|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The necessary quid pro quo of allowing the National Statistician directly to exercise those functions is that, to maintain accountability, the board must be able, as necessary, to condition how the executive staff are to function and reserve the right to exercise certain functions itselfthe two functions that I identified earlier.
We see no case for changing that approach. I hear what the noble Baroness says, but I hope that she will recognise that there is coherence to the Governments position, which is based on a model that certainly preserves the role of the National Statistician but also guarantees that the board can meet its obligations in being accountable to Parliament.
The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is defining a different kind of board, one in which there is an executive chairman. That is why he raises the issue of the salary. Why should the salary issue affect the relationship between the chair and the National Statistician if not the chair but the National Statistician is exercising executive authority?
Although the National Statistician can exercise any of the board's functions, except for the final code sign-off and assessment decisions, which we recognise to be separate, the reason why those functions need to be reserved is that the board will be charged under the Bill as ultimately accountable for those functions. It is therefore bound to have some power to direct the National Statistician on the discharge of those functions. The board could not be accountable if it had no control at all over the manner in which the functions are exercised. I shall consider the question asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, about the search consultants reference pack. I cannot give a categorical answer at this stage. I will do my best to provide that information, but I am slightly hesitant about doing so. It will be recognised that this relates to a public appointment, and I am not quite sure just how much we are free to disclose. I will certainly write to him with as much information as I can.
The noble Viscounts amendment relates to a different kind of board from the one in the Billwhich we hope to convince the Chamber has merits. The board is accountable to Parliament and has the National Statistician as its chief executive. It has two functions in particular. We all recognise the one that relates to assessment and that is separate from the National Statistician, which is why it has its powers. It is also accountable to Parliament for the overall position, but the National Statistician is the executive officer. He will set up the executive operation of statistics from the board, and will set the standards for all statisticians who produce government statistics.
There has been a considerable overlap of issues in both the debates that we have had so far. I hope that I have established for the Committee the fact that the Government are clear in the Bill about the nature of the board, and that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment. She said that it was probing. I hope that I have at least given her food for thought.
Lord Moser: The trouble with this topic is that the amendments touch on what we came to call the muddle of the whole structure of the relationship between the National Statistician and the board, which the Minister will come back to at a later stage. It is therefore difficult to discuss them totally separately. On the whole, I support the amendments, but I want to talk about a particular problem, which may be the product of my suspicious mind. From the very beginning, when we first set out on this route after the Chancellor had made his proposal, I had the feeling that the Treasury, where this all came from, was rather in favour of a somewhat executive board. Gradually, that was watered down and became more non-executive, which we have discussed at some length.
My worries have returned because of the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the announcement last week of the appointment of a non-executive chairman. It was not so much the salary that worried me; I cannot comment on that because everyone gets such high salaries these days that I can only congratulate whoever gets this job. I am much more worried about the three days a week. In my time as National Statistician and in that of National Statisticians after me, it was very nice to have Ministers in charge. They may occasionally have gone slightly too far into the political arena, but they basically left one alone. They certainly did not spend three days a week in charge of us. I worry about the concept of a non-executive chairman spending three days a week managing the National Statistician, as one document put it.
Baroness Noakes: I thank both noble Lords for taking part in this short debate. There is an incredible fog in this Bill about the board and the National Statistician. At times, the Minister wishes to build up the National Statistician at the Dispatch Box; at others, he resists any amendments to the Bill to enhance that. There is a complete lack of clarity. The noble Lord, Lord Moser, put his finger on the question teased out by the amendment of my noble friend Lord Eccles: what will this chairman do for three days a week? We understand that there can be different kinds of boards and different kinds of separation of roles between executives and non-executives, but we find it increasingly difficult to align what the Minister is saying about what the National Statistician will do and what the board will do by itself, with what the Government are saying are the role of the chairman and the terms of his appointment in advertisements in the national newspapers. The Minister rightly noted that I said that my amendments were probing; I always stand by my word on such things. He will know that we need to return to this in much more detail on Report. I would not like him to think in any way that his arguments have left the Committee satisfied. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 158 states that the name of the executive office created by Clause 29(5) shall be the Office for National Statistics. In Clause 52, both the Office for National Statistics and the Statistics Commission are officially killed off. In Clause 53, however, the property, rights and liabilities of the ONS are transferred to the Statistics Board. Under Clause 29(5), the National Statistician must establish an executive office. Although the Bill and the Explanatory Notes are silent on this, I understand, not least from the meeting that the Minister organised with Mr John Healey before Second Reading, that in effect the ONS will live on in the new executive office.
