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Lord Turnbull: I thought that I had made that clear; I shall support the Benches opposite on that amendment.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I am grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for what she said about the involvement of both Houses in any parliamentary scrutiny of the Statistics Board and the whole process. Since I first raised the point in the debate on the Loyal Address in response to Her Majesty’s speech, I have been struck by the amount of support for the measure in both Houses. I do not say that support is unanimous in another place but there are certainly voices there that recognise that there is considerable expertise in this House and that the involvement of both Houses would add considerably to the authority of the parliamentary scrutiny of this whole process. As I made clear then, this is not a matter ultimately for the Bill, although amendments are tabled; it is a matter for agreement between the usual channels—I understand that. I and, I have no doubt, others have brought the matter to the attention of the usual channels and I hope that a good result may emerge.

My noble friend’s amendment on resources, to which she referred, is grouped with this one and appears right at the end of the Marshalled List. This is always seen as a very important element of the statistics arrangements of any country. We shall discuss this matter later. I have tabled an amendment on the European principles on statistics. Principle 3, headed “Adequacy of Resources”, states:

That does not mean the Commission’s requirements; it means the requirements of all the members of the European Union. It is made perfectly clear in the rest of the document that that includes the national requirements of individual countries. I will not read any more. All I am saying is that it is clear that adequacy of resources must be part of the independence of the statistical service. If at any stage it is felt that the National Statistician or the board have to go, as it were, on bended knee to the Treasury and say that they must have more resources to be able to do what is required of them, that immediately puts them in danger of being subject to Treasury pressure. One can see the sort of terms that the Treasury might impose as part of a deal to get more money. I just do not think that that is right.

I have one other example. Of course, this is not typical, but both Houses of Parliament are responsible for their own financing, and it is of the most enormous importance to the independence of Parliament that we are not subject to a cash limit and do not have to beg the Treasury each year for allowances. Of course we must be responsible, and of course we must have arrangements—as we do—to make sure that the country gets value for money, but Parliament, to ensure its independence, is responsible for its own financing. Although not a complete parallel, the statistical service is of the same sort of importance as Parliament in terms of establishing trust in the functions that it performs.

I do not intend to take up a lot of the Committee’s time, but we must never forget that we are engaged in a process of seeking to restore public trust. The amendments

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in the group, in particular Amendments Nos. 237 and 238, would go some way towards doing that. I hope that both Houses may be involved in that process.

Lord Newby: I am sure that the whole Committee would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, that one of the main purposes of the Bill is to enhance public trust in the statistics that the Government produce, and that Parliament must have a strengthened role in achieving that. We strongly support the concept of enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of the statistical service. The model that we always had in mind was a Joint Committee of both Houses, which would act in the traditional manner of parliamentary scrutiny. It might, as part of that process, undertake a series of confirmation hearings for members of the board and possibly for the incoming National Statistician, so that there is proper scrutiny both of the persons and of the procedures of the new bodies.

We have some doubts about whether there should be a statutory commission as set out in the amendments, partly because of the possible conflicts of interest mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, which is a real issue. There is the risk of slightly muddying the waters, which are pretty muddy already, between the roles of the board and of the National Statistician. If you have this very powerful new statutory commission in place, there is a real danger of the roles being muddied further.

The other thing that I have slight doubts about is the idea that Parliament, almost uniquely, should set the budget for the statistical service. We agree that statistics are very important in how the Government are perceived and for trust in government. Is the statistical service such a unique strand of government activity that Parliament should have that role? Is it of a different order of importance from, for example, the Government Economic Service, which also has a specialist role in the overall Civil Service organisation? We are not convinced that statistics are much different from many other public sector functions.

However, I congratulate the noble Baroness on one aspect of the amendment, about which I have a question for the Minister. Whenever we discuss the possibility of establishing a parliamentary body to oversee and to scrutinise new legislation, we are told that we cannot discuss the matter, because it is for Parliament to decide, rather than one House of Parliament in the context of deliberation on a Bill. Yet here we have an amendment that would set up, in effect, a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. Why is it possible to set up a commission that includes six Members of the House of Commons and six Members the House of Lords, when, if I tabled an amendment to establish a Joint Committee with six Members from each House, I might be ruled out of order or, at least, the Minister would say that that was totally against parliamentary procedure? I would be grateful if the Minister could help me on that.

