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Lord Graham of Edmonton: I would not know!

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, nor would I.

We have had a short debate and I am sure that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not manage to answer every point that has been raised. However, I undertake to write to noble Lords if any points remain unanswered. Nevertheless I will do my best tonight.

On 13th July last the Government published a White Paper on the Civil Service entitled Continuity and Change and my noble friend Lord Wakeham repeated a Statement in your Lordships' House on that White Paper. Indeed the noble Lord, Lord Richard, during his remarks on that occasion said, among other things,

I was of course delighted to read those words, although I was not fortunate enough to hear them. They are a tribute to the enduring achievement of the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms, so often mentioned with approval this afternoon. If the noble Lord, Lord Richard, will allow me the impertinence, they encapsulate with his usual happy phraseology the Government's views of what are the essential qualities we should expect of the Civil Service. As he himself said during these exchanges, on that all sides of the House can agree.

However, certain allegations have been made by the inner ring this evening. I think they can be encapsulated in the use of the word "morale". I shall come back to that in a minute. I would say to my noble friend Lady Park in particular that it is interesting, during a time of change when morale will inevitably be at risk, that the number of people applying to the Civil Service has been consistently high. There has been an annual average in recent years of 10,000. I would underline that by saying that the figures for 1993 show that for the first time for a number of years the numbers successful in the fast stream entry exceeded the numbers the Civil Service was seeking.

I return to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and in particular to his remarks today. It cannot have escaped the noble Lord's notice that the world has changed a little since 1853. I hope it has not escaped the notice of the noble Lord, Lord Allen. Although I was a little more doubtful about this—if he will allow me to say so—I hope it has not escaped the notice of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. The pace of change, stimulated by an unprecedented technological revolution, has accelerated at a vertiginous rate over the past 20 years. Indeed it would perhaps be churlish not to recognise that the Labour Party, when it was in Government —that is now an awful long time ago as a number of your Lordships have observed—understood that change of this nature demanded a re-examination of the way the Government was administered.

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As long ago as 1968 the Fulton Report—on which commission the noble Lord, Lord Allen, was such an ornament—recognised that we needed to introduce a more professional approach to management and more modern methods of recruitment and training. Your Lordships will remember that the Fulton recommendations led to the establishment of what is now the senior open structure, and the foundation of the Civil Service College which, I think your Lordships will agree, is one of the outstanding successes of recent reforms.

The technological revolution I referred to a moment ago has led to a revolution in management techniques. It tends to do so. It did so, after all, at the time of the first Industrial Revolution. In our case information technology in particular has given great power to the individual. It has enabled management to introduce, in the jargon, much flatter structures. It has made financial control a much more exact science. It has made administration more flexible and less hierarchical. Above all, perhaps, it has become essential for large organisations to institutionalise change while at the same time maintaining stability—an apparently paradoxical double objective which demands new attitudes of mind which I suspect both Northcote and Trevelyan would have found alien and at least as difficult as we do.

Having said that, I wholly accept the strictures of the noble Lords, Lord Bancroft and Lord Armstrong, and my noble friend Lady Park when they pointed out the dangers of permanent revolution. After all, I think it was Chairman Mao who advocated a state of permanent revolution—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Trotsky!

Viscount Cranborne: in the wake—as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, also points out—of one of his intellectual predecessors, the late unlamented Leon Trotsky. Of course we are well aware that such a state of affairs failed. I think a state of permanent revolution is a profoundly un-Tory attitude, and certainly I would be the last to disagree with the idea that consolidation is as important as change and should certainly follow periods of radical change.

The world outside Whitehall is, nevertheless, being forced rapidly down this road that I have described. That is the world with which the Civil Service has to deal. I may risk —I am aware of this—the charge of impertinence when I say to the various distinguished former permanent under-secretaries who have spoken this evening, that the Civil Service would not with ease be able to deal with that outside world unless its organisation to some degree reflected the change that was happening on the outside. Indeed the outside could not respect and understand our public administration unless it functioned along something of the same lines.

I am told that the great Sir Humphrey Appleby—a man who I am sure really existed, although we are told by the BBC that he was merely a figment of its imagination—was keen on maintaining the art of public administration as a high priestly mystery. I have to suggest that this will not do in an age which puts a

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premium on openness and accountability. Therefore it is only sensible that the Government should have given such a high priority to the reform of public administration since 1979. I will not weary your Lordships—particularly in view of the relatively limited time available to me—with a full account of what has happened in the past 15 years, even if I had time to do so. However, it is perhaps worth highlighting some of the principal changes to illustrate why I believe that the reforms have a coherence which is entirely consistent with our aim of satisfying the demands of the age in which we live and at the same time living up to the aspirations of the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms.

