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WEDNESDAY 4 APRIL 2001
Tony Wright, in the Chair
Mr David Lammy
Mr Mark Oaten
Mr Michael Trend
Mr Neil Turner
Mr Andrew Tyrie
Mr Brian White
EXAMINATION OF WITNESS
LORD FALCONER OF THORNTON, QC, a Member of the House of Lords, Minister
of State, Cabinet Office, examined.
1. Lord Falconer, could I welcome you to the Committee. I did say
when we saw you last time, which was not very long ago, we had such an
enjoyable time we might want to invite you back.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I was deeply flattered I was invited
back so quickly.
2. I think we have developed a relationship now, it can only grow
and grow. Thank you for coming and talking to us and answering questions
about the Government's Annual Report. The Committee has wanted to have an
annual hearing on the Annual Report and I am sorry because of other business
we have not got round to it promptly this time. I know we are talking about
a Report that came out last summer. It is something that we think it is
important to do, and so we would like to have a chance to do it. I do not
know if you would like to say anything to kick off?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I thought not, it seems more sensible to
answer questions. I have no statement I would like to make. Could I take my
3. Please. What would be quite helpful to start with is just to
remind us about some of the Government's thinking behind the production of an
annual report? What was the gap that it was intended to fill? Is it filling
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. The purpose of an annual report is
for the government to give an account of what it has done over the previous
year. It is the government itself describing what it has done, doing it by
reference to what its priorities are and also seeking to openly describe where
it believes it is making progress, but also to describe areas where there have
been problems. In doing this the government will inevitably seek to describe
in its own terms what has happened, but this is not a report of an independent
body, this is a report of the government itself describing what it has done.
We believe it to be a sensible and important thing for a government to do.
It is right that each year, and at roughly the same time each year, the
government should in one document seek to set out what it sees its
achievements to have been and what it sees the areas of problems are. Even
though inevitably a government will seek to defend itself in such a document,
the discipline of having to give such a report is a good and important
discipline and it is something which we intend to continue. The consideration
of the report by Parliament and the wider public is a means whereby the
government's record over the previous year can be debated and considered in
a reasoned way, but in way that focuses on one document which seeks in one
place to set out what is thought to have been the achievements, or otherwise,
of that particular year. Before we produced the Annual Report there were
departmental annual reports, which have been published for quite some time,
which are important documents. They are not widely read documents, they are
a source of information for the people who deal with that particular
department but they have very little wider currency. The consequence each
time of publishing the report has been that there has been at debate in the
Commons and there has been widespread press consideration of the report. All
too often the focus of the press consideration has been not on how the
government has done over the last year but, "There are three errors, four
unfortunate photographs and insufficient this or that in the report". The
focus has always been, was the report itself a good idea rather than the
substance of the issues. I hope that as time goes by and the report becomes
an established part of what every government has to do then people would use
it as a means of focusing on what the government has achieved over the last
year; is its account of itself a fair account and what more needs to be done.
We think it is an important way of engaging Parliament and the wider public
in what the government does.
4. That is very helpful. Could you just tell us something about how
it is produced? Is it a Civil Service production?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a Civil Service production. The
last three years that it has been done somebody in the centre has basically
circulated all government departments with requests for information. Those are
then editorialised down to what went into the three reports. It is written
by civil servants and the information for it comes by a trawl round the
relevant Whitehall departments. On each occasion it has had an introduction
from the Prime Minister, which is obviously more of a political introduction,
but it is obviously an introduction that comes from somebody who is the head
of the government.
5. It is a Civil Service document and it is Prime Ministerial
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Exactly. It is a government document.
Documents that come from the government will very, very frequently come from
a combination of politicians and civil servants. The distinction seems to me
to be not between the Civil Service and ministers, it is between a government
document on the one hand and a party political document on the other. It is
a government document, not a party political document.
6. If it was a party document how different would it be?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If it was a party document it would be
saying, in effect, if it is a Labour government, which it is at the moment,
Labour is better on these policies because it has done this, the Conservatives
or Liberal Democrats would do badly because... It would be a partizan, engaged
document in party political terms. I do not deny that this is a document
which is the government describing its own achievements, which is, therefore,
a document where there is inevitably a bias because it is the government. It
is not a party political document. If it were a party political document it
would not be a document in which the Civil Service could engage.
7. When you read someone like Peter Riddell, who on any test is one
of the saner, more balanced commentators who does not get easily carried away,
when he described it as "vacuous drivel" he said, "I read and re-read the 64
pages and can find no other way of describing one of the most disgraceful
documents ever published by the Stationery Office". Why should a man like
Peter Riddell say something like that?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I entirely agree, Peter is an entirely
sensible man. I do not think if he had an opportunity to compare 1998/1999
and this one, which is the one that he was commenting on, they are similar in
style, they are similar in content but with the previous report Peter Riddell
did not have the difficulty that he had with the 1999/2000 Report. Indeed, he
was perfectly balanced and not unsupportive in his response to 1998/1999
Government Annual Report.
