§ 11.28 a.m.
§ Lord Smith of Clifton rose to call attention to the number and nature of task forces and similar bodies created since May 1997; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the task force revolution, as it has been called, has attracted cross-party attention in this House, notably by Questions raised by the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Conwy and Lord Bruce of Donington. Numerous task forces have been empanelled since 1997 and it is appropriate, therefore, that they should be the subject of a debate at this time in your Lordships' House. They will prove to be one of the features which characterise the Blair Administration.
§ Though novel in function, and most certainly in number and rate of proliferation, they are but the most recent example of attempts made by all British governments since 1939 to improve their decision-making capacity. The mobilisation of civilian expertise from the worlds of science, economics, industry and commerce to assist in the planning and prosecution of the Second World War was the most successful co-option of outside skills and experience yet achieved. From the late 1950s onwards, successive peacetime governments have tried in various ways to emulate it. The Macmillan and Wilson governments set up and developed the National Economic Development Council (known affectionately as "Neddy") with its myriad of "little Neddy" tripartite offshoots and created a formal government economic service.
§ These developments were sustained under the Heath and Callaghan administrations. That golden age of the economist in government with its associated corporatist agencies came to an abrupt end soon after the change of government in 1979. But the abolition of the "Neddy" structure, though highly symbolic, merely gave way to the rise of the accountants and management consultants as the new breed of gurus 235 brought in to assist policy making. These, together with other businessmen, especially retailers, placed both inside and alongside government, were to be one of the hallmarks of the time of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, as Prime Minister. It is a legacy that the present Government have eagerly inherited and assiduously nurtured, and they have made their own distinct contribution with the introduction of task forces and the like.
§ I make this preamble to place the task force revolution in context. It is but the latest variation on an enduring theme. Nevertheless—I say it again—particularly in view of the number and almost bacterial reproducing propensities, it is important to examine this new mutation in the art of government. The term "task force" is seductive in itself. What man I specify the gender advisedly—in late middle age could fail to be roused by such a name, or would not want to be enrolled in one. For him, it evokes memories of the real world of Colonel Orde Wingate and his Chindit squads fighting in the Burmese jungles under cover behind the Japanese lines; or the fantasy world of Captain W E John's fictional hero, Squadron Leader Biggles. To be invited to join a task force holds out the prospect of being parachuted behind the lines of the "forces of conservatism", as the Prime Minister has called his major foe.
§ Many of your Lordships have responded to this clarion call, and some to more than one, to serve on task forces. Today we shall hear from noble Lords who have served on task forces; I look forward to their contributions made in the light of that experience.
For those of us not so favoured, the duty is to shine a searchlight on the activity of task forces. Are they really an aid to government; or are they subversive of representative democracy as we have come to know it? Are they part of the fragmenting of the state,
as Anthony Barnett recently observed in The Times Literary Supplement,
the civil service's historic monopoly on policy advice and bypassing Parliament"?
Or are they simply talking shops?
The first point is that we do not even know their approximate, let alone exact, numbers. Estimates vary widely, as is noted in the latest report of the Neill Committee. From Written Answers given to your Lordships' House that committee calculated that,
in February 1998, there were 113 review groups and 37 Task Forces; in April 1999, a list of 194 Review Groups and Task Forces was given with no distinctions being made between [them]; in November 1999, a list of 44 Task Forces established since May 1997 was given. showing that 11 had been wound up. Of the 33 still in being several appeared to be over two years old".
§ In answering a Starred Question on 11th January last, the noble and learned Lord the Minister stated at col. 526 of the Official Report that there are 40 task forces.
§ All those figures contrast starkly with the results obtained by Mr Anthony Barker and his colleagues at the University of Essex. They were commissioned by 236 Democratic Audit, an independent research organisation. Here I should declare an interest. It was I who originally suggested that such a study should be undertaken and it was financed mainly by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Limited, of which I am a board member.
§ In a meticulous and painstaking work the authors, under Mr Barker's direction, unearthed no fewer than 295 actual, and 318 estimated, task forces and similar bodies which had been set up in the first 18 months of the new Labour Government, between May 1997 and December 1998. These involved no fewer than 2,459 outside members, that is excluding those from the Civil Service, occupying some 3,103 places in total because some of the members belonged to more than one body.
As the latest Neill report points out,
Such wide ranging statistical differences demonstrate the absence of any common starting point. One person's 'Task Force' is another person's 'Review'".
In the interests of clarity, accountability and good machinery of government management there is a crucial need for the Government to construct a comprehensive and coherent template that will tidy up the situation. The Neill report called for this. The Government intended to make a thorough review last summer. Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether this was in fact done; and, if so, whether the results are to be published. Perhaps we urgently need a task force on task forces.
§ Secondly, we need to know more about the composition of task force members. The Barker study gives us some sort of a profile. The largest single category goes to private, including privatised, business and its trade associations. Together they comprise 35 per cent. Thirty-one per cent of seats are held by "not-for-profit" public sector producer interests. By contrast, it was found that consumer or user interests amounted to only 15 per cent as against the combined 60 per cent of all types of producer. There is something of an imbalance here.
The issue of membership is crucial and has been addressed in the latest Neill report. While the report recognised that task forces, which are meant to have a short-term remit, need not observe Nolan procedures regarding membership, it recommended that those existing for more than two years should be reclassified as non-departmental public bodies and, as such, be subject to the appropriate appointment procedures. My view is that such reclassification should occur after one year, bearing in mind Sir Christopher Foster's view. The inventor of the task force idea said that in attempting to co-ordinate complex policy issues,
if it will take two to six months' hard work, it should go to a Task Force—but if, and only if, it requires substantial interdepartmental co-ordination. Anything requiring much longer preparation should go to a Royal Commission"—
or, presumably an NDPB. Above all, task forces should not be the means of creating quangos by stealth, thus by-passing Nolan and raising the spectre of sleaze and patronage.
Thirdly, there is the question of the modes and methods adopted by task forces and similar bodies. It would be self-defeating if these were to be prescribed
in any way, because, by their very nature, they are meant to be flexible, speedy and readily adaptable to the issues being addressed. As the Barker study demonstrates, the variety of work undertaken comprises,
a broad spectrum … with some exercises apparently concentrating on policy-search and some, by contrast, very closely tied to the policy planning task … Many … seem, not surprisingly, to have done the work of both types—exploring the feasibility of new policy ideas or priorities with the established organised interests and more independent practitioners and experts who make up the memberships, while also using these members to clarify and assess both new and familiar proposals".
Mr Barker and his colleagues conclude:
Task Forces … are very much 'mixed fruit' [and] … not to be seen as standardised items".
§ Flexibility and informality, however, must not be allowed to disguise from the public gaze the work being done by task forces. Some, such as the Football Task Force "after a near fatal start", have produced and published a useful number of reports. Some were debated last week in your Lordships' House. That, I suggest, is how it should be. Such a process, with few exceptions, should become standard practice. Especially noteworthy were the task forces' practice of holding public meetings, and visiting cities beyond London.
The Government remain somewhat coy in their public utterances about task forces. For example, in answering the Starred Question put down by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, concerning their accountability to Parliament, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, replied,
task forces are accountable to Ministers; Ministers are accountable to Parliament".—[Official Report, 11/1/00; col. 524.]
The recitation of this nowadays meaningless mantra was in itself illuminating; even black lettered lawyers—and I do not accuse the noble and learned Lord of being that—have accepted that the doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility has had little operational significance for at least half a century. That, taken together with his defence of Ministers and departments as being the sole arbiters of whether task force reports should be published, is also illuminating and raises cause for concern.
As things stand, it seems that task force reports will not be published as a matter of course, which is most unsatisfactory because it fetters parliamentary scrutiny. As Stuart Weir, the director of Democratic Audit, observed in his commentary on the Barker study:
There is no reason at all … why the whole of the information [about task force membership and terms of reference] has not been placed on a Cabinet Office website and regularly updated … There is a need for improved co-ordination in Whitehall and guidelines to promote openness and wider consultation".
He went on to say, which is most pertinent:
It is also important to assess the role of Task Forces within the perspective of a government which intends to give only restricted rights of access to official information in the forthcoming Freedom of Information legislation. Almost all the deliberative, information and research work of Task Forces could be encompassed within the broad exemption of policy formulation
within central government, and so ministers and officials will be able to pick and choose what … they … make public and what they conceal".
Task forces are an ideal opportunity for attempts at joined-up government to be combined with attempts at wired-up government which are the espoused aims of new Labour.
§ Finally, I turn to a nagging operational question regarding the ultimate effectiveness of the task force revolution. Even if every task force were to produce brilliant reports, strictly to abide by the canons of transparency, accountability and avoid even the slightest whiff of sleaze, there remains the dilemma which they were meant to resolve. They are set up to provide joined-up solutions to government, to aggregate and render symmetrical otherwise disparate and discrete programmes and policies, by breaking down and through the barriers of Whitehall departments. They are to help short-circuit the vertical thinking and processes of the bureaucracy by suggesting new ideas and practices. They are to be the conduits by which lateral thinking could inspire horizontal solutions to the "wicked issues", as Peter Mandelson has described them, that straddle departments. For the sake of the efficiency of government, we hope that the task forces will be successful in dealing with these systemic issues.
§ However, the dilemma remains. Having sorted out the issues and the obstacles that retard coherent policy making, there is the problem of delivery: how to get recommended action implemented. Task force remedies are being put to the very structures that gave rise to the problems in the first instance. It is a dilemma that has confronted all modern British Governments. Government support will be essential including, if necessary, prime ministerial intervention if task force recommendations are to have an impact on future policy. In this regard, we shall watch to see what happens with football.
