that it will gain wider coverage as time goes by and, in so far as it succeeds in pushing the Government into disclosing more information, into establishing a more important rôle for the Central Statistical Office and improving the techniques of economic forecasting, it will perform a valuable service.

6.49 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. Peter Shore)

I join the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) and other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate in paying tribute to the Select Committee on Estimates, in particular, that Committee's Sub-Committee, for producing an outstanding Report. I am sure that hon. Members will join with me in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) for initiating this debate and for his part in Chairing the latter stages of the Committee's work. We are equally grateful to his predecessor in that position, my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray), who is the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology. They can look with great satisfaction on their achievement in publishing this Report. It is not too much to describe it as a landmark. As we heard at the beginning of the debate, one most unusual feature of the Report has been the use—for the first time, I think—of specialist assistance from outside. I have no doubt at all that the Report has been greatly improved by the help of Professor Pyatt, and I add my tribute to him.

Another unusual feature of the Report is the high ratio of written to oral evidence. That high ratio in turn reflects both the very searching questions that were put to Government Departments and the very full responses which the Departments gave. Another point about the Report is that this is the first time the Estimates Committee has looked at the statistical services, but, more than that, it is the first really major occasion since 1947, when we had the Statistics of Trade Act, that the whole of the Government's statistical services have been examined.

I have the duty of commenting on the very large number of separate points that have been made this afternoon. I know that I shall not succeed on commenting on them all. I hope to deal with a number of them now, but others I may have to take up later in discussion or correspondence with hon. Members.

I begin by commenting on what was said by my hon. Friends the Members for Woolwich, West and Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson) about the departmental response to the recommendations. I am afraid that I cannot accept the suggested classification of the replies into acceptances, rejections and others. This, perhaps, reveals that one of the problems of statistics is that one has to agree a classification before one can start tabulating and putting particular things in particular brackets.

Another point is that the Government's attitude to the recommendations is in many ways very correct. We are expecting additional information to be fed into the Government—and I shall have something further to say on that later—in particular, in relation to the Jackson Report about which hon. Members will know. In addition, we shall be taking account of the many points that have been put of us in this debate.

I would seek to reassure my hon. Friends by saying that no doors have been closed. If my hon. Friends have found a certain wariness in the written responses it is because the great pressure on human resources in the statistical service, of which we are very conscious at present. This makes us very cautious, until we have completed our own studies, about accepting, at the same time, as it were, all the many recommendations and suggestions for change that are put to us. We have here a real problem of priorities.

We have had from the Opposition a somewhat ambiguous attitude towards Government statistics. Some hon. Members opposite went out of their way to point to inadequacies. I have very much in mind in this respect the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen)—I am sorry that he has had to leave us, while appreciating, of course, the reason—who spoke on the inadequacy of our material on earnings. A point that will not have escaped any hon. Member is that the hon. Member for Oswestry would have been appalled if we had had the material he was so anxious to point out we lacked. No one would have been more disturbed than he had we had all that information available——

Mr. Hordern

I do not think that my hon. Friend would have been at all appalled if the Government had had those statistics. What he objects to is that the Government should act on the statistics against private industry, as they have under the prices and incomes legislation. That is what my hon. Friend objected to.

Mr. Shore

I do not think so. I listened with great care to the hon. Gentleman on this subject, and I have no doubt at all that his basic complaint is that anyone should dare to interfere with the free market in wages, prices, dividends, profits—anything. That is one attitude. But I put it to the House that if this is the emotional attitude underlying the Opposition's approach to Government statistics—or the attitude of a significant number of hon. Members opposite—they can hardly complain when we now find ourselves in a situation in which our services are overloaded and we are short of very many services which we need in order to carry out effective modern planning. This is the whole point. Our statistical services are today under great pressure because it was not until about 1962 that hon. Members opposite decided that it was worth while to gather information to help them in economic decision making.

The hon. Member for Horsham made a distinction between forecasting and planning. I find that a very fine distinction and, frankly, he did not explain it to my satisfaction. But the point he must take is that whether we are forecasting or planning we still need the same input of information, and it is the failure in years gone by to secure this kind of information in a systematic way that allows the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends to make much of the criticism that we have heard from them today——

Mr. Hamling

Can my hon. Friend distinguish between the anarchism of the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) and that of the Opposition Front Bench?

Mr. Shore

I should like to have been able to distinguish between the two, but I heard the hon. Member for Horsham make a very categorical statement to the effect that he was against planning in any form whatever.

Mr. Hordern

I am against compulsory planning and I am against what the Government refer to as voluntary planning. May I make that quite clear?

Mr. Shore

The hon. Member has not helped.

Mr. Hamling

Conservative planning.

Mr. Shore

Whatever the hon. Member's conception of planning and forecasting may be, the point is that we need a great deal more information and more systematic work than we have now. Virtually all of us, with the exception of the hon. Member for Oswestry, will be interested in getting statistical information. There are three things we want. First, if we collect information we should be able to identify problems and, better still, if possible we can anticipate problems. This debate has focused largely on economic problems and on related statistics, but the collection of statistics goes very much wider than industrial or financial statistics. I am thinking particularly at the moment of the very important contribution made by the collection of demographic information which goes right back, I am told, to the year 1801.

This kind of information is of great importance for revealing problems. If a Government are sensitive to the information and interpret the information they receive they will, with that information alone, put in train a whole series of policies. I think, for example, of the importance that we now attach, and rightly attach, to the increase in population of this country and all the implications that has for pressure on the social services generally, education in particular, and of course on housing needs and so on.

The important thing here is to identify problems and to anticipate them. That is the first need. The second very important contribution which good statistics can make is to enable us to monitor our own policies. I think it was Professor Titmus who once pointed out the great importance of the unintended consequences of Government decisions. He was talking of Governments generally when he made that remark. It is true that Governments aim their policies, whether they are economic or fiscal, to achieve certain things, but unless there is a follow-through, unless there is actual survey work done, unless there is the collection of material and systematic work, we do not know whether we have achieved what we set out to achieve with a particular measure or have missed the target altogether.

The third reason why we want statistical information, why it has become so important, is that in spite of what hon. Members opposite have been saying all parties know that they have to plan nationally and have to plan ahead in a systematic way. I think back now to the N.E.D.C. report and the 4 per cent. growth rate put forward then, and the famous White Paper at the end of 1963, which was an attempt to forecast ahead the totality and particular categories of Government expenditure over a four-year period. It was this which led to the famour phrase about careful costing which we heard so much about during 1964. They were able to forecast Government expenditure over a four-year period on the basis of the N.E.D.C. growth rate at that time, and came up with some most remarkable figures about what could be afforded by the nation under the various categories of Government expenditure.

I do not complain of that now, it is all behind us, but I am absolutely certain that hon. Members opposite should they ever—I hope not—be again on the Treasury Bench would find themselves in great need of just this kind of information for national planning about which they are being so critical and indeed so ambiguous in their general attitudes.

Mr. Marquand


Mr. Shore

Yes. I should like to go on from here to comment on some of the improvements which are needed in our statistics. A number of very critical points have been made but I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the very high professional quality of the astonishingly small number of people who do the statistical work for this country. Not the least of the surprises to me in reading through the evidence of the Select Committee was the discovery that only about 160 professional statisticians are responsible for processing this fantastic flow of information which Governments now collect. Although there are criticisms they do not take away from our recognition of the very high quality of professional skill we have serving us.

There has, of course, been an enormous increase in the demand for different kinds of statistics. There is here a very great pressure indeed. I shall comment later on one or two priorities and groups of statistics which are of great concern to us, but running through all of the criticisms which are made I think there are three themes. One, of course, is the desire for greater accuracy, which everyone wants. Secondly there is the desire that figures should be published and information should be made available far more quickly. Thirdly there is the demand for greater detail and greater coverage of statistical material.

At present there is something of a conflict between these objectives. We can get greater speed in certain statistical series, but I have no doubt that we would pay a greater price in accuracy if we accelerated them. The same point applies if we are to get greater detail and wider coverage of the field. Unless we can get a greater build-up of resources we shall lose out on speed.

Another point, which may be relevant in the light of some of the criticisms which have been made, is that there is of course a great opportunity through the use of computers, ultimately to speed up processing information. I am thinking now of the use of computers in a very modest way. It will not have escaped the notice of hon. Members who read the Report that the first experience of using computers was not a happy one. This is very frankly stated as being among the main difficulties and reasons for the delays in publishing the full results of the 1961 census of population and also of the 1963 census of production. One hopes—indeed, I am sure—that the experience gained in using computers to process the material from these two censuses will not be wasted and that the further censuses which are in hand will benefit enormously by the work which has already been done although the price had to be paid for the changeover to new methods.

I turn to what seemed to be the five or so main questions that were raised in my mind, and I think in the minds of other hon. Members, by the Report and I shall try to answer them, at least to some extent.

