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Subsection (4) would require the Secretary of State to have regard to the arrangements made by contractors for diversity issues. I heard the note of caution sounded by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. We have already discussed the importance that we attach to this matter and the fact that the relevant duties will be placed directly on providers by the legislation. I confirm that potential providers’ records on these issues will be considered as part of the process of assessing bids. That is a powerful statement, because we would be able to look at and measure the record of those who aim to enter this provision area.

To summarise, the Government are very much opposed to the idea of targets for which services should be delivered by which sector, but we are firmly committed to greater involvement of large and small organisations in the voluntary and charitable sectors and we are working hard to ensure that the right systems are in place to enable them to make a full contribution.

It is only fair to record that the voluntary sector is helping us to get this right and is fully engaged through our various stakeholder and advisory groups, including the voluntary sector and faith alliance. We are developing a strategy for building the capacity of the third sector to shape and deliver services and we are working with government departments to remove barriers by simplifying and streamlining regulatory and reporting requirements. Often the complaint is that those requirements are too constraining. We aim to deal with that issue. Our National Provider Network will inform commissioners of existing and potential providers and enable us to communicate opportunities to providers as they arise.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, made another point, which I may have missed. I believe that he expressed concern that, without a target for subcontracting for the voluntary sector, the Probation Service simply will not do it. I understand that point. It is why we are using the commissioning structure set out in the Bill, so that the Secretary of State can use his powers, either to contract directly with other providers or to ensure that trusts and other providers do exactly that. We can tackle that important issue. With the powers that the Secretary of State will have vested in his office, it will be possible to make that critical intervention, thus ensuring that the subcontracting process for those services is effective in reaching out to other providers and in involving them more fully, so expanding that role, as the noble Lord argued. I hope that the noble Lord will now feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Northbourne: While the noble Lord decides whether to withdraw his amendment, I shall make one point. It seems to me that part of the problem is that we have a negotiation between a very powerful partner and perhaps a voluntary organisation that is an extremely weak partner in the negotiation. I wonder whether the department might be prepared to consider having a small department to advise voluntary organisations in their negotiations so that they get a fair deal.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I thought that I covered this in my contribution, but I may not have made the point. It is our intention to encourage and provide support, which is why there will be a national network and support at the centre to underpin the commissioning and contracting process. Experience demonstrates that when that is there, it can work very well. It will bring on the strengths of those smaller providers, such as flexibility and imagination in provision.

Lord Dholakia: I thank the Minister. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that it is not my intention to test the opinion of the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was right that this is a probing amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and a number of other noble Lords expressed concern about the 7 per cent ceiling, but even when the Government had a 7 per cent ceiling we never reached it and it was reduced to as low as 2.5 per cent. An example of the impact of what the Government did is Nacro, which at one time employed hundreds of resettlement officers. It reached a position where it had to issue redundancy notices to people who provided resettlement services. Is it any wonder that we have 80,000 people in prison today?

Now that I know where the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, stand on this, I intend to get together with them to come up with the appropriate wording for voluntary organisations and charities. I will have discussions with the Minister in the mean time to see how we can move forward on this matter, but I may come back on Report. I am grateful for the excellent comments that colleagues have made, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Statistics and Registration Service Bill

6.53 pm

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 28 [National Statistician: advisory functions]:

Lord Newby moved Amendment No. 147:

The noble Lord said: The amendment takes us back to earlier Committee debates. At one level, it states the blindingly obvious, that:

I do not think that anybody would doubt either of those statements. It is pretty obvious that the National Statistician will be the Government’s principal adviser on statistics. However, we tabled this amendment because we want to establish clearly and get on the record that the role of the National Statistician will not be limited to statistics that the board and the National Statistician provide and will include statistics provided across government.

Given the debate we had on the distinction in the Bill between official statistics and national statistics—I am sure we will return to that issue on Report—the view of these Benches is that the National Statistician should have an overview of all statistics produced by government and that the code should apply to them all. In a sense, this is a companion amendment to those that we debated earlier about the difference between the two sorts of statistics. The value of such an amendment is that it makes clear that whoever is producing statistics in government must look to the National Statistician for advice and leadership. Given the situation in respect of official statistics not covered by the code, the Bill requires an amendment of this nature. I beg to move.

Lord Howard of Rising: We support the amendment and are happy to echo the noble Lord’s reasons for it. This Committee has already heard my noble friend Lady Noakes explain the necessity for a clear and strong role for the National Statistician and his or her office. Where departments not under the remit of the Statistics Board produce statistics, if trust is to be maintained it should be clear that the ultimate government authority is independent and impartial. The amendment ensures that the Prime Minister is advised by the person most qualified to give advice and makes clear that the National Statistician is the person to give it.

