§ 4.17 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)
I beg to moveThat this House approves the White Paper on the Reorganisation of Central Government (Command Paper No. 4506).I should start by apologising in advance to the House for my absence later. At five o'clock I have to attend in my capacity as Leader of the House an important meeting which affects several senior Members. As I have explained to the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), this will mean my leaving the Chamber for a short time during his speech. I hope that the House will acquit me of any discourtesy, particularly as I have been careful about informing it of the situation.
The arrangements for this debate have been made with the intention of giving the House the opportunity to have a wide ranging debate on the whole subject of the machinery of Government. First, I am asking the House to approve the White Paper on the Reorganisation of Central Government, Cmnd. Paper No. 4506. Secondly, there are on the Order Paper specific affirmative Orders dealing with the establishment of the Department for the Environment and the merging of the Ministry of Overseas Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As the House will appreciate, these Orders cannot come into effect unless and until they are passed tonight. Thirdly, there are Orders already in force but subject to the negative procedure dealing with the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Aviation Supply and with the transfer of responsibility for primary and secondary education for Wales to the Secretary of State for Wales. The remaining changes in departmental responsibilities announced in the White Paper require administrative action only. The transfer of responsibility for child care, for example, from the Home Secretary to the Secretary of State for Social Services is the main one and will take effect from the beginning of the new year.
Our intention is to introduce a system of better, more efficient and less govern- 872 ment. The changes are the culmination of all the careful and detailed planning work directed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when we were in Opposition and developed with the aid of the Civil Service Department since we came to Government. They represent a major operation of lasting importance to the quality of government and it is intended that they should now be followed by a period of stability.
We have already, as a Government, shown that we are in earnest about our plans. As promised by the Prime Minister at the time of the election, we now have a smaller Government, 18 fewer Ministers than under the previous Administration. The White Paper emphasises our determination to carry on the process of reducing and rationalising the functions of government, in line with the needs of the 1970s, throughout the Administration.
This reorganisation should certainly not be regarded as in any sense a criticism of the Civil Service. It cannot be said too often that we in this country are exceptionally fortunate in the able and dedicated men and women whom we have in our public service. If their considerable talents are not used to the best advantage, then let us in this House be perfectly clear that the fault lies with Ministers themselves, whatever the political party to which they belong.
I have seen it suggested that these plans represent some shift away from the degree of responsibility to this House on the part of the Executive. I really do not see how, on the proposals as they are presented, this sort of view can be sustained.
As Leader of the House, I wish to give my answer to that charge in unequivocal terms. I repeat my utter conviction that parliamentary criticism and probing of the Executive is essential to good government. I have no intention whatever of leading a House of Commons which is declining in influence. Quite the reverse. I want to see the effectiveness of this House substantially strengthened, both here in the Chamber and in the Select Committees.
However, Parliament has an important rôle to play in the success of the new unified Departments which, in principle, are, I believe, broadly acceptable to both sides of the House. Delegation of Ministerial responsibility within Departments 873 is essential if they are to function effectively. If Parliament were to command that every aspect of, for example, the work of the Department for the Environment which is of major importance had to be dealt with in person by the Secretary of State, many of the potential gains from the reorganisation would be lost.
Within this Department the Minister for Local Government and Development, the Minister for Housing and Construction and the Minister for Transport Industries are intended to have, and must be seen to have, real responsibility within their fields. The capacity of the Minister in charge of a unified Department to take a broad view of policy and give his attention to the strategic issues depends on his having the time to do it.
Likewise, the responsibility to Parliament of the Ministers under him, some of whom have jobs which only a short time ago ranked as full Cabinet Departments, depends on the real and effective delegation of functions. I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House will recognise the importance of accepting such delegation when they are dealing with the new Departments.
§ Mr. Edmund Dell (Birkenhead)
Would the right hon. Gentleman like to start making that delegation more real by making it possible for hon. Members to put Questions to those Ministers under the Secretary of State?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
We have produced a new Question roster with the purpose of seeing how it works out. I have said that I am perfectly ready to consider any possible changes that might be necessary in the light of experience. That remains my position. I would, therefore, like to see how we get on with the present arrangements.
§ Mr. William Rodgers (Stockton-on-Tees)
An important point is at stake here and my question follows the one asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell). Is the Leader of the House suggesting, as I understand him to be, that there will be a new responsibility of subordinate Ministers to Parliament? Will they be required to answer in this place for their responsibilities within their Departments, and are those responsibilities quite separate from those of the Secretaries of State?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
No. That is not the position. The position is quite plainly that these new Departments are Departments on their own. The Secretary of State will bear the final responsibility to Parliament for everything which happens within his Department.
I am saying that if this system is to work, where the Secetary of State has the final responsibility, hon. Members will, I believe, have to accept that delegation by the Secretary of State to his other Ministers is obviously right and proper. However, I wish to make it clear that if they are to be unified Departments—as I understand is broadly acceptable—then the final responsibility lies directly with the Secretary of State.
I come to the particular changes. The Department for the Environment unifies the work of the Ministries of Housing and Local Government, Public Building and Works and Transport under a single Secretary of State. It will be responsible for a whole range of functions affecting people's everyday lives, including the planning of land, housing, road transport programme, amenity matters and regional policies.
It has become increasingly obvious in our modern society that these policies must be considered together. I think the need for a corresponding reform of the Government machine has also been broadly agreed for a number of years and that there is general all-party support for the principle of the new Department.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman mention the sacred word "land". I am not opposed to the delegation of responsibility and I do not think that most of my hon. Friends oppose it in principle. However, we are concerned about the derogation of responsibility—for example, in the recent winding up of the Land Commission. I hope it will be convenient during this debate to tell us what will happen to all the transitional contracts which have been entered into between the Land Commission and local authorities, some of which are in my part of the world, in Lancashire.
Have the Government considered the contracts which they are now unilaterally abrogating? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many councils are disappointed over the scrapping of the 875 machinery that has existed in this matter? Whatever Government are in power, it is their duty to make transitional arrangements in such a way as to ensure that any contracts in the pipeline with local authorities are protected.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He has great experience in this House, far longer than most of us and certainly longer than mine. If he wishes detailed answers to those questions, he might care to direct Questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment who will, no doubt, be able to explain in detail exactly what plans we have regarding the winding up of the Land Commission.
The broad objective of the new Department of Trade and Industry will, I believe, command support in the House. Basically, it is to improve the competitive strength of the economy by enabling the Government to bring together in one and the same Department the responsibilities for general industrial policy and administration, apart from manpower questions, which were previously divided between the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Technology.
The Department will also take back those responsibilities for monopolies, mergers and restrictive trade practices which were transferred, in an earlier reorganisation under the previous Government, from the Board of Trade to the then Department of Employment and Productivity. The Government feel that these functions now fit naturally with the new unified Department of Trade and Industry.
The Ministry of Aviation Supply, which retains the responsibilities of the former Ministry of Technology, for aerospace research and development and procurement, is essentially a temporary solution to the problem of organisation in a field which many Governments have acknowledged to be difficult. Therefore, while establishing a separate Ministry of Aviation Supply, the Government have set up at the same time a project team to carry out a fundamental review of the responsibilities with which the new Ministry is concerned. The longer-term future of these functions will be decided after the report of the project team is implemented 876 in April, 1972. The present Ministry of Aviation Supply will then be wound up, and on the defence side it is envisaged that any new organisation should be under the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Defence.
I now turn to changes which I understand are more controversial. The first is the decision to merge the Ministry of Overseas Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This change must be judged against the background of the Government's clear policy on overseas aid as stated again recently at the United Nations by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend there announced a clear commitment to an increase in our official aid programme for the next few years despite a substantial reduction in public expenditure generally. As he said, we shall do our best to reach by 1975 the 1 per cent. target agreed by the Second U.N.C.T.A.D. Conference.
In these circumstances, I cannot personally understand how it can be anything but helpful to make as strong and powerful a figure as the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, backed by a most senior Department of State, responsible in Cabinet for the overseas aid programme. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Minister in charge of the old Department will carry on his overseas aid work in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Anyway, it is surely results that matter in the end and, as a Government, we certainly intend to do better under this new arrangement than our predecessors did with a separate Department.
As was announced in the Queen's Speech, the Government have also decided to take a further important step in the devolution of power to the Welsh Office in fulfilment of a commitment made when we were in opposition. This is being done in a field which I know is close to Welsh hearts and interests—that of education. While I know that there are still some doubts about certain aspects of this reorganisation, which I hope will be resolved in any discussion there may be on the transfer Order later this evening, I shall be surprised if the purpose of this measure will not be widely welcomed in Wales.
The proposal to establish a central policy review staff in the Cabinet Office has rightly attracted considerable interest. 877 When Ministers exercise decisions within their own fields of responsibility they have the staff backing of the whole of their Departments, but when they go to Cabinet, or to one of the Cabinet committees, and exercise their collective responsibility—and I think that we all know that the important Government decisions are mostly taken in a collective way—they do not have the same degree of consistent staff support in depth. This cannot be right. Everyone who has been served by the Cabinet Secretariat will agree that it does its job with efficiency and devotion, but it cannot take on a completely new task. We therefore need a new staff, properly within the Cabinet Office, to give Ministers collectively continuing and consistent staff support so that they can discuss issues and exercise their political judgment in a more informed and coherent way than has been possible in the past.
There is in this proposal no question of this new staff substituting its own central view for the collective or individual views of Departments. It will work with and through Departments, involving them fully in the process of refining and developing Government strategy and relating specific issues to this strategy.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Perhaps the Leader of the House will further clarify the relationship he mentions. If the central policy review staff is to work with and through Departments will it not in essence duplicate the function, and thereby, instead of speeding up the decision-making process, necessarily prolong it?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I do not think that those who have experience of Government, and many in this House have had great experience of it, would support that view.
Nor, of course, is there any question of this central review body taking away from Ministers their responsibility for taking decisions and for exercising their political judgment. No amount or degree of analysis can, in any case, do this. The central review body will merely enable Ministers to carry out their collective responsibility better by making their decisions more soundly based.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
I hesitate to interrupt at this point, as the right hon. Gentleman appears to be approaching his 878 peroration, but I am afraid that if I do not do so now I may find that he has sat down before I have asked him a question which I am particularly anxious to ask. It seems to me that there is a difference between the White Paper we are now discussing and the Order we shall discuss later. It seems that the White Paper envisages that the new Minister for the Environment will be responsible for all noise, including aircraft noise, as it is stated in the White Paper. On the other hand, the Order does not seem to say this. Have the Government changed their mind in the few days that have elapsed between publication of the two documents? If so, why?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I do not think that there has been a question of changing our mind. The position, as I understand it, is that the Department of Trade and Industry is responsible for airports and, therefore, inevitably for aircraft noise, but the Department for the Environment, being a strong Department and very much concerned with all amenity questions, such as aircraft noise, will obviously have a much stronger voice on this issue than before.
To return to the subject of the central policy review staff, it is to this end that this staff, headed by Lord Rothschild, will be directing itself. I am glad to see that Lord Rothschild's appointment, and his unique academic and personal qualities, have been widely recognised in public comment. I should like to take this opportunity of wishing him and his staff well, and I hope that this wish will be widely shared in the House today.
These, then, are the main proposals in the reorganisation of central Government which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last month in presenting his White Paper. They are the result of much long-term thinking and planning. They are intended to provide a permanent and stable basis for more efficient and less government. I am convinced that they will be successful in their purpose, and in that spirit I commend them to the House.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)
The whole House will understand the reasons why the Leader of the House must leave us briefly at five o'clock. Although the Government—all Governments—are very active on modernising the machinery of 879 government, nobody has yet succeeded in modernising all the somewhat ancient rituals of the right hon. Gentleman's office.
I found the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon both clearer and more agreeable in tone than I found the White Paper, parts of which, and particularly the opening—what one might call the philosophy parts of the Paper—seem to me tendentious, ungenerous and often pompous. They are tendentious because they greatly exaggerate the importance of these changes and give the impression that until now no systematic thought has ever been given to these matters. It is absurd to have a sentence like the following in paragraph 5:This review differs fundamentally both in the depth of its aims and in the breadth of its scope from previous piecemeal changes in the pattern of departmental responsibilities.That sentence probably came from the Conservative Central Office, rather than from the Civil Service Department. There are similar bombastic phrases like… will remove the need for continual changes for a considerable period in the future.Of course, it will do no such thing. The whole essence of the machinery of government is the need for continuous examination and change. As for the phrases from Section I about the need for humanity and compassion, a better sense of taste and tact might have been shown if those had been omitted in view of the Chancellor's statement last week.
I find those opening sections not only tendentious but also ungenerous, because they pay no tribute to—indeed, there is no mention of—the Fulton Report. There is no mention of the establishment of the Civil Service Department. There is no mention of the Civil Service College, or of any of the constant attempts of my right hon. Friend the present Leader of the Opposition and my noble Friend Lord Shackleton to improve the machinery over the past few years. It might have been more generous to make some mention of those points. I also find the White Paper pompous. Indeed, much of Section II is pompous waffle. I shall quote just two gems from it:… the object has been to ensure that the broad framework of the central machinery 880 … complies with the Government's strategic policy objectives.It is difficult to see what other object one could possibly have. The other gem is:… government departments should be organised by reference to the task to be done or the objective to be attained,…That is a blinding flash of wisdom which will illuminate all our future debates on this subject. I can imagine university professors in every university of the country scurrying with great anxiety to their textbooks and trying to revise them in the light of this new wisdom.
But in case anybody thinks that these ringing declarations are to be taken too seriously, there is comfort in another sentence which says:The acceptance of the functional principle of organisation does not mean that there can be no departure from it if there are strong reasons for moderating its application.The kindest comment on all these opening pages of the White Paper was that by Lord Rothschild when he said,I think I understand what it says, but it is rather long language.I should have liked to hear the comment of that astringent man had he not that day become a servant of the Government.
I turn, as the right hon. Gentleman did, to the individual proposals, and I take them, as he did, in the order in which they appear in the White Paper. First, there is the Department of Trade and Industry. I believe that this merger between the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Technology is wrong, because the new Department will be unmanageably large and unmanageably heterogeneous. In other words, it will be an almost unmanageable conglomerate, except on certain extreme assumptions to which I shall come in a moment.
Even the old Board of Trade—and when I say "the old Board of Trade" I mean the Board of Trade pre-October, 1969—very nearly approached the extreme possible span of responsibility, in my view, and I had over two years there. It was the same Board of Trade over which Peter Thorneycroft, now Lord Thorneycroft, presided for 5½ years, I think longer than any President of the Board of Trade in this century. I remember his once saying that it was only right at the end of his 5½ years that he reckoned that he had mastered all the 881 important responsibilities covered by the Board of Trade's functions.
As for the Ministry of Technology post-October, 1969, when this was debated in the House on 21st October last year the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) referred to it as a… vast and emorphous jellyfish of a Department …".He said:We"—the then Opposition—believe that the Department is now too big for a Minister …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st October, 1969; Vol. 788, c. 1079–88]Yet these two Departments have now been merged together. I assure the House that this makes a very large and very unwieldy Department, with responsibilities going all the way from company law to the civil airlines, from patent law to the steel industry, from the trade figures to shipbuilding, from I.D.C.s to coping with the "Pacific Glory" wreck, and so on.
It is true that the new Department has lost aircraft procurement. It is also true that it has lost investment grants, I assume, since under the new system of investment incentives this matter will be the responsibility of the Inland Revenue. It is true also that, by what I think is a contemptible little decision, it has lost the work involved in the Consumer Council.
Perhaps I could say a brief word about that decision, which affects the responsibilities of the new Department. Of course, it was carried out with all the usual courtesies. The Council first heard of the decision in a leak in the Sunday Times. The Chairman of the Council was then summoned to see the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) at eleven o'clock of the day in the afternoon of which the Chancellor was due to announce the Council's abolition. The Chairman of the Council was given no reasons for the decision. The reasons were given two or three days later in a Press statement sent to the Council by ordinary post, reaching it at least a day after the Council had read the statement in the newspapers.
As no tribute has been paid by any Government spokesman to the work of the Council, as far as I know, let me pay one now, I think on behalf not 882 only of the Opposition but also on behalf of some hon. Members opposite. I pay tribute to Lady Elliot, a very distinguished Conservative lady who presided over the Council for many years with great distinction; to Lord Donaldson, her successor, whom I had the privilege of appointing; and above all to Dame Elizabeth Ackroyd—Betty Ackroyd as she is known to many people—and her staff for the devoted work they put in. Their efforts deserve better reward than they have had.
The decision on the Consumer Council is essential to the only assumption on which the new Department, otherwise unmanageable, could possibly become manageable: that is, that it carries laissez-faire and non-intervention to lengths which are almost incredible in the latter part of the 20th century and which go far beyond the extent of laissez-faire in any other advanced industrial country.
So, we are to have no Government-backed body to help the consumer, despite all the recommendations of the Molony Committee; despite the decision of the previous Conservative Government to set up the Consumer Council in 1963; despite all the evidence from the United States and elsewhere of how badly consumer protection is needed; and despite the self-evident truth, admitted by many others besides Socialists, that competition will not work properly unless the consumer is well-informed.
With the abolition of the I.R.C. we are to have no body to help alter the structure of industry. This is to be left entirely to competition and market forces. I am—more, probably, than some of my hon. Friends—a strong believer in competition and competitive industry, but in this day and age of large-scale concerns it is impossible to believe that competition unaided can secure the best industrial structure in our really large-scale industries. Goodness knows, before and since the war we have had plenty of evidence to show the truth of that statement.
Generally the Department, if we are to judge from the speeches of the Secretary of State, will show an almost total abdication of responsibility either for industrial efficiency or for the social consequences of industrial change. We do not know how far this policy will be 883 carried. We do not know what effect it will have on U.C.S., Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce, although in the case of Rolls-Royce it looks as though perhaps these decisions will not be taken by the Government, by a body like the I.R.C., or by the market. It looks as though they are to revert, as was the case in the early 1930s, to the province of the Governor of the Bank of England, who, over Rolls-Royce, according to Press reports, is behaving very much like Sir Montague Norman was behaving in 1932 over Shipbuilders Securities Ltd., an operation which many of my hon. Friends from the North-East will remember very well.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here, because I am surprised that some of these decisions should have been made by the new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He was known to many of us before he entered the House. I had the pleasure, as a Minister, of seeing a great deal of him when he represented the C.B.I. Of course, then he represented the interests of the C.B.I. and of industry. That was his job and background, and he was right to do so. But he always did it in a very sophisticated way as though at any rate he lived in the industry of the 1970's. I never thought that he was a character who could conceivably believe that market forces unaided or competition unaided, operating through the invisible hand, would sufficiently protect the consumer and create the right structure of industry. Indeed, these views are really ironic coming from someone who has spent most of his life in the oil industry. It would be the understatement of the day to say that, in that industry, competition operated in a remarkably wasteful and imperfect manner.
I throw out a challenge to the right hon. Gentleman which I ask one of his junior Ministers to pass on to him. Today, we are told that Esso has increased the prices of petrol and oil by 1d. a gallon. The right hon. Gentleman spent a large part of his industrial life with Shell-Mex. Let him now prove that he really believes in competition by getting on to Shell-Mex at once and persuading it actually to compete and not to increase its prices in line with the Esso increases. We then would really have a demonstration that the Government believe in 884 what they say. But I must add, "What a hope!".
I am happy to turn to a part of the White Paper with which we are in agreement, and that is the creation of the Department of the Environment. This is wholly in line with our thinking, as I believe is generally known. In October, 1969, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson) appointed me as Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning with responsibility for the Ministries of Housing and Local Government and Transport. At that time he asked me… to report on the changes which … should be made at a later date with a view to creating a more integrated Department."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th October, 1969; Vol 788, c. 34.]I duly reported to my right hon. Friend in May. I told him that I thought the right thing would be to merge, as the present Government have done, the three Departments of Housing, Transport and Public Building and Works. He accepted my recommendation and, as he has told the House, would have implemented it immediately after the election had we won it.
I have only three short comments on this aspect of the White Paper and they are on the internal structure of the new Department. The first is a minor one. It is somewhat of a curiosity that sport and recreation should now come under the Minister of Transport. I have no doubt that he is a sportsman of distinction, although I have no recollection of his sporting prowess when we were students together at the same university, although perhaps things have changed for the better since then. Indeed, he was notoriously intellectual while I was the eminent sportsman at the time. Nevertheless, it seems curious to put sport and recreation in his Ministry, particularly as, in opposition, the Conservatives were constantly urging us to take it away from the Department of Education and Science and put it in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, where it could have been mixed in with the protection of the countryside and other allied questions.
I have asked my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell), who did so much for sport, whether he could think of any reason for the proposal to move sport 885 to the Ministry of Transport. The only reason he could think of was that the word "sport" appeared in the word "transport". But I feel that there must be some much more subtle reason. I hope that we shall hear it in the reply tonight.
My next comment on the internal arrangements, again concerning the Minister of Transport, is on the separation of transport planning and roads from the remainder of transport. I can see why this has been done. The planning of roads is crucial to planning generally. Nevertheless, I have some reservations. If we say that road planning is crucial to planning as a whole, why does not the same apply to housing, also crucial to planning, or to new towns, which are obviously even more crucial? It is not quite easy to see why this division was made. It will have the effect, for the first time in many years, of ending the possibility of any sort of co-ordinated transport system, which has, in some form or other, been the aim of successive Governments probably since the end of the war. We have for the first time a roads programme separated from rail and all other forms of transport. I cannot believe that this is right.