8. So, it has got worse!
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If you look at the content of the two
they look exactly the same. I do not know why it was that that which was
acceptable in 1998/1999 became "vacuous drivel" in 1999/2000.
9. There are two arguments, one is that it started off being a much
longer document, that tried to measure activity against some serious targets,
manifesto commitments, and it has now become a much shorter document, full of
pictures, and there is no measurement against manifesto commitments there at
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Remember this document for the first
time, this is 1999/2000, was published accompanied by a huge amount of detail
broken down into various parts of the country that was available on the
website. So at the same time that this was published, if you put in your post
code you could see what the position was in relation to manifesto commitments
about how many schools in E16 had class sizes below 30, what the position was
in relation to how quickly you would deal with youth offenders in a particular
place and what the expenditure had been, a very significant amount of detail.
So the report in 1999/2000, and indeed the report in 1998/99, although it was
not accompanied by that amount of detail on the website, had to be set against
that provision of information as well, which is now permanently available,
albeit being updated.
10. Do you know what percentage of the population have access to the
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not know what the percentage is but
the percentage is probably more, I have to say, than the percentage that ever
11. I think it is about 30 per cent. 32 per cent, I am told.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have to tell you that 32 per cent of
the population did not buy the Annual Report. So a very large number more
have access to that information than in practice got access to --- I am sure
the percentage that got access to the report was more than the people who
12. I think you are right in saying that the most interesting part
of this is the ability to find out through pressing your post code about your
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
13. I think that is genuinely useful, innovative information, but you
are not told in the Annual Report that you can do that.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think that is a perfectly reasonable
shortcoming of the report. It should do, I accept that. The report, at the
time that it was published, was accompanied by very substantial press
publicity that did make that point. I accept that it should obviously say
14. Can I just ask one other thing before handing over. It refers
you to the internet but it does not refer you to the fact that you can find
out your own area information, which is the point.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I accept that.
15. There has been a proposal, as you will be aware, both from this
Committee and now from all the Select Committees, in the form of the Liaison
Committee, that the Prime Minister should properly come and talk to the
Liaison Committee about the Annual Report because in every sense it is the
Prime Minister's document. He introduces it and you are told you have to
write to No.10 to find out more about it and so on, so it is a very much
anchored in No.10 production. The Prime Minister has resisted this
suggestion. Would it not be just a very sensible development in the spirit
of innovation that the report itself is if the Prime Minister just once a year
was to come along and speak to the Chairs of Select Committees, not about the
detail of policy content but about the nature of the enterprise?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) He opened a debate in the House of
Commons on the Annual Report at the end of July when it was published and was,
therefore, available to debate both the programme content of the report and
the style and effectiveness and appropriateness of the report before the whole
of the House of Commons.
16. But being a man of the world you will know that the kinds of
exchanges that take place on those occasions are not the kind of reflective
probing that would take place in a meeting of the Chairs of Select Committees.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is the major way in which the Prime
Minister is held to account in our system. I am one of the Ministers
responsible for the Annual Report, so in relation to the detail I am hopefully
able to respond to the Committee's detailed questions in a deliberative and
17. So it is not a suggestion that we could ask you to pass along the
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I cannot stop you asking me.
18. I am a fan of annual reports, I think they are a good idea, and
I take the point that it is easy to criticise them on picky things, and I will
come on to the picky things in a moment. Just on the wider issue, would it
not be better if in some way there was some kind of independent assessment of
Government? I entirely understand that there is a spin on this. It is good
that it does not mention the words "New Labour" in it once as far as I can see
but there is a positive spin which any business puts on annual reports. In
a sense are we not missing a trick here, that some kind of independent
assessment within it would stack it up a great deal more?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We have thought very hard about the
extent to which you want independent validation of what is in the report. The
conclusion we have come to is what you are always producing in these reports
are basically statistics and conclusions which come from Government
Departments and the extent to which they are accurate or not hopefully will
not be in doubt. The extent to which the conclusions that one draws from
those figures are correct is something that think-tanks, Parliament, the
bodies that consider this report will inevitably have to reach their own
conclusions in relation to. Although it is something that we have thought
greatly about, we do not really see how in practice the Annual Report is the
right place to incorporate this. I think the right course in relation to this
is one ensures that one always explains how one measures things, how one has
set targets, and then it is for Parliament, the press, the think-tanks and the
experts to say whether we are doing as well or as badly as the report may say.
19. On the accessibility of it, and I could run through all the
questions in terms of how many people do get hold of it and how many people
have purchased it, and I am sure you have got the answers to that, but just
remind me what do we currently send folk who pay income tax? When they get
their income tax demand is ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We do not send them the Annual Report.
20. You just ask for their money, do you not?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think there are any free gifts
that come with paying your income tax.
21. Is there a possibility at that point when you are asking folk for
money that there could be perhaps a greater explanation of where the money is
going within Government?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is a table of where taxpayers'
money is spent.
