Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-49)|
2 NOVEMBER 2005
Q40 Chairman: Fine. Finally, could
we turn to the appointment of the new National Statistician, which
you have welcomed in a press release and, indeed, we look forward
to welcoming her here next week. Were you satisfied with the selection
Professor Rhind: We were not involved
in the selection process.
Q41 Chairman: Why was that?
Professor Rhind: We were not asked
but, if I may say so, if we had been asked I think the Commission
had more or less taken the decision that we should not be involved,
because if we were to have a situation where, later, we were involved
in criticising the individual or the department concerned, it
seemed a little invidious to be involved in that. We had confidence
in the process; the advertisements went out and, from what we
could observe, it all seemed to go according to the Civil Service
Commission way of doing things.
Q42 Chairman: I just want to be absolutely
clear: you do not think there is any role for the Commission in
Professor Rhind: We think there
is a great role for the Commission in the review of the Framework
document and we are seeking to persuade our colleagues in the
Treasury that that is the case, but we, I think, took the view
that this was a government appointment. We are not part of government,
and therefore we should stand aside from that particular process.
Q43 Chairman: Sure. Are there areas,
compared to her predecessor, that you think she should be particularly
focusing on, or that you wished her predecessor should have focused
Professor Rhind: The discussions
we have had with the new National Statistician indicate to us
that she is very focused on delivering what has already been promised.
The modernisation programme, which is part of the way through,
the move of a substantial number of people from London to Newport,
the next Census, which is already coming up on the horizon, planning
for that, and there are a number of other issues which she has
on her plate.
Q44 Chairman: That is continuity.
What I was asking you was whether there were areas that you would
want her to focus on, that Mr Cook perhaps had not focused on
Professor Rhind: There is certainly
one which I think her predecessor only began to grapple with in
his last six monthshe had a few other things on his plateand
that is the Government Statistical Service. The National Statistician
is head of ONS but is also the head of the Government Statistical
Service. It looks to me as if GSS has fallen into disrepair somewhat
and to an extent statisticians and government departments are
an island and certainly there would be some benefit in having
greater cohesion across the piece. I very much hope that Karen
Dunnell can and will take steps to enhance the Government Statistical
Q45 Chairman: As well as being head
of the Government Statistical Service and being National Statistician,
she is also the Registrar General. Mr Cook found himself suddenly
advising on the Royal Wedding. Do you think one person should
be dealing with these three things together?
Professor Rhind: It is a formidable
task, but on the other hand, all organisations and everybody who
is at the top of an organisation, by and large, have got pretty
substantial tasks and they achieve it by appropriate delegation.
Chairman: Peter, do you want to come
in on this, briefly?
Q46 Peter Viggers: No, I want to
follow that particular point. Surely, there are specific responsibilities
which could helpfully be separated?
Professor Rhind: I do not doubt,
in fact, it would be normal management practice that delegation
would ensure that certain people took those responsibilities.
Chairman: Andy Love, on the same point?
Q47 Mr Love: This is an associated
point: surely, should the new National Statistician not be more
robust? I suspect that your answer is that the Framework should
be stronger, in order to allow her to be more robust.
Professor Rhind: Exactly.
Q48 Mr Love: Now you recently went
on a visit to Canada and everybody tells us Canada has the framework.
Tell us what it is we need to do if we are looking at Canada as
an example; what would we take from them that would make our system
Professor Rhind: First of all,
it is absolutely clear, and Canadian colleagues made it clear
to us, that the world is not perfect in Canada; there are still
some things they would like to improve and, more than that, the
government system is clearly different. You cannot just graft
something from one place on to another. That said, Statistics
Canada has a very high reputation worldwide and has done some
terrific things. It has had over-arching statistical legislation
since 1918. That over-arching legislation is extraordinarily powerful.
For example, it enables Statistics Canada to have access to information
held by anybody in Canada, for statistical purposes. That seems
to me an impossible situation ever to get anywhere near in the
present circumstances, and they have used that very carefully,
very rarely, but the fact is that they are the central authority
and their word is undisputed in the vast majority of discussions
we have had. My colleague is with me; may I ask him to
Mr Alldritt: I think it is interesting
that, although they have this very powerful legislation, they
back it up with letters from the Prime Minister to ministers in
government making it quite clear that the National Statistician
of Canada has independence and that independence must be respected,
so they have legislation and they have non-statutory arrangements
as well to reinforce that, and they have very considerable in-depth
strength at a professional level, but they did not acquire any
of that quickly; it did take a very long time.
Q49 Chairman: Right. If we are all
done, we are going to leave it there. Thank you very much, and
thank you to colleagues as well.
Professor Rhind: Thank you. If
I may apologise, yet again, for arriving late.
Chairman: We understand that.