§ It is too early as yet to assess whether task forces will succeed where other experiments have failed. We must hope that they will be effective and a useful supplement to parliamentary democracy. If they fail, like the erstwhile "little Neddies", they are likely to be judged by history as but the latest manifestation of what I would call "Rotary Clubs in drag". I beg to move for Papers.
§ 11.43 a.m.
§ Lord Warner
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, for giving us the opportunity to discuss and debate task forces. First, I declare an interest. I was the chairman of the task force on youth justice that operated between June 1997 and July 1998 and I am a member of the ministerial task force on the Government's response to the children's safeguard review. Both those experiences were totally positive.
I also speak from the perspective of having been a senior civil servant for more than 20 years. I have worked in local government and have chaired health authorities and a government inquiry as well as a task force. I have seen government from those different perspectives. The one thing I can say unequivocally is 239 that all governments of whatever political persuasion need all the help they can get from outsiders in bringing about change. Relying on the traditional machinery of Ministers and the Civil Service is not likely to be adequate.
I want to make two contextual points relating to this Government's use of task forces. First, we should bear in mind the reductions in the senior Civil Service they inherited. In the two years prior to 1997, the previous Government conducted senior management reviews in all the major departments which led to a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in the senior Civil Service. This represented a significant reduction in the policy capability available to the new Government in 1997. Before people get too excited about the increase in the number of task forces involving outsiders and the number of special advisers, they might reflect on the reduction in government policy capability left by the previous government.
Secondly, there is inertia to change in the Civil Service machine. I say that as having spent more than half my working life within that machine. There is a strong philosophy of continuity across different governments; there is a strong culture of departmentalism; there is a lack of direct operational management experience among many senior civil servants; and there is considerable gender and ethnic imbalance in senior posts. These all raise doubts about how well equipped the current Civil Service can be to run modern government on its own in terms of policy advice and operational implementation of change.
Perhaps I may give your Lordships a quotation from John Major's autobiography. His account of the 19 departmental responses to a minute he sent to them about action on the Citizen's Charter appears at page 252. He states:The response from most departments was slow in coming and weak in genuine content. Some failed to address the key issues of service quality, real or surrogate competition, local delegation of power and improved accountability, and appeared to believe that institutional change within Whitehall would see me off. Wilfully or carelessly the point was being missed".That is not the current Prime Minister, but the nice Mr Major, writing about the government machine five years before the 1997 election. Some of his concerns appear to have been echoed by Sir Richard Wilson and his Permanent Secretary colleagues in their proposals for reforming the culture of the Civil Service.
In the context I have described, I believe that it is totally reasonable for a reforming government, elected overwhelmingly on a change agenda after 18 years outside government, to enlist the help of a lot of outsiders using methods like task forces. Indeed, I would go further and suggest that it could be deemed to be a dereliction of duty on the part of the Prime Minister and his colleagues if they had not done so.
I have looked at the number of task forces established since May 1997. The use of these has not been as excessive in relation to the scale of the problems to be tackled as some have suggested. Drawing on the information from the House of 240 Commons Library at December 1999, I make it that 47 task forces have been established in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and nearly one-third of those seem to have reported and been wound up.
What is interesting is the membership of these task forces: 46 participants were Ministers; 162 were civil servants; 256 were from the wider public service; 80 were from the voluntary sector and 178 were from the private sector. This does not strike me as an overwhelming mass of businessmen sweeping through government. This actually shows Ministers and civil servants being exposed to a fair spread of expertise and backgrounds in grappling with difficult issues. I consider that the Government should be congratulated, not sniped at, for the way in which they have opened up government in this way.
I have some problems with the approach adopted in the Democratic Audit document. My sense is that they have spread their net much wider than task forces and have included many advisory groups and internal reviews that do not have the same change and implementation orientation as task forces. All governments conduct internal reviews; all governments use advisory groups. There is nothing very new about that. However, sweeping all these together in a piece of work about task forces seems to twist the argument a little.
I believe the document, Ruling by Task Force, is rather misleadingly entitled, probably so named as a way of boosting sales. Task forces do not rule; they make proposals to Ministers, who take decisions, announce those decisions and then answer publicly for them. The Democratic Audit report goes on to talk of people being, "invited to the party". That is pretty loaded language. My experience of task forces is that not a great deal of partying goes on. They are constructed to do a time-limited job of work. The Democratic Audit report appears to suggest that they should be set up to be representative. I would suggest that task forces should be judged by whether they are fit for purpose and whether they deliver a good product at the end of their labours, not whether they are representative or conform to Nolan/Neill-type rules for quangos in their appointments. The Democratic Audit document simply does not begin to engage with the issue of effectiveness, which is the measure by which I would judge task forces.
Finally, I want to say a few words about my own experience of task forces. First, there was the ministerial task force on the children's safeguard review established by Frank Dobson. That led directly to the Children (Leaving Care) Bill currently before Parliament and owes a great deal of its success to the commitment of Frank Dobson to improving the lot of children in care and exposing the government machine to outside influences, including a child who had been in care and who sat on that particular task force. I would suggest that care leavers' loss will be London's gain in due course.
Secondly, the youth justice task force that I chaired had 18 members, of whom three were civil servants. It worked for a little over 12 months. In that time, it 241 produced ideas for the Government's White Paper on youth justice reforms, proposals on youth court reforms and a host of practical proposals for implementing changes at local level. It was able to do this because nearly all its members were people with direct, practical experience of the system being reformed. They served as independent-minded individuals, not as representatives.
The result was two pieces of legislation—the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999—where the practical implementation of youth justice legislation had been thought through in advance by people with practical experience of the system. This has led to widespread local support for the changes being introduced. Throughout the period of its work, the task force advised Ministers on the basis of what it thought was right and practical, not on what it thought Ministers wanted to hear. All the task force's reports were laid in both Houses of Parliament, though I cannot claim that I was overwhelmed with questions as a result of that piece of open government.
In conclusion, I would say that our system of government requires a continuing leavening of outsiders to help with detailed policy formulation and practical implementation. This work needs to be done more frequently before legislation is produced. Task forces are an effective model for doing such work, provided that they are appointed on a fit-for-purpose basis and not on a representative basis.
§ 11.53 a.m.
§ Lord Borrie
My Lords, rather like my noble friend Lord Warner I, too, have felt it important for governments of all political persuasions to have available to them all the advice they can get. I have also long been an admirer of the British Civil Service. With very occasional exceptions, its integrity, loyalty and intellectual firepower have served governments and the British people well for a century or more. But the apolitical strength of the Civil Service, both actually capable, and intended to be capable, of serving governments of different political parties (even when one party has been in power for as long as 18 years) suggests to me that—certainly for the present Government and governments in general—they would be wise to supplement Civil Service advice with advice from others. That advice can come from many different sources.
Since the 19th century (although there may have been one or two before that) all governments have, from time to time, appointed Royal Commissions and departmental commissions to draw, at least in part, on the world outside Westminster and Whitehall in order to examine a broad area of policy that could benefit from a wide-ranging review. The former Prime Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, did not much like Royal Commissions. I recall that there was a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, but apart from that commission, I do not believe that she appointed any others. However, her view was, I believe, an aberration in recent times. It has not been 242 the norm in modern British politics and, I would say, it is not desirable either. It is useful and sensible for governments to draw on the knowledge and experience of the wider community. However, Royal Commissions and departmental committees are given limited terms of reference and, because they must produce a report by a certain date, their lives are finite. Once they report, they have completed their work.
In some areas where there is a need for more ongoing and developing policy and advice, in particular in specialised fields, more permanent bodies need to be established and have been established by many different governments. The one I know best is the Law Commission, first set up in 1965 by the Labour Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner, to keep under review all of our law and to publish reports on the need for reforms and change. The members are paid; there is a paid staff and it carries out the kind of detailed, long-term work that a mainstream government department, whose priorities must focus on more immediate day-to-day concerns, is not geared up to doing. The Law Commission pioneered a system of working papers (Green Papers) to ensure that every possible viewpoint would be canvassed before it composed its final report. That is a technique, or method of working, which has been followed by government departments and many other public bodies. In other words, the Government's advisers on law reform themselves seek out advisers.
Then there are individual special advisers, in particular those with political experience close to that of the party in power, who have increased in number under the present Government, as noble Lords opposite frequently remind us. I believe that the present Government have adequately answered the criticisms. To my mind, special advisers provide part of the help and assistance any modern government require if they are to fulfil their election mandate, and in particular if they are— to echo the words used by my noble friend Lord Warner— a government of change.
To my mind, task forces are simply another source of help and advice, but they are closer to Ministers and officials than are the traditional Royal Commissions or departmental committees. They have the advantage of being set up informally and flexibly, with broad terms of reference, to assist a particular Minister or department. Members are unpaid and, like Royal Commissions, their work is made possible by the apparently infinite capacity and willingness of people in so many walks of life to contribute something from their own knowledge and experience to government and to their fellow citizens. That feature of British life, which accounts for the longstanding success of our system of lay magistracy, our jury system and our prolific and invaluable voluntary organisations of all kinds, is surely something that we should cherish. Task forces involve a partnership between government and non-government interests to find solutions to specific problems.