22. Do we send that when we send out the actual tax demand?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We do not, no.
23. We are sending a piece of paper to virtually everybody because
we are all virtually paying tax, but is there not perhaps an opportunity to
get some of this information across at the same time in the way that I think
you require local authorities to do when they are asking for council tax? You
have got to do the piece of paper anyway, why not actually soften the blow
slightly so that people know where their money is going?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think there is merit in that
suggestion and it is worth looking at. There would be those who would say,
if you did that, "that is the Government trying to use the Inland Revenue as
a means of pushing Government propaganda", but there is a lot in what you say.
24. It could be there are those who would argue that it would be the
beginning of trying to restore some confidence that what you raise actually
goes to something and people being able to understand the relationship between
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not dissent from that.
25. That is good. If you like that idea, here is another one. It
has always struck me as odd that Governments have done the Annual Report but
we as elected politicians get elected and, frankly, we can disappear for four
or five years. When I made my Maiden Speech I suggested that MPs should be
required by law to produce annual reports themselves so that we are seen to
be accountable. I got lots of laughter and lots of "That is a silly idea.
When you grow up, when you have been here a bit longer you will realise just
how impossible that would be". I have done it and others are starting to do
it now. Do you think that it should be a statutory requirement as a basic
principle that if they do nothing else MPs should perhaps produce an annual
report setting out what they have been doing, and should it be funded?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think it would be appropriate
for me to comment on that. I think the Government should definitely produce
an Annual Report and I think each Department should produce an Annual Report.
I think it is for each individual MP to decide how he is accountable to his
electorate. I do not think it would be right for me to comment on whether or
not statute should impose a requirement on MPs to actually be accountable in
a particular way. I could see difficulties in imposing such a statutory
requirement because the major accountability for MPs is the fact that if what
they do does not find favour with their electorate then there is an
opportunity to change the MP at the next opportunity.
26. Or the Government.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Or the Government, exactly.
27. You have accepted the principle of doing something each year to
be seen to be more accountable, four years is quite a long period.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Government is right to have
undertaken that burden and to have indicated this Government will accept it
as long as they are a government. There are totally different issues, it
seems to me, arising in relation to MPs.
28. Do you quite like it as an idea, or not really?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think it would be right for me
29. I am going to get to the picky points, there are going to be even
more now, why do we have to have ten different versions of the front cover,
it must have cost an awful lot of money?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We think it is incredibly important to
try and engage the public in what is going on and what the Government is
doing. Having ten covers, which did make it more expensive, was, rightly or
wrongly, thought to be a way to make it more attractive to the people who saw
30. How would they know which cover they were missing out on?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Some of them focused on particular
services, education, health, crime fighting and different sorts of particular
31. It looks like ten different people to me. If that was successful
then I assume there would have been lots of people who filled in the feedback
form. What percentage of people who got it filled that in?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Can I get somebody to find me the figure
and come back on that one.
Mr Oaten: That is enough, I have been picky enough.
32. Can I take you back to the timing of the Annual Report. If you
are in business you produce an annual report to tie in with your AGM and your
annual accounts, why is it not linked into the budget process or the CSR
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because this is a report of what the
government as a whole does. It is much more, as it were, performance and
delivery orientated than simply an account of what we intend to spend, which
is what either the Spending Round or the Budget is about. The reason it is
in July is because as it happened we became the Government in May of a
particular year, we did not have one in the first year, we had one in the
second year and we had that at the end of the summer term, that is a time, as
you know, that lots of sessions, school being the obvious one, come to an end
and it seemed to be a convenient and sensible time to do it.
33. It comes back to point that the Report is divorced from the
spending, the point that Mark Oaten has made on the Council Tax, when you send
out the Report of what Council Tax does it is very much more linked back to
what people are paying for.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is not divorced from it but it is
describing what is being done. It is a descriptive process rather than simply
identifying what your plans are in relation to expenditure. I think it would
be a mistake to publish it at the same time as the budget because it would get
completely lost in the budget or the Spending Review process. The Spending
Review process only takes place once every two or three years, so that would
not be enough, and if it happened at the time of the budget it would get
34. You talked about each department having its own departmental
report and the business plans that each department has, could you explain how
the different reports link together?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They do not link together at the moment.
What the departmental reports do is they tend to contain quite a lot of
statistics about each individual department. They will not have as much pros,
as this will, as a proportion of what they say and it is basically a list of
statistics relevant to each individual department.
35. You will know we have just done a report on modernising
government and looking at how well the White Paper of two years ago was
carried out. One of the things in that was there were a lot of target
measures and a lot aspirations, again if you look at the Annual Report, tying
those aspirations to what the Government has actually achieved, it is quite
hard to tie the two together?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think in the next report that we do I
think we need to identify a number of important targets, the PSA process, for
example, and refer to them in the report. We obviously learn from each one
that we do. There is not enough in the report of actually identifying what
those targets are and how they connect-in with the priorities of the
Government and what progress has been made in relation to them. All of the
information that is available is published, but it would be of value to bring
it together because then there would be a bit more meat in the report.