3.45 pm

Lord Barnett: I share the noble Baroness’s concern that any such body should be wholly independent—and certainly independent of government—but I am

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worried about the amendment to set up the commission. I accept that money for the independent board should be raised independently of government, but the idea of having six Members of each House on the commission, doing that job, rather than being, for example, on a Select Committee to which issues of money and everything else would have to be referred, is entirely different. The accountability to Parliament is right, but those Members of each House would be carrying out an executive job. How else would they do it? They would be working virtually full time, or at least spending a lot of time, on a major commission, seeking to ensure the independence of the board. That worries me. I cannot see how the objective that I share with the noble Baroness would be better achieved by setting up this new commission than by having a Select Committee of both Houses to be responsible for accountability to Parliament.

Lord Desai: I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Turnbull and Lord Newby, and my noble friend Lord Barnett. We suspect that Governments might undermine the independence of statistics, but the best way to deal with that would be for Parliament to keep an eye on the Government by asking them to be accountable to it and to give evidence to it. Appointments made to the Statistics Board should also be scrutinised by Parliament. Parliament should not do an executive job; it should do what legislators do. That separation must be there.

This series of amendments tabled by the noble Baroness puzzles me. Once upon a time, our statistics service had independence and trust; we did not need parliamentary commissions. We have not examined when that trust broke down, but it was not last year or the year before—it was some time ago, which is why in 2000 the Government made a first attempt to ensure independence, and now they are having a second bite of the cherry. It is important to realise that the old system was not so broken that we needed to add a whole new system of machinery to it.

We need to ensure some financial stability and I assure noble Lords that a quinquennial settlement is not a bad idea. That was the system under which universities enjoyed substantial autonomy for many years. So far as I can see from Amendment No. 237 in the name of the noble Baroness, Parliament is supposed to carry out this task annually, but I think that that would cause unnecessary harassment and worry.

Perhaps I may add one more comment. We all love Parliament but a recent attempt has been made to interfere with freedom of information with respect to parliamentarians. It has not been successful so far but the idea has not been abandoned. I am concerned that statistics could become a political football if a parliamentary commission had executive powers, and we do not want that to happen. We do not want a parliamentary committee suddenly to decide that no data about Parliament will be released, and things such as that, which I am sure some people would want. So I should prefer scrutiny issues to be handled by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament and executive functions to stay as they are, with a quinquennial settlement for the moneys to be provided to the Statistics Board.

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Lord Davies of Oldham: This has been a fascinating debate. It began with a proposal from the Opposition of an alternate model for the system, and it is for them to defend their model. So when the noble Lord, Lord Newby, asks me where Parliament fits into this model and whether it would be in order to table amendments on how to instruct Parliament, that question should be addressed not to me but to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who proposed the amendment. I say only that in legislation we should be somewhat wary of purporting to tell Parliament how it should carry out its scrutiny functions, and I am mindful that significant contributions on this issue in the other place identified support for the government model and not for the one proposed in this group of amendments.

These amendments were considered in the other place but, before I address them head on, I should perhaps explain the Government’s model proposed in the Bill and say why we think that it is the right one and why the amendments and proposed new clauses would confuse the situation. However, several Members of the Committee, including my noble friends Lord Barnett and Lord Desai and the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, to whom I shall refer in a moment when we get on to the subject of financing the proposal, have already indicated why the alternate model proposed in the amendments has, to put it at its mildest, some imperfections.

The amendments propose an alternative model and suggest how things should be done, but we in government base our position on the concept that statistical production is an executive function and that statistics are a public good serving a wide range of users. It is therefore proper that that function should be located within government rather than within Parliament. At the same time, I accept the strong argument that there has to be adequate parliamentary scrutiny of statistics in order to enhance the nation’s trust in them.

