HL Deb 10 November 1970 vol 312 cc610-82

3.49 p.m.

EARL JELLICOE rose to move, That this House takes note of the White Paper, The Reorganisation of Central Government (Cmnd. 4506). The Noble Earl said: My Lords, we are now to debate an important subject, the reorganisation of Central Government. It is, I feel, a subject which has perhaps received too little attention in Parliament, although I recall the very interesting debates initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I think in 1964, and by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, in 1968.

The White Paper deals not only with the major changes in the structure of Departments and the structuring of the new central mechanism designed to serve the Cabinet collectively; it also deals with the broad principles underlying the Government's decision as announced in the White Paper. Because of this I felt that it might be helpful if this afternoon we were to stand back a little and attempt to look at the broad picture—the wood rather than to concentrate too specifically on the trees—of the individual Orders before your Lordships' House. It is my understanding that after this general debate we shall deal with the Orders formally.

My Lords, still by way of introduction, may I say how glad I am that our debate this afternoon will be distinguished by the inclusion of no fewer than four maiden speeches; those of the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale; the noble Lord, Lord Diamond; my noble friend Lord Reigate and the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon. We look forward very much to hearing from them. What I can do is to undertake to listen to those speeches and the other speeches, attentively, and when I wind up—I must apologise for having already spoken too much this afternoon—I hope to try to answer the particular points of doubt or difficulty which noble Lords may have put to me.

May I first make one observation from my Civil Department perch? I notice that although the White Paper was approved without dissent in another place there was some criticism that it made no mention of Fulton, or of the establishment of the Civil Service Department, or of the reforms which have followed from that. Far be it from me, my Lords, to belittle the Report, or the Department, or the reforms; but it must be quite clear to anyone who has read the Fulton Report attentively that the reorganisation of the machinery of Government, far from being a sin against Fulton, is a necessary complement to Fulton. Indeed, the Fulton Committee itself urged that consideration should be given to a general review of the machinery of Government, and the White Paper represents the outcome of just such a review, which, if I may say so, was a particularly searching one. It also, I trust, represents a real attempt to achieve greater stability within that Government machinery.

I think we have all had too much chopping and changing, too great a reshuffling of the Departmental pack, in the last decade or so. I would not, of course, claim that the mould suggested in this White Paper will be fixed for all time; or even until the time—undoubtedly many years ahead—when next we have a Labour Government. We know that in certain areas—for example, defence procurement and aerospace—further changes are foreshadowed in the White Paper itself.

The machinery of Government has, necessarily, to be kept under close and constant review. Nevertheless, my Lords, the changes announced in the White Paper, which are really of some quite considerable magnitude, are intended to be the basis for a period of stability lasting certainly through the present Parliament and, I would hope, beyond. Apart from the review, which I have already mentioned, in the defence procurement and aerospace field, I think that the reviews which the Government will be conducting in this sphere, at least within the lifetime of this Parliament, will be concerned more with the organisation inside Departments rather than with the boundaries of the Departments themselves. In any event, my Lords, I am quite certain that we need this plateau of relative stability, and we must try to keep ourselves on it if we are to realise the benefits which I hold to be implicit in the present changes; and if we are to avoid the damage which constant shuffling of the Departmental pack does to Civil Service efficiency and indeed to Civil Service morale.

The first element in the new structure is, I suggest, the new central policy review staff designed to give Ministers in their collective role as members of the Cabinet a degree of staff support which they have, I think, lacked hitherto. There are a great many old Ministerial hands in your Lordships' House this afternoon and they will know that when Ministers exercise their individual responsibility in their Departmental sphere they have the very powerful backing of a very strong and skilful Departmental machine. We all know, however, that to-day many of the most vital Government decisions are increasingly collective ones. They are decisions which straddle Departmental boundaries. And, more than that—and let us frankly recognise the fact—even if we are considering a major programme within the area of a single Department, that programme in itself raises questions of priority between other claims on the nation's resources. Increasingly, therefore, my Lords, the determination of priorities, the choice between almost equally attractive options, is a matter for collective decision.

But when Ministers go to Cabinet, or to one of its Committees, and try to exercise their collective responsibility; when they are called on, for example, to pass judgment on affairs outside their own particular Department, then I think most of us would recognise that they very often lack—more often than not in my view—the degree of consistent staff support in depth which is available to them in their Departmental spheres. I think this is one of the main reasons why so many of the big decisions taken by Governments of this country in the last decade or so have been rather hit or miss affairs. They have been taken too hastily, or not taken at all; and very often the options for the Government of the day have been closed without Ministers of the day even realising that those particular options were open to them. I submit, my Lords, that this cannot be right.

We must, of course, all recognise that the present Cabinet Office does its job with quite extraordinary efficiency and devotion. I know that all those who have been served by that Cabinet Office, and who are in your Lordships' House this afternoon, would agree with that view. But in my view it is not equipped to take on the quite different tasks which we envisage for the new unit; and therefore we need a new staff, properly within the Cabinet Office as it will serve Ministers collectively, to give them the support they require so that they can discuss issues and exercise their political judgment in a more informed way than has been possible in the past.

Judging by the comments which I have seen in the Press or heard in the debate—it was a very good debate, I thought—in another place, a number of misconceptions seem to be current about the proposed central policy review staff. It is argued that it will be some sort of secret cabal, taking decisions out of the hands of political Ministers where they properly belong. I can assure noble Lords that there is no question of this staff acting like another Department and superimposing its views on the rest. Nor would it be able to take away from Ministers their responsibility for taking decisions and exercising responsibility. It is not a question of substituting the views of experts who are not accountable to Parliament for the judgment of Ministers who are. Rather, my Lords, it is a question of giving Ministers a better base of information and analysis on which to rest their political judgment and exercise their collective responsibility.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl one question arising out of what he has said? I think that probably the answer is plain, but perhaps it should be given. This new unit will operate within the Cabinet Secretariat. Does that mean that the head of the new unit, Lord Rothschild, will come under the authority of Sir Burke Trend, the head of the Cabinet Secretariat?


As I have already said, my Lords, It will operate as part of, and within, the Cabinet Secretariat; and to that extent the head of the new unit will be responsible to Sir Burke Trend. But I do not think that this will mean that the head of the new unit will not also be reporting directly on occasions—the precise guidelines will have to be worked out—to Ministers collectively or, indeed, to the Prime Minister.

My Lords, if I may go on from that, I would touch on another Aunt Sally which has been put up with respect to the policy review staff and which I should like to knock down. Critics have suggested that the new staff is a further move towards Presidential government. And with this in mind they have summoned up the ghost of the late Lord Cherwell in order to disturb our dreams. I would suggest that this view is bunk. The new staff will be working with the existing grain of Government, not against it. They will be working in co-operation with Departments and reporting to Ministers collectively. The services of the new staff will not therefore be the prerogative of the Prime Minister of the day. They will be common to all Ministers. To liken this new unit to a shadowy figure relying on personal influence with the Prime Minister of the day, without defined responsibilities and having no clear place within the machinery of Government, is, frankly, absurd.

There is a further fear on which I should like to touch—that the new cog in the wheel means that the wheels of Government will turn more slowly.


My Lords, before the noble Earl goes further, may I raise a point? He may say that some of the criticisms are absurd, but I am still not clear how this new unit will work. He may say that they will work with the grain. He says that they will report to Ministers collectively. How do they do that? We are not even clear about the head of the unit. We know that in some sense he comes under Sir Burke Trend. It may be that the Government have not thought this one out. What precisely do they mean by "reporting to Ministers collectively"?


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that the Government have thought this out, but the noble Lord, who is more versed, or more recently versed, in these matters than I am, knows that it is not customary to reveal the Ministerial structure of Government. I could not give him a precise answer to this question without revealing that, but I should be glad to discuss this matter privately with him at any time. There is a convention here and I think it is one which I must honour in your Lordships' House this afternoon.


My Lords, it really becomes impossible to discuss this problem. I am fully aware of the convention, but this is an interesting proposal and I acknowledge its potentiality. However, I will keep that for my speech. But the unit cannot report to Ministers collectively in the abstract; the phrase must mean something concrete. Perhaps the noble Earl will consult with the Secretary of the Cabinet so that revelations may be given to those noble Lords who, by good luck or misfortune, have not been in the Cabinet. It is difficult to know how it is going to work.


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord has a point; but I also have a difficulty. I will gladly take advice on this and see whether we can reveal more without doing damage to these conventions, which I think are important.

Before the noble Lord rather mischievously interrupted me, I was dealing with the fear that this new review staff would somehow slow the processes of govern- ment. I would only ask your Lordships to suspend judgment here until the new unit is in situ and working. But if the new unit will help us to get decisions right the first time, and I believe it will, a major cause of delay in Government decision-making is eliminated at one blow.

May I summarise my views on the new proposals as follows? It would be foolish for me to make exaggerated claims about the benefits which will flow from any particular new piece of Governmental machinery, particularly one which has yet to be established. I certainly do not see this new unit in any such dramatic terms. Nevertheless, I am confident that this will be a durable part of our machinery of Government over the years and that it will contribute to better decision-making by Ministers, certainly collectively and I would suggest also in their more purely departmental capacity.

In any event, I think that those of your Lordships who know the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, will agree that we have been fortunate to secure him as Director-General of the new staff. His is a particularly distinguished mind, and he has had a distinguished career in a great variety of ways. I believe that he is admirably qualified for this arduous job.

I now turn to paragraphs 49 and 52 of the White Paper, that part of it which is concerned with the rather dry matter of analysis of public expenditure programmes. What we have in mind here is a new system of regular reviews of all departmental policies and programmes on an annual basis, designed to complement the existing annual public expenditure survey—PESC, as its familiars, like the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, know the animal. I believe that PESC is a very valuable adjunct of Government but it has its limitations, not least that it is conceived mainly in expenditure terms and does not always draw out the real objectives behind departmental policies and programmes. Under the new system which we have in mind, which is. I must emphasise, designed to dovetail with PESC, not to replace it in any way, the costs of the various programmes and the objectives of those programmes will be more closely related, and this should enable Ministers to take better informed decisions between all the competing priorities which any Government have to face. As we know, "Gouverner c'est choisir".

I would remind your Lordships that there is a general trend towards this type of analysis in most Western countries. It is also rather fashionable of late to criticise P.P.B.S. (programme planning and budgeting system), certainly as introduced in the United States. Only the other day I read an interesting article by a former member of the last Government. I would ask the critics not to jump to the conclusion that we are about to introduce a system on the American model. We hope that we have learned from North American experience. In fact we have made, with the help of the businessmen in the Civil Service Department, a very careful study of their experience, and it is certainly our aim to avoid some of the pitfalls and difficulties that have arisen across the Atlantic. I believe that P.P.B.S. was applied too fast, too rigidly, too comprehensively and too much, as it were, imposed from above in the United States. What we are planning to do here is to build up our system from the grass roots, with the help of Departments, flexibly, pragmatically (to use a hallowed phrase) and selectively.

My Lords, I believe that these changes, together with the changes in Departmental structure which I shall touch on briefly in a moment, offer the promise not only of more efficient and effective government but also of better government; and by better government I very much include more open government. It is not mere words when the White Paper states that these changes will give Ministers the opportunity for greater openness and for more responsiveness to the needs and wishes of the community and of individuals.

The essence of political decision is the choice between alternatives, the response to different voices and the persuasion of the community to accept the choice once it has been made. Ministers in the new unified Departments will to a greater extent than before be able to see their decision and the available choices in the round. For example, patterns of settlement and patterns of surface transport now both fall to the same Minister, the Secretary of State for the Environment, and the decisions that are taken in that field emerge not as a result of co- ordination, however close, between two Ministers, each with his separate responsibilities, but from a single Minister whose responsibility will stretch right across the board. The boundaries will of course still remain—as long as there are Departments there will be boundaries between Departments—and it is always at the boundary that difficulties tend to crop up. But I would ask your Lordships to recognise that when we took office there were 19 main Departments of State. Only a few years ago there were a good many more than that. When the changes announced in this White Paper are complete there will be at most 14. The amount of co-ordination that has to extend across into Departmental frontiers will thereby be greatly reduced.

I grant that there is a perfectly respectable corpus of opinion which says that there should be more, not fewer, Departments, but I myself cannot go along with that view, and I shall explain why. I suspect, too, that there are noble Lords present this afternoon who have served in Governments with anything from 25 to 30 full Departments, and they know only too well the problems of co-ordination and the sheer difficulty of getting a decision which that proliferation of Departments entails. We are now, rightly or wrongly—and I hold rightly—treading the opposite path, not as a wholly new departure but taking up and carrying forward the moves already made under the last Conservative Government in the defence and foreign affairs fields, and carried through by the last Government in those two areas. But we do not believe that simply bringing together a large array of functions into a single Department and placing a single Minister at their head can possibly work. To operate—and this is the point—the new Department of the Environment or even the Department of Trade and Industry on that basis would be impracticable and would make everything far too remote.

The problem, as I see it, is to get really effective delegation from the top and at the same time to preserve the necessary accountability of Ministers to Parliament. This is not an easy problem to solve. How do we think it can be achieved? So far as the management of these functions within a Department is concerned, we have ensured that the necessary delegation will take place. Under the two Secretaries of State very senior Ministers have been appointed to take charge by delegation from the Secretary of State of whole blocks of functions, with their own official as well as Ministerial command. To preserve the unity of the Department the Secretary of State in charge will have final responsibility for all its work. He will have the strategic oversight of the Department and will, of course, be able to call in (to use the hallowed phrase) any big or politically charged issue which is being handled by one of the Departments under him. He will need a strong policy staff at the centre to advise him on all those matters which run across the Department as a whole. These measures, coupled with the development of the post-Fulton system of accountable management within Departments, with which we are pressing ahead, should, we believe, enable us to realise the advantages of unifying broad fields of policy without paying quite unacceptable prices in size or remoteness.

