§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG rose to call attention to the growth of Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisations (QUANGOs); and to move for Papers. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful to the number of noble Lords who have put down their names to speak today. Some, I know, in your Lordships' House have hesitated to do so because they have interests to declare. As a member of the British Railways Western Regional Board, I should like to start by declaring my own interest. It is not a ministerial appointment but it is a job that I enjoy and one in which I hope I can be helpful to British Rail, on which I am an inveterate traveller by choice and whose supporter I am.717
My Lords, what is a QUANGO? Some Members of your Lordships' House may have noticed that I have changed the definition, in the terms of my Motion, from "Quasi-Autonomous National Government Organisations" to "Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisations", which was the definition first used in America and which is, I believe, a more accurate description of the functions of QUANGOs than the former one, though both are currently in use. There is, however, a difference. Mr. Bowen in his survey of fringe bodies published on behalf of the Civil Service Department, uses the term "a fringe body", which he says on page 8,
will serve as handy, if unattractive, shorthand for the non-Departmental Governmental instruments with which this study is concerned".
I am not sure that definition is crystal clear to everybody, but then neither is the term "quasi-autonomous". The Oxford Dictionary defines—or shall I say translates?—"quasi" as meaning:
As it were, almost, virtually; kind of; resembling or simulating, but not really the same as that properly so termed".
Now, my Lords, we begin to see the nature of the problem. The very difficulty and imprecision of the nomenclature and the general air of secrecy that surrounds this subject itself gives rise to public concern. It is not, therefore, surprising that voluntary organisations are worried about their status. They will hardly be encouraged by Mr. Bowen's statement on page 23 of his report, referring to voluntary organisations, where he says:
Their status is uncertain and may need to be considered further when that Committee (that is, the Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Wolfenden) has reported".
I might perhaps add in parenthesis to members of the Civil Service Department that that Committee did in fact report a year ago.
§ One of the questions that must be asked is: When does a voluntary organisation become a QUANGO? Is it one when it is entirely financed by the State or when a Minister appoints its chairman? The Community Projects Foundation, for example, now calls itself a QUANGO, as the Home Secretary appoints its chairman. Or is it in the position of becoming a QUANGO if, like the National Council of Social Services, one member of its executive is a Government nominee of the 718 Home Office, who keeps a watching brief on the taxpayers' money? Such individuals concerned—they are usually called "assessors"—are no doubt excellent personages but they sit rather like Banquo's Ghost at the feast, no doubt diligently reporting all that is happening, and possibly inhibiting the discussion. At that stage, the independence of the voluntary organisation has not been affected; but it could be at some future date.
§ Perhaps, as a general rule, it may be that the main difference between a QUANGO and a voluntary organisation is that the members of a QUANGO are appointed directly by a Minister whereas the management or executive of a voluntary body is a matter for each separate organisation. But if this is a broad definition, it does raise in my mind at least two important points. The first is the need to look yet again at the independent sources of finance for voluntary organisations—a point I raised in a debate on the Wolfenden Report last January. The second, which is relevant to our debate today, is to ask the question as to why voluntary organisations cannot do some of the work at present done, or proposed to be done, by QUANGOs.
§ So although it is difficult to define a QUANGO or fringe body, there is no doubt at all about their growth. Two and a half years ago the Government published for the first time a Directory of Paid Public Appointments—largely, I believe, after the diligent questioning of my colleague, the honourable Member for Carlton, Mr. Philip Holland. This listed 295 national and local bodies, but excluded a great number of advisory and consultative bodies. A new edition just published lists, on my calculations, 369 such bodies. In the survey of fringe bodies, to which I have just referred, there is an interesting table on page 1, which indicates the rapid growth of such organisations, particularly since 1960. Between 1960 and 1965 there were 150; between 1966 and 1971 there were 196; between 1971 and 1975 there were 235; and in 1978 there were 252
§ It is no exaggeration to say that in 10 years' time there could easily be 1,000 such organisations. For it is important to recognise what has been left out of the list of fringe bodies and is clearly set out. 719 Included are the Royal Household and Parliament, the Armed Services, the Judiciary (which excludes all tribunals, both judicial and quasi-judicial), the nationalised industries (where the argument is that there is no accepted definition of what a "nationalised industry" is), the health services and local authorities and organisations responsible to local authorities. Whether, if all these excluded bodies were to be included, the numbers would be the same as those in the Directory of Paid Public Appointments, or more, I cannot say. One thing is certain: more are on the way.