Task forces do not run Britain: they do not govern Britain. They are not a subversion of democracy. They are helpmeets for our democratic institutions and the way in which they work provides a useful addition to 243 the advice of individuals. That is because, by bringing individuals together in a task force, they can spark off one another so that the advice of a task force may be better than the sum of the advice of the individual members.
Of course, there could be a danger that task forces and, for that matter, consultation more generally will delay, prolong and even stultify effective decision-making by government. No doubt government is wary of that, and Parliament and this House must be wary of any ministerial procrastination, excused by assertions that the matter is one for the such-and-such task force. There may also be a danger that consultation with a task force will become exclusive and confined. However, there seems to be no sign of that. Typically, Green Papers and opportunities for comment are available to all. Surely, as a general point, the best decisions are those that are informed by full consultation but are also expeditious.
Politico's (the excellent bookshop which many of your Lordships know in Artillery Row, not far from here) recently published the book to which the mover of this Motion, the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, referred. It is called Ruling by Task Force: Politico's Guide to Labour's New Elite. It provides a helpful list. As my noble friend Lord Warner said, it goes beyond task forces in the strict sense. It has a fuller list of all kinds of advisory boards and is most useful as an index. I was rather disappointed to find that I was not in the index because being a member of a task force is obviously a popular activity.
Of course, the title of that book is highly exaggerated, as I hope the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, will agree. It must be rather irritating for some people to read "Labour's New Elite"; for example, David Mellor, chairman of the Football Task Force; the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, chairman of three task forces; and the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, chairman of the Advisory Group on Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools. The truth is that the great majority of members of task forces are simply people with appropriate skills and experience. Of course, a number of members of task forces are Labour people; indeed, some sit on these Benches. However, there is really very little evidence here to back up charges of cronyism, let alone charges of heads in the trough.
It seems to me much more surprising that a Labour Government should appoint a former Conservative Chief Whip, the excellent Sir Alastair Goodlad, to be the well-paid representative of the Government in Australia—our High Commissioner there, no less—than that they should seek the unpaid advice of various Labour Party members in developing Labour Party and Labour Government policy, as individuals or as members of a task force that is comprised also of members of other parties and of none.
The authors of the guide call for more transparency, as does the noble Lord, the mover of this Motion. Of course, I agree. However, the authors of the book 244 made a good start in drawing up the list and, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, says in his preface, the guide will be,an invaluable source for politicians, journalists, and … most importantly, for the concerned citizen".
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Lord Faulkner of Worcester
My Lords, I am very pleased to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, on initiating the debate. I see that he has been trying to do so for a few weeks, and I believe that this is a very useful occasion. He was, of course, characteristically modest about his own contribution to the book, which I suspect will be referred to repeatedly. My noble friend Lord Borrie quoted from it—Ruling by Task Force: Politico's Guide to Labour's New Elite. Indeed, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, was responsible for commissioning the study through his involvement with Democratic Audit.
I shall speak fairly briefly today about my own experiences as vice-chairman of the Football Task Force. Yes, I appear in the index from which, certainly, my noble friend Lord Borrie, is missing. I shall not go into detail because your Lordships were kind enough to listen to me just over a week ago when we discussed the report of the task force on commercial issues.
I start with a more general point about the task force process. I agree very much with what both my noble friends said concerning the way in which task forces have come about and the contribution that they have made. However, it is also important to bear in mind that it is a phase which is now coming to an end. Yesterday, I talked to a very senior civil servant who has worked in two departments. She has been involved with task forces in both. Her view was that after Labour came into power in 1997 and the task force process began, there was a great increase in that process of outside bodies. I am not sure whether Mr Barker is right that 318 task forces and external bodies were set up in those first two years; I have not counted them all. However, undoubtedly there was a great increase in the process.
The civil servant described to me that it was like opening a window and letting fresh air and light into departments which had found that they were almost in a bunker, and had been for perhaps four or five years. With the windows closed, the people inside the bunker were not able to receive or to take on board any outside advice. I believe that it has been a helpful process for the windows to be opened in that way, allowing fresh air to come in. Of course, the process is now drawing to a close: the task forces have limited lives and those that are not task forces are being turned into non-departmental public bodies, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, described; and quite right, too.
Perhaps I may say a little about the process with which I was associated in the Football Task Force. I suppose that from the beginning the two feelings that I had about it were of clarity and enormous confusion. The clarity was that the commitment to set up a task force on football was in Labour's election manifesto. It stemmed from a clear concern about what was happening in the game and what was happening to 245 supporters' interests, particularly as commercialism in the game developed. Therefore, the need and commitment were clear. The task force was also given clear terms of reference. I shall not bore your Lordships by going through them. Indeed, I referred to them in my speech last week. However, there were seven in total and each of the seven was addressed in the various reports which the task force published during the almost two and a half years of its existence.
The confusion stems from what the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, has described as "a near fatal beginning". Perhaps that is over-selling the point a little. It is echoed in what Mr Barker describes in his book as,the most dramatically flawed of all the many task forces … Its design and launching by the … Department for Culture, Media and Sport [has been] described… as an 'almighty civil service cock-up' because it arranged the Task Force's membership before consulting its designated chair … David Mellor".When Mr Mellor protested that the leading officials of' the football world should be effectively witnesses rather than members, he was overruled. Mr Barker says in colourful language that that risk was compounded by the football barons—the football authorities —who claimed that Mr Mellor's chairing of the task force was just as illegitimate as was, indeed, their membership. They felt that the former Cabinet Minister who had been responsible for sport policy had become an irresponsible, populist journalist and broadcaster on football issues, playing to the gallery. With that kind of beginning and background, it was perhaps surprising that we got off the ground at all.
One of our difficulties was in relation to membership. Certainly, if we were to start again, I would go down the route described by my noble friend Lord Warner and pick people who serve on task forces as individuals because they are capable of making a contribution and are known and respected in their fields, rather than because they are representatives or, in the case of our task force, effectively delegates from the industry which we were supposed to be examining.
In the foreword to our final report, Mr Mellor described the process as:The lions were to lie down with the lambs, a decision Sir Humphrey would surely have characterised as courageous".Of course, it sowed the seeds for the eventual conflict that meant that on the commercial issue—perhaps our most important report—we were not able to reach a unanimous conclusion. We were able to get round the problem to a substantial extent by appointing what we called a core group of largely independent members who got on with the work in the first few months of the task force's life. We only brought in the representatives of the industry rather later. After that uneasy beginning, there was a period of harmony in which we were able to work together, particularly on the earlier reports on racism, disabled access and football and the community. That was because we had by then a good mixture of independents alongside the official representatives.
246 Another area of confusion we encountered related to our budget and the way in which we were to be paid. If we were again to go into this process, it would be set out very clearly at the beginning. We were living a complete hand-to-mouth existence, never quite knowing if funds would be available to pay the researcher and administrator whom we hired at a very modest salary. Indeed, latterly we had a young man working for us who did it for nothing because he regarded it as a useful part of his academic studies. Even though we had four reports to publish and an extensive programme of visits to various areas of the country as part of our public consultation, the total cost was still less than £130,000. As the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, said during the debate last week, that was the reason why we did not seek to ascertain the basis of football regulation in places such as Hawaii, Bali or the Seychelles but, instead, concentrated on less exotic places such as Sheffield, Birmingham and Newcastle.
There was a debate about whether or not the income for the task force could be supplemented by sponsorship. I recall that the then Minister was rather keen that that should be the case. However, the task force members felt that to take sponsorship from any source would have tainted our independence, and I believe that that was right. The members took the view that the task force was a government body for which the Government should accept responsibility and therefore fund, and I believe that that was undoubtedly the right view. That in the end was what we did with a very modest budget.
The other area in relation to which we encountered immense confusion was over the time-scale in which we were supposed to work. The officials who set us up, who were dealing with an election commitment but clearly had not much experience of this sort of activity, rather thought, like the generals in World War I, that it would all be over with by the first Christmas. The intention was that we would meet on a few occasions in London, see some people, publish a report and then quietly go away after about six months. But our extensive terms of reference meant that that would have been quite impossible, and certainly not possible if we were to do our main job; namely, to hear what people in the country felt about the industry into which we were looking and the things that needed to be done to it. In the end, therefore, our life was extended for rather longer than I would have liked. I would have preferred us to have finished our work by the summer of 1999. It was extended to two years and five months and, of course, we finished in December.
Our administration was also very much on a shoestring. We had immense assistance from the Football Trust. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who was the chairman of the Football Trust when the task force was set up and whom I am pleased to see in his place today, was enormously helpful in ensuring that at least the task force had a base and a place in which to hold its meetings.
The publicity that the task force received was also an important part of our activity. It was very much a task force that needed public response and publicity. Each report was published with the aid of a press 247 conference, which on almost every occasion was attended by the Minister and attracted great media attention. I had some correspondence with my noble and learned friend the Minister who will be replying to this debate, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, about whether or not it would be possible for the task force's reports to be published by the Stationery Office. That did not prove ultimately to be possible. However, I am pleased to say that certainly our report on commercial issues has been made available on the department's website, has been sent to every Member of Parliament and is freely available in the Libraries. Anyone wishing to read it has a chance to do so. The openness of the task force process is an essential element of it.
Other noble Lords have referred to some of the weaknesses in the system, one of which is the point about accountability. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that last week's debate on our task force's report on football is the only one that has been debated in your Lordship's House. The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, nods in agreement. It is desirable, as a matter of course, that task forces which attract great public interest should be debated in this House, and ideally in another place as well.