However, internal organisation and management is only half the story here. As my right honourable friend the Lord President has said in another place, Parliament's own acceptance of and co-operation with these arrangements will be essential if the new unified Departments are to succeed. We need better Parliamentary control, and we believe that the new Committee structure for another place suggested in the Green Paper will help towards that end. But there are other ways in which Parliament can assist. The Minister for Trade and the Minister for Industry in the Department of Trade and Industry, and the three Ministers in the Department of the Environment, under the Secretary of State, will have very real responsibility and real authority within their fields. It is, I suggest, in Parliament's own interest to recognise that and to hold them to account where appropriate, leaving the Secretary of State responsible for the overall strategy of the Department and for those areas where he exercises a direct personal responsibility.

Now, my Lords, for the main changes (I propose to deal with them quite rapidly) in the Departmental structure. I believe that most people think that we have got the new Department of the Environment pretty well right. Indeed, the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition claims it as his own. But more doubts have been raised about the Department of Trade and Industry. It has been suggested that this unified Department will be quite unmanageably large and cumbersome. I suggest that this criticism ignores two factors: first, the Department of Trade and Industry will in fact be much smaller than the Department of the Environment, at least judged by the number of civil servants; secondly, in terms of total staff the new Department will, even at the outset, be considerably smaller than the old Ministry of Technology. It will, of course, have lost the whole spectrum of functions concerned with aerospace research, development and procurement.

That brings me straight away to the new free-standing Ministry of Aviation Supply. I think it fair to say that the range of functions with which that Ministry is concerned, and how they are best fitted into the structure of Government, is something which has vexed and baffled all those who have sought to solve it since the war, and not least the last Administration. I wish to make no bones about the fact—and we have made it quite clear in the White Paper—that we have set up this new Ministry in order to buy time for a thorough review in the next 18 months. The review staff looking into this will be headed by Mr. Derek Rayner, one of the very able businessmen who are now attached to the Civil Service Department. They will look at defence procurement as a whole, and will aim to reach lasting conclusions to end the constant reorganisation in this field which has plagued us ever since the war and which I suggest is one of the factors that has contributed to at least some of the difficulties in which our aerospace industry is placed at the present time. I trust and believe that this review foreshadows a more stable and rational solution of what is admittedly a difficult problem.

I now turn to the transfer of responsibility for primary and secondary education in Wales from the Secretary of State for Education and Science to the Secretary of State for Wales. May I say at the outset that this transfer was a plank in our Election Manifesto—the Welsh Manifesto—and we are entitled to regard it therefore as an act for which we were elected. It is not altogether clear to what those who have voiced objections to the transfer are opposed. Some complain that it does not go further and involve the transfer of higher education as well. But there is a general view that polytechnics and universities should be a United Kingdom responsibility, since they are not, and should not be, confined to a local catchment area for their intake. That, I think, would be to make us all impossibly parochial. School education, I suggest, is a different and primarily local matter. This transfer, as my right honourable friend said in another place, is about the education of Welsh children who live in Wales, and this must be of the closest interest for any Welshman. Recognition of this by giving the Secretary of State executive responsibility as a further measure of devolution to the Welsh Office, coupled with the special arrangements that have been made to maintain close co-operation between the Welsh Office and the Department of Education and Science at the point where their responsibilities meet, will, I am sure, be welcomed in Wales.

Finally, I come to the change which was most discussed before the event and has been most criticised since; namely, the integration of the Ministry of Overseas Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I must frankly say that I find many of the criticisms here a little overdrawn, a little over-emotional and somewhat ill-conceived. We have made it clear in the recent White Paper on Expenditure that, far from proposing to cut the aid programme, we propose to continue to maintain its substantial expansion. That, surely, is an answer to those who say that this is an indication of some lack of interest on the part of the present Government in the aid programme itself. We have likewise made it plain in this White Paper that the maintenance within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the autonomous Overseas Development Administration means that the body of undoubted expertise and skill built up by O.D.M. will not be dissipated. I cannot see anything to complain about there.

Nor, my Lords, do I understand the criticism that the move somehow implies a subordination of aid policy—which is looked upon as holy—to the short run, unholy considerations of foreign policy. I do not accept that distinction, though it is perfectly legitimate to distinguish, in overseas policy as a whole, between short-run and long-run aims. I can assure the House that there will be no sacrifice of the longer-term interests, either of the developing countries or of the United Kingdom herself. Nor, for that matter, do I regard it as a choice between, on the one hand, the interests of the developing countries and, on the other, our own national interest. The Government's view is that this country's overseas policy can only be looked at as a whole, but this does not imply any subordination of any particular part of it. The fact that aid will now have the powerful support of a senior Minister in the Cabinet to speak for it can be only, in my view, an advantage for those who, like me, believe in a substantial and continuing policy of aid to the developing world from this country.

Before concluding these remarks, I should like to take this opportunity of announcing a decision in the field of scientific research which flows from the departmental changes upon which I have been touching. With the reallocation of functions among Departments, responsibility for certain specialist research laboratories, which were previously part of the Ministry of Technology, has been reviewed. These are the Water Pollution Research Laboratory, the Hydraulic Research Station, the Forest Products Research Laboratory and also the Fire Research Station. The four laboratories will be transferred to the Department of the Environment, with effect from January 1, 1971, together with the responsibility for administering grants to the Water Research Association, the Construction Industry Research and Information Association, the Heating and Ventilating Research Association and the Timber Research and Development Association. These research activities mainly support the functions of the new Department. As regards fire research, the transfer of the Fire Research Station is without prejudice to further consideration of the recommendations of the Holroyd Committee on the Fire Service relating to the future organisation of fire research. The Fire Offices Committee, which shares with Her Majesty's Government the financing of the Fire Research Station, will be associated with this consideration.

My Lords, may I conclude these perhaps overlong introductory remarks by saying that I believe that hitherto—and this is no Party point because the situation existed under Government of all political complexions—there has been something missing at the centre of the machinery of Government. I believe that the new structure which we are hoping to build into the centre of the machinery of Government will enable Ministers in the future to discharge their collective responsibility more effectively; and in that I believe that over a period of time there will be gain for us all.

Furthermore, I believe the new structuring of Departments is a more rational basis for the future, and will enable Government business to be handled and dealt with more effectively than in the past. By the same token I believe that the new system of programme analysis and review, which we are hoping to build into the machinery of Government, will enable the Government of the day to see more clearly where the options truly lie, and will help them to choose more wisely than we have all sometimes chosen in the past between those options. I believe that the proposals in the White Paper (though I recognise that there may be those who dissent from this proposal or that proposal), taken in the large, are a considerable step forward and offer a platform for stability for Government organisation which we have not had for quite a long time. With those words I commend those proposals to your Lordships' House.

Moved, That this House takes note of the White Paper, The Reorganisation of Central Government (Cmnd. 4506).—(Earl Jellicoe).

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, this looks like being rather a weighty debate, both in the length of the speeches and in the heaviness of the intellectual effort that is necessary in discussing subjects which, when one gets down to detail, become rather abstruse. I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, on his speech and, on the whole, on his White Paper. I shall have some things to say which are seriously and genuinely meant to search for information. This White Paper provides us with an opportunity to have a serious discussion on a very fundamental question, and we shall no doubt have some very worth- while maiden speeches from noble Lords. I hope that it will give rise to the type of debate at which your Lordships are so good.

I shall have a number of questions to ask the noble Earl. If I may say so (if I may have his attention for a moment; I know it is very difficult after he has made his speech, for he no doubt has one or two things to sort out), it is not my intention to approach this debate from a Party political point of view, but I am bound to say that there are some rather Party political noises in Part I of the White Paper—particularly in the underlying flavour of it. There is quite a difference between Part I and the rest of the Paper. There is not very much correlation between some of these rather pious, not to say bombastic, statements, and I wonder whether the first five paragraphs headed: "A new Style of Government: Aims" did not come from the fluent pen of the noble Earl's Parliamentary Secretary. I shall not ask him to answer that question because that is another of the secrets of Whitehall in this new period of open Government to which we shall not be told the answer. I do not think I would disagree with most of the aims at the beginning, but I slightly resent the idea that it is somehow the private property of the Conservative Party—a blinding light which has struck them. I cannot agree that this four month review can properly be described—and I know that a great deal of work was going on at Selsdon and elsewhere—as it is in the Paper 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. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, to whom I always look for guidance on the English language, to study some of the language in this White Paper, for some of it is of a positively obscuring kind—I say again, "positively obscuring".

What the new Government have done is only the last in a large number of such reviews and changes, and I am not sure (although if it is a matter of adding up, we do not necessarily want to score more points on this) that what is now proposed is quite as extensive as the changes carried out by the previous Government. It is because of the suggestion that this is something much more fundamental that I am critical. I very much hope that the view stated, that the results will remove for a considerable period in the future the need for continual changes, will in the event be fulfilled. I am not very optimistic about this, for I do not believe we have reached, or ever shall reach, a certainty. None the less, I would wholly agree with what is said in the White Paper (I suppose this is a sort of apologia; all Governments say this; we certainly did): that frequent changes are disturbing and damaging to the machinery of Government and the efficiency with which its tasks are discharged. I agree that Governments, and particularly the Government of which I was a member, have placed very heavy burdens on the Civil Service. It is a remarkable tribute to the Civil Service that they have always contrived to take a deep breath, adapt, and make sense out of the many different variations in policy which have taken place. Indeed, I congratulate the Civil Service on managing to keep under control some of the barmier ideas which I know were floating around in the best Conservative circles.

I know that it is beginning to look otherwise, but in fact I am not trying to make a Party political speech, because I know that all political Parties go in for thinking of this kind. But I do not believe that we have yet reached any single, underlying system of organisation which will meet indefinitely the needs of an enterprise so varied as Government. This is also true to a large extent of industry. Noble Lords who are in industry will know the enormous variety of organisation structures and non-structures that exist in parts of industry. I do not think one need worry about this, because I rather hope that we shall gradually improve our techniques. I think that what is now called the central policy review staff, rather than the central analytical capability, really is a bit of a chameleon, and I shall have something more to say about it later. I hope that at some stage, even if not now, the very social scientists will begin to make some contribution in the field of Government. Certainly I doubt whether any of them have been consulted on this.

My second criticism, as I have already mentioned, is about what are styled as the new discoveries the Government have made. Most of the principles with which I agree, and which are stated in this Paper to be very fundamental, as new discoveries, have been expressed time and again. The last thing I wish to do is to criticise the civil servants who have written the Paper, who have had to fill it up and have obviously drawn on the best sources (even without acknowledgment), but most of what has been said in Section II on the functional approach, as opposed to the analytical approach which I am sure excites the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has in fact been said in the Haldane Report, which was published in 1918. I hope the noble Earl has read the Haldane Report. If not, there has been something remiss in the briefing in my old Department, because I read it as soon as I got in. But the headings are the same.


My Lords, may I assure the noble Lord that I read it before I joined.


My Lords, I am delighted. I am only sorry the noble Earl has forgotten it, because he might have made some acknowledgment of the Haldane Report. I found that I had completely forgotten it when I read it for the 1964 debate. However, the White Paper states: Government departments should be organised by reference to the task to be done or the objective to be attained "— some people might say that this is again rather a blinding glimpse of the obvious. And:

… this should be the basis of the division of work between departments rather than, for example, dividing responsibility between departments so that each one deals with a client group. What Haldane said 52 years ago was that there appeared to be only two alternatives, briefly described as distribution according to the persons or classes to be dealt with and distribution according to the services to be performed. The White Paper continues: The one we recommend for adoption is that of defining the field of activity in the case of each department according to the particular service which it renders to the community as a whole I congratulate the Government on confirming in 1970 Haldane's principle, for Haldane said it all very well. There is no harm in restating such principles, but it is a little ungenerous that so far (and I do not think this is characteristic of the noble Earl) the Government have not made a little more reference to what had been done by their predecessors, particularly in the setting up of the Civil Service Department. This document gives me the impression that the Civil Service has contrived to keep the Whitehall machinery on the rails, and to carry out proposals most of which were already in the pipe-line under the previous Government; and they have also succeeded in confining the businessmen in an area in which they will not do much harm and will almost certainly do some good.

There are great and continuing improvements that can be made within the machinery of Government, but most of these will come, not by apparently striking and sweeping decisions, but by painstaking and detailed improvements in management methods, in grading structures, in the dissemination of new techniques; above all, in the training and the reorientation of attitudes which come after, and not before, the spadework. The Paper makes passing references to subjects such as accountable management, but we shall not get that kind of accountable management without a great deal more work in the fundamental management of the Civil Service. I am sure that the noble Earl, with his responsibilities, will not disagree that this is an essential and parallel activity.

I do not propose to discuss many of the actual changes, because other noble Lords will know of these and will wish to deal with them. The Department of the Environment we support. As is known, this was a decision which in fact the previous Government had taken, although I am bound to say that there are some awkward frictions on the borderlines touching the old Transport Ministry; and some of my noble friends may wish to deal with this question. The setting up of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, again, is open to serious criticism, but I will not go into that. The decision on Welsh education seems to me to be absolutely barmy. It breaks all the rules actually contained in this document, and I am bound to say that the only justification for it is that it was in the Conservative Party Manifesto. It is a great pity they did not take a little I longer to deal with it. Again, some other noble Lords may want to deal with that subject, as undoubtedly they will, with regret, with the change with regard to O.D.M.

I should like, however, to turn now to the central analytical capability. which I think has now changed from an abstract into a concrete phrase. Capability, I suppose, can mean a lot of chaps. It is now called, I believe, a central policy review staff. This, of course, has caused a good deal of frivolity, not least within the Civil Service itself. We all know—at least, I hope we all know—that big advances are made in the presentation of options and benefits and, in particular, in the establishment of quantitative yardsticks. We know all I too well that the pressure of events means that Cabinets frequently have to take decisions where much more detailed analysis—and very often it is a matter of time—would have pointed the way out more clearly, or at least identified the different options in a more factual form.