§ Let us look at one piece of legislation currently before Parliament: the Public Lending Right Bill. Included in that, and tucked away in Clause 4 and in the Schedule to the Bill, is the proposed establishment of another QUANGO. Let us look also at the report of the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, on gambling. We see before us the proposal to set up a National Lottery Board. Since the publication of the Labour Party Programme 1976, two of the proposed QUANGOs have already arrived—the Co-operative Development Agency and the Energy Forum. We are promised many more, such as a National Planning Commission, an Agricultural Land Commission, a Housing Finance Agency, a Communications Council, and so on.
§ My Lords, the fact is that any study of this subject makes one realise how extensive this world of public bodies is, and to step into it is to step into a quicksand—the further one goes the deeper one sinks. What really is going on? We now have a list of paid public appointments as well as a list of fringe bodies, but we do not have a clear picture. We do not know the limits of the territory; we do not know how the appointments are made or why Ministers choose as they do. There was a time, I believe, when there was thought to be a list of "the great and the good", from which persons were selected. But are they, as someone has said, nowadays really only the less and the better, or the least and the worst? When it is realised that 17 Ministers have within their gift over 8,000 paid appointments and 25,000 unpaid ones, at a total cost of £5 million a year, the question is at least worth asking, for we have established 720 within our political world a new world equal to the number of councillors in the whole of local government throughout the United Kingdom—if not more than that number.
§ Furthermore, QUANGOs spend a lot of money; the top 10 are expected to spend over £35 million this year, in some cases more than was originally authorised by Parliament. They employ a large number of people: ACAS, for example, costs over £10 million per annum and employs 819 people, and the Price Commission spends over £7 million and employs nearly 600 people. And, interestingly, some chairmen of QUANGOs do not appear to have to keep to the Government's pay guidelines.
A great deal more can be said about patronage, about public accountability and about the fact that some QUANGOs are both judge and jury in their own case. My noble friend Lord Elton, who will be speaking at the end of this debate, will no doubt go into more detail on these points. But I should like to turn to a more fundamental question, which is: Why has there been this growth in QUANGOs at all? In the gracious Speech, there is a statement:
My Government are resolved to strengthen our democracy by providing new opportunities for citizens to take part in the decisions that affect their lives".
A worthy sentiment, my Lords, but in fact the development of QUANGOs is the very opposite.
§ When a piece of legislation is before the House or before Parliament, there is surely one important question that needs to be asked. The question is: Is this a public function? If the answer to that question is, Yes, then the next question to be asked is surely: Should it be done by a Minister, by local government or by a public body? If the function is carried out by a Minister, it is of course subject to Parliamentary control—to the Public Accounts Committee and to Parliamentary Questions. If it is done by local government, again it is subject to public debate by directly elected members of a local authority responsible to their electorate, and, in some cases, the ratepayer has an opportunity to put the question at district audit. But if it is done by a public body, none of these criteria applies, and public bodies can be 721 said to be anti-democratic, in the 19th century meaning of that term as being subject to Parliamentary control.
§ How then are they justified? There are, I think, a number of cases where the grounds are reasonably clear. For example, in the case of nationalised industries, it has been decided—and I think rightly—that it would not be right for all the detailed day-to-day matters of the running of great industries to be debated on the Floor of the House and a board has therefore been set up. Noble Lords who recall the Questions about the Sunday collections of post last year will remember the difficulties which they experienced in getting any information at all on that subject.
§ Other committees that have been established, such as the University Grants Committee or the Arts Council, have an overall grant that is controlled by Parliament, though its distribution is left to the committee to decide. In this way, such committees act as a buffer between the Minister and the people, the Minister deciding upon the broad policy and the committee looking at it in detail.