My third comment concerns the powers of the Secretary of State himself. He, rightly, now has the statutory powers. He has—far more important—a Secretary of State's natural political power to take charge of any question he wants. He has reporting directly to him the Central Scientific Unit on Pollution, which we set up and which was beginning to do most valuable work, and that is right. What amazes me about the new set up is that he has no planning division directly responsible to him.
In my view, it should be laid down clearly that the regional economic planning councils report directly to him and that he be backed, as I was, even without statutory powers, by certain central planning divisions which cover the work of all the three separate Ministries. I do not see how he can carry out co-ordinating functions otherwise. Reports will come up from Transport, Housing or Local Government and Development—whatever the third name is—and unless he has specifically created a planning staff of his own he will not be in a position to argue a question satisfactorily from the total point of view as opposed to one of 886 the three individual points of view. The right hon. Gentleman has said, reasonably, that he is not committed to this arrangement for all time, and I hope that he will look at this again.
I turn now to an aspect which is, as the Lord President correctly said, highly controversial. This is the merger of the Ministry of Overseas Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Ministry of Overseas Development had established an enviable and worldwide reputation not only for its humanity but for the efficiency with which it dispensed its aid. This reputation was widespread throughout the developing countries themselves and was also strong in international organisations like U.N.C.T.A.D. and the World Bank. None of us was satisfied with the amount of aid but we were all impressed by the competence of the Ministry as an aid-giving organisation.
No case has been made out for the change and there are some very strong arguments against it. Inside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, although to some extent it will be autonomous, as the right hon. Gentleman said, there is bound to be a lesser tendency to take account of the needs of the developing countries and a greater tendency to pursue the foreign policy interests of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I hesitate to raise this personal point but I feel that I must say that it seems particularly tactless and offensive to put the Ministry of Overseas Development under the ultimate control of a Foreign Secretary who has shown himself over South Africa and arms to be totally insensitive to the feelings and aspirations of the developing countries of Africa.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) will be raising this matter in more detail when we debate the relevant Order at Ten o'clock, so I will leave the matter there. I also say nothing about child care responsibility, as I have no competence to do so. On the question of school education in Wales, as Englishmen have always been inhibited—wrongly in my view—from saying anything about Scotland or Wales, I shall not say anything about that, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) will probably speak about that Order later tonight. However, as an ex-educationist, at any rate I can say that I feel the most 887 profound disquiet at this fragmentation of the education service. I understand that such fragmentation is opposed by virtually every authoritative body in education.
I turn now to the most mysterious part of the White Paper. It could be the most important part, but we do not know because it is extremely vaguely worded. It concerns the Central Policy Review Staff, or what has come to be known as the "Central Capability Unit". There are two interpretations of what this is intended to do. One is an interpretation supported by that perennial optimist, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever), and partially supported in the right hon. Gentleman's speech today—that the objective should be fundamentally to strengthen the briefings which the Cabinet Office gives to individual Ministers. My right hon. Friend will develop this thesis later, but he carried it a long way in a most sympathetic article in this week's New Statesman, although I detected a certain anti-Treasury bias in the article.
§ Mr. Crosland
No, that was quite unfair. My right hon. Friend was making the point that it is essential to fight the monopolistic and secretive control that the Treasury exercises over central economic policy and that this can be done only by an inner group of economic Ministers; and it should be the main object of the new unit to brief that group. I have a great deal of sympathy with this approach, as my right hon. Friend knows, but that is certainly not—at least, I assume that it is not—the Prime Minister's intention, because he would not have appointed as the head of the new unit a zoologist, however distinguished a zoologist, if the object were to be economic briefing.
Perhaps I may echo the good wishes paid by the right hon. Gentleman to Lord Rothschild. There have been many funny stories about him in the newspapers and about his interest in the spermatozoa of trout, or whatever they are, and how he receives guests in his dressing gown, but many people know that he is a most formidable personality with the widest experience of government, industry and academic life. Whatever his new 888 job is, which I do not know, I wish him well in it.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
I am not surprised that the Government have appointed a zoologist; after all, they are dealing with monkey business.
§ Mr. Crosland
That is an explanation of such ingenuity that it had not occurred to me, I regret to say.
It is possible that what is intended is not merely to strengthen the Cabinet Office on economic briefing, as my right hon. Friend is urging, but to brief more generally, and it appears that Lord Rothschild sees his function in this way, because at his first Press conference he was using phrases like "The Cabinet Office is thin on the ground".
I have no objection to the strengthening of the processes of Government in this way, but this interpretation goes diametrically against what is said in the White Paper, and it is rather important to see what the White Paper says about the new unit.
It says that we are to have this new inter-disciplinary unit—not Ministerial—composed of officials and outsiders responsible to the Secretary of the Cabinet. To do what?
The first task, according to the White Paper, is an extraordinary one. It is to lay downa clear and comprehensive definition of Government strategy".Are we to believe that the Tories came into office with no clear and comprehensive definition of strategy? After all the conferences and all the study groups and all the work of the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. David Howell), are they seriously saying that they have arrived in office only to discover that they are missing a clear and comprehensive definition of their strategy? It is an amazing assertion.
That is not all. Having discovered themselves in this humiliating situation, what do they do? They decide to delegate this task of providing such a strategy not to a group of Ministers responsible to Parliament, but to this ad hoc group of officials and multidisciplinary experts, whoever they are to be, headed of all things by a Labour peer. It seems to be an eccentric way of proceeding.
889 No doubt at some time we may come into office with an insufficiently clear definition of our strategy, but I have no doubt that one thing which we will not do is have a Tory peer to advise us on what it should be. If the whole thing were not so funny, it would be tragic. It fully justifies the criticism made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he said that it represented an obfuscation of issues which should be thrashed out by Ministers and Parliament.
If we dismiss that, the other possible function of the new unit I find disturbing. I quote paragraph 47 of the White Paper:its task will be to enable them"—that is, Ministers—to take better policy decisions by assisting them to work out …and so on.
Thinking about this in some detail, I assume that it is the intention of the new unit to assist Ministers to choose between different policies, to set out priorities and all sorts of things which I would have thought were the function of a Minister. That is what a Minister is for. He may be good or bad, but that is what he is supposed to be doing.
The thought which has constantly occurred to me is that "The 'Prof' rides again"—with a vengeance. This is a return to the super Professor Lindemann, later Lord Cherwell. One may argue about whether the Cherwell experiment was a success or a failure. I would say that the balance of harm which he did to the country was greater than the balance of good. He was wrong against Sir Henry Tizard over radar and wrong about the strategic bomber offensive and wrong in saying in 1944 that the Germans would never produce rockets and seriously wrong in supporting the Morgenthau Plan. However, whatever one thinks about him and the balance of his being right and wrong, there can be no disagreement about the friction which this kind of appointment creates inside the Government.
Let me illustrate this by an example from a Department which, as the House is aware, I know well. If as Secretary of State for Education I am told by the Prime Minister that he does not like my policy on comprehensive education, 890 or on the binary system, or whatever it may be and will I please change it or bring it to the Cabinet, while I may be furious in the extreme—for no Ministers like Prime Ministerial Government, except the Prime Minister, and that is a natural fact of life—it is a proper and democratic way of going about things and I should do what the Prime Minister said.
But if Lord Rothschild telephoned me to make an appointment to discuss my policy of comprehensive education, or the binary system, what would happen? He would no doubt be accompanied by a Cabinet Office official and one of the famous multi-disciplinary team of experts, probably an educationist. The official would know far less than the officials in the Department of Education. If he were the slightest good, I should have brought the educationist inside my Department, or be wholly familiar with his views. As for Lord Rothschild, I know that he has very strong views on the organisation of science policy which I happen to believe wrong, but otherwise he does not know anything about education. I say that with no disrespect to him, for he is a zoologist and not an educationist. That is a recipe for friction, mess and muddle.
No Minister should object to being prodded by any group of insiders or outsiders. He should not object to hearing alternative views or alternative policies. But if he is any good he will make sure that these alternative views are expressed within his own Department. To the extent that they are not, he will carefully listen to criticism and alternatives put forward by outside professional bodies, by the informed Press and by the academic world, wherever it may be. It is therefore highly unlikely that this new unit can bring to bear still more informed criticism, unless it is absolutely vast in size, which I gather is not the object, and if it is small in size it will merely be a further irritant.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Would not my right hon. Friend accept that although he is pointing to a real danger, there is the possibility of the new unit being used for purposes rather better than that, in that it could be used to differentiate between policies and to make sure that the effect of one 891 policy on the policy of another Department is not to the disadvantage of the Government's programme as a whole?
§ Mr. Crosland
It is not easy to see why this cannot be done by the normal machinery of inter-departmental committees, for that is exactly what these committees are for. At any rate, I do not wish to oppose the idea and I was about to say that we should all experiment the whole of the time. There are weaknesses in the present system and so such things should be tried. If I am proved wrong, I shall be delighted for my hon. Friend to be proved right.
Lastly, I come to the subject of the control of public expenditure. We all want to improve this. We all want to get better value for money, to have more cost-effective programmes and we all want, in the words of the White Paper, to identify and discuss alternative policy options. We would all concede that, despite the great improvements of the last few years, our present system of control is not satisfactory.
But the question arises whether to insert into the system this group of business men inside the Cabinet Office, who no doubt will be doing programme budgeting in all directions, will improve matters. I am certainly not against business men in government—indeed, we appointed a considerable number—but I cannot believe that this, as opposed to advising on industrial policy, is their proper job.
My doubts are these. It is ironic that the enthusiasm stirred up for programme budgeting by the hon. Member for Guildford and others should coincide with a growing scepticism on the subject in the United States and indeed a certain retreat from it. That does not mean that I am against experimenting with it, and some Departments, like Education, already have done this. Indeed, I am strongly in favour of it, but it is very important not to think that this will be a panacea.
My next doubt is that I am inclined to feel that there is less expertise on this subject in industry now than there is in government. My next doubt is whether inserting a new cog into the machine will not slow down the whole business of expenditure appraisal. It is already both weak and slow. This is so even 892 under the Treasury, which has the staff, the experience and the political influence and power within Whitehall.
I believe that this whole process will become still slower if it is conducted additionally by a small group of inevitably ignorant outsiders in the Cabinet office. Especially, one has to remember, as the Leader of the House said, that in any really complicated decision or choice between options, at the end of the day the matter will come down to a subjective or political judgment. There will remain too many unmeasurable factors to enable the judgment to be taken simply on cost-benefit grounds or whatever it may be.
Given that, at the end of the day, almost all these judgments are political, and a matter of political values, I think that it is much better that the initial appraisal should be carried out by officials directly responsible to a Minister and not by this roving group of outside business men with their vague position in the Cabinet Office. But, again, as I said to my hon. Friend, let us try the thing by all means—these are not matters of basic principle—and if it works out, well and good.
The Leader of the Opposition called this a mixed bag when he commented on the White Paper. Except for the Ministry of Overseas Development point, we are prepared to give the other experiments a reasonable chance. Indeed, we hope that they will work and we will wait to see how they work. So we do not intend to vote against the White Paper. At any rate, the new machinery of government, whether it works or not, could not possibly produce worse or more reactionary decisions than the existing one that we have had for the last few weeks.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I am glad to be able to make my maiden speech in this important debate.
It is usual for a new Member to say something about his immediate predecessor. For me, this is a positive privilege. Sir Edward Boyle, now Lord Boyle of Handsworth, commanded great respect and affection from both sides of the House. He served my constituents with distinction for nearly 20 years and 893 Handsworth is a better known place for his having been its M.P. So long as courage, compassion and conscience are the hallmarks of this House, the name of Edward Boyle will be remembered.
It was, of course, a deliberate decision of his to accept the Vice-Chancellorship of Leeds University. Handsworth's loss is Leeds University's gain, and, if I might dare to say so, this House's loss is the other place's gain. After the antics on Leeds campus reported in the weekend newspapers, I might say that he has left the tranquil waters of this House for the turbulent seas of university life. Although I cannot hope to match his talents, I hope that his talents will not be lost to the service of our nation in the years to come.
Handsworth, of course, is part of the great city of Birmingham, which in turn is part of a massive conurbation. Handsworth has problems to match this description. One of the greatest is that parts are physically declining in appearance. I am ashamed to say that one or two parts of my constituency, like parts of other towns and cities in our Kingdom, are a disgrace physically and a blot on the conscience of any nation that calls itself civilised. There is a feeling, not only here but outside, that politicians and Parliament have for too long talked about pollution in all its forms and that the time has come to act.
Therefore, on behalf of my constituents and speaking also as an architect and town planner, I welcome the White Paper because it restructures Government to deal with the problem of environment. I can speak with only a little knowledge in relation to this debate on the problems of environment. I believe that the new Department proposed embraces some of the functions that most affect our environment, although not all. What I consider to be the arch polluter of our age, the aeroplane, apparently is not within the orbit of its responsibilities. I wish the Secretary of State, his three Ministers and four Under-Secretaries every success in dealing with the massive problem of the increasing pollution of our land. They will need every piece of energy and influence to muster the resources to deal with it.
I also welcome this Department because, for the first time in our history, 894 I believe, the Government recognise that the problems of environment are and should be a primary political issue and should take equal place with the other such issues. For too long, the environment has been spared only if it is convenient to economic considerations. I believe that not only economic consideration but other ones should determine the style and the results of our Government. I believe that we are moving into an age, if not a decade, in which more and more people want to see the environment protected. That is a popular statement, but sometimes unpopular decisions have to be made.
I believe that people are viewing with greater concern, for example, the pylons that are strangling and straddling beautiful parts of our countryside. I believe that people are becoming more conscious of Ministerial decisions as to the position of a brewery and whether it should be placed in the countryside, and I believe that there are other than economic considerations which should determine, for example, whether there should be opencast mining in a beautiful estuary in Wales.
Of course this debate is not on environment, but it is on the structure of Government to deal with environment, and I would make two brief points on that, the first of which is directly related to that new structure of Government. It would be eminently suitable if the new Government at their convenience, brought to this House a new Environment Bill, which, apart from extending legislation, would consolidate all the different pieces of legislation that there have been in the last few years. Whether it is the Litter Act, the Clean Air Act, the Civic Amenities Act, perennial Housing Acts or biennial Town and Country Planning Acts, there should be a consolidating environment Act because of the importance of the environment. I put that forward as a constructive proposal.
Secondly, for too long people have thought in terms of the environment and planning the environment in its negative aspects. It is time for the Government to make it a positive instrument of policy. After the war the National Parks were set up—and now there are ten of them—whose aim was to preserve the beauty of some of the most beautiful parts of our countryside. I see no reason—and I offer 895 this as a suggestion—why the Government should not designate urban parks which would eradicate the worst scars of some of our conurbations and, through a positive plan, try to improve the environment in the worst parts rather than keep the environment of the best parts of our landscape.
Pollution and the threat to the environment is increasing at a rapid pace. It is gaining momentum the whole time. I would hope—and I am delighted to hear that the Opposition do not intend to divide the House on the part of the White Paper dealing with the environment—that there might be a bi-partisan approach to this pressing political problem. I recognise the start made to deal with the environment by the last Government. I recall the parts of the Housing Act, 1969, dealing with conservation and improvement areas. I also recognise their setting up of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, although I am tempted to observe that I hope that its conclusions are a little more pointed than the long-windedness of its title.
A start has been made. The nation demands that this Parliament shall take a decision to safeguard the environment. If we succeed, the people will look back at this Parliament with pride. If we fail to act in this decade, one thing is certain: we shall become the curse of future generations.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
It is very pleasant to be asked on behalf of the House to congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman) on his maiden speech. It was a most admirable speech made on a most important subject.
I should like to echo the hon. Gentleman's remarks about his predecessor, Lord Boyle. We greatly miss that large and friendly figure. We hope that every now and again he will wander down the corridors, genially wringing his hands over the follies of his own and other parties, and that he will not be entirely lost to the Commons atmosphere. As the hon. Gentleman said, Lord Boyle was universally liked and universally respected. He added greatly to our debates and shed a certain liberal lustre on some dark patches in the Conservative Party.
896 The hon. Gentleman's speech was devoted largely to the effects of the proposed changes in government on the very important question of pollution and what can be done about it. No doubt the House will be anxious to hear from the hon. Gentleman on future occasions and will welcome his remarks about Birmingham because, in spite of all that may have been done in that great city, a lot remains to be done. On behalf of us all, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his maiden speech.
I join the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) in thanking the Consumer Council. I do so all the more readily because it used to be presided over by an excellent lady who is my step-great-aunt-in-law. I am a little more critical than was the right hon. Gentleman of that White Paper. I agree with him that our system of government needs to be improved, although I should have thought that the time was coming when constant changes in the responsibilities of Ministries must be a little upsetting for the civil servants who work in them.
However, I am not sure that the proposed scheme strikes at what to me are some of the main faults. First, there is a great need to strengthen the democratic element in government. To me, the democratic process means not only scrutiny by the House of Commons, but a flow of information to members of the public and to their elected representatives in a workable and usable form. Certainly it means strengthening the main current of common sense so that the opinions of bureaucrats anxious to press their interests are tested against the general will.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Grimsby that ultimately most of the decisions of government must be a political or value judgment. Had there been more readiness to accept this, we might have avoided some of the appalling waste in the aircraft industry, some of the disasters resulting from worship of size and bad planning and some of the pollution of the environment to which the hon. Member for Handsworth referred, and we could have had less worship of bureaucracy, technocracy and size for the sake of size. There is a need for constant audits, examinations or inquests on Government policies. We look back to see whether particular economic 897 measures have succeeded or failed. But we constantly pass legislation on social matters—for instance, immigration, race relations, and so on—and seldom take much trouble to discover whether it is working. The decision-making machinery of government, with which the White Paper largely deals, certainly needs improvement. There is also a need to pinpoint responsibility.
A major criticism of the Government proposal is that they have shown no awareness of the need to strengthen the democratic process. We are provided with a Green Paper on the House of Commons, but it deals only with the structure of the Select Committee system. We want to go a good deal further. It is impossible to decide which reforms are needed unless we see where the present government have failed, and they have failed primarily, not in connection with the difficulties in Whitehall, but in making government acceptable to the people.
There is a great deal of talk about alienation and, although it is a hackneyed word, it points to one of the fundamental failures of government. Paragraph 2 of the White Paper points out that the Government have placed an excessive burden on the people. There may well be too much government, but that is not argued in the White Paper. It is at least arguable that, although people may feel burdened by government, they equally feel that government is too remote and bureaucratic. I am not sure that the people think that the Government offer them too many services. It is much more probable that they feel that they do not always offer the right services and that the social services are too paternalist in their manner. The White Paper criticises the quality of many decisions taken over the last 25 years. Much of the fault lies in the fact that decisions are formulated in the recesses of bureaucratic processes, far removed from public scrutiny, and I cannot see that the White Paper will improve that situation.
I turn to the main proposal for grouping many departments under two main heads—Industry and Trade and the Environment. There is a case for this, and the White Paper makes it, but I would like to ask three questions on the general principle of this grouping. 898 What exactly will be the function of the overlord Minister? We are told that he will have final responsibility, but even after listening to the Lord President I am not at all clear what will be the division of responsibility between the various Ministers.
I thought the criticism which was made by the right hon. Member for Grimsby was entirely justified when he pointed out the vast scope of the subjects covered by the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Technology. I wonder how one man will straddle this enormous Department of Government. Up to now there has been concern that the Board of Trade alone was possibly too big; now it will be bigger still. It may be that one Minister will not straddle these Departments and that, as the Lord President said, there will be a great deal of delegation. If that is so, wherein lies the fundamental difference in depth which these proposals claim? I am always slightly suspicious of White Papers which tell us that their contents are radically new departures or will do something which has never been done before. It is like people who begin a sentence with, "In all honesty I will tell you"—one knows what a big lie will follow. If individual Ministers are to be left with much the same powers as they have now, where is the great new departure which the opening paragraphs of the White Paper promise? What is to be the rôle of the Treasury in economic planning? Is it to take a subordinate rôle?
The other proposal on which I would like to comment is the multi-disciplinary central review staff. "Multi-disciplinary" is a new word in the political vocabulary. It may be said that Lord Rothschild is a multi-disciplinary man, but that does not shed much light upon what he will do in this job. It is a criticism of Government that sometimes it has been alleged that senior civil servants are out of sympathy with their chiefs. Here we have the appointment of a man who has been considered to belong to a different party from his chief, and to have a big-business socialist peer as the head of this multi-disciplinary Department seems at first sight extremely odd.
I agree with what the right hon. Member for Grimsby said about the tasks which are to be given to Lord Rothschild.
899 Paragraph 47 of the White Paper tells us that the business of the unit will be to enable Ministers—to take better policy decisions by assisting them to work out the implications of their basic strategy in terms of policies in specific areas, to establish the relative priorities to be given to the different sectors of their programme as a whole, to identify those areas of policy in which new choices can be exercised and to ensure that the underlying implications of alternative courses of action are fully analysed and considered.I had always understood that this is what Government Departments are supposed to do, and that the Minister at the head of the Department was supposed to relate his policies one to another. It is an interesting insight to me that Ministers preside over Departments which are apparently unable to perform those tasks and are themselves incapable of working out the implications of their basic strategy. It may be true, but it is rather alarming to be told so at this late date.