The Financial Management Initiative that was launched in 1982 set out to introduce a system which clarified management's responsibility for expenditure. That is a theme of management responsibility which has run through your Lordships' debate like a thread. I think it is important to realise that there are practical results to this initiative. Managers begin to see their objectives clearly. They have acquired a responsibility for making the best use of their resources and of course were given access to the training, information and expert advice which continuous change dictates must be constantly available. I am sure your Lordships will accept that it is no longer possible to rely solely on the training available at the beginning of a career if we are to be able to deliver the sort of quality of service we should rightly demand.

I would remind your Lordships that if the Financial Management Initiative was to work, it was equally important that the structures that provided government services should also be reorganised. The Government therefore commissioned an efficiency scrutiny which examined management across the spectrum of government undertakings. That scrutiny resulted in a report entitled Improving Management in Government: The Next Steps. Again that is a subject that has been much alluded to this evening. However, I must say that, listening to your Lordships this evening, I rather failed to recognise the series of reforms which were described by the Select Committee in another place as,

    "the single most successful Civil Service reform programme of recent decades".

I equally have to say that I find it difficult to disagree with that assessment. There are now 102 agencies in existence and 62 per cent. of all civil servants now work in agencies or other organisations working along Next Steps lines. They range in size from the Benefits Agency with 65,000 employees to Wilton Park—formerly, I believe, the responsibility of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill—with 32. Their occupations and activities are at least as diverse.

As my noble friend Lord Dean so rightly pointed out, the result has been greater clarity, devolved responsibility, better control of resources and proper and regular review, all of which is consistent with the objectives which the Government have set themselves.

I say to both my noble friend Lord Beloff, whose speech I listened to with my customary enjoyment, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that the reforms are now beginning to produce results. I shall not weary your Lordships with endless examples, but to take just two,

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the Driving Standards Agency has reduced the waiting time for driving tests from 13 weeks in 1988 to less than six weeks today. Her Majesty's Stationery Office's new business supplies service can supply 4,000 items in a 48-hour service.

Of course reorganisation is a mechanical and important process, but it is not that alone which delivers results. The Citizen's Charter has by implication been dismissed with faint praise this afternoon. I remind your Lordships that it too demands openness. The second element of the revolution is competition. Openness and competition are the engines that drive the search for accountability to the consumer and for improved services. We forget that before the code of practice on access to government information and individual charters were issued it was much more difficult for the Queen's subjects to obtain information on which to base complaints, or indeed where to address them. One does not want to place too much weight on this argument, but to that extent an increase in the incidence of complaints may paradoxically be a sign of improvement rather than the reverse.

Equally, Competing for Quality—which covers the competitive element of the process I have just described—with its introduction of the private sector into the provision of public services, has also begun to yield dividends in terms of performance. I am sorry that none of your Lordships sought to acknowledge that this evening.

During the past two and a half years the annual cost savings that have been identified amount to well over £400 million, on average a saving of 20 per cent. on the £2,000 million of activities that have been reviewed so far. Incidentally, it is a tribute to the quality of the staff in the Civil Service that in the market testing part of the programme in-house teams have won 73 per cent. of the work by value.

All that has been important. However, the Government believe that there remains scope for further improvement in both efficiency and quality of service. We said so in last year's White Paper. We believe that further delegation was and is the key to achieving both objectives. It is for that reason that the White Paper proposed that departments should take greater responsibility for deciding their organisational structures, the pay of their staff and the best mix of efficiency measures to meet the never-ending pressure to raise standards and to control costs.

Departments and agencies are already beginning to implement the White Paper. Your Lordships have described some of the effects that that will have on the senior Civil Service. We hope and believe that these changes will develop a smaller, better paid and better motivated Civil Service and that as a result it will be equipped to maintain the standards and values which, it has been made plain this evening, are the very minimum that the country expects from its public administrators.

In that context it is worth my saying to the noble Lords, Lord Allen and Lord Bridges, that not only was the British Civil Service formerly respected throughout the world for its professionalism and integrity, but it is still respected. I also suggest to the noble Lords that it has acquired a further feather in its cap in its

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international reputation. It is clear that our Civil Service has gained a worldwide reputation as a leader in public service reform. We are helping many governments in that field, notably the South African Government, in the huge task which they face. Curiously enough, the United States is pursuing reforms which bear many similarities to our own, and we are also in close contact with the administration of that country.

Of course your Lordships are right to stress the implications of our reforms for the staff in the many departments which are affected. Noble Lords are right to say that we are witnessing dramatic changes. Of course change and uncertainty are very unsettling for people in the course of their careers. It is essential that we make every effort at our disposal to keep staff informed, to maintain morale and to enable them to adapt to the new demands upon them. I believe strongly that consistency is one of the most important elements. If what we say will happen does happen, then the credibility of the Government among those who serve them is less likely to suffer in a time of inevitable change.

