HL Deb 15 January 1964 vol 254 cc577-99

2.39 p.m.

LORD SHACKLETON rose to call attention to the structure of Government, and to the problems that confront Ministers and Parliament as a result of ever-increasing responsibilities and complexities in the development of national and international affairs; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Motion has been on the Order Paper for a very long time, and the longer it has been on the Paper the more trepidation I have had about initiating a debate on the subject at all. Your Lordships' House is so full of distinguished ex-Ministers and others, who know so much more about Government than I do, that it is only because of the fact that my noble friend Lord Taylor and I were Parliamentary Private Secretaries to one of the greatest of our public administrators—namely, my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth—that I attempt it at all.

I should say that the original idea of this debate was Mr. Quintin Hogg's, and I am very sorry he is not here to reply. This is no reflection on the noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, who is to reply, but we all know that if Lord Hailsham, who combines a great deal of brilliance with a certain happy irresponsibility, had been here, he would have produced some brilliant ideas. In a way, I thought this debate to that extent would be a little like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, until I saw the very distinguished list of noble Lords who are taking part in the debate. For every book I have read on the subject, apart from my own personal observations, I find that I have had to read two books; and when I had sat down to write my speech I found that I had written a thesis and not a speech. Therefore, the formidable bunch of papers that I have in my hand should not alarm your Lordships, because I intend to throw most of it away and seek rather more to introduce the subject and leave it to other noble Lords to find a solution if they can.

It is, of course, possible to argue that our British system of Government is as perfect as anything that has been devised. On the other hand, there are some critics, like Professor Chapman— and I do not propose to take his book as a theme for the debate.


Hear, hear!


I am sure the noble Lord will be relieved to hear that. However, Professor Chapman does say this and this is one of the texts that I will offer to the noble Lord, Lord Burden, and we can examine it and judge whether it has merit: I take it that there is little doubt that Britain has now reached her lowest point in international prestige for many years. The institutions of British government have been signally unsuccessful in keeping pace with the modern world. It is my contention that the source of many of our present ills is institutional and lies in a mistaken veneration for old ideas. Institutional failings have positively contributed to our decline in world status. I might say, if this were not a non-Party debate, that the present Government have something to do with it. But that is if we accept the proposition at all.

There is another proposition. It is that we have a system that has enabled us to survive two world wars; to turn an Empire into a Commonwealth; to face the loss of unquestioned world leadership; to carry through a major social revolution and, as Donald McLachlan wrote the other day, to create a more or less affluent society. It is certainly true that the British Parliamentary system has successfully brought us into the twentieth century; and without any reflection on other countries, it is worth noting that this has not been the experience of other countries. Germany and Italy had to face Nazism and Fascism; France endured defeat, and in the end had to turn to a very different type of Government, and if anyone studies the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, he will see, among other things, that Members of Parliament are not allowed leave of absence.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord for one moment, they only sit for about six weeks in the year, so they do not want much leave of absence.


The noble Lord is not quite correct; actually they sit for five months. But, even so, I agree that they do not sit quite as long as we do. It is rather more the freedom of our institution to which I am referring. We know, too, what has happened to Russia, and what is happening in Spain.

I would ask your Lordships to accept the fact that I am not seeking to make ideological or political points, but am merely trying to observe the world as I see it. As a very sympathetic North American observer, Professor Conway, of Harvard, wrote: There can be no question that, whatever the economic and political position of Great Britain internationally may be to-day, as a custodian of the fundamentals of free Government she is without equal. It is against this background that it rather behoves us to consider whether everything is as perfect as it should be, and whether the criticisms that are being daily levelled against the Parliamentary and Governmental institution are valid; and it is also worth noting whether the same criticisms have not been made in the past. The weight of current criticism is not merely of Professor Chapman, but many students of Government have pointed to defects in our system; and we have to decide, as Walter Bagehot tried to do 100 years ago, what is the myth and what is the anti-myth. Here, unfortunately, the political philosophers do not offer us very much. The linguistic philosophers, if I understand them correctly, say: "You obey the police because you obey the police." On the other hand, there are those who say that institutions arise out of intimations of the particular circumstances of the societies in which you live, and there is no intrinsic moral validity between one system and another. But, however far the British institutions and Parliament have grown by good luck, there is no doubt that there have been men of resolution and principle who have sought to create a society which would give the greatest amount of freedom within the law that I believe it has been possible to devise in a modern civilised society.

