HC Deb 19 November 1968 vol 773 cc1113-6
Q5. Mr. Hastings

asked the Prime Minister which Minister is responsible for co-ordinating the number of official forms and questionnaires submitted to private industrial firms.

Q6. Mr. Emery

asked the Prime Minister whether he will issue a direction to all Ministers instructing them to reduce the number of Government forms which industry and small businesses have to com- plete for the benefit of Government Departments, but which involve individual firms in considerable financial cost and which are a major waste of manpower.

The Prime Minister

I would refer the hon. Gentlemen to an article in the first issue of "Statistical News", in May, 1968, describing the new plans of the Central Statistical Office for the better control and co-ordination of statistical forms used by Government Departments. Much of the information so collected is, of course, for the benefit of industry and commerce as well as Departments.

Mr. Hastings

Does the Prime Minister realise that this nuisance has increased steadily since his Government came to power and is still increasing? Has he any idea of the loss of productivity involved, and has he tried to measure it? Does he consider that the economic record of his Government is any recompense to those who have to provide the endless statistics?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman's question raises broad issues on which he will not find agreement on this side of the House. In the first part of it, he deals with an important subject. A number of my right hon. Friends and I myself have spent considerable time on trying to get it straightened out. Through the years, long before this Government came to office, there has always been the accusation about the duplication of forms and about the same firms having to send replies to different Departments. The Central Statistical Office has this matter in hand, and that is why I referred the hon. Gentleman to the article in its publication.

Mr. Emery

Is the Prime Minister aware that small firms in industry and commerce received 22 different forms within a matter of 18 weeks covering approximately 72 pages of statistics that were required? Many of the questions needed considerable research. The amount of manpower that went into it was quite unproductive and immensely costly. Surely this is something that the Government ought to work out a way of reducing?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that many of these firms also receive requests for statistical information from many people outside the Government, including some of the big industrial organisations, and I make no criticism of it. In setting up this new unit, we are trying to reduce the number of forms and make them more transferable between Departments. Industry, trade associations, N.E.D.C. and the "Little Neddies" attach great importance to the work produced by these means and, when it is a question of providing public money for private enterprise, it is important that the fullest information should be made available.

Mr. Bidwell

If, by any wild stretch of the imagination, we had a Ministry for the repatriation of Commonwealth immigrants, can my right hon. Friend say how many extra forms that would require—and how many extra policemen?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that that really arises out of this question, and the contempt shown in all parts of the House for the speech embodying that proposal does not need further words of mine.

Mr. W. Baxter

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is some degree of urgency required to look into this matter? Some of the circulars and questionnaires sent to firms are of such a complicated nature that they almost require a solicitor to deal with them, while, on the other hand, one finds extremes of triviality such as the number of cups of tea supplied to the employees of the firm concerned. It becomes a very considerable and costly exercise for industry as a whole. Clearly, it should be looked into without delay.

The Prime Minister

If my hon. Friend has certain forms in mind, I hope that he will send them to me or to some of my right hon. Friends. However, a number of these claims are exaggerated. We are trying to streamline the forms and get as much vital information as possible on the basis of fewer of them.

Sir C. Osborne

Does the Prime Minister remember that in 1950, when he was President of the Board of Trade, he boasted how he had a bonfire of controls and regulations? Will the right hon. Gentleman have another bonfire of these official forms and questionnaires?

The Prime Minister

It was in fact 1949 and I was referring to a whole number of wartime controls that I thought it would be right to get rid of, including clothing rationing and similar matters—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


The Prime Minister

But one thing that I tried to do in those years, which my right hon. Friend is carrying a great deal further, was to simplify the forms used by export firms. This is one of our highest priorities.