HL Deb 26 July 1973 vol 344 cc1950-69

11.50 a.m.


My Lords, we now return to usual business, and I beg to move that the Government Trading Funds Bill be now read a second time. This is a short Bill, almost entirely concerned with finance. It provides that a restricted range of Government organisations may be financed through trading funds rather than from Votes. This change in the method of financing is not an end in itself. With a number of other changes which are being introduced in the managements of the organisations, it is designed to enable them to carry out those activities more effectively. These changes are known in management jargon as the creation of "units of accountable management". The impetus for the development of this idea in Government came from the Report of the Fulton Committee. They found that the system of consultation and committees, which are an essential part of the policy-making task and stem from the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, were not well-suited to other activities since they abscure responsibility and accountability. They argued that relevant parts of Departments should be reorganised so that responsibility and authority was defined and allocated more clearly, and so that the output of the organisation could be measured in relation to its costs. "Accountable management" means holding those individual management units responsible for their performance.

I need hardly remind the House that the previous Government created the Civil Service Department to carry through the Fulton reforms generally, or that the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, was in day-to-day charge of that Department during its very critical first two years. The previous Government in particular started work on the application of the concept of "accountable management". We, for our part, have carried this work forward, particularly in relation to the executive activities of Government—minting money, for example, or making maps—for which the concept appears to be particlularly well-suited. The concept is being applied in different ways in different areas. This enabling Bill is directed to applying it in a relatively small number of cases, but important ones, where it appears that a change in the method of financing would make an important contribution to effectiveness.

The Government consider that trading funds may be appropriate for organisations which have two principal characteristics. The first would be in situations where trading activities form a significant part of their functions, as in the ex- amples I gave; secondly, where the nature of their activities overall is such that the Government consider that they ought nevertheless to remain the direct responsibility of Ministers and not be hived-off as statutorily distinct bodies, in the way that, for example, the Manpower Services Commission will be a statutorily distinct body. This may be because their trading activities are so directly involved with the main process of Government, or with the achievement of Government objectives, that direct Ministerial control is required. The Royal Ordnance Factories are an example of this, and another, of course, is Her Majesty's Stationery Office. I should emphasise again that the Bill is an enabling one, and that the Government are not committed to introducing trading funds for all the bodies named in the Bill. But we thought that it would help Parliament if we named on the face of the Bill the organisations for which trading funds are being seriously considered, rather than just naming the two to which the Government are committed, at the Royal Ordnance Factories and the Royal Mint, leaving the others to be dealt with if need be under general powers. The Government will take their decisions on the individual cases when the preparatory work of itemising future tasks and developing suitable management systems have been completed. If they decide that a switch to trading fund finance is desirable, they will table the draft Order in each case and seek the necessary Affirmative Resolution. Here, of course, is where Parliamentary approval comes in.

As I have said, the Bill will change the method of financing activities and innovations which we have been talking about. I need hardly remind your Lordships of the principles underlying the present system of financing these services; namely, the Parliamentary system of Supply. Over the greater part of the Government's expenditure this system is simple, appropriate and effective, and we certainly do not wish to propose any general change in it. But there have been two respects in which the simple Vote and Appropriation Account system does not match the characteristics of a trading activity. The Appropriation Accounts by themselves do not provide an adequate basis for assessing the performance of a trading organisation, and a system of management control suitable for a trading operation is not readily reconcilable with the cash system inherent in Votes. It is possible to get over the first difficulty to some degree, at any rate, by producing trading accounts, and this is already done in some cases. But experience has shown that management does not pay sufficient regard, perhaps, to improving its performance in relation to these acounts if it has to look over its shoulder all the time at the cash controls imposed by our present system. The Supply procedure is such that Ministers and acounting officers are more likely to pay attention to remaining within their authorised cash outlay than to obtaining an adequate return on their assets, which is surely at least as important. The Bill is intended to bring the method of financing for these trading activities into line with known desirable methods of managing organisations which have significant capital assets. By giving a standing authority to apply receipts to expenditure, it removes the inhibitions on management caused by the existing control on cash expenditure on inputs. The fact that all the costs entered in the trading accounts will correspond to actual outgoings, especially the servicing of the capital, should help to focus management's attention on the trading and management accounts, and on the return which it is obtaining on the capital employed. This will be reinforced by the requirement to meet a financial target.