Clearly, this debate could range so wide that we should have to retire and have a whole series of further debates on certain aspects of it. I think it does no harm, however, to at least arrive at a group of the institutions which we should study. First of all, there is Parliament; secondly, there is the Government; and thirdly, there is the Administration. Again, one can argue whether this is a natural arrangement, but it is a con- venient abstraction for our purpose. We operate within a well-established system—the two-Party system. To-day it might have been a three-Party system if the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, had been able to speak in the debate as he intended to, but in this debate, at least, it is two-Party. I do not wish to-day to attack the Party system: indeed, I believe that the Party system is essential if one is to get any collective expression of will at our present state of development.

But there is one thing which I hope no one will challenge, and that is that the nature of Government is inevitably having to change as the result of the extraordinary developments in science and technology and all sorts of techniques which are now open to Government and to experts which we have to take into account. I am not suggesting that life has not been very complicated in the past indeed, over 100 years ago Walter Bagehot (I am sorry to keep referring to him, but he is unquestionably the most readable of all political writers) pointed out that the House of Commons was a place that lacked leisure—that is certainly a complaint one has to-day—and that they are busy all the time asking questions and dealing with issues arising from different parts of the Empire.

We are now, I believe, confronted by problems of a much wider and, indeed, different nature. It is only a few weeks ago that we in this House passed rapidly through all its stages a small Bill called the Continental Shelf Bill. That was a Bill which extended the area of the earth's surface to be open to exploitation by this country and others by hundreds of thousands of square miles, of the most profound economic importance. This is only a small thing. It will only be a matter of time, provided that they find it, before gas will be being pumped from under the North Sea; and a few years later on people will be talking about damming the Straits of Gibraltar—indeed, plans have already been put forward.

We may have to face the most startling scientific developments. I am sure that all your Lordships would welcome a system of weather control. One may say that this sounds like fiction; but these are things that may come about, just as the satellites which revolve round the earth have come about. I remember Mr. Quintin Hogg, when he was Lord Hailsham, saying in one of his early speeches as Minister of Science that he had no intention of flinging satellites around this earth. But this is precisely what he is planning to do at the moment. This is a matter which has scarcely been discussed by Parliament. It is a matter of a very exciting nature, but whether it is right or wrong is something that the Government, advised by their experts, have to decide.

When we look at the developments in the biological sciences, which are at a most exciting and critical stage, we wonder how many people are familiar with the relevance of ecology to the whole study of planning, the study of environment, animals, plants and human beings. These are techniques with which Parliament and Government must be familiar. The problem of the scientist or the expert in politics is a particularly difficult one. We are fortunate in this House in having a number who are both —I believe the correct phrase is numerate and literate, but certainly eloquent. They will be able to give us some information. At the moment Government and Parliament depend to a large extent on the wisdom shown by individual advisers—men such as Tizard, Charleswell, or Professor Zuckerman or Dr. Wiesner in the United States. These are matters which, frankly, I believe are to a large extent beyond the individual understanding of most of us—and, indeed, I would say of most members of Government. And even if they can keep up to-day, will they be able to keep up in the future?

I should like to refer to a paper written by a Member of another place, Mr. Austen Albu, published in Minerva in which he attempted to analyse the extent to which science enters into the affairs of Government, both as an instrument of policy and as a means of thinking. Several types of problem were mentioned. These were originally posed by Professor Aron. There is a whole range of economic problems. In the past, Governments have been reluctant even to recognise that they existed, so far as Government is concerned, and I expect the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, will have something to say about the Treasury on the subject.

Then there is the choice of direction for scientific research. It is a myth—again I want to stress the word "myth", because it was Walter Bagehot's great contribution that he sought to look at the reality rather than the myth of our institutions—to think that decisions on scientific research will be taken by individual universities, and that however much we like we can insulate universities just by means of the University Grants Committee. It is no longer insulated to-day. Another problem is that of defence, and I shall have a few words to say on that. But if we go back to the economic and social planning; if we think of Professor Buchanan's Report, and of the problems that Parliament and Government will have to face, we have to consider very carefully whether our institutions are best suited to deal with these matters. Or do we leave it just to the experts and the expert committees?