I am sure that the parliamentary draftsman had a good reason for killing off the ONS in one part of the Bill and resurrecting it under no name in another part of the Bill, but it would be clearer if the Bill made it plain that the new executive office is indeed the successor to the ONS and that it proudly bears its name. The noble Lord, Lord Moser, reminded us at Second Reading that:
and that the problems addressed by the Bill lie elsewhere and not in the ONS itself. The Minister did not dissent from that proposition in his winding-up speech that day, and I hope that he will confirm that the Government indeed recognise and value the strength of the ONS.
Given that there is brand value in the ONS, it seems perverse that its name and brand are being consigned to history. It would be far better to preserve the name in the Bill and to make clear its continuity in the world of statistics, both nationally and internationally. I beg to move.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: Amendment No. 158 stipulates that the executive office of the board should be known as the Office for National Statistics. Our view is that including in the legislation the prescription of what the executive office is to be callednamely, the Office for National Statisticsis unnecessarily inflexible. The executive office may well be called the Office for National Statistics, although those involved, such as the chairman, the board and the National Statistician, may decide that a different name would be more appropriate. It is difficult for us to see what interest is to be served by prescribing this in the Bill.
Baroness Noakes: When the staff of the Office for National Statistics read Hansard, they will note that the Minister did not respond to my invitation to recognise the value and strength of the ONS, and they will regret that. I can see that if the Government do not want to put the name in the Bill, they are entitled not to, but the signal that the Government send is a pity. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: We return here to the planning of statistics, which I suggest should be a function of the National Statistician. Members of the Committee will remember that at Second Reading I drew attention to the fact that the present framework requires the National Statistician, or the chief statistician, to produce a high-level business plan for statistics in relation not just to the ONSI am afraid that I shall continue to refer to the ONS, which is a very good brand namebut to all national statistics. That was in the framework, but there is nothing in the Bill. At Second Reading I asked why not.
In addition, the current framework for statistics places an obligation on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to maintain and develop the co-ordination structure for national statistics. Again, that responsibility has not been assigned to the board or to the National Statistician and is, therefore, apparently lost. At Second Reading, I asked why that should be. I received no satisfactory answers to these questions, so I am having another go. There is nothing in the Bill which gives either the board or the National Statistician explicit authority for co-ordinating statistical planning across more than 20 Whitehall producers of official statistics or the devolved Administrations. All that the Bill enables the board to do is to monitor and report on the statistical plans of the various largely autonomous bodies under Clause 8.
Planning to meet the statistical needs of the country is a highly demanding task, which I am advised, in the view of many, is not well done now. We have had the recent row over the migration statistics. A few years ago there was a row over the pension statistics. There have been arguments over the regional economic statistics, which were the subject of the 2004 Allsopp report commissioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That report pointed to the inadequacy of those statistics.
At Second Reading I mentioned several examples of where often policies are embarked on with no statistical base at all. I cited the example of the New Deal and a number of others. In all these areas, the provision of statistics has lagged some way behind the requirement of the Government, let alone the requirements of the country more generally. It is my view, and I hope that the Committee might agree, that good planning is essential to make sure that needs are recognised early and properly addressed.
Let me give a further more recent example of this. Last week, the Institute for Social & Economic Research at Essex University, a body for which I have high regard, announced a new household panel survey of 40,000 households, which is a substantial enlargement of the existing British household panel study. It is being financed by the Economic and Social Research Council. Like the British household panel study, it will be a longitudinal surveyagain, I attach the highest importance to thatand will follow the survey sample over many years. The proposers recognise, and argue, that to trace the social development of different categories of citizen in this way provides much more effective information on which policies can be based. But if neither the National Statistician nor the Statistics Board has any authority to plan or co-ordinate this new statistical survey, will it just go the way of the others that I have mentioned?
Simply gathering together the routine statistical plans of individual organisations does little to raise the game of the statistical service. This is already done now and the resulting product gives little overall sense of co-ordination or purpose, which is not surprising as the chief statistician does not have the authority to impose co-ordination or co-operation on any of these parties. The absence of any authority to co-ordinate statistical planning is a major weakness. My amendment suggests that at least once every three years, the National Statistician must produce a plan for statistics across the board. This role belongs firmly to the National Statistician as the Governments chief adviser, as we have discussed earlier. The boards role is to make sure that it is done well and to report to Parliament on its assessment in that regard.
Lord Moser: I support this amendment. It seems such an obvious duty for the National Statistician, supported by the board. There is no other statistical office in the world that I know ofand I used to be in charge of United Nations statisticsthat does not have this kind of responsibility, if only to make sure that forward planning of not only statistics but of resources needed by the statistical service are in good shape. This seems to be an obvious duty to incorporate in the Bill.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, we have had quite a discussion about this matter. I hope that there will be clarity in what I say which will satisfy the noble Lord. The boards objective is to promote and safeguard the quality and comprehensiveness of official statistics that meet the public good. The board has a range of duties and powers to help deliver on that. We want to let the independent board statistician and chairman determine the appropriate planning mechanism and not at this stage be over-prescriptive. Ultimately, the board is