HL Deb 26 June 1968 vol 293 cc1417-26

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a Statement being made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place on the subject of the Fulton Committee Report.

"The House will recall that on the the 8th of February 1966, I announced the Government's decision to appoint a Committee to examine the structure, recruitment and management, including training, of the Home Civil Service and that Lord Fulton had agreed to be Chairman of the Committee. The Report of Lord Fulton's Committee has now been received and is being published today. Copies are available in the Vote Office.

"May I first, Mr. Speaker, express the great appreciation of the Government to Lord Fulton and the members of his Committee for the thorough and devoted manner in which they have carried out their task and for the wide ranging and fundamental review they have produced.

"It would also be appropriate here to mention the contribution to the work of the Committee made by the right honourable gentleman the Member for Handsworth,— that is Sir Edward Boyle— and my honourable friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne."— Mr. Shelton.

"When I announced the setting up of the Committee I expressed the hope that their inquiry would be in the great tradition of past inquiries such as those carried out by Northcote-Trevelyan in 1853 and the Tomlin Commission in 1931. I also expressed the hope that their recommendations would enable the Civil Service to meet the country's needs for many years to come. I am sure that, when they have read the Report, honourable Members will agree with me that the Committee have fully justified the hopes placed in them and that we are all in their debt. I am confident that their Report will stand comparison with the historic Northcote-Trevelyan Report of more than a century ago.

"Just as the Northcote-Trevelyan Report called for the replacement of patronage by a system of independent selection based on intellectual attainment, the Fulton Report, while reaffirming the continuation of independence in recruitment, finds that insufficient attention has been paid to management in the Service, and calls for a new system of training, organisation and career management.

"This Report is an essential contribution to the modernisation of the basic institutions of this country including Law Reform on which a strong start has been made. A vitally important further contribution will be the long-over-due reform of local government which will follow the Reports of the Royal Commission or Local Government in England and Wales presided over by Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and the Royal Commission on Scottish Local Government, presided over by Lord Wheatley, two Commissions which are reviewing a system of local government which in its main essentials is largely unchanged since the latter years of the 19th century. The decisions of the Government and of this House on trade unions and employers associations, which will follow the consultations now in train as a result of the Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers' Associations, presided over by Lord Donovan, will, of course, provide a corresponding degree of modernisation in another of our great Estates.

"As honourable Members will see when they study the Fulton Report, it analyses in depth the present situation in the Government Service and makes a large number of recommendations. Both the Report and its recommendations are being studied. I can, however, tell the House that broadly speaking we accept the analysis, though not every criticism it contains. As to the recommendations, here again some of the detailed proposals will need very careful study, but the House will wish to know that the Government have decided to accept the main recommendations of the Report and to embark on the process of reform outlined by the Committee.

"First, we accept the proposal to establish a new Civil Service Department on the lines advocated by the Committee and the steps to bring this about will be taken at the appropriate time. Specific and formal arrangements will be made to ensure the continued independence and political impartiality, within the new Civil Service Department, of the Civil Service Commission in the selection of individuals for appointment to the Civil Service.

"Secondly, the Government have accepted the recommendation to set up a Civil Service College to develop the training of Civil Servants broadly on the lines recommended in the Report. The timing of this will have to be fitted into a programme which takes full account of public expenditure control.

"Thirdly, the Government accept the abolition of classes within the Civil Service and will enter immediately into consultations with the Staff Associations with a view to carrying out the thorough-going study proposed by the Committee, so that a practicable system can be prepared for the implementation of the unified grading structure in accordance with the timetable proposed by the Committee. This does not mean that the professions as such will disappear from the Civil Service but it does mean that movement throughout the Service for them and for all Civil Servants at all levels will be unimpeded. This will mean that everyone in the Civil Service, whether from school, from a college of technology or from a university, whether he or she comes in from industry or a profession—all in future, the school leaver, the graduate, the accountant, the engineer, the scientist, the lawyer —for all of them there will be an open road to the top which up to now has been, in the main, through the Administrative Class.

"Decisions on the remaining recommendations of the Committee will be announced in due course, following the necessary full discussion with those concerned, including particularly, as I have said, the Civil Service Staff Associations.

"The carrying out of the Committee's recommendations will involve ad- ditional cost, though the greater part of this extra expenditure will not arise until five years or more from now. The timing of the implementation of such recommendations will have to take account of this fact and will be related to the stringent public expenditure programmes which this House will be asked to approve in successive Estimates.