Mr. Hordern

When talking about computers I particularly asked the hon. Gentleman to deal with the number of visits which the O. & M. Department of the Treasury makes to countries which use computer services.

Mr. Shore

I cannot tell the hon. Member about the number of visits made to other countries, but I shall try to obtain the information for him.

I turn to the main problems and questions which arise from the Report. The first concerns staffing and the shortages of professional statisticians with which we are faced. Information on this is available already to the House in the Select Committee Report, but the most important figures which I should quote are these. There were 169 posts at the end of 1964 and there are now 251 posts. That was the April, 967 figure. Those are established posts, but they are not all filled. In April, 1967 there were 52 unfilled posts. The problem of adequate trained manpower lies at the heart of most of the reforms, changes and improvements we ant to make in the statistical service.

In an effort to overcome this deficiency, there is a considerable range of schemes to encourage recruitment. There is a cadet statistician scheme, the idea being to give a year's postgraduate training at a university to suitably qualified people. There is a bursary scheme under which people with the right kind of ability are sent to university for a completely professional course. There are determined efforts to raid the universities for students or graduates who have had statistical training. A considerable advertising campaign is shortly to be launched to attract statisticians into the Government service.

No one would contend that this is enough. We must obviously try to attract more people and train them for the Government service. Our efforts will be assisted if we can succeed in making Government statistics more attractive as a career. This brings me to the important point of the opportunities available for professional statisticians in the higher grades of the Civil Service. At the end of 1964 there were only 32 posts of Assistant Secretary level and only four above that level for professional statisticians. These are astonishing figures. There are now 44 Assistant Secretary posts and 15 above Assistant Secretary level. I do not believe that this process has by any means finished. The Treasury is carefully examining the question of particular posts with responsibilities attached to them.

Our recruitment would be greatly helped if more of the actual nature of the work done by Government statisticians was generally known. Government statisticians are not just playing with figures and collating them. The job is much more exciting. It reaches out into econometric studies, input and output studies, various applications of forecasting techniques, cost benefit studies, computer costing, problems of sample survey design, etc. The work is in the econometric field and opens up a wide range of interests.

The second important question raised by the Select Committee was what we could do to improve the collection of key statistics. Hon. Members have been right to emphasise the importance of achieving a common register. At present the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Labour are both responsible for collecting an enormous amount of information from industry in their respective fields. Unfortunately, although there is a considerable overlap in the classifications they use, there is not an agreed classification. It is very difficult to relate the information collected by the Board of Trade with that collected by the Ministry of Labour.

This situation must end. The reply may be a little cautious, but this is only because of the immense amount of work involved in reconciling the two classifications. There are no fewer than 100,000 entries to harmonise so as to achieve a common register. When these two Departments have achieved a common register, other Departments which collect information will be able to join them, thus achieving the wider register envisaged by the authors of the Report. This is a key objective in the improvement of Government statistics.

The Family Expenditure Survey is also extremely important. It was, incidentally, through the use of this survey that the Allen Committee was able to identify so clearly the problem of the burden of rates on low-income families. The information provided by this survey enabled us to introduce the rate rebate Measure, which was designed to assist precisely the groups whom the survey had revealed as being most in need.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

The work in this field is particularly important. Would the Government consider producing a more complex retail price index than the present very general one, with the association of specific retail price indices to certain expenditure groups? Expenditure patterns vary considerably according to the income classification.

Mr. Shore

One of the recommendations in the Report relates to whether we could get a cost of living index related, not only to different regions, but also to the expenditure of particular social groups. We have asked the Cost of Living Advisory Committee to consider and report upon this question.

The Family Expenditure Survey has many other uses than that which I have quoted. We are greatly enlarging the numbers brought into the scope of the survey. The previous figure was 5,000. This year we hope to survey 10,000 homes to get a much broader basis for information.

I was asked particularly about earnings figures. We are aware of the inadequacies, but much is being done. For manufacturing industry, twice-yearly earnings figures have been published for many years. We are now trying to get earnings figures for retail distribution to complement those we have for manufacturing industry. We are also trying to bring together earnings figures for wages and salaries—this will be on a twice-yearly basis, I hope—rather than having a separate annual salary survey. We are also concerned, not merely to have regional earnings figures, but to have sub-regional earnings figures also. This will greatly improve our statistics in this field.

Considerable advances are being planned on many other fronts, but I shall not go further into illustrations now. Instead, I turn to the third question arising out of the Select Committee's Report. Several hon. Members rightly emphasised the importance of relationships with industry. We have the Statistics of Trade Act, 1947, and there is legislative authority to require people to provide statistical information, but the truth is that the system depends to a great extent upon voluntary co-operation. It is right that it should. There are great difficulties for the Government and, I suspect, for industry, too, in getting the flow of information quickly enough to be of use to both sides. But I would take a slightly more optimistic view than some do because I think that industry itself has come to realise that it is not just a producer of statistics but it can be, and will increasingly be, a consumer. Furthermore, the attitude of industry, unlike that of hon. Members opposite, towards planning and forecasting has changed significantly in recent years. Industrialists are rather anxious to co-operate in getting a much better picture, since they will benefit certainly as much as the Government if our statistical services and sources are greatly improved.

Particular problems here can be ironed out with the help of the E.D.C.s, several of which have statistical working parties. This is of great assistance. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) raised the question of people being able to use Government statistics on a payment basis. There is a great deal to be said for this, but, here again, the question of priorities and timing comes in. I tell the House frankly that the service at present could not be asked to undertake more than it does, or, at least, it would have to be extremely careful in giving industry more help in the immediate future, because of the great difficulties of overloading and the shortage of professional manpower to which I have already referred.

The fourth main point arising out of the Report, on which hon. Members have commented, is the possible use of computers. I have already assured the hon. Member for Horsham that I shall look into what the Government statisticians are doing about keeping in touch with what goes on in other countries in the use of computers in helping to provide Government statistics. The main recommendation here was that a standing group should be set up to look at the uses which the Government make of computers and to advise on possible improvements. We accept this recommendation, and I hope that we shall shortly be able to appoint the standing group recommended.

The last point I take up is one which many people regard as the key to several of the questions on which I have already touched, namely, the organisation of Government statistics and, in particular, the rôle of the Central Statistical Office, together with the rôle of the other Departments which are collectors and processors of statistics. I feel that one should have some sense of history in approaching this question. I pointed out earlier that the first census of population was taken in 1801, so that that part of our statistical service has a very long history. I am told that the first census of production took place in 1908. The Central Statistical Office was set up in 1941, during the war.

The point I am making here is that statistics have grown up Departmentally in response to particular needs over a long period of years. The case for coordination and central management has, as it were, come late. Indeed, it seems to be a corollary of the general aim of effective national planning. The House will have noted that this is one of the central themes, that the C.S.O. should come to play a much stronger co-ordinating and central management rôle within the statistical service. I should say that it has always played a central rôle, but it was the view of the Estimates Committee that this should be pushed much further.

Several functions are involved, of which, it is necessary for me to refer now, perhaps, to only the most important. On the one hand, there is the standardisation of forms and so on, there being several recommendations touching upon Recommendation No. 3. There is the coordinating and general channelling of industrial inquiries, which lies behind several of the later recommendations. This rôle of the C.S.O. is important; it will be developed in the near future and will become more vital as we move over to a more computerised system of industrial statistics, and still more so as we move over to central data banks. Next, there is the function of setting technical standards for statistical work generally and of advising on methods.

All that is part of the work of the C.S.O., but, above all, there is the rôle of determining priorities within the statistical system and initiating as well as co-ordinating statistical inquiries, taking major responsibility for starts and balance of work in the service as a whole to fit in with priorities. I hope that the Committee will read my words now against the background of what I said earlier about the great shortage of professional statisticians in relation to the ever-increasing load of work being put upon them.

The Report of the Select Committee, the official comment upon it, and today's debate, are by no means the end of the story, but, rather, they mark the beginning of a further sustained drive to improve our statistical services for both Government and industry, to get information of a kind and in a form, and with a speed and accuracy, never before possible. The statistical service itself has been enormously encouraged by the great and renewed interest in its work and is acting with vigour to meet the demands put upon it.

As the House knows, we are fortunate at this critical stage in the development of the service to have as our new Director of Statistics a man who contributed to the work of the Select Committee and who is, of course, of outstanding ability and of great experience in the world of statistics. I can now tell the House that we have received the substance and the main conclusions of the Jackson Report, which was commissioned just over a year ago. I assure the House that it will be studied with keen interest by all those concerned.

I should like to leave the House with the understanding that we feel that a vigorous start has been made, but that we are still looking to a gathering momentum of change and improvement in this very important sphere.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

I welcome the Report, partly because, being a passionate advocate of Select Committees, I welcome any Report that shows that they do their job and do it very well. This Report has shown that Select Committees work, and work well.