Of course, some real progress has been made. The noble Earl referred to programme-planning budgeting systems, but of course it is an illusion; and again the noble Earl, who has been in the Ministry of Defence, will know that none of these methods, whether they are cost-sensitivity studies or other sophisticated techniques to get at a meaningful cost benefit analysis, can be introduced overnight, or done—and I put this as a serious point to the noble Earl—on a wide range of the sort of issues that come to Cabinet, without a very great enlargement of resources. This is not an objection to making a start. The idea that it will very quickly—I apologise; I know that noble Lords in Waiting have other things to do, but I am on a serious argument and I will either stop for a moment or move to a less interesting part of my speech if the noble Earl would prefer that.


My Lords, I must intervene, if I may. I apologise to the noble Lord for the fact that my attention was momentarily distracted, but the noble Lord knows perfectly well that the business of the House comes up suddenly and one cannot always pay unbroken attention to what is being said. I really think it was unnecessary for him to make that last crack.


My Lords, it was not meant to be a nasty crack and the noble Earl should not be oversensitive. It is rather disturbing when one is expounding an argument. If the noble Earl thinks I was offensive I can assure him that I was not, and if he still thinks that I was offensive I will apologise for it, but I am on a very difficult part of my argument. I do not believe that the technicians are available to carry this out on the extensive scale that the Government appear to have in mind. Cost benefit studies take a lot of skilled manpower, and when one is trying to compare options in the social field—education versus roads—one has to use all the most sophisticated techniques if it is to be at all meaningful. That is not an argument against having this capability and I am sure it ought to be started, but I do not believe it will yield very rapid results, and there are dangers in expecting too much.

Let me echo the noble Earl in paying a tribute to the Cabinet Office. It is a pity, and I think we are in real difficulties at this point, if he still maintains that we are not freer to talk about the system of Government and Cabinet committees and their detailed work. I am sure the noble Earl will agree that the work of Sir Burke Trend and the capacity of the officials who serve him and who make sense out of the sometimes inevitably confused discussions that take place, is very remarkable. Unfortunately, I do not think the country will ever know what we owe to them.

The first Parliamentary reference to the new central review staff and the analytical capability was made by the noble Earl on July 22, when he said: One area, among others, where I believe that their assistance can be useful is in helping to develop what central Government has hitherto and rather conspicuously lacked; and that is a serious capability at the centre for analysing programmes and for assessing the longer-term options…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22/7/70, col. 1055.] The businessmen appear to have been shuffled off. There is no mention of them in relation to the new central policy review staff. They are now based in the Civil Service Department, developing a system of regular reviews.

The noble Earl really must not be surprised if we say that the Government apparently have not thought this out. They have gone out and bought the businessmen—perhaps "bought" is not the right word, because I do not doubt that the businessmen are largely giving their services, and no one would pay a higher tribute than I to the way in which industry has supported Government in lending people, as they did in the days of the previous Government. But, my Lords, where in fact are they going to operate? Are they going to be in this new unit? In any case, are businessmen particularly suited for this? I believe that most of the best analysts in this area are to be found either in universities or actually in Government itself, particularly in the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury and elsewhere. I am all for bringing them in. A greater sophistication will help, but even then it will not remove the area of controversy; and any noble Lord who has had anything to do with the Ministry of Defence, which has the most sophisticated forms of analysis of any Government Department, will know that the controversies go on as much as ever because, fortunately or unfortunately, there will always be—and some noble Lords may say, "Thank God for it!"—a large area which is not susceptible to quantification and where judgment of a subjective kind will have to come in. But that is no reason why one should not have all the best figures possible.

My Lords, assuming that the means are available—and this is really the crucial difficulty which to my mind raises a quite important constitutional point—where in the machine is this to operate? We know that the system of Cabinet committees is supposed to be secret, although we can read about them in countless memoirs. So let us therefore assume that the situation existed, not in the lifetime of this Government but in that of an earlier Government which has been written about. If Departments disagree with some aspects of the analysis, or the conclusions that may be drawn from it, who will argue the central policy for that Paper in Cabinet? The noble Earl talks about reporting to Ministers collectively, but our system of arriving at collective decisions depends to a large extent on the Ministers being responsible.

One could go on at great length in this very difficult area of the extent to which officials and Ministers can mix. I believe that this central review staff can be useful, but it would be highly dangerous if the conclusions were not to be disputed in Cabinet and were to be largely settled outside, where the influence of Ministers, and the critical influence, will be diminished.

There are many people who hope to see Governments become much more analytical, and decisions taken much more on a sort of computerised basis. But this is a real difficulty, and already there are controversies as to the exent to which these analytical techniques, valuable as they are, are diminishing the flow of political exchange, the conflict of interest. I am sure the noble Earl will forgive me if I refer to the Schultz-Lindflom controversy: I will not say where I got this information from, because I am not allowed to talk about the briefing I had from officials. But there are quite considerable anxieties in this area, especially among those who think that decisions must, in the last resort, come from the clash of political thought and interest. I admit that I am encouraged by the statement made by the noble Earl's Parliamentary Secretary in the debate in another place, which clearly recognised the importance of, in the end, Ministers taking decisions. I believe that there is more explanation to give on this. I am sceptical as to whether we have reached satisfactory finality on how this is to operate, and I do not doubt that the Civil Service, as much as the noble Earl himself, will be concerned with these problems.

May I conclude by saying that while we welcome anything that improves the analysis and the quantification of options, I do not believe that this has yet been fully worked out. Any explanation the noble Earl can give to the House will be useful, because I really believe that this is a tremendously important subject, and one which, although it contains long words, is really of great significance. I hope that, whatever is achieved in this area, this Government, in a way that previous Governments have not, will contrive to find time for Ministers themselves to talk together. They are all overworked. I know that the noble Earl rushes from meeting to meeting and that he is not able, any more than I was, to finish one meeting he is in. I hope that somehow someone will build in moments of peace for Ministers to sit and talk about long-term strategy. They do this when out of Government, when they do not have all the facts and figures, and that accounts, no doubt, for some of the sillier things Governments do when they come into office. But when they are in office they never take time to discuss with their colleagues the fundamental strategy. I know that this is an important subject. I wish the noble Earl success, and I hope that when he comes to reply, he will face some of the dilemmas inherent in the proposals in this White Paper.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, in spite of the concluding words of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and in spite of the obvious importance of the subject, I shall be very brief. We on these Benches naturally sympathise with any proposal to simplify Governmental procedures and disentangle the issues, which get ever more confused and complicated. But, though we have great good will towards this White Paper, we rather doubt whether it will achieve the end desired. I must say that I personally arrive at this tentative conclusion the more readily owing to its highly abstract language (which was, I admit, not so much employed by the noble Earl who opened the debate), which makes it a little difficult to understand who exactly will do what.

Another reason for not being too optimistic about efforts to reform the whole Governmental machine is the fate of similar attempts to reform it in the past. Perhaps the present scheme was the result of more profound reflection than the rather ill-fated attempt which resulted in the setting up of the Department of Economic Affairs. At least. I doubt whether Mr. Heath and Mr. Peter Walker devised it in a taxi on the way to a meeting. There was, nevertheless, an intellectual case for setting up the D.E.A., and no doubt it could have worked had it not been for the not unnatural opposition of the Treasury, referred to so graphically in Lord George-Brown's Memoirs, which we are all reading at the present time.

One reason, perhaps, for thinking that the latest scheme will come up against fewer difficulties is that, with luck, there may not be, under this scheme, any great continuing inter-departmental rivalry resulting from the present proposed amalgamations. But much will depend, of course, on whether the heads of these vast machines have sufficient stamina and strength of character to make them run smoothly and effectively. If they do, so much the better; then it will work.

I agree that in principle there is reason to have, as it were, a small inner circle of Ministers with really great areas of responsibility. Indeed, I made this one of the central features of the proposals for reform of Government which I advanced in the House over three years ago, in a speech to which the noble Earl was good enough to refer. I sympathise also with the apparent intention of the Government to cut down on inter-ministerial committees. But, of course, the interests of the old Ministries, which have now, as I understand it, been incorporated bodily and with their own Ministers in the new machines, will have to iron out their difficulties with the other "wings", as I think they are now called, so I suppose there will not in practice be any great diminution in what are now effectively inler-departmental meetings. As against this, the total number of Cabinet committees may well be reduced, and no doubt that is in itself desirable. So far so good.

But if we are to be guided in any way by the lessons of the past, perhaps we ought just to have a look at the famous system of "Overlords" devised by the late Sir Winston Churchill, in, I think, 1951. Everybody soon recognised that this system could not work, if only because the Ministers officially "coordinated" by the Overlord were in the Cabinet, too, and in practice, like nation States, they simply refused to sacrifice any of their so-called sovereignty or independence. The same applied, as we all know, to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence appointed by Mr. Chamberlain just before the war. I take it that a similar difficulty will not arise out of the present scheme—at least, I hope not.

But supposing that, for instance, Mr. Noble has an acute difference of opinion with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, will it be in order for him to have it out in Cabinet on the basis of a brief prepared by his own officials, no doubt on quite contrary lines to the brief prepared by Mr. Davies's officials? I do not know the answer to that question. I should be much happier if there were no possibility of such a situation arising, and I would welcome any reassurance that the Government can give us on this essential, if perhaps elementary, point.

It is not quite clear whether the two Ministers who, in the words of the White Paper, will "support" Mr. Davies will have a right of appeal to the Cabinet or whether they will not. Their status, we read in the White Paper, but not their legal position, will be equivalent to that of a Minister in charge of a separate Department not represented in the Cabinet, the same applying to Mr. Walker's "supporters". How is this to be interpreted exactly in practice? It is very important to be clear, and on the answer to this question will largely depend the judgment which we on these Benches shall be inclined to form of the whole new proposed set-up.

I myself, however, should be considerably more doubtful about the wisdom of establishing what the White Paper describes, in its polysyllabic way as a capability at the centre for assessment of policies and projects in relation to strategic objectives", the full nature of which, as Lord Shackleton has said, is revealed in paragraphs 43 to 52, where it is, rather more briefly and graphically, termed 'a small multidisciplinary central policy review staff". This staff, it seems, will be at the disposal of the Government as a whole but will be under the supervision of the Prime Minister, and its task is quite lucidly set forth as 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. This is indeed a mouthful. What it all comes down to, I suggest, is in modern parlance, this. First of all, you prepare a "think-tank" and then you drop into it a "whizz-kid". Whether this arrangement works or not depends on whether the "whizz-kid" can swim—politically, that is. This is not so easy as it sounds, and there are indeed some who say that the admittedly brilliant Lord Rothschild (whom I have never met) has not yet learnt!

Moreover, the experiment has to some extent been tried before. The last Government had its "think-tank", or a think-tank of sorts, at Number 10, but they had not one "whizz-kid" but two "whizz kids", Messrs. Kaldor and Balogh (as they then were). This small review staff was, I suppose, multi-disciplinary—certainly it had no common discipline: that at least can be said. It is arguable that it possessed considerably more economic expertise than the present "whizz-kid" designate. Opinions differ, however, I think I am right in saying, as to its utility, though I have no doubt that it was constantly at work analysing and considering the underlying implications of alternative courses of action", to revert to the splendid language of the White Paper.

But it seems that the new "think-tank" will not confine its activities to economics. This may be where it could be quite an innovation. For instance, it may well be supposed that one of its more urgent tasks will be to think out an alternative course of action in respect of the prospective sale of arms to South Africa. I can well imagine Sir Alec Douglas-Home coming to Lord Rothschild and saying, "Look, we really have got ourselves into rather a mess on this tiresome issue. Would you please devise a scheme whereby we can get out of it without too much loss of face?" Certainly if Lord Rothschild can do this, he will deserve well of the State; but it might tax even his very considerable ingenuity.

What I do rather fear, however, is that. in spite of what the noble Earl, Earl Jellicoe said, if the "think-tank" is successful it may well be too powerful, whereas if (as is perhaps more likely) it is unsuccessful, it will simply get in the way. In the first case it might develop into something equivalent to the famous Lloyd-Georgian Garden Suburb; and in the second case it could, I am afraid, like Lord Cherwell and his team, become a major menace and a distinct clog in the Governmental machine. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said it was absurd to suggest this possibility. But I do not think it is; I think it is a real possibility that it may so develop if things go wrong. So my concrete suggestion is, why not merge it altogether into the Cabinet Secretariat and suppress it as a separate entity under the supervision of the Prime Minister? New blood is always a good thing. I am all for bringing it in. I am sure that Sir Burke Trend would himself welcome the addition of Lord Rothschild to his staff. which ought surely in itself to constitute the co-ordinating body, the evident need for which clearly emerges from the rather nebulous prose of the White Paper.

In conclusion, may I just say how we shall look forward even more eagerly to the promised Green Paper on the Re form of the House of Commons. If any thing wants reforming it is what used to be called, I believe, the Lower House. If democracy is not to perish in this country, two things seem to us Liberals, al any rate, to be necessary. The first is devolution, and on that I suppose we shall have to await the publication of the Crowther Report—


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord to say that my right honourable friend the Lord President has anticipated the noble Lord's anticipation, because the Green Paper has in fact been issued.


My Lords, I shall then look forward to reading it. I did not know that it had been issued. I thank the noble Earl very much.


My Lords, Haldane was on this subject, too, fifty-two years ago!


Anyhow, two things are necessary, as we see it: first of all, devolution in a general way; and, secondly, the exercise of rather more control over the Government by the House of Commons itself—that is to say, by the intervention of the representatives of the people at a rather earlier stage in the policy-making process. If, as the White Paper says, the Executive, even if pruned and streamlined, is, by becoming more efficient to be greatly strengthened, it is important surely that the Legislature should not be entirely put into the shade. The frequent references in the White Paper to the need to prepare our whole Governmental machine for what will be expected of it when we come into the Common Market are greatly to be welcomed, but this, after all, will also apply presumably to the strengthening of the Legislature. So your Lordships will see that we on these Benches have rather ambivalent feelings about the White Paper. We should not like to condemn it hastily, but we are rather doubtful about the usefulness of some of the proposals, and in any case we should like an answer to the various doubts expressed and to the questions we have raised.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, I ask for the indulgence which your Lordships customarily afford to someone who addresses you for the first time. In fact, my voice has been heard here before because, like other speakers whom your Lordships will hear, I made a maiden speech in another place but within these four walls. There is, however, a distinct difference between the two occasions. In 1950, when I made my maiden speech in another place, (here was a sense of urgency which is lacking to-day, because the Labour Government had been returned with an infinitesimal majority, and many of us were very frightened that we might have to return to our electorate without having made a maiden speech at all; and I feel that had that happened I should have lost many votes to my then opponent, who is now my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy. It is fair to say that I beat him five times to another place, but he has beaten me to your Lordships' House.