In addition to that, it is suggested that the unit will have certain responsibilities between Ministries and will relate individual Departmental policies to Government strategy as a whole. Surely this is the job of the Cabinet. If the Cabinet is unable to perform it, it may be not unreasonable to strengthen the Cabinet Office; but we are told by the Lord President that Lord Rothschild's unit will be rather different from the Cabinet Office.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, the man who springs at once to mind is Lord Lindemann who roved about the Departments picking out individual policies here and there, getting some right and some wrong, and spreading chaos and extreme irritation throughout the public service. I very much doubt if we want to repeat that now. I should have thought that a roving commission of interference would be the last thing to expedite decisions or to make responsibility clearer. If this is simply strengthening the Cabinet Office it seems strange that a Government which is intent on reducing the number of civil servants should be adding others to the existing machinery of Government without making any reductions.
My final main criticism of the whole attitude is that it seems to perpetuate the myth that the ultimate decisions of 900 Government between, say, houses and roads or the social services and a presence east of Suez can be done on a cost-effective basis. This is one of the prime reasons why government in this country has been wrong since the war. Government is about value judgments, political judgments, and any elected government has to take decisions on political lines. It can get all the advice it wants. To have a Lord Rothschild to cost up whether there should be secondary education or more hospitals is a nonsense. If he is not to do more than that though, he will merely be an extra cog in the Civil Service and confuse the channels rather than relieve them.
I believe that the Government in many ways are embarking on a genuine attempt to improve the machinery of government from their own point of view, but I beg them to consider that this is a political matter. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite form a political Government which will ultimately be judged upon whether their decisions are politically acceptable at least to their own supporters and ideally to the nation at large. So far we have had very little indication that the Government are aware of this. The claims of the White Paper are greatly exaggerated even in what it attempts to cover, and it does not even attempt to touch on the fundamental matter facing this country, which is how to make democratic government not only more efficient, which it should be, but more acceptable to the people at large.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)
As the first Member on this side of the House to speak after the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman), I join the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) in congratulating him on what I think we all agree was an excellent, concise and interesting maiden speech. No doubt the traditional welcome to a new hon. Member that we look forward to hearing him again is said sometimes with tongue in cheek, but all hon. Members who heard the hon. Member for Handsworth will, I am sure, honestly and willingly accede to that traditional welcome. His tribute to his predecessor Edward Boyle will be echoed by all. I have known him for 901 many years and his absence from the House is a great loss.
The subject of this debate concerning Government in the long term is as important as anything which we might be discussing today. There is a creaking situation in the political control of the machinery of administration. Members of Parliament and Ministers, who are in their positions because they are the more senior Members of Parliament of the party in power, must grasp full management responsibility for the implementation of Government policy. This cannot and should not be left to the admirable activities of the Civil Service. It should be made clear that nothing in this debate is to be taken as criticism of the activities of probably the finest Civil Service that has ever existed, or indeed exists, in the world today.
I wish to say at the outset that I welcome the White Paper itself. What I find a little strange is that in paragraph 3 the Government do not expand further on what was a major part of Conservative thinking when in Opposition, namely, the attainment of better value for money spent by Government. As many hon. Members know, I am connected with aspects of procurement and I therefore declare a small interest. I feel sad that at this stage it has not been thought wise to elaborate on the structure of procurement within Government Departments. I should like to have seen a revamping and revitalising of the control of procurement, not only in aircraft and in defence but over the whole structure of Government purchasing. I hope that before long the Government will be able to make some announcements about obtaining better value for money.
Paragraph 12(v) of the White Paper on page 5 stresses the necessity for better opportunities to discuss and challenge Government policies. I agree completely with that approach, and I wonder how the Government see this opportunity being given to the House of Commons. I agree that the power of the executive in controlling the machinery of Government must become greater, and each year that passes will mean that this power is likely to become more comprehensive. The greater the managerial control and the greater the managerial efficiency of Government the greater the effect is likely to be. I should like to hear how the 902 Government see the House of Commons being brought into this process by being given more opportunity to discuss and challenge policy factors.
Perhaps I could make two suggestions. The first concerns the matter of questioning Ministers. It is about time that the traditional Question hour was made a little longer. A 25 per cent. increase in Question Time, although it might not necessarily be welcomed by Ministers, would allow the opportunity of more Questions and more supplementaries and would give back-bench Members a chance to get more out of Ministers than they have been able to obtain in the past, whichever Government has been in power. Anybody who has been in the House for very long knows that any Minister who does not wish to give any information away is able only too easily to stonewall and the Member concerned is left without an adequate answer. I do not know whether an increase in Question Time will make any difference, but at least it will be a step in the right direction, and I believe that the House as a whole would welcome an extension. It would mean cutting into the time of an ordinary debate, but there can be little doubt that Question Time is the part of the proceedings of the House that attracts most attention outside the House.
I should like to mention the Green Paper on the operation of the Select Committees of the House of Commons, which must be taken in conjunction with the White Paper on Reorganisation of Central Government. I appreciate that we shall be debating the Green Paper on some other occasion, but I wonder whether the Minister who is to reply to this debate will be able to say something about the specialist Select Committees under the new Select Committee on Expenditure which is envisaged. No doubt the subcommittees will be given specific tasks: I understand that they are not to be departmental in character but much more all-embracing. Have the Government and the Leader of the House considered sub-committees to deal particularly with expenditure appraisal or supply analysis? This to my mind is all important in challenging the spending of the Government and its power over public spending. Therefore, it should be for the House to be able to analyse in much greater detail how expenditure has been incurred and 903 how the policies envisaged have been carried through.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Perhaps I could intervene to save a little time in debate. If the House approves the idea of setting up a Select Committee on Expenditure, naturally it will be for that Select Committee when set up to decide how it should do its work and what sub-committees it should create.
§ Mr. Emery
I thank my right hon. Friend for that helpful indication. The point I am trying to make is that before we set up such a Select Committee or come to any agreement on the Green Paper, we should have some idea of what the Committee will do. If the Government are thinking of allowing greater opportunity for the House to discuss and challenge Government expenditure, we all appreciate that such a process does not exist in this Chamber at present, as it does in a number of other legislatures. I refer in particular to the United States Senate, which has been able to challenge certain defence expenditure and to reveal massive overruns of cost factors, matters which would not have come to light without the challenging investigatory action of a Committee of the House of the Senate.
Paragraph 14 of the White Paper deals with the aggregation of functions and the size of large Departments. A great deal has been made by Members on both sides of the House of the massiveness of the Ministry of Technology when it was created. I refer to it as a soft-centred octopus, as I believe it was. I hope to ensure that the Ministry of Trade and Industry does not in any way emulate that type of massive managerial problem that was created in the Ministry of Technology. It seems to me that that can be avoided only if the division of responsibility of junior Ministers is made abundantly clear. Their responsibility must be a real responsibility which enables them to make decisions and to carry out proper managerial functions without the necessity at all times to refer matters to the Minister in charge.
§ Mr. Douglas
Does not the hon. Gentleman concede that the answer given to me by the Leader of the House is contradictory to that, in that the right 904 hon. Gentleman went on further to say that this issue of responsibility devolved completely on the Secretary of State? In other words, there is no devolution here at all. What the hon. Gentleman is asking for will not be obtained.
§ Mr. Emery
Perhaps I might answer the question for myself and not have words put into my mouth. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. If one uses parallels within industry, it is possible for responsibility for a major function of a large corporate structure to be given to one manager or director who is the only person answerable to the main board for the actions which he controls. In such a case, nevertheless, some of his managers will often have complete responsibility for carrying out the tasks given, in this instance by the Minister, to the team working under him.
I am sorry that there is no mention in the White Paper of the greater use of junior Ministers. If we are to be able to manage properly a Department such as the Trade and Industry Department, the Minister will be killed by overwork unless we ensure that not only his Ministers but his junior Ministers have responsibility for some sections of the Department.
Someone ought to put in a plea for the junior Minister and his position in the salary structure of government. I do not know how many people realise that a junior Minister is paid only £5,000 a year and that, when he takes office, frequently he loses some aspects of his expense allowances which ordinary backbench Members are able to claim for running the two homes which may be necessary for a Member to fulfil his constituency engagements. I know of one Minister—I will not embarrass him by naming him—who had to sell his London some on being appointed a junior Minister. His financial loss is a major contribution which he is making to the country's administration.
It cannot be right to have a department like the Trade and Industry Department with four or five junior Ministers earning £5,000 a year each having to cope with administrative decisions concerned with the running of the country when, in companies like Shell, those who make similar decisions receive much greater rewards. I am told that Shell has over 100 managerial people working in the United 905 Kingdom who are on salaries of over £5,000 a year. I do not suggest that the Government should grasp this nettle at the moment. With present inflationary trends, it would be wrong to give junior Ministers an increase now. But we should have an assurance from this debate that the position of the junior Minister should not be such that he is asked to make a financial contribution to the State because he is obliged to suffer considerable hardship in carrying out his duties.
§ Mr. William Rodgers (Stockton-on-Tees)
I support what the hon. Gentleman said. He referred to a junior Minister getting £5,000 a year. However, that is inclusive of his expenses as a Member of Parliament. The sum that he gets to support his family and carry out his other commitments is considerably less than £3,750. I do not say that that is not a considerable sum, but obviously the hon. Gentleman is right in what he says.
§ Mr. Emery
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support. I hope that I have made it clear that the expenses position is such as to decrease the sum available for a junior Minister to keep himself and his family.
I wish to congratulate the Government on what has been termed the demise of the I.R.C. I am glad that it has gone. It may have done some job initially, but it has outlived any benefit that it could have given to the further amalgamation of British industry. After all, if the market is unable to cope with such amalgamations, one begins immediately to wonder whether investment should be made in the type of company which results.
However, I ask the Government to have second thoughts about the phasing-out of the Consumer Council. I am all in favour of the £250,000 saving that is involved, but should not the Council be phased out over 12 months or some similar period in order to give it an opportunity to investigate the possibilities of finding other finance so that it might continue? It does not perform the same functions as the Consumer Association, and reports have been circulated by the Association deploring the belief that it can do all that the Consumer Council is doing. There is a good deal of support for some of the Council's work, and, since this sort of 906 organisation should be made to finance itself, rather than give it a continual subsidy, I believe that it should be phased out over a period of time so that it can see whether it can raise the money to enable it to continue.
I turn, then, to the position of the new secretariat. I hope that it will become a Prime Ministerial secretariat. In many ways, the Prime Minister is at a disadvantage in that he has no direct Department which can provide him the sort of information which any other Minister can obtain from his Department.
I do not accept the criticism that the cost-effectiveness studies of the secretariat will duplicate and be of little use to government in general. One of the weaknesses of government in the past is that too much major policy has been introduced without an overall cost-effectiveness study being carried out on an inter-departmental basis. When one or two Departments have controlled Government expenditure, they have often had a vested interest in trying to ensure that expenditures should continue in the way in which they were started.
No one has carried out a cost-effectiveness study of the best way of allocating funds for regional development. We have had the Government giving grants to industry for the building of factories to entice industry to areas of high unemployment. I frequently wonder whether at least a portion of the money devoted to the enticement of industry spent on the infrastructure within the area—I refer particularly in the South-West to the building of the necessary roads and communications to allow industry to go to that area—would not have shown equally good results for considerably less expenditure. That kind of cost-effectiveness study cannot be dealt with by an inter-Departmental committee. That is why I welcome the cost-effectiveness potential of the new secretariat.
There is room for criticism in the White Paper that so little has been said about the improvement of the modern management technique factors which Fulton stressed considerably in the further extension of the Civil Service College and the application of greater functional responsibility within the managerial control of the Civil Service. This was closely argued in an intriguing chapter of the Fulton Report, but we 907 have not seen evidence that much of this has been carried out. Therefore, I hope that, during the winding up, we shall hear that the Government have left this out in error rather than by design.
I hope that the Minister will not respond to the criticism made by the right hon. Member for Grimsby on the limitations of the programme planning budget. Although it is not being carried out as originally instituted by Mr. Charles Schwartz, it is being increased, not decreased, by the American financial structure of the Bureau of the Budget. I have reason for saying that. I was speaking to Mr. Charles Schwartz in Washington only last week. Therefore, the Minister should bear in mind that the modifications which have been carried through have led to a considerable advantage in the governmental and financial control of policy.
My last major point concerns paragraph 53, "Review of Departmental Tasks". This is meant to be a White Paper based on advanced managerial judgments. There ought to be a date at which that review is finally carried out. The Government have set a date on one of their activities, which will be reporting by April next year, but they have not set a date for finalisation of the review. A date should be set as a matter of managerial efficiency to try to ensure that a time scale is met.
I welcome the statement in the White Paper about further consideration of the hiving off from the Government and the Civil Service of control of administration which could be carried out by others. Anything that is done to alleviate the heavy burden on the Civil Service in the overall administration of government ought to be welcomed, because the task is so great. Therefore, I accept the White Paper, but only as a first stage in the modernisation of the political control of the nation's administration. We need to go much further; more is needed to follow up this White Paper.
We cannot replace by management technique, by new review bodies or by all the aspects of modern science, the proper control of a Department by a strong Minister. He is the man who must be responsible to this House, and I hope that we shall see him assisted, not 908 limited, by the suggestions in this document.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Reg Prentice (East Ham, North)
I agree with the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) about the status of junior Ministers. This is one aspect of the reorganisation of government which will require the closest attention in the period ahead. My experience as a junior Minister was under the benevolent leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), who was Secretary of State for Education and Science when I was Minister of State. This was an entirely happy relationship—at least on my part. I do not know about him. I think that we worked things out fairly well. But in a Department the size of the Department of Education and Science clearly there were real problems about the authority of junior Ministers and a need for the closest definition of their authority.
This problem becomes more serious, and can easily go wrong, in the vast Departments which have grown up since. I am thinking of the Department of Health and Social Security, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and, even more so, the giant Departments proposed in the White Paper.
Two points must be stressed. First, the sheer physical strain upon the head of a big Department has to be considered. There is a tendency for officials to pass all major decisions—and perhaps some which are not so major—to the head of the Department rather than go to a junior Minister. There is a tendency for people always to want to see the top man, or, if they have seen a junior Minister, to appeal to the top man. Therefore, potential strain on the Minister is a real problem.
The second point that I would stress is that it is important that people with a close interest in the affairs of the Department should be able to identify their problems with a particular Minister and to know that he has real responsibilities. For example, in public health it is important that the doctors, the nurses, and everyone else concerned should know which Minister within the Department of Health and Social Security has day-to-day responsibility for health matters. They should hold him responsible. They should 909 take him their problems and complaints and know that he has authority to make real decisions. This must apply throughout the whole sphere. Otherwise, we get a fudging of responsibility which is bad for government and for democracy.
I want to speak mainly on the decision to transfer the Ministry of Overseas Development within the scope of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I know that this is to be debated separately when the Order is before the House, but I believe that it is for the convenience of the House that, when that debate takes place after ten o'clock, it should be relatively brief. It is also important that this decision should feature within the wider debate. It is the most controversial single decision in the White Paper, and it is bitterly opposed by the Opposition. It is also a decision which will have the biggest impact on the outside world. This decision has been greeted with interest and comment outside Britain to a greater extent than in Britain itself.
This is a foolish, unnecessary decision. it is a decision quite unrelated to any argument of merit connected with the aid programme. It is a decision which, to my knowledge, has not been supported by any authoritative group or authoritative individual in this country concerned with the aid programme and matters arising from it. Throughout the world this decision will indicate a downgrading of the aid programme so far as this Government are concerned. Whether that impression is fair or not remains to be seen by experience, but that impression is given by the decision.
I believe that the Ministry of Overseas Development since 1964 has been a success story. It has had within its ranks civil servants of the first order, and although it is not in accordance with our traditions to mention those who are in office at the moment, I think we all recognise that in the late Permanent Secretary, Sir Andrew Cohen, who died suddenly in June, 1968, we had one of the most distinguished civil servants of his generation. It is a Department which is not only well served at the top, but which attracts some of the brightest and most dedicated new recruits to the Civil Service in the Administrative and Executive Grades. They opt for the M.O.D. because it is the Department in 910 which they want to serve, and in which they recognise the value of its work.
The Department has made the administration of our aid programme more efficient and more relevant to its purposes, and as a result of my experience in the Department and that gained overseas, both in developing countries and in other donor countries, two impressions were uppermost in my mind. One was the impression of disappointment that Britain was not fulfilling the 1 per cent. pledged in terms of overseas aid and that we were making slower progress towards that than many other European countries and other donor countries outside Europe.
The other impression was that the Department itself, and the administration of the aid programme, was recognised everywhere as one of the most efficient aid agencies anywhere in the world. This was recognised at the United Nations. It was recognised at the World Bank. It was recognised in the Development Assistance Committee of the O.E.C.D. Most important of all, it was recognised in the developing countries themselves.
We are therefore bound to ask the Government why, and on what grounds they are proposing this move, because no adequate reason for it is given in the White Paper, and to date no reason has been given for it by any Government spokesman. Indeed, in a curious way the White Paper argues against this decision. I agree with my right hon. Friend's analysis of the White Paper. I think that it is a curious document. The word that crops up most frequently is "functional". There is a whole section on what is called the functional approach, and we are told aboutthe application of the functional principle as the basis for the allocation of responsibilities".However, in paragraph 34, which deals with overseas aid, we are told:They"—that is the Government—recognise, however, that the management of overseas aid is a function distinct from the general conduct of foreign affairsand the paragraph goes on to explain that because it is a distinct function its administration will still have a good deal of autonomy within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but if that is so it is difficult to recognise any reason why the move should have been made.
911 The only reason that I can assume for the change is that this is part of the Prime Minister's gimmickry by which he wants to give the impression that because there are fewer Government Departments there is less government, and therefore there are fewer civil servants and thus there is a saving of public money. The fact is that this move will have no effect whatsoever in reducing the number of civil servants or in saving public money unless, of course, there is to be some reduction of the aid programme itself, which is certainly not envisaged in the White Paper.
I might be asked, if there is to be a good deal of autonomy for this section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, does this change really matter? Has anything been lost by this move? I put it to the House that four things have been lost. First, the status of the Minister as a Minister of Cabinet rank able to go to the Cabinet itself and argue for his Department is of immense value in relation to a subject of this kind. Although all parties in the House are committed to the principle of overseas development, to the 1 per cent. target, and to various other objectives that have been accepted internationally, we recognise that there is a good deal of public opinion which thinks otherwise, that there are leading newspapers which regularly have editorials attacking the whole concept of overseas aid, and that in practice the degree of commitment of individual Cabinet Ministers in any Government will vary from one individual to the next.
There is, of course, a spectrum of opinion on overseas aid within the present Conservative Cabinet. There was a spectrum of opinion within the Labour Cabinet. There were those who were very enthusiastic and committed, ranging through to those who tended to be hostile. Most dangerous of all are those in the middle who are vaguely in favour of overseas aid, but who would not give it a high priority in terms of their day-to-day thinking. In that sort of situation, there are occasions in the life of any Government when the Minister whose main responsibility this work is ought to be able to go to the Cabinet and argue his case. All five Ministers of Overseas Development during the period of the 912 Labour Government had to fight for the size of their programmes at various times, and we did not lose all those fights. The programme which I always regarded as being too low, and which I still regard in the same light, might have been lower, and indeed it would have been lower if we had not dedicated Ministers who knew their case.
If the aid programme depends upon the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, it depends, first, on his having the time to master this intricate subject. Second, it depends upon his own commitment to it. As one who frequently criticised the present Foreign Secretary, I can tell the House that I have no doubt whatever about the right hon. Gentleman's commitment to the concept of overseas aid and development. I know that he is keen to see at least the present programme, if not a larger one, but we are now in the position that the future size of the aid programme will be rather a matter of chance, because Foreign Secretaries will be appointed for reasons other than this, and the degree of commitment of a future Foreign Secretary will vary as it varies with other people. As I understand it, under the new arrangement—if I am wrong I hope to be corrected—the Minister for Overseas Development will not be able to take his argument further than the Foreign Secretary's desk. In other words, if he cannot convince the Foreign Secretary on a point, he will have no right to argue against the Foreign Secretary in the Cabinet.
When dealing with this important subject there should be a Minister in a position to do that, not only because of the size of the problem, and not only because of the work of this Department, but because from time to time the Cabinet inevitably considers programmes of private investment overseas, of trade arrangements as varied as overseas students' fees, and all kinds of controversial matters which affect developing countries. Ministers will address their minds to these problems, inevitably, mainly in terms of self-interest. It is important that there should be a Minister who can be a spokesman for the developing world—I like the phrase "shop steward for the developing world"—and state his point of view to the Cabinet. Indeed, this is the reason why there should not 913 only be a Minister for Overseas Development, but why he should be a full member of the Cabinet.
My second fear is that the allocation of the aid programme may be affected by the new arrangements. This is something that can only be proved or disproved by experience over the next few years. Under the arrangements which have existed hitherto, the aid framework as it is called is discussed between all the Departments and worked out with the Ministry of Overseas Development. It is discussed with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with the Board of Trade and with the Treasury, and the points of view of the other Departments have to be taken into consideration. To date the M.O.D. has won a large proportion of the arguments, and I think that our aid programme in the main stands up, though perhaps not 100 per cent., to the test that it is allocated according to developmental criteria, and not according to day-to-day departmental pressures, or day-to-day commercial advantages.
I fear that under these new arrangements the authority of the officials primarily concerned with this work may be lessened because they will no longer be an independent department on their own. Indeed, some of those who advocated this change may have wanted to alter the basis of the aid programme along these lines. If there are those in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who had this view I tell them that they are being foolish from a diplomatic point of view, apart from any other point of view, because the best way in which the aid programme can serve the long-term interests of Britain is that it should be an effective programme, geared to development. If aid is used as a diplomatic bribe and turned on and off like a tap it will not have the same impact upon development.