In the past, at any rate, appointments to such committees, and sometimes to corporations, were, I believe, based on the concept that appointed members, as contrasted with elected members, would be people of independent judgment who were to be trusted to give unbiased advice to Ministers. Originally, most were unpaid. Such justification—that is, for appointment and not election—is much more difficult to defend today; and Mr. Jack Jones produced an interesting—if, to me, difficult to understand—doctrine when he said in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph dated 23rd July 1978, about his QUANGO appointments:
I have been the elected nominee of the Trades Union Congress and that of course applies to other trade union colleagues".
§ "Elected nominee" is a new term to me; perhaps it is "newspeak" or, more accurately, "new write". I wish someone would explain it.
§ If there is a justification for the boards that I have described, it is difficult to see what justification there is for the many ad hoc boards which have been, and are being, continuously established, some of which have executive functions. Local 722 authorities are very worried about their growth. The list is very lsong indeed, but I give just three examples—the Manpower Services Commission, the Health and Safety at Work Council and the Economic Planning Councils. Time does not allow me this afternoon to go into all the detail that I should like, but the case for their establishment has not always been argued, nor indeed the case for their retention. Local authorities are entitled to say that many, if not all, of their functions could have been carried out by local government, or, alternatively, by local government and a Minister, and that the establishment of a board or public body or QUANGO has not contributed to efficient working, to understanding by the public or to democratic control, as meaning the control of the Executive by the Legislature.
§ May I give one illustration of that point. We are, all I think, enormously concerned today about the problem of the young unemployed and the relationship of the Department of Employment to the Department of Education and Science, and whether or not the educational system is helping the young unemployed to be qualified to get a job. If we look at the Manpower Services Commission, we find that it is not an advisory body; it has executive powers both to formulate and to implement policy and it has the opportunity to disburse £700 million allotted to it by the Government. It has 20 boards in England, and they are grouped so as to be coterminous with groups of local education authorities, because of course the latter are responsible for careers advice. But local government could be justified for thinking that, if the special programmes which they put out had originated at local level to meet local needs, the 96 local education authorities would have been more effective units to do this work than the Manpower Services Commission. I raise this, because I think that this is an important matter of policy and we want to make quite sure that the administration is the most effective way of dealing with what is a very serious social problem.
§ What underlines these three cases is the fact that they illustrate that democratic institutions are not trusted nowadays, and nor are the politicians or the civil servants, who might have been thought able to take a great many administrative 723 decisions, but who are now subject to the inquiries of the Ombudsman. He does not, of course, inquire into boards; he simply inquires into administration, either central or local. The real danger, as I see it, is that we are being driven to accept the establishment of QUANGOs as a way of government, and it is a way of government that is taking power away from elected representatives, either in Parliament or in local government, and handing it over to the Executive in a secret way.
§ Nothing illustrates this argument better than the fact that members of boards are so frequently paid more than Members of Parliament or even Cabinet Ministers, and certainly more than local councillors. Not surprisingly, some appointees are better than elected representatives, because on the whole in life you get what you pay for, and the system therefore feeds on itself. But the fact remains that such people are dependent, and because they are dependent they cannot at the same time be independent.
§ To argue, as the author of the report on fringe bodies does, that such bodies were a 19th century characteristic is, I believe, unhelpful and possibly untrue. The 19th century saw the extension of the franchise and the inroduction of the secret ballot, based on the belief—though the term was not then in use—that there should be public participation in decision- making. The whole concept of representative democracy was thought to be a good one and, for example, members of the boards established following the 1870 Education Act were elected; they were not appointed. It is we in the 20th century who have reversed this trend and if people are worried, as I think they are, then they have good reason to be.