I now turn to the Bill itself. It provides that Orders may be made introducing trading funds for each of the six services named in the Bill, and for any other trading service within the Government. The Order introducing a trading fund for a particular service would require an Affirmative Resolution in the House of Commons. It would specify the borrowing limits, and whether there should be any element of public dividend capital in the initial capital structure. As I explained, we thought it right to name explicitly in the Bill all those organisations for which the Government at present consider there to be a serious possibility of a trading fund. We have also included as a matter of contingency a provision in Clause 1(3)(g) for the extension to other trading services. We have no particular services in mind for this at present, but it would seem wrong to exclude at this stage the possibility of extending the trading fund method of finance to other services, which will probably be relatively minor, in case further work on their organisation and management suggests that a trading fund would be sensible for them also. Because of the Affirmative Resolution procedure Parliament would have an opportunity to consider the merits of every case.

Now given the enabling nature of the Bill and the fact that the Government have not yet made up their mind in many cases, I will not attempt to justify now the full arguments for a trading fund in each case; but the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has very kindly given me notice that he is concerned about the implications of the reference in the Bill to Ordnance Survey. I shall therefore concentrate my remarks on that case, but before doing so I should perhaps refer very briefly to the others. The Government have accepted the recommendation of the Mallabar Committee that the Royal Ordnance factories should have a trading fund. The factories already have an "arm's-length" relationship, as it were, with the rest of the Ministry of Defence: they supply, and are paid for, armaments under fixed-price contracts. On the other hand, the Government have also accepted the conclusion of the Committee that the work of the Royal Ordnance factories is so involved with Defence requirements that it is right that they should continue to be directly responsible to Ministers.

The Royal Mint is the other organisation in respect of which a firm decision has been taken and announced. As noble Lords will be aware, it is not only responsible for the United Kingdom coinage but also for developing export sales, where, as your Lordships know, I may say, it has an altogether excellent record. It has in fact just received, for the second time, the Queen's Award for Industry. Arrangements have now been developed to introduce an appropriate customer/supplier relationship between the Treasury and the Mint for the United Kingdom coinage. In another place the Public Accounts Committee have welcomed the move to a trading fund for the Mint. In two other notable cases trading fund finance is being treated as a planning assumption although a final decision will not be taken until the full implications of that assumption for the future management of the services has been properly worked out. These cases are Her Majesty's Stationery Office and the Supplies Divisison of the Property Services Agency. The Government have also accepted in principle the recommendation of the Mallabar Committee that the Royal Dockyards should also have a trading fund. But the position in the dockyards is very different from the Royal Ordnance factories and much more work has to be done before a decision can be taken—for example, on establishing a clear customer/contractor relationship between the Fleet and the dockyards.

Finally, there is the important case of the Ordnance Survey. I say "finally" not because it is the least important of the organisations named, although it is one of the smaller ones, but because the Government have not yet reached any decision on its future method of financing beyond the decision that trading fund finance is a possibility to be examined after certain other work has been done. Like the other organisations, it has a fine tradition of service; we can be very proud as a nation of the quality of our mapping, the global standards set and the invaluable service it has supplied to our scientific community.

The Secretary of State for the Environment announced in February of this year that the Ordnance Survey will continue to function as the central survey and mapping organisation in the public sector. He said that further inquiries would be made on the future scale of provision of some maps and services and that further work had to be done on the development of accounting systems. Only then would the final decision be taken on the appropriate form of financing.

My Lords, I should make two points absolutely clear in this respect. The first is that a decision to finance Ordnance Survey from a trading fund, if it were taken, would not make it wholly into a trading body or one that was bound solely by commercial criteria. If that were the case, the organisation could be better set up as a private company—and there are no plans for that. The concept of a trading fund requires only that a significant part of the operation of the organisation should be of a trading nature. The Secretary of State's announcement recognised that the Ordnance Sur- vey are carrying out a national role. The point of the Government's proposals is that the Ordnance Survey is discharging both a national role and acting as a trading organisation but that at present the two are inextricably intermixed. It is impossible to say how far the deficits are being incurred on operations which merit support from the public purse and how far on activities which do not merit such support. In the future, whether or not there is a trading fund, there will be a conscious decision as to which operations can be assessed by commercial yardsticks and as to which operations merit continuance, even though there is no prospect of "breaking even" in commercial terms. If there is a trading fund, it is envisaged that there will be explicit payments from the Department of the Environment to the Ordnance Survey under a "contract"; for example, to carry out a defined programme of large-scale survey to a specified standard. This should both clarify decision taking and improve accountability to Parliament.