I am also glad to be able to intervene in the debate because it has been of great interest to many hon. Members for the insight it has given us into what can only be called the "new Conservatism". We have heard very interesting things about it today from two hon. Members on this side of the House. We heard that the Conservative Party is against planning, and we even heard from the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) that he is against the gathering of statistics. We also heard some scathing remarks about Government intervention of any sort.

The matter is not as easy as that. It is only necessary to close a railway line in the constituency of a Conservative Member to realise just how far Conservative Members will go in wanting the Government to keep out. In fact, they will be begging the Government to intervene. Let the Irish export a little meat to this country and then listen to those M.P.s howl for Government intervention. The fact is that we are all planners now—Conservative, Liberal and Labour alike. We must be planners, because as long as we put on the Government the burden of responsibility for full employment, a stable exchange rate, the balance of payments, and so on, surely we must accept that they must intervene in order to take those responsibilities on their shoulders?

Some of the remarks about the National Plan from this side of the House seem to indicate that it was a total disaster. But what was wrong with it was not the statistics on which it was based; what was wrong, and the disaster about it, was the lack of willpower in putting it into operation.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is getting a little wide of the subject of the debate.

Mr. Pardoe

I am sorry. Mr. Speaker. The subjects were dealt with in speeches, particularly from the Front Bench on this side, and I therefore wished to make those remarks.

Of course, one wants to warn against the misuse of statistics. Obviously, not all policy can be made by just gathering more and more statistics and hoping that the right answer will come out of the bag. That is rather to approach policymaking with the degree of assiduity with which William Manchester approaches the writing of history, feeling that if one gathers together more and more facts in one book one will have something at the end approximating to history. But if one gathers more and more facts on the Common Market, for instance, it does not mean that one will become a convinced Marketeer, or even be able to make up one's mind. That point has been made more than once here.

I probably had very good training in my early days of business for taking a sceptical look at statistics. I worked for a company whose job it was to measure television audiences. One tried desperately to forecast accurately the future by building up more and more averages. Five-day running averages, five-week running averages and all the rest of the statistical paraphernalia was used, and then some idiot moved "Emergency Ward Ten" half an hour earlier and threw the whole thing out.

That illustrates that one should not base the whole of one's decision-making on a set of statistics. But it is inevitable that policy will be based on statistics to a very large extent, and, therefore, if one is to base policy on statistics one must see that they are right and inspire confidence. They must be up-to-date, and must be properly comparable, particularly between the areas to which they apply. All those points have been made fairly effectively in the Report.

An example of a way in which bad decisions were made as a result of bad statistics was possibly the decision to devalue the £ in 1949. One could argue that if the actual situation of the reserves at that time had been known, instead of the wrong figures being available, a different decision might have been made. I hasten to add that I happen to be one of those who believe that devaluation did something good for the economy at that time, but I think that that shows that one can make wrong decisions possibly because of the wrong statistics. For instance, we are now suffering a shortage of doctors largely because of inadequate statistical information on which to base the supply of medical school places.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he is really pointing out, not the absence of statistics, but the absence of adequate factor-finding? If one can determine the relevant significance of various factors—and one must have the statistics in order to do that—the decision should be made in the right way.

Mr. Pardoe

It is true that even if one has the right statistics available one can make the wrong decisions, or can merely ignore the statistics, and it is very important to have the right kind of machinery to quantify the statistics available. An obvious example was rearmament in the 1930s, when the statistics were available but most people ignored them.

As a somewhat frustrated back bencher trying to obtain statistical information from the Government I have a particular point, because I think that a bang up-to-date Governmental decision to be founded on totally inadequate statistics—the Channel Tunnel decision. I asked the Minister of Transport on 15th March to give me some idea of what proportion of the gross revenue from the Tunnel would come from the traffic going to and coming from the South, the Midlands and the North-East of England. I received the Written Answer that the regional make-up of cross-Channel traffic was not available. I believe that if it is not available one cannot decide where one wants to build a tunnel, or even whether one wants to build it.

I asked further questions about the Channel Tunnel, including that of how far the cost of moving the Tunnel further down the coast had been balanced against the additional social and economic costs of congestion in the South-East. I was given the same sort of answer: the information was not available. But those two points are absolutely basic to a right decision on whether or where to build a Channel tunnel.

It is primarily in the regional sense that I find a great lack of Government statistics. The Government are committed to regional planning, and I welcome that, apparently unlike some other hon. Members on this side of the House, but we have no adequate tools with which to do the job. The first criticism of any type of statistical information available about the regions is that it is not directly comparable in a geographical sense. We have the planning regions, the hospital regions—even the British Iron and Steel Federation districts—and a whole host of others superimposed and coming up in an ad hoc fashion. Therefore, one cannot take one of the figures available and compare it with another, because the two do not apply to the same area.

I realise that it is very difficult in the hotch-potch of rural district councils, employment exchange areas, county council boundaries and all the other feudal rigmarole with which we are loaded to decide what areas Government statistics should be based on. It is not even really meaningful to say that they should be based on counties. I frequently ask for figures about Cornwall and this is because I have no better area to talk about in relation to statistical analysis. It might be better to scrap the idea of these old boundaries and apply some sort of grid system because one would then know what one was talking about.

There is a strong case in the computer age for going over to a grid system of statistical analysis. One would get down to very small, pinpointed areas. One need not go down to the smallest grid, but certainly to the small, specific areas. It would be easier to analyse them and cross-reference them and compare them if they were all based on this system. I hope and I am sure that this will be considered.

When dealing with the regions, we are not only faced with the problem of an absence of any general geographical reference. There is the sheer absence of regional statistics. The Abstract of Regional Statistics was published in the last two or three years and many of us dealing with regional problems hoped that it would be a mine of information. It is not. All it does on every page is to excite one's curiosity and wish for more. It does not provide more.

In many ways, one finds Government statistics relating to the regions absent. For instance, the President of the Board of Trade was asked on 2nd May: … what is the total value of investment for which investment grants have been applied for to date in the North-East of England"? This is important, because the Government have devised a policy of differential grants in development areas. The President of the Board of Trade's answer was: The total value of applications received at the Billingham Investment Grants Office … was £40 million". This is a considerable sum of public money. He went on: in addition to the Northern Development Area, this office covers Yorkshire and part of Lincolnshire. More detailed geographical analysis of this figure is not available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1967; Vol. 746, c. 57.] It would be impossible to say what part of this £ 40 million of public money related to a development area at a higher rate and what part to another area at a lower. But surely this fundmental piece of information should be available to a Government Department handling out money on this scale.

On 22nd March, I asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to state the net revenue from the petrol tax in Cornwall, together with the Purchase Tax on cars and other vehicles. Of course, this related to Cornwall and there may be no specific reason why the Government should have the figure available. It was not available and the hon. and learned Gentleman offered no real alternative. He did not give a figure for Devon and Cornwall or a grid system or any other alternative. Surely, in planning road investment, it would be a good idea to relate it to expenditure on cars in an area. Obviously, all of us want more accurate regional statistics, because otherwise we cannot effectively plan in the regions. Hon. Members, particularly those representing development areas, cannot do their job effectively unless the figures are available.

All Government statistics must be capable of serious and sophisticated questioning on the Floor of the House or at any rate in Committee. That means more Select Committees with far better research facilities. It is wrong for the Government to be the sole source of this kind of statistical information so that, if one queries a Minister on a point, he can shoot back statistics which come from a Government Department and there is no real chance to challenge them because we have not the facilities with which to question their validity or margin of error. It is very important that Government statistics should be capable of serious and sophisticated questioning in the House.

I urge the Government to take this Report to heart. I appreciate that the statistical service may well be overloaded, but I hope that what the Joint Under-Secretary of State has said means that there is an inclination or determination by the Government to expand the service to the point where they can give us the tools of our trade.

7.46 p.m.

Mr. David Marquand (Ashfield)

I am in warm agreement with the first point made by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) in pointing to the significance of the Report to people concerned with Parliamentary reform. I was a member of this Sub-Committee. It was a valuable and rewarding experience. But I think my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) and my other colleagues on the Sub-Committee would agree that we could not conceivably have produced this Report had it not been for the fact that we had a special adviser in Professor Pyatt.

Thus, the first point which concerns my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State, but which I hope will also be taken note of by the Leader of the House, is that if there are to be further experiments with Select Committees it is essential that the precedent of this Sub-Committee should be followed and specialist advice provided.

Secondly, there is a good deal of controversy as to whether we need departmental or subject committees of the House. On the whole, the view seems to be held by most people concerned with Parliamentary reform that we should go for departmental committees, shadowing particular Ministries. The experience of this Sub-Committee suggests a contrary view. We were not a departmental but a subject committee. Because of this, we were able to examine a topic which runs across departmental boundaries.

The reason for the neglect of this topic in the past was precisely that it does run across departmental boundaries. It is the responsibility of everyone and therefore the responsibility of no one. But it is that kind of subject that is most susceptible to being inquired into by a Parliamentary Committee.