Here, of course, we are in difficulty. We have only to remember the explosion of the rainbow bomb in the Van Allan belt which the experts—though not all—said was perfectly safe. Yet a hole has been torn in that area in space which has already had a most serious effect on the satellites and is likely to last, not as originally estimated for a year or two, but perhaps for 100 years. All these are matters that will have to concern Parliament and Government. When we look at the planning side, there are new horrors in store for us. It is now conceivable that they are seeking—indeed, they are trying to do it in Russia at the Cybernetics Institute at Kiev and the Laboratory of Mathematical Methods in Economics in Moscow—to put the economy into a computer. Professor Stone, at Cambridge, is trying to do the same thing. He has created a cybernetic model. It is a mathematical model, and by this I mean not a model such as we normally understand it, but one into which you establish circuits and ultimately feed all the variables into a computer, perhaps 3,000 or 4,000, and you may come out with the regulatory mechanism to plan your economy. How you can farm concepts (perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, can answer this) like marginal utility into a computer, I do not know. These are subjects with which we shall have to deal. It is therefore right, I believe, that we should look at the machinery of Government from the point of view of its suitability and function.

There is another side that we have to consider, and that is the problem of the massive increase in legislation. I am not sure whether it was Lord Palmerston or Lord Melbourne who made some remark to the effect that, "We cannot just be legislating all the time". This is precisely what we are doing. Even now there is legislation which does not come before us because there is not time. I should like to ask what has happened to the Bill which has been drafted to give effect to the Report of the Roberts Committee on Libraries. I am told we were not protected at Suez because certain steps had been taken under the International Red Cross Convention. The painful fact is that Parliamentary time gets more and more crowded. The Government exercise a rigid control over Parliamentary time, and it is, in my view, a futile wish that we shall be able to cut down on the amount of legislation. Public policies are becoming so much more complex that it may be difficult—though it may not be so yet on some, but it is on a few—for them to be subjected to the ordinary Parliamentary processes. We realise now that any Government are carrying out policies of a kind that will not only bind their successor but may exist even when they come back into Government again. It may well be that the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty will be back in Government again by the time the carrier which it has been decided to build is built.

Although I would not propose that Parliament should sit longer than the present five years, we must take into account the fact that these are matters on which democratic control, as it has been understood in the past, gets more remote. When we look at the field of what might be called international legislation, and we look at the Bills that come before Parliament, sometimes with a Convention as an annexe and even a Convention in a foreign language, what chance has Parliament at that point of amending it? I do not see how we can do this unless some other institutions, possibly of an international kind, are set up to provide that sort of Parliamentary control—and there are such embryo institutions. As it is, we shall have more and more international agreements—and it is right that we should—but the subsequent legislation will not be subject to the same sort of Parliamentary control.

How, then, do we seek to make Parliament, and indeed the institutions, more competent? During the war there was a great influx of brains into Government: of professors from the universities; of leaders from industry. Examples were Mr. Hugh Gaitskell and Mr. Harold Wilson, who were both taken from the universities and had inestimable experience in the business of administration. At the end of the war, when my noble friend Lord Attlee became Prime Minister and my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth led the House of Commons, there was still a knowledge, an experience and a skill which had spread much more widely through Parliamentary Government and academic areas of our life. I would say that my noble friends who led my Party at that time showed extraordinary skill in using these men and the knowledge acquired during the war, and in applying so much of the techniques of operational research and such like to Government. But that is a long time ago. We have settled back into our established patterns. Academics do not move freely from the universities to the Government as they do in other countries; nor do businessmen move freely into the Civil Service. I appreciate the difficulties of solving this and I am merely stating the problem. It will not be enough if we seek to conduct our affairs in this matter with the sort of silly cries one sometimes hears of "jobs for the boys". It is almost like running, not on last year's Bradshaw, but on the last Bradshaw which went out of existence several years ago.

My Lords, there is, too, the problem of secrecy in Government; and this is something that has been commented on by practically every academic observer. The secrecy which is preserved by the British Government in regard to matters which are not of a security nature is not matched in any other country in the world. There is not time to-day to discuss the effect of the Official Secrets Act, but we all know of cases where Ministers have, in fact, evaded giving information—as it is so easy to do if they are skilled at it—and, indeed, have been expected to evade giving information which Parliament required. I would refer to one particular recent example (and I do not say this as another means of giving a "backhander" to the Government)—the debate on B.O.A.C. and the famous Corbett Report. One accepts the fact that the Minister had given an undertaking that it was confidential but how was Parliament expected to judge these issues on the basis of a carefully worded and negative White Paper?