May I say that I welcome very much the general approach of the White Paper. The sentiments to me are impeccable, even if sometimes I think that the English is not as lucid as it might be. I do not propose to go into too many of the general principles involved, because I am anxious not to detain your Lordships too long in view of the number of speakers. I should like to limit myself to points of criticism and praise of detailed proposals.

May I begin by welcoming the return to the Board of Trade (a Department in which I had the honour to serve) of the responsibility for monopolies and restrictive practices. Quite frankly, I could never understand how on earth that particular subject could ever find an appropriate home in the Department of Employment and Productivity. But secondly and even more, do I welcome the transfer of the Children's Department from the Home Office to the Secretary of State for Social Services. To my mind, it never made any sense at all that the care of children should be in a Department mixed up with the police, prisons, fire brigades, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and all the other odd jobs which the Home Office do, not least of which, may I say, arising out of the discussion earlier this afternoon, is the maintenance of the standing roll of the baronetage. It never made any sense to have the Children's Department there. The worst argument of all was that put forward, I think, by a previous Home Secretary, that its right place was there in order to humanise the Home Office. It seems to me that the interests of children should never have been sacrificed in so hopeless a task as that.

May I turn to certain functions and duties of the Department of Health and Social Services, since I also had the honour of serving in a small part of that large Department? When the amalgamation of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance was first put forward in my Party's Manifesto, I must frankly say that I thought it was nonsense. I thought it was a foolish idea—and I knew it was when the Labour Government adopted it. It seemed to me that the merger of those two great administrative machines was a marriage of chalk and cheese and not likely to prove a very fruitful union. I must, however, say to your Lordships that I am now beginning to revise my opinion. The accretion of the Children's Department and the implementation of Seebohm seem to me to mean that that merger is beginning to make sense, since the Department is now developing into a Ministry of Social Welfare in the widest sense. If I may use a perfectly horrible, technical jargon phrase which is creeping into discussions, it is becoming a "policy cluster". I am sure that my noble friend Lord Conesford will share my horror at such a phrase, but it is an extraordinarily appropriate one for this happening.

But now it is time to release some of the bees in my bonnet and, if I may take the senior one, I deeply regret once again the failure to transfer the responsibilities of industrial health from the Department of Employment, as it is now called, to the Department of Health and Social Security. It has seemed to me for many years that it is quite wrong that we do not seek to integrate health at work with health at home or in the hospital. I will not enlarge too much on the arguments, but may I remind your Lordships that it is now 22 years, I think, since the Dale Committee reported on this matter, and virtually no action has been taken by any Government at all. I have held views on this matter for some 17 years, and there was a time when I managed to convert a Minister of Health. Indeed, he needed no conversion; he was of the same opinion and he decided to submit a Cabinet paper; but, alas, the worst happened and he was transferred from being Minister of Health to being Minister of Labour, the radical reformer overnight became the empire builder, and nothing more has been heard since of that proposal. But I notice that in March of this year the former Secretary of State—and I am quoting from Hansard—decided to set up a small, high-powered body to conduct a general inquiry across the whole field of health and safety legislation. My Lords, it is really a matter of regret and concern that the terms of reference of that body make no reference to the need for integration with the National Health Service.

I should like to turn for a moment to the duties now assigned to the Department of the Environment. I notice with pleasure that it now takes responsibility for the control of air, water, and noise pollution. I speak with some feeling on this matter, because when I was a Member of another place I was one of the four Members whose constituencies bordered on Gatwick Airport, and my file on this matter at the last time of reckoning weighed about 2½ lb. I have seen that airport grow for 17 years. I have seen it grow piecemeal and overshadow and spoil the lives of many hundreds, and indeed thousands of people, for the worse. There has never yet been a full public inquiry into the manner in which that airport has grown from being an alternative to Heathrow to being our second airport. There has never been anything comparable to the Roskill Commission and, as a result, there has been this haphazard growth, almost unplanned. Those who live nearby are now faced with an extension of the existing runway, and possibly a second runway as well, and I hope that the new Secretary of State into whose lap this matter will fall will as soon as possible grant the local request for a full public inquiry.

There is some anomaly to be explained as to what is meant by his "duty of control". There are controls now. If there are complaints about low-flying aircraft, or about excessive night flights, which are all in breach of the regulations, I must remind your Lordships that the necessary monitoring and policing is done by officials responsible to the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade is responsible for airport policy. If ever there was a case of, not a poacher turning gamekeeper but a poacher combining his duties with those of a gamekeeper, this is it; and either the word "control" in the White Paper is meaningless as regards the Secretary of State for the Environment, or else the duties should be changed.

I should like to make one final point. In paragraphs 55 and 56 the Government make it clear that it is their purpose and intention first to reduce the numbers of the Civil Service and, secondly—and I particularly welcome this—to reduce the numbers working in central London. I presume this will mean less strain on accommodation in central London, and perhaps particularly on accommodation in Whitehall. Does this mean that the Government are going to abandon the Whitehall Plan? Will they announce their firm rejection of a proposal which would destroy three buildings of great historic moment in order to build a new Home Office? I hope we shall hear from my noble friend that it is the Government's intention to hold up this plan, and then we should know indeed that they mean business in this particular respect.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, it gives me very great pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, on his most distinguished maiden speech. His long apprenticeship in another place has clearly given him a fluency and a competence which those of us who have spent our lives in one of the silent services must envy. In addition to this, he brings a knowledge and an experience to contribute to our affairs which will plainly be of the greatest usefulness. I am sure we must all hope that we shall have the pleasure and stimulus of listening to him on many future occasions.

May I now turn to the White Paper? I should like, speaking as a former civil servant, to welcome the proposals in this Paper. They seem to me to make a start on trying to achieve a more rational organisation of Government, which is desperately badly needed. Only those who work inside the machine can have any idea of the confusion and duplication, the friction, the wealth of interdepartmental committees—which to some civil servants have become now a total way of life—that exist in certain spheres of Government. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, suggested that the Government had no cause to claim anything very new in what they have done in this Paper. But I think they have, for this seems to me to show an effort to produce considered and objective improvements in the organisation, which is something we have not seen for many decades—and I am not speaking of one Administration rather than another. For decades we have seen so much ad hoc change in the Ministries, quite often related to the personality of individual Ministers who nearly always disappear a few months after this great change has been made. I think all of us in Whitehall have desperately wanted this kind of approach to rationalising the structure of Departments.

Having said that, I want to add that this is only a start. The White Paper itself says that this is intended as the foundation of future changes. There is a great deal still to be done. I do not mean only in spheres which the White Paper has not yet touched; I mean also in the spheres which it has dealt with. I welcome these two great new Ministries, the Ministry for Trade and Industry (I never could see any sense in having two Ministries dealing with trade and industry), and also in the sphere with which I myself was once concerned, a Ministry for the Environment which covers traffic and transport, as well as planning, housing, and local government. All of us who have worked in this field have known for a long time that this is something badly needed.

At the same time, I believe that both these Ministries, as they stand, are too big. That may seem a contradiction, but I do not think it is. The important thing is that in both Ministries there should be, and I think there can be, some shedding of the load. Some of the load, some of the work, can be shed entirely, and with no visible loss to the efficiency of Government. Some of it which cannot be shed can be provided for in other ways: by organisations for which Ministers have an overall responsibility, but no direct responsibility for the day-to-day operations—the type of arrangement which is often described as "hiving off". There is certainly scope for that.

I look at my own old Department, now part of the Department of the Environment, and I confess to some concern at the inclusion in it, lock, stock and barrel, of the whole of the Ministry of Public Building and Works. This seems to me to be a pretty large tail to a rather highly strung dog; and I think that, just like that, it will not work well. But then in relation to some, and perhaps much, of the work that is covered by the Ministry of Public Building and Works there can be a good deal of shedding and, perhaps even more, a good deal of arrangement to handle it differently. I think of the whole work of providing Government accommodation, which, incidentally, has almost always been abominably done. We should do better if all of that work were in the charge of a Board for which a Minister, not necessarily the Minister for the Environment, had overall and financial responsibility, but no day-to-day responsibility. I also think that all that part of the Ministry which deals with the building industry needs a long and hard look. I suspect it to be quite unnecessarily inflated. That is only one example.

In looking at the size of a Ministry to consider whether it is unduly big, it is not the total size of the staff that matters; it is, on the one hand, the number of major political issues that must land finally on the desk of the Minister ultimately in charge. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, who asked whether it might happen in these big new Ministries that one of the Ministers responsible for one part of it—say the Minister responsible for local government and development—could, if he was at odds with his Secretary of State, argue the matter out in Cabinet. That seems to me a quite extraordinary idea, and I do not for one moment suppose that the Government can have any notion that the system will work like that. So I think that right across these Ministries there are major political issues, and political issues of some diversity, which may in the end land on the plate of the Secretary of State and may prove too much. I think that only time will show this. But it is possible that too much has been brought together—certainly in the Department of the Environment. I am very much less well acquainted with the work of the Department of Trade and Industry.

The other criterion by which one judges whether a Ministry is too big is whether it is too big for efficient management; and here I feel a good deal more sure that these Ministries really are uncomfortably big. Again, I am not quarrelling with the idea of the Ministries: I am urging that they need to be cut down, and I think they can be. When you look at whether a Ministry is too big for competent management, you look not at the total number of staff, but at the number of really senior staff. If this is too big for the management to know individually, or too big for the management to comprehend the work, then there will be difficulty. Therefore, while welcoming these Ministries I want to add that they are in great danger, unless a real effort is made—and I think it can and should be made—to cut them down.

Having said that, I want to come to the central machinery which in the White Paper is labelled "the central policy review staff", and by others the "central capability unit"—of all phrases—and finally, and worst, the "think-tank". To me, this piece of central machinery is, quite simply, an Office of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet; and a much overdue and badly needed office it is. I know that it is dangerous to call it the Office of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, because everybody says that this is going for the Presidential system. But there is a lot more in the Presidential system of the United States than competent advice for the Head of the Government; and that, after all, is all that is being talked about here. So there is no reason why we should not go for that, even if it happens also to distinguish the American system.

As I think the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said, there has been some misunderstanding about the function of this office. It has been implied in some quarters that its function will be to know better than the Departments what they should be doing, or to criticise the proposals coming up from Departments, or to interfere with the way in which a Department intends to set about its own business. I do not think that is so at all. I do not read the White Paper in that way, and I certainly hope that that will not be so. It seems to me that the function of the Office of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet is to advise the Prime Minister and the Cabinet on their collective responsibility—and I emphasise the Prime Minister, as well as the Cabinet.

I remember talking to Mr. Macmillan just after he became Prime Minister. I had been with him when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government. I was telling him that he was making far too heavy demands on the then Secretary of the Cabinet, Sir Norman Brook (Lord Normanbrook, as he became), because in the Civil Service, in the machinery of Government, we desperately needed some of his time and capacity and thought. This was part of his job. Mr. Macmillan said to me, "I am the Prime Minister and I also need some help. It is a strange thing that, in the greatest office I have ever held, I have less assistance than I have ever had." I need hardly say that he was not in any way denigrating the assistance he received from Sir Norman Brook and the Cabinet Office; he was relying on it enormously. But that was all he had, and this was not, in fact, their job.

This is what we want now. It is not only advice to the Prime Minister; it is advice to the Cabinet. I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, asked: "How will that advice get to the Cabinet?" The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said that we could not discuss it, but I cannot for the life of me think why not. Nothing is secret about this. The advice may come partly from the Prime Minister, in taking part in Cabinet discussions. He will have had that advice and help behind him. Or I can see no reason why papers and memoranda should not be presented by this staff to the Cabinet. There is no natural law which says that the head of this unit should not, if so requested by the Cabinet, appear before the Cabinet and advise them or answer their questions or tell them what he thinks. I can see no difficulty in this. It seems to me that the real function of this Office is, first and foremost, to assist the Government collectively in forming their ideas about priorities and central strategy and then, where necessary, judging the proposals that come forward from Departments against those priorities and central strategy. It will not be concerned with every paper that comes before the Cabinet; perhaps not with the great majority of them. In many cases these questions do not arise at all.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referring to the function of this unit, talked as though it was a tremendously sophisticated affair—cost benefit and all that. I do not see it like that at all. I see these people like any other civil servants in any other Department, advising their particular Minister—in this case the Prime Minister and the Cabinet—on how a thing looks from their point of view; that is to say, from the point of view of the overall strategy of government. Perhaps the most obvious example of the kind of issue on which the Office should be advising is the great debate and struggle as to the priorities between, on the one hand, economic issues—economic needs and the growth of the economy—and, on the other, the growth of the social services.

At the moment, the only central machinery for looking at the totality of what the Government should do lies in the Treasury—and, of course, it is vital to look at the cost and the future rate of expenditure. But this is not the only test—in fact, it is a short-term test. Government needs to look at its functions over the long-term. I think back to my own days in the Ministry of Housing. Ever since the end of the war we were set on getting more houses built, and primarily our concern always was whether we were building houses for those most in need—for the poor, for the old, for the clearance of slums and so forth; because those were our priorities within the Department, though they varied from time to time.

It has always seemed to me, looking right back to the years soon after the war, that the Government might have been very much better advised to say, "That must wait until we get our industry in order, until we have made a real industrial recovery from the war; we have to make this our priority." This, I think, is what some other countries did. This, I think, is what Germany did. No doubt she had to; she had suffered so much worse destruction than we had. But, as a result of it, almost all other European countries have now outstripped our housing performance. They, I think, got their priorities right.