The important point about development aid is that it should be long-term. We should always recognise that it forms only a small part of the development programme of a developing country, and that if it is to be of maximum value to a developing country that country needs to know as far ahead as possible what kind of help it can expect to receive and in what form it can expect to receive it. The whole process can be rendered ineffective if diplomatic considerations 914 enter into it too much. It would be bad diplomacy in the long run, apart from all the other arguments.
My third point is that even it there is no change of direction and in priorities as a result of this machinery change, it will nevertheless seem to the developing world that a change is intended. Here I am in a sense making a diplomatic point. We are concerned here with a subject which forms a major part of our relationship with two-thirds of the world. We are concerned here with a vital part of our overseas policy. It has always been greatly appreciated by people in developing countries that there is in London a Department geared to their needs and understanding their problems. They will feel that there is a great loss here even if the same programme goes on being administered without any change.
My fourth point is that the same reaction will occur at home. The creation of the Ministry of Overseas Development was an expression of our concern about world poverty and our involvement in the struggle to raise living standards. It was a great encouragement to all those people who have been loosely described as the aid lobby but who would rather be called the development lobby. I am speaking of the people who work with Oxfam, Christian Aid, War on Want, and similar organisations. They are dedicated people—a minority of our population but a growing minority, especially among young people. Although they frequently criticised the Ministry of Overseas Development—as they had every right to do; when I was Minister I welcomed their criticism—the fact is that a kind of de facto alliance existed between the Ministry and these groups, because we were all engaged in the task of trying to persuade a wider public that this subject deserved greater priority. These people are greatly discouraged by this move.
I do not know how many hundreds of letters have been received in the Government from people within the aid lobby objecting to this move. I hope that we may be told by one of the Ministers who will speak later tonight. If not, I may put down a Question next week. I should also like to know how many letters have been received supporting the move. It would be interesting to see whether 915 there have been any, and how they stack up with those opposing the move. It is no coincidence that a Government who are insensitive to the feelings of the people in the developing world should also be insensitive to the feelings of some of the most internationally-minded people in our community.
In conclusion, I want to make two points about the future, assuming that this measure will be approved by the House tonight. My first refers to the question of the accountability of the Government to the House of Commons for overseas development matters. Earlier today the Leader of the House was speaking about Parliamentary scrutiny, and in particular he said that if the new arrangements for Question Time did not work out well he would be glad to look at them again. One of the effects of this change is that we lose the opportunity to question the Minister of Overseas Development separately. He does not have a separate slot in the order of Questions.
A few years ago there were four separate Cabinet Ministers all answering questions on overseas affairs—the Foreign Secretary, the Commonwealth Secretary, the Colonial Secretary and the Minister of Overseas Development. All four of these very important areas of policy—and all four are still very important—have come under the umbrella Department, and Questions on all four are answered at one go at Question Time under our new arrangements.
Meanwhile the Select Committee that existed in the last Parliament is to be reappointed only on a temporary basis, and is soon to be phased out, so that the opportunities for parliamentary questioning and examination of this vital subject are likely to be reduced in the new Parliament compared with the opportunities that were available in the previous one.
I make the point—and I hope that it will be conveyed to the Leader of the House—that in this subject we must have more frequent debates on overseas development. We have not had enough under any Government, and those that we have had have taken place because of the initiative of private Members. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) inflated the last, or the last but 916 one, on this subject. That will not do. The Government must find time in future for this subject.
We shall want to probe the contrast between the miserable inadequacy of the aid figures announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week and the enthusiastic clichés of the Prime Minister speaking in the General Assembly a week or so ago in which he pledged British support for the Second Development Decade. There is a great gap between what is being proposed in fact by the Government and what the Prime Minister seemed to be saying at the General Assembly, and particularly the aid figures announced by the Chancellor, even if they are all fulfilled—and they were aid ceilings—will lead to aid at rather less than 0.5 of 1 per cent. by 1975.
I close on this note: I believe the merger to be a bad step, but as a perennial optimist I am always looking for a chink of light if there is one to be found anywhere. I hope—not with any great optimism—that the Minister for Overseas Development and his Department will use such opportunities as they have in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to try to create within that Department a greater sense of reality about the importance of overseas development. I know that it is a generalisation and that generalisations are dangerous, but the prevailing view in the F.C.O. is that the part of the world that really matters is Europe and the North Atlantic area, and that the rest of the world is not to the same extent a matter of vital interest to Britain.
The prevailing view of many people in the Department, and of many people in the House, is that overseas aid is a nice charitable relationship, to be carried on on the margin of our affairs, and is not a vital part of our overseas policy.
If there is any good to be obtained from this merger I hope that it will be in the sense that an educational job can be done within the F.C.O. by the Overseas Development Department so that this country begins to approach something that it has not yet approached under any Government—a recognition of the fact that the relationship between the rich one-third and the poor two-thirds of the world is the most important political issue of our time—and the most important question that future generations will ask 917 of us is whether our policies have lived up to the enormous challenge of the situation.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I would remind the House that a fair number of hon. Members still wish to speak and that short speeches will help.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)
I owe you, Mr. Speaker, and the House an apology because I have not been here for the whole of the debate, but I have been moved to try to catch your eye because the speeches that I have heard have been of an outstanding quality. This has seemed to me, as a new Member, one of the most constructive debates that I have had the pleasure to hear. I would like to say how much most of us on this side respect and admire the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice), who really put his principles into practice when he was in the last Government. I am sure that we all listened to his speech with great interest and great respect.
Having said that, I do not share his misgivings. I sincerely hope that he is wrong, and I know that he hopes he is wrong too. I feel that he will be proved wrong. It seems a fairly logical step to put overseas aid under the general umbrella of the Foreign Commonwealth Office. I feel as he does that in our Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary we have a man who really appreciates what overseas aid is all about. I believe that his Department is at one with him.
My party, when last in Government, had a record of which it has some reason to be proud. I believe that we shall have a record of which we can be even more proud during this period in government. The right hon. Gentleman certainly has my assurance, and I am sure that of everyone on this side, that we shall want to keep the Government up to their pledges in this respect, and I have no doubt that they will honour them. Overseas aid is, to put it no higher, the most important form of enlightened self-interest in which a nation can indulge.
I hope that I will be forgiven if my comments are somewhat at random because I want to pick up one or two 918 other things that have been said in the debate. It seems to me that possibly the key note of this document is at the top of paragraph 2, which says:This Administration believes that government has been attempting to do too much.There is another significant statement in paragraph 5, which says:The product of the review will be less government and better government. Less government, because its activities will be related to long-term strategy aimed at liberating private initiative and placing more responsibility on the individual and less on the State. It will be better government, because the tasks to be done will be better defined and, fewer in number, requiring fewer Ministers and fewer civil servants to carry them out.To me, as a Conservative, this seems an admirable conception, but I shall watch carefully, as I know will most of my hon. Friends, to ensure that the execution is as admirable as the conception. We do not want to find that, in the last analysis, we have been tested and found wanting.
Several hon. Members have referred to the rÔle of Ministers junior and senior. Although it is vitally important that we should recognise the real rÔle of the junior Ministers, it is also vital to adapt Harry Truman's adage and realise that there is a place where the buck stops. One of the most important and significant things in the White Paper is that it tightens up the machinery of government. I hope that the new Ministers, particularly the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Trade and Industry, will all adopt Pitt's phrase and take the stand that, being responsible, they direct, and that they will be responsible for all they direct. This is the absolute duty of every senior Minister.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
This is a point which worries many people. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the two specific Departments of the Environment and Trade and Industry, both of which have very able Ministers. But does he think that it is possible for any man in ordinary life to carry any real degree of responsibility for these massive organisations? It just seems to me physically impossible.
§ Mr. Cormack
While the right hon. Gentleman has a point, we do have a Prime Minister, and we do not seem to question the fact that he has overall responsibility for everything. The right 919 hon. Gentleman is right to question this, but I believe that it makes sense to combine these functions within these two "super-Ministries", although I do not like the term. I believe that those in charge are admirably fitted to discharge their tremendous responsibilities. It makes sense to combine these environmental functions, for instance, under one man, who is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the environment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman), whose maiden speech I was privileged to hear, dwelt at length on the subject of the environment. The Government have now put the ball fairly and squarely in their own court. They have created a Department of the Environment and it is now incumbent upon them to ensure that they have done more than pay lip-service to an "in" word. I believe that they have, and that we shall see great results, but we shall all, on both sides, be right to probe and question to keep them up to the mark.
All sorts of things disturb me when we talk about the environment. Far too often, we give it a narrow definition, but, for instance, one of the most priceless parts of this country's heritage is our fine old country churches. I am not talking from a religious point of view. I happen to be a Christian, but that is totally immaterial in this respect. Most of us will recognise that, in our fine country churches, we do have a priceless heritage. At the moment, with the movement of population from the centre of many of our great cities, with the depopulation of many rural areas, many of these churches are falling into a sad state of disrepair. This is the sort of problem which should concern the Department for the Environment. We are reaching the stage when Governments should begin to consider their responsibilities in this direction as in others? When these things have gone, they have gone for ever, and it is the prime responsibility of Government, not only to protect citizens but also to conserve what is best in our environment. If this new Department, with its co-ordinated functions, discharges its responsibilities properly in this respect, then I think that the fears which have been expressed will prove to be unfounded. We have a duty 920 to scrutinise and question to make sure that they are unfounded.
One could make the same comments about the Department of Trade and Industry. But even these great super-Ministries do not cover every aspect of their individual problems. We had a debate last week on the coal industry and I mentioned one particular problem which seems to concern both Ministries—the problem of derelict land, consequent upon disused workings, and the problems of open-cast, where these two Ministries have to get together and decide how best to restore to beauty and its original state countryside which has been despoiled long ago or is in the process of being despoiled to get coal out quickly. These are real problems for these people.
As my hon. Friend said, later generations will judge the success of this Administration by their success in tackling problems like this. We quite rightly get heated about all sorts of political controversies when they are debated in this place but in five, ten or 50 years these things will be footnotes in the history books—and perhaps not even that. What will not be a footnote is the state of the country in which we live and which we love. Therefore, let us by all means question and probe, but let us make sure that this structure of Government achieves its objects.
I want to refer to that part of the White Paper which deals with bringing businessmen into government. I accept the logic of this and I believe that it will work. At the same time, I have some misgivings about it. It is not the job of the businessman to run the Government but to run his business, and I do not accept that the two functions are totally similar. My hon. Friends will be looking with interest at the way in which Lord Rothschild and his team improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the Government, and I have merely sounded a note of warning.
I referred to what I consider to be the keynote of the White Paper. "Less government and not more" has been the cry of many of us for a long time. If this restructuring results in the Government concentrating their proper attention on their absolute responsibilities and not digressing into fields which are not their 921 preserve, they will make a significant contribution to the nation's history. I give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that their proposals will have this effect.
I often think that the functions of government can be summed up by a sporting analogy. The job of government is to ensure that the football pitch is marked out and that the linesmen and referee are present. They must then let the players get on with the game. If the White Paper leads to a tightening up and if this restructuring has the effect which I believe it will have, then it will prove to have been a milestone in the constitutional history of the country, and if a Division is called tonight I shall vote for the Government.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
I am tempted to comment on the issues raised by the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) because they are fascinating matters which greatly interest me. However, I take note of your guidance, Mr. Speaker, and will confine my remarks to a close examination of a single matter mentioned in the White Paper and, in doing so, I shall be as brief as I can.
We read on page 3 of the White Paper that the Government's review of the functions of government has had among other things the aimTo improve the framework within which public policy is formulated by matching the field of responsibility of government departments to coherent fields of policy and administration.This is the sort of general framework within which the proposals are set and this has been called the philosophy of the document. As to the particular form of implementing that philosophy, we are told on page 4:government departments should be organised by reference to the task to be done or the objective to be attained".There we have the broad philosophy and the particular form of implementation. Then we come to the point about which I intend to spend the time available to me tonight, and this appears on page 10, where we read under the heading "Department of the Environment":the new department will be responsible for the whole range of functions which affect people's living environment. It will cover the planning of land—where people live, work, move and enjoy themselves. It will be responsible for the construction industries, 922 the housing programme, and for the transport industries, including public programmes of support and development for the means of transport. There is a need to associate with these functions responsibility for other major environmental mattersThat is the key phrase, "other major environmental matters", and the section goes on:the preservation of amenity, the protection of the coast and countryside, the preservation of historic towns and monuments, and the control of air, water and noise pollution: all of which must be pursued locally, regionally, nationally and in some cases internationally.It specifically refers tothe control of air, water and noise pollutionThat means all forms of pollution. If it did not, it would have said so. I do not think it can be argued that it was not the intention of the White Paper as originally written that the Minister for the Environment should not be responsible for the totality of noise pollution. If it had intended to exclude aircraft noise, it would have said so. It would have said "the control of air, water and noise pollution, except pollution by aircraft noise."
There being no exception, it must be intended that the Minister should be responsible for this type of pollution as well. It was rightly intended that the Minister should be totally responsible and be in control of aircraft noise as much as being in control of every other form of noise and pollution.
This is, of course, what is needed. Aircraft noise has not been effectively controlled and here was a chance to get it under control. But what went wrong? The Order which we shall be discussing later was, I presume, intended to follow up the intentions of the White Paper. The White Paper says that aircraft noise is to be effectively controlled, but apparently the Order says nothing of the sort. It leaves the whole question of aircraft noise within the control of the Department of Trade and Industry. Why has this change been made?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not drift into the debate which will take place on the Order. He knows that his Amendment is out of order.
§ Mr. Jenkins
You have pointed out, Mr. Speaker, correct as ever, that my Amendment is out of order. By that Amendment I sought to restore the Order to what I conceive was the intention of 923 the White Paper, but that is out of order and I must not discuss it.
A clue to what went wrong was possibly contained in a Written Answer given to me in reply to a Question on 27th October. I hadasked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will reduce the number of night flights permitted at Heathrow Airport during next summer.I was informed:No. I have decided to keep the limit of summer night jet flights at 3,500 for the summer of 1971 despite the growing operational and financial burden on the airlines that this restriction which has remained unchanged for several years, represents."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1970; Vol. 805, c. 91.]In other words, amenity costs money. The Minister was saying that if he acceded to my request and had reduced the number of permitted night flights, there would have been a growing operational and financial burden on the airlines.
That means that if the separation envisaged in the White Paper had been put into effect, another powerful Minister would have been given the opportunity to question, perhaps in Cabinet, the decisions taken by the Secretary of State for Trade, and Industry, and it is possible that, as a result, the trade and industry of the country would have been injured.
That may be the secret. The Government discovered that what they proposed to do might have an adverse effect on our trade and industry, and they were not prepared to risk that for the sake of the environment. In any event, if there had been any such risk to our trade I believe that it would have been only short-term in most cases, as I hope to have an opportunity to argue later. The truth of the matter is that in the few days between the publication of the White Paper and the laying of the Order the Government had a change of mind. If we limit aircraft noise we reduce the income of the airlines and the airports, and we reduce the amount of money coming into the country. This is the key point. We risk driving that money elsewhere, because this is the kind of noise that can be driven elsewhere.
In all amenity questions there is conflict between raw economic advantage 924 and the welfare of the community, and nowhere is that conflict as sharp as in the matter of aircraft noise. If one makes a motor car the use of an effective silencer reduces the car's efficiency. It costs money to make trucks and lorries tolerable—many are, perhaps, still intolerable and should not be allowed on our roads as being too large and too noisy. It costs money to deal with sewage and to create smokeless zones. But to deal with aircraft noise costs not only money but foreign money—it costs dollars as well as pounds—because the restrictions we impose must be internationally applicable. Only by turning away landings at Heathrow can life be made tolerable under the glide paths.
The question then is: how much money can we afford to lose in the interests of those people? That is a hard question to answer, and that is why aircraft noise has been pushed into the background, and is apparently now to be kept there. What price are we as a nation prepared to pay so that people living in Putney, Richmond, Kew, Barnes, Roehampton, are not driven to distraction? What price should the nation as a whole be prepared to pay in the interests of the minority living under the glide paths, and particularly those at Heathrow?
At a recent meeting at Richmond I said that if the Government separated responsibility for the control of aircraft noise by taking it from the Board of Trade and vesting it in a Department concerned with amenity I would praise them in this Chamber. They had intended to do that, but they have apparently changed their mind—why?
This great new Department of Trade and Industry has responsibility for trade, industry, commerce, travel, freight, import and export, and so on. And also responsibility for aircraft noise. The Department is even bigger now, but even the old Board of Trade takes up pages in this booklet: commercial relations division, exports division, export and planning division, export services division, office for Scotland, and for Wales, the regional offices, overseas projects, credit standards, weights and measures, the film branch, the tours branch, the tariff division, civil aviation office I, civil aviation office II, civil aviation office III—they are all listed.
925 But there is not a single division devoted to the prevention of what all the other Departments are there to create, which is more and more noise. Those various divisions cannot be held back in maximising trade by considerations of noise. Instead, there are two men and a girl in a small office in John Adam Street, in the civil aviation division, but not even worthy of a mention. That is the effort that the nation puts into the prevention of noise, and the Government have decided to leave that office there because they are not serious about the matter. They are serious about maximising trade, but they should be a little more serious about the amenities of our people.
They had this chance of giving another Minister an opportunity of speaking on level terms with his fellows on this subject—not just paying lip-service to amenity but having the opportunity to change plans. The Minister could have spoken with an equal voice in Government—not just this present small office now and again piping up to a Minister who has other things on his mind. The Government had the opportunity, and the White Paper indicates that they had the intention of taking it. We are told that it is not now their intention to proceed further. Decisions about aircraft noise have always been made within the Department, and apparently they are still to be made there.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), who previously was President of the Board of Trade, moved in the direction of recognising the importance of the problem by creating an aircraft noise council, but that body is simply advisory: it has no power. What is lacking here is power to assert this argument on equal terms with other equally important arguments. This case has never been heard at Cabinet level, or even at Cabinet committee level. The Department chiefly responsible for increasing air transport and the noise that goes with it has a tiny minority interest in reducing noise as well. What an absurdity it is, and here was a chance to cure that absurdity.
Is it any wonder that aircraft noise has got worse and worse every year since the invention of the jet engine? How could it fail to be otherwise when in all 926 those years no fruitful inter-ministerial discussion has been possible, and no Cabinet committee has ever had the matter on its agenda? Under the proposal in the White Paper, sufferers from aircraft noise would have had a champion at the highest level. The Secretary of State for the Environment could have argued it out with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and if they failed to agree they could have gone to the Cabinet for a decision. That has all gone now—
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The hon. Member is making a very important point which I greatly appreciate but, at the same time, his argument that under the new arrangement exactly what he wants cannot happen is not confirmed. It can happen, because if the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry brings it up and the Secretary of State for the Environment, with a very important Department behind him, disagrees, it goes to the Cabinet. That is what the Cabinet is for.
§ Mr. Jenkins
But the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the Secretary of State for the Environment is no longer specifically charged with responsibility for aircraft noise: indeed, he is specifically excluded from the Order which we shall later debate. He will not be in the same position of being able to argue on equal terms with other Ministers. I would feel very much more comfortable if the Minister was charged in the Order with specific responsibility for the control of aircraft noise, but he is not so charged—although I must not say so. I am being tempted, Mr. Speaker—
§ Mr. Jenkins
I have probably gone as far as I can along those lines. But on this matter I follow Winston Churchill, who once said in this Chamber that we are, more than we know, the creatures of our institutions. He might have added that if the institutions are wrong we are the prisoners of our institutions, and the Minister, however powerful he may be, will be the prisoner of the institution which is created in the House and which lays down what his responsibilities are.
927 This is the problem we face. No President of the Board of Trade, no Secretary of State for Trade and Industry can be effective about aircraft noise. Indeed, I suggest that it would be a dereliction of his duty if he were to be, because his responsibility is trade, and the maximisation of transport, including air transport, and the maximisation of noise that goes with it. But we might draw to his attention what has been said by Professor Richards, Vice-Chancellor of Loughborough University, who has suggested that we may be wrong in assessing the economic effects of aircraft noise. He has done, for the first time I believe, a cost-benefit analysis of the consequences of noise. He suggests that the number of persons seriously disturbed around Heathrow is some 400,000—a very large number, only a fraction of whom live sufficiently near the airport to have any feeling of pride in it. He adds:The total locality loss borne by the people of London for the pleasure of having Heathrow in their midst is £66 million per annum, a vast sum which is not made any smaller by the realist realisation that the full annual value of the airport is only five times this sum.Perhaps our sums have been wrong and we would find on examination the cost of aircraft noise to be too high even in pure economic terms. It should be the duty of the Secretary of State for the Environment to do that sort of research to support his case against the Minister responsible for noise creation, but he will not have that duty. The locality loss, the amenity loss, is not put in the balance at all in the ordinary cost-benefit terms used for the purpose of this analysis.
So the case is clear. The intention to tilt the balance in favour of amenity, long overdue, appears to have been negatived, and the short-sighted money men have gone ahead. I hope for an assurance that this victory is temporary. I hope that the Minister who replies will be able to assure me that this was a technical delay, that perhaps it is only a matter of time before the Secretary of State for the Environment is charged with the duty of reducing aircraft noise as much as any other noise. If it is possible to say that tonight, I shall not divide the House on the issue.