The second point is that the Secretary of State's announcement and the subsequent statement by the Director General of Ordnance Survey did not mark the completion of a review of the individual map series but the beginning of a consultation process about certain services. The Government will take full account of the representations which they are now receiving as the result of those very extensive consultations before final decisions are made, particularly on the 2½-inch map as a national series. The decisions on what products and services should be continued, even though they cannot fully recoup their costs from normal sales revenue, will not be affected by the decision on what should be the future method of financing the Ordnance Survey. This Bill is concerned mainly with method. The decisions will be taken in the light of what the consultations that I mentioned have established to be the benefits of the product or service and the likely costs of continuing it in various possible forms.

My Lords, to sum up, the inclusion of Ordnance Survey in this Bill in no way prejudices the decisions on map series and other matters now under consultation. It merely keeps the options open on the ultimate method of financing the Survey. I would make a few last general points. First, the timing of the introduction of trading funds will also vary from case to case since it is dependent on a number of other changes in the organisation and management of the services concerned. We hope, if Parliament approves this Bill this Session and subject to completion of the necessary preparatory work, to lay a draft order providing for a trading fund for the Royal Ordnance factories from April 1, 1974, at about the turn of the year. Work on some of the other services might take up to a further two or three years to complete. Secondly, Clause 4 provides that the trading fund organisations will remain the direct responsibility of Ministers. It will be possible, as now, for Members of either House to put down Questions or to write to a Minister about their activities. The accountability to Parliament of a service transferred to a trading fund is likely, if anything, to be made more rather than less effective. The answerability of the trading funds to Parliament will be reduced only to the limited extent that they will no longer produce Estimates and Appropriation Accounts. But we should expect that the whole group of measures which go together under the title of "Accountable Management" would offset this. I therefore commend this Bill to the House as one which will make a modest but useful step in the direction of improved management and accountability of certain organisations within Government. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Earl of Gowrie.)

12.7 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl has given a very clear and reasonable account of the purposes of this Bill. If I have to raise certain criticisms of the Government in regard to it, I assure the noble Earl that my doing so is not in any way determined by Party feelings. Indeed, I know of no other Bill of such importance which has received so easy a passage in another place—which, on the whole, is a little more inclined to Party politics than are we. It is true that, as the noble Earl has said, as a former Minister in day-to-day charge of the Civil Service Department I was involved in these policy considerations. I am bound to say that I have been perhaps a little more sceptical of such concepts as management by objective, accountable management or the other fashionable management jargon of the day. My reason for scepticism is not in regard to the principles set out by Fulton but in regard to the manner of its implementation, in regard to the degree of Parliamentary control over such decisions as might be taken in this field and dependent also on the most thorough consideration before any decision was taken. It is all too easy, for cosmetic reasons, to say, "Let us hive off this lot. This is consistent with general Government policy." No Government are immune, I regret to say, from this sort of tendency.

I was encouraged in certain respects by the noble Earl's saying that Parliamentary Questions could still be asked about the activities of these trading fund organisations; although I am bound to say that if that degree of Parliamentary accountability exists, it militates precisely against the type of accountable management that the noble Earl is speaking about. There is a real conflict here. Parliamentary accountability is a very different thing from accountable management in the sense that the noble Earl has spoken—which was to create a degree of independence and to judge results largely on the success of the operation in financial terms. We could talk at great length on the philosophy of this matter. I only mention it to show that the theory behind the concepts of units of accountable management could fill a whole university seminar for a very lengthy time.