36. The other point is that the report is very much a view from
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
37. -- rather than necessarily reflecting how much more complex
government as a whole it is, given the devolved administrations, given the
role of regional offices and given the role of Europe, but the Annual Report
is still very much a Whitehall view.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that it is fair to say it
is a "Whitehall view". A lot of the pros was about the experience of people
on the ground. I open it entirely at random, these two pages are devoted to
perspective of a doctor in Norfolk as to what the Government has done. It
does not report to set out what the devolved administrations have been doing
in any detail, because they produce their own account of what they have been
doing. It does refer to Europe. Ultimately you have to choose what you think
are the five or six areas of activities which are the most important, and that
is what the Report has done.
38. The point I am trying to get to is it is very much a view from
the Government to the citizen rather than the citizen actually---
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I contest that. I think if you look at
the content of it it is giving the perspective of people on the ground. The
vast majority of the pages of this report are about what people's perspective
is from, as it were, living the life of the citizen rather than being a person
in Whitehall. Another page at random describes the perspective of a
Manchester Metrolink tram driver.
39. How do you go about selecting those people?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Research throughout the country sought
to try and identify people who would emblemise what the message you were
trying to get across was, what you were trying to describe and who would be
good at doing that.
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 involved
in writing the Report going around the country meeting people, determining,
having meet 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 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.
44. It is 0.1 per cent.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I misheard.
45. I am always very suspicion 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.
46. 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.
48. 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.
49. 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?
50. An unbound paper copy of the internet version is available on
request without charge?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
51. 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 an annual
report and 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
52. 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.
53. 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.
54. 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
55. 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.
56. 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.
57. I am just trying to find ways in which to be helpful.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am sorry, I apologise. I failed to
58. 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.
59. 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.
60. 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 stuffy 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
61. Sadly the Cabinet Secretary is not with you so we cannot ask him
how content he was with this process.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) He was content that it was appropriate
for the Government to publish it.
62. A number of politicians who spoke in the question and answer
session when it was brought before the House in July pointed out that the
power the Government has in this as a propaganda tool is in what it leaves out
as much as what it puts in. Again I quote from Mr Hague who studied this
document very carefully. There were a number of key manifesto pledges - no
tax increases at all, which the Government quibbles about but it was what they
said before the election - which were not referred to in the document at all.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is referred to in the list of
manifesto pledges on the website. This is the Government's account of itself.
It is perfectly open to members of Opposition Parties, to members of the
press, to say "this is what we think the conclusions are which we would draw
from what the report says that we have done or from other material", but it
is important that the Government - any Government - does set out how it sees
the previous 12 months. It is inconceivable that once a Government has set
out what it perceived it had achieved over the last 12 months that the
Opposition would not say "we disagree with this, we think this is wrong and
we think the right conclusions to draw are this, that and the next thing".
Simply to keep quoting what the Leader of the Opposition said about the report
does not seem to me to be much of an indication about whether it is a good or
a bad thing to publish the report.
63. I have been open and transparent about these things. These
points were made by Mr Hague and they are good points, clear points. If the
Government had not got into such trouble politically in a day-to-day, week-to-
week way with its ethical foreign policy surely this would be one of the
standards by which you would wish to be judged?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I cannot remember what it said about
foreign policy in the document.
64. Ethics is not heavily laid on there.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You are making party political points
about the substance of our politics, which is perfectly legitimate, but what
I am saying is that it is right that a Government sets out its stall in a
document like this, it should not be party political in order to satisfy the
Civil Service Rules but it is right that it should feel obliged every year to
bring it together. Yes, you can criticise what you think is wrong with our
policies but what would be even more wrong would be if we did not feel obliged
to produce the report and then defend ourselves against such ill-judged
criticisms as you may wish to make about it.
65. I am afraid this is a tendency in all modern governments
whatever political party is in power, and the Conservative Party when it was
in power had a tendency to produce documents not quite of this pomposity but
of a similar kind. I cannot imagine that it is fulfilling any useful purpose.
How many people bought it?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Ten thousand, I think.
Mr Trend: What survey work have you done of its impact? One hundred
people wrote to you about it and I am sorry I did not now. That is a pathetic
take-up for what is supposed to be a ----
66. I do not think Mr Trend likes this.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I do not think Mr Trend likes it.
But if you said to Mr Trend that these White Papers that are published and
sold rarely break into three figures in terms of the sales that are made, that
does not make it wrong to do the publication of such things. Surely the
important thing is that it is incredibly important that a Government does try
to engage as wide a waterfront of the public as possible in what it is doing.
If what it does leads people to say "you are doing it wrong, you have not
described it right", that may or may not be right but the critical thing is
the obligation, that has not been undertaken by any previous Government, to
come forward with an Annual Report of what it does each year. In principle
that must be a good thing. Of course there are things that can be said about
how we could make it better, that we should have more statistics, although I
query whether that would make it more interesting although it may make it a
more meaty document, but the principle is right.