"At the same time the emphasis of the Report on efficient management and economy within the individual Departments should ensure that additional expenditure on management and training will in time lead to substantial offsetting savings in the day-to-day operations of the Civil Service.

"In this connection the new Civil Service Department will have as its first remit the continuation of the work already being carried on by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to achieve the targets for Civil Service manpower announced in my Statement of the 16th of January last (Command Paper 3515). I hope shortly to inform the House of further measures which are to be taken to ensure the fullest scrutiny and control of Civil Service manning.

"The House and the public will wish to study the very detailed recommendations of the Report. These recommendations are designed to produce a Civil Service for the fourth quarter of the 20th century, which, while preserving the best of the old. is adequate in every way to deal with the problems of the fourth quarter of the 20th century. For example, in addition to the three main recommendations to which I have referred. honourable Members will welcome the Committee's desire for two-way movement between the Service and other areas of our national life, such as private and public industry, local government and the professions.

"There is one particular aspect of this which is implicit in the Report but which Her Majesty's Government intend to make explicit in our actions, in implementing the Report. This is the emphasis on regionalism. It will be our intention that new Civil Service recruits will be given abundant opportunities of working in the regions and wherever possible in services which will bring them into direct contact with the public.

"This emphasis on regionalism will inspire our approach to some of the comments on the machinery of Government which honourable Members will find in the Report. Decisions on this will be taken when the Government have received and published the Reports of the Royal Commissions on Local Government. On what the Fulton Report refers to as social administration, the Report of the Seebohm Committee on Local Authority Personal Social Services will also be highly relevant to changes in Government machinery so far as the social services are concerned.

"I have said that many of the detailed recommendations will need careful study by the Government. In this we shall need to take full account of the public reaction to the Report. But there is one issue on which the House will expect me to comment today. In recommending the transfer of responsibility for the Civil Service from the Treasury to a new Civil Service Department, the Report says: 'The new department should be under the control of the Prime Minister. We hope that he will retain direct responsibility for senior appointments, machinery of government and questions of security. Outside this area, we suggest that the Prime Minister should delegate day to day responsibility to a non-departmental Minister of appropriate seniority who is also a member of the Cabinet.' "I have asked my noble friend Lord Shackleton, the Paymaster General, who is, of course, a member of the Cabinet with no departmental duties, to undertake the duty of assisting me in the discharge of the functions recommended in the Report, to supervise the setting up of the new Department, and to control its day-to-day operations when established. My noble friend will be engaged in this work from now on and I propose in due course to inform the House, after consultations with the Opposition, about the arrangements which the House may find convenient for the tabling of Questions about the implementation of the Report and about other matters affecting the Civil Service. In the interim, Ministerial responsibilities and the arrangements for answering Questions will remain unchanged.

"Mr. Speaker, it would not be right for me to end this Statement without attempting briefly to put the Report of the Committee into perspective. The Report makes a number of criticisms of the present organisation and structure of the Civil Service. This was to be expected: had there been nothing to criticise there would have been no need for the Committee to be set up. The reorganisation of the Service which will now take place will no doubt occupy a good deal of time in public discussion over the coming months. In our discussions we would do well to remember that whatever criticisms are levelled at the organisation, structure or methods of the Civil Service, including training and personnel management, the Committee have paid high tribute to the calibre, devotion and competence of the staff and have pointed to the very considerable strengths of the Service, which have to some extent obscured d e need for reform, particularly the capacity of the Service for improvisation. It is right and necessary that changes should now be made. It is, however, also right for us to pay tribute to the very able men and women at al levels in the Service who, with the highest standards of integrity and impartiality, have served the nation's interest under successive Governmens so well for so long."

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I know that we should all wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for repeating that very long Statement by the Prime Minister about this important subject, and also to congratulate him personally on the new responsibilities that are being delegated to him, which I am sure he will discharge as conscientiously as he always discharges his responsibilities to this House. Secondly, I am certain that we should all wish to put on record our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, and his colleagues on this Committee. It was a tremendous assignment that they received, and it is obvious from what the noble Lord has said that they have made a comprehensive and far-reaching Report. I think it is a source of strength and pride to your Lordships' House that the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, should.

since his appointment as Chairman of this Committee, have joined our numbers here.