There have been other examples. What happened to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government survey which was carried out by the Government Social Survey organisation? It was a report that was never published. Apparently it has been shown to some experts, but I do not think it has ever been shown to Members of Parliament. There is, therefore, a need for more information. A subject to which we could well devote a whole day's debate is this whole problem of organising information, not merely for Parliament, but in doing the sort of work to coordinate documentation—words which are familiar to those who are operating in this field.

My Lords, here I come to the most difficult part of my speech, having attempted to point out some of the difficulties which I think must be apparent to us all: the fact that legislation is increasing and that we are concerned with so many matters that Parliamentary control must inevitably diminish. How, in fact, do we seek to deal with this problem? I know that there has been a good deal of discussion on whether there should be a further extension of the committee system, and I realise that this is a difficult subject. Some will say, "Save us from Committees", and then usually point to the American Constitution as an example of how damaging and harmful Committees are to Government. But the deficiencies or the difficulties in the American Constitution do not exist here. They not only have separation of powers, but divide their powers right down the middle. I cannot see why we cannot develop the idea of a Public Accounts Committee, an Estimates Committee, a Nationalised Industries Committee, and let them work on these particular, highly technical problems which are really unsuitable for discus- sion across the Floor of the House. It is not only that they are unsuitable; we simply have not the time along these lines to devote to them.

Some very interesting proposals were published in The Times on April 17 of last year by a Senior Clerk in another place, Mr. Michael Ryle. They were proposals of a kind that I should find it difficult to fault; they seemed to me to provide just the degree of opportunity for informed discussion which would enable Members of Parliament, and possibly Members of this House, assuming that they personally had the time (and that is another matter to which I shall come, very briefly) to give much more thorough and effective consideration. Moreover they would enable Members to check much more closely, by a reasonable degree of examination—some of it, if necessary, in private—on very technical questions. I hope that this idea will be further explored, because it was certainly true in the past that both the House of Commons and, I believe, the House of Lords did face much more difficult questions than they attempt to face to-day. It was not unknown for a House of Commons Select Committee to spend a great deal of time going into questions of the installation of electricity or gas, and especially into the railways; for the 200 railway M.P.S in the House of Commons knew a good deal about the technological questions of those days. I should have thought that there were some subjects which are demonstrably unsuitable for effective discussion across the Floor of the House.

I now come, my Lords, to perhaps the most difficult matter of all: how to handle the subject of Defence. I really do not know whether a special Committee, such as exists, indeed, in practically every other country in the world, could be given classified information. I do not know whether this is a possibility; and I do not propose to-day to go into this delicate issue of bringing the Opposition into private agreement or conversations with the Government on Defence. But I would point out that not only are we the only country that does not have special Parliamentary Committees; we are the only country that does not have specialised agencies studying defence problems on a need-to-know basis.

In the United States there are quite a number: the Rand Corporation; the Hudson Institute; the Institute for Defence in Washington, all of which are independent; and there are others. They are being given classified information. The same is true of practically every other country. France, Sweden and Germany, for example, have similar bodies. We have none in this country. When noble Lords think of that admirable body, the Institute of Strategic Studies, I would emphasise that it is seeking all the time to develop much more into an international study centre; and although a good deal of information filters through on the "old boy" net, formal permission for access to classified information is not available. This is the one subject which is kept, as I understand it, almost wholly within Government circles and is not subject to informed examination outside. I do not point to disarmament. Perhaps I might just mention some of the serious mistakes that have been made in Defence. It may be that these are inherent in the very nature of the Defence problem. But it may well be that further brains should be operating on this matter.

That obviously brings us to the question of how Members of Parliament, underpaid and overworked, are to fulfil their duties to-day. We all know the historical development of the House of Commons. We all know that what has been called the economic underpinnings, in other words the private wealth which enabled the House of Commons to function, is only partly true to-day. I think the country has been both mean and cowardly in regard to payment of Members of Parliament. They are overworked; their health and life prospects are considerably worse than those of other people. And there is no earthly reason, other than this curious English reluctance to speak or think about ourselves, why they should not be a great deal more adequately paid. I personally am glad that at last a means—albeit somewhat un-Parliamentary from a precedent point of view—is being found to measure what their proper rate should be.