I must tell hon. Members opposite that it would be electorally advantageous for 928 them to take the matter seriously, apart from any other consideration. Last week the Government decided to remove my traditional safe Labour ward from my constituency. In spite of that, if the Tories do nothing about aircraft noise in Putney their supporters will not vote for them and I shall still hold Putney and still be here. So they will have the nuisance of having me here, apart from other considerations. If nothing else will move them, surely this will. I offer them the possibility of getting rid of me by making this improvement in amenities. That means that there is a bonus in it for them. I urge hon. Members opposite to accept my argument and do what they know to be right, to accept the proposals which I put before them and announce their conversion to the ideas I have been advocating. Then they will be rid of me into the bargain. If they do not, I propose to be here to plague them until one day someone recognises that people have a right to have the balance tilted in favour of amenity.
People know that the noise cannot stop, but here is a chance to reverse the trend, to halt the worsening. A Government who teetered on the edge of doing so and then funked the issue at the last minute would receive the contempt they deserve. I hope that the Government will change their mind even now and make it unnecessary to do what I would do, even if we do not divide the House later tonight. I hope that some hon. Members opposite will join me, because this is an important issue, in praying against the Order when the time comes, unless we are assured that it will include this important change in it as well.
§ Mr. Speaker
I remind the House that I shall be able to call every hon. Member who wishes to speak only if speeches are reasonably brief.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
I shall certainly remember your injunction, Mr. Speaker.
The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) ranged over many subjects outside this debate, and even covered past debates as well. On the question of aircraft noise he quoted Professor Richards, using quotations which I have used on this question.
929 I, too, am much concerned about the question of the environment and particularly aircraft noise as it affects my constituency, if, for example, Foulness should be chosen as the third London Airport. I hope for reassurance this evening from my Front Bench, because I had thought that the Secretary of State for the Environment had just that responsibility over pollution of the environment in all its forms that we seek. Only last week, I understand, he decided not to approve an extension to the Leeds and Bradford Airport at Yeadon because of the effects on the environment of people living near that airport. He demonstrated then that he had recognised his full responsibilities at once.
The House always listens with great interest to the observations on overseas development of the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) and we listened to him most closely tonight. He knows the working of the Department concerned and the operation of overseas aid perhaps as well as anyone in the Chamber. I, too, am much concerned that we should not diminish either the amount of our aid and promised aid or the manner in which we administer it. The right hon. Gentleman put his observations as fairly as he always puts them, so fairly that they must be listened to. Never does he rant and rave in the House, but rather he argues cogently and with great sincerity.
The right hon. Gentleman's point was that the Government's decision to move the Ministry of Overseas Development into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office might be seen abroad, and particularly in the Third World, as perhaps a lack of earnest of intent. I agree with him that there is that danger, but in my opinion it is compensated by the fact that, as he acknowledged, the Foreign Secretary has a firm commitment on this country's obligations and intentions in overseas development. That commitment was strongly reinforced by the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the United Nations a few days ago. It is the existence of that intention that satisfies me, as one who was concerned when I expected that this move might occur. It is that commitment which satifies me that at least in the new structure overseas aid will be represented at the highest level in Cabinet discussions, 930 by the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary himself. We also have in the new arrangements a Minister of State responsible for the working of the Department for Overseas Aid within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Of course, like other hon. Members who are concerned to see that we keep up our commitment, not only in figures but in efficiency, I shall watch this operation closely, and I shall certainly not hang back in pressing my colleagues on the Front Bench to see that the commitment is observed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) made a passing reference to a body which is to disappear, and I hope that I shall not be out of order if I make a very small reference to the Consumer Council, with which I have had some consultation over the past few years in a special capacity in my own party. I found that the Consumer Council was unique in two respects. First, it was a very small body operating on very limited resources, for £240,000 a year is an incredibly small budget for a body responsible for recommending to Government and Parliament and telling the people at large about the problems concerning the consumer and how conditions for the consumer could be improved. Secondly, I know that the Consumer Council was highly regarded by those it criticised, both manufacturers and retail traders. It was, of course, also very well run and very well led. I know the Director personally and have very high regard for her. But having said this about that worth-while body, I pose the question whether we need to create these ginger groups outside the House. I am not against ginger groups arising outside this place of their own accord.
§ Mr. Douglas
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's remarks. If I follow the trend correctly, may I ask the hon. Gentleman if he would be in favour of a Minister for Consumers' Welfare who would be answerable in this House, as proposed by the Co-operative Movement?
§ Mr. Crouch
I do not think that I would be in favour of that, because I am anxious to support the Government in their objective of reducing the number of Ministers. I think that one of the 931 Ministers presiding over the larger Departments we have been talking about could take that service under his wing and not find the burden too great. But, as I was saying, I suggest that the time has come to ask ourselves whether we need to go on creating bodies outside this House to do the work and carry out the functions which this House should be doing.
It is hon. Members who should be receiving complaints from consumers and who should be initiating ideas for their protection. I believe that we should be looking out for anomalies, and, of course, this is the job which hon. Members have been doing for hundreds of years. Perhaps the Consumer Council was little more than a specialised body advising consumers of anomalies and recommending us to rectify them.
I wonder whether it is possible for the Consumer Council to resurrect itself by finding voluntary subscriptions in order to maintain itself. The Consumer Association exists and is a larger body because it is a large publisher, of Which? and several other publications. It has a revenue on this account and performs a valuable function. If the Consumer Council could do that, not by being a publisher but by seeking to recruit finance from industry, from the public and possibly even from the local authorities, it is an idea which the Government might consider if, as I believe, they recognise that the Consumer Council has done a valuable job and could possibly go on doing so.
I return to my general theme. What we are looking at today is what is called a "new style" of government—a phrase which has captured the imagination of many people and has produced a serious and intelligent debate today. I believe that the most important part of the White Paper is the multi-disciplinary Central Policy Review Staff. There are one or two passages in the White Paper which gladden me but which also give me cause for concern. It discusses the new style of government and says in paragraph 3:The fulfilment of these aims will improve the efficiency of government. This does not mean an increase in State power, nor any sacrifice of humanity and compassion in public administration.932 I am glad that that second sentence was included. Some things in this document gladden me very much because I want to see the administration of the great complexity of government made more efficient. But I am also concerned that we should not, as we strengthen the one, allow the House of Commons in any way to become less effective. The two things must go along side by side.
Of course, the White Paper goes on to say in paragraph 4:The Government also recognise that the enhanced degree of efficiency in government which will be achieved raises the issue of the effectiveness of the system of Parliamentary scrutiny.It promises the Green Paper, which we have already seen and which, I under- [...] and from the Leader of the House, we are to have an opportunity of debating at an early date.
In relation to the central question of increasing the efficiency of government, the White Paper talks of the decision-taking process, and I think it right when it says:It is the problem of policy formulation and decision-taking, how Ministers can have before them at the right time all the necessary information and the analysis to enable them to take decisions. Thus, the necessary basis for good government is a radical improvement in the information available to Ministers.I could not disagree with a word of that. But I want to remind my colleagues in the Government that those words about a radical improvement in information available to Ministers could, with the alteration of one word, read, "available to Members". That would gladden my heart. It would be perhaps wrong to suggest that such words should be in this White Paper, but, as we give our blessing to the White Paper and consider it, as I do, a step forward in the efficiency of good government, I cannot let it go by without saying that good government is not in Whitehall alone but in Whitehall and Westminster, between the executive and this House.
We are seeking today to support the Government, or to consider the Government's objective of producing better strategic thinking. We are seeking a better definition of strategic objectives. The right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) made an interjection earlier in which he showed concern at the size of the task facing the Secretary of State 933 for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He was concerned that perhaps no man could carry the burden of such responsibilities. But I think he has missed the point.
We are talking about seeking better efficiency in government because we recognise, or believe we recognise, the need for searching after the correct strategic objectives. If we believe in looking at strategic objectives, we must recognise that these two Secretaries of State will have a very wide area of responsibility under them in order that, at the top, they can comprehend the strategic objectives. They will be able to comprehend them because they will be fed a great amount of advice and recommendations from their junior Ministers and others in the Ministries over which they have command. This is no different from management in industry, and no different from management in the Armed Forces.
While we must be careful in our choice of Ministers—and the right hon. Gentleman was generous in paying compliments to those individuals who hold these responsibilities in the two offices now and did not seem to imply that they were not capable, merely wondering whether it was wise to set such wide responsibilities on one man's shoulders—because we are seeking a strategic objective, it is only by giving these Ministers these larger responsibilities that we can expect them to think in that way.
But there are dangers for Parliament, because in the end Parliament must control and decide, and if Parliament is to do that, it must know. That is why it is so important that we must not allow these good ideas just to go on the Statute Book without Parliament speaking today in defence of its own rights and those of the people we represent. We must be kept as fully informed as is possible. We know that there is now to be developed around the Cabinet Office a "think tank" of people, an inner court of wise men, to advise the Cabinet Office and to keep an eye on the strategic objectives. This is a good thing, but I have always had a certain wariness of inner courts which are not responsible to this place.
I have great confidence in the Leader of the House as one who will be a cham- 934 pion of the House as he sits in Cabinet. He is not on the Front Bench now, but I am sure that my words will be conveyed to him, because it is for him to safeguard our interests as we improve the efficiency of government. Efficient government, yes, but Parliament, too, must be effective.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. William Rodgers (Stockton-on-Tees)
I do not share the conventional wisdom which has been expressed by both Front Benches today—although I would say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) was a little schizophrenic about this—that in the organisation of central government, bigger is better. On the contrary, I regret the whole tendency of recent years towards conglomerate Departments. Had my right hon. Friend pursued his argument with, to use a favourite phrase of his, his usual intellectual astringency, he might have found himself in my position. However, I understand how he was inhibited by his own past responsibilities in that regard, while I am free to consider not only the new White Paper, but the progress which we have seen for a considerable time.
I am not aware that the industrial world yet knows how to run massive firms. We have not yet bred a race of supermen to head them. We have not yet found a way of getting round the consequences of putting all our eggs in one basket. Why, then, do we transfer an unproven order of things into the delicate business of government?
I think that it is an unfortunate result of our own loss of self-confidence. Politicians, ashamed of their amateur reputations, have sought to prove themselves professional by emulating the business world. The massive corporation, whether in the private or in the public sector, is becoming the model, and we are told that these changes are necessary in the cause of efficiency. But efficiency is seldom defined, and it was certainly not defined today by the Leader of the House, from whom it is legitimate to ask a definition.
I am sure that this development is a threat both to the political control of Departments and parliamentary control of the Executive. It is a backward step and it has been taken in blinkers. That 935 is why what we are discussing today extends far beyond party politics. It is close to the roots of our whole Parliamentary system.
In what I have to say, I shall be referring mainly to the organisation of the central Government in home affairs. I do not think that the same dangers necessarily arise from the amalgamation of external or defence Departments, although some of them certainly do, for with the latter there is not the same conflict of function and, broadly speaking, both ends and means are held in common.
What I am concerned with is the disappearance, announced in the White Paper, of the Board of Trade and the Ministries of Housing and Local Government, Public Building and Works, and Transport and the fact that in recent years the Ministry of Aviation, half of it at present resurrected in order that it may enjoy a second death, the Ministry of Pensions, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Power have all lost their separate existence.
In this the Prime Minister has won the approval, as every Prime Minister does, of the tidy-minded commentators who love organisation charts and respect the exercise of power, but the White Paper is a pretty fair nonsense. Paragraph 14 is a good example of the cavalier manner in which major problems of size and democratic control are dismissed even when they are half admitted. The White Paper is strong on unproven assumptions and weak on common sense. It is intellectual flatulence.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby had some devastating criticisms of the whole White Paper. My only regret is that he is not now in office to be confronted by Lord Rothschild. It would be an interesting meeting. Any self-respecting Minister confronted by Lord Rothschild with the task which has been assigned to him would send him away with a flea in his ear.
May I deal with an irrelevant argument for the conglomerate Department, although it is an argument which does not feature in the White Paper? It seems to stem from the view that the Cabinet is a board of directors, and it is argued that the Cabinet is too large. It is mainly Leaders of the Opposition who take this 936 view. They revise it when they come to form a Government and to propitiate their colleagues. But they are right when they are Leaders of the Opposition—the Cabinet is too large.
In any Government there are nine or ten men of major political standing who can contribute out of their experience to the solutions of the great problems of State. This was the size of Mr. Churchill's war-time Cabinet at its largest. Allowing a peace-time Prime Minister a little grace, most people would settle for a dozen.
But there is no earthly reason why a much smaller Cabinet should not go along with a considerable number of separate Departments headed by Ministers of Cabinet rank and answerable to the House of Commons. In 1951 there were 15 such Ministers, excluding the Law Officers and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. By 1964, we were down to six and on the eve of the last general election to three. Now it seems that there is just the lonely Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, a latter-day Goldilocks wondering whether he is to be gobbled up by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, for Environment, or—why not, for it deserves its turn?—the Department of Education and Science. The point which I am making is that the argument for the optimum organisation of government ought to be conducted independent of the question of the right size of the Cabinet. A small Cabinet and a considerable number of Departments could go together.
I return to the central issue, that I am against the tendency to fewer and conglomerate Departments. I am against it for five main reasons, and I will give them in order of ascending importance. First, there is no "natural" division of functions that overwhelmingly justifies one conglomerate rather than another. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby spoke of heterogeneous. Heterogeneous is the word, and heterogeneity may be achieved in several different ways. As Mr. Peter Jenkins said in an article in The Guardian commenting not on the recent White Paper, but on the changes of a year ago,Whitehall is like the Balkans—nobody will ever draw an entirely satisfactory map.I do not dispute that some tidying up was required before this White Paper. 937 The changes of a year ago left the Board of Trade in limbo. There was much to be said for putting all aspects of private industry under one roof and avoiding the necessity of business men shuffling from one Department to another. This could have been done without creating an ungovernable monster. Relations of Government to private industry and to nationalised industries are very different. We are told that this will become more so. The need to plan road and rail together with internal air services and possibly coastal shipping is elementary. Yet they are to be in different places. The relevance of the purchasing policy of the civil air lines to the design and manufacture of engines and air frames is clear but aviation supply has been taken away from the Ministry of Technology—as the airlines have moved in.
In this case, faced with a sharp choice between conflict and co-ordination the Government have lost confidence in their tidy theory and dithered. This most of all illustrates the falsity of the argument that it is possible to divide functions in one way which is markedly better than another. Examples of this are endless and the plain fact is that there is no perfect solution to the division of functions and it is ridiculous to pretend that there is.
I am secondly against the tendency because I think it will be injurious to the morale and eventually to the quality of the Civil Service. I agree with what the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) said. I certainly do not share what has sometimes been a liking for the popular sport of diminishing the Civil Service, a sport in which Ministers sometimes take part when they wish to find excuses for their own failings. The members of the Civil Service are on the whole a competent and hardworking lot. In so far as they fall short, it is ultimately the fault of Ministers for thinking too little about their recruitment, training and deployment.
Contact with Ministers at all levels and especially at the career grade of Assistant Secretary—and anyone who has worked in a Government Department knows the key rôle which the Assistant Secretary fulfils—is essential for full involvement in the decision-making process. The Secretary of State of each of these huge Departments will be remote. There 938 will be little of the exchange of views and the growth of understanding between Ministers and middle-rank officials which we have known. The Service will suffer.
Thirdly, I am against the tendency for a reason which perhaps all of us are a little reluctant to discuss. To talk of a career structure for Ministers may seem indecent. They are chosen and they are dismissed for a wide variety of reasons, some of them understandable, some of peculiar, and the public is grudging in its attitude to our ambitions. Nevertheless, the best use of Ministerial manpower ought to be a matter for concern. The fact is that the fewer Departments there are, the less scope there is for experience short of Cabinet and the less room for taking responsibility and answering for it in the House, a point to which I will shortly return. In the long run this can reduce the effectiveness of government by which I mean, if I can make my own definition, performing the functions that flow from decisions made in Parliament.
My fourth and fifth reasons are crucial and they are linked. I am against the tendency because it will either diminish the rôle of Ministers in decision-making or else decisions will take longer to reach. In either case there will be less dialogue at Ministerial level. Where previously three or four Ministers argued out a decision, the man at the top of these huge Departments will be in receipt of a single recommendation. He will take decisions on a narrow base of advice, inevitably postponing them as he ploughs through his endless work or, less likely, letting officials take those decisions by default.
Of course, he will have Ministers to advise him but in practice, as time goes by, he will be making up his own mind with his chief official advisers reporting direct to him unless he is to be an overlord. A junior Minister is a junior Minister whatever his salary and however he is dressed up. The habit of the Civil Service, the ambitions of politicians and, as we shall see, the requirements of the House of Commons, make it so. This is a very serious problem and I do not believe that it will be solved through defining policy narrowly and seeking to ensure that only the top man concerns himself with it. There will be less genuine dialogue within government and the supermen at the head of these Departments will, I believe, develop a distressing 939 medical record. They will be spending more time in the London Clinic than in the House.
Perhaps it is a sign of the times that they will be unable to attend important debates concerned with their responsibilities since I see that neither the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) nor the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. John Davies) is present. They may look to be in the pink now, but I think that they will be pretty seedy by the summer, not through their own fault but because of the responsibilities thrust upon them.
Fifthly, I am against the tendency because in placing an unreasonable burden on the shoulders of a conglomerate Minister there is a grave danger that his personal responsibility to this House for all the affairs of his Department will become blurred. There can be no doubt whatever about this responsibility. The Leader of the House confirmed it this afternoon in reply to an intervention of mine. I do not mean that such a Minister must answer every Question in the House and make every statement. This would be totally unfair to his juniors and we have not expected this in the past. I agree with what has been said by the Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Honiton and by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) about the proper responsibilities for junior Ministers. However, on all major issues the head of the Department must stand at the Dispatch Box and a major issue is any issue with real political steam behind it, even if it is a minor one in policy terms.
The conglomerate Ministers must be ready to meet M.P.s individually and in groups. Ultimately no Minister can escape this courtesy in the way that the chairman of a board may escape his shareholders. He must mix in this place no less than his juniors. He cannot be lofty and remote. His relations with Parliament and Parliamentarians must be as close as ever. I predict that this will not be the case, mainly owing to the sheer demands on the time of the conglomerate Minister.
Also, and this is an aspect of my previous point and bears on something which has been said by several hon. and 940 right hon. Gentlemen, decisions will be less openly arrived at. We shall be presented in the House with a single view covering a wide area of policy. The executive will turn an increasingly monolithic face towards us. It will be harder to prise open the shell of government and discover what is inside. I do not doubt, nor can anyone with any experience of government, that there are problems of co-ordination in government. Of course, I respect the intention of this Government in so far as their White Paper is meant to solve these problems. The Cabinet committee system has been overworked. Issues have been fudged and delays caused. But the creation of conglomerates is not a self-evident solution. I believe that it has been embarked upon with far too little consideration.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth, Langstone)
I am sorry that the Lord President of the Council is not present to hear me apologise to him for not having heard his speech. It is possible that some of the things about which I shall talk have already been covered by my right hon. Friend in his deft and inimitable style, with a sledgehammer in one hand and a rapier in the other. I hope that if I refer to points made by my right hon. Friend he will ignore, in a suitable fashion, what I say.
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers) has taken a somewhat horrific view of government. In his interesting arguments he dealt with the problems of size and contrasted the problems of size in government with the problems of size in industry. It seemed to me that what I might described as the Dr. Jekyll of the Ministry of Technology under the Labour Government immediately became Mr. Hyde—if I have got it the right way round—the moment that an equally large organisation was created by the Conservative Government. The question of size is not easily resolved. To that extent, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. But we must look very carefully at the implications of what is being done.
I shall probably be more than usually discursive, not least because this is such a wide ranging topic that one is tempted to be discursive. I imagine that most hon. Members agree and probably accept that within the last two or three decades 941 we have approached what is often referred to as a great divide in human affairs. But if one looks carefully at the apparatus of decision-making, not only within the State but within industry and all human organisations, one sees a clearly discernible factor, which is the emergence of science as the basis of decision-making.
That is certainly true within industry. It was possibly most conspicuously true within the Services during the Second World War when operations research, under that very distinguished President of the Royal Society, Professor Blackett, was introduced, first, into the work of the Royal Air Force and subsequently, I believe, into the Army and the Royal Navy. Shortly after that, within two or three years of peace, it began to spread somewhat esoterically in industry, and there it stayed for some time, making a modest but definite contribution.
I welcome the White Paper because what is proposed—the capability unit—is nothing less than the introduction at the highest level of decision-making in the State of the techniques of operations research. Possibly "capability" is a somewhat ambitious name to hang around the neck of any organisation which is subject to political attack and comment, but those of us who believe that operations research has made a profound contribution to the quality of decision-making in our national and industrial life expect that a positive contribution will be made by this unit. If it can contribute to civil government at the centre what it contributed to victory in the Second World War, and what it is contributing to industrial policy-making, we have nothing to fear.
Paragraph 48 of the White Paper states:The new staff will not duplicate or replace the analytical work done by departments in their own areas of responsibility. But it will seek to enlist their co-operation in its task of relating the individual departmental policies to the Government's strategy as a whole.We must consider this statement very carefully. I do not see how a review and appraisal body at the highest level in the State can discharge this absolutely vital and necessary function without at least being able to duplicate such analysis, and when it thinks that the analysis is possibly wrongly based, or that the assumptions are inadequate, or that something needs close attention and further 942 analysis, it must do it itself. That is absolutely unavoidable. But the paragraph goes on to say that the unit would be able "to promote studies in depth", and if promoting studies in depth is not carrying out the analysis or reappraising the analysis presented by individual departments, I do not know what is.