The other area of importance, if a task force is to have any lasting value, is following up and implementing reports. We have no machinery for doing that. We have disbanded. The report has been sent to the Minister and the Minister will now engage in consultation with the various interests involved. If those reports are to have value, it is important that there should be some mechanism for watching whether or not our recommendations, which were accepted by everyone at the time, are implemented. For example, one very important recommendation on racism was implemented immediately by the passage of a Private Member's Bill, with the support of the Government, to make racist chanting an offence. That is a positive development. However, there are other recommendations which need to be considered and implemented, particularly in relation to ensuring that clubs comply with the requirements for disabled access and so on.
To sum up, our experience was that the process was worth while. We had a dreadful beginning, caused by confusion and possibly inexperience on the part of many of the people involved, but there was a determination to get at the heart of the issues and study what we were given to examine. We were thus able to produce four worthwhile reports which have been generally well received and, I believe, accepted. However, I accept entirely the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, about the need to move on and to say that the task force now needs to be replaced by something different.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lord, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton for introducing this debate. My remarks are at least intended to be relentlessly non-partisan. I do not believe that we are 248 talking today about the deeds or misdeeds of a particular government— more about a parliamentary and Whitehall culture.
I shall make a few remarks from the vantage point of what I would describe as a life mission to explain to the poor, anxious, confused citizens, what the heck we do here in their names. I founded and have for the last 10 years been the chairman of the Citizenship Foundation, and that is indeed our principal purpose. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will forgive me if I look at this debate from the vantage point of the man and woman in the street.
The first thing I say is that task forces do, of course, feed through into legislation. They are intended to produce recommendations. As the last speaker made clear, one of the aspects of a task force's output may be to see the extent to which governments take notice of and implement their recommendations. There has developed—I will not call it a game— a tradition of the effectiveness of task forces being partly measured by the number of their recommendations.
With regard to the feed-through of task forces, whether they be properly so called or are of that nature, whether they are 295 established in two and a half years or a great deal fewer, the nature of our present form of government is, I fear, to legislate a great deal too much and to legislate in a manner that is far too complex. Let me give a few statistics. In 1998 we produced in Westminster 2,500 pages of new, mainstream statute law. We produced 1,000 pages of secondary legislation. To that must be added 10 feet of shelf space of European directives and regulations for that year, another 3,000 pages of mainstream law reports and as much again of specialist law reports; and all this before we come to consider governmental guidelines and the like which are of a quasi-statutory nature.
Although these statistics may seem pointless, they demonstrate that the sheer output of this place is grotesque. I am sure that we would all agree that the Bills which we nightly have to try to track, amend and debate are often way beyond our ken. Even we lawyers, who are supposed to understand the parliamentary and drafting refinements, are often lost with the legislation of which we are guardians.
My impression— and it is not just my impression but the impression of all those in the citizenship field—is that over the years, the impact of that on the public mind has been deleterious in the extreme. Perhaps I may refer to the book published only a fortnight ago by Professor David Buckingham of the Institute of Education. He spent a great deal of time trying to assess the relative state of mind and knowledge of under-25s in this country vis-à-vis politics and the political process. The conclusions do not surprise any of us in the field but they are depressing. He reports an almost total lack of identification with the formal political process; a good deal of identification with single issue pressure groups of one kind or another— charities and so on; but as to what we do and say here and in another place, today, this week and this year, there is an almost complete—wilful, it might seem— disregard.
249 He describes the state of mind as being one of a sense of exclusion by ordinary young adults from that political process. I am afraid that I concur with that. The report carried out by Essex University and Duke University, a five-year study of the extent to which citizenship is a reality or not in this country as compared with America, reached broadly the same conclusions. Indeed, the situation in this country in terms of civic engagement and civic mentality was a good deal worse than in the comparable communities within the United States.
Therefore, as a matter of urgency, we must cut back on the number of task forces we set up, whatever name they may have, and we must cut back also on the amount of legislation that we put out, however urgent it may seem. Of course that cannot be done in isolation. It must be done in concert with a return of powers to local communities.
All governments say that and try sincerely to do something about it. However, it is an extraordinarily difficult problem to address in the global age. But I say with some passion that very often we use the words "efficient" and "effective" in relation to government and legislation in a way that is more an assessment of our own efforts—the amount, sophistication and, as we may think, the well-judged nature of the legislation—than of its impact on mother earth.
I am afraid that there is an extremely unfortunate dislocation between business standards and values and democratic standards and values. Men and women in the street tend to be extraordinarily slow to even become aware of what we do in their names. They are extraordinarily slow on the uptake in relation to the new agencies which are created for their benefit. For example, the regional development agencies are an extremely important new tool of central Government's attempts to regionalise. They are virtually unknown to the man and woman in the street virtually a year after they are up and running.
One of the greatest conundrums with which we must try to grapple is that the very people for whom the legislation is most intended—the poor, the disadvantaged, the dispossessed and the disabled—are the self-same group who are the slowest to take on board change. Their lives, in so far as they have any rootedness, significance or any sense of place and identity, are often most bound up with the small aspects of local government and local autonomy— what is left of it—with which they can identify.
Therefore, I put it to the House that the pace and volume of change emanating from this place is wholly inconsistent with what I would call real democratic effectiveness. Until we take note of that, we are driving ourselves into an extremely dangerous corner. It is no accident that the mass of young adults do not identify with politics; do not have a sense of ownership of it; and feel excluded from it. It is no accident that Professor Buckingham calculated that only 40 per cent of the under-25s turned out to vote at the epoch-ma king general election in May 1997. It is possible that fewer than 15 per cent of them voted in the Euro-elections this May.
250 We cannot ignore those signs, much though we may wish to. They are indubitable and have huge consequences for us. I suggest that one of those consequences is in relation to the work that we do in task forces.
I conclude by commenting on observations made by the noble Lords, Lord Warner and Lord Borrie. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, said that "a host of practical proposals for implementation at local level" had come forth from those task forces; and indeed they have. There is a host, a flood, of them. They flood the citizenry. It is no good saying that they are damn good proposals. In my view, the only test is whether they hit their target; whether they are taken up and understood; whether, on the ground, they achieve the purpose of those who put them forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said that "every possible viewpoint" will be canvassed in relation to those task forces and consultations. I must tell the House that consultations are becoming ineffective. There is a sense of incredibility about most consultations undertaken by government. Those who should respond to consultations are often too busy to do so. Those who would do so do not believe that it is worth while to do so because they believe that the Government, or the task force, or whatever, have made up their minds and do not really want to hear their views. They believe that they are merely going through the motions. That is untrue; it is not fair; but that is how far too many of our fellow citizens see it. It is no good us saying that that is rubbish. They think that.
I take the case of the Access to Justice Bill, which is an extremely important measure in relation to legal aid. There was a great deal of consultation. I believe that five consultation documents were issued. The last and most crucial of those was sent to every firm of solicitors in the country— 78,000 solicitors. How many responses were received on this biggest shake-up of legal aid since it was introduced? There were 30. That is among a professional group.
I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will have something to say about that, because he is involved with that Bill. I am really not trying to score points. I am merely trying to point out realities. Consultation is not working. Let none of us delude ourselves into thinking that the glossy brochures have done the trick. The latest three, Wiring It Up, Adding It Up— and what is the other one, Blowing It Up?—were published this year. They cost £18 each. It is all very well saying that they are on the Internet. Many people do not have the Internet, particularly the less confident, the poorer and less connected members of our society. They do not have it. One of those brochures costs 18 for 105 pages. In response to a question from me last week, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said that there are a lot of pages. Indeed, there are but it is £18 for 105 pages.
Let us take the House of Lords reform process and the Royal Commission's consultation. That was not serious. There were seven meetings outside London 251 with an average attendance of 100. Those meetings were not advertised and the press was relied upon to tell local people about them. What does that tell us about the extent to which consultation is working and the extent to which it is believed in? It does not tell us much that we really want to hear but we should hear it. However difficult are the issues which I have raised—and I raise them in a constructive spirit—I hope that we shall somehow get to grips with them before it is too late.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde
My Lords, I join noble Lords in welcoming the debate instigated by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. I am not a member of a task force, nor do I chair one, although I am on the receiving end of much of the work carried out by task forces in the area of social exclusion. I want to share with the House my experiences of the outcome of some of that work.
While I fully respect the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, I disagree with him in his attempt to try to caricature task forces as surrogate Royal Commissions, "little Neddies" or the NEDC. Task forces are entirely different.
I have been fortunate enough to have been a member of the NEDC and I was privileged to be a member of the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords. My experience of working with task forces is completely different and has been much more invigorating.
I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, says about the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords, but there will be another opportunity to take issue with him on that.
Task force work is untidy, but to caricature it in that way is to misunderstand the nature and intention of the work. I am privileged to be chairman of a housing corporation which is on the receiving end of the work of the Social Exclusion Unit and of related task forces. The corporation welcomes that opportunity. The establishment of such task forces has opened doors for the corporation in ways that were not possible before.
Before one responds by saying that that is the fault of civil servants, or departments, or organisations, or non-departmental public bodies or politicians, one must remember that on run-down estates there are issues of poor health, poor education and poor housing. Those matters are not disconnected. One problem cannot he dealt with without dealing with the others.
The establishment of task forces has enabled us to make those connections and to deal with them in a way that is not distant from those whom we serve—and all those in public life serve. We can now analyse problems (often the easiest part), establish what needs to be done and set up the processes by which the solutions can be carried out. I believe that Ministers from government departments do not work together simply because that is a requirement, but to achieve 252 quite rigorous targets, for instance, in neighbourhood renewal. The management of an area cannot be carried out without including those who live there.