Mr. Hamling

Does not my hon. Friend agree that, if it had not been for this attitude, the Board of Trade would never have been set up?

Mr. Marquand

I am not sure that I follow what my hon. Friend means and which attitude he is referring to. The Board of Trade has been in existence since some time towards the end of the seventeenth century, so I am not sure whether he is saying that the attitude we now have is as antediluvian as the Board of Trade or whether the Board of Trade is an antediluvian as the attitude or what he is saying. But I am sure that he is right.

I turn now to the meat of the Report and its relevance to the major issues of economic and, above all, social planning with which we are faced. Many of the hon. Members opposite who have spoken in the debate seem opposed to the very idea of economic planning. The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) was even opposed to Keynesian economics and wanted to get right back to the early nineteenth century.

It is not as a result of doctrinaire ideological frenzy that Governments have started to embark on a path of economic planning. This was started by a Conservative Government and continued by a Labour Government. Should there ever be a Liberal Government, I am certain that it would follow the same path. If, which God forbid, the party opposite should once again occupy the Treasury Bench, it will be forced into the same path, no matter how frenzied the oratory of the hon. Member for Oswestry in opposition. All Governments are forced into this path, because it has now become quite clear that it is only if one is willing to engage in medium-term economic planning, only if one is willing to engage in detailed particularist intervention in the details of the economy, that one can provide the economic growth and the standard of living on which people in a democracy will insist.

What has emerged from the Report of the Sub-Committee and the evidence submitted to it is that new demands have been placed on the Government's statistical machine which, not surprisingly, was not adapted to deal with them. That is no reflection on the statistical machine, or on the Government, Inevitably, if new demands spring up they place strains on a machine not designed originally to meet them. Some hon. Members opposite have seemed to suggest that, because there are difficulty in the early stages of economic planning, we should turn our backs on the whole idea. That is an extraordinarily pessimistic view and the right conclusion is exactly the opposite—that because it is difficult, we need to perfect the machinery. That is what the Report is all about.

I want to mention one or two topics which fall under this general heading. First, it is clear from the Report that one of the major problems facing any Government wishing to carry out economic planning is the relationship between their short-term policies and medium and long-term policies. It is extremely difficult and extremely important to ensure that the short-term should not conflict with the long-term policies, and we have not reached the point where we have ensured that. I should like the Government to take very seriously the recommendations made and the considerations mentioned in the Report about the publication of the Government's short-term forecasts, so that much more work could be done, not only within the Government, but among interested bodies outside, on the refining of the techniques of short-term forecasting.

If that applies to short-term forecasting, it clearly applies even more to medium-term forecasting. This point is not made in the Report, but it is nevertheless very important. At the moment, we are given only the most hazy idea of the assumptions and procedures behind the medium-term forecasts on which the Government base their medium-term policies. I strongly suspect that what goes on inside the Government is still very unscientific and that people engaged in medium-term forecasting guess, or make hunches, or read into their own conjectures their own political assumptions, values and prejudices. But none of us can know, because none of us knows what are the assumptions and procedures used by the Government when they engage in medium-term forecasting. It is very important to a democracy and from the point of view of governmental efficiency that they should tear away the veil a little and reveal exactly what kind of thinking goes on when they produce their medium-term forecasts.

The second point under this general heading relates to regional policy. As several hon. Members have already mentioned it, I do not want to say much about it. I merely echo what was said by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North about its importance. I was a little disappointed that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary did not dwell at rather greater length on the importance of regional statistics. He said that Professor Jackson's report dealing with regional statistics was now in. I hope that the Government will be prepared to publish it, or at any rate to tell the public roughly what it contains, because it is of crucial importance.

I want also to concentrate on an aspect which to all of us who served on the Committee emerged as having tremendous potential importance, a matter which has been very much neglected up to now. This is the aspect of social statistics and social planning. In verbal evidence to the Committee, Professor Moser and witnesses from the Department of Education and Science were particularly vivid on this subject. It is clearly nonsensical to talk about economic planning divorced from social planning. It is nonsensical to imagine that a decision can be taken about the siting of a new university while ignoring the economic implications.

I go further than that. A university senate deciding whether to expand the production of physicists or of social phychologists, the kind of decision taken by universities all the time, should have to decide on what criteria the decision should be taken. At the moment, there are no criteria. It is purely guesswork, or preference, or log-rolling within the university, when clearly the decision has considerable economic and social implications. This is the kind of practical problem which the further development of social statistics would make easier. I urge my right hon. Friend to do all that he can to ensure that the Committee on Social Statistics which, according to the Treasury reply to the Report of the Estimates Committee, is at work, looks at this very important matter in the widest context.

I want finally to refer to the implications of the Report for the structure of government. One of the very strong impressions which I gathered from the hearings was that at the moment the co-ordinating of the C.S.O. is not adequate. The Parliamentary Secretary was very interesting when he discussed the way in which the statistical service had grown up. He pointed out that it had begun in all the Departments and that it was only much later that a central body had been set up. That clearly makes it even more important to ensure that that central body has the authority and power to insist that the Departments which collect the statistics collect them in terms of the overall interest of the whole Government economic planning machine and not simply their own Departmental interest.

Clearly this is a subject of the very greatest importance, particularly to the hon. Gentleman's own Department of Economic Affairs. The Select Committee made two recommendations in this area. We recommended that consideration should be given to upgrading the position of the ear of the C.S.O., and we also recommended that the position of the C.S.O. in the Government machine should be re-examined. I am glad to see that the Department's reply to the Report accepts the first of these recommendations, but I am very disappointed by what seems to be the rather asinine observations of the Department to recommendation 23. The Treasury said: The position of the C.S.O. and the Government machine has recently been reviewed and the Government is satisfied that it is best left where it is. The Treasury does not say why it is satisfied. It produces no evidence to prove that it ought to be satisfied, it simply tells us that it is satisfied. This seems to beg a very important question. The arguments which the defenders of the status quo put forward are that it is only if one locates the C.S.O. in a Cabinet office that it is free from departmental prejudice. This alone, it was said, could give it an impartial status, so that all the separate Departments would accept what it said without arguing. There is a very powerful argument on the other side if we are serious about economic planning. If we really want effective economic planning, we must have a planning Ministry in overall control of economic policy.

At the moment we do not have such a Ministry. We have a division between the D.E.A. and the Treasury. There is no doubt that with the existence of this division, the competing jurisdiction of these two Departments was one of the factors leading to the unfortunate events of last summer. If we believe in economic planning, we have somehow or other to face this issue. Either the Treasury must be the supreme economic co-ordinator and take over the economic planning function from D.E.A., or the D.E.A. must be the supreme economic co-ordinator and strip the Treasury of its economic functions, leaving it as a purely tax collecting Department. One of these two courses must be taken. I am convinced of this. Whichever Department is finally set up as a supreme economic planning Ministry, it is surely the right Department to have control of the statistical apparatus, which is the pre-requisite of effective economic planning.

8.3 p.m.

Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)

I count it as a very great privilege to have been a member of the Sub-Committee of the Select Committee, and to have sat under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), and also to take part in this debate. Not the least delightful and charming aspect of it has been the transformation of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West from the angel of light that he was as Chairman of the Sub-Committee into the voracious beast of a planner that we see in him now.

I detect a note of complacency and patronage on the part of those who have extolled the virtues of planning on the basis of this Report. I suspect that there is much less in it to support the advocates and champions of planning, whatever that may mean. It is a rather over-used word.

As a very general comment on what the hon. Member for Woolwich, West said in trying to draw his parallel between the evolution of Government statistics and the Christian religion, I would point out to him that one of the shrewdest things about the Christian religion was the advice given by the Apostle James in his Epistle, when he warned people who make plans about the future always to put at the end of their plans what has latterly come to be known as D.V. This is something which is overlooked. There are a whole lot of contingencies which are unplannable.

This is peculiarly so in the realm of government, if only because two of the most dynamic sectors in economic expansion, two of the most important components in total final demand, namely exports and investment, are almost entirely unplannable. Exports are certainly in this category. The factors governing the level of exports in the world are almost entirely unplannable by British governments.

Mr. Hamling

I would suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads the article in the Three Banks Review on this point.

Mr. Alison

I shall do that, but let us bear in mind that investment, the other big generative influence in economic activity, is very unpredictable and is certainly not, in the main, plannable by Government. A whole lot of other factors, confidence, expectations, hunches and adjustments, determine investment; and the more devolved investment decisions are, the less centrally planned, in contradiction to what the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Marquand) said, the more likely we are to avoid the sort of lurches to which we have had reference, the stop-go and the freeze, to which we have become accustomed.

We have not sufficiently appreciated, in considering the statistics that we have been examining, the extent to which the whole of the Government's statistical effort, the whole Government instrument of planning in the D.E.A. or the Treasury, is focused upon demand in the economy and the way in which the level of demand might be influenced by investment, consumption, stock building and the rest.