This is only one example; there art others in other fields. But this is the kind of field in which I think Government collectively need advising. They will not be quarrelling with any Minister's view of his Departmental priorities, but will only be saying to him, "For our long-term strategy we think there has to be some rather different emphasis."


My Lords, before the noble Baroness leaves this point, may I say that she is making it all sound very simple and very nice, and for all I know she may have had a hand in thinking this out. But the phrases "central analytical capability" and "new techniques in decision making" are ones which the Government have used, and they surely presuppose the use of some of these more sophisticated techniques. Perhaps I am wrong: but the noble Baroness says that they do not mean that.


My Lords, I did not mean to imply that it did not entail the use of these techniques at all; but that it is not the whole of it. It is not, so to speak, just a cost-benefit exercise being done for the Government. I think the essential function is to advise the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, as in other Departments other senior civil servants advise Ministers, on what seems to be, from both the political and the economic points of view, their right long-term strategies. They will, of course, be aided by analytical capacity—though I hasten to assure the noble Lord that I had no hand in drafting this White Paper. I am saying only how it seems to me the thing ought to work, and the sort of organisation that I think we have needed for a long time.

My Lords, I do not think there is much more that I want to say about it, except just this. While I have welcomed these changes, as a former civil servant, and have even said that I think a lot more change is still needed in the spheres which are now covered as well as elsewhere. I should like to say from my own bitter experience that this sort of change is murder for the Civil Service. It is a really appalling business, because the reorganisation must go right down the line. This is not just a matter of, for example, taking the old Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Public Building and Works and saying, "There they all are, remaining much as they have always been, each under their own Minister, with a central Minister on top". There has to be a great deal of reorganisation as between the Departments right down the line, at every level, and it is an appalling business.

For a time, I do not have any doubt, the confusion, the incoherence and the lack of certainty of purpose in Whitehall is likely to get even worse. I say this for two reasons. The first is to invite your Lordships' charity towards the Departments struggling with this business. The second is to underline what has been said earlier in the debate: that these changes in the machinery of Government, important though they are, need to be made as infrequently as possible, and need to be made (and this has been agreed, I think, on both sides of the House), so far as possible, to last. Of course, they cannot last for ever, because Governments differ in their objectives, in their priorities, in the load of their work, in where they want to put the main emphasis; and this is bound to have reactions on the machinery of Government. But so far as possible it is supremely important for the efficiency of Government, and therefore, finally, for the prosperity of this country, that changes in the machine should be considered, should be objective and, in the words, I think, of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, should give as much promise of stability as possible.

5.37 p.m.


My Lords, there must be many reasons why a maiden speaker is wise in seeking the indulgence of your Lordships' House, as I do, with respect, now. In my case there is a very special reason and a grave one. I am asking your Lordships to bear with me for a short time while I pay my short tribute to the memory of a very great man. I should not be able to face myself in the mirror to-night were I not to take this, the first public opportunity which has presented itself to me, to say a word about the tragic death of Iain Macleod. I worked with him and opposite him for a great number of years, and the more I came to know him the more I came to appreciate his great ability and his endless patience, particularly in the other place and in its Committees, and the more I came to admire his tremendous, overwhelming, personal courage. It has been a tragic blow to many of us that he should have met his death in such an untimely and unfortunate way, and it has certainly been an enormous loss to our nation.

My Lords, the White Paper which is before us makes a plea for less government—I nearly said "shorter government": my enthusiastic support would have been even greater had that word been used. However, it makes a plea for less government and for better government, and I want to say a word or two in support of the first and to raise one or two questions in relation to the second, and then, if I may, to invite your Lordships to share with me the tremendous entertainment that is to be obtained from a careful reading of the wording of the White Paper itself.

I have a certain sympathy with the point of view of a new Government—any new Government—which is predisposed towards less government in the day-today affairs of the nation than its basic philosophy would indicate, rather than the reverse. I say that because of the pressures that exist which continually tend to drive a Government—any Government—into more and more intervention and into extending the area of government involuntarily. You will have seen that whenever anything untoward occurs the first public reaction is, "What are the Government going to do about it?", and by the afternoon, "What have the Government done about it?". I think it is unfortunate that there should be developing an attitude of mind in which, as soon as the going gets a little rough, either for the individual or for the business man or for the institution, there should be a tendency to call in the Government, to lean on the Government. I take the view that whatever the framework of government is, and of course it will be a different one according to the philosophy of the Party in government, whatever be this framework, to the extent that it has been revised or not, it is up to the individual to use his own capabilities and exercise his sense of responsibility to the full. And he should be encouraged to do so. Only in this way will the community derive the greatest benefit—as it needs to—from his work. Only in this way will that individual be able to enjoy that real happiness which comes from a sense of achievement.

So I would regret any tendency which would turn our Welfare State into a Lean-to-State. That would be an unfortunate development and I should be unhappy if that climate of opinion grew. If anybody were to say to me, "How do you reconcile that view with your well-known progressive views on all matters?", I would say, "I have observed that a man may find it extremely difficult to make rapid progress in a leaning attitude." As I have said, what the individual needs, and what we need from him, is his own maximum achievement. Therefore I am in favour of starting any new Government's period of office with a pre-disposition against a greater intervention in day-to-day affairs than their philosphy would require. So much for less government.

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot summon a great deal of enthusiasm for some of the proposals—I repeat, some of the proposals—for bigger government. The real question I pose—and it follows very naturally from the most interesting and absorbing speech to which we have just listened—is this: Is "bigger" the same as "better"? I have very grave fears that it is not. I do not want to seem to be in the position of someone who has been accustomed to a certain structure of government and is therefore opposed to any variation from it. That is certainly not the case. I can well understand a merger of Departments proving highly successful where an overlapping of duties or a duplication of services has previously been the case and where this is overcome as the result of a merger.

But as far as two of the proposals are concerned—and I say this knowing that my noble friend is listening very carefully and has much more knowledge of this than I—what we are dealing with cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called "mergers" they can be called "conglomerates". I do not think that these two are the same thing at all. I want to put on record that at this early stage I have no doubt that the burden on the Secretary of State for each of these two Departments will be too great for him to bear. He cannot—and it is not the Government's intention that he should—divorce himself from his Parliamentary and democratic responsibilities; he cannot divest himself of the final responsibility. He has to come before whichever House is the case, he has to meet fellow-Members in dining rooms and elsewhere, he has to answer important questions, he has to run his Department. If he is a Member of the other place he has to go down to his constituency regularly and he has to deal with all his constituency correspondence. He has to attend every Cabinet meeting and some Cabinet Committees in addition. He has to do all these things.

This I believe to be a burden upon an individual which no one that I know of, or can conceive of, could support and still do his job sufficiently well to be answerable (as a Department head must always be answerable) to Parliament and to the people for his actions. What we shall see will be skimped work; inevitably so, because papers will have to be read. There is no use his saying that a colleague is dealing with this matter or with the other matter: he will have to read all the papers necessary in order to be himself aware of the policies that are being carried out and the way they are being executed. He will have to do all this. Inevitably he will find the paperwork just too much. He will have to do this paperwork in the time left after attending functions affecting members of trade groups for his Department or after other duties, and I am suggesting that he will simply find it an impossible burden. We shall see a succession of errors, of delays, of illness and, finally, of resignations. I cannot conceive of any satisfactory way of giving one person such a responsibility. I have listened carefully to the noble Baroness who preceded me; but what was being suggested was not entirely consistent with my view, that the first responsibility of the Minister is his responsibility to Parliament. I do not think it was entirely consistent with that point of view.

I should like to say a word about the question of Cabinet rule, which is the basis of our Constitution. Are the—if I may so call them—supporting Ministers, or junior Ministers, in the "conglomerates" going to take up in Cabinet an issue with their chief, even if the constitutional position would allow it? I suggest to every noble Lord who has served in a Government that at all events such an appeal would not be taken twice. In fact, therefore, we know that a difference of opinion between a Minister of a Department within a conglomerate and a Secretary of State (perhaps a difference of opinion of a kind that ought to be settled by discussion in Cabinet or Cabinet Committee, of a kind which might raise important issues and which previously might have been so discussed) will now be settled according to the judgment of one man acting on or being persuaded by arguments about which his Government colleagues know nothing.

I am suggesting that in that case—and I am grateful to the noble Earl for the use of the word—instead of Cabinet government, we should find government by cabal. So, for the reasons that I have given, I feel that these two proposals are in many respects unwelcome. I am, inevitably, speaking from my own experience (as we all speak from our own experience, however much we try to be objective) but in particular I think these proposals impose an intolerable burden on a Minister.

Finally, may I say one or two words about the document itself; and within the limitations which I impose upon myself as a maiden speaker may I say that I am bound to describe it as at least a pretentious document. It pretends to find, for the first time, a set of golden rules, a set of all-pervading principles, which will guide every Government through every difficulty of organising Departments and the structure of government. Every one of us who has had experience of this—and everyone who has not knows it as well—knows that this is utter pretentiousness. Very largely, on many of the issues the arguments are evenly balanced. We have heard from the speeches this afternoon that that is so. There must be enormous flexibility; and, of course, the structure must change in order to keep pace with changing ex- ternal circumstances. So I think it is unfortunate that this grand pretence has been put forward. And if you make these pretences you get into trouble very quickly. I want your Lordships to bear with me while I draw attention to some difficulties which have resulted from this.

The first principle which is newly discovered is the functional one. No one will complain about the functional principle being applied so far as is appropriate, or being an element in the consideration; but it has been elevated into a principle which will see one through all the organisation, all the reconstruction, and. indeed, for all time. Well, my Lords, I will not say any more about that.

How long does this functional principle, this permanent principle last? It lasts precisely two paragraphs, because it is proposed in paragraph 8 and then, in paragraph 10, we see: "Well, of course, this functional principle is not to apply to Scotland and Wales." Then, as we go a little further on, we find that the functional principle is applied in an unusually original way so far as overseas aid is concerned. It is made perfectly clear that the management of overseas aid is a totally different function from the operation of the Foreign Office, and therefore the two are to be merged. Really, my Lords, I do not think the arguments there sustain the case.

If I may give one more example before I finish, there is the argument of stability. We have heard from a most reliable and well-informed source how important that is. Of course I recognise its validity, too; and so does the Government. To be fair, the Government say, "We are thinking in particular about future stability." But this same White Paper makes the point that the Civil Service, as we have heard to-day. has already been considerably disturbed and inconvenienced by the changes which have taken place previously, So the argument for stability becomes a present and pressing argument. What does the White Paper say in pursuance of this argument? I will read what paragraph 18 says in support of stability: The changes in departmental responsibilities involve re-ordering of responsibility for functions between the departments dealing with trade and industry, aviation supply, the environment, overseas aid, the personal social services, and education and the urban programme in Wales. All those changes as a result of the Government's great desire to provide stability! And there is, of course, a further change which is to be a temporary change: the change of the Ministry of Aviation Supply, as I believe it is called. But there the error is compounded because we are now told that that change is to be changed once more in another 18 months' time—and that, again, under the banner of stability. I am bound to say, to be fair to the Government, that they tried to justify that second change, but I doubt whether the argument is very helpful to the Government, because it makes clear that the second change is to take place 18 months later than all these other changes because that second change, in contradistinction to all the other decisions, is to be taken only after full consideration.

My Lords, that is all I wish to say. I have made my views clear, but I hope not offensively so. I permitted myself to do that because I take the view that the structure of Government is of enormous importance; that good structure is a great aid to good Government and, after all, good Government is what we all seek, on whichever side of the House we sit.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, it is my good fortune to follow the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and so it is my happy task to congratulate him warmly on a most sincere, well-informed and interesting maiden speech which I know we have all greatly enjoyed. His contributions in the field of economic policy in the last Administration and his expertise in financial affairs are well known. Perhaps what is not quite so well known, in connection with a field in which I have some personal experience, is the contribution he made to the relations between Government and the defence contractors; in that he initiated the setting up of the Review Board for Government contracts which I believe was a tremendous step forward in the very difficult and important relationship between Government and defence contractors. I know that we all hope that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, will come to many of our debates and contribute in the splendid way in which he has contributed to-day.

My Lords, overall I warmly support the reorganisation proposals in the White Paper. I have always felt that it was wrong—as I think the last Administration did to some extent—to treat technology as something separate, something valuable in its own right. Technology's main purpose, surely, is the support of trade and in this country our export trade; and so I welcome very much the setting up of the Department of Trade and Industry combining the old Board of Trade and the Ministry of Technology. I like, too, the emphasis on the environment which is given by the setting up of the new Department of the Environment. It is no use having a high standard of living from an efficient industry, with huge exports and balance of payments and the like, if we are to live in a drab, dull and polluted country.

I should like to make two comments about the reorganisation. First, in connection with transport. It is true, I think, to-day that transport, all forms of transport, are becoming more and more integrated. This applies particularly in freight transport. For instance, containers are used in road, rail, in air and in sea transport, and it is important that the same standards should be used in each form of transport so that the handling machinery may fit them all equally well to achieve the maximum efficiency. This is a really important point. The exports and imports go to inland clearance depots, for loading, in the case of exports, into containers very often; and for clearance under customs supervision in the case of imports. Some of these inland depots are needed near rail heads; some near convenient road access; some near airports; some near seaports, and the siting and access is very important.

Increasingly, our exports are conveyed on roll-on, roll-off lorries which go to the docks, drive on to the ships and are conveyed across the Channel or the North Sea: they go on railway wagons and on cross-Channel ferries, first by road or rail, then by sea and finally by rail or road to their ultimate destination. If Britain is to become a real part of Europe, and trade with efficiency, surely we have to regard the North Sea and the Channel, not as barriers to trade, but as broad highways for the carriage of our goods abroad. No longer must they be regarded as barriers to the movement of our exports. Again, my Lords, more and more exporters, at least the efficient ones, are searching among the great variety of methods for the most efficient means of transporting their goods. Maybe it is a combination of road and air, or rail and ship.