In passing I would remark that the word politician is a word of which we should not be ashamed; it should have the highest possible meaning. It is striking, despite their difficulties, how well Members of another place function—and there are many Members in this House who have been there and will know what honourable and decent people they are, and how hard they work. They have common sense and experience and, above all, political sense. And the essence of Parliamentary institutions is that the men and women should have a political understanding. But they need support, and they need, of course, more facilities, whether in the way of secretarial assistance or better facilities from the House of Commons Reference Library—to which we are very lucky to have access—and I am very glad that they have appointed some scientific librarians there. I am reasonably certain that the terms and conditions of Parliament and the House of Commons must alter if Parliament is to fulfil the rôle that rightly belongs to it.

I do not propose to deal to-day with the subject of your Lordships' House. I will say that I believe that the Second Chamber, whether the House of Lords or another (but I suspect it is likely to be the House of Lords for quite a long time), has a part to play. It was 100 years ago that Walter Bagehot said he thought it deplorable that the proposition put forward by Lord Palmerston for the creation of Life Peers had been turned down. He said: The House of Lords rejected the inestimable, the unprecedented opportunity of being tacitly reformed. Such a chance does not come twice. My Lords, Bagehot was right so far as the following 100 years were concerned. I do not think I have time to develop this theme very much beyond saying that I believe that this Chamber also has a rôle, and a big rôle, to play in this particular matter.

I should like to look briefly at the subject of Government itself. One of the most fascinating subjects of controversy to-day is the rôle of the Cabinet and the rôle of the Prime Minister, and of course the position of Members of Parliament in relation to the Party machine, which has been the subject of a good deal of writing especially by those who have particularly suffered from it. I clearly am not competent to judge—and I shall be very interested to hear what my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth has to say—whether the Prime Minister is a coordinating Minister or whether we are now advancing into Prime Ministerial Government. The noble Earl, Lord Avon, says that the Prime Minister is still nominally primus inter pares; but in fact his authority is stronger than that, and the present Prime Minister says: Every Cabinet Minister is in a sense the Prime Minister's agent—his assistant. There's no question about that. It is the Prime Minister's Cabinet, and he is the one person who is directly responsible to the Queen for what the Cabinet does. If the Cabinet discusses anything it is the Prime Minister who decides … A Minister's job is to save the Prime Minister all the work he can … if the Prime Minister wanted to take a certain step the Cabinet Minister concerned would either have to agree, argue it out in Cabinet, or resign. John P. Mackintosh was going to rewrite a book, Keith's British Cabinet System, but he had to write a new one because he found it changed so much; he says the same thing.

This is not purely an academic question. If we are to examine the question of Government, we want to examine what is real and what is myth; and in so far as the Cabinet system may have changed—as undoubtedly in some respects it has changed—and if the Prime Minister's office is of a different nature, then possibly there is a need to give more effect to this. It may well be that the Prime Minister needs to be more fully served by his own chefs du cabinet, his own private organisation, particularly in the field of such matters as administration and Government reform. I am not competent to judge this, but I know that there are these different points of view, and it would certainly be of value if this matter could be recognised.

Then there is the question of the position of Ministers. I think it is absurd that the Foreign Secretary is paid the same rate as Lord Palmerston was paid. I think it absurd that the Under-Secretary of State for Air is paid at the same rate as a squadron-leader. There is either a right rate or a wrong rate. I do not believe that men and women come into Parliament or into politics, whatever rate they may be paid, simply for personal gain. I believe that the sanctions and controls over our public life are such that, for the most part, men who come into this field are men of integrity, and it is to my mind absurd that we do not recognise that there may conceivably be a proper rate for the job even in Government. Civil servants do not do so well, but at least they are able to organise. But nobody organises for the Government Front Bench; they just have to take it. They are able to get public-spirited people to be Lords in Waiting. This is something that clearly must be looked at.

I would turn briefly to one other subject. There is no time to deal with the whole problem of regional planning, the necessity, possibly, for Government to operate more widely within the Provinces plans with which the Government and the Opposition are both equally concerned. I would suggest that in our consideration of this matter we should look at what is done in other countries. We should look in particular at the French system of civil service and government. Our system has grown up quite differently. We have no Conseil d'Etat to examine legislation; we have no system of administrative courts. We have no Ombudsman. I am sorry myself that the Government missed the idea of an Ombudsman quite so quickly as they did. I would acknowledge that there are difficulties in it, but the Wyatt Report was a most serious examination of an institution that is working pretty successfully, and against this background of growing complexity and growing administrative control I would suggest that we should not lightly neglect any possible means of establishing some form of public accountability.