The government White Paper of last summer invited comments from interested parties. Comments were received from 50 individuals and organisations, and the Government have considered those comments. However, the most important response was the very thorough report of the Select Committee published last November entitled The Role of the Civil Service. It was notable that the report's conclusion enjoyed the unanimous support of the committee.

I shall not go through those conclusions. However, the Government have now responded to the Select Committee report and to the other responses to the White Paper. The document, again rather catchily entitled Taking Forward Continuity and Change, accepts most of the Select Committee's conclusions. Underpinning the approach we intend to take is the importance we attach to maintaining values and standards.

We therefore acknowledge that the committee's proposed Civil Service code should apply across the Civil Service. Although the Government have amended the committee's draft code slightly, they admire the original draft and intend to use its amended version as a basis for further consultation.

A number of noble Lords asked me detailed questions about the code. I have very much a weather eye on the clock. I hope that your Lordships will allow me merely to observe that the debate has been listened to and will be read with the keenest of interest and I am sure will form an important part of the consultation process. I am delighted that so many noble Lords, notably the noble Lords, Lord Barnett, Lord Croham, Lord Merlyn-Rees and Lord Bancroft, among others, welcomed the part of the report which recommends a Civil Service code.

We have also accepted the Committee's other recommendations. For example, there will be a new line of appeal to the Civil Service Commissioners for alleged breaches of the code or on issues of conscience. To emphasise and reinforce the well-established independence of the Commissioners, as your Lordships have observed, the first Civil Service Commissioner will in future be a Crown appointee. I have noted the

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reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, about that decision and the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, and others on the subject. I hope that noble Lords will allow me to write to them in view of the pressure on time.

The same applies in relation to the important matter of accountability. On the issue of accountability I shall merely say that it is important to draw a distinction when responsibilities are discussed. However, I emphasise that in the end Ministers are responsible. If my right honourable friend the Home Secretary had devolved responsibility for events in the prison service, I doubt whether he would have been given such a grilling as he was in another place. He was rightly willing and able to answer.

This has been a short debate on an important subject, and I believe that the House should be extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen, for introducing it. I hope that we shall return to the question at regular intervals, particularly as I know that those who are responsible for these matters, both Ministers and civil servants, will pay close attention to the views that your Lordships have expressed. I hope that noble Lords, especially the noble Lord, Lord Croham, will accept that the Government cling firmly to the Northcote-Trevelyan principles. As the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, observed, they are indeed eternal verities. Nevertheless we shall seek to maintain them in a way which reflects the opportunities with which today's social and technological change has presented us.

The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, said that we should look at the subject in the long term. If all the mainstream political parties can achieve a degree of consensus on the way in which the Government's administrative machinery should work, between us we should have made an immeasurable contribution to the future stability of the country and, indeed, towards increasing the British people's respect for our national institutions.

7.50 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale: My Lords, I have a few minutes available to me, but I do not propose to prolong what has been a fascinating debate. I should like to thank all those who have taken part. I still believe that the debate ought to have taken place in government time. The noble Viscount referred to the Statement which the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, made last July. He will have noted that the noble Lord went pretty far in agreeing that the Government might provide time for a debate; but there it is. We have had to take up three hours of our Cross-Bench allocation.

I made it quite clear at the beginning—and I think all who have spoken made it clear—that there is no objection to change and that we all recognise that time marches on. For my part, I shall read carefully what the noble Viscount says. But I note with pleasure his undertaking that he and his colleagues, and those who advise them, will also read carefully what has been said. The thoughts which have been expressed from all sides of the House require careful consideration.

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I shall not pick out more than a few points for special mention, and I shall do that briefly. The first is the fear which some of us have about the long term impact on recruitment, notwithstanding the figures which the noble Viscount quoted, at a time of high unemployment. Secondly, there is continued uneasiness about the distinction between policy and operations. I am not sure that the remarks of the noble Viscount are entirely satisfying. Thirdly, although it is comforting to note that one does not wait so long now for a driving test, there is a much more important issue underlying the debate: the question of ministerial responsibility for matters which are being dealt with more and more remotely from the centre.

I note what the noble Viscount said about writing to cover the points with which he has not dealt in his speech. I was surprised at two omissions. First, he made no comment on the point that I raised—the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, pursued it with much greater eloquence—on the restrictions on the short-term agency chiefs taking up employment when they leave. Can the head of the Prison Service take up a role with Group 4 when his contract expires? I believe that that is an important point. Secondly, we have still been left with no word whatsoever about the Diplomatic Service. No doubt we shall be told the answers in the letters that we shall receive. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, for Papers, by leave withdrawn.

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