Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. The Cabinet Office said, "We want a doctor to give a view on the NHS", and the Civil Service go and find that person?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The process involved the people writing the Report going around the country meeting people, determining, having met quite a wide range of people, who would be a sensible and suitable person to play a part in the report.

  41. The feedback through the People's Panel is a very useful tool for government, is there any interaction between the feedback on the Annual Report and those kind of mechanisms?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think there has been specific People's Panel feedback on the Annual Report. The feedback from the report comes, as Mark Oaten identified, from the responses. There were about 100 replies last year on the write in bit, but can I write to you about the precise figures on that.

Mr Oaten

  42. Just on the 100, do we know what percentage of response rate that is. I got more for my Annual Report, I have to tell you.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That would be a pretty small percentage, 100 out of probably 10,000 that were sold to the public.


  43. We will allow you to do the calculation in private and write to us about that.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am told that is one per cent.

Mr Trend

  44. I am always very suspicious of anything that is published in July or just before Christmas, and I can understand why they published this document in July. We heard from the Chairman about what Peter Riddell said about it. Polly Toynbee, who is closer to the heart of the project, was even more unkind, she describes the report as, "A glib, mis-leading, filigree of fact and factoid wrapped up in layers of omission. It has all the credibility of, say, a report from the Robert Maxwell group of companies". She also describes it as, "patronising" and "dumbed down" on previous years. It is perfectly clear that commentators in the press thought that whereas the previous years may have some noble intent, this particular third version of it—which, if I may say, is acres of blank space filled with slightly pretty pictures—is a different sort of tale.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If you have an opportunity to compare 1999/2000 to 1998/1999 they are quite similar.

  45. It would seem to me that the earlier ones were slightly more factual and did attempt to have some sort of tick-off list so an average reader could make some sort of assessment.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If you say slightly more factual and you then lead to the difference in tone in the coverage then "slightly more factual" does not justify the change in tone in the press reporting of it.

  46. No.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It seems to me.

  47. I understand what you are saying but when you have facts and figures which have to a certain degree to speak for themselves—
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Which you do have on the website.

  48. I really do feel that is very powerful. People who have access to the website are partly conditioned by whether or not they can afford to have access to the website, whereas they can get this in a library if they have to. You can write for a copy free, is that true?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Write for a free copy of?

  49. An unbound paper copy of the internet version is available on request without charge?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  50. That is progress of a sort. In order to get through to people these sorts of documents are much more important in their original form, but that is not the point. The point is that I challenge any politician to stand up and read out paragraphs of this as if they were the chairman of a company reading an annual report; either their audience would go to sleep or would simply switch off and not believe them at all. It is one claim after another, it is not in any sense justified by the facts.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I disagree with that. I think the problem about the comparison between this year's one and the previous year's one is that the 177 manifesto commitments are specifically referred to in the document whereas in this most recent one they are on the website with the same information about how we are doing in relation to them. You can criticise us saying "perhaps you should have put them all in the document", but I do not think that justifies the fundamental criticism that you are making in relation to it.

  51. My fundamental criticism is that the document is bogus throughout and always has been. To take those away was an open invitation to people to say "why did you take them away?" The sorts of points that were made in the statement—it was not a debate in the House, it was a statement only running for about an hour—related to the facts and there was no easy way of comparing figures, we could not start looking things up on the House of Commons' internet in an hour's statement, and in my mind it was deliberately designed to make life more difficult in comparative terms.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think that is very unfair. The greatest knowledge that people will get about the Annual Report will come partly from reporting in Parliament but also partly from what the press report in relation to the report.

  52. Did anybody in the press make flattering or favourable comments about this report?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, they did not. I am sure they did but I cannot cite chapter and verse in relation to it at the moment. The press would have been able to go to the website and make the comparisons you are referring to, see what had been said, for example, about one of the 177 manifesto commitments in 1998/99 and compare what was said in 1999/2000. That is not a complicated or difficult exercise.

  53. Yes, but "Develop an integrated transport policy. Done.", which was in the year before—
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Mr Hague made a joke about that, did he not?

  54. He then pointed out that had been watered down in the website version of the document.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The quote that you first gave was in the report that you found more favour with.

  55. But at least it—
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) At least, what? At least it was there and so it was on the website. I should not be asking you questions. I do not think it is a fundamental criticism to say that it should not have been on the website, it should have been in the document.

  56. I am just trying to find ways in which to be helpful.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am sorry, I apologise. I failed to spot that.

  57. To make it a more transparent, interesting document because very few people could say it was a particularly interesting document. I know civil servants squirm with embarrassment when this document is mentioned. Can I ask you how is it vetted? Who in the end ticked it off and said "okay, boys, you have just about got away with this"? Was it you, the Prime Minister, the Head of the Civil Service?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It has got the approval of Ministers. It is written by civil servants. In terms of approval it has got to be something that is a legitimate thing for Government to publish, ie not party political. Therefore, it has the approval of the Cabinet Office, the Cabinet Secretary, and the approval of Ministers.

Mr Tyrie

  58. It carries the full weight of Cabinet collective responsibility.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It carries the full weight of Cabinet collective responsibility, to quote Mr Tyrie on this.

Mr Trend

  59. A great relief to us all. I was a humble PPS in the Department of Health and when we put out health advice the civil servants went all over it to make sure that there was no way in which wicked politicians could have subliminally suggested party political messages. Somebody in the Civil Service, I assume it is the same for the Cabinet Office, would have had this in his box and looked through it and thought "it is pretty tricky stuff but if we take a few of these superlative adjectives out we might just get away with it". Who in the Civil Service said that?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It was approved by the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Secretary was content that it should be published as a Government document.

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