§ I believe that this trend in our lives needs to be examined very closely and seriously and in some cases needs to be reversed, and that the public anxiety is understandable and right. We need to establish much more clearly the criteria for setting up QUANGOs, or for dismantling those whose functions could be carried out by other organisations. We need to be absolutely clear in our minds where political responsibility should lie. In moving this Motion, I ask the House to consider the growth of QUANGOs— 724 this extensive, powerful, yet uncontrolled world—and I hope that this afternoon's debate may contribute to deeper thinking and debate about this important aspect of our lives today. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
My Lords, we on these Benches very much welcome the debate which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has initiated. I think that we are very much in agreement with a great deal of what she had to say in her very interestnig and stimulating remarks. I am not in the happy position in which the noble Baroness finds herself of having an interest to declare. I am, apparently, neither good, nor great, nor, indeed, less bad.
However, it should be pointed out that ever since we have had any form of civilisation in this country, a form of QUANGO has always existed. It is merely that a clever academic has invented a name which summarises them. There was a large group of people who surrounded our medieval monarchs. In the 18th century, a large number of hangers-on to the various Whig Governments of those days enjoyed jobs which, I understand, were described as sinecures. So it is nothing new that we are discussing; it is merely a further spreading, in an alarming and concerning way, of the power of patronage by Government.
Mr. Gladstone, if I may make so bold as to mention his name, described injustice and the spread of patronage as two of the most serious dangers in British public life. I think that this is still true. However, there is the advantage these days that at least we can now identify to a large extent who are the QUANGOs, who are the enjoyers of patronage. QUANGOs are largely set out in an enormous volume —a directory of paid public appointments made by Ministers, which extends to a very large number of pages and which is worthy of careful examination. It shows the extent to which this creeping extension of patronage has gone on.
Given the present style of Government that we have in the country, I think that many of the people in the QUANGOs which we are discussing do essential jobs extremely well—very often at little cost, and very often, indeed, for a pittance. 725 There is much for which we should thank them in British public life. We are fortunate—indeed unique—in having a judicial system at the magistrates' level which is free and which works effectively. We are lucky in having available people of great talent and ability who are prepared to work on a number of boards and to attend a number of very long and difficult sessions of various organisations for very small remuneration, or often none at all. Successive Labour and Conservative Governments have carried out programmes of social engineering which have been outside direct Parliamentary or local government control.
In the period 1970 to 1974, the Conservative Government did their share of extending QUANGOs. I wonder whether that Government did anything to decrease the existing number of QUANGOs during their period of Office. I felt tempted to say that it takes two to QUANGO but decided that possibly that would not meet with your Lordships' approval. At that time, the Conservative Government set up a National Health Service system that was outside the control of local government. This system created an enormous number of QUANGOs which were not answerable to anybody in the way that the old National Health Service was answerable. Similarly, the control of water supply was taken out of local government control and still remains outside their control. We ought to be looking not only at reducing the number of QUANGOs in general but specifically at returning, where we can, to the control of local government many of those responsibilities which have been removed from them in the very recent past.
In the comparatively short period of over 20 years that I was in local government, the area of responsibility which local government had—and, therefore, the interest aroused to bring people into local government—diminished greatly and it continues to diminish. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the local authority associations feel that one area where we might reduce the growth of QUANGOs, of groups which are not answerable, is local government. One of the main remedies we have for this problem is the reform of local government. Although one hesitates to suggest new tiers of local government, I feel that to create a tier of local government at 726 regional level instead of the present county council system would, at a stroke, return to democratic control many areas which at present are governed by boards and unelected bodies.
Secondly, having suggested reform at the local government end, one might seek to make the continuing QUANGOs—and there will inevitably be those bodies so long as we have the kind of system of government that we have—particularly those which are responsible for spending great amounts of public money, answerable to Parliament: either to the House of Commons through a Select Committee or to the House of Lords. If QUANGOs are spending public money in large quantities, they should be answerable, whoever they are and whatever the body is, to scrutiny by a Select Committee of either the other place or this Chamber. There is a great deal to be said for persuading, or allowing, or permitting your Lordships' House, in particular during the autumn and winter seasons when business is not so pressing as later in the year, to direct its attention to the examination of the record of various non-elected bodies of the kind that we are discussing. I am sure that this House would be an ideal forum for having a thorough examination on a regular basis of the way that these bodies operate. There is a wide feeling that there is a need for fresh air in this area—a need for a complete look at the method of appointment and the method of selection. There is much to be said for setting up a Joint Select Committee of both Houses to look at the method of appointment and the use of the QUANGO.