Paragraph 52 points out thata greater emphasis on the definition of objectives and the expressing of programmes so far as possible in output termswill be involved. I am sure that there is no one in the House who has not welcomed the progress made in recent years towards the quantitative expression, mainly in financial terms, of the results of legislation. It is impossible for the House, constituted as it is or likely to be, to make effective judgments of legislation unless this is done.
I draw attention to some remarks made at a small conference over which I had the privilege to preside recently in Strasbourg. On one side of the table we had representatives of the International Federation of Information Processing and on the other side a small number of Parliamentarians of the Parliaments of Western Europe. At the end of the conference the question was put to the Parliamentarians, at my suggestion, although I did not frame the question, "How many of you, in looking at the legislation going before your respective legislatures, are able to say what the data processing implications of it are, how soon such legislation may be made obsolete by developments in management information science, and what the data-processing costs of the legislation will be?" The answer in every case was that they did not know.
One thing which government must consider doing—possibly at the beginning only in the most simple and primitive way, but a start must be made and the sooner the better because we are living in the data processing age—is looking at legislation with this asterisk or appendix clearly spelled out so that we know what the data-processing implications of the legislation will be.
I congratulate the Government on their proposals for the Department of Trade and Industry. In particular, the House should endorse the Government's attempt to eliminate the distinction between internal and external trade matters. The 943 more one travels round the world, the more one realises that there is a great danger of decisions being made on the level of the sub-optimum. They are optimised with respect to a country, region or area and, because of this, the best solution is not achieved. The reason is that we are almost condemned in some ways to think in terms of national boundaries or within national boundaries. Until we can escape from some of the constraints which this imposes on our thinking, inevitably many decisions made by government will be sub-optimum for some larger area.
The second point which the White Paper emphasises is that the reorganisation is intended to assist industry to improve its technological strength and competitiveness. Two or three weeks ago it was my privilege and good fortune to join a party going to Japan where I had the opportunity of observing at the highest level some of the modern achievements of Japanese industry. This was—and I hesitate to use words which might convey the wrong meaning—an impressive and frightening experience. It was impressive because we saw a country which within six years had doubled its standard of living, and frightening because we saw the steps being taken by these industrious and skilful people to increase their industrial competitiveness and improve their technological capacity to dominate the markets which they intend to dominate in the near future.
Perhaps the most recent emphasis was given by a team sent from Japan to the United States to study management information science. When it returned, the decision was made that in this country there should be a wholehearted embracing of the principles, doctrines and implications of management information science as the team was able to discover them in the United States.
The interesting thing to this House and the country is that this decision was taken at the very highest level. Within the Japanese Diet there was constituted almost forthwith an all-party computer committee with 130 members and seven sub-committees concentrating on all aspects of the relationship between the executive and industry and between the diet and industry where data processing and management information science is 944 concerned throughout Japan. I know of no western Parliament where this question has been taken with comparable seriousness and, if central government within the West is to respond to the challenge which is presented, I see no alternative to the establishment of similar organisations, although obviously organisation by itself is not enough. To have merely the shell of interest displayed is totally inadequate.
My conclusion, and that of the other 19 industrialists who accompanied me to Japan, is that there is a real and positive commitment to the implications for the whole of Japanese society and the economy of these new techniques which is astounding. If I were to tell the House that within the last three years Japan's installed computer capacity has surpassed that of Western Germany and the United Kingdom and is second only to that of the United States we can draw the appropriate conclusions.
§ Mr. Dell
Is the hon. Gentleman criticising the policy of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry who proposes to disengage from the operations of industry in this country? Did he find any signs that the Japanese Government were currently disengaging from the operations of industry in Japan?
§ Mr. Lloyd
It would not be right for me to say that I detected a significant difference between the relationship of the Japanese Government and industry and the relationship of our own Government and industry under either party, but I did detect this commitment at all levels, including Parliament, the Government and throughout the State, to the implications of new techniques of decision-making. The fact that these are being widely extended not only within government and within Parliament but within major industrial groups is something we cannot afford to ignore.
The presentation of central government requires the most urgent consideration by all western parliamentary governments. There can be few hon. Members on either side of the House who are not profoundly aware of the cynicism and mistrust on the part not only of our own youth but most certainly of youth throughout the western world today for the whole of what is airily described as 945 the "establishment" system, parliamentary democracy, Parliaments and all the way down. It is profound, it is real and it is affecting not only the confidence with which decisions are accepted and with which legislation is implemented but the confidence with which the decision makers—ourselves and the Governments we support and select from this House—govern. These two issues of confidence are most vital and important. I do not detect in the White Paper, although I am sure it is very much in the minds of my right hon. Friends, that they are addressing themselves directly to this problem. If I am asked if I know of any more important problem to which central government should direct itself today, I cannot say what it is.
Having come from the other side of the earth, may I give an illustration concerning my constituency. I was recently asked to look at a primary school on Hayling Island where conditions were far from what one would hope to find in a modern primary school. I am struck by the remoteness of the 1,000 parents of the children at that school from the decision making, the control of resources and the expenditure of resources on education in that school. As taxpayers they all pay indirectly and remotely for that education, but their capacity to influence what is done there is remote and ineffective. They can talk to councillors, local and county, to Members of Parliament and to the Press. They can create a fuss, but what they cannot do, because we have so arranged it and the central and county government are so remote, is to say that they as 1,000 taxpayers or 1,000 parents of children at the school will increase the resources which they are themselves prepared to spend on the education of their children. This is because the whole thing has moved into that vast maw known as the public sector. There are arguments in favour of this which no one would dispute, but there is a price to be paid, and we have not given sufficient attention to the importance of restructuring central government so that people who are involved in such a dilemma do not feel that the whole system is fantastically remote and incapable of giving them the answer which they need.
There is no more important or central problem for any western government than the control of inflation, and in saying that 946 I feel sure that I am speaking for hon. Members on both sides of the House. Whatever their view on how inflation could be controlled, I think everyone would share the view that controlled it must be. Yet how widely is this understood? Who is capable of completing the loop of reasoning which starts at his or her pay claim and ends up with the 15 per cent. or 16 per cent. inflation that is likely to result from a 30 per cent. wage claim generated right across the economy? Which hon. Member has not had innumerable letters since the last Election asking for public expenditure to be increased in one area or another?
Although my hon. and right hon. Friends fought the election campaign on the basis of the one central plank that public expenditure should be controlled irrespective of its merits—I accept that this is a political issue but this is the propaganda deployed—yet within two weeks there has been this flood of demand for more public expenditure over the whole area of national life. We are simply not getting across to the mass of the British people the fact that an increase in productivity and output in real terms of 3.2 per cent. per annum is the order of magnitude from which acceptable pay claims can be made. We should possibly conclude from this that something analogous to an economic speed limit has to be displayed all over the country; it has to be published in bold type on the front page of every newspaper: "Last month this country increased its real output by 0.04 per cent. Cumulatively this year this country has increased output by 1.8 per cent."
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
On a point of order. How does this relate to what we are supposed to be debating? The hon. Gentleman's remarks are most interesting, but can we get back to the subject matter?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I am trying to relate this to the importance of presenting central Government in such a way that its decisions are accepted and understood. Whatever we do in terms of reorganising the Departments of central Government or of legislation passed through the House, whatever steps we take, if on the whole the general public do not understand why we are legislating or what are the implications then this vast gap of confidence 947 will continue and the reorganisation of central Government by itself will not be sufficient to tackle one of the most central problems of the day.
I come to an impending problem of central Government which is not covered by the White Paper. I happened the other evening to sit next to the Director General of the European Parliament who was in London. This is a matter which interests me because, whatever hon. Members may think of the desirability of this situation, it is possible that we may have to be represented in the European Parliament in the relatively near future. I asked him how many weeks a member of the European Parliament had to spend attending the European Parliament, and his answer is an answer which I think the House and the country should know. It is 20 weeks per annum. It is possible that we can sustain and continue our representation in the Council of Europe and at the W.E.U., which involves Members in something like six to eight weeks absence from this House per year if they are assiduous in their attendance, but I am confident that we cannot be represented at the European Parliament if this involves an absence of 20 weeks a year. Therefore, I would ask the Lord President of the Council to consider what will be the shape, character and technique of the representation of the United Kingdom Parliament—
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I return to my earlier point of order. I ask that speeches in this debate should bear some relevance to the subject-matter before us. I think we have heard enough of this and I ask for your protection.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
I am sorry. I thought that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Lang-stone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) had finished. It would be wise for the hon. Member to keep a little more closely to the subject.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I will return to what I believe to be equally relevant to the reorganisation of central Government, and this is a matter to which many of my hon. Friends have referred, namely the position of the House of Commons. We have heard a great deal about economic models and the capability unit of central 948 Government will be using economic models. The major Departments of State increasingly will be faced with decisions based on these models. Indeed, since the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) is so concerned about the relevance of my remarks, I would point out to him that paragraph 57 of the White Paper says:Helped by a computer model developed by the Civil Service Department, this study will also consider the most suitable locations for dispersed work …It refers to the problem of dispersing central Government from London. I hope that I shall be in order in referring to computer models and economic models. I intend to do so in some detail. An example of this process in action today is the decision about the European air-bus. We have seen published in the newspapers the conclusions based on an economic model—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is stretching the tolerance of the House rather far. I hope he will come back more closely to the subject under debate.
§ Mr. Lloyd
If the House is not to be able to comment on economic models in detail, I fail to see how the central functions of Parliament are to be discharged. Whether or not the hon. Gentleman thinks it is unfair, I am as much concerned as he is with the position of backbenchers in relation to central Government and indeed to the reorganisation of central government. If central Government is to present decisions to the House of Commons based on involved computer models, it seems to me that the Government of the day could say, "We have done the work, we have carried out the examination, and you must accept our decisions because you are in no position to question them."
This matter is of major concern to all Members of Parliament, certainly to those of us who take our duties seriously. If this course is to be embarked upon, it seems to me that a central feature of the reorganisation of central Government must be the question of the access of Members of this House to the data banks of the State. I have mentioned this matter before and I have no hesitation in doing so again, because I believe it to be of fundamental importance. If we now seek to ignore this matter by saying that it is 949 not relevant to central Government, then I have no doubt whatever that it will come back resolutely and relentlessly to the Floor of this House with increasing vigour and increasing support from both sides of the House. I have no hesitation in making that prediction.
I think I have covered all I would like to say about the White Paper. I commend the courage and enterprise of the Government in at least making a forward move and in trying something new. This has to be done, and the more courageously, honestly and openly it is done the better.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I am pleased to see the Leader of the House present during this part of the debate. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) displayed a particular attitude of mind in dealing with the White Paper. It may have been a slip of the tongue, but he said that we should look to new techniques of decision-making as applied to computers. That is a dangerous attitude of mind if it is to permeate Government thinking. Computers, data banks, and any other form of aid is useful to decision-making, but in itself it is not a new technique of decision-making. It is a fair point to make, but it points up a danger in terms of the whole of the White Paper. I look at the matter from the point of view of balancing the need for an efficient public administration with the need to throw the searchlight of the House of Commons on to sources of information in relation to public expenditure and the public interest at large.
The question we must ask is whether this White Paper, which seeks to deal with the reform of central Government, gives us the aids we require. The Leader of the House did not touch on the vital issues of public expenditure involving the programme of control and the relationship of the new multi-disciplinary unit in the public expenditure exercise. There seems some confusion in the White Paper about accountability in relation to this House which must be cleared up.
The Government are injecting into this whole exercise a team of businessmen who will say something—we do not know what—about the control of public expenditure. We realise that the Govern- 950 ment must take time in directing their searchlight on this vital area and it may well take some time for the team of businessmen in the Civil Service Department to produce a report. I hope—and I seek the assurance of the Leader of the House on this matter—that once that is done this Government, like a previous Conservative Government in 1961, will come forward with a White Paper for discussion in the House about the control of public expenditure. Many fruitful devices stemmed from the report of the Plowden Committee in 1961 and it has proved to be a very useful document.
The public expenditure exercise upon which we are now embarking, together with the forward look, are vitally important in looking at public expenditure over at least a three to five year period. If we are to interfere in any way with the team of businessmen in carrying out that process, I hope that the Government will have the good sense and good grace to see that the House gets the information it needs in a White Paper on the techniques which are to be employed to control public expenditure.
The other relationship, which perhaps cannot be discussed fully within the ambit of the White Paper, is that of the proportion of gross national product that goes to public expenditure. What appears to permeate the thinking behind the White Paper is that public expenditure has grown, is growing and ought to be diminished, regardless of what happens to the national income. This is a dangerous outlook in terms of the requirements of people outside the House, the people we represent.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone mentioned that the desire of the electorate at large is to increase public expenditure, although as individuals they may want to shift the burden of public expenditure from their shoulders to somebody else's. They might consider that desirable but, if we argue that we should go for a higher level of economic growth, an indispensable prerequisite is to have a high level of public expenditure. I do not run away from that. We can discuss how we are to get value for money, and, in as much as the White Paper seeks to get better value for money, we support it. But we doubt all the time the purely balance sheet mentality in relation to public expenditure.
951 In this House 20 or 30 years ago, accountants would have been the people who held sway. Today, they are the computer operators who, seemingly, can quantify quicker and better than accountants. Very often, they take the place of management, and the danger is that they could take the place of government since they can present a quantification in tables of statistics on the basis of which a Minister, because he is extremely busy, tends to take a decision thinking that the statistics represent certainty. They do not. We know that, and we hope that the Minister does.
I now turn to one or two points about the detail of the White Paper as it affects public administration. I was very sorry about the demise of the Consumer Council. In an age of increasing affluence in which the consumer is presented with multifarious products, I do not believe that the Government can withdraw from the sphere of consumer protection. It is all very well to claim that there are voluntary associations. We pay tribute to the Consumers Association and others, but such associations tend to cater for particular sections of the community. It is the Government's job to protect other sections of the population who do not wish or cannot afford to subscribe to organisations like the Consumers Association. It is the Government's job to provide the medium and mechanism to bring the searchlight of public disapprobation on industries which cheat the consumer. After the publication of the Molony Report, for a Conservative Government to withdraw from this area for what is really a paltry saving is not aiding consumer choice. It is befuddling the issue and making it easy for unscrupulous merchants who can affect a particular spectrum of the population.
I want for a moment to consider the agglomeration of responsibilities which have now come under the heading of Trade and Industry. We in Scotland are extremely perturbed by the attitude of mind displayed by the Secretary of State in his speech to the Conservative Party conference. He came afresh from industry appearing to think that it was possible to solve all these problems by the market mechanism. He seemed to decry aggregates in economic affairs, looking all the time at micro-economics. 952 That may be fair in industry, but it is dangerous to display that attitude of mind as a Minister, especially as a Minister involved in decisions which cannot be quantified on an annual basis.
It would have been very dangerous for the Labour Government to try to quantify on an annual basis what would happen to Fairfields or to U.C.S. Taking an annual balance sheet of either organisation, it would have been justifiable on the basis of bare statistics to say, "Close down". However, the longer-term perspective which the Government must take necessitated that consideration had to be given not just to the yard concerned since it carried with it responsibility for a great many other jobs in the area. There must be limits, of course. The Government cannot enter into open-ended commitments. However, I dispute an attitude of mind which looks at managing the nation on the basis of "Great Britain Limited", looking for an annual balance sheet to see whether we have made a profit or a loss. There are no statistics at present available to the Government which are sufficiently accurate in the short, medium or even long run to make possible the decision process necessary in the running of a nation's affairs.
I criticise the operations of the monetary system. It is the best one that we have, but there is room for improvement. But I will not develop that here, because it would be out of order.
The Leader of the House gave us ground for believing in terms of ministerial responsibility that he might look at the possibility of junior Ministers answering in this House for their segments of departmental responsibility. That might be a useful innovation. Earlier today, I was astounded to hear the Secretary of State for the Environment make a statement affecting another Cabinet Minister's responsibility. In the event, the Secretary of State for Scotland was not allowed to answer for that part of the statement affecting his responsibility. At a time when we have a Government who are so concerned about quantifying, it is strange that a question about the proportion of cuts in subsidies affecting Scotland should go unanswered. That does not lead one to believe that any multi-disciplinary unit is aiding the Government at present.
953 Another issue arose earlier today which vitally affects investment decisions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked whether he had any information to show the variation between development areas and non-development areas in terms of the difference between cash grants and tax-based incentives. One would have thought that that was relatively simple and could have been arrived at on the basis of a number of different asset valuations and cash flows. We are all fairly intelligent people, perfectly capable of understanding such figures. However, it was apparent that the Chancellor could not give us the information, and he refused to say whether he had sought it out in his Department.
The Government might need assistance here. I for one am not very happy about the amount of information flowing from this Government at present, especially as it affects vital policy decisions and the sorts of details which one would have expected in recent White Papers.
It appears to me that the White Paper is producer-orientated. It looks all the time in terms of government and industry to thinking that the producer knows best. The entrepreneur, the captain of industry, making his decision, knows best where to locate his plant; the Government in Westminster knows best what affects the country. There is no feed-back, no two-way process of ideas between the Government, this House, and the electorate in general. I believe that many reforms in government are necessary. However, I do not believe that the White Paper leads us very far—indeed, not at all—along the way to democratising the economic decision making process.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, played a great part in looking at vital reforms of local government in Scotland. More needs to be done to make local government more local, democratic and efficient. Casting that type of eye on the White Paper, I come to the conclusion that it is a shabby document designed to make this country be run more like a board of directors.
One hon. Member suggested that we should know where the buck ended—the Truman doctrine. I believe that the White Paper leads us directly to the con 954 clusion that the buck ends with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, although he may run away from the implications here, has made our system of government more presidential. To adjust that balance, we need to look searchingly in discussion and debate at the results of the Green Paper which the Leader of the House will give us an opportunity to debate. I do not necessarily believe that that is a good move in the direction of running the affairs of this House or of this country.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)
The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas) claimed that the information available to the Government in the short, medium and long term is never sufficiently accurate. I find myself in agreement with him about that, but I draw a different conclusion from that which he drew. I believe that this reinforces the danger of State monopoly in decision-making. If those decisions are based on wrong forecasting, then everyone suffers, and this reinforces the need for and the desirability of multi-individual decisions whether by persons or by industry. Some will be right; some will be wrong. However, I suspect that the overall balance will be far better than that set by government forecasting or government projections.
I welcome the White Paper for a number of reasons. First, it raises the proper place of the Government in a free society. Surely the Government should limit themselves to doing for people what they cannot do for themselves. The Government, by taking decisions, leave people in a position in which they will not be instilled to self-reliance or inspired to self-discipline or call forth the energy and enterprise and sense of purpose which individuals should have. If continually decisions are taken for people, which they could and should take for themselves, we shall weaken their ability to make their own decisions, we shall reduce their stature and bring ourselves nearer to the broiler society.
Because the White Paper raises this whole issue—it is clearly one of the issues on which the Government place considerable importance—I am delighted that we have this sign of new thinking about the whole sphere of government.
955 Secondly, I welcome the White Paper because it draws attention to the excess load on the Government machine. We are aware, from the newspapers and from the situation which was revealed in various Parliamentary Questions earlier this year, of the enormous state of overload in, for example, the Treasury. We are also aware of the enormous state of overload which occurs in other Departments, but I particularly draw attention to the effect upon private industry. For every one person tied up in decision making—inquiring for and acquiring the information, about which the hon. Member for East Stirlingshire spoke, and processing the information on which decisions are taken within Government Departments—so we tie up people in private industry who are supplying that information. The most unfortunate and galling thing about this situation is that the very people who are most in need and in short supply in private industry are those who are tied up providing this kind of information.
If we can see the retraction of the Government from many of these spheres we shall not only be able to reduce the load on Government Departments and their personnel, but also—I believe that this is of equal importance to the country, though it may not be of such great interest to the Government—we shall reduce a similar load on private industry. It will take off the back of industry and release for productive enterprise a lot of people who are now tied up with form filling, answering returns, and generally dealing with the other end of the correspondence and inquiries on which the Government are trying to take their decisions.
For the business community there is not only the skills and the time involved, but also the enormous frustration to individual businessmen and managers of all grades who find themselves increasingly tied up not on the job that they came into the business to do—selling and dealing with the financial structure of their business or whatever it may be—but providing information for Government departments, the fruits of which they rarely see. It is most important that people engaging in a career in industry should know the end product for which they are beavering. They should 956 know what they are working for; they should be able to see, as they shape their businesses or departments or whatever it may be, the effects of what they are doing. But increasingly these people are frustrated as a greater proportion of their time is spent sending information into the endless grasp and maw of the Government and their machinations on which the decisions are based. As was rightly said by the hon. Member for East Stirlingshire, although I do not think that he intended to give it to me in this way, that information in the medium, short, and long term is never sufficiently accurate.
The next reason why I welcome the White Paper is that it proposes a systematic and critical analysis of existing activities. One of the things with which I have been impressed since entering the House of Commons is the way in which the House—and I have no doubt that this applies to Government Departments, too—spends an enormous amount of time looking most carefully and searchingly at new activities which Government Departments are to take on. We look particularly at the expenditure which is to be incurred as the result of new proposals, and I am glad to say that we look with increasing interest at the manpower and womanpower that will be tied up as a result of new Government commitments.
I welcome what the House does, but all the time there has been a tendency to look searchingly at the new and to leave the old to continue in being because 20 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago, and sometimes 50 years ago, the House after a careful examination found it to be right at that time, and it has continued it ever since.