My Lords, there is another anxiety that I have with regard to this Bill. The noble Earl has said that no decision has been taken, for instance, with regard to the Ordnance Survey. I think he said that the Royal Mint and the R.O.Fs. would become units of accountable management under the Trading Funds Bill, but it is not good enough for the Government to say that no decision is taken, that this Bill is purely enabling; because if we pass the Bill in this form we are, to a very large extent, deciding in principle, subject to a little more examination, that those listed in the Bill will in fact be the subject of the operation of the Bill. The fact that there will be a further opportunity for Parliament to consider this is not as convincing, when one comes to examine it, as at first appears, because in fact all that Parliament will be able to do is to say "Yea" or "Nay" to an Affirmative Resolution. It may be that they can say that they will not have it, but generally the process does not work in this way and once again—and it is an inevitable legislative tendency—we have an example of an enabling Bill which will allow the Government to go ahead without the ordinary safeguards and procedures that exist in dealing with a matter of this kind by Bill rather than by Order. There will be no opportunity to discuss safeguards, there will be little opportunity even to quiz whether the thinking behind the decision is correct. Therefore on principle, though I am not in any way opposing the Bill, I do not think your Lordships ought to think of it as being as simple as perhaps the noble Earl made it sound.

There do exist important Parliamentary principles, and going back (as some of us do) to the days just after the war the Labour Government were under continual criticism—and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will remember this—for proceeding by what one called enabling Bills or enabling Acts and thereafter just being able to pass an Order. I think these criticisms are to some extent valid to-day, and I would hope that it might be possible for the Government between now and the Committee stage to give some consideration to devising a procedure by which Parliament, before being asked to approve an Order, was given the opportunity to examine it, perhaps by Select Committee or in draft, to be able to go thoroughly into the appropriate nature of the proposal and to judge in fact that it meets the criteria which it appears the Government are setting, though we do not know precisely what those criteria are. For instance, I think the noble Earl said that it depended to some extent on there being sizeable trading activities. I have no idea what "sizeable" means. Is it 10 per cent., or must the majority of this fund be capable of being financed outside the Treasury and public finances? I do not necessarily expect the noble Earl to answer to-day, but these are the kinds of matters which, when an Order is made, it would be desirable for Parliament to have an opportunity to check.

It is partly because of the way that the Government have proceeded in regard to this Bill that such deep suspicion has been aroused, particularly in the scientific world. If I may, I now declare an interest as President of the Royal Geographical Society; none the less, I do not speak in a representative capacity. I am glad to see the President of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society here also. The very deepest anxiety has been caused in scientific and geographical circles with regard to the Bill, and it is not good enough for the Government to say that they just misunderstand; it is for the Government to tell people what they are proposing. The Minister's statements were made earlier in the year and this Bill was introduced, almost flung, into the Commons on May 17. There was no White Paper and practically no consultation with outside bodies. It is this sort of thing that causes real anxiety. I have warned the noble Earl that he will almost certainly be receiving representations from the Royal Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Geographical Association and, for all I know, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, the Geological Association and many other bodies —and it may well be that the Government will have an answer for them. But the Government have created the type of anxiety and suspicion that they could well have avoided.

The decisions or the proposals with regard to the Ordnance Survey have been taken as the result of consideration by an internal review committee. Its report has not been published—there are probably good reasons why it should not be reported—but I must say to the noble Earl that sitting at the Council of the Royal Geographical Society surrounded by admirable and distinguished Conservatives, the language they have used about a Government which claims to follow a policy of open government was of a great deal more vigour than much of the argument put out by my Party. I must stress to the noble Earl that there is real anxiety and real feeling.