The view that the production of statistics should be an executive function was supported in our public consultation, and the Treasury Select Committee, which has had responsibility for statistics in the past, largely endorsed the Government’s position. It is an almost universal feature of statistical systems internationally that statistical production sits in the Executive, not the legislature. The noble Baroness may be able to produce illustrations of where her model obtains elsewhere, but I did not notice her refer to them in her speech, nor in any other that we have heard in the past. So the model being articulated on the other side of the House certainly has some unique and, we believe, flawed features.

One central pillar of the Government’s model is the production of statistics as a responsibility of government. The next core aspect of our model is scrutiny of the statistical system by an independent board, with statutory powers established in legislation, as this Bill sets out. Parliament’s role in this model is, of course, important and is to hold the statistical system and all those involved in and responsible for it to account. Parliament rightly has that role in relation to other executive

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functions of government which are devolved or overseen by independent boards, such as the Food Standards Agency.

Therefore, the idea of a commission for official statistics established in statute, composed of Members of both Houses of Parliament and with a role in appointments, would surely confuse Parliament’s role and the governance model overall, which is the burden of the representation of my noble friend Lord Desai. Although there are a limited number of other areas where there are commissions of the type proposed—for example, the Public Accounts Commission, which scrutinises the work of the National Audit Office, and the Speaker’s Committee, which oversees the work of the Electoral Commission—they relate to the scrutiny of fundamentally different organisations and issues. Those two bodies relate to the role of the legislature, and that factor is not relevant here.

The Public Accounts Commission’s primary role is to examine the National Audit Office estimates and it is established in a manner akin to the proposed commission for official statistics. The role of the National Audit Office is quite different from that of the statistical system. The National Audit Office has a particular role in ensuring that government departments have achieved value for the money voted to them by Parliament—hence the particular method of scrutiny.

Equally, the Speaker’s Committee, which scrutinises the expenditure and income of the Electoral Commission, is so established because of the special role that the Electoral Commission plays in relation to the legislature. The Electoral Commission is there to establish the integrity and effectiveness of elections to this Parliament as a whole, not just to the Executive. Therefore, those two models are different and have different scrutinising structures in Parliament because of their uniqueness in those terms. I maintain that statistics do not fit within that pattern.

The amendments stipulate that the Queen, in appointing the chair of the board and the National Statistician, is advised by the chair of the Commission for Official Statistics. Notwithstanding what I have already said about the reasons why I do not think we should establish a commission for official statistics, as my honourable friend the Financial Secretary set out in the other place, the Government intend to follow the usual process in these matters. That means that, in the case of Crown appointments, the Queen is advised by the Privy Council, via the Prime Minister or the Lord Chancellor. In this case, it will be the Prime Minister.

That is a well established process, which it is unnecessary to stipulate in the legislation because we are accustomed, in a range of bodies, to following exactly that pattern. There is no such reference, for example, in relation to Crown appointments in the Bank of England Act. Of course, we need to guarantee that the selection process as regards the board is open and fair and conducted in line with the high standards that will be expected of the office.

That aside, we do not think that the chair of such a commission should be the one to advise the Queen on such matters. The Government do not believe it is for

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Parliament to take a direct role in what we regard as an executive appointment. In fact, it seems to me that the noble Baroness in proposing her amendment has to recognise that it is certainly an executive appointment. The other amendments follow a similar vein, and would transfer the responsibilities for appointing non-executive members of the board, currently assigned in legislation to the Treasury, to the chair of the commission for official statistics. This is inconsistent with the fact that the board serves a function of the Executive. Parliament should not interpose on executive appointments.

4 pm

The Treasury Select Committee of the other place said last year that public perceptions about the independence of the board would depend more upon the actions of board members than the method of appointment. I am sure that we all recognise that that must be so. The Government certainly agree, and think that the direct involvement of Parliament in the appointments process would skew the accountability model for no gain. The quality of the board’s membership will of course be crucial in ensuring the board’s independence, credibility and ability, if necessary, to challenge government departments on the quality and integrity of their statistics. Parliament’s role will then be to hold such persons to account, as well as the Government for their appointments in such cases.