67. The main thrust of the press reports, and I suspect of Members
who have looked at this report, is that the document is getting worse and not
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We need to try and make it better. The
principle of the document, I would assert, is a good thing.
68. Before I pass it along, could I put Michael Trend's questions in
a more temperate way? One could put the question like this, those of us who
not only think the Government is doing a good job but know that the Government
is doing a good job and who very much approve of the idea of a reporting
exercise and want it to succeed are troubled by the fact that it will only do
that job if it has credibility.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I agree with that.
69. If it thought to be party pris or presentational that it does not
have credibility then it will not succeed in the objective, and that was the
real criticism from the Government's friends of it. Is that not the
compelling argument, that it is in Government's own interest to get some sort
of external validation of some of this so that at least then you would be
immune from these kind of criticisms that Michael Trend has been advancing
because you would be able to wave credibility in his face?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I could not agree more with the
proposition that the report has to be credible in order to be a worthwhile
accountable exercise. As I said in relation to independent validation, it is
very difficult to think how you would actually do it in a way that was
convincing, because ultimately what you are doing is giving some statistics
describing what you are doing and saying to Parliament and the world at large,
"This is a Report, do you agree or disagree with our assessment?"
70. I gather that the National Audit Office, as far as a I understand
it, are quite happy to engage in an exercise to say whether these figures are
right or not.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They would refuse, I am sure, to
validate the contents of the report, not because they agree or disagree with
it, but because they would not regard that as their a role.
71. Would it be useful to have discussion with them?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would certainly have discussions with
the National Audit Office as to what they would be prepared to validate and
what they would not be prepared to validate. All tentative discussions that
one has with the NAO or the ONS leads to the conclusion they are reluctant to
be involved in validating documents that have substantial pros in them,
because they are only focused on a very limited area.
72. This is something that you will explore.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I will.
73. We have before us one of the most affable ministers and one of
the most able ministers in Government engaged in what I think must be one of
the most difficult jobs, to justify this Report.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I disagree with the second part.
74. I was going to add one of the most modest, I feel I have to choke
that back. I found it very difficult even to make sense of this highly
simplistic presentation. If we go to page 23, for example, could you tell me
what that means?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Beacon School in Birmingham.
75. I have a health chart here. The pages are not numbered
individually, they are numbered in pairs, which is also a bit confusing, if
I may say so. Pages are normally numbered individually. Can you tell me what
this illustration means?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is photograph of a ---
76. We can see what it is, what is its significance?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is an illustration which makes the
thing more easy to read and more attractive. There has been a lot of criticism
made by Mr Trend of the dull nature of the document, this is to make it less
Mr Trend: I think there are going to be no nurses in the year 2000, and
hospitals are going to be closed in 2002.
77. Presumably you went through this report carefully and somebody
somewhere in government read it from cover to cover, I hope, and looked at the
illustrations, all of them. Here we have one, which even though the issue I
raised was raised on the day of publication in the House by Peter Brooke still
nobody in the Government has been able to tell us what the illustration means.
Is this really any way to go about producing a publication that is meant to
inform the public about the Government's activities?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is a totally unfair question, if I
amy say so. The document is filled with photographs, take the one on crime,
there is a photograph of a pair of handcuffs.
78. I was taking the one on page 24, I am sure you are capable of
finding somewhere at least one illustration that means something, I am talking
about one that I am sure does not mean anything.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There are photographs and graphics in
the document designed to make the document easier to read and more interesting
to look at. That, it seems to me, to be a perfectly legitimate thing to do
to make the document more readable to the public. As Mr Trend was saying,
quite rightly, that is one thing you would want to do to make it more
Chairman: It would be very helpful if you could at some point, having
taken advice, come back and tell us what this packet of pills means.
Mr Tyrie: And if there is a hidden meaning?
79. The sentence before it says, "Improvements are starting to come
through", and one would expect that sentence to be reflected in the packet of
pills. For the life of me I cannot work it out, and you clearly cannot
either, but it would be helpful if at some point you could.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I sought to defend it in more general
Chairman: If you were to try to explain it to us at some point, after
taking appropriate advice, it would be helpful.
80. Can I ask you few more general questions about the Government's
publications which, obviously, you are not necessarily responsible for, have
you had a look at the Red Book?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That covers the budget, yes.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not profess to be an expert of the
detail of it in any sense.
82. In a very small way I used to have a small hand in trying to
write these things, every year we used to try and make them clearer. I think
the general consensus was they did slowly become clearer. Over the last four
years they have become completely incomprehensible, they do with numbers what
you are doing with illustrations. They are now incomprehensible, even to
people extremely well versed in this subject. What I want to raise with you,
since you have responsibility for the production of an overall Government
report, is that since you mentioned an important issue, which is that quite
separately other departments independently are producing their own reports in
their own way, what we desperately need is somebody with a clear mind coming
to these reports and trying to produce statistics and facts in a way that is
more easily digestible and understandable. Do you think that is the sort of
role which with your more roving brief, not trapped by a department, you would
be interested to undertake?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not want to comment on the detail
of the Red Book, the idea of trying to make government publications clearer,
more digestible and more consistent with each other and more attractive for
the public to read seems to me to be an incredibly important matter. That is
why we published the Annual Report. That is why in what we did in the most
recent one, 1999/2000, we took trouble to try and make it more digestible.