What are we told in regard to the Ordnance Survey? We are told in the statement that the 1/25,000 map series is at risk. The Statement was: A review will be undertaken of the need of the public sector for maps of the scale of 1/25,000."— this is the two-and-a-half inch map— If the public sector requirement does not justify the continued production of this series it will be open to the Ordnance Survey to consider the publication of individual sheets or composite sheets where it considers the market can support them. My Lords, the reason why this country is as well mapped and as well surveyed and has set such a leading example to the world, is that in an age of tremendous private enterprise motivation, the 19th century, this area was dealt with by those who were publicly motivated in this matter. I do assure noble Lords I am not trying to make a Party political point. I could give the list of users of the 1/25,000 series. I am sorry to go into such detail but it is necessary to explain why we have anxieties about this Bill when these statements are made. The two-and-a-half inch map is a post-war publication; before the war we did not have it. It has become extremely valuable, not only to geographers but certainly to a very large number of geographical students. A figure has been given of about half a million people who use it, or who may at some time need to use it. Certainly the geologists need it. They have recently been producing geological maps of this scale based on the Survey. Road planners and others need it. The Government will say, "That is fine; if there is a public demand, then it will pay". But it will not necessarily pay; it does not necessarily become a commercial operation. It may well be that the Government will have to take account of a good deal of demand which is not easily measurable. At any rate, there is great concern about this, and that is one of the reasons why this Bill is Prefaced by a statement of that kind.

The second area of concern is with regard to the tertiary levelling. Here again there was a statement that: The provision of tertiary bench marks will, after an appropriate transition period, cease to be a routine service and will become a repayment service. I will quote what was said in the record of the Institute of Photogrammetry and here again I will not read the whole. It states: A series of large-scale plans, or a tertiary levelling system supplies a need that cannot be treated to the same commercial assessment that accountants give to Lyons Dairymaid. I quote that to show the strength of feeling there is in this matter. I should have thought that tertiary levelling was not likely to be a commercially justifiable undertaking, but it is vital to geologists and geophysicists and others. So I hope that before we come to the Committee stage of the Bill the Government will do certain things. First, will they undertake to receive representations from the various scientific bodies, and to take time to consider them and, above all, to answer them? Secondly, would they consider the possibility of certain additional protection in the Bill; for instance, by way of requiring that a candidate under the Trading Funds Bill, whether listed in the Bill or not, should be the subject of a special procedure? Again I warn about the danger of enabling legislation, which is so attractive to Governments but which reduces the area of public scrutiny.

Thirdly, will the Government be able to give some of the information which led to the particular decision to include some of the candidates that they have already put in the Bill? The noble Earl did give some, and I do not disagree. These have been subject—the Royal Ordnance Factory, and the Dockyards—to exhaustive consideration by Committees over a number of years. The same thing applies to the Royal Mint. But there are others, not even listed, and the Ordnance Survey—I am sorry to keep coming back to this point—is classically one which has not been the subject of the sort of consideration which is desirable. We shall need a great deal more information about this before the autumn.

I apologise to your Lordships for taking up so long on what may seem to some people a small matter, but the Government have had a pretty rough time following the report of the Rothschild recommendations; they are going to be in for more trouble and they had better get a move on and think out the implications. And, please, will they show goodwill and answer satisfactorily, and themselves be intellectually convinced of the criticisms that are put to them? I have had previous discussions with Ministers, and particularly with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who is always sympathetic, but I do not as yet trust the knowledge of Government Departments in every area of life and I am nervous of a change of emphasis in some of these matters, however logical it may seem, without a great deal more consideration than has been given to it.

12.25 p.m.


My Lords, I recall that many years ago I was responsible for two of these services, and that leads me to say that I think that in general the proposals here are very sensible. There are cases of semi-commercial operations of this sort where the ordinary financial and accountancy and cash control procedures and the Vote system are inappropriate. On the other hand, one sees that bodies of the kind mentioned here cannot be hived right away from the responsibility of the Ministers concerned. I go with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in saying that always we ought to be vigilant about enabling legislation; and perhaps because, with the multiplicity of Government activities nowadays, it may be inevitable that we shall have more and more of it. That does not mean that on every single occasion we ought not to look at it very carefully to find out whether it is necessary. In this case it is probably a sensible arrangement, but no doubt when we come to the Committee stage we shall want to talk about it.