The term, which I do not like, "joined-up thinking" making the connections—is used in relation to anti-social behaviour. In Liverpool neighbourhood renewal is needed and in May of this year there will be a conference. A Minister from the Home Office will work with the local authorities, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, ourselves, and the people who live there. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool will chair one of the groups in the area. Anti-social behaviour will be discussed. Young people will be involved and we shall learn from each other. It is hoped that government policy can be changed. It is not just about legislation. With respect, I suggest that the outcome of the work of the task forces has more to do with policies and priorities than enacting legislation. It is about learning lessons and getting better information.
As a result of the task force on teenage pregnancies— a concern of us all—work is carried out on the ground with the Department of Health, the DETR and the housing corporation, in providing homes and working with the young women. At the same time, it provides education for the potentially vulnerable young women who may be the teenage mothers of the future.
The issue of people sleeping rough has also come out of the work of the Social Exclusion Unit. In the 1970s I was a member of the Supplementary Benefits Commission. In those days we used to refer to people who slept rough as "people of no fixed abode", which is the term that I prefer. Nevertheless, the issue was the same. The issue is still with us. Now, as a result of the task force, we have not only budgets and policies, but also work is carried out across government with civil servants being accountable and having to deliver against set targets with improvement year on year. Such issues cannot be dealt with in three or six months. It will take years to improve the present situation.
The Egan Task Force was one of the first to be set up by the Deputy Prime Minister accountable to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. As a result, money is now being spent in the area of construction that is changing the nature of how we construct houses in Britain. The construction of homes in Britain can be as much as 30 per cent more expensive than current comparable work elsewhere. That was the result of work carried out by a task force. No one can say that that is not positive. A housing corporation on the receiving end of such work welcomes that. There is a responsibility to ensure that taxpayers' money and private sector funding that matches it is invested in a way that meets the requirements of that task force.
As to the nature of task forces— the second aspect of the debate I enjoyed the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, when he talked about being parachuted in. He also referred to the title of a book, Ruling by Task Force: Politico's Guide to 253 Labour's New Elite. I would ask the noble Lord whether he would be willing to be parachuted into some areas where renewal is needed.
A public service is being provided that will work with the people of the area. The next time I meet those people in the run-down estates who have come to believe that no one cares about them I can tell them that they now have an opportunity to be asked for their views, rather than public policy telling them what will happen. They are now the elite. I am sure that they would be delighted to be given that badge of honour.
That wide public policy of development involves different government departments in a much broader and a much more inclusive way. How we develop public policy, how we set our priorities and most important of all how we deliver them and monitor the outcomes of the delivery of such services are also involved. We should not do that from the point of view of the politicians, or indeed from the point of view of the task force, but from the point of view of those on the ground who arc affected by the changed policies.
I welcome the debate and the establishment of task forces. They are able to move more quickly. The "little Neddys", the NEDC and the Royal Commissions all have a tight framework within which they are required to work. That is not the steel ring that applies to task forces. Noble Lords will probably have heard of the Holly Street development in Hackney, which is a part of London that some people have given up on. There has been a rebirth of that community. Some of it resulted from the work of a task force, although the previous government started the process.
In quietly getting on with it, the Deputy Prime Minister has held two full meetings since the scheme was launched to tell people what is happening. That does not simply mean asking people like me. At those meetings, of which there is another on 6th March in London, we have with us the tenants and the people involved on the ground. With due respect, that is the real difference. We shall not all succeed, but we are trying. My experience of task force work related to the Social Exclusion Unit has been a positive one. It has not got everything right, but who has? However, it is making a real difference to the people whom we all serve. I have no cynicism about the role of the task forces that have a fixed term of life.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Lord Lipsey
My Lords, the whole House will feel gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, for bringing forward this subject for debate today. A goodly number of us delayed our holiday to express our gratitude in person and those who opted for deferred gratitude will see it expressed on their behalf when they receive the Official Report in the morning. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, also for supporting, through the Rowntree Reform Trust, the work of the Democratic Audit under Stuart Weir and Tony Barker on the admirable report which provides us with the factual information without which this debate would be much impoverished.
254 Noble Lords may know how it feels when one has been standing at the bus stop for hours and two come along at once. That happened to me with these bodies. I had spent 18 years doing little more than criticise governments and then I was invited, within two weeks, to join, first, the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care of the Elderly and the Jenkins committee on the electoral system. In my case, a third bus then came along a hit later when I was invited to join the Davies panel on the financing of the BBC. I am inclined to treat that one rather like the old Soviet photographs of the politburo in which people were brushed out as their stars waned; after Monday's announcement an awful lot of Davies is extinct, but I had the pleasure of serving on what was a good panel.
I use the term "task force" widely, but there is now a proliferation of titles which is quite bewildering for the layman. There are Royal Commissions, committees, panels—been there; got the T-shirt—task forces; inquiries and working parties. Although distinctions can be drawn, it is not clear that they are consistently drawn. The terminology could do with a hit of sorting out.
There are times in life when a quantitative increase in something means that a qualitative change has taken place. I have no doubt that in the past few years the growth in task forces has amounted to a qualitative change in the way we are governed. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, referred to it as a "revolution"; that is barely over-egging the pudding. It is an inevitable revolution for two reasons.
The first involves the changing nature of the British Civil Service. I can assure the House that I shall not launch into one of those panegyrics common in this Chamber on the virtues of the old British Civil Service, turning into a lament that it has been laid low by either Margaret Thatcher, John Major or Tony Blair. But I have no doubt that it has changed. For one thing, as noble Lords pointed out in this debate, although the numbers are not precise, it is clear that there are fewer of those keen, young principals (as they then were) who in the past could make their career by taking over one of the task forces or working parties and shaping its work. It was interesting when I was on the Davies panel, the secretary to the inquiry—the admirable Paul Heron from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport—had the full range of his other policy work to do at the same time as he was solely responsible for guiding that panel. As I said, fewer people are available.
Those people are also different in nature. We were admirably served on all the bodies on which I served, but the modern civil servant is much more open to public opinion and is much more interested in learning. In the old days when one wanted to know public opinion one would say, "I will ask the Permanent Secretaries when they meet next week", because Whitehall received their opinions as the opinions of the public. The new breed is much more open. I compare the work of the Civil Service today in those working parties and commissions with that of the 1970s when I was involved in government. In the case of most civil servants, the ability to write concise 255 policy papers setting out the options between which decisions have to be made is not as good as it then was by a long way. Therefore, they no longer have the monopoly on the skill that is crucial to the work.
That is the Civil Service side; on the other side, policy can no longer simply be made in Whitehall because the world has changed. Twenty or 30 years ago we were an island in that we could do most policy work in a vacuum in Whitehall; we had specific command over factual information; information was kept secret and a little élite was able to control events. The world today is not like that. It is open; it is global; governments must carry people with them and not just lay down the law. The world is highly complex. The consequences of that were ably spelt out by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. In this modern environment we cannot simply have a Whitehall monopoly. We have to open up the system. That is what the growth of the task forces achieves—and it is an achievement to be welcomed, not deplored.
But like so many of Britain's constitutional revolutions, this one was not planned or thought through; it is something we fell into. I should therefore like to devote my remaining remarks to how we can improve a system that has grown ad hoc and make the new system more effective in the future. I shall do that by taking a number of examples because I am supposed to speak for 12 minutes and not 12 hours.
First, little central guidance is given to the task forces. When they start their work, they are each asked to invent their own wheel. A specific example of that is that if one is running a modern task force, one wants to consult the public and ascertain public opinion on a specific subject. We did that on all the bodies with which I have been involved. There are well-known techniques for doing that, such as employing the Cabinet Office's people panel, public opinion polling, focus groups and consultation meetings. There are various devices, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. By the time I reached the third group, I found it time-wasting to have to go again through the arguments for and against different techniques without any use of the corpus of knowledge which exists as to which are the right ways of measuring public opinion depending on the answers one wants to reach. We had to devote a lot of time to that, but it could have been dealt with by central guidance. A lot of time could have been saved and the work helped.
The second point is a thorny subject, but fortunately I no longer have to declare an interest: payment. Almost all the bodies are now unpaid. Royal Commissions used not to be unpaid, but they are now unless one can fix things. Ministers do not want to spend money unnecessarily and rightly point out that there is no shortage of volunteers for those bodies. That is correct. People will become members for nothing. But there are certain costs to the non-payment rules. It is fine if one has a generous employer, a private income or a pension; it is not so fine if one is not well off. The people available to do the work reduce if there is a firm rule against payment.
256 Another disadvantage to non-payment is that it is difficult to put moral pressure on people to attend the vast numbers of meetings involved if we know that every time they attend a meeting, they lose money. Also, if there is no payment, the representatives of the special interest groups are keen to come along, but those involved as mere representatives of the public good may be less inclined to make the financial sacrifices involved. So although we do not need to pay people to appear on task forces, there should be greater flexibility in that regard. We heard this morning the phrase, "invitations to the party". I am afraid that this party is a little like tea at the Ritz; that is, it is open to those who can afford it. That is undesirable.
The third point that I should like briefly to make on improving matters concerns the follow-up process. Of course, this varies but, broadly, unless I made considerable efforts to find out what was going on regarding the various reports in whose creation I had been involved, no one would have contacted me to tell me. That is plain daft. By the time you have finished doing one of these things intensively for a long period of time, you know quite a bit about the subject. Indeed, with due deference to those sitting on the Bench in front of me, you may even know a little more than Ministers, although they must of course bring their political judgment to bear in such matters. Sometimes when you press for information you find out that Ministers are debating X, Y and Z to which you devoted a good deal of your time and, if someone had called you, you would have been very happy to explain why the report came to its conclusion and why the arguments that people are reconsidering from scratch are not viable.