I am not sure who is the most appropriate person to do it but in principle I
think that is a very important goal to aim at.
83. When you say you are not sure ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Sorry to interrupt. Can I come back to
84. To the hidden meaning of the illustration?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, to the picture. A revelation has
come to me and I am able to explain to you what it means. The pink is the
number of years to train a nurse, the blue is the number of years to build a
hospital and the yellow is the number of years to train a GP. It is utterly
clear I would have thought.
Chairman: Would it not have been clearer if someone had explained that
in the report?
Mr White: It does say it.
85. Where does it say number of years to build anything?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Those words are not used but if you look
at the first one it says "nurse" under the pink pills, 1997, 1998, 1999,
hospital under the blue pills, five of them, and similarly GP and the numbers
of years it would take to ----
86. What about training? Where does it mention training on this
page, for example?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It does not use the word "training".
Mr White: It takes three years to train a nurse and seven years to
qualify as a GP.
Mr Lammy: I think it was aimed at Generation X because I got it. I
understood it. It was very obvious to me.
87. It was obvious to you, goodness. I am very impressed. I am also
very impressed by the speed and clarity and thought of your staff.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I was passed a note actually.
88. It comes back to my comments at the beginning really. I just
want to pursue this point a little bit more about trying to get numbers
clearer. I strongly agree with some of the points made by Mark about clearly
understood numbers that people can use that are in a series that does not
change too often. We need somebody now in Government who is prepared to take
on the responsibility of trying to do that. Would you be prepared to do so?
Would you be prepared to discuss with the Prime Minister the idea that there
should be somebody even if, as you said a moment ago, you were not sure ----
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would certainly be prepared to discuss
and think about how one can progress the idea of having greater consistency
in what is said. I include in that making sure that there are series that you
can compare year on year and also greater clarity in what is said in documents
published by the Government. Both of those things we would regard as things
to aspire to in relation to all publications that come out of Government and
things that we would say that we had aspired to in relation to the Annual
Report, although obviously in a number of respects have not entirely
89. Just to put on record, to correct what Michael Trend said, I do
not think the Labour Party ever said we would not increase taxes. What Labour
said was that we would not increase the basic rate of income tax, nor the
basic rate of National Insurance. It was never said that we would have an
ethical foreign policy but we would have a foreign policy with an ethical
dimension, which is a little bit different but it shows you can quite easily
take things out of context and make something out of it which is not there.
That is part of the problem with this document I think. I think the big
problem here is that it tends to fall between the two stools that we have Mark
and Brian putting forward about having a report to people of where money comes
from and how it is spent and then trying to put the much broader way that
Government is trying to do things and what it wants to do, but it does not
really do either of those things. I think maybe Government needs to look at
separating those out and making two reports to people on an annual basis:
"this is what we are raising and this is where it is going" and then something
else that looks at those broader aspects.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would see force in that. It is not
just "this is what we are raising, this is what we are doing with it", there
needs to be some descriptive element of what your priorities are and how you
think you are doing with it, which goes beyond simply, as it were, pounds,
shillings and pence. I think the report attempts to do that. One of the
messages that comes out loud and clear from this Committee, which was present
at the time, is you do need in the printed document some more facts in terms
of identify your targets, identify how you are doing against them, targets
that you yourself have set, compare how you are doing this year with how you
were doing last year. The balance has got to be struck between having enough
of those but also making it a document that is compendious enough to be an
account of what the Government as a whole has done for the year and also
making it readable and attractive to the general public.
90. I am glad you said that because you have hit on the point I was
going to come to next, that that is not in there. There are not the less hard
number crunching outcomes which are really the issues that Government needs
to concentrate on, things like literacy, numeracy and those kinds of things,
those things have to be in there because the effect of those on people's lives
is something that is quite tremendous and does not come out in this kind of
report. I think that is something we need to be saying, that these are our
targets and the reason for them is this. I think one of the other reasons why
you will always have a problem with a document like this is that things
change, life changes, and what was planned as a programme five years ago may
not be a reasonable thing to do now and I think that needs to be explained,
that what might have been a Government target four or five years ago has
changed because we now want to shift the emphasis to something else.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I accept all of that. We could do a lot
of those things in next year's and the year after's report, I think. The
Chairman made the point that one of the critical things about a report like
this is credibility. If you are going to do it year on year you have got to
take note of what the response was to it. I do not say this in a partisan way
but of course the Opposition will attack the contents of the report and seek
to rubbish the report, but that does not mean that one cannot learn the
lessons that we got from the wider views that were expressed on the report the
last time it was published.