With the lapse of time, my Lords, what I cannot remember is whether I had direct responsibility for tertiary levelling. My memory is a little dim about that. If I did, I do not remember its having kept me lying awake at night. But no doubt when we come to the Committee stage I shall understand. Regarding the Ordnance Survey, the last thing I should want to do would be to quarrel with anything said by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I agree entirely that the standards of this service are standards of which we in this country have every reason to be extremely proud. I do not believe that applying the trading fund system to the Ordnance Survey need in any way diminish or put those standards at risk. Our maps in this country are uniquely excellent and it would be a tragedy if anything were done by over-emphasising immediate profit and loss considerations to reduce their quality. I remember during the war hearing soldiers who had to fight in other countries saying that if only we could let the Germans invade this country so that we could take them on with the benefit of the Ordnance Survey maps victory would be more assured. I am not saying that the main purpose of our Ordnance Survey maps is a military purpose; they are for many purposes. I think that in general this Bill is right, that we should be wise to give it a Second Reading, and that we should be wise also to look at it in Committee to see that the powers we are giving are in fact sensible.

12.28 p.m.


My Lords, I want to add one or two words in support of the two noble Lords who have spoken on this question of the Ordnance Survey. I do not think that it is a small question; it is probably the main one that we shall explore in Committee. Therefore one need make no apology for raising it on Second Reading and giving the Minister notice that he will be required to deal with these questions in somewhat greater detail. In the meanwhile he has the opportunity to accept some of the very reasonable points put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, which I can tell the Minister, from correspondence I have had with geographers, mean a great deal to them. If he can satisfy them—and I think that his speech this morning went some way to do so—it will ensure the better progress of the Bill and the Ordnance Survey under its new role, if and when it becomes one of the trading funds.

As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, it is unfortunate that we got off here to a bad start, first because of the limited range of the organisations consulted at the stage of drafting the Bill. I should like to reinforce the plea made that there be the widest possible consultation before any Order is laid, or indeed before the Bill becomes law. If representations are made by the Royal Society, or any other organisation, I hope that the Minister will give them a detailed answer at this stage instead of waiting until after the Bill becomes law. Secondly, there is the question of the private review conducted by the Secretary of State for the Environment which has never yet seen the light of day. Governments always say that Departmental reviews are not supposed to be published and that if the documents were prepared on the basis that they were to become public knowledge they would be very differently put together. I do not accept that. On the few occasions when these documents have been published finally, in response to pressure in Parliament or in the outside community, one is always astonished at the motives of the Ministers in holding back. It is purely a Civil Service convention that because something has been undertaken by means of a Departmental Committee you have an absolute rule that it is never thereafter published. I think it is time this was changed, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, pointed out, we have a Government now that prides itself on openness. Surely, in a scientific matter such as the future of the Ordnance Survey there cannot possibly be any reason of a commercial or other nature which would debar the Secretary of State from allowing them to have that information.

My Lords, the only other point I want to make is on the question of what is, to use the noble Lord's words, a significant proportion of expenditure of a trading nature. As I understand it, only about one-third of the costs of the Ordnance Survey are recovered in the charges that they make. The fear of many geographers is that the charges are going to increase out of all recognition, notwithstanding the fact that some of their expenditure may be met by the Department of the Environment. I think it is extremely important for him to be able to reassure users, particularly in the academic community, that they are not going to be charged "through the nose" simply in order that the trading fund, when it is established, can break even. We owe it to the academic community, the universities and the schools, as well, that they are provided with these services at reasonable cost. I must say that I am absolutely horrified at some of the increased charges which have taken place over the last few years amounting to as much as 400 per cent. in some cases. One can see the period over which this has occurred, because the maps generally have the cost expressed on them in the old units, and they are overstamped several times as the increases have taken place. Inflation in the charges for the Ordnance Survey maps has been far greater than that in the cost of living as a whole. One is afraid now that if a trading fund is established, a greater burden is going to be put on users in the academic community, and that is a source of considerable anxiety to them. But, as I say, I think the noble Earl has gone some way to reassure us in the remarks that he made about the grant towards this fund. We shall require further details of that, and I am sure that if he can give them in the Committee stage this Bill will go through smoothly.

12.32 p.m.