Why then in these proposals do we have air transport in one Department and roads in another, sea transport in one Department and rail in another? Why are seaports in one Ministry and airports in another? The answer, I believe, is historic, because it was thought in earlier times that only the Board of Trade knew about foreign agreements and international negotiation. But nowadays the Ministry of Transport (it is called something else now, but in effect it is the Ministry of Transport) is doing a lot of work in negotiating containers for lorries that pass between this country and Europe and vice-versa. Very difficult negotiations are being carried on with success and efficiency by that Department. I know that these matters are all questions of a balance of advantage. I believe that the shipping industry is against coming under the Ministry of Transport. I do not know why that should be, because if a change were made in that direction no doubt the efficient civil servants would move over and deal with the problems of the shipping industry just as they do now. I believe that there is a cogent case for a rethinking of this policy on the ground of the increasing interdependence of all forms of transport.

But there is another and perhaps even more cogent argument, and that relates to the importance of the environment. Seaports are under the Ministry of Transport and not under the Department of the Environment. They are a minimum problem in connection with pollution or other environmental effect. On the other hand, airports are under the Department of Trade and Industry. Are they not a very much greater threat to the environment than seaports? The same, surely, must apply to airlines. We have great problems to-day with noise at civil airports, particularly at night, with great airliners coming and going. Surely these are a problem for the Department of the Environment, if anything is. To-day great ships, great tankers like the "Pacific Glory", threaten the environment. Ought they not to come under the Department of the Environment? I believe that all these arguments point to the need for the Government to rethink this issue. It would not be very difficult to make these transfers of responsibility, and I believe that on further consideration it might be found that this would be a much better arrangement. Certainly it would be much more in line with the principles laid down in paragraph 8 of the White Paper.

My second point relates to research. One of the best jobs that the Ministry of Technology did was to bring together the various Government research establishments and to do their best to ensure that the information available in these establishments was sent out and made available to industry where it would do most good. I would pay tribute to the work that has been done by the devoted staff in the Ministry of Technology in that direction.

There are three types of Government research establishments. There are departmental research establishments like the Road Research Laboratory, which is tied to the Ministry of Transport. We are not concerned with these to-night. There are Government industrial research establishments, such as the National Engineering Laboratory, and defence research establishments, such as the National Gas Turbine Establishment, the Royal Radar Establishment, the Royal Aircraft Establishment and many others. I welcome very much the setting up of the project team on aerospace supply problems. We cannot anticipate the report and recommendations they will make, but it is at least possible that the responsibility for aviation supplies will go under the Ministry of Defence. Then, presumably, the research establishments which are involved will also go under the Ministry of Defence, whereas the Government industrial research establishments, such as the National Engineering Laboratory, will remain outside.

There will be a danger of a big barrier being created between these laboratories, making it much more difficult to get from the Defence research establishments information of value to industry. Enormous sums of money are involved in these research establishments. They do most valuable work, and we have seen how important the fall-out from research is from the great American research effort. It would be a tragedy if the reorganisation which the Government now propose led to any increase in the difficulty or any hindrance to the spread of this important knowledge throughout industry. So I would urge the Government to have a serious look at this problem during the course of the next 18 months while the project team is deliberating. Subject to those two matters, I warmly welcome the proposals in the White Paper.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, reminded me that I am in very much the same position as he is, because it was on this exact spot nearly 25 years ago that I craved the indulgence of another place on the occasion of my maiden speech. At that time this place was in another place and another place was here! Once again I crave the indulgence of your Lordships' House, with due humility and with a proper sense of the conventions of the House.

My justification for intervening in this debate is that I have presided as Secretary of State or Minister over three Departments, all of which have been subsequently abolished or absorbed; and two of those Departments—the Ministry of Overseas Development and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government—are covered by the White Paper we are discussing this afternoon.

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I start with a brief reference to the absorption of the Colonial Office, first into the Commonwealth Relations Office and then into the combined Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I am, I confess, an unashamed and undefeatist believer in the Commonwealth. I suppose that I must declare an interest, as a member of the Board of the Commonwealth Development Corporation.

The point I want to make is that caring for our dependant territories calls for very different qualities from those which are normally required in our overseas relations. The task is very different and it is one which calls for immense and consistent sensitivity. I hope that I shall be forgiven for saying that I do not think that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have so far been conspicuously successful in the field of caring for our dependant territories. If I may speak as the father of the Associated States in the Caribbean, I cannot believe that the subsequent handling of Anguilla will go down in history as one of the truly great episodes in the story of the Commonwealth.

I have the feeling that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sees itself, understandably enough, as primarily the advocate and defender of our own United Kingdom interests abroad rather than as the protector of British citizens in those realms overseas which still form a part of the Queen's Dominions. And I hope that I shall not seem unduly cynical if I say that if there was a clash of interests between the United Kingdom, on the one hand, and, say, Gibraltar or the Falkland Islands or British Honduras, on the other, I have a shrewd suspicion that the views of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would prevail. I have made that point because it applies, in a somewhat similar way, to the work of the Ministry of Overseas Development. Everybody accepts that that Ministry has won worldwide acclaim for the way in which it has administered our aid policy.

I was visiting the United Nations and Washington when the rather vague news of this restructuring broke. It is no exaggeration to say that it caused deep dismay among many of our friends in other countries—dismay which I did my best to allay, in so far as I was equipped to do so. It seemed to me unlikely that there would be any administrative economies achieved; and in view of the Government's stated policy on aid, which was repeated a few days later by the Prime Minister in his speech to the General Assembly, it did not seem that there was likely to be any intention to cut our aid programme, although, of course, we shall have to watch and see how things develop.

But what worries me, my Lords, is this—and I say it from my own experience. I believe that the Minister's hand is seriously weakened by the changes that are being made. When I was myself Minister of Overseas Development it was not always easy, even as a Member of the Cabinet, to concentrate attention on the relative developmental importance of rival schemes which came up for consideration. I suspect that the present Minister, for whom I have the most profound respect, however autonomous he will be on paper, will in practice be in an even more difficult position than I was as a Member of the Cabinet. The Foreign Office view, I think, is more likely to prevail than that of its subsidiary Overseas Development Ministry. Politics, in fact, will take priority over development, in spite of the assurances of the Lord Privy Seal, which of course I gratefully accept.

The real tragedy, I think, is that this country seems to be moving in the wrong direction. Clearly there is a strong case for some aid to be given on wholly political grounds. If it contributes to the stability of a country or to the stability of a region, then it is money well spent. But there is a strong case, too, for giving aid on purely developmental grounds, regardless of political calculations; and the Overseas Development Ministry has won great confidence in the work that it has done. My own view is that, if the Ministry had to be restructured, I would sooner have seen the Foreign and Commonwealth Office distributing part of the money available for unashamedly political ends, and the rest being administered by an agency whose sole test would be the developmental importance of the schemes submitted to it, with, of course, particular stress on the Commonwealth countries. In fact, if our policy had to be changed, it should have been changed to make it less political rather than, apparently, more political.

If I may now turn to the Department of the Environment, I agree with much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has said. My attitude is much less critical, however, to the Department of the Environment than to the change in the Ministry of Overseas Development. But I confess that I am less enthusiastic than some of my right honourable friends. I welcome the fact, as we must all do, that the public and the Press have at last woken up to what so many of us have been saying about pollution for so many years. At the same time, I wish that there was rather more recognition of the progress which has been made in cleaning up our rivers and the air that we breathe, and in giving this country the best planning system in the world. Our new towns alone are evidence of the effort that we in this country make to deal with the pressures of an expanding population without doing damage to the environment.

I wish the Secretary of State for the Environment well, but, like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I have my doubts about these mammoth Departments: and I listened with great sympathy to what my noble friend Lord Diamond had to say. I am disturbed at the spread of the canvas on which the Secretary of State is expected to paint, and which he will have to know in something more than broad outline if he is to keep his Cabinet colleagues fully informed. After three and three-quarter rewarding years in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, I know how heavy is the responsibility of running that one Department alone: and I count myself fortunate in having had Sir Matthew Stevenson as my Permanent Secretary throughout that time.

Most of the Secretary of State's responsibilities—and it must be remembered that the statutory powers are those of the Secretary of State alone—are clearly defined in the White Paper: they are manifold, they are very grave, and they are politically highly sensitive. I have some doubt in my mind, just as my noble friend Lord Diamond has, whether it is sensible or practicable for one Minister to cover so wide a field. However much the structure provides for devolution, he will find that it is difficult over a wide range of subjects to decline to meet local authorities or his colleagues in another place. For it is he who has the statutory powers; it is he who accepts the ultimate responsibility; and it is he who will be regarded as the final court of appeal.

I think, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, will agree with me that the local authorities, even when they have been in political disagreement with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (and most of them, of course, were in disagreement with me), have nevertheless all regarded the Minister of Housing and Local Government as in a very special sense their own Minister, to whom they always had the right of access. I think it will be a pity if there is a growing remoteness between the local authorities and the man who is really at the top of the structure inside the Government.

I make one last point, my Lords, and it is to lend my support to what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said in her concluding remarks. It is not really very good for the efficiency of Ministries, or for the morale of civil servants, to whom we owe so much, and who at the upper levels are so over-worked, if the machinery of Government is dismantled, inspected and re-assembled too often; and, moreover, it is extremely confusing to the public as well. So I conclude by saying that I believe the changes in the Ministry of Overseas Development are misconceived and damaging. I hope that the Department of the Environment will succeed, and I shall do what I can in my own small way to help it to do so. But I am afraid, my Lords, that my optimism is qualified indeed.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Earl the Leader of the House that I was prevented from hearing his opening speech. My regret at that is to some extent assuaged by the fact that I am able to congratulate the noble Lord who has just spoken on what, under a curious and unnatural use of our language in this place, is called a maiden speech.

I intend to confine myself wholly to the functions of the new arrangements in regard to the environment. I think I can say for all those who are interested in the conservation of Nature, and in natural amenities, that we are very glad indeed that the present Government, like the previous one, have fixed the responsibility for the environment upon the Minister who is responsible for town and country planning. That seems to me, for many reasons, to be completely right. He has the responsibility of taking a great many individual decisions; he has at his disposal a trained staff who are able to see that his decisions are carried through—and I hope that they will be carried through—by the host of subordinate authorities who now deal with these matters. I do not suppose Whitehall itself would admit that everything that happens now is not almost perfect, but I wonder how many members of some remote river board or agricultural committee, whose powers enable them to do a great deal of damage to the environment, if they like to do so, are even aware of the principles on which they ought to act. There will now be a Secretary of State charged with that responsibility as one of his major functions. This is a great gain.

It is also a great gain (and there is a good deal of importance in the point that has just been made) that the machinery in that respect has not been changed. It was really a decision of the last Administration, and it has been adopted by the present one. It may be argued that it has been carried too far. One is alive to all the problems of overloading a Department. The Prime Minister himself—not speaking in a political atmosphere—said, very wittily, that when you begin to think about these things there is a lot to be said for going back to the eighteenth century and having only two Secretaries of State—one for the North, and one for the South. We cannot do that; but the present Government, and the White Paper, have been right in making some step forward.

As regards the Ministry of Public Building and Works, with which I have had a good deal to do in recent years, I have found it an admirably managed Department. But surely there is some advantage in giving emphasis to the fact that the care of the natural environment, and the care of the man-made environment in which we live, and which is largely the creation over the centuries of our architects, are both parts of one civilised outlook and process. And if those issues are presented to the Cabinet by the same Secretary of State I should have thought that is a move in the right direction. The size of the Ministry of Public Building and Works is not such as to be an obstacle to administrative efficiency. That part of a new arrangement can be made to work without much difficulty.

When we come to Transport (of which I know more than I do of the Ministry of Public Building and Works) I confess that I have some doubts. I may be prejudiced, because I remember that after I had been made what was called the Permanent Secretary of that Department a few months earlier, Sir Winston Churchill announced his intention to abolish it. He never did so. and the functions of the Minister of Transport, and the interests of transport, grew steadily until it may now have become oppressively large.

It must surely be right that the Minister responsible for the environment should also be responsible for the layout of new roads and general works of that magnitude which, again, have an enormous effect on the environment. That can be made to work only on one condition: the new Secretary of State ought not to try, and I hope will not try, to act as an overlord over the whole of transport. I think he ought to say that the Minister for Transport is answerable for all things like the Use and Construction Regulations for motor vehicles, and for the finance of the nationalised industries and that the Secretary of State is not going to be occupied by those matters. The risk is that, not in this House but in another place, the Secretary of State will be forced into a position where he has to answer questions on all sorts of day-to-day matters, and indeed on very important matters, which have nothing to do with his main co-ordinating function. It is going to mean a great deal of firmness by the Secretary of State, and some restraint by the two Houses themselves in not pressing him to give his time to things which are best left to the Minister more directly charged with those functions.

I do not feel that we can expect to get transfers of functions of this kind quite right at the first set-off. So far as the associations and bodies with which I am connected are concerned, I am sure they are not going to be unreasonably critical if the new arrangements do not work perfectly from the start. Therefore on this side of the White Paper, and on what has been done, I feel that the Government have been right in establishing the Secretary of State for the Environment, and in extending his functions some distance, but in not going too far, and in not trying to make him an overlord over the whole work of these other Departments of which one—Transport—is pretty vast in itself.

There are one or two other points that I should like to raise because they are also fundamental, although not perhaps soluble at this moment. In a report, for which I was responsible, to the "Countryside in 1970" Conference, my colleagues and I urged that, while in England, Scotland and Wales the respon- sibility for the environment should be concentrated on the Ministers responsible for local government and town and country planning, they ought to be advised by an especially qualified officer at the level of the chief scientific adviser. I should be very glad if the noble Earl could say something more on that point at this stage.

There is a Royal Commission on Pollution, set up by the late Administration, and it has scientific advisers. The prevention of pollution is of great importance to the environment. But I think we need as the Secretary of State's adviser on all aspects of the environment someone who is highly qualified, of great public standing, and whose advice cannot be lightly ignored, He need not be a biologist trained only in some narrow aspect of his subject. He might be a geographer, but he must be someone who is familiar with the natural environment, both in the aspect of wild life and in the whole of the problems of land use. I will not say that there is a gap, but there is a place which has not yet been said to be clearly filled.