My Lords, I hesitate to express views, or even to ask questions, until I have had an opportunity of reading the Report, and I expect that other noble Lords will feel the same. However, I should like to ask the Government whether they will provide time for us to debate the Report in this House when we have all had time to read it—which of course will not be just yet. I should also like to ask whether any of the recommendations involve legislation, or whether they are entirely matters for administrative action. Finally, with reference to the concluding sentences of the Statement, I should like to put on record my own view that whatever criticisms may be levelled, and justly levelled, against the Service, 1 have no doubt that we possess the best Civil Service in the world.


My Lords, from these Benches I should like to express our appreciation of the work of Lord Fulton and his Committee. With the Committee under his chairmanship, we should expect this Report to be comprehensive, clear, well thought out and workable, and we shall read it with great interest. I too should like to congratulate the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on the confidence which has been rightly placed in him in this new position. I would only express my regret that it appears that it is the end of the Inter-party Conference talks on the House of Lords which has made him available for this new task. Nevertheless, I wish him success in his new responsibilities. May I express the hope that there will not be too much delay in implementing such recommendations as arc agreed and which are aimed at efficiency? Delay in these matters can be a false economy, because if this Report is what I believe it to be there will be great scope, I think, to reduce costs.


Perhaps I may answer the two noble Lords before I forget what they said. First of all, I am grateful to both noble Lords for what they have said. I suspect that some people may think that the Leadership of the House of Lords does not take up very much time, though some noble Lords have disproved this recently. The recommendation called for a non-departmental Minister, and I think noble Lords who have occupied the position of Leader of the House of Lords (I know that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will agree) will see the desirability of noble Lords being employed outside as well as inside this House when they are the Leader.

I very much echo the views expressed about the noble Lord, Lord Fulton. It has been a Herculean task, and when we see the Minutes of Evidence, which run into several volumes, we see how hard the members of the Committee have worked.

On the particular point as to whether legislation will be necessary, in the first instance I understand that it may be necessary for there to be a Transfer of Functions Order, but I cannot say when this will take place. Indeed, it is difficult for me to say anything at this moment as to how I shall be able to carry out my new responsibilities.

I should like very strongly to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, have said about the quality of the Civil Service. No one who has been a Minister can fail to appreciate the tremendously high quality, the loyalty and devotion with which they serve successive Governments: the unique circumstances in which it is possible for a Minister to come in a new Government, as I did, and take over not only the Permanent Secretary, but the Private Office, and know that they would serve faithfully and also respect the confidences of one's predecessors.

As somebody who has had a good deal of experience in business (and I happen to think in a highly efficient business: at least as efficient as the Civil Service), I am bound to say that the idea that businessmen are more efficient than Civil Service administrators is one on which those with real experience of business would take a different view. There is no doubt that the Civil Service (and I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, sitting in his place) has very high qualities. But there is room—and I have seen this myself in certain areas—for improvement in management. To some extent, it may be the fault of successive Governments, in which I include Labour and Conservative Governments, that some of these reforms have not been made possible before.

I agree as to the urgency of the matter. On the other hand, one has to proceed deliberately. The object must be greater efficiency, and efficiency which will not only serve the country generally, since the Government service impinges so much on our national life, but also be more economic. I think it is a very worthwhile Report. There may be detailed points on which one has certain reservations, but there is much to do, and there is urgency in doing it.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the Leader of the House on the clarity with which he read this Statement, although admittedly at length—but this was not his fault. Also, being scrupulously fair, I should like to congratulate the Prime Minister on having produced one of the longest Statements that I haev ever heard. But what I really want to say—apart from congratulating the Fulton Committee on what I agree was a laborious task—is this. The noble Lord referred to the Wheatley Commission on Local Government in Scotland. I was, and am, interested in this matter and I wonder whether he can give any indication as to when that Committee is likely to report. I would also express the hope that their Report will not be delayed so that the English Report comes out first.


My Lords, as the grandson of Sir Stafford Northcote, I hope that the House will allow me to express by appreciation of the Prime Minister's reference to my grandfather's work: to express my satisfaction that the name of Fulton will stand with the names of Northcote and Trevelyan in the history books, and to wish the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, every success in his new task.


My Lords, in answer to the noble Viscount, I am sorry, but I do not know when the Wheatley Report is due to come out. The Redcliffe-Maud Report, I believe, is due out in October. But I am sure that all are working very hard, and the interests of Scotland will not be omitted. Knowing the noble Earl's association with this subject, I would commend noble Lords to the Appendix, which reproduces the actual Northcote-Trevelyan Report. I think the present Report follows logically on from it.