91. I think one of the difficulties that has been referred to is that
manifesto commitments are rarely so specific that you can actually set
something and say "yes, done" or whatever. Having a list of 177 with a tick
box mentality approach to it just will not work. I think maybe that is
something that needs to be amended as well.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think there is value in the discipline
of constantly setting out what the manifesto commitments were and saying how
we perceive progress on those and people can then respond to what we say the
progress has been on that. That does seem to me to be quite an important
exercise. If, as you say, Government has decided that one of its priorities
has changed and does not wish to pursue one particular one then we should say
so. I think it is a good discipline for a Government to, as it were, list
them each year and say how we are doing on them.
92. I do not disagree with that. The point I am trying to make is
that some of those commitments are not things you can put a tick against, they
are ongoing. That is the issue I am trying to get to.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Then that is for the Government which
has made the commitment to explain how it is getting on in relation to that.
To have a low inflation economy, that is not a one-off, you have got to
describe how you are doing and people can judge your own explanation against
what they perceive to be the position.
93. I hope this has not been asked already. I just wanted to be
clear at who you believed it was aimed?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a report to Parliament and,
therefore, in the first instance it is a report for the Government to tell
Parliament what it has done in the year, but it is intended to be a document
accessible to and digestible by the general public.
94. So how many were printed?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The number that was printed was ---
Mr Lammy: Fifty thousand?
95. It says 50,000 somewhere.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Fifty thousand, yes.
96. And 10,000 were bought?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In fact, 14,000 is the figure of the
total sales but I think a number of those were actually sold internally to the
Department for Education and Employment, as it were. The numbers that were
sold to the general public were lower than that.
97. There were no reports of queues in Tesco's, were there?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think there were queues as such
in Tesco's, Chairman. 6,300 were sold by Tesco's, so at least 6,300 were
bought by members of the general public as opposed to Government Departments.
98. Is it be hoped ultimately in the future that the report sells
more to the general public than to arms of Government?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That might be a hope, yes. Let us be
frank, government reports, by and large, need to have, the Denning Report and
the Profumo Affair are the only ones that sold massive numbers. I do not
think we should have unrealistic aspirations in relation to this.
99. In the context of voter apathy, politics being very media driven,
some people believe, one might take the view that the Government's attempt to
at least consolidate what it believes it has done and its message is something
that should reach the people.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is very much what we hope to do.
We think the Annual Report is an important discipline for any government, not
just this Government, for any government, to place itself under to seek to get
to a wider audience than otherwise and how the government think it has done
over the last year?
100. How much money did the Government spend on advertising?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It spent in total œ145,000 on the
report, which not on advertising. I do not think there was any advertising
because I think it got a lot of editorial coverage, which got into the minds
of the public in a way which did not require it to be advertised on television
or in the newspaper.
101. How do you think it might change?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The cost of the report was œ125,000 not
œ145,000. I think the way it has to change is we need to put in some more
facts of a statistical nature, ie identify important targets we set ourselves,
indicate in the report how we are doing against those targets. We have to be
careful not to become too statistical driven, because it would not be
interesting. One needs to, as it were, pick out those targets that we have
set ourselves and that we regard as major priorities and make sure that rather
than leaving those on a website they are actually in the document itself. The
more that we do that the more that that will help to develop credibility over
the years, that the report is a document which does give an indication as to
what is going on in government.
102. Is there another point, that we are, perhaps, a bit too
target driven, that people have a very good sense themselves of how the
government is doing and ultimately make that decision in elections. To an
extent, it is the very people coming up with policy that are making targets
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, but if you accept the obligation to
describe what you have done then you have to have a method and a language in
which to describe what you done. That language should be partly, as we have
done here, what people on the ground say about us; it should be partly what
the people engaged in the delivering of our policies say about us but it
should also be, this is what we said would be our target in this important
area and this is how we are doing it. It should be a combination of all these
things. Of course ultimately the electorate's report on us will determine
what happens. That does not mean that we should not each year try to
prescribe it as well.
103. A very quick question on the point you were making about
statistics within the report, what would be important is making sure there are
some year-on-year consistency with the statistics you use so there can be some
comparisons there. We have already heard that you did not have the manifesto
commitments, you had them in for the first two years, but you did not have
them in for the third year.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They are on the website for the third
104. If you use statistics within a report like this you need to
be using the same kind of targeting of statistics.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is important, and I have indicated we
must try to achieve that.
105. How much targeting of this goes to the key stakeholders,
voluntary groups, pressure groups, those kinds of people who set the agenda
rather than simply just putting it out and hoping that members of the general
public will pick it up?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is distributed widely throughout
Government and local government, as it were. I do not think it is distributed
widely among the voluntary sector, I do not know of any specific attempts
made. I am sure that some departments do send it on to their voluntary sector
stakeholder groups. Can I write to you about the details of that? It is
primarily in Government and local government.