I have only one other point to make. Being against an overlord, I recognise the necessity for having on great issues of policy some senior Cabinet Minister of great experience and ability who can act as a referee or umpire when clashes arise. It is rather fashionable at the moment to say that all these questions can be solved by a little reasonable give-and-take here and there, and compromise, but I do not think that that is true. There will be some very real clashes between the needs of conservation and other interests—perhaps industrial interests, perhaps agricultural interests, or defence. When those clashes arise we shall surely have to fall back on the well tested machinery of reference to a small Cabinet Committee composed as the Prime Minister of the day thinks fit, under the chairmanship of someone who will look at all the issues impartially and present them without bias to the Cabinet.

There, again, one cannot reasonably ask that everything should be solved and tidied up at once, but I should like to feel that these matters were being considered both at Cabinet level, where decisions will inevitably be difficult, and more immediately at the official scientific level, where I feel the Ministers charged with this great new responsibility will need very powerful advice. Having said that, in general, my Lords, I am strongly in favour of the direction in which the Government are moving. They may soon be able to go further without getting into all the difficulties that obviously can arise if too much brigading of Departments is carried out merely on the ground that they seem in some aspect to deal with more or less the same subject matter.

6.34 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to address this House for the first time, I would ask the indulgence of your Lordships in the customary manner. Like the other three maiden speakers this afternoon, I can say that this is not the first time I have made a maiden speech from these Benches. Indeed, it is over twenty-five years since I made my maiden speech from this very Bench when, as my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale said, this place was really "another place". And it is not only the building which is familiar. When I look at your Lordships on the Benches this afternoon and think how many were present here in 1945, I can be forgiven for thinking that I have put back the pages of history some twenty-five years. It is perhaps a sign of advancing years when I feel I know more people in your Lordships' House than in another place. I know that a maiden speech should be short and non-controversial. I am sure my speech will be short; I hope it will be non-controversial and that the noble Earl who introduced the subject this afternoon will think so.

This is a very important debate on the reorganisation of central Government. Anybody who has been a member of the Government realises that the organisation is not perfect. But it probably never can be perfect. As time goes on, changes in society will always mean necessary changes in our Departments of State. In a democracy I do not think we can ever get a tidy, logical organisation. My noble friend Lord Diamond has spoken to-day about the dangers of some of our Departments of State becoming too big. I agree with him in this. We all know from our experience in Government of the position as described by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. We all know the delays caused by discussions and depart- mental consultations. But it is difficult to get clear-cut demarcation lines between Departments, unless of course we go to the ultimate and have one Department for all business of State.

The noble Earl who opened the debate this afternoon hoped that we should deal with the broad outlines of the subject and not go too much into the details. But I sometimes think it is the details which are interesting, and I hope he will forgive me if I deal in detail with two paragraphs in the White Paper which are of particular interest to me. I refer to paragraphs 35 and 37: the decision to transfer responsibility for primary and secondary education from the Secretary of State for Education and Science to the Secretary of State for Wales; and secondly, the decision to transfer the child care services from the Home Secretary to the Secretary of State for the Social Services, while leaving the problems of juvenile delinquency with the Home Secretary.

For the last three years I have been the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, dealing, among other things, with primary and secondary education. Before that I was the Minister of State at the Home Office—as the noble Earl once was—and one of my responsibilities there was the child care services. Because of this I am extremely interested in these decisions, and I make no apology for dealing with them in detail because they affect thousands of children and young people.

I turn first of all to the point about Welsh education. During my three years as Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science I visited Wales on several occasions and met many deputations. At no time did I have any representations for the transfer which has just taken place. I am not denying that there are some people in Wales, and perhaps outside Wales, who would have been in favour of this transfer had it been a matter for discussion; but there was certainly no immediacy about the problem and no reason to take an early decision. What is being suggested in the White Paper, and what has become already an accomplished fact, is that primary and secondary education shall be transferred to the Secretary of State for Wales, leaving other parts of the Welsh education service—further education, the training and supply of teachers and the Youth Service—with the Department of Education and Science.

The noble Earl in speaking about this subject to-day said the reason why it had been done was an Election promise. I hope it will not be considered too controversial if I say that even that is no excuse for taking the wrong decision in a hurry and without any consultation. The General Election was on June 18 and that is the day that I left the Department of Education and Science, and up to that time there had been no overtures of any kind. Yet this decision was announced in the Queen's Speech on July 2; on October 19 there was the publication of the Order, and it came into operation on November 5. The noble Earl will know that many bodies have protested about this—The National Union of Teachers, the National Associaton of Schoolmasters, the Association of Education Committees and the Welsh Joint Education Committee.

I know that, as the noble Earl said this afternoon, there are two points of view about the transfer of responsibility for education from the Secretary of State for Education and Science to the Secretary of State for Wales. I should have been against this had it ever been a problem when I was a Minister, but I know equally well that some of my noble friends and some of my honourable and right honourable friends in another place would have been in favour. But we are all united in questioning the wisdom of splitting the responsibility for various parts of the education service. One of the features of our education service in the last few years has been the blurring of the edges between the sixth forms in our secondary schools and the 16 to 19 age group in colleges of further education. Some of our young people take A-levels in sixth forms, other take A-levels in colleges of further education. We have to-day in many local authorities linked courses whereby some young people in sixth forms go to the colleges of further education for some courses that are not available in their secondary schools. There are even some local authorities who, in their plans for the reorganisation of secondary education on comprehensive lines, have combined completely the sixth-form college with the colleges of fur- ther education. This is being done in Exeter and in Barnstaple, and it is being looked at with great interest by other local authorities.

It will be difficult in the future for any local authority in Wales to do this because the responsibility for sixth forms in secondary schools will rest with the Secretary of State for Wales and the responsibility for the 16 to 19 age group in colleges of further education will still rest with the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I believe it is impossible to divorce primary and secondary education in this way from the rest of the education service. I think it is difficult to divorce the responsibility for primary and secondary education from teacher training and supply, and I am wondering who is going to organise the in-service training, a great deal of which goes on at the present time. I know that the Welsh people value their education services, and some local authorities in Wales have been pioneers in secondary education. I hope, therefore, that the Government will look at this matter again and will realise that perhaps this has been a mistake and has been done in too much of a hurry to give it the proper and serious consideration which it deserves.

Now I turn to the paragraph about the child care service. Following the report of the Curtis Committee the Act of Parliament of 1948 gave responsibility for the child care service to the Home Office, and having served at the Home Office and been responsible there for the child care service I feel that I cannot let this service pass to another Department without paying tribute to the way in which the Home Office has carried out this responsibility in the last twenty years. Now the building up of the children's service within the Home Office has I believe been one of the success stories of the last twenty years. The great expertise and humanity of Home Office officials and inspectors, combined with the devotion and patience of local authority child care officers, has produced a first-class service. I know that sometimes we see a headline about a child who may have been fostered wrongly, but we must remember the many thousands of children who have been helped to a happier life by the children's service. I have attended many conferences of child care officers and I have always been most impressed at the way in which their agenda has never been about their own conditions of service or their pay; their agenda has always been about the children that they have done their best to help.

The Home Office has also led the way in training schemes for its field workers. I recognise that with the publication of the Seebohm Committee's Report and the reorganisation of social services at local authority level there must inevitably be some changes in Ministerial responsibility. I was at the Home Office when the Seebohm Committee was appointed, and our chief concern then was to have some kind of family service at local authority level which would unify the existing social services. We wanted a service which would help particularly in the preventive work with families at risk, and especially where children were likely to get into trouble. We have had two Acts of Parliament, one dealing with local authority social services and the second with juvenile delinquency. But what disturbs me about this paragraph in the White Paper is that while the children's service is being taken from the Home Office to the Secretary of State for Social Services, the problems of juvenile delinquency are still to remain with the Home Office. I can see that there is a point in the juvenile court, so long as it exists in its present form, being under the general jurisdiction of the Home Secretary, but I do not believe we can divorce child care from the problems of juvenile delinquency and I am not at all sure how this is going to work.

In the past few years the children's service has done a great deal of preventive work to try to keep children from delinquency, and the new Bill which has been passed, dealing with children in trouble, is to set up new community homes in which there will be delinquents and non-delinquents. Somebody once coined a phrase about the "deprived" and the "depraved". The deprived can so easily become depraved if no help is available, and it is sheer chance whether help comes before or after a child gets into trouble. I want to know how this proposed change is going to work. How are we going to be able to have the children's service in one Department and the problems of juvenile delinquency in another? It may be that these are regarded as minor matters in the White Paper as a whole, but I regard them as very important matters because, after all, the children and the young people are our country's greatest assets.

My Lords, I hope I have not been too critical for a maiden speaker, and I hope that the Government will look at these two matters again, because I fear that if these two paragraphs go through in their present form and these changes are made there will be some dislocation and suffering among the children, whom we so greatly love.

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, I feel very diffident indeed in offering the normal formula of congratulations to such an accomplished, eloquent and attractive speaker as the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon. But I do so on behalf your Lordships' House, to tell her how much we welcome her contribution. We welcome her arrival here in our ranks. We know that her knowledge of the social services and her experience is very great and will be of great assistance to your Lordships' debates on these subjects in the future, and we shall be gravely disappointed if she does not continue to contribute regularly to the proceedings of your Lordships' House.

Perhaps I may also say that I greatly welcome on personal grounds the arrival of three other maiden speakers this afternoon, my noble friend who has changed his name since I knew him, Lord Reigate, the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, and the noble Lord, Lord Diamond. The noble Baroness, Lady Bacon is quite right when she says that if it goes on like this the House of Lords will be indistinguishable from the House of Commons in the early 1950s. But it is very pleasant to have old friends—I speak personally here—in your Lordships' House as colleagues once again.

I am not going to follow Lady Bacon's theme. I am going to precede her by one paragraph in the White Paper, paragraph 34, which deals with overseas aid, and I will, with your Lordships' permission, declare an interest; because I think I am right in claiming that the formation of the Ministry of Overseas Development originated in a proposal which I put forward, I think in 1958, to the then Secretary of State, and which subsequently was acted on and produced a development, a small development no doubt but in my eyes an important development, in our governmental machine. I remember very well the reasons why that development took place and why we advocated it strongly at the Commonwealth Relations Office of the day. It was because we believed that aid for development could only be effective in linking this country with independent countries of the Commonwealth and with foreign countries, particularly in Asia and Africa, if it was seen to have no political strings attached to it and if it was seen not to contain any political content.

In those days three Ministers were concerned with overseas aid, and when the provision of aid was increasingly taking the place of direct administrative control by Departments of State over Commonwealth countries, it seemed right that there should be a single authority which would reconcile the often conflicting attitudes of the Foreign Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office. There is, or was in those days, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, has said, a difference of philosophy in relation to aid between the Foreign Office on the one hand and the Commonwealth Office and the Colonial Office on the other. To the former, aid tended to be—not always, but tended to be—an instrument to serve the political interests of this country. To the C.R.O., aid was primarily a service made available by Great Britain in order to promote development of the Commonwealth and of the then British dependencies. It was not, as some people like to believe, a payment intended to make good the alleged neglect and exploitation and the so-called deficiencies of colonialism. Indeed, I might remark that my recent tour of Africa left me with a strong feeling of pride in what we in Britain had achieved in our colonial rule and in the great legacy we have bequeathed to the peoples of Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi, and equally to other newly independent territories in that part of the world.

Overseas aid, as represented by the Ministry of Overseas Development, and by the contribution made over decades by British colonial rule, to the progress and welfare of millions of people in Africa and Asia, will be fully justified by history. And it seemed to me that the pattern of aid which was used in those days is just as important if we are to maintain our relationships with countries in Africa and Asia on a healthy basis to-day. In those days it was, as I say, a service, sometimes given, it is true, with a political objective in view, but far more often with the genuine purpose of ensuring development of underdeveloped territories, in the interests of their peoples, without providing any calculated political advantage so far as Great Britain was concerned.

To-day the atmosphere of politics has in some degree changed, just as the status of our country has changed. It may be right that the criterion to be employed in this sort of thing is how far do the sacrifices made by the British taxpayer in relation to aid serve British interests. It may be right that aid, instead of being a service provided by the greatest of the Commonwealth countries, the old imperial Power, for underdeveloped and dependent territories, is now to be an instrument of foreign policy. It is logical, if that is the case, that it should be controlled in the interests of foreign policy policy by the Foreign Office. Aid is now, therefore, to be related directly to our trade interests, to defence, to political influence, to the manipulation of political relationships in the interests of the people of Great Britain, struggling as they are to hold their own in a difficult world. Charity in future is going to begin at home.

This Order, which my noble friends regard as perhaps just another administrative measure, may appear to some of the older people like myself to mark a further stage in Great Britain's progressive abandonment of the Commonwealth, and its determination to shed the great historic responsibilities which it inherited from the imperial past. "Historic responsibilities", my Lords, "imperial past"—I recognise that I, too, am a voice from that past. Britain to-day, so it appears, is a country purged of sentiment and antique idealism, concentrating on the maintenance and development of its national interests, sensitive about its rights, hard-boiled, materialist, inward-looking, a country being shaped to the needs of a technological, overcrowded, managerial age.

My noble friend the Leader of the House would say that I am being exaggerating and emotional. I realise that in a Britain of this sort there is no good use for a "do good" organisation like the Ministry of Overseas Development, but I think there are millions of people in Africa and elsewhere who will regret the changed face of Britain and remember with pride the days in which the policies of a great country were able to promote the needs of remote and underprivileged peoples without a demand that in return for the money which they expend there should be either any political advantage or the return of, not 5 per cent. but 5 per cent. over bank rate.

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to be as brief as I can and to confine myself mainly to the Ministry of Overseas Development. Many noble Lords have referred to the capability unit, and I should like to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on turning to these Benches when they need a really expert, original and forceful talent to be head of such a unit, and to say that we have an infinity of resources of that kind should they need us again. We wish the experiment a great deal of luck. I must say that if I were a member of the Government I should have some anxieties about whether the ever-resourceful Departments of State might not each think up some scheme of having a capability unit of their own, but maybe that is a little bit cynical.