Lord Moser: I put my name down in support of this amendment for the obvious reason that others mentioned: it is crucial that the National Statistician is publicly and officially regarded as the ultimate authority for all official statistics. Clauses 28 and 29 cover that ground. Clause 28 covers the advisory role of the National Statistician and Clause 29 covers the executive role. The amendment is important because it must be clear beyond any shadow of doubt that, when there is a problem anywhere in the statistical system, the Government look to the National Statistician as the final arbiter, adviser and authority.

In my experience it was always beyond doubt that, although I was director of the CSO, I was also head of the Government Statistical Service, so if there was a problem with, let us say, health or education statistics, although those departments were expected to deal with it, if it remained in any way or form the Prime Minister would look to me as the ultimate authority. That is why it is very important that the Bill provides that the ultimate authority and responsibility for all statistics, national or non-national—if that remains a distinction, which I am very much against—in every department should remain the National Statistician.

There is another subtle point. One tends to think of the National Statistician and his or her colleagues as simply responsible for standards, methodology and quality in general, but the responsibility is much bigger. He or she is also responsible for planning, by looking ahead, the entire statistical system. That is an advisory role. He or she may decide that in the years or months to come it might become very important to improve migration statistics—we all know that it is—or some other field of statistics. It is a planning operation. The National Statistician may decide that that requires the co-operation of all the departments because it is a co-ordinating job. In that way also he or she is the ultimate authority. For those reasons, the amendment is important.

7 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: The noble Lord, Lord Newby, very kindly opened by saying that he was stating the blindingly obvious. It is also obvious to the Government. We accept the noble Lord’s argument, as the same concept underlies our position on the Bill.

The National Statistician’s role as chief adviser is already established in the Bill, although it is not explicitly stated in the amendment. I shall indicate why I cannot accept the amendment in a moment. The National Statistician is the board’s chief professional adviser. It must take account of his or her advice on all statistical matters, and the board has to publish a report for Parliament if on any occasion it overrules the National Statistician on professional or technical matters, including the reasons why.

Under the duties and powers established in the Bill, the board, in turn, has the responsibility to advise government departments on statistical issues, including technical issues such as methodologies, definitions and classifications, as well as on standards for official statistics. Therefore, it will be seen that the Government understand, and have legislated in the Bill for, the National Statistician to be the Government’s chief adviser on statistical matters. We intend the National Statistician to be the head of the Government’s statistical service, providing professional leadership to those working on statistics in government, in the way the noble Lord, Lord Moser, indicated the role has been performed in the past.

However, it will be recognised why I have difficulty with the amendment. We have chosen to retain the decentralised statistical system. That decision has been widely supported. I do not think that it has been challenged in our debate. The Treasury Select Committee endorsed the concept. A decentralised system inevitably means that statisticians remain working within government departments. It is not appropriate to legislate within the Civil Service structure for lines of accountability between staff working in departments and the National Statistician working in another department. That would be to bring into legislation that which, in a decentralised system, should be kept out of legislation, but it in no way, shape or form undermines the arguments about the responsibilities of the National Statistician and his relationship to statisticians in departments.

We are not changing that basic relationship. What is being changed—this is the theme of the Bill—is the creation of a board on which the National Statistician is chief executive, with the powers vested in that board rather than where they lie at present. There is nothing between us on where we want the National Statistician to be. I cannot accept the amendment because it would mean that we would be legislating about the structure of the Civil Service, which seems not to make any sense.

Lord Newby: I am fascinated by the Minister’s response. I am very pleased that he agrees with the substance of the amendment but I do not follow his logic as to why, if he agrees with it, he cannot just accept it. This is not a formal, structural amendment; it makes a general point about the role of the National Statistician as providing professional leadership. If we were saying that each head of statistics in each department should report to the National Statistician in various ways or that they should have different grades or anything, I would have some sympathy with the Minister, but the amendment points out a general, important principle.

I do not intend to press the amendment tonight, but I will definitely give further thought to what the Minister has said and may come back to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 148 and 149 not moved.]

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 [National Statistician: executive functions]:

[Amendment No. 150 not moved.]

Baroness Noakes moved Amendment No. 151:

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to the other amendments in the group that stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising. These probing amendments concern the executive functions of the National Statistician set out in Clause 29, the functions of the board and who actually controls the exercise or delegation of those functions. The board is set up with a number of functions, as set out throughout the Bill, particularly in Clauses 8 to 19. These are explicitly drafted in the Bill for the board. We have debated whether some or all of these functions should be assigned to the National Statistician and we will be returning to that subject at later stages of the Bill.

