Examination of Witness (Questions 40 -
WEDNESDAY 4 APRIL 2001
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.
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
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
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 itwhich, if I may say, is acres of blank space
filled with slightly pretty picturesis a different sort
(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.
(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
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Which you do have on the
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
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 statementit
was not a debate in the House, it was a statement only running
for about an hourrelated 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
(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
58. It carries the full weight of Cabinet collective
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It carries the full weight
of Cabinet collective responsibility, to quote Mr Tyrie on this.
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
(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.