Having determined in advance that it is the level of demand which is the crucial factor in affecting the expansion or contraction of the economy, one has recourse to one's fiscal weapons. Perhaps it would not be out of place if I quote briefly from a comment made by Mr. Dow in his book, "The Management of the British Economy" which may well have come out with Government subsidy. The National Institute has some support from Government funds, so one could almost say that this is a semi-official production.

For those who put a lot of emphasis on planning, and the operation upon the level of demand through Government fiscal policies, and so on, it is worth reading something that Mr. Dow recorded about the operation of Government fiscal policy in the post-war years. He writes, on page 211: It suggests that the major variations of fiscal policy were in fact not stabilising, but rather themselves one of the main causes of instability; and that demand would have remained much more nearly in balance with supply if fiscal policy had, throughout the whole period, been less actively interventionist. Here is a delicious phrase for the planners: It is indeed a question whether we have not been too clever by half; whether the economy cannot get on quite well without a hand on the steering wheel; whether even a good driver is an improvement on no driver at all. These are fundamental questions …

Mr. R. B. Cant (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I quoted that passage last week. Has the hon. Member read the quotation by Professor Paish in Lloyds Bank Review for December, 1965, in which he contradicts this conclusion?

Mr. Alison

I said that these are "fundamental questions.…" It is too easily and glibly assumed that all that we have to do is operate on the level of demand through fiscal policy and all our problems will be solved.

Mr. Hamling

There are many other things.

Mr. Alison

One of the reasons why members of the Labour Party place a lot of confidence in improving statistics—I agree that they should be improved—is to prevent the lurches—the stop-go. This is close to the heart of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West. But I hope he agrees that there has been staggering improvement in the lurches compared with pre-war times. There is no doubt that the settling down of pre-war trade cycles, with their mass unemployment, into the calmer waters of stop-go since the war has been a major boon to mankind.

Mr. Hamling

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that stop-go is a halfway house and that the lurches have been intensified? This is one of the gravest dangers that we face.

Mr. Alison

I am not sure that I go the whole way with the hon. Gentleman.

Again, I turn to this prophet of a semi-governmental body. Mr. Dow talks precisely about the relationship between expansion and stop-go. On page 397, he writes: It is often argued also that the 'stops and starts' of official policy have constantly interrupted business plans, and made firms less willing to plan for expansion. This is probably true to some extent. Yet it may be doubted whether a relatively passive policy of keeping the pressure of demand as steady as possible would alone be enough to make a radical difference to the rate of economic growth". The premise that a better statistical service and surer operation on the level of demand would much influence the lurches and, secondly, that the lurches should self-evidently be influenced to get the rapid expansion which we want is false. We over-play the idea of fiscal operations, helped by better statistics as a means of getting steady expansion if we do not take other factors into account. There are many imponderables, uncertainties, psychological influences and confidence factors which are crucial.

I make no apology for being doubtful about planning if it is meant to subsume a whole lot of assumptions which are by no means demonstrable and clear. We should be much more pragmatic and open minded about it. We should put "D.V." after all our plans——

Mr. Hamling

Hear, hear.

Mr. Alison

—particularly because the crucial growth sectors are in exports, and in home investment which is very dependent on psychological factors. The more the risk is spread, the less the decisions are taken by a great central body, and the more diverse the appreciations of the way in which world trade and consumer preference will move, the better and more likely we are to steer an even course.

Therefore, do not let us have too much emphasis on central planning, which, from a Socialist point of view, means increasingly getting into the hands of Government those sectors in which one can dictate the investment plans and levels, like the nationalised industries. This is a very dangerous development, and it can lead to much worse lurches.

I wish to touch on one or two aspects of statistics in the Report which have struck me as being of interest. One of the things which comes through clearly—this is not a party point; the Parliamentary Secretary made it very fairly and reasonably in his brief historical reference to the evolution of statistics—is how comparatively recent are some of the basic statistics which are used in governing the level of demand. It struck me as remarkable that it was only in 1955 that we began to get quarterly figures for stock building. There was a variation as between 1963 and 1964 of over £400 million in stock building. Yet it was only in 1955, I understand—this was reported in the August, 1964, issue of Economic Trends—that we began to get quarterly figures. The instrument which we have in statistics is still blunt. It is rather like mediaeval surgery in its present stage of development.

I do not feel that the quarterly figures for stock building are a serious blemish on the record of the Conservative Party. The Labour Party was in power for seven years from 1945, and it was only three years after we regained power that we began to get quarterly figures. Again it is remarkable that the Central Statistical Office nearly did not gather the information for input/output analysis for the 1958 census. It was only by a whisker that it decided to include it. When one looks at the information in the input/ output tables given in 1963 for managing the economy, one realises how very recent are some of the instruments for affecting demand and assessing the direction of the economy.

To me, one of the most fascinating figures in the 1963 input/output tables is the variation in the quantity of imports per £100 of manufactured production which is needed. We need exactly half the quantity of imports for Government current expenditure on goods and services which we need for consumer expenditure on goods and services. When the Government start reflating and switching away from Government expenditure on goods and services towards consumer expenditure they will give a sharp stimulus to imports. One of the things which the Government must be worrying about is that imports, with a swing to Government expenditure in current goods and services, have not dropped more rapidly. They will rise more dramatically when the switch comes.

Another thing which strikes me in looking over the evidence which we gathered and the Report which we made is how unrealiable, in many ways, even the Government's own steady and regular statistical figures are. In the definitive article on short term forecasting in the issue of Economic Trends for August, 1964, it is boldly stated that that forecasting processes rely rather extensively on programme or survey material—for example, public authorities' consumption and fixed investment"— in other words, the sectors directly within the Government's purview. The main weight of statistical forecasting is based here for the short-term planning in which we are interested. Yet we find that in local authority expenditure, which must be one of the sectors on which the Government rely heavily, they have information about only three-quarters of local authority expenditure on goods and services. Since, in the current year, this is running at about £2,500 million, there is £600 or £700 million in the public sector, if Economic Trends for August, 1964, is to be believed, about which the Government have no information.

Mr. Hamling

Would the hon. Gentleman look at the article in the February, 1967, issue of Economic Trends on this subject

Mr. Alison

I read Economic Trends like the Scriptures. I shall read all the other books which the hon. Gentleman quoted.

Even within the sectors over which the Government have direct control—for example, local authority expenditure—they are, apparently, deficient in information to the extent of over £600 million worth of expenditure. This is staggering.

To come back to the key items in generating or retarding growth, namely, exports and investment, not only is the information sketchy, thin and poor, in the nature of things, but inevitably there is no prospect of improving the forecast of investment intentions other than by scooping the whole lot into the public sector and controlling it, which is a danger even worse than that which we face today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) got very close to part of one of the important deficiencies when he talked about the gold and foreign currency reserves and the uncertainties connected with them. One of the deficiencies from which we suffer in not having a common register is the collection of statistics by different Government bodies connected with their own operations.

A charming illustration which we have seen, which would be amusing if it had not such a critical effect on the fortunes of this country, is that the Department of Customs and Excise is responsible for the monthly trade figures. From an analysis which the National Institute carried out recently, it seems that the very sharp increase in exports registered in the last quarter of 1966, which must have had some effect upon confidence, gave a general indication of the pattern of the economy and made some people more optimistic than they should have been, was probably due to the fact that the Customs and Excise people found, after the end of the shipping strike in June, that there was a sudden rush of shipments.

However, they were all going on holiday, so they said, "We will defer all the paper work connected with the sudden upsurge in exports until the last quarter, when we come back from our holidays." The result was that there was a huge figure of exports in the last quarter of 1966, which was probably quite different from reality. But that is the way Government statistical services work.

I wonder whether the Committee's second Recommendation, dealing with the common register, about which the Parliamentary Secretary has spoken kindly and helpfully, will not to some extent overcome this sort of hazard, which is fortuitous and unnecessary whether or not one is a planner.

I want to refer with particular emphasis to the extraordinarily small number of statisticians. The Parliamentary Secretary gave us the figure of about 150. Here I speak not as a pro-planner or as an anti-planner but simply as a member of a community in which statistics are valuable for private industry as well as for public authorities. It is fantastic that the people capable of assessing and digesting this mass of statistics, especially from a non-common register, should be so few in number. Here I share the view of Dr. Balogh that there should be more of them in the higher echelons with a closer ear to the Minister. I am glad that the Committee has adopted something along these lines as its first Recommendation.

The methods of interpreting such statistics as we have at present are pretty blunt. It would be better if we had more statisticians and they had a closer ear to the Minister. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham, I believe that statistics are there to serve and not to dominate, and it is industry as much as anyone else that they should serve, rather than the Government. I detect a horrible trend in the way that the Government are operating. They want to get people into bigger units, partly because it simplifies, for example, the collection of statistics. It must be tempting in the Government machine to say, "If only we did not have to try to take the pulse of every little business firm in the country, it would be much easier."