My final point concerns timetables. A difficult syndrome arises here. Ministers get the idea that they must have a report. They then sit around for many months deciding who to put on the committee, how to structure it, and so on. It takes ages and everyone enjoys thinking of appropriate names. However, after spending months setting it up, they suddenly realise that they promised the report by a certain time. They then say that the committee must have a very tight timetable and that it must report within, say, six months. Once the report is received, they then spend a very long time considering its findings.
Of the three reports in which I have been involved, two had manageable timetables and one did not. The Royal Commission on long-term care was promised in the Labour manifesto. For reasons that I understand, it took eight months to establish and we were then given a frenetic timetable for getting a really complicated piece of work accomplished in just over a year. I do not believe that we should have accepted that timetable, but that is what we were given. Of course, a year later we have not received a response from the Government because, quite understandably, they cannot respond until they have some more money to spend under the Comprehensive Spending Review. People should be much more aware of that syndrome. Although Ministers will do what they will do, it is important that that aspect should be considered with 257 some seriousness when such bodies are established. Realistic timetables within which to get the work done must be set.
I have just given four examples. I could give the 12-hour version, but I do not think that noble Lords would welcome spending part of their holiday listening to me. However, I have one practical proposal to put to the Minister. We now have the Centre for Policy and Management Studies—another remarkable and welcome innovation in government which is in a position to look at such matters under the leadership of Professor Ronald Amann. I very much hope that we will set in place the machinery that will enable the Government to look at the experiences of the task forces that we have had; to talk to the civil servants and, indeed, to the members of the task forces; to talk to the recipients of such reports; and, on the basis of the experience of how things have gone, to say how this revolution—for that is what it is—could be made into a revolution for the better, and not for the worse.
§ 12.52 p.m.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, the whole House will be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, for having introduced the report to which he referred. Having read it three or four times, it seems to me that he made a most remarkable summary of its contents. I am bound to say that in general—and possibly in opposition to four or five of my own colleagues, which is not unusual—I support the noble Lord's conclusions.
Of course, when my party came into office in May 1997, after, unfortunately, having to endure 17 years in opposition, no one can dispute the fact that there was a great shortage of experience on the ground; namely, experience of government, of administration and, indeed, of business administration. Therefore, in my view, the Government were right to seek what assistance they could in the urgent circumstances that accompanied their coming into office. It is all a question of degree. There can be no doubt that many task forces have achieved the most admirable results and that, in general, they have had a very benign influence on government—or perhaps I should say a benign influence on Ministers.
I observe that distinguished former civil servants now in this House have not been reluctant to praise the forces to which they now belong and the new vocations they have assumed. However, their enthusiasm for a new situation can always be exaggerated. I have in mind, for example, my noble and very good friend Lord Borrie. With the greatest respect to him, when he said that such task forces cover a very wide spectrum of people—indeed, many types of people—I thought that he was possibly pushing it a bit. All this has to be carried out against a context.
We should remember that we are discussing task forces, the details of which have been put forward in the document, Ruling by Task Force. All this falls within a context in which there are no less than 165 companies—outside task forces—with representatives 258 on secondment to Her Majesty's Government. These are not included within the task forces. Some of the companies represented are not entirely unknown; for example, the Bank of Ireland, the Rover Group, British Telecom, the inevitable Arthur Andersen, British Nuclear Fuels, the British Petroleum Company, and so on. Representatives from all those companies are already on secondment to government.
Therefore, when we consider the number of people who are on task forces we should remember that they are comparatively limited in number. In task forces at present there are no fewer than 1,107 persons representing business interests; that is, 35 per cent of the total number of people involved, which is about 3,000. No fewer than 1,107 are representatives who come direct either from private companies—whether they be producers, retailers or whatever—or trade associations. That is an overwhelming majority. I do not altogether complain about that, but it is the effect upon parliamentary democracy that bothers me.
After the last great war, which lasted only six years, we formed a Labour government without task forces. However, we had some of the most remarkable achievements in British history. We did that without task forces. There was a certain degree of opposition, not least, I have to report to the House, from a Civil Service that possibly differed slightly from the one that we have had during the past two years—but that is another story. We had a democratic government composed of democratic representatives, most of whom had had experience in the forces. They were quite capable not only of formulating but also of enacting, passing and putting into operation some of the most beneficial legislation to the country as a whole that has ever been achieved.
This time, we were in opposition for 17 years, and it is a bit difficult. Indeed, as I know very well at my age, time passes quickly. At present, we have a situation involving civil servants and private interests. As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, will know, they are not generally on the Northern Irish scale, which tends to have minimal representation for private interests. It is assumed for all practical purposes that the moment they pass those portals after appointment to a task force they suddenly become politically neutral. They go through a cleansing shower, as it were, which immediately washes from them any kind of deep political convictions they may have had before and become virtually political innocents—as white as driven snow—in terms of all kinds of political belief or any deeply held political conviction.
Does this really accord with the facts? Of course it does not. The degree to which they are able to suppress their political inclinations in favour of the general 259 good, or even the technical good, or the strictly business good is, of course, a matter for them. However, I venture to suggest to your Lordships—
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord in the middle of an interesting speech, but I hope that he will be kind enough to address the whole House as opposed to the Benches behind him.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, I am a sensitive man and I sense the opposition behind me. Therefore I venture to direct a good deal of my attention to that. I assure the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that I have the greatest possible respect for his intellect. I felt his intellectual vibrations even though I did not address him personally.
The question is: what account should we take of this? The practice I am discussing certainly will not be abolished and business interests represented on task forces will not change their political beliefs—it is unreasonable to expect them to do so—any more than those who represent companies and are seconded to the Government will change their political beliefs. What we have to try to do, if we can, is to make quite sure that our parliamentary democracy—which it has been my pleasure to support for my entire political life—maintains its strength and is not inhibited in any way from exercising the political will, as distinct from the means of achieving the political will. What I am worried about—I hope that many noble Lords may also be worried—is any diminution in the authority of the political arm of the political organisation in power and of parliamentary democracy. At the moment I cannot see that happening because the task forces are responsible not to the Prime Minister—although there may be a more tenuous link than we think because, as we all know, there are many spin doctors about—but to Ministers. However, they are not responsible to the public.
We must find a way in which Parliament and its Members can become more closely involved with what the task forces are trying to do so that genuinely effective advice is given to Ministers which takes into account not only technical factors that may be involved—I refer, for example, to motor firms that are represented—but also ensures that the political aspect of Parliament is also represented. This may, of course, be accomplished through parliamentary Questions and through having special Select Committees whose tasks comprise supervising and questioning task forces. That is another solution.
However, one thing has to be done. There must be accountability. Over the next few years—the quicker, the better the powers of parliamentary democracy must be re-established. I regret to say that even in the past three or four years I have seen them slipping away from Parliament and the people. Therefore I am bound to share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, whose approach to this whole matter and whose intellectual honesty I deeply appreciate. I support practically everything that he said. If there is no passion in this matter at all: if we 260 continue to speak with forked tongues; and if we perpetrate generalities rather than precisions, that will not be good for our country. I hope that the noble and learned Lord who will be responding on behalf of the Cabinet Office will pay attention to some of the points I have ventured to make. I wish him and the Government well, but unless parliamentary democracy is maintained and strengthened, in the final analysis it will all be for nought.
§ 1.6 p.m.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, I echo the words of everyone who has spoken so far in stating my great gratitude to my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton for introducing this important issue in this relatively short debate. The issue of task forces has become a subject of increasing debate and some concern outside your Lordships' House. It is right and timely that we should now debate it here.
Five of the six speakers from the Government Benches have spoken strongly in support of task forces. The one exception, of course, is the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, who is almost as formidable an opponent of task forces as he is of the European Union.
I should start by saying that I am a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which was formerly the Nolan Committee and is now the Neill Committee. Last month we published a report which looked, among other things, at task forces. I am afraid that what I say today will plagiarise rather heavily what is published in that report.
We were mainly concerned with the method by which the outside members of task forces are selected for appointment. In its first report the committee recommended an open and fair appointment system for non-departmental public bodies—which is government-speak for quangos. Those quangos cover an enormously wide field. They cover the Neill Committee itself and, for example, the Parole Board, trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Crown Estate Commissioners and National Health Service trusts.
Broadly speaking, the Nolan proposals for the making of appointments to quangos have been accepted. However, the Nolan proposals never applied to departmental groups, as opposed to non-departmental groups. Departmental groups are those which are set up, metaphorically, within the walls of a government department to do a task set by that department, and which report to the department. Those groups go under many names: reviews, task forces, expert committees and working groups. I believe that the confusion over the names accounts for a good deal of the disagreement as to the number of such bodies which exist. Because there is no definition of them, some estimates are much larger than others.
If these groups are wholly internal—that is, members consist entirely of civil servants—the problems we have been discussing today do not arise. The problem arises when outsiders are brought onto these bodies in significant numbers. That raises 261 questions of cronyism or of giving a privately selected group of supporters access to power and certainly to influence.