Having said all that, may I say again that very much good work is done by very many of these bodies at very little cost to the taxpayer. They have the advantage of bringing into government or quasi-government service people who have never served either in local government, or in the House of Commons, or in this House, since they are not the kind of people who want to involve themselves in the political game. It gives people of managerial skill and abilities of that kind an opportunity to involve themselves in Government service. If new boards are to be set up or if changes are to be made to any of these organisations, there is much to be said for the posts being advertised. I can see nothing wrong in advertising, in inviting people to apply if they think that 727 they have the kind of skills and abilities that are required. It would then be seen to be a more open system of selection than it is at present. One of the main criticisms about the method of selection is that people think that selection is carried out in a hole-in-the-corner way by an Establishment into which they cannot hope to break.
Finally, the other reform I should like to suggest is a limitation on the number of QUANGO posts that any individual can hold. I would not think of naming anybody in your Lordships' House, but I believe that there are a number of Pooh Bahs enjoying very large numbers of these kinds of post. However adept those people are, I cannot believe that they can serve adequately in 15, 16 or 17 such posts. Therefore, I am saying that there is room for reform by extending local government responsibility and by making QUANGOs answerable to Select Committees which would examine their activities in your Lordships' House. Also, we ought to consider the setting up of a Select Committee of both Houses to have a general look at the matter, and we ought to limit the number of posts which can be held.
This is a very useful debate and I hope that out of it we shall get some useful answers which will allay certain of the fears about which, as I quite agree with the noble Baroness, people in very many areas are worrying at this time.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Baroness WHITE
My Lords, I do not recognise myself as a Pooh Bah. Perhaps other people think that I appear to be one. However, at the outset I must declare that I have some personal interest in this matter, as I am the part-time chairman of the Land Authority for Wales which is listed, both by the Conservative Party and by the Civil Service Department, as being a QUANGO or a fringe body. I have in the past served as deputy chairman of the Metrication Board, which I should have thought was a rather marginal QUANGO but it is included as a fringe body. I am a member of the University Grants Committee and I am a member of a Standing Royal Commission.
728 I think the advantage of this multiplicity of duties is that at least one can look at this matter of QUANGOs from various angles and from direct personal experience. Therefore I was much interested when the noble Baroness, Lady Young, put down her Motion on this subject. I was surprised that she did not refer more specifically to the booklet produced by her Party political centre called The QUANGO Explosion, which I have studied line by line. I may perhaps refer to this because I was distinctly amused to discover that my fairly modest organisation, the Land Authority for Wales, is included among the top ten. This really astonished me. But I think I must refer to this because one of the purposes, apparently, of producing this booklet was to complain about what are referred to as "Labour's new creations"; and I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, mentioned that the Conservatives had also created quite a fair number in their turn. But we are directed to turn our attention toLabour's new creations, their size and burgeoning costs".It was the "burgeoning costs" which brought me to look at page 14, where the top ten are listed and among which the Land Authority for Wales is included, as is the Welsh Development Agency and the comparable Scottish Development Agency. The innocent citizen who did not know much about this would suppose that the Land Authority for Wales for the current year was costing the country nearly £600,000; but of course that is only one side of the equation. It is quite true that in general terms we are spending that amount upon staff and overheads of one kind and another, but what is not at all indicated to the innocent citizen is that in fact we are making a great deal of money, which is the normal way in an entrepreneurial organisation, which is what we are. We are highly profitable. The innocent citizen would never have realised, from reading this booklet, that although some of these organisations are service organisations or advisory or administrative or regulatory, there are others of us who are included as though we are a cost but who in fact are very much on the credit side. Indeed, far from costing anybody roughly £600,000, we reckon that in two and a half years of trading we have made between £3½ million and 729 £4 million and we have not cost any ratepayer or taxpayer one single halfpenny.