Before going any further, I should like to say just one word about the remarkable four maiden speeches that we have had to-day. It is always specially delightful when speakers from this side of the House make such particularly distinguished speeches, as our three have done; but it is equally special when we get from the other side of the House such a wise and witty speech as Lord Reigate gave us to-day. I think that the House is particularly fortunate, and we look forward greatly to again hearing these speakers.

If I may, I will turn straightaway to the Ministry of Overseas Development. I was rather surprised that the noble Earl opposite should have said that he felt that the criticism that has been expressed about the Government's proposals over this matter was over emotional. Indeed, I feel that he has been more than adequately answered by the splendid words of the noble Lord, Lord Alport. My noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale also turned to this matter of overseas development. I think that the Government ought to listen to the combined experience of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and of my noble friend Lord Greenwood.

May I turn for a moment to the White Paper? It recognises that: It is important to maintain the valuable body of expertise and skill in aid administration that has been developed in the Ministry of Overseas Development. That is welcome so far as it goes; but we need more clarification of what all this means. I think I shall probably deal more with the "nuts and bolts" of this matter than have previous speakers. Above all, I think that in the House there is a strong feeling that the Government are flying in the face of all expert opinion in what they are doing. To start with, they are turning their back on the advice of the Estimates Committee of 1968, which considered that any such merger would be a retrograde step. Among the evidence was that given, for instance, by the Overseas Development Institute, an independent centre of research and information. They said—and here I quote: We believe that Britain has got as near an ideal instrument with a separate Ministry, as any aid donor has. This view has been echoed by many people abroad. I should like also to quote the view of the then Opposition spokesman for Overseas Development, Mr. Bernard Braine, who said: Under that Department's roof is to be found one of the best aid management teams in the world. My noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale told us about the views that he found abroad, in the United Nations and in New York, about this move; and I am bound to ask the noble Earl, and noble Lords on the Benches opposite, why they want to change this unique machinery for aid and development which the country has built up over the years, only to substitute for it something that is not only less independent but is manifestly so—and manifestly so both to the doner countries and above all to the developing countries themselves.

I think that one of the troubles we have to deal with is that in this White Paper, as in the mini-Budget, there are no details to tell us just how the thing is going to work out—details which are vital to our understanding of how it is going to work, and indeed to the actual working of the plans themselves. The White Paper states that the Government's decision about the O.D.M. is taken against the need to engage the private sector of industry, commerce and finance to a greater extent than before. But there is absolutely no guidance about how this is going to be done.

Those noble Lords who are concerned with this will know the almost inevitable unpredictability of private finance in developing countries. Have the Government plans to engage private investment and industry in the developing world, especially in those parts whose needs are most desperate and on which there are fewer returns? Are they going to utilise further the experience and the expertise of the Commonwealth Development Corporation? Such plans would be welcome in all parts of the House. But we know now that the great "in" phrase is to "stand on our own feet". Is private enterprise going to stand on its own feet in the remote developing areas? Are the Government going to produce guidance and support? We should very much like to know.

I beg noble Lords opposite to accept that noble Lords in all parts of the House are deeply disturbed that the Ministry is to be subordinate to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Why cannot the Ministry of Overseas Development stand on its own feet? Even if the Minister of Trade and Industry considers them to be webbed feet, why cannot they stand on their own? When your Lordships last discussed aid and development great praise was expressed from all sides for the high quality of the Ministry, and above all for its unique position as the only Ministry of its kind in the world. We agreed that the existence of the Ministry was not only good in itself but good for our image in the rest of the world.

In the past, many regrets were voiced that the Minister of Overseas Development himself was not actually in the Cabinet, but could attend only when development was specifically going to be discussed. As my noble friend Lord Greenwood graphically described, we have seen our great complex of overseas departments progressively eating its tail, like Alice in Wonderland's whiting, which, your Lordships will remember, was thrown out to sea. First, the C.R.O. swallowed the Colonial Office; then the Foreign Office swallowed the combined Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office. But all this time the Overseas Development Ministry had its own separate identity and independence. not merely at home but also in the eyes of the world. Now, the combined Foreign Office, Commonwealth Relations Office and Colonial Office are swallowing the Ministry of Overseas Development.

My Lords, I cannot see that this can be anything but retrograde; and if it does not make any difference to its authority and autonomy, as the noble Earl said, then why make the change which is so detrimental to the image of our country in the world elsewhere? We are glad the phrase in the White Paper runs: it is important to maintain the valuable body of expertise and skill… We find this reassuring up to a point. But there is another point, one that has not been mentioned to-day: is this enough to attract to the Civil Service the kind of brilliant and devoted recruits who up till now have had the confidence to opt specially for this particular Ministry? It would be a tremendous tragedy if these people were lost to the United Nations Agencies, to the universities and elsewhere. I think this is a point that must be safeguarded. I would go further. To maintain that expert staff is not enough. Many noble Lords will remember developmental projects which took more than nine months to prepare. Aid is no good unless it is effective; and aid is much less effective if it takes a long time to produce. We do not need fewer of these men and women, we need more of them.

We were glad to hear that the present Administration are to continue the same amount of aid and development as was proposed by the last Administration, but we should like to know that they are wholeheartedly identified, and growingly identified, with the development projects that will inevitably ensue. I think, as the noble Lord, Lord Alport, said, that nobody has any doubt that our kind of aid was specially appreciated by the developing countries precisely because it was not tied to the apron strings of the Foreign Office. It has been, as I say, very difficult to find out exactly what the Government propose, and in another place, when Ministers were asked what was their defence for their actions, the defence put forward was that the present Secretary of State was known to be favourable to overseas aid. We accept that, as indeed he is; but on this side of the House we feel that since we have to co-operate with the United Nations so much in these aid projects, it is the wrong moment that this matter should be put under a Secretary of State who is at the same time defying a resolution of the United Nations on arms to South Africa.

I think we need clarification. I have read very carefully the debate in the other place. I know that noble Lords have the highest respect and regard for the present Minister of Overseas Development. Nevertheless, noble Lords will want to know, as did honourable Members in another place, whether the Minister will be able to present his views with maximum effect when the allocation of resources and the emphasis of policy are being settled at the highest level—by which, of course, I mean the Cabinet. Mr. Wood was only able to reply to this question: As I see it, the job of myself and my successors is to convince my right honourable friend and his successors … of the importance of this question."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 3/11/1970, col. 1024.] Asked further whether the Overseas Development Administration of the future would continue to be represented on interdepartmental Cabinet Committees, the Minister replied (col. 1025): I am glad to be able to say... 'Yes'. But he went on to say (col. 1026): This is only my guess, and I give it for what it is worth. I believe... that aid in the future will continue to be based... on the criteria of the need for development in the developing countries. That is my guess, and only time will show whether it is justified by the facts. Those seem to me to be very sad answers. and I think the whole House would like to take it a little further than that.

There is one other point which I think has not been touched on, and that is the question of voluntary aid. I know that many noble Lords have been deeply interested and active in this kind of activity. I also think that the United Kingdom clearly has an unrivalled reputation because of the work of our Church organisations, bodies like Oxfam, the Save the Children Fund, large and small trusts, and the rest. But when asked about the aid lobby the Minister in another place was only able to say (col. 1026): All I can say is that the future organisation in this respect will increase the alliance between the aid lobby and the overseas aid administration, because it will realise that the Minister for Overseas Development needs pushing very hard if he is going to succeed in convincing his right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I think the whole House will see what I mean when I say that those replies were rather despairing.

I want to be as brief as possible, and, indeed, as helpful as I can. The House will be most grateful to the noble Earl, if, when he replies, he can give us some reassurance. I have asked him for reassurance on three points, of which I have given notice. They are as follows. First, can he assure the House that the views and needs of the Development Department will have positive access to the basic policy-making machinery of the Government? Secondly, can he assure the House that the Government are committed, not just immediately but for the foreseeable future, to maintaining the present O.D.M. as a domestic Ministry whose members will not be subjected to pressure to accede to the conditions of service of the Foreign and Commonwealth Departments? It is not quite clear from the White Paper. Thirdly, can he assure us that the expert personnel of the O.D.M. will not only not be reduced but will be maintained, and, if necessary, expanded to fulfil the Government's declared aim to expand the present contribution towards aid and development?

I should like to assure noble Lords on the Benches opposite that we do not ask for these assurances in any controversial spirit. Noble Lords in all parts of the House are so deeply concerned with the importance of development that this supersedes Party political points. If we can have these assurances there will be deep relief in all parts of your Lordships'

House. We need them very badly. I think we all hope that the situation may be better than it appears at the moment, and we look forward to the noble Earl's reply. We need reassurance, first, for the morale of the brilliant and devoted men who are engaged in the work; and secondly, and even more important, for the continuing good name of our country, not only in international organisations but in the whole developing and, to a large extent, non-committed rest of the world.

7.17 p.m.


My Lords, in the whole of my experience in this House, I think this has been the most remarkable debate that I have listened to or taken part in, not only because of the distinguished speakers that we have had but because of the approach that has been made. There has been no attempt whatever to treat this as a political matter, or to score Party political points. Every speaker has made a contribution according to his experience. Some of the contributions have been critical, but I am sure that everyone will agree that they have been perfectly sincere. We have also had a remarkable series of maiden speeches. I cannot remember four such distinguished maiden speeches as we have heard to-day. Full tribute has been paid to them, and they do not need any further words from me, but I should like to say that this will be a memorable day in the history of this House. It is rather extraordinary that, I think without exception, each one of the maiden speakers had previously made a maiden speech in the same place, and very often from the same seat. That may perhaps explain the excellence of the speeches that they have made; they have had a preliminary experience.

I want to refer to one of the maiden speeches, which is an unusual thing to do in this House, because my noble friend Lord Diamond so very exactly expressed my own views on a major aspect of this debate that it is hardly necessary for me to say much more about it. He was critical of the enormous size of some of the new Departments of State and the effect it would have on the new Secretary. He put his criticism in very graphic terms, which I certainly cannot improve on. I should like to go a little further than even he did. Undoubtedly, if the Secretary of State of one of these large Departments is going to do his job properly (without even encroaching unduly on the work of the Minister to whom he has delegated certain functions, but merely to keep himself acquainted with what is going on), and to be able to speak in the other Chamber with some authority, and if he is also going to do his duty to those who want to see him, perhaps local authorities or other public bodies, and generally keep in touch merely with the work of his Department, he will be a very tired man in the course of 12 months. I have seen Ministers gradually deteriorate physically because of the enormous amount of work which they have had to do—and that within a very short time. I pity any of the Secretaries of State who will have to handle enormous Departments of this kind.

But it goes beyond that. These are Cabinet Ministers as well. The number of Cabinet Ministers has been reduced to 17 and, therefore, there is a much greater responsibility on each of them. How on earth can such a Cabinet Minister keep abreast of all the matters that come before the Cabinet, and be able to give a useful opinion on them? He will be so much immersed in the work of his own Department that he will have no time at all even to give proper thought to that, let alone to matters which come before the Cabinet as a whole.

I know that he will have the services of the capability unit and that they will advise him on priorities. I congratulate the Government on having decided to set up such a unit and, equally, on the person whom they have chosen to be in charge of it. I think it is a very good move, and it should certainly help the Cabinet. Nevertheless, there is a minimum amount of thought which a Cabinet Minister has to be able to give to the work of the Cabinet, and even to appreciate the recommendations that he will get from the capability unit.

I feel in my bones that the work of the Cabinet is going to deteriorate, because the members will be so hard pressed, and that in the long run we shall get worse Government than we are getting to-day. I recognise that the amalgamation of these Departments is logical and can be justified on paper, but would rather take a pragmatic view. On the same line of logic, one could perhaps make the Departments even larger and bring in other Ministries, but while that may be a logical course to take I wonder whether it would be practical.

I am not asking the Government to change their mind over this. The Government are a new broom. They are entitled to sweep as clean as they think it is right to do, and to carry out their own ideas. But I deplore the fact that they are so self-satisfied about this that they say that this is going to last a very long time. In winding-up in another place, the Minister in charge spoke of at least 10 to 15 years, and the White Paper itself indicates that this set-up is so good that it is going to last a very long time without change. I know that the noble Earl somewhat modified that, because he is an honest man and could not justify those words. He said that the Government will be thinking about this as time goes on, and I trust that they will. I hope that they will regard this as experimental and tentative. My own view is that, probably within two years, if the present Government are still in existence, they will find it necessary to make radical changes in the work of the various Departments and to think again about the whole matter.

I should like to make one more point. The Government have made a very great feature of the fact that they want to cut down the number of functions of Government, and to leave out those tasks which it is not appropriate for a Government to do. But they have not given a single example in the White Paper of what they have in mind. I wish they could tell us what it is that the present Ministries are doing which they ought not to be doing and which could be done by somebody else—by private enterprise, by private initiative or whatever it may be. I cannot think of anything. On the contrary, all the indications, not only from the number of Private Bills which have already been introduced from the Government side, but also from what has been indicated by the Government themselves, are that Government functions are going to expand.

I cannot see that that will result in a reduced amount of work for the Government. I think it is more likely to increase the amount of work, especially as life becomes more and more complicated. If and when we get into the European Economic Community, the functions of Government will increase and the Civil Service will increase. It is absurd for the Government to take the view that one of the purposes of this reorganisation is to reduce the size of Government and, I suppose, to reduce the number of Ministers. In fact, the number of Ministers is exactly the same as it was on June 17 this year, although some of them have been demoted and are merely Ministers of Cabinet rank instead of Cabinet Ministers.

All I am trying to do is to make a plea that the Government should not imagine that they have said the last word on the reorganisation of government, as they appear to do. They should not regard themselves as infallible, and they should be very prepared to come to the House again and to say that in this or that respect, "We feel that our reorganisation needs improvement or even radical change"; and, perhaps, "We want to go back to the previous state of affairs." I assure the Government that if they do that they will meet with a very charitable reception, and we shall try not to say, "We told you so." In the meantime, I wish them every success in what they are trying to do. I know that they are trying to do it quite sincerely and in the firm belief that they are working for the best.