106. Could I ask you to consider that that is one key area because
a lot of the interaction on Government policies is with different groups and
it is an issue of that relationship between Government and those groups that
should be covered within the Annual Report?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I can see that.
107. Could I just wind us up - not wind us up, wind us down - with
a couple of final things. Normally when any kind of figures appear something
under them says "source". These are entirely reputable figures at the end
here, such as they are, but they do not have any sourcing attached to them so
we do not quite know where they have come from. It looks a bit odd not having
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) These figures?
108. Yes, the table at the end. In the search for credibility it
is quite nice to have that.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I agree with that. It would help if
they did say the source.
109. I know that total managed expenditure is the term of art, but
of course people have no idea of total managed expenditure from total
unmanaged expenditure. It is a term of art which is reputable but
unexplained. Similarly, someone looking at this might think are these
inflation adjusted figures or are they not?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I agree with both of those.
110. Are they?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They are cash figures, they are not
inflation adjusted figures.
111. So that is a fairly basic thing that someone would want to
know instantly about those figures.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. I take your point there that we
could have been clearer in relation to that and I take the point as well about
Chairman: As you are taking on all these points - no, I believe you are
taking all of these points, I am serious about that - people have raised it
in different ways but if you could get some sharper indicators that the public
could get their minds around on a consistent serious basis, for example on
these global figures maybe a percentage of GDP on taxing and spending and so
on, so you could see year on year what is happening to basic taxing and basic
spending in a way that people could follow.
Mr Tyrie: Percentage of GDP is a very good idea.
112. Would that not be a good idea?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I can see that but if you look at the
top that is quite a good, clear description of how money is spent and where
it comes from.
113. It does that but what it does not do is what I am suggesting
would be helpful so that you could see over time what is happening to taxing
and what is happening to spending.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If you looked at the Red Book you would
find what has been happening over time in relation to precisely these
particular things. This is not intended to be ---
114. It is not very clear any more.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is because Mr Tyrie is not involved
in writing these things any more.
115. That is very nice of you.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) This is not intended to be, as it were,
an accompaniment to a Budget Statement, it is meant to be a description of
what has happened in the previous year. I take the point that you need
something that indicates progress. We can all think of ways about how one
could have a particular statistical comparator and we have tried to do that
in an attractive way but you have to be careful not to make it an
accompaniment to the Budget.
116. Tony and I at least are agreeing on the same one here. Do
you think that we could have a series of tax and spend here?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Those figures are in the Red Book.
117. I just ask the same question again, I am sure that every
single statistic in here is available somewhere else and many others you may
put in next time that are not in here. Here is one of the most basic
statistics of all, probably the most basic statistic for money, much more
basic than any of those on pages 58 and 59, could we have those as a series,
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is plainly no reason in principle
why one should not, but whether or not it is an effective and sensible way of
getting across what has happened in the year I am not sure. Obviously I will
consider what you said.
118. Thank you for that. One final consideration, what people
want to know is are more trains running on time than before we came in? Is
crime up or down? Are more children passing their exams? Are people
healthier? Basic outcome indicators, would it not be possible to do on one
side of the pieces of paper some basic input and output figures validated, and
then on the other side to have the company statement, the aspirational stuff,
where we are going, so that at least people would know that is the hard stuff
against which we can measure the stuff on this side, would that not give a
whole credibility to the exercise?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Sorry to go back to the website, if you
go to the website and feed in your post code you see where you are on a whole
range of indicators like that. The information is there. What the Annual
Report is primarily intended to be is a description in pros of how the
government believes that it has done over the year.
Mr Tyrie: Can I strongly support what Tony Wright just said. You
probably do not follow the workings of this Committee, this a rare moment of
complete agreement between the two of us. If you could go away and think
about that I think it is even possible that this Committee could draw up an
agreed set of very basic indicators. He has already mentioned four, I think
Tony Wright and I would probably agree we do not want to have dozens of these,
those four we have already agreed and we could probably add a couple more
before the quarrels break out.
Mr Trend: I disagree violently.
119. Can I point out, we have been trying to encourage the
Government to go down the route of using the web more - and as a Committee we
have been -the fact that they have in the Annual Report we should not
criticise them for doing that.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is a vast range of incredibly
important issues like crime, like health, like education, like transport, et
cetera, et cetera and people want to know what progress is being made in their
area in relation to it. Big figures are important but they are quite
difficult to translate into what is happening on the ground. That is why the
website is quite important as a means of providing a vast range of
information. Once it is there you have to draft your report in such a way
that recognises that sort of material is available somewhere else.
120. As I said at the beginning, most of the Committee would want
to make sure that the world knew all of the good things the Government was
doing and would, therefore, welcome an attempt to produce a report of this
kind. I hope you will take away some of our suggestions.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Of course. We have made it clear that
it is a process whereby one hopes one improves year on, year on in relation
to the production of the report.
121. That is splendid. The bad news is that we have such
informative and enjoyable sessions with you we shall want you back many times
again, not least to talk about annual reporting. We are very grateful to you
for coming along.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Thank you very much.