My Lords, having been drawn by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I feel that as President of the Royal Geographical Society he cannot be allowed to be the only voice of the geographical organisations of this country in this debate. I speak as President of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society to inform your Lordships and the Government that the professional geographers, geologists and cartographers in Scotland view with considerable apprehension the consequences that the Bill may have upon the Ordnance Survey. I support the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in all that he has said, and I do not want to repeat any of it because he has said it so much better than I could. However, there are two points that I wish to add. The first is that, in addition to having a lively and rather native Scottish form of geographers, and very lively geographical departments at the universities which have made some notable contributions outside Scotland, we have in Edinburgh I think the biggest, and I would say certainly the best, private firm of cartographers in the United Kingdom, if not in the whole world. The interest there in what may be happening is considerable. I am sure that geographers in Scotland, hearing this in mind, would like to know what are the implications of the Bill in that direction. This firm has probably done more in developing the science of cartography certainly than any private firm, and while they have naturally taken from the Ordnance Survey, equally it is true that the Ordnance Survey has taken a great deal from that firm.

My Lords, the second point relates to that made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, about the 2½-inch map. The noble Lord gave a list of users, including geologists, and I should like to add to it undergraduate students. Undergraduate students in geography are expected to produce a thesis in their final year on some particular part of the country. It is usually some form of a social survey, and for that the larger 2½-inch map is extremely valuable. It would be a great pity if it were to go out of use.

I have one final thing to say. I should like to take this opportunity of testifying to the very high quality of the young surveyors that the Ordnance Survey send out into the country. If it is ever the good fortune of any of your Lordships to encounter them on survey, I advise you to make contact with them, and you will appreciate how they are working, their imagination, energy and resourcefulness. I just want to take this opportunity to let it be known what a magnificent job they are doing, socially, as well as scientifically.

12.36 p.m.


My Lords, it is always rather formidable to be faced with the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition across this table, and it is particularly formidable in this case because among his many distinguished hats is that of an ex-Civil Service Minister, the Minister responsible for the Civil Service, the Lord Privy Seal and President of the Royal Geographical Society. All are covered by this Bill, and so the noble Lord knows with a vengeance what he is talking about. I hope I can give him reassurances that this is a continuation of a process set out when he was Minister, that the Bill before the House at the moment is primarily concerned with methods of financing: and we feel that there is a considerable degree of agreement between the Parties—the noble Lord made it clear that this was not a Party matter—that management objectives should be more clearly defined and good management incentives defined and rewarded. However, because the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and other noble Lords who have spoken dealt principally with the Ordnance Survey question, I just want to make a few closing remarks about this area, which I think would be the wish of the House.

My Lords, I totally take Lord Avebury's point on the specific matters that we can take up in Committee. I must say to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that between now and then I am of course only too happy to receive every kind of representation from the Geographical Society, though I must warn him and them that these will be principally and best directed towards my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. At some point in time I acknowledge that it will fall to the Government to decide whether they are prepared to subsidise a map series with limited sales demand. I recognise the noble Lord's concern about this, and that of other noble Lords, and I will relate it to the Secretary of State for the Environment. Lord Shackleton's views are already known, as he said, but they are always listened to with particular respect as he speaks on this subject with great authority. Because the possibility of establishing a trading fund for the Ordnance Survey is covered by the Bill, it is of course only right for the noble Lord and other noble Lords to give voice to concern for the future of the survey, but what I think I must make clear in connection with this Bill is this. Nothing in the Bill, which is in the main about methods of financing, gives the Secretary of State for the Environment greater powers than he already has to make changes in Ordnance Survey policy. In short, if there is concern about Ordnance Survey policy, I will of course relay the concern that I receive to my right honourable friend, but it is not directly in connection with this Bill.

The noble Lord asked me one or two questions. I have already said that I shall be pleased to receive representation, and I will look at the possibility of adding certain other protections in the Bill between now and the Committee stage and will see what can be done. I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—and his point was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—what considerations had led to particular candidates for trading fund activities to be let into the Bill. There is no rule of thumb on this. As I said in my opening speech, we thought it right to put down the type of category that we were considering. The percentage of Treasury finance involved is not itself critical. The critical factor, surely, is how far the national requirement justifying specific support leads to putting a significant constraint on the freedom of action of management. If this can be dealt with by general arms-length directives, then it is consistent with the trading fund. I must say briefly to the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, that if tertiary levelling (and I have a note here which I will not read out at this point) did not keep him awake at night when he was Chancellor, it certainly has been keeping me awake at night recently.

I welcome the considered criticism of the Bill; I look forward to the Committee stage; and look forward to receiving representations between now and then.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.