When it conies to the training of the civil service—here let me say straight away that I, like others, have the highest regard for the qualities, integrity and ability of the British civil servants —there are those who say that they all need a good brain washing, and there are those who say that a First in Greats thirty years ago is not enough of a qualification to deal with the complex economic problems of to-day. But if they had taken a First in Economics thirty years ago it would not help them much either, because economics has advanced since then. But there is one thing that the French do: every man going into the French higher civil service goes through one of the grandes écoles; and those who have met French senior civil servants—I think Lord Gladwyn might have something to say on this—will appreciate their quality. It is difficult to see how France in her political turmoil could otherwise have been governed. Furthermore, associated with the Ecole Nationale d'Administration is a centre of higher studies which is looking at problems of administrative and Government reform.

A beginning is being made in this country. It is possible now for an assistant principal to do a five months' course in economics, and obviously people from other fields than the humanities are coming into the administrative Civil Service. But it is not a question of taking one man from one culture and one from another. It is a question of informing them of what type of issues they will be dealing with. I wish it were possible to have a greater degree of mobility of the kind one had during the war, both into Government service and out of it. This is not a matter in which I want to start an argument but it is one which ought to be discussed, and I would ask the noble Viscount who is to reply: who is responsible in the Government? Which Ministers are looking into the question of administrative reform and development? Our Constitution consists of a mixture of dignified myth and not always easily observed reality. We have to judge whether these institutions need further development and whether they are capable of development. It is my view that we are in a much stronger position in this country in developing our institutions. There are no artificial constitutional restrictions, provided the will is there.

I hope this will be a beginning of discussion by Parliament on these problems. We need to consider whether our Parliamentary institutions and Government, and above all control, are adequate or will be adequate. I believe our system is capable of adaptation. We know that we are confronted with ever-increasing legislation of ever-increasing scientific complexity. I think we shall have to find a way for developing more discussion outside the two Chambers, and there should be less secrecy. There is one proposition I would make—namely, that on certain subjects of a non-controversial kind there might well be some consultation before the legislation actually comes to this House. The little Bill that I mentioned concerning the Continental Shelf is one that might easily have been agreed and, indeed, might have been subjected to a kind of Select Committee treatment, such as we give to Private Bills, except I would suggest that it be so done as to get the Bill right before it ever came to the Floor of the House.

Finally, I believe that the status of Members of Parliament and their pay, and that of Ministers, should be looked at. I would say that we ought to accept the logic of Prime Ministerial Government, but I would hesitate to do so when my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth has yet to speak and may possibly defeat me in this particular argument. But there are consequences that flow from this. If we are to seek a society at home and in the world in which the rôles of the individual and his rights as a member of the community are harmonised, we have now got to decide whether we leave it still "to guess or by God"; or we can leave it to political scientists or men of the calibre of a Napoleon or a de Gaulle. Napoleon, of course, produced some fine administrative institutions.

I will give one more quotation from a Member of this House, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe—I wish he were able to take part in this debate. I think he said this in the course of the Reith Lectures: The British have formed a habit of praising their institutions which are sometimes inept, and of ignoring the character of their race which is often superb. In the end they will be in danger of losing their character and being left with their institutions, a result disastrous indeed. It would be a tragedy if, with what I believe is an infinitely adaptable system, we fail to take the steps to adapt it so that we still can retain our position as the great holder of free institutions, and be able to make our contribution to polity by discussion, our great and irreplaceable contribution to political development, and I hope that we shall in fact set about doing that very thing. I beg to move for Papers.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the whole House is most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for putting down this Motion this afternoon, and for the stimulating and interesting speech he has made in introducing the debate. Undoubtedly, there is an intense interest outside Parliament in this subject, and the impressive list of noble Lords who wish to speak this afternoon reaffirms the concern which exists inside Parliament at the same time. Indeed, no one involved in public life to-day can possibly fail to be worried about the inadequacy of the existing machinery of Government to cope with the increasing complexity of our affairs. This is not to say that we are not coping at all; on the contrary, in all the circumstances we are putting up a quite creditable performance. Nevertheless, there is a fairly massive range of subjects and problems about which it can reasonably be said that we have either acted inadvisedly or too late, or where we have so far taken little or no action at all.