Do we need to have the Government involved in many of the activities in which they are involved today? The ludicrous came to me last week-end, when I discovered that if a person has a jack donkey or a stallion he must have a licence not to have it neutered. This is the ridiculous, but anyone who sits down and thinks about it can discover many cases of the Government of 20 years ago having agreed to do things, and now they continue to be done automatically. I welcome particularly the suggestion in the White Paper that there will be a searching examination of past 957 decisions to see whether they should be continued into the future.
I deal next with the new Central Policy Review Staff in the Cabinet Office. I agree with the idea of bringing in Lord Rothschild as a fresh and outside mind to set up this body. I believe that this will prove to be the most far-reaching and lasting of the changes proposed in the White Paper.
I cannot help agreeing with those hon. Members, on both sides of the House, who have expressed doubt about the longevity of the new super Ministries. I am not totally sold on the idea that these will be one of the great successes of the proposals in this White Paper. I have fears that with the restrictions on human capacity it may not be possible for such vast Departments to be able, in the long run, to produce the necessary flexibility, or for the eye of a responsible Minister to be brought sufficiently to bear on the spread of their activities.
I believe that what will prove to be the most far-reaching decision will be that to set up this new strengthened Cabinet office. I am fascinated by this idea, and I think that the House generally will watch it with great interest. So far as one can understand, in the past the Cabinet has received from a Minister and his Department advice which was prepared by the Department, regardless of what was often narrowly rejected by the Department. There has been a tendency for the final decision of a Department to be presented to the Cabinet without it being aware that there were other alternatives which perhaps ought to be thrashed out by the Cabinet as a whole.
Past Governments have tended to have variants within the Cabinet and in terms of decision-making, according to the power of the Department and the strength and influence of the Minister concerned, rather than necessarily according to the importance of the decision being taken. For example, one can think immediately of Lord Beaverbrook whose Department may not have been the most important Department of State, and indeed it was not, yet he held office in the Cabinet, and such were his personal stature and the vast amount of influence that he had that he carried an immense amount of weight in decision making.
958 One could pick on Ministers in past Governments who have been the reverse, who have had very important decisions to take but who, because they did not have the necessary force of character, were not able to ensure that the decisions were taken in the way that they should have been. It would be unkind of me to pick on Ministers by name. All I say is that Mr. George George-Brown was undoubtedly not in that category.
I welcome business men and business techniques being brought into the Government, but I join hon. Members who have expressed anxiety about the possibility of this becoming a super power, within the Government, resting on the Prime Minister of the day. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give an assurance that there will be no erosion in future of the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility, because I see some danger of this if the new Cabinet Office will have the authority of the Prime Minister behind it and be able, in that way, to persuade Ministers to change the policies which they would otherwise be advocating. That would be a dangerous step forward and I hope for an assurance—since we have nothing to go on except what is stated in the White Paper on this subject—from my right hon. Friend to the effect that this proposal will not bring some sort of presidential power within the Government by reason of this new Department.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South-West)
There are two reasons why I am sad to be participating in this debate. The first, a personal one, lies in the fact that a year or so after leaving the old Commonwealth Relations Office, in which I served, it was gobbled up by the Foreign Office. Some time later I found myself serving in the Ministry of Overseas Development. Now, a couple of years later, I find that that, too, has been gobbled up by the Foreign Office. I seem to impose a jinx on Government Departments which is unhappy for them.
My second reason for sadness about the White Paper is that recently I have been making a study of the administration of aid by all Western donor countries. That study leads me to believe that the move in this White Paper is not only unwise in our circumstances but is going 959 against the trend of the last decade in all Western aid donors' practices.
It may be argued by the Minister on this subject that by putting the Ministry of Overseas Development into the Foreign Office the Government are adopting a system which is at present being used by most Western donors—the employment of a semi-autonomous unit linked in some way to the Foreign Office for the management of aid.
However, if one looks at what the Americans, Swedes, Germans and Canadians have been doing since 1960, one sees that they have all moved in the direction of running their aid programmes by a means which separates aid and its administration from Foreign Offices, Treasuries and other specialist Departments. They have all independently—because they have not consulted each other very much on this subject—found themselves going in the same direction, which is towards the professionalisation of aid business.
It is regrettable, therefore, that being the case in all other countries, that we should be moving in the opposite direction. If it is said that, for example, the Agency for International Development in Washington is a semi-autonomous unit within the State Department there, then we should remember that the use of a semi-autonomous agency in the United States and other countries is a new device adopted after the practice of running their aid programmes as part of normal diplomatic dealings.
We on the other hand will be moving back from complete autonomy for the agency to the system more or less which applied before 1964. It is particularly a pity to abolish a Ministry which has the rare and, for all I know, unique distinction of having been warmly commended for its administrative efficiency by the Estimates Committee as recently as two years ago, and which I feel sure would have been commended by the Select Committee on Overseas Aid which met during the previous Parliament, had it produced its report.
It may be argued that recent developments and changes in administration of aid in Washington suggest that the use of something like the A.I.D. there is something which donors will not in future do. We have to recognise, however, that the 960 situation in Washington is totally different from that which applies here. The A.I.D. is to be destroyed—that decision has been taken—but principally because Congress is unwilling to put through the aid appropriations on the basis on which they have been used in the past few years. So new administrative devices are being adopted which are more acceptable to Congress—and only for that reason. That situation does not exist in this country.
Other speakers have said that the danger of putting the aid administration into the Foreign Office are, among others, that there is likely to be a greater political influence on the application of aid than when it is a separate Ministry. All the experience of the last ten years suggests that, whenever one tries to use one's aid programme to gain short-term political benefits, one ruins the development purposes of the programme and does not gain the political benefits. In Malta, in Aden and elsewhere that we have attempted to use aid for political purposes, it has failed. Our £6 million subsidy to Jordan was intended to stop a Middle East war. Our aid to Malta was intended to help us get defence facilities, and a year or two later we provided more aid to Malta to facilitate our withdrawal from exactly those defence facilities. So the story could go on.
There is one other consideration. In some other countries—perhaps in all other countries—there is not to the same extent as in this country what I would call the "single voice" theory of government. In Washington, particularly, different government departments are tolerated to disagree with each other, and do, even in public. It is contrary to the British habit to do that. Differences of view between Departments are compromised away at an early stage and are suppressed in public.
So the Ministry of Overseas Development, even when it was fully independent, was not as independent of the Foreign Office, for example, as was the Agency for International Development in Washington, even though the latter was supposed to be only a semi-autonomous unit. Our inclination to compromise away all differences between Departments makes it important for us not to have the mighty single Departments, otherwise, differences of view which should go as far as possible up the pyramid will never get to the top.
961 I hope that the Minister can answer one specific question which goes to the heart of a point mentioned in paragraph 34 of the White Paper. That says thatthe Minister for Overseas Development will have, by delegation from the Secretary of State, full charge of his functional wing of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.I ask whether the overseas aid administration, or whatever it will be called, within the Foreign Office—it is not given a title in the White Paper—will have separate representation on interdepartmental committees. That is the test of whether the Minister has the powers delegated to him.
There is no point in the Foreign Secretary's delegating to the Minister for Overseas Development certain responsibilities if it is not open to that Minister to put his view on a matter before interdepartmental committees, Cabinet committees and the like, even when he disagrees with the Foreign Secretary.
If that is done and the Minister has his separate representation on interdepartmental committees, it will be possible to work the new arrangements and suffer no great disadvantage. I do not think that it will happen, but it is possible. But if the Minister is left without separate representation on interdepartmental committees, this reference to delegation is entirely misleading. I hope that the Minister will give a clear answer to that point in winding up. I ask particularly insistently because I had an opportunity this afternoon of discovering that the Foreign Secretary had not given this point any consideration.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Before calling the next speaker, I wish to draw the attention of the House to the fact that one or two Members have sat here throughout the debate and that with a little indulgence on the part of those who are trying to take part in the debate, it may still be possible to call them all.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
This is a fascinating and important debate. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has presented a new system of government which most of us will wish well. But the House of Commons is too apt to discuss merely an overall plan, in terms of its greater dimensions only. I have always 962 been a back bencher—and I have always wanted to be, because it suits my temperament. My experience of government is therefore not very great. What I find disturbing about government is the ineffective way in which the smaller details are dealt with. I find it alarming that we have a tremendous build up and then discuss merely the functions—apart from the humanities. It is important to remember that we have here a marvellously-conceived plan but that if the detail is not humanely administered, or is not given sufficient attention, the objectives of the overall plan may be frustrated. I hope that this Administration, embarking on this new system of government, will ensure that detail is given as important a place as the overall plan.
I rose particularly to give my support to the proposal and to express my great pleasure at the fact that in the reorganisation the children's service, other than that part concerned with juvenile crime, and so on, will be transferred from the Home Office to the Ministry of Social Security. For almost as long as I can remember, and that is quite a long time, the case in favour of this action has been argued but nothing has ever happened, so it is rather satisfactory to find it included as a relatively small detail in the reorganisation.
In government, and among ministers and the "tops" in the Departments—I do not know quite what to call them—one sometimes finds that the people dealing with the humanities in the field do not very often get consulted by those "tops". They are not able to discuss departmental reports which are then put to the Cabinet. Ministers are totally and absolutely unaware of some of these views. I do not mean to speak unpleasantly, because I believe that all those engaged in the social services are marvellous—they are dealing with human problems—but the people I refer to feel, and I sympathise, that with all their experience, very often gathered in difficult circumstances, and their tremendous desire to see injustices remedied, they do not approve very much of what Parliament does because they are so rarely consulted.
I take a great interest in social work. I like to discuss the humanities with people who see injustices in various places. At one or two conferences, experienced people who have listened to 963 most interesting discussions have commented that a great many of our social service workers whose opinions ought to be heard are in a most peculiar state of mind, because they believe they know where the shoe pinches yet, at the top level they rarely have any chance of what I might call "cosy chats". I do not see anything about cosy chats in the White Paper. They are never able to have a good talk about the problems with which they have to deal and the priorities they would give in administration and in the development of legislation in Parliament.
I sympathise with that feeling. I have a great faith in the present Secretary of State for Social Services, he has a great humane approach, and we have some first-class humane Ministers, but I beg all of them not just to get the points of view presented by the very admirable civil servants at the top.
Someone mentioned to me yesterday, in conversation about the gaming laws, the problem of going round some of the gaming establishments to see what went on. The top people in the Departments concerned never visit them; their only evidence is what they are told. One cannot administer the social services humanely and justly simply from hearsay. Even though everybody is tremendously busy, the people working in the social services deserve much more consideration and time from Ministers, and much more attention should be paid to the priorities which ought to be given. I hope that the new Ministerial team will get down to this. I know that people are very busy. Even the nicest Minister surreptitiously looks at his watch when we are getting into an exciting talk. One says, "Poor man" or "Poor woman", because one does that oneself when one is interviewing.
I should like to give one instance from my own part of the world of the administrative problems in working with children. An excellent committee, with an excellent administrator, looking after homes for children, felt that it was a very bad thing that deprived children in care, who wanted life to be made friendly and happy, suddenly had superimposed on them children who had—poor things—basic criminal tendencies. Nobody paid 964 the slightest attention to arguments put forward by the administration of the homes, but I did once force a deputation from the top levels in the Civil Service to come from the Home Office to discuss with the committee problems of the mixture of children. It really was not sensible to have this mixture under the same roof.
The medical profession in the county of Northumberland were interested in this question. They knew the problems, and wanted to have the deprived children in one establishment. They came with their great medical skill and knowledge to talk to the delegation from the Home Office on the problems which they faced, but the Home Office did not send a single medical delegate. I thought that that was frightful. The result was that some members of that voluntary, very well-informed, humane committee resigned. That is a terrible thing to happen.
I always hope that Ministers listen to what I say. I do not know whether they do. We have to say things in Parliament five hundred times, and then occasionally they get into the machine, if we are jolly lucky. I hope that the Ministers who will take over these children from the Home Office—and I applaud the decision—will consult in depth.
The Secretary of State for the Environment—it is difficult to remember everyone's title—has some very good ideas for developments in housing policy. In this part of the world, the unhappiness and the terrible human results of the conditions under which so many have to live really ought to be brought out into the open. The people who are dealing with families who live in such distressing conditions, the social workers, should be giving their advice and the benefit of their experience to the appropriate Ministers, and I hope they will. All I am saying is that, in this great new conception of government, do not let us only think of those who sail on the clouds but also of those who have to walk with their feet on the earth.
I am quite a feminist, but I am quite a supporter of men as well. I do not often trumpet my feminist views to my Parliamentary colleagues because they have done a great deal in supporting me in the House for quite a long time. But I really do think sometimes that 965 the male contingent in the House are much better at the over-all planning of life—and I think that comes from their experience—but that we would be a little more successful if they realised that, on the whole, women are much better at detail. If we could get a combination of those two talents it would be a very good thing.
The Prime Minister gave me today a most interesting reply to a Written Question. I asked him whether the Women's National Commission was to be re-convened. He said that he had decided to re-convene the Commission with the following terms of reference. They are magnificent terms of reference.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Lady is stretching the debate rather far from Whitehall. Perhaps in her concern for the humanities she will recall that the Chair made an appeal on behalf of those who had been sitting throughout the debate.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I really do not have any idea as to how the debate is going, nor the slightest idea who is going to reply or anything like that. But I do want to put this matter briefly on record because it rounds off what I wanted to say. The Prime Minister told me that the terms of reference of the Commission would beTo ensure by all possible means that the informed opinion of women is given its due weight in the deliberations of Government on matters of public interest.I think that is wonderful. He went on to say a lot more but what he did not say was how we in Parliament are going to get that opinion. This is exactly what I have been trying to say. We have wonderful ideas but somehow or other the plans do not get put into effect because sometimes they are almost too difficult to put into effect.
After that magnificent new reference to women, I hope that I shall be told how, when the Commission has found out what women want—and, by jove, it will have a difficult time doing that—this information will be conveyed to us so that we can see that legislation fits in with what women want. That would be a marvellous adjunct to the overall picture, which so far has not really referred to what women think or want to do. However, my right hon. Friend has now given 966 his Answer today about the Commission, and his announcement should be added to the general conception of the new, overall plan which I am sure we all wish success.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
As the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) said, this is a very important debate. It has been about the machinery of government, the effectiveness of government, who takes the decisions of government and where those decisions are made. It is hard to think of a subject which could be all that much more important. It has also indirectly had to do with the size of the Cabinet itself and the way in which Cabinet decisions are made.
These new conglomerate Departments will foster questions of how we ensure a full hearing of the arguments which will take place within each of the big Departments when they do not reach the Cabinet itself. We know what has happened in Departments of this kind. We know what has happened in the Treasury, which has problems similar to those of the conglomerate Department, not in the range of its activities, but in its size and importance. What has happened, and what still happens, in the Treasury is that many of the decisions which should have been fought out in the Cabinet were not fought in the Cabinet, because they were taken before they reached it. Similarly, with the conglomerates, much of the argument may have been concluded before the Cabinet discussion occurs.
Those who, like myself, believe that the Government inevitably have to involve themselves more and more with the life of the community will agree that the result must be greater size of Departments themselves. But whether one believes this or takes the view of the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. David Howell), that Government intervention has gone too far, the crucial fact is that as one tries to group Departments in order to reduce the number of Ministers in the Cabinet and so to make for more effective Cabinet discussions, so by the same token much is removed from Cabinet discussion which ought to be discussed by the Cabinet.
Various ways have been suggested for fostering the discussion which does not 967 take place even within various Government Departments. It was suggested by one reformer that there should be a collegiate system within Departments so that different views might be fomented within each Department, leading up to a decision by the Minister at the top. The nonsense of this suggestion does not need further examination now.
A more serious approach was the setting up of the D.E.A. The whole purpose of the Department of Economic Affairs was to enable discussion to go to the Cabinet; the same kind of problem with which we shall be faced with these conglomerate Departments. Until the birth of the D.E.A., the Treasury itself made the decisions and there was in the Cabinet little challenge to them once made. With the new conglomerates, effective power will be in the conglomerates and questioning decisions will be difficult. The D.E.A. was set up as a counter so that there might be discussion between two Departments, both having an interest and both bringing the argument to the Cabinet, so that the whole of the Government was brought into play. This system ended because that kind of confrontation between two Departments could not continue with one following the other and one trying to examine the work of the other.
Since then, there has been a further decline in the questioning of the rÔle of the Treasury and, because of the diminishing rÔle of the Board of Trade, there is an effective monopoly position at the Treasury and its views are not questioned even by other economic Ministries with Cabinet Ministers, and there is nobody now able to argue against the Treasury view in the Cabinet.
We have had some of the most momentous decisions taken without a full understanding and appreciation of their importance by the Cabinet. Those who, like me, look forward to a reduction of secrecy in the Civil Service, who hope that the Government might become more open, know full well that to bank on this would be placing reliance on a weak foundation. Most of the important decisions tend to be taken in an atmosphere of secrecy which we must try to open up. Although we may ask for this openness, we know that no Government Department, as indeed no group of people 968 in any aspect of our industrial, economic or political life, will agree to the ending of secrecy.
One can argue for self-criticism within Departments, which is the idea behind many of the arguments for the conglomerate—that the discussion and questioning will take place—but such self-criticism is beyond the present art of the game.
Everywhere we look to discover some counterweight to the supremacy and the secrecy of the powerful Department. However there is one thing which we have overlooked, and that is the House of Commons. We have underestimated the power of the House of Commons to do this task of criticism which we have tried to devise in all kinds of alternative complicated ways, such as bringing in the D.E.A. to criticise the Treasury or trying to get ways by which matters can reach the Cabinet for open discussion. Yet here in this House there is the forum for the kind of questioning of these Departments that is needed.
The only means by which it can be made effective is through the Select Committee system. It is the importance of the Select Committee which we must use to get that questioning of the Departments. The scandal is that there are Government Departments which do not have to justify themselves to anyone. The obvious example is the Treasury where the Cabinet cannot effectively question the technicalities because it is too complex a Department as well as too powerful. The same situation will occur to a lesser degree with these conglomerate Departments. By all means let us have a smaller Cabinet, let us group Government Departments together, let us delegate responsibility, but side by side with that increase in power must come the ability to do the fundamental questioning about how decisions are arrived at, how views are reached. We must make those responsible for taking these views explain them fully, not in the House where question and answer at best is perfunctory but in the Select Committee where question can follow question.
We all know that in the House the answerer has the advantage. We all know that the one question can easily be foiled. The second question is harder to avoid and when one is able to put the third 969 and fourth questions, intelligently and pointedly, but most of all repeatedly, it is then that a true test of the coherence of the Department's view can be made. We need with these reforms the kind of reform involving the use of the House of Commons. I have no objection to this new system of Central Policy Review Staff. Under the supervision of the Prime Minister it will work with Ministers collectively. How long will that be true? I believe that by an inevitable process we shall find the Central Policy Review Staff coming under the control of the Prime Minister. I cannot see all Ministers having equal access to this body. Forces will inevitably dictate that this body should come under the personal control of the Prime Minister. I have no objection to this. [Interruption.] There seems to be a time limit of which I was not aware. I will bring my remarks to a close.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
There is a custom which it would be for the convenience of the House for the hon. Gentleman to follow.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I am not sure to which custom you are referring, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
There is a function for this planning body. But we must insist that it be fitted in with the greater control which the House can bring to bear on the powers of the Prime Minister.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Lever (Manchester, Cheetham)
This has been an important debate and, in many respects, very attractive for me because I have often winced as the House has made what are not truly party political issues into bogus party political issues. I am glad to say that that has not been the case today, in spite of the somewhat provocative language in which the White Paper is couched. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), in a speech which was as witty as it was authoritative and comprehensive, set a tone which I am delighted to say was followed on both sides of the House. So who am I to speak in anything but the sense that what we are discussing is, at its heart, a matter which concerns us irrespective of party, namely, how we can improve the quality of government.
I particularly welcomed, was stimulated by and even received great instruc- 970 tion from the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers) and the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), which showed precisely that spirit of compassion and understanding for the privileges and duties of the House which I would have expected. It is well to remember, in view of all the zeal for efficiency, that what we are engaged upon is the provision of modern government for the people of Britain, not a large-scale marketing operation for toothpaste. That can sometimes be forgotten when we are talking in language of cost-effectiveness and the like, which is very appropriate to some aspects of government but which should not dominate the whole of our thinking.
I wish briefly to mention the question of the size of Departments. I share the anxieties voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees about what can happen as a result of the enlargement of Departments to vast conglomerates. This is a real danger. My right hon. Friend took the right attitude by saying that we ought to give it a try and see how it works and adopt a constructive attitude towards it. I have pronounced and lingering sympathies with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees in his worries about these matters, but my feeling is that they will depend largely on how these vast Departments are run and the status accorded to the Ministers in charge. If they are given Cabinet rank, and if the overlord, gauleiter or whatever word one chooses for the head of these vast conglomerates, behaves as he should, with the feeling that he is part of a Ministerial team, and if he remembers his obligations to the House, we can avoid the great dangers which my hon. Friend shrewdly reminded us exist. He will have to do this if he is to avoid consequences to the Civil Service relationship in these vast Departments.