The trend is to get bigger units to simplify administration and the collection of statistics. The more that things are made into big units, the more clumsy and inflexible the economy becomes; and we shall never have control over the world market in which we work. Let us use statistics for the benefit of business and not to simplify the task of the Government. Let us bear in mind, particularly, that all Government planning is Deo volente.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. R. B. Cant (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I am very glad to have this opportunity to read my essay to this select seminar—

Mr. Hamling

Gamma minus!

Mr. Cant

Most of the ground has been covered, but I want to make a few references to what is referred to as "short-term forecasting", almost entirely with reference to the national income, and to support the Committee's Recommendation 15.

I am a little worried about this nomenclature, because I thought that we were all planners now. I gather that some people are not planners at all. Some are short-term forecasters, others are long-term planners, and so on.

I was particularly interested when the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) said that he was neither a voluntary planner nor a compulsory planner. That took me back to 1934, when Mr. Macmillan published his seminal work on "The Middle Way". That reminds me that I share the disadvantage of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) in having learned my economics not only from Marshall. There must be a slight chronological discrepancy between us, but certainly I learned partly from Marshall and partly from Keynes——

Mr. Hamling

My hon. Friend might be interested to know that my teacher has just opened Keynes.

Mr. Cant

It was some time before my hon. Friend got round to it. As a result, I do not. share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friends for long-term planning or forecasting.

To some extent, we on this side of the House have been trying to run before we could walk as competently as would be desirable. I know that we have had our National Plan, and we keep reading about successors to it. We are told that the National Economic Development Council will be getting out a national economic strategy. Whatever it is called, if it is to be a long-term plan, we should be a little dubious about the conclusions which it reaches.

The Americans have just completed a long-term forecast of the United Kingdom economy which is summarised in the Management Journal for this month. It produces some exciting material. It is nice to know that, between now and 1975, the annual increase in the consumption of wine in this country will be at the rate of 4.679 per cent. compound interest. I hope that I live long enough to check that statistic. I think that we would do well to realise that even in the home of long-term planning, Moscow, they have not yet published the Five-year Plan which is supposed to extend from 1966 to 1971. Once we get into a society as sophisticated as ours, once we get away from millions of tons of steel and millions of yards of cheap textile material, in terms of production objective, long-term planning is a very sophisticated exercise.

How far are the statistics in relation to short-term planning adequate? In paragraph 77 we are told that the statistics are, on the whole, adequate to get the right answers, although it is conceded that there are considerable delays. This may be a question of resources, but when one goes to America and sees the Business Cycle Developments, a monthly publication giving up-to-date experience, one wonders whether even in Britain, which we know is a bit old-fashioned, we could not get more up-to-date information to help our forecasters.

Paragraph 79 says: Although witnesses as a whole were confident that the range of statistics available for forecasting exercises was generally adquate, fewer were satisfied with the extent to which they were analysed. The interpretation of data and the derivation from them of quantitative relationships is an integral part of the forecasting process, yet it is at this point that evidence taken by the Sub-Committee reveals the greatest shortcomings. Perhaps to illustrate that I might use what may be a dangerous example in the light of what has been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite, the problem of controlling the level of aggregate demand in the economy.

If one looks at the British situation in terms of monetary and fiscal policy, one sees that we have a policy mix which, if one asks why we use the techniques in this way, the answer is rather vague. For one reason or another, between 1945 and 1951 Labour Governments had cheap money, and a pretty astringent fiscal policy. The Conservatives were then returned. They insisted on placing much greater emphasis on monetary policy, only to find that this did not quite work as they expected it to, and so they began to lean on fiscal policy as well. Then, when the Radcliffe Committee Report was published in 1958, there was a feeling abroad that monetary policy was finished, and that the emphasis must be placed increasingly on fiscal policy, because the Radcliffe Committee persuaded us that there were all these terrible little things which had cropped up, like financial intermediaries, which, through their operation, frustrated monetary policy, and so on. What we have now as a policy mix really is nothing scientific at all, and when someone talks about hunches, and so on, one realises that this may have a great deal to do with it.

I think that I support the need for more statisticians. I do so not out of a dogmatic belief in the virtues of short-or long-term forecasting, but because I think that we should know, not so much what is going to happen in the future as a result of gazing in a crystal ball, but what will be the consequences of our actions. We do not know what the consequences of our current policies will be.

The hon. Gentleman quoted Dow. This is a massive piece of research, but now that an equally eminent, if not more eminent, economist, Professor Paish, says that his argument is not proven, surely this is a remarkable situation? If we look, in the context of the same sort of policy, at the controversy in Oxford Economic Papers, we get some economists arguing that fiscal policy is wrong because every time the Chancellor budgets to do something, for example, to have a large surplus above the line, he gets a small one. In other words, there is a negative correlation, and other people accept this, but they say that it does not mater.

I want more statisticians simply to have the consequences of our policies resolved and explained. This will be more import- ant in the future, because it is obvious that hon. Gentlemen opposite are becoming more and more convinced intellectually by the philosophy emanating from Hobart House, which is coming across the Atlantic, and which is really doing something to try to redress the balance.

Mr. Martin Maddan (Hove)

Is not Hobart House the headquarters of the National Coal Board? Does not the hon. Gentleman mean Hobart Place?

Mr. Cant

I am sorry. I am not familiar with the headquarters of these reactionary institutions. The hon. Gentleman may well be right.

The situation in America is a good illustration. We have converted the Americans to Keynesianism only to find that they are now reconverted to a belief in the old-style monetary theory. It is obvious that we have progressed from the quantity theory to Keynesianism and that there is a powerful reaction both here and particularly in America—among the Congressional Joint Economic Committee—to reassert the power of the banks and the importance of monetary philosophy.

There is an excellent illustration in the monthly Economic Letter of the First National City Bank, which says that the President of the United States has been told quite clearly by his Congressional Joint Economic Committee that his advisers belonging to the Administration who have been telling him that what is needed to control the economy is fine tuning through fiscal policy are quite wrong, and that monetary policy is the important thing. As one member said: We now see it as the task of monetary policy to set the growth path for the domestic economy, and it is the task of fiscal policy to achieve the money and capital market conditions that will validate this course. A Mr. Mills is more poetic: We must not let ourselves be put into the position of raising or lowering the hemlines of taxation from season to season merely to make the merchandise more salable. We do not know enough about the impact of our monetary and fiscal policies upon the general development of demand in the economy. I would support an addition to the statistical staff on this ground alone.

The hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) was right to say that mere statisticians are not enough. We need not only a policy mix but also a professional mix, of statisticians, economists, accountants, and socialogists, for satisfactory short-term forecasting. Resources must be increased, but how? Professor Cairncross revealed in his evidence that there are effectively only two full-time statisticians—not 150—doing what he calls "fundamental research" into these problems. How are we to increase this number?

We must certainly increase the staff of the Treasury or the D.E.A. I am worried about the Government comment in the Report that the universities will be asked to do a little in addition. In the official document beloved of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West Economic Trends, February, 1967, what is said about economists in universities I dare not even put on record.

It is obvious that there is a certain disillusionment about the contribution that members of universities can make in this context. I would wholeheartedly support additional funds and resources being made available to the National Institute of Social and Economic Research. There is great virtue, if not in independence then at least in quasi independence, and these people do a remarkable job and should have their resources increased.

One cannot talk about countervailing power when talking about a few people engaged on work at the National Institute and two doing fundamental research in the Treasury. This work is obviously of a practical nature and must be supported. That is why I support the Report's suggestion rather than the Government's comeback on it, so to speak.

8.41 p.m.

Mr. Edwin Brooks (Bebington)

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) likened the debate to a learned seminar. If I accepted that definition I might not feel disposed to take part in it, not having been a member of the Committee which presented the Report nor having had time to read in full the admirable document which it presented. However, feeling that this is more like a teach-in, I will make a brief contribution, remembering that Parkinson might appreciate the need for talk to fill the time available.

I regret that the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) has left the Chamber, for reasons which he explained. I wondered whether he had fled into the night because he was aghast at the enormities of our statistical, or mystical statistical, civilisation. I felt that he was speaking for no more than his own peculiar brand—that brand of perverse genius; the true-blue Enoch-hite—and it is really unnecessary for me to do more than comment on a few of the remarks he made.

It may seem odd—certainly, some of my constituents may think it so—that his sentiments should have been echoed by the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) from the Opposition Front Bench. He said, "We"—I take it that he meant it in the collective and not in the royal sense—"do not accept planning of any sort. We accept forecasting." There was no qualification of any sort to that argument. When he was pressed to qualify it, and the forms of planning he had in mind, it was obvious that his definition was so comprehensive as to exclude little or nothing.