I am sure your Lordships will forgive me for putting this firmly on the record, Admittedly, it is a "commercial" for my own organisation, but if in a public document on a subject which we are debating there is a statement which, left as it is, is entirely misleading, I think I am fully entitled to try to put the record straight. However, having said that, I agree, of course, that there are questions which should properly be asked about the very large number of bodies which are included in this list of—the Government uses the more delicate term—"fringe bodies" and the other lists which are available to us. We should ask ourselves, why have these bodies been established? Surely it is because it is considered that there are certain functions which are not appropriately carried out either by a Government Department, as the noble Baroness has rightly pointed out, or by a local authority, and therefore we need some specialised organisation to do a job or to carry out a particular function which is not necessarily appropriate to the type of organisation which is to be found in our great public departments of State or in our elected local authorities.
In such functions I would certainly include anything which had to do with the market place. I do not believe that civil servants or local government officials understand the ways of the market place. If we are to have a mixed economy, which I believe many of us in this country consider to be the proper expression of our democratic way of life, then it seems to me that among others we must have bodies with what I call entrepreneurial functions, where quick decisions can be taken and in which it is not necessary to ask a committee which sits once a month, but where people can negotiate as principals. I do not think one need labour that point, at least for a certain group of these bodies.
There are also other functions, some of which the noble Baroness herself mentioned. She mentioned the Arts Council and the University Grants Committee, on which I have the honour to sit. These act, so to speak, as buffers between the central Government and the recipient bodies, which are highly individual in 730 their needs and their characteristics and which require an intermediary of some kind. I believe those are very necessary. Therefore I think one should be a little more grateful than I felt the noble Baroness was, to the very large number of people—as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, said—who do a great deal of public service, some of it unpaid, some of it fairly minimally recompensed. This is a characteristic, as it has been for many years, of our public life in this country in which we should take a certain pride.
I have to revert to this booklet, which is apparently an expression of opinion on the part of the Party opposite because, for example, it refers to—
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I am extremely sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but if she will look at the introduction to the pamphlet she will see that it is produced by the Conservative political centre and the views expressed are those of the authors. It is not a piece of Party policy.
§ Baroness WHITE
My Lords, I am comforted by that. Had it been Party policy I might have been very much disturbed. Nevertheless, public allegations have been made, for instance, of widespread abuse by Ministers of their responsibilities in regard to appointments to these bodies. I would be the first to agree that there have been some ill-judged appointments to the chairmanships or memberships of some of these bodies. That can certainly happen, just as one can point the finger at nepotism and other defects in appointments in the private sector. It is just not within the competence or character of mankind never to err in these matters. But having been at one time a Minister myself and concerned in a modest way with some of these appointments, and also having been a member of bodies which have been appointed by Ministers, I believe that on balance the choice of persons for appointments is considered with a view to the public good. There are certainly situations in which politics come into it, but to my mind it is largely a question of swings and roundabouts. If a chairmanship falls vacant the Party in power not infrequently thinks: "Oh well, one of our people should be in the chair and the other side can have the deputy-chairmanship". 731 I have experienced that on one or two of the bodies on which I have served. It is a game which is played by both sides and I do not think we should be too sanctimonious about it. But of what one might call genuine political jobbery I should have thought there was really very little.
What are the alternatives? I think we should face this. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Evans, suggested that there should be advertisements, but my own feeling is that the most suitable people are not the ones who would ever dream of applying. The most suitable people are the busiest people, who have plenty of other things to do and normally have to be pressed to take on a job of public service which may often interfere with their own careers. I therefore feel that it is very unlikely that you would get the best people for the job, in the sense of the most suitable and appropriate people, by a form of advertisement.