I turn to the question of the Central Capability Unit. In principle, I would welcome anything which added to the illumination of Cabinet when it made decisions in a collective way on Departments where the Ministers voting mostly have little intimate knowledge of the detailed facts. If the appointment of Lord Rothschild is to achieve this—and I am glad to see the Leader of the House nodding his agreement—I would give it 971 a conditional welcome. If the idea is not to illumine the decision of Cabinet but to pre-empt and override it by a Professor Lindemann style of behaviour, I would take a different and hostile attitude, and I would hope that hon. Members on both sides would show an equally implacable hostility. If all we are getting is not illumination for the Cabinet, so that the collective decision cannot be nourished by a steady on-going flow of information, but someone who gains the Prime Minister's ear and can exercise a wholly disproportionate influence in giving advice which is not heard by this House and is not checked by this House or by the Ministerial colleagues of the Prime Minister, then, far from welcoming it, I would view it with the deepest resentment and hostility.
I accept the idea which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Civil Service Department expressed in his little booklet, "A New Style of Government", that what we want at the top in Government is—more application of the maximum effort and brain power to questions of policy and strategy than to implementation and management.I wish that the While Paper had more of that flavour, and that what was being brought about was a more informed collective decision on policies and strategies than on the details of management. There is in the White Paper too much flavour of cost-effectiveness for my taste. I should like to have heard more of the hon. Gentleman's idea of this well-informed collective decision on policy and strategy where the maximum brain power and political judgment ought to be concentrated.
If that is what the White Paper is about, I welcome it because the reform of the style of Cabinet work which has been proceeding ought to continue to proceed under this Government so long as they shall be in office, and under any Government. The style of Cabinet work and the way in which it arranges its business owes more to the past than to the responsibilities of the present. Cabinets tend to have brought before them for too much of their time matters which are neither strategic nor major policy but of detail. I hope that under the new dispensation we shall see a further march forward, but my informa- 972 tion is that this has been the case for a good time now.
We want the Cabinet to use its brains and its time on the issues that matter. Gresham's law applies in the Cabinet and the trivial drives out the important. In a Cabinet of 20 members which is discussing, say, a capital programme of £800 million for one of the nationalised industries, the only person who is qualified to occupy any time upon it is the Minister of the Department. He says a few words and the proposal will go through. The Cabinet may then perhaps discuss the Government's attitude to the Hare Coursing Bill. Every member of the Cabinet has a point of view on this and the greater part of the Cabinet morning can be taken up by discussing it. There is a great danger of the operation of Gresham's law in which the trivial drives out the important.
If this principle of concentration on important strategic and policy decisions is serious, will the hon. Gentleman say whether it will be applied only at the margin or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) asked, will it be applied to central economic and financial decisions made by the Treasury? It would be odd indeed if we took care to nourish collective decision on marginal questions while leaving the Cabinet uninformed and inadequately equipped to make the great strategic, economic and financial decisions which in the past have come down from on high from the Treasury after consultation with the Prime Minister.
Is the Central Capability Unit to be potent in this area or has the deft hand of influence castrated it in this area of its activity? If it is to deal only with the margin, we should then have keen and informed Cabinet discussion on the closure of four gas works or on the road programme whereas the Cabinet would be rubber-stamping crucial decisions on parity, overseas investment, the way in which we finance the export trade, and so on and, above all, demand management and the budgetary and monetary policies that support it. Are these matters to come within the Central Capability Unit's function? If they are, I welcome it very much.
I welcome Lord Rothschild's appointment, as did my right hon. Friend. I 973 understand that Lord Rothschild is not a man who suffers fools gladly. I am bound to say of my right hon. Friend that he himself has never been known for that weakness or virtue. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers) suggested that he would like to see my right hon. Friend back in the Cabinet, as indeed I would, confronted by Lord Rothschild. That meeting would be interesting. It adds yet another powerful reason for disposing of this Government at the earliest moment and bringing back one in which my right hon. Friend could participate.
Although Lord Rothschild may not be equipped technically to fulfil the wide rÔle that I hope he will be given, there is no reason why he should not be able to bring in the kind of people who can undertake the work. If the Capability Unit is to illumine only the marginal decisions and is not to illumine for Cabinet or for some Cabinet committee central economic and financial decisions, it will be a ridiculous frolic at the margin of politics and a deception of the people that their main policy decisions are being improved by reason of its being brought into being. That means that the consequences and choices of all essential economic policies must be made available to Cabinet or to a committee of Cabinet so that it can make the right decisions.
I will not be fobbed off by talk of accountability in terms of expenditure. By "accountability" I mean accountability for other things than expenditure and, to use a word that I am told is current among adolescents, the House of Commons is a little "hung up" on this question of accountability of expenditure. Historically that was our means of controlling Government decision, but what is the parity or the level at which demand management is set, or what is the policy in overseas investment matter far more than many of the decisions concerning expenditure. If this process is to improve accountability of Government and Cabinet to the House of Commons, it must include accountability on these crucial central economic decisions.
I do not say these things because I am anti-Treasury, as somebody has suggested—probably because of an article I wrote on the subject. I am far from anti-Treasury. It was a great honour and privilege to work with the permanent 974 officials of the Treasury and I shall never forget it. It was a pleasure even to disagree with them sometimes and even, more rarely, to overcome them. I believe that decisions cannot be judged as right or wrong in an abstract or technical economic sense. This idea grows more absurd every day. These are political decisions, not purely technical decisions. By that I comprehend that they are moral decisions as well, decisions in which we are all very much concerned. It is wrong and unfair to leave this to officials of the Treasury. It is the responsibility of the Cabinet as well as the responsibility of the House. That is what I want to see changed. I should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman whether it will be changed in the sense I have suggested.
What we do not want to see is the present situation where the Treasury's expert decision is tempered at the margin by the Chancellor's political judgment and some Prime Ministerial consultation. What we need is political judgment continuously nourished by economic erudition. That is what we want rather than the reverse situation.
I will not go into details of how Cabinet control may be achieved. The suggestion of my hon. Friend concerned an inner committee of the Cabinet, and I endorse that. I go further, because I believe that the Leader of the House, who follows in the footsteps of my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, West (Mr. Crossman) in caring about the power of the House and seeking to extend its legitimate and useful function in the modern world by the extension of the Select Committee system, means every word of it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give serious consideration to my hon. Friend's suggestion of a Select Committee on economic affairs so that we get Cabinet decisions on strategic questions and a further examination by a Select Committee of those questions so that all these matters are carried into public debate on a level understood by ordinary people.
In our present situation, an economic decision cannot be right if the Government do not carry the people with it. That is half the trouble with the grave situation that we face at the moment. These questions of demand management and monetary management are decided by a small erudite cabal instead of being 975 brought out through the control of this House to the attention of an informed public so that the Government can perhaps carry the people behind them in their decisions. They have no hope of it in any other way.
What I am arguing for is true accountability on decisions which affect the safety and standard of life of our people. Those decisions are the central economic and financial decisions. Economics belongs to the academy. Political economy is what the Cabinet is concerned with, and that means political control. I am not satisfied that political control has been reflected adequately in decisions taken over the last 20 years at the central point affecting the country's economic prospects.
It is not as if the tendency to relegate to a small well-informed and unchallengeable cabal has brought any great successes in its train, whether in the military or economic fields, in the history of our country during my lifetime. I always remember the pathos of Siegfried Sassoon referring to the military cabal's decisions of the First World War in his little poem, "The General". I hope that no one will take it amiss when I say that I think that it has a wider application. I will conclude with this poem which hon. Members may adapt as they desire.
However, I ought first to congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman) on his maiden speech. I meant to do it earlier. It was what we expected from a man who has the great honour and privilege of following Lord Boyle in that seat. I can only wish him success and hope that he wins the admiration and affection of his colleagues on both sides of the House as did that distinguished former hon. Member. I apologise for not having thought of it earlier.
I read my concluding poem, which hon. Members may apply as they like in areas other than the military:'Good morning, good morning,' the General saidWhen we met him last week on our way to the line.Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead,And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.'He's a cheery old card', grinned Harry to Jack976As we slogged up to Arras with rifle and packBut he did for them both by his plan of attack.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Civil Service Department (Mr. David Howell)
The House will agree with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) that this has been a wide-ranging and useful debate, with excellent speeches coming from both sides. Except for one or two somewhat cantankerous remarks from the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) at the beginning of his speech, the White Paper has been taken by the House, judged and assessed in a fair and reasonable way.
In the remaining time, the best that I can do is to try to answer some of the questions and points which have been raised. If I do not answer them all, it is because time is against me.
Before doing that, let me add my congratulations to those of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman) for what was an excellent speech. It was lucid and to the point, and it was a relevant point. I hope that we shall hear a lot more from my hon. Friend.
The right hon. Member for Grimsby mentioned Fulton. I should like to make it clear that there is no going back on Fulton by this Government. We support all developments on that front. Fulton was precluded by its terms of reference from looking into the machinery. This White Paper deals with machinery. It is, in a sense, the complementary half of the picture.
§ Mr. Sheldon
The hon. Gentleman says that he accepts fully all the recommendations of Fulton. Does that apply to the open structure; the unified grading structure?
§ Mr. Howell
The unified grading structure is a matter with which the Government are pressing ahead, both vertical and horizontal.
I want now to come to the point most frequently raised by hon. Members on both sides: bigness; the question of these big policy clusters and whether they will be effective. First, if we were just 977 ramming together the Board of Trade and the old Ministry of Technology, I agree that would raise serious management problems. But that is not what we are doing. I can make the point by reference to figures. The old Ministry of Technology has a staff of 38,000. The new Department for Trade and Industry has a staff of 27,000. Therefore straightaway the point is made that we are not just shoving the two former Ministries together. That would be unmanageable.
Secondly, the whole spirit and aim of the proposals both in the central Departments and in the major Ministries is that the thing shall be conducted in a spirit of delegation. That is the aim. We have embarked, as the White Paper states, on a wide ranging review of functions. This is part of the process. It is only the beginning in a continuing process. Delegation is the purpose of bringing together these wide policy clusters. Indeed, it can be argued either way: that delegation is not possible unless the big policy clusters are brought together; or, alternatively, that the bringing together of these big policy clusters enables delegation to take place. That is the purpose of creating these large wide policy clusters.
§ Mr. William Rodgers
Will the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by delegation? Delegation to whom?
§ Mr. Howell
Delegation of managerial tasks and responsibilities by the Secretary of State to Ministers with specific areas of activity and to those filling in the pattern of accountable management units recommended in Fulton. This is the pattern.
The right hon. Member for Grimsby also touched on planning.
§ Mr. William Rodgers rose—
§ Mr. Howell
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have very little time to answer questions which have been raised.
The right hon. Member for Grimsby also touched on planning. The Secretary of State for the Environment has a full supporting staff and will take an interest in all strategic planning issues.
The right hon. Gentleman also touched on the question of the Consumer Council. I hope that he will forgive me, but this 978 subject seems to have popped into the wrong debate. It will be discussed tomorrow when questions can be put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The Government fully recognise their duties in the consumer sphere, but this matter must be thrashed out in its proper place in tomorrow's debate.
I now turn to the major question raised by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I value the right hon. Gentleman's opinions, but in this instance I think he was a little unfair. One of the main themes in the White Paper is the insistence on wider identification of goals, on clearer assignment of responsibility, and, in a sense, on an opening out of the structure of Government so that people can see more clearly what is going on.
The White Paper refers to the implications for Parliament, which are important, and to the Green Paper which has since been published. I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware of that. This really meets his point squarely when he claims that there was no concern with openness and democracy in the White Paper. On the contrary, the whole spirit of the thing is conceived in that sense. My view is that the Green Paper, which is linked to the White Paper, provides a golden opportunity for Parliament to revise its procedures and to become a more effective guardian of the public interests and public expenditure than some of us believe it has been recently.
I now come to some other contentious issues. We are to have a debate later on the whole question of the Ministry of Overseas Development and its place, and my right hon. Friend will no doubt answer the comments that are made. From a personal point of view, I followed with interest questions of development programmes and overseas aid at both the recipients' and the donors' ends for many years. I respect the sincerity of those who have expressed fears, but I believe that their fears are misplaced. However, no doubt these things can be discussed in a later debate. Welsh education will also be discussed in a later debate tonight.
I now come to what might be described as the meat of the debate, the central policy review staff and its place and rÔle in what we are proposing. I read with care the article by the right hon. Member 979 for Manchester, Cheetham in the New Statesman. I enjoyed it, as I always enjoy his forays into public presses. I read his article very carefully but, with the greatest respect and hesitation in view of his reputation in these matters, I must tell him that in my view his analysis and his view of things is wrong. Perhaps not wholly wrong, but slightly at the wrong angle, for what he is really proposing is that yet again another rival source of economic wisdom and financial policy wisdom should be set up at the centre outside the Treasury. This is precisely the fallacy that led to the setting-up and subsequent closing-down of the D.E.A., and failures of many other kinds.
What I believe is needed at the centre—and this is slightly different—is a device for showing Cabinet Ministers collectively the implications of economic and financial policy of every Government programme—or the policies of other Departments for that matter—and for the grouping of Government programmes as a whole.
§ Mr. Harold Lever
Does that include matters such as overseas investment, demand management and central monetary management?
§ Mr. Howell
Those things are very much matters with which the economic policy-making capability is concerned, and will remain concerned with. What I am saying is that the central policy review staff will have the rÔle of bringing to bear the relationship between the policies and the programmes of the Government as a whole, and showing to Ministers collectively how these things can affect each other. That is what the central policy review staff body is designed to do.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) that this was not a move in the presidential direction—on the contrary. My hon. Friend asked whether it affected ministerial accountability. It affects the collective rÔle of Ministers in the sense of strengthening it, although it does not affect their individual Ministerial rÔles. That is the central point on the central policy review staff and in it I differ, and make a point of differing, from the line taken by the right hon. Member for Cheetham, because his way lies the long, 980 lonely and disastrous road which has been plodded by the advocates of the D.E.A.
I now propose to say something about programme budgeting and the paragraphs in the White Paper which touch on that. The right hon. Member for Grimsby said that it was odd that we were keen on this idea just when the Americans were in difficulties. We have looked carefully at the American experience, and if anything far from learning from their success we have learned from their admitted difficulties. We have looked at other countries and seen the difficulties there. The plain fact is that nearly every Western country is moving towards a more output-orientated form of budgeting process. All this makes sense, and it makes sense if we develop our system in the light of American experience and weaknesses.
The right hon. Member for Grimsby said that the businessmen were in isolation in the Cabinet Office. This is not so. They are based in the Civil Service Department. They are working closely with the Treasury, with the central departments and with the Cabinet Office in developing these ideas. They are not a gang of people in the Cabinet Office separately beavering away, as the right hon. Gentleman depicted. I hope that that makes the position a little clearer.
I now come to another contentious issue which was raised with great energy and eloquence by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), that of aircraft noise. It was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth. I believe that there is a misunderstanding here. The point is that the Secretary of State for the Environment obviously cannot control everything. No one could expect him to be a Minister for everything around, or for all manifestations. Because he is concerned with pollution, I am sure that the hon. Member does not expect him to be the Minister controlling or concerned with all industrial policy.
By the creation of the Secretary of State and his staff, and his job, the major concern and the major capability—using that vogue word again—for pushing on the question of noise and other kinds of pollution has been brought into being. Concern for noise is vastly reinforced by this arrangement. It is true that the 981 control of airports and of aircraft remains with the Department of Trade and Industry, but the creation of the Department for the Environment creates a force—almost a lobby—in favour of the care of peoples' rights against noise which was not there before. This must be a step in the right direction.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
As I understand it, the Minister is now suggesting that in spite of the fact that he is not given specific responsibility the Minister for the Environment will be responsible for pollution by aircraft noise. Did I understand that correctly? Is he telling me that my fear that this was excluded is not well founded? Is he saying that the Minister will be responsible in the case of aircraft noise pollution?
§ Mr. Howell
The hon. Member is trying to force me into an absurd semantic argument. The Minister is concerned for noise and other kinds of pollution. His concern will be echoed and reflected in the line that he and his Department take on these matters. That is the position, and to my mind it is a major improvement on what went before.
Another question raised by many hon. Members concerned the proposition that somehow these ideas amount to a challenge or an affront to the way that politics should work—that politics is all about value-judgments and that it is not possible to analyse things down and distill them and reduce them by these methods and techniques. Of course politics is all about value-judgments, and the political battle will continue as violently and unpredictably as ever. But there can be no argument against better information and better-informed decisions.
One of the purposes of the reforms that we propose on the budgetary side and in the creation of the central policy review staff is to provide a clear backdrop against which the political battle can continue—a more rational backdrop against which irrational decisions may continue to be made. At least we shall know the cost or the divergence which the political course chosen imposes on the community, the Government and the political situation.
As the Lord President of the Council said earlier this afternoon, our aim in all these matters is less government and better government. Our approach makes 982 sense in three ways, which are central to the thinking behind the White Paper. First—this is the least important, but I put it first—our approach makes sense in terms of good management. If a Government try to cover everything on a wide front—if Government at the centre try to do everything—they end by doing nothing very well and by falling down in important areas, so that resources are wasted and needs go unidentified. That is the first central point.
Hon. Members may argue that this is a managerial conception, but it is one of the important ones. There is a limit to the kind of burden that we can pile on to central Government without badly straining the machinery. There is a limit, and those who believe—and some hon. Members on both sides of the House may believe—that the answer to many problems is more government, more spending and more commitment by more Government Departments are wrong. They neglect the institutions they are straining at their peril, and are so leading both themselves and their supporters up an intelectual cul-de-sac.
Secondly, we believe that our approach makes sense in terms of people's lives. The purpose of the thinking behind the White Paper is to bring to bear the resources of government more effectively in areas of real need. I know that this strikes hon. Members opposite as being highly controversial, but this is what we have begun to do and will continue to do in our social programme. It is what we have already set out in what we have announced.
Thirdly, we believe that our approach makes sense in terms of the quality—the health, if one likes—of the nation's life in general. The thought behind the White Paper is that a situation in which the State handles almost half the national income—and we can argue about the percentages; I have seen anything between 46 and 52 per cent. offered—and makes half the nation's investment decisions is unhealthy. It undermines incentive, stokes the fires of inflation and separates the State and the people.
Those are the three approaches behind the White Paper. When we came to government, the way in which we applied those three approaches was as follows. In our view, our predecessors seemed to 983 be running into three major difficulties. First, there were too many Departments in central Government, and this means too many inter-departmental committees, too much overlapping and confusion in government programmes. This is what we saw in industrial policy. At one time—admittedly not in the last few years—there were up to six Departments involved with industrial policy.
It is arguable, and I suppose it could be said, that one answer would be more total centralisation, more centralisation of management tasks of policy, and that we should bring the whole thing together into a presidential pyramid. That is not our way. On the contrary, our aim is more delegation and more decentralisation—the very opposite of the spirit of centralisation. That is why, as the White Paper clearly explains, we are working through the functions of every Department to see which of them can be moved from the centre.
The right hon. Member for Grimsby mocked our proposition that stability was one of the outcomes of this review for which we honed. Stability in the pattern of Departments is one of the outcomes. We believe that these broad departmental clusters, particularly for environment, represent the major public policy goals which either party would support over the next 10 or 20 years. Perhaps that is too ambitious, so let me say the next 10 years. In terms of departmental shuffling—changing the heading of the writing paper—stability can be achieved. It is extremely important that this should he made clear from the point of view of those in the Civil Service who rightly feel that they are chopped and changed remorselessly at the whim of political fantasy and fashion.
On the other hand, the spirit in which departmental patterns have been conceived is such that within Departments there should be more flexibility and more readiness to respond to new organisations and to adapt organisational and management procedures to meeting new needs. Anything else would be absurd. Needs are changing all the time. If organisations are to be efficient, they have to adapt to those changing needs. Within the department structure, I hope that it will be unnecessary for there to be a vast departmental reshuffle even in 984 the distant future, because the pattern has a quality, depth and stability about it which is important.
I referred to the difficulties which we believe our predecessors encountered. I said that the first was the multiplicity of Departments. The second that we saw was the profusion of activities in Departments, some of them duplicating each other. In our view, what was missing was a critical questioning approach to the activities and functions of central Government. The endearing but nonsensical view that everything which the Government do is good and that there should be more of it we believe has to be replaced. The proposals in this White Paper are aimed firmly at replacing it.
We are building into Government—again, the proposals of the White Paper do that—a more questioning state of mind. We have embarked, as I said, on a wide ranging review of departmental functions. This meets the point of the right hon. Gentleman about stability. We are concerned—it will be a continuing and systematic process—with the need to adapt organisation to the policy requirements of the Government.
The third difficulty we saw in the past-I believe that it is one that hon. Members on both sides have identified—was the lack of clarity. I would put it much stronger: there was a downright obscurity about much of what Government were actually doing, what it cost the taxpayer, what the aims were, whether they could be achieved another way, or even whether—I agree that this seems a heretical question—whether it could be done by the private sector or by Government. This was the obscurity we saw, not just in the minds of the public or this House, who were denied the information about what is going on in Government and what it costs, but also in the minds of those who were supposed to be in charge of the Government.
The answer, to repeat what I told the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, is that there must be much clearer and more forceful identification of goals in Government. This will be greatly helped, of course, by the proposal for more delegation. That means identifying what needs to be done and those who should do it, and giving them the authority to get on with it. One hon. Member 985 said that this was a debate not just about bits of Government, not just about one Department or another, but about Government as a whole, about the overall situation and the reform of the machinery of Government. This is the first time, if not in living memory, certainly in many years that this approach has been brought into the public debate. I hope that this debate is only the beginning of the debates in the public and the Press about these fundamentally important issues. This White Paper is part of the foundation for 986 a new style of Government. It is, I repeat, only a beginning, but we believe that it is in tune with the wants and aspirations of the people that the Government serve. I commend the White Paper to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House approves the White Paper on the Reorganisation of Central Government (Command Paper No. 4506).