The hon. Member made an extraordinary distinction and, to put it kindly, he indulged in a form of intellectual mumbo-jumbo in attempting to argue that one can distinguish between planning and forecasting in that way. There is, of course, a distinction to be drawn between forecasting and what one might do on the basis of demographic data. Indeed, this is being done all the time. If one assumes that the population of Britain will be at a certain level in 10, 20, or 30 years from now, one is indulging in a form of forecasting, but the consequences of making those assumptions require immediate attention to the planning of schools, houses, roads, and so on. One cannot have a totally passive view of society; just sitting back, waiting for things to turn up. This approach to society seems to be the prevailing ethos of the party opposite. It is a pity that hon. Gentleman opposite should have chosen this debate to express such extraordinary and antediluvian sentiments.

Mr. Hamling

Would my hon. Friend explain how it is possible to forecast what will happen if one does not do anything?

Mr. Brooks

That is an excellent question, on which we might have a debate one day.

It would be unkind to argue that we have been listening to neanderthal or even caveman sentiments being expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite because even cavemen used to paint animals on the walls of their caves—not because they were exceptionally skilled artists, but because, in their magical and ritual way, they thought that by painting arrows into the hearts of beasts they were planning their own environment. That was probably the earliest form of planning. Perhaps we are vulnerable to the same sort of symbolism today.

It is one thing to argue that the statistics we have are inadequate—I suppose that they could never be completely adequate—but it is another to argue that, because they are inadequate, we are not right in endeavouring to have a hand in the workings of our society.

It would be just as acceptable and just as honest to argue that because our statistics are inadequate, by not intervening it would follow that the circumstances would be that much worse. It would simply be unprovable. I should have thought it far more important to discuss ways in which to make our statistics more accurate and more fitted to do the job they are supposed to be doing, than to cast these various stones at those who for many years have been trying to improve the quality of our statistical information.

The delays that accompanied the publication of the 1961 census have been mentioned in passing several times in this debate. I do not think that we should pass this over lightly because, without question, those delays have had some of the most serious consequences on our understanding of many basic aspects of our society during the last five or six years. These delays are described in some detail in the Report in that section submitted by the General Register Office.

It is pointed out, very frankly, that mistakes were made in the … time required to write programmes and get them into working order … It is stated that the amount of computer running time was under-estimated, and it was. The original estimate was 350 hours for the whole census, and the memorandum says that that time has been multiplied by two or three to allow for extensions to the tabulation programme.

But even that figure falls remarkably short of the total of over 15,000 hours which, in the event, were found necessary. This is an escalation of forty-three times and I think that it would—though only just—make some of our aircraft escalation costs look comparatively slight. It may be true that mistakes such as this and others are described as worthy of explanation, but there was another aspect of this that I should like to touch on.

The memorandum also states: Another variable factor in census costing is the method of processing the data. A computer was used for the first time in 1961, but the installation belonged to the Defence Ministry (Army Department) … The census had no computer of its own to call on and, inevitably, as the escalation in running time was found to be necessary so it became more and more difficult to fit the census schedules into those made available by the Defence Ministry. The obvious answer is that the census must be given a priority if it is as important as many of us believe it to be. If it is the great Domesday survey we carry out every 10 years—indeed, every five years, on a sample basis—we cannot give it this sort of subordinate status.

Here, the General Register Office has been far too coy in asking for what is necessary. It says: For a full Census with early publication of the result"— and surely this is vital— the costs of the appropriate machine installation could easily be as high as £500,000. I suppose that at the moment we are all astonished that so much could be asked of us as £500,000. During the last few days it has been announced in the House that the research and development costs of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft have been increased by £50 million on the estimate we had roughly a month earlier; and roughly a month ago we had an estimate involving an increase of £50 million added to that which we had been given a month before that.

Fifty million pounds is a hundred times the cost of this expenditure for which the census is asking. If this is the language of priorities to which the Government are wedded, we are in need of a course of speech training. A Government who can take planning seriously—and I hope we take it seriously—must fashion the tools they need, not some sort of flint axes which no doubt hon. Members opposite would like to see.

I have touched on the question of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft as this illustrates one aspect of the problem we face today in terms of our deficiencies in statistics to which Professor Stone was right to draw attention in his contribution. He discussed the profitability criteria and said: A second example can be taken from a subject that is beginning to be studied about the size and effect of which all too little is known: research and development. This is important in industry but it is also important from outside it. Industrially speaking, we undertake the research and development we think we can afford and charge it off to current expense, although it is as much directed to the future as any expenditure on fixed assets. We do not inquire into its pay-off, depreciation rate or obsolescence. We have, therefore, no means of assessing how far the scarce resources applied to research and development are applied profitably. This is an extremely important point. Several of us in the House, in recent months, have been curious about the technological fall-out which might accrue from the Anglo-French Concord project and the figures released about the cost are £500 million. It is true to say that virtually no hon. Member has any detailed breakdown figure beyond the very crudest assessments. That figure of £500 million may not be anything like enough. Only yesterday there was a report in the Daily Express under a headline saying that the cost might soar to £650 million. We are so punch-drunk with these escalating costs that to give figures like these means nothing more than a yawn of resignation. It is extremely important that we should have adequate statistical information, simply information, on which we as Members of the House of Commons may know precisely how and why our money is being spent in these enormous quantities.

Mr. Shore

It would be interesting to note that the triennial surveys of R and D expenditure which have been the pattern up to date, and of which I think the last one was in 1964–65, are now to be made up on an annual series which we are hoping to introduce for 1966–67.

Mr. Brooks

I am delighted to have that information. I am sure that it is a step in the right direction. I hope that my hon. Friend will persist in this improvement despite the agony which no doubt it will cause among some hon. Members opposite.

The census was delayed and we all hope that this will not happen again. Professor Stone made an important point about this. It is not enough simply to accept that there were delays. It is not enough simply to know in broad terms why those delays occur. We need a more sophisticated and refined approach which is lacking in so many sectors. Professor Stone also said: I wonder how much is known about the limiting factors in statistical work. For example, has anyone made a critical path analysis of a census of production or population from the moment work was started on the design of the questionnaires to the moment when the final publication of the results appeared? Such a study might be highly illuminating because delays and expense can be due to so many factors. I will not continue with this quotation. It is one of the many valuable points which Professor Stone made.

I want to touch upon the problem of flexibility and, married to it, the problem of the availability of statistics. One of the disturbing things about the debate—indeed, at times I should think that we were already on the Adjournment if I did not know that our modernised procedure makes this impossible on a Thursday—is that so few Members; I think roughly 1 per cent. of our total strength—turn up for this sort of debate.

This is the real problem at all levels of our society. It is simply that we have become constipated with statistics and words; that so much is now available, so much that we could go to if only we had the time. But, unfortunately, we never have the time. The problem of making the results of statistical analysis available, and the form in which it is made available for ready consumption, is worth stressing.

We need to reconsider seriously the very form of presentation of things like censuses. Perhaps we still have a Domesday mentality about this. This great Juggernaut of an enterprise trundles into action every 10 years, and it takes about 10 years to have its results made available. There is here some merit in a point made by the General Register Office. Discussing the problem of flexibility the General Register Office first discusses the use of enumeration district figures as basic building blocks. It then says: We have received, and largely met, a considerable demand for figures for non-administrative areas. Figures are counted for enumeration districts (the area allotted to one enumerator) and provided on request. This is done for many universities. The enumeration district figures can then be used as building blocks for aggregations to the areas required by the particular user. Parliamentary constituencies are to be analysed in this form. No doubt many of us will hasten to study at least those statistics. This point can be widened, because we need to be able to make ad hoc tabulations from basic records at all levels.

A little further on the General Register Office makes the point that today outside the Government the big demand is for more sophisticated statistics at local level.… Generally people probably do not expect much more than they get but a greater ability to make ad hoc tabulations from the basic records for individual inquirers would be valuable.' At the moment, it may be argued that those great beds of census data are there waiting to be mined and quarried for information. I doubt very much if there is much noise of pick-axes at work at this moment throughout the counties. I suspect that we are still, with a sort of magpie Victorian mentality, producing mountains of paper which we can look at and admire but never use. Statistics are there to be used. They are not there to be stored.

An important point made by the General Register Office—the implementation depends very much upon the availability of computer techniques—is this: It is possible to see that the emphasis may move away from volumes of published tables towards the establishment of a store of data which can be processed to meet requirements of individual Government Departments, local authorities, and private and commercial organisations. There are various ways in which one can supplement the general information made available by the census. There is the possibility of sample surveys. Time forbids me from discussing this in any detail. I will mention in particular the enormous gap in our information in general which arises because of our failure to analyse migration. Migration is surely one of the most important factors in a society like ours and will become increasingly so, because the mobility of the population will inexorably increase.

Again, I consider that we should be trying to co-ordinate the work which is being done. For example, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government runs a series of research techniques and studies, which it is pursuing at this moment, but which, as far as one can see, do not seem to be generally available. It is work of that kind which should be coordinated with the work done in the census, by universities and other bodies.