The propositions in this little booklet—I am sorry to keep on referring to it, but it is very interesting because at least it must be indicative of the way in which some peoples' minds are moving—include one that a sub-committee of the other place should vet a Minister's nominations and that this sub-committee should approve the appointments. Well, my Lords, let us just think a little about that. On the whole, I would prefer to keep direct Party politics out of most of these jobs; I do not think they are appropriate bodies for Party political expression in the narrow sense of the word. Just think of the sort of horse trading and political wire-pulling which you would be much more likely to have if you submitted these appointments to a sub-committee in the other place. Personally, I should feel safer with the Minister. If outside bodies feel, as I know they sometimes do, that the range of persons appointed to QUANGOs is too narrow, it is very often up to them to put forward suggestions of persons who might be suitable for particular appointments.
I turn to the question of accountability. Here I think we are up against a much more difficult problem. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Evans, and this booklet suggest that a very wide range of QUANGOs should be subject to investiga- 732 tion by a Select Committee of the other place, or conceivably of your Lordships' House, although, as we are not meant to deal too closely with expenditure, there might be constitutional difficulties there. Not a word has been said anywhere about devolution as one of the ways of dealing with this matter. I think before one plunges into any major changes in our Parliamentary system one should at least see whether the devolutionary pattern works at all. If we are going to have Welsh or Scottish Assemblies, a number of these bodies would be answerable to them, I think it would be very much safer working on the relatively small scales of Wales and Scotland first before trying to conduct something on a very much wider scale in England, if I might give advice to my English friends. To my mind, persons are elected to the other place to be concerned very largely with policy matters, and if they were going to spend all their days in Select Committee going into the minutiae of all the QUANGOs listed in these books they would never have time to concern themselves with the major issues of public policy. It would completely change the character of our House of Commons, and to my mind it would change it for the worse.
This does not mean that I think these bodies should not be directly answerable to anyone. If I may speak in my Welsh context, if we are to have a Welsh Assembly, or if there were to be a Welsh Select Committee of the other place that sat in Wales, I would be very willing indeed for myself and my board colleagues and our principal officers to appear before appropriate members and to be answerable as to why we had done this and not done that, in general terms. I think that would be very healthy, and I am all for some form of accountability, but I do not think the House of Commons or your Lordships' House is the right way to do it. I think this needs a great deal more thought and consideration.
Perhaps I may say a word or two about some of the problems which I have found as chairman of a body which is not a Civil Service body although it is a public one. I refer to the way in which staff are recruited to these bodies. There is most interesting detailed information in this great analysis which has been done of these fringe bodies as to the variations 733 in terms and conditions of service, and so on, of the chairman, the board members and the staff. It seems to me all utterly irrational. I can find no sort of principles as to why some people have pensions and some have terminal payments and some do not, and so on and so forth. I would direct the attention of my noble friend Lord Peart, who is partly responsible at any rate, for the Civil Service Department, to the question whether there should not be some basis of rationality in some of these matters.
One of the difficulties that I found when I was asked to take on the chairmanship of a brand new body was that I was not constitutionally permitted to discuss directly with the Civil Service Department anything to do with the manning and staffing of this brand new body which had certain characteristics"which seemed to me to single it out from various other QUANGOs. I had to go through the sponsoring Department. The sponsoring Department is not necessarily the best body with which to discuss such matters, not least in Wales. We have only ten QUANGOs which operate exclusively in the Principality and they vary in character from our ancient institutions, the National Museum and the National Library, to the Cwmbran Development Corporation, the Sports Council, and the Tourist Board for Wales, of which the noble Lord, Lord Parry, is chairman. Not one of them, so far as I can see, has a common characteristic with the others, and yet the Civil Service Department does not seem to have anybody with whom the chairman of a QUANGO can go to talk about the nature and the staffing problems of his particular organisation. I found that extremely irritating, as my noble friend knows, and I think it is not a very wise way of treating a new body.
There is also the problem of staff recruited to bodies which are public bodies who are not civil servants. They do not have security of tenure. It seems to me that if you have served perhaps for quite a long period in a QUANGO and for some reason or another either it is dissolved or you wish to move further on, some proper recognition should be worked out for people who might then wish to move into another branch of public service; they should have some recognition of the service they have given in a QUANGO. 734 There is nothing properly worked out for this situation and I feel very strongly that there should be. Similarly, I feel that there are bodies which ought not to be manned by civil servants at all. If we had had to take civil servants for the Land Authority where should we have been? We certainly would not have made £3½ million profit.