It is, of course, right that the Government should be entitled to call in outside advice. However, let me quote from our report to explain what it is that the Committee is concerned about. In chapter 10, paragraphs 8 and 9, the report states:It is understandable that a new Government with a firm commitment to carrying out its manifesto should wish to review many issues. It is also for the Government to decide upon what sources of advice it wishes to draw".It goes on to say:It is as well, however, to be aware of the concerns to which this policy can give rise. The creation of a dialogue with privately selected groups can raise suspicions that this dialogue is deliberately excluding other partners in the process of government".One has to recognise the principle of proportionality when one is deciding how to choose members of these groups. It is plainly inappropriate to apply the quite elaborate Nolan procedures to a group, for example, which is set up to report on some specific issue and which may meet a half-dozen or a dozen times before it finishes its job and is wound up.
The Neill Committee thought that the vital factor in drawing the line was the duration of the task force. It selected a dividing line of two years. A body which is expected to last for more than two years and which includes a number of outside members should be treated, in effect, as a non-departmental public body and should be subject to the rules of appointment of such bodies. Outside members should be selected on the Nolan principles. Bodies which originally were not planned to last for more than two years but which have done so should either be wound up or converted into NDPBs.
Governments must be able to go outside the career Civil Service for advice. Members of the Civil Service are, to a large extent, generalists rather than specialists. The noble Lords, Lord Lipsey and Lord Faulkner of Worcester, have pointed out the importance of being able to go to outside specialists. On issues such as football, people outside the Civil Service know far more about the subject than those within it.
Task Forces should not be used to undermine the role of the Civil Service. We have to balance the right of the Government to choose their own advisers against a danger of relying on a charmed circle of friends and allies. We believe that there is no need for current alarm but it is an issue which needs to be kept under review. Task forces are a valuable tool of government and do good work but, as my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton pointed out, we need greater access to information about their membership and to the reports which they produce. We need to ensure that the task forces do not expand and increase their responsibilities in a way which would mean that they start taking over the role now played by quangos, which have stricter rules of selection and greater independence of government.
§ 1.13 p.m.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, on introducing this debate. The issue here is one of democratic accountability and I am extremely glad that he was able to raise it. I should say at the outset that, as it is a timed debate, one did not like to intervene in the speeches of other noble Lords. That would have taken time from them and would have been totally inappropriate.
However, I should say in general terms—as did the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington— that I wholly disagree with most of the noble Lords on the other side who spoke about the value of task forces. Not one of those noble Lords spoke about the issues of transparency and accountability. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, referred to those matters in a totally non-political way; I congratulate him on that. Unfortunately, I can never be as non-political as he is. I wish I could be, but somehow my words do not come out that way, as much as I would like them to. It is just one of those things.
What a rousing picture the electrifying phrase "task force" conjures up! I liked the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, described it. I have written in my speech about worthy members of the task force sliding down a brass pole and dashing off in their people carrier with lights flashing and siren sounding, saying, "Quick, chaps! We have got to sort out the problems of the ruddy duck". There really is a "ruddy duck task force", although it is now known as the White-Headed Duck Task Force because the white-headed ducks are the victims of the ruddy ducks.
Let me say, unequivocally, right at the outset, that I certainly do not denigrate the efforts of the 2,500 or so members of the various task forces. On the contrary, those who are not on the public payroll as civil servants or working in wider categories of public service generally give their services without remuneration—a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey— because they feel that they have something to offer in the way of experience and knowledge.
I include among these worthies a number of noble Lords opposite, some of whom are involved in more than one task force or similar body. Some of them—but not all—even give their services at considerable expense to their shareholders, to whom they owe their first duty and undivided attention. Last weekend, the Sunday Times reported the disastrous slide in the share prices of companies chaired by some of the most active of "Tony's Cronies", who are involved in task forces and quangos to the detriment of their day jobs. Of course, your Lordships would not expect me to mention them by name, and I should not dream of doing so.
But, however admirable, selfless and praiseworthy the personal motives and ambitions of those involved undoubtedly are, they are unwitting accomplices in something that I regard as quite sinister that is, a plotting between No. 10 and Millbank Tower which has something to do with marginalising Parliament. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, is surprised by 263 that. He will not, of course, intervene because it is a timed debate. That marginalising is a part of downgrading the influence of the other place.
Of all the noble Lords who have spoken in support of task forces, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, mentioned "accountability" once. But the accountability is to a Minister, not to Parliament. That is extremely dangerous. The more people who give their services free and do what they think is a splendid job, the more dangerous it becomes.
In the end, Parliament has been downgraded. The Prime Minister now appears at Question Time on one occasion a week, not two, and he has missed 95 per cent of votes since last November. I know that he is a busy man, but it is important that Parliament should know what are these task forces, who serves on them and to whom they report. It is not enough that they should report back to Ministers. As I said, the task forces are appointed by Ministers.
Few people know that these task forces exist, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. Certainly few people know about the 2,500 members and what their business interests might be.
§ The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)
My Lords, I apologise for intervening. I shall not complain if the noble Baroness exceeds her time. The noble Baroness asked what are the task forces and who are members of them. The Cabinet Office publishes a list of all task forces and the names of their members every six months. That is the answer.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, recently asked how many task forces there were, the Minister said that there were 38. I believe that there are 318. It would seem that not even the Government know how many task forces there are.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
No, my Lords. The noble Baroness is completely wrong. There are 46 task forces and 270 ad hoc reviews and advisory groups. As has been pointed out, the problem is not identifying these groups, but the name that one attaches to them.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
My Lords, the reports are not published unless the Minister requires them to be published. In fact, in a Written Answer of 25th January the noble and learned Lord said:It is for individual Ministers to determine the publication arrangements for reports prepared by task forces".—[Official Report. 25/1/2000; col. WA 190.]The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, made the point that the reports should be made to Parliament. However, that does not have to be the case if the Minister does not wish it to be so. I notice that the 264 noble and learned Lord the Minister is nodding in agreement—at least with that point. This is an extremely serious matter. It is not something to be pushed aside. We have not had anything like this before, with reports going back to the Minister, and Parliament—this House and another place—not knowing what is going on. That should cause us worry.
When a task force is up and running and a Minister is questioned about some alleged shortcoming or other, he can say that he is well aware of the problem, that he has set up a task force to look into it and that it will report in due course. But it reports to him in due course; it does not report to anyone else. That is just a new gambit of, "It's not my fault, guv".
I made a point just a few moments ago on which the Minister argued with me so charmingly across the Dispatch Box. I was then going to say that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on behalf of the Cabinet Office, provided a list of 38. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, had asked in a Question for Written Answer on 11th November (at col. WA 242 of the Official Report) how many task forces were in existence. That was where I found that figure. The list does not include the new and more recent all-powerful "ministerial panel at the heart of government that will examine regulation across numerous government departments", which was appointed last November with the noble Lord. Lord Haskins, at its head and with a staff of about 50. However, more or less at the same time—that is, last November— according to the Sunday Times, the Cabinet Office was admitting that it did not know the actual number and refused to give details of their members. I do not know how we will get to the bottom of this.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, perhaps I may suggest that the noble Baroness should not believe everything that she reads in the newspapers.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
My Lords, it might be helpful if the noble and learned Lord knew the answers and did not give the figure of 38 or whatever it was.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, the answer was set out on 11th January in the press release given by the Cabinet Office and I shall give the answer again today as to how many there are. The problem is not one of where are they: it is one of definition.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
My Lords, that may very well be the case, but it seems to me that they are increasing in number at a very speedy rate.
The University of Essex independent research group, Democratic Audit, claimed that there were no fewer than 318. That was also last November. Perhaps it would be a good idea to set up a task force to count how many task forces there are. That might be quite useful. The Government have set so many targets. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has a target that it should reach at least five of its six targets.
§ Lord Warner
My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that she could do what I did, which was to ask 265 the Library to give a list of the task forces, with all the categories of people on them? She could then add them up. If she did that, she would have no difficulty. Does she accept that?
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
My Lords, as a matter of fact, I have already done that. I have all the information in front of me. The point I was trying to make—the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, made the same point—is that the ordinary man or woman on the Clapham omnibus does not know about all of these things; does not know who is on them; does not see the reports from them; and does not know what is going on in his or her name.
In view of all the points that have just been made, I ask: when is a task force not a task force? The Minister gave me a very quick reply across the Dispatch Box and I am sure that that is correct. But another answer is: when it is a tsar: We have a so-called "drugs tsar", the excellent and highly qualified Keith Hellawell. His brief is to sort out the drugs problem, but since his appointment it has got worse. His solution, from which he had to beat an immediate undignified retreat, was that the police should not prosecute so many people for using cannabis. If the number of prosecutions goes down, the number of crimes must have gone up. The point I am making here is neither about drugs nor about Mr Hellawell's excellent efforts. It is the fact that he presumably has considerable influence on the Government's thinking and actions and yet, in whatever he proposes, he is not accountable to Parliament. That is another example of what I am trying to say.
Many of the members of some of these task forces, whatever they are called, and indeed of more than 1,000 quangos, are substantial contributors to the Labour Party. Their appointments are justified in part by their special expertise in a particular subject. But that expertise may betoken a special interest or axe to grind. I must emphasise that I cast no aspersions on any noble Lords who might be members of a task force. I am pleased to say that outside this Chamber—I know it has to be outside this Chamber—I call many of them my friends. But they are not subject to the Nolan rules. The sixth report of the Nolan committee recommended that a proper definition of "task force" should be established and that we should know exactly how many there are, their status and longevity, and that long-standing ones should be disbanded or made permanent.