Because, for some years, I tried to teach students geography, I wish to emphasise one aspect of statistics which is not touched on in detail in this major and valuable Report. I refer to the rôle of the map. In a sense, the map is a form of statistical representation. One notes the information down by the use of two co-ordinates, latitude and longitude, and the map is a veritable storehouse of information. On a map, a gigantic amount of information can be summarised' in tabular form which most people can easily comprehend.

We have been very slow to use maps, in which I include graphical techniques generally, as a means of general education. In the 1930s, a major land use survey was carried out in this country which, I understand, was of great value during the Second World War, but it was carried out to a large extent by schoolchildren and students who went out on a locally organised basis, though the work was effectively co-ordinated, of course, and some excellent maps were produced. This was done outside the Government's activities in general. In more recent years, a second major land use survey has been embarked upon in, roughly, a similar way.

The Ministry of Agriculture has a vast amount of information available to it. It is not too much to ask that this information be used as the basis upon which we could have regular and up-to-date publication of land use and other specialised maps showing agricultural and other data.

Again, on the subject of maps, one should not forget that by the skilful blending together of statistical information in map form by using techniques of correlation analysis, one can very often point to significant relationships which might otherwise be lost. Some of the most important work—certainly some of the most interesting—in the whole field of social medicine has come about in the last ten years as a result of simple mapping. I say "simple", but it was a complex job, mapping the data related to mortality rates from different diseases in different parts of the country. For the first time, one was able to see significant regional variations which, if they do not answer the questions, at least do a lot to provoke the asking of the right questions.

As a non-member of the Committee, I warmly congratulate all those who participated in producing what will, I know, be a valuable contribution to our knowledge of the Government's statistical services.

9.4 p.m.

Mr. Martin Maddan (Hove)

I apologise for being a latecomer to the debate. I had to attend a Standing Committee which, we were led to believe, would rise at about 6.30, but which did not rise until about three-quarters of an hour ago.

I begin by congratulating the hon. Gentleman the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) and his Committee on the excellent Report which they have produced on a most important topic. I shall direct my remarks to Recommendation (8), which urges wider use of official statistics in industry and commerce, Recommendation (12), which urges that the C.S.O. should become a more powerful body in this respect, and Recommendation (13), which suggests the establishment of a standing committee on industrial statistics.

I speak here in my capacity as Chairman of the Market Research Society's Government Liaison Committee. We have for three years now been trying to see how the Government can be encouraged to make available, and make available in more usable form, data which we know they have and which is of great value to industry and commerce. One of the things that daunts anybody tackling this task, whether it is our little Committee, the National Economic Development Organisation, the Select Committee or, indeed, the Government, is that the very amount of data which they have makes them back away from reaching an organisational solution which will have to be a radical change from what we have now. The very magnitude of the value of the data makes them back away from making it widely available, and without radical changes in organisation we shall not get progress.

The Committee to which I have referred had the honour to have with us at one unofficial gathering the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and a senior official member of the Department of Economic Affairs. Arising from that gathering, I was asked to obtain from members of the Market Research Society details of information which we knew must be available in Government Departments but which was not being made available outside. Those details have been summarised and I have here 30 items. The list has been sent to the hon. Gentleman and I see that the Under-Secretary of State is aware of this. If we can help with further details we shall be glad to supply them.

We have summarised the present list as much as we can, with a lot of appendices. In each case, where relevant, we have put down whether the question of payment for the data had been raised from either side. I want to impress on the Under-Secretary of State that industry and commerce generally are willing to pay a great deal for the data. The data are very valuable and the Government need not say, "We must have more officials. It is an overhead charge." The hon. Gentleman could very well run the service at a profit.

I say that with great certainty, because I am in business in market research. Much of our work consists of finding comparatively inefficiently, by expensive sampling methods, data already in the archives referred to by the hon. Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks).

Probably nobody has read the opening paragraph of the Departmental Observations on the Estimates Committee's Ninth Special Report, but it filled me with dismay. It say: Your Committee, having received the following Observations of the Treasury, the Department of Economic Affairs, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Labour, the Central Statistical Office and the Registrars General of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland … I am very surprised that in a Report of this sort there were no observations from the Ministries of Technology, Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and Transport. It cannot be maintained that the central drive towards improving statistics in the Government machine is adequate. If it were, there would certainly have been observations from many more quarters than are listed there.

I want to turn to one of the Ministries that is not listed there, the Ministry of Transport, where there seem to be many fundamental misapprehensions and misconceptions about one very important set of statistics based on vehicle licences. To make the argument shorter and simpler, I shall confine myself to new vehicles. When members of the public buy a new motor car they register it with a local authority. What happens to those data? Among other things, by arrangements with the Ministry of Transport, they go to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which analyses them and makes them available only to British vehicle manufacturers.

It is maintained that this restriction on the data is in the public interest. I find it hard to know why that should be so. I have a letter from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, dated 13th October, in which he said: My Department's stand on not releasing this information has not been taken on legal grounds, but on the general practice of Government Departments in this country, not to publish figures whether collected voluntarily or compulsorily, or obtained as the by-product of regulation, which would reveal the business of individual firms, except with their express permission … I do not think that we can usefully add anything to what was then said either here or in a get-together as you suggest. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman wanted a get-together because he would have been unable to maintain his position.

This data is not provided by the vehicle manufacturers but by the public. If the Ministry arranges for it to be made available to anyone, it must be made available on equal terms to everyone. This misconception that vehicle licence statistics are somehow the property of the vehicle manufacturers is perpetrated again in the observation on recommendation No. 11 which says: Some basic statistics (for example, of profits, revenue car registrations) arise from administrative requirements and firms devise record systems to provide them. No firm devises any system to provide vehicle licence data. It comes from the public.

I do not suggest that Ministers should suppress these statistics. I only ask that they should release them generally. I think that their position is indefensible. I am shortly to talk to the Chairman of the Working Party of the S.S.M.T. on the services the Society provides to see whether I can persuade him that this information should be made available more widely by the Society. Of course, that would still only be making them available on the present basis and would not be getting acceptance of the principle that these statistics are not the property of the vehicle manufacturers or the S.S.M.T. and should not be confined to them.

In The Times of 19th April, we read that there is to be a central office for motor vehicle registrations and licences which will not be fully in operation until 1972, and that the transfer of statistics from the licensing authorities will take place in that way. When that happens, if not before, I hope that the sort of statistics I have been talking about and the use and availability of them can be confined not only to new vehicles as at present, but to all vehicles, because this is important.

Mr. Hamling

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that a great many statistics about vehicles which are available to and are made available by the industry in the United States are not available here?

Mr. Maddan

I have a list of 77 countries showing that they all make more data available than we do. Every other Western motor manufacturing country makes available this data. Their industries do not seem to suffer, but benefit. It is not only the motor manufacturers themselves who want to know but the component suppliers and the distributive trade.

The Motor Traders' Association has installed a computer to help its members organise their stock levels, but it has not the basic data. It is no good motor manufacturers saying that it is only their business. It is not. It is everyone's business. This is such a huge sector of the economy that we have to seek a change.

I shall not go on at length about this one example. Recommendation 12 of the Select Committee says: The C.S.O. should become the agency for encouraging enquiries for statistical information from industry …". This should be given a warmer welcome by the Government than it has been in their observation.

What daunts and dismays people trying to use data is knowing where to get it. The Under-Secretary may indeed know, but it is extremely difficult to know, if one wants data about some engineering component, whether to go to the Ministry of Technology, or, if the component is imported, to the Board of Trade, or to both, or to somewhere else. The very biggest firms may be able to have enough experts to know, but only the very biggest, and the medium and small firms never approach it. I beg the Under-Secretary to put my Committee out of a job and out of its misery by encouraging the Central Statistical Office to take on this task.

One of the functions which a strengthened Central Statistical Office would have would be chivvying the general attitude of Government Departments towards making data available for industry. I am told by sales managers of firms in the grocery business, for example, that the Statistical Department of the Board of Trade is very reluctant to pass on data to individual companies, although those companies are willing to pay the cost. It seems to be a long process and although that Department does not refuse, apparently such requests are neither welcomed nor dealt with swiftly.

Another example is that of the rubber manufacturing industry. The monthly figures prepared by the Board of Trade are often months behind. The people who told me about this found out that one reason was that one of the divisions of their own company was causing the delay. No one in the Board of Trade had complained or pushed or kicked to ask why that division was not getting on with providing the figures. The whole thing is too lackadaisical. I could give other examples, but, in view of the hour and the Under-Secretary's forthcoming attitude, I do not intend to do so.

I hope that, as a result of the work of the Select Committee, great attention will be given to making it easier for industry and commerce to use official statistics and that the Government will gear themselves to meet that need.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of the Fourth Report from the Estimates Committee and of the Ninth Special Report from the Estimates Committee relating to Government Statistical Services.

  1. ADJOURNMENT 16 words
Forward to