There are other bodies where I believe similarly these matters should be more properly discussed and agreed; it should be recognised that they should be allowed to recruit for their particular functions outside the civil service. I have not been asked, obviously, and I have not discussed it with the Countryside Commission, but when the Countryside Commission decided to regionalise its offices it seemed to me absolutely obvious there were people in our community who would have been excellent recruits for the administration of the Commission. They had to go through the whole trawl of the Civil Service, whereas there are people in the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds or in the National Trust, for example, or other voluntary organisations, who might have been quite excellent. But they were not allowed to advertise for them unless they could prove that there was nobody appropriate in the whole of the Civil Service, although the attitude of mind which was needed was one not frequently to be found in Government Departments.
Finally, my Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend to look at some of the irrationalities that are brought to light by this survey of fringe bodies. As I do not wish to detain your Lordships for too long, perhaps I could conclude on a lighter note by bringing to the attention of your Lordships the case of the missing inkstand. This is enshrined in a Written Answer by the Prime Minister on 20th July last in another place, to Mr. Grimond. It surely illustrates some of the irrationalities that have grown up even among our most reputable QUANGOs, and I refer to the Royal Commissions. There are some ad hoc Royal Commissions and some standing Royal Commissions. I happen to be a member of a standing Royal Commission. We read with considerable interest the reply given by the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, it is a Written Answer so it could not be pursued.
735 The Answer was to the Question that Mr. Grimond asked as to,what emoluments, payments in kind, perquisites and expenses … are paid to chairmen and members of Royal Commissions; on what principle chairmen and members of Royal Commissions are remuneratedand why some are paid a salary and some not. This astonished us because we all supposed that Royal Commissions were bodies on which it was an honour and a pleasure to serve and that you did not expect remuneration. It had not occurred to us that any of us might be paid, and we were perfectly happy not to be paid until we thought that somebody else was being paid. That, of course, aroused considerable feeling.
Now this is such a gem that I think I must read it to your Lordships. The Prime Minister, in reply to Mr. Grimond's inquiry, said at column 343:In general, public service of this kind is undertaken on a voluntary unpaid basis. However, a salary or daily fee may be paid; whether this is appropriate will depend on the circumstances of the individual concerned and the nature of the Royal Commission, and in particular on the time demanded of the chairman and members. The level of any salary or daily fee is determined in the light of the remuneration then being paid for public appointments elsewhere".Then he goes on to speak about what you might get if you ever did get a daily fee, which we do not, and that you may receive travel expenses; and that is all right. Then the Answer proceeds, and this is where I get to the missing inkstand:Additionally, the chairman of major Royal Commissions may be presented with a reproduction silver inkstand as a tangible reward for onerous public duties usually performed unpaid".We assume that it is sterling silver. They do not say that it is silver plated. However, it is a reproduction silver inkstand. A reproduction of what? Presumably what you are really saying is that it is of a design not in current use but something of a previous century. This nice touch that some gnome in some department thought up, "a reproduction silver inkstand", was very interesting.
We are of the view that our first chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, did receive some memento for his most distinguished service; but we know that Sir Brian Flowers, the second chairman of the Royal Commission which produced under his chairmanship one of the most thought-provoking reports on nuclear 736 energy which has come from a Royal Commission in the last few years, did not. I am asking my noble friend to inquire what has happened to this missing inkstand.
This may seem frivolous, but surely this Answer of the Prime Minister points to an area of mystery, irrationality, confusion, if you treat Royal Commissions in this way. None of us really know where we stand, nor who decides whether we are a major Royal Commission or whether the burden was onerous enough to merit an inkstand. The whole thing is wrapped in mystery. I believe that I am just giving an extreme example of the kind of consideration which probably led the noble Baroness to introduce this subject.