I do not intend to burden the House with a catalogue of failures or shortcomings—every noble Lord will have his own examples in mind and will attach more or less political flavour according to his own point of view. Shortcomings have existed, and do exist, in the management or our economic and monetary policy, in the management of the nationalised industries, in the conduct of certain international affairs and in many other fields. It would be foolish to pretend otherwise. These shortcomings have been apparent under Governments formed by both the major Parties in the State since the last war. And if one sets aside the different political approach to matters of policy the deficiencies in the system are nevertheless apparent, to many of which attention was drawn this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in his opening speech.

As I see it, there is an urgent need to make a critical analysis of the existing machinery of Government and to try to decide how it can be improved. I hope it is permissible for somebody who has never held office under the Crown, and whose experience in Parliament is extremely limited, to take a few minutes of your Lordships' time to put forward some suggestions. The Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, covers a very wide front, but the whole subject seems to fall into two main categories: the problems confronting Parliament and those confronting Ministers and their Departments. I am sure there are many noble Lords who will wish to speak from great experience about our Parliamentary procedures. It is the organisation and competence, in the widest sense of the word, of Government Departments about which I should like to make a few observations.

Most of us actively engaged in business affairs and with some public responsibilities have daily experience of working under Acts of Parliament and White Papers which have set out major policy decisions of Government during post-war years. As a result of my own experience, I have formed one or two firm convictions. The first is that at the policy-making stage it is wrong for us to rely to such a large extent on Royal Commissions. They no doubt have an important part to play in the broad social and national issues, such as were dealt with in the Royal Commission on the Press and by the Wolfenden Report, and similar issues; but where we are dealing with the practical day-to-day management of the nation's affairs and matters such as taxation and the nationalised industries, I believe that these policy-creating functions should essentially be the responsibility of Ministers and their Departments.

I think that it is wrong for the responsibility to be pushed off on to ad hoc Commissions which have no continuing interest or responsibility in seeing their recommendations put into practice and which, in any case, cannot commit Ministers. I believe it is wrong for two reasons. First, no part-time body of people, however expert, however hardworking or dedicated, can possibly deal expeditiously with these intricate matters of policy. Secondly, they are often dealing with subjects which cannot be adjudicated upon a once-for-all basis. Circumstances, technology, even opinions, change the whole time—and the process of making policy on these matters should be a continuous one. My conclusion is that the Government should resort to this form of inquiry much less frequently as a means either of influencing opinion or of making up their own minds about the policies of the main administrative Departments.

On the other hand, I believe that White Papers on many aspects of our affairs tend to be too infrequent, and, worse still, do not give sufficient information, or are so condensed as to be quite inadequate as a basis on which Parliament and the public can reasonably form opinions. Greater care—which I believe really means greater intellectual effort—should be applied at this stage in the formulation and presentation of policy. This would not only improve the quality of decisions, but also improve the subsequent legislation if it is required. It is rightly said that the clear, precise definition of a problem is ninety per cent. of its solution. Clearer and more detailed exposition of policy would not only improve legislation but obviate a great deal of the confusion which constantly arises at present over interpretation of Acts and White Papers at a later stage. It would also help to prevent sloppy thinking which itself is the origin of a good deal of ambiguous drafting.

In order to achieve improvements in the technique of policy-making which I have suggested, I believe that the Treasury and the major administrative Departments would have to add very considerably to the number, quality and range of experience and competence of their very top people. I should like to expand a little on the idea of the injection of new people and new techniques into Whitehall. Before doing so, there is another aspect of administration I should like to mention which equally, I believe, is in urgent need of attention. This is the question of executive action and follow-through. There is an exasperating inertia in the systems and procedures of Whitehall, and it often appears that even where correct decisions have been taken an extremely long time elapses before the wheels of the Departments get moving and things are effectively and efficiently put into operation. I believe this to be unnecessary. It could. and indeed must, be solved. This again is largely a question of getting a sufficient number of the most competent people into the key administrative jobs.

If one takes as a yardstick some of the outstandingly efficient and successful large organisations in either the private or public sectors in this country and in other parts of the world, I believe one is driven to the conclusion that our great departments of State have too few top posts and that the combined top level of manpower available for policy making and executive action, including Ministers, is inadequate to deal with all the business properly. It is, of course, common knowledge that Ministers and civil servants have been desperately overworked for all the years since the last war started. It is also common knowledge that if people are under constant pressure they do not have time to think. That really is a set of conditions which simply is a product of bad organisation. It is for this reason, above all, that I believe the whole system needs urgent re-examination.