On funding, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, who indicated that there were difficulties in the model of the noble Baroness’s amendments. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Desai, who confirmed what must be the case. It is suggested that the five-year period created in the Bill for the funding and budgetary arrangements for the commission will not necessarily guarantee independence. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, expressed his anxiety about that. I thought, as my noble friend Lord Desai indicated, that British universities worked on exactly that model for several decades. They did so, justifiably to trumpet across the world that they had state funding but were independent of the state. They gloried in that role and stressed that it was essential that such independence should be maintained. A model not dissimilar to that is being proposed for this board, and it is suggested that the board will be under the Treasury’s thumb. I do not believe that to be so. It is not our intention, which is why have put forward this structure. It obtains for one or two other significant bodies such as the Food Standards Agency or the regulating agencies, which must have their independence from government in dealing with aspects of the utilities. All have guaranteed funding over a period to ensure their independence.

Baroness Noakes: It may help the Committee if the Minister explains where in the Bill a five-year funding provision is set out.

Lord Davies of Oldham: We have indicated that that is the basis of our position on the board. Our model is clear that the board must have independence, because that is how it will operate to ensure and rebuild trust in national statistics in the nation.

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Baroness O'Cathain: I am sorry to stop the Minister in full flow, and thank him for giving way. If that is the implication in the Bill, why is it not in the Bill? He said that it is implied. Does he expect that everybody interested in this must carry around a copy of both the Act and today’s Hansard? It would be much simpler to put it in the Bill.

Lord Davies of Oldham: It may be simple to put it in the Bill, but that is not the burden of the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. They are there to create an alternative model of how accountability should operate. Having identified that we have other illustrations of the Government in action, funding bodies in these terms, I am identifying at this stage how the Government envisage the board as working and the basis on which funding will be provided for it. It is crucial to the concept and structure of the board that that should be so.

We are committing ourselves to a funding settlement. It will be for the board to decide on spending allocations for its functions, the census, new statistical initiatives and for what is at present the Office for National Statistics, but nearly £30 million has been earmarked for new functions specific to independence, including establishing and maintaining the board’s delivery of the independent assessment of statistics and developing and managing the proposed central publication hub. Therefore, we are already acting in the spirit of the concept of independence of the way in which the board will operate—guaranteed funding will ensure that.

I therefore hope that the noble Baroness and the House will recognise—I appreciate her commitment to an alternative model, and the work that has gone into that in this House and in the other place—that the Government have thought through these issues carefully and that, on the basis of public consultation, their broad position has been supported. The Treasury Committee in the other place is one important body that supports them on the crucial issues contained in the government model. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will feel that she has at least probed satisfactorily into the government model and is able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Noakes: I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. I am sorry that my model did not gain more support around the House but it has enabled us to have a debate about important issues.

The noble Lords, Lord Turnbull and Lord Newby, raised the question of whether there would be a conflict of interest between Parliament’s holding the Statistics Board to account and also setting its financial envelope and making appointments. I am not sure that that is a huge problem—and it is not a problem with the NAO, which has worked perfectly well—but I accept that some distinctions could be made between the NAO and an organisation such as the Statistics Board.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, suggested that this new commission would take up a lot of time. That was not the intent. The intent was that it would deal with

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appointments and money, which could be done annually or perhaps even five-yearly, and that it would deal with the basic oversight of the Statistics Board, but that it would not be at it every day of the week, which the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, seemed to imply, because it would not be carrying out executive functions. We were not suggesting that the Statistics Board would sit within the legislature, to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, merely that certain powers would sit within the legislature.

We had an interesting debate on money, which teased out the fact that that is one of the important areas. My noble friend Lady O’Cathain has helped us to see that this Bill is probably deficient in the way in which it approaches money, because it leaves the issue of money entirely to the Treasury. It does not even enshrine a five-year settlement, which might be one way forward that we may well want to explore later.

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