Will the Minister tell us whether the Government intend to adopt the Nolan recommendations on task forces? This debate involves a serious constitutional problem. The problem is the removal of the conduct of the Government's business away from the traditionally neutral Civil Service into the hands of anonymous unelected and unaccountable nominees of the Prime Minister and his Ministers. That takes away from Parliament, particularly the other place, the supervision of the machinery of government and leaves Parliament sometimes unable easily to discover what is being done in its name.
266 I sincerely trust that the Minister and the Government will take on board the serious concerns expressed in the debate. I hope in particular that the noble and learned Lord will take to heart the words of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who made an excellent speech—as I said earlier, I only wish that I could be non-political like that—and indeed the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, who made an important point.
Perhaps I may say this to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, because he nodded his head—I think, agin me, not for me—several times as I was speaking. The noble Lord said that advisers could come into this category in order to deal with the problems facing the Government in getting their manifesto through. He also mentioned the value of political advisers as they would have more expertise. I suggest to him that he reads in The Times today an article by Sir Trevor Lloyd-Hughes headed,Is Blair the new Wilson'?I should like to quote one paragraph from the article. It states:Jim Callaghan has warned him"—he was talking about Tony Blair—of the perils. The Civil Service is being invaded by political advisers, boasting party allegiance but little professional expertise".I mention that en passant.
§ 1.27 p.m.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, for "What the Papers Say" over the past two years. I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, for initiating this short but interesting debate. It raises important issues which deserve an answer.
The Government came to power after one government had been in office for 18 years. Whatever one's political view in relation to them, they were a government who came in with a desire to change various areas and directions of policy, in my view correctly. It is vital that any government who embark on a process and policy of change should make the decisions on change on the basis of sound, wide-ranging advice so that when implemented new policies are workable and bring about real change. We have made it clear as a government that we are committed to securing the widest possible range of advice and views in the decision-making process.
Task forces and short-term advisory groups and reviews play an important part in making sure that one gets the best and most wide-ranging advice. The advice that is received from the professional civil servants—the senior Civil Service—is excellent and expert. It would be wrong simply to restrict to the Civil Service the advice that one receives in relation to particular areas of policy. I am sure that the Civil Service would agree with that view. I am sure that the party opposite would agree with it as well.
267 Task forces are established to focus on specific and often difficult areas of policy development by bringing together a range of individuals with experience and expertise in the area concerned. It is important to emphasise that they are not only the great and the good. We want people from all walks of life to have a real say in the issues which affect them and to be a part of the process for change. If there is not some process by which people excluded from the policy process are brought in, such as care leavers and people who live on the Holly Street estate—people who are affected by social exclusion in their daily lives—the problem identified by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, will ensue; that of a public miles away from what is happening in Parliament or in the policy process.
In my own department—the Cabinet Office—the policy action teams have supported the work of the Social Exclusion Unit on developing a strategy for neighbourhood renewal. The team members are drawn from across 10 Whitehall departments, together with 200 outside people with first hand experience of living or working in deprived neighbourhoods, including those from business, faith, black and ethnic minorities, tenants living in some of the deprived areas, as well as representatives from local government.
One of the most impressive things I have seen since being in government is a care leaver describing the problems she had experienced after leaving care. She illuminated a discussion taking place in the course of the formulation of policy in relation to the problem of how children in care have been let down by successive governments and policy developments. Far from being a bad thing, that strikes me as being an extremely good thing because it widens the policy advice which one receives and it reaches to areas of the community which one would not otherwise reach.
What objection to that approach would appear to reasonable and sensible people? The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, made a clear and excellent speech identifying the related risks. In effect, he summarised the views of the Neill Committee. I am sure that he will correct me if I am wrong in believing that the Neill Committee's report states that in principle the approach does not currently give rise to a problem. However, one must be clear that an inward looking clique does not emerge. There must be openness in the process.
That involves, first, the Government identifying those on their working parties, which they do. Secondly, they must identify the focus and purpose of the task force ad hoc group. Again, that is what we do. This is a much clearer and more open system than any run by previous governments. I challenge any noble Lord to name the times that the previous government identified those people outside the Civil Service from whom they took advice on particular policy issues. It has never been done before. It is an entirely new approach. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, appears to be dying to intervene. With the greatest respect to her, that policy was not implemented previously; it is being carried out now. We have a system whereby we 268 identify from whom we are taking advice and they are brought together. They are not just the great and the good; they comprise anyone who may be involved in the relevant communities. That seems a sensible approach.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
My Lords, will the Minister agree that the remit and the report should be published so that the whole process is transparent and open?
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, the remit has been published. The names, where they still exist, have also been published. So far, of the 46 task forces, 21 have published their reports. Many are in the process of still considering their findings. The vast majority which have finished have already published their reports. There may be good reasons why reports are not published, which is a matter for individual departments, but the majority are published. That seems a much better system than any which preceded it.
I submit with the greatest respect that the points so eloquently made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, were not really complaints about task forces—indeed, he is nodding. He was saying with a considerable degree of force that there is too much legislation and too much happening in the law-making process for the man in the street to absorb. He did not say that task forces are a bad thing—he is nodding again. In my view, they are a good thing, because they widen the circle of advice received by Ministers.
What are the problems which need to be addressed? First, transparency. We should name the people on the task forces. We do. We should state their focus and remit. We do. We should keep that information up to date. We update it every six months. We should publish the reports of task forces. Twenty-one have already reported, and many others will be published or are in the process of being published. I cannot say that there will not be good reasons why advice should not be published.
The second complaint relates to accountability. Ministers receive advice from a whole series of sources, including task forces and civil servants. The Minister is ultimately accountable for the decisions he makes and the advice he takes into account. It is right that the advice should be given not to Parliament, but to the Minister or Ministers who are to make the decision. Once the Minister has made a decision, he will then have to determine his policy and account for it to Parliament. If any objections to the people from whom he takes advice are made, the position in relation to task forces, ad hoc reviews and the like enables Ministers to be questioned in Parliament about from whom they are taking advice because, unlike any previous government, we are publishing the names of task force members and so on. Noble Lords and honourable and right honourable Members of another place are therefore able to raise such issues with Ministers.
If the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, was able to remove her political hat for one moment—she is indicating that she is unable to do so, but if she 269 could—she would see that that is a good development which is appropriately subject to parliamentary scrutiny and which is likely to lead to two things. First, it will lead to better policy decisions being made. Secondly, it will lead to a wider cross-section of people being involved in the policymaking process. For all the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, I believe that to be a good rather than a bad thing.
I turn to a number of important points made during the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to "tsars" and mentioned Keith Hellawell, who, she said, was doing an extremely good job. He is a special adviser in the position of a civil servant. Like all civil servants, he is accountable through Ministers. In the past few days there have been two debates on drugs in the other place. All that Mr Hellawell does is therefore subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
My noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester referred to the publication of the Football Task Force's report. As I have indicated, the publication of reports is a matter for the individual Minister concerned. Twenty-one reports have been published so far. There may be good reasons why they should not be published. Other task forces are in the process of continuing their work.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, asked about consultation, which is a real issue for government. We must develop means through which consultation may be carried out as effectively as possible. That means different kinds of consultation for different groups. The Cabinet Office has published guidelines on consultation, of which I refer to one section. The guidelines rightly suggest that when one is dealing, for example, with professional groups, such as—dare I mention it?—lawyers, the best way to consult is through a paper-based consultation. One sends them a document asking for their views, which is expected back in writing. I believe the noble Lord gave 78,000 as the number of solicitors or firms of solicitors receiving a document relating to Access to Justice—to which 30 replied. We have citizens' juries, people's panels, and workshop open meetings in other kinds of consultations. Perhaps we should now have workshop panels for lawyers, people's panels of lawyers, and citizens' juries for lawyers. It seemed a sensible way of consulting lawyers. I agree in principle that consultation has to be done on a basis that is sensible and well tailored to the needs of the group being consulted.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, failed to disclose one point about the 1945–51 government. He said that they were able to achieve without employing task forces. However, that government had the assistance of the noble Lord himself as one of the members of the supporting Labour majority. The noble Lord also referred to the fact that there are 165 companies with secondments in government which are not included in the task force numbers. I believe it would be wrong to regard secondment as in any way parallel to task forces. Secondment will be thought to be a good thing by both political government and the Civil Service because it leads to 270 people from business and the voluntary sector seeing how government works and to civil servants seeing how the outside world works. It helps to provide a broader perspective on how the world works, which is important from a policy point of view. However, it is not a reason, when setting up task forces, for not including on them people with expert knowledge in the area or those who may possibly bring the perspective of having endured the problem with which the task force is designed to deal.
The conclusion I draw is that task forces, ad hoc reviews and advisory groups are in principle a good thing. They are sufficiently transparent. The Government have taken trouble to identify who they are. They improve government by bringing a wider range of advice and a wider range of experience to the policymaking process. That can only lead to better government.
§ 1.42 p.m.
§ Lord Smith of Clifton
My Lords, we have had a surprisingly lively debate on what has hitherto been an arcane subject. We have placed the spotlight on it, at least for today, and I am sure that it is a subject to which your Lordships will return. I was amazed that there were no contributions from the Conservative Back Benches. However, that was more than made up for by the exuberance of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon. I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in the debate. It was especially illuminating to hear experiences recalled by those who have sat on task forces.
I am not sure that anyone has answered my final conundrum: how are task force recommendations put back into a government structure which created some of the problems in the first place? Nevertheless, I am sure that we shall return to the subject. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.