It is my contention that a fairly large number of additional senior and middle-level posts should be created in a large number of the existing Departments—this is quite apart from the possibility of the creation of new Ministries, which has been advocated in various quarters during the last few months. I also believe that these new posts should be staffed largely from the professions, industry, the trade unions, the City and universities—in fact from experienced people coming into the machinery of Government from outside. This, of course, presents problems. It would probably be necessary to have some form of short-service commission, such as the Defence services have, and in addition there should be arrangements for pensions to be transferred. This should be a two-way trade both for civil servants leaving Government service and going into industry, who should be able to take their pension rights with them, and for people coming into Government from industry, who equally should be able to transfer their pensions. I suggest that if legislation were required for pension rights to be transferable, the Government should take a close look at that requirement. I should also like to see the basis of the regular recruitment into the administrative branch of the Civil Service widened at the entry stage, but also varied so that people could join at a different stage in their careers having first gained skills and experience in other walks of life.

Like Lord Shackleton, I also envisage a substantial increase in the pay for top appointments in Whitehall, although I believe the noble Lord was more concerned about the pay of political appointments than the Civil Service pay. Otherwise, I can see no hope of getting a free, lateral movement of people between Government service, industry, commerce and the nationalised industries, without the constant problem of hardship to the individual. To get some reasonable parity of pay—it need not be exact—for equally responsible posts seems to me an absolute essential; and the cross-fertilisation of ideas between people moving in the course of their careers from one walk of life to another, and particularly in and out of Government, would, I believe, be of inestimable value to the country. On a similar point, I should here like to add that I include the pay of Ministers and junior Ministers in my general views about the remuneration of people in Government service. It seems to me that the present level is nothing short of absurd.

My Lords, on the question of facilities for the people who carry these very heavy burdens, I find it almost embarrassing to see the almost total lack of facilities which are provided for these people carrying the very heaviest responsibilities in the country, as compared with, let us say, the top managing directors of the Royal Dutch Shell Group, and I can see no possible reason for this. We have devised in industry all sorts of techniques and means for taking the pressure off people, providing them with adequate qualified staff immediately around them in their private offices, harnessing all the modern techniques that science has given to us for removing pressure and easing people's tasks. So far, I think the Government offices and the general machinery of Whitehall have been starved of a great many of these facilities, which are really taken as an absolutely every-day part of life for those people working in industry.

I am very glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Robens of Woldingham, is making use of an aircraft for his Coal Board business. It seems to me an excellent development and absolutely natural when there is a need to travel around the country rapidly. But why not helicopters and light aircraft for senior Ministers who have responsibilities all over the country? These things have been often the product of Government research and expenditure, yet we seem to be a litle shy about making use of them later.

It may be felt, my Lords, that I have levelled some rather severe criticism at the Civil Service. I believe that what I have said about the number, the calibre and the expertise of the people applies with equal force to Ministers. I hope to see more appointments in the future from outside Parliament, as has occasionally been done in the past; and your Lordships' House, of course, has been graced with a number of very distinguished Ministers who were not active politicians before they joined the particular Administration concerned. I should also hope to see quite a number of top appointments in the Civil Service open equally to people coming in from other walks of life. In case it is thought that I am criticising only the machinery of Government, and that I feel everything in the private sector is in good order, I should like to make it clear that I think there are the same sort of inadequacies in a great deal—but not all—of private enterprise; and, of course, where it can be found in the private sector, it is in equally urgent need of reform. What I am certain about is that we shall not become masters of the problems of modern Government simply by shifting the existing people around inside Whitehall and Westminster; it will be done only by drafting in some new people with a fresh approach and modern expertise.

Finally, may I say that I do not believe that it is a criticism, in any harsh sense of the word, to point out that the incredibly rapid development of the world, the complete revolution in the functions and responsibilities of central Government, which were virtually undreamt of thirty years ago, have rendered the existing people and machinery inadequate to carry out all the functions that are required of them to-day, without some help being injected from outside. The problem is to get first-class men into the really responsible positions. The world to-day is not short of ideas. Relatively we have adequate capital, plenty of raw materials and an adequate labour force. The real shortage is of management ability to carry out the supervision of all the necessary functions in order to achieve our aspirations, and there can be no greater or more urgent priority than getting a sufficient number of men of really high calibre into the business of the government of this country.