When we get to Clause 29 and the National Statistician’s functions, we find in subsection (2) that:

and, further, in subsection (7) that he “may delegate” the functions,

I am not sure that is the right scheme of powers. If the board is given functions under the Bill, it is the board which should decide on how they should be exercised. That is separate from the National Statistician being given defined powers under the Bill.

The Minister was keen on citing the corporate practice and the combined code when we debated the structure of the board right at the beginning of Committee. What the Bill does is very far from commercial practice. If this was a listed company, the board would have the power to do everything and would formally set down those things it reserved to itself.

The premise behind these amendments is that it cannot be right that the National Statistician has the power to exercise any of the functions of the board without reference to the board. I have tabled two alternative ways to deal with this. The first is, in Amendments Nos. 151 and 160, to delete Clause 29(2), (7) and (8), which would make the Bill silent on who is to exercise the functions. I believe that it would remain open to the board to empower the National Statistician to carry out all or any of its functions and to delegate to other members of the executive office.

I do not believe that removing the subsections would prohibit the board and the National Statistician from working on a perfectly satisfactory basis, but the board would be in the driving seat. However, if there is to be some explicit mention of the National Statistician’s powers to carry out the functions of the board and to delegate them as necessary, they should be subject to the consent of the board, which is what Amendments Nos. 153 and 161 achieve. A further option, which I have not drafted, would be to let the board decide what functions it reserved to itself. That would line up with practice in the commercial world. My two sets of amendments achieve the same result. I ask the Minister to tell us what role the board will have under the Bill as it stands. It seems that the National Statistician has total freedom to choose what he or she does. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes): I point out that if the amendment is agreed, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 152, by reason of pre-emption.

Viscount Eccles: This may be a convenient moment to speak to my amendment, which is in the group, although the subject is somewhat different.

In speaking to the amendment to leave out Clause 29(4), I draw attention to the increasingly confused and, as I see it, misunderstood governance proposals. On Second Reading, we started with a red herring—the assertion that the chosen governance model would meet the approval of the Financial Services Authority. If the Minister still thinks that that model will gain approval, he can ask the FSA whether it agrees. It would no doubt answer that since it does not regulate any body remotely like the proposed Statistics Board, it has no comment to make. Will the Minister test that proposition?

However, since introducing red herrings is the classic way of diverting attention from what is really going on, we will do well to concentrate on whether the Government’s proposals will work, regardless of where they come from. It is clear both from Committee proceedings to date and from information on the search for the chair that the Treasury considers that being the Statistics Board’s adviser will be the National Statistician’s real role. The promised position of chief executive is an add-on.

The chair, although described as non-executive in the Bill, is to be executive, I believe. The advertised salary of £150,000, presumably pensionable, must give rise to a remuneration package for three days a week way beyond any existing package for non-executive chairs. If it does not, may we be given the relevant precedents? The chair’s rate of pay is considerably higher than that enjoyed by the National Statistician—always a good test of who is in charge. The Minister circulated a letter on the subject, but may we also have copies of the search consultants’ information pack?

It is clear that the chair is to be top dog—a concept described by the Minister as crude, as indeed it is, given the drafting of the Bill. Given those developments, Clause 29(4) becomes even more unacceptable because it hammers home the reduction in the National Statistician’s position to that of any executive who accepts that she must do or not do whatever the chair tells her, in the way in which he tells her to do it. Yet she is head of her profession.

What about the impact on independence and the building of trust—the twin objectives of the Bill? I wonder how those arrangements are to be built into the contracts of employment for the chair and the National Statistician. We need to understand those arrangements because if, on the one hand, the chair is to be deeply involved in operations and, on the other, the National Statistician is to have no public profile, I for one have been misled. The clause should be dropped.

7.15 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken to their amendments. I shall discuss the amendments separately because the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, raises some fundamental points that I need to address separately, although I recognise that they are contiguous with the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. As she said, we discussed at length in our first Committee sitting the question of the governance model set out in the Bill. The Government are committed to that model. We believe that we have adopted the right approach for the National Statistician’s relationship with the board and to the role of the executive office that the National Statistician is to establish.

As I said in my response to the previous amendment, our approach recognises the professional pre-eminence of the National Statistician. I listened to the arguments of the Opposition, but I shall not yield to them on their argument that we have any objective other than recognising the professional pre-eminence of the National Statistician. We establish that in Clause 29(2), where the National Statistician is assumed to be able to exercise the functions of the board directly, without the intervening express authority of the board, except in respect of specific functions. One is assessment, which we all recognise to be a separate concept; another is the final sign-off of the code of practice. The National Statistician will not exercise all those functions herself or himself, so the Bill enables the National Statistician to delegate functions to the staff of the executive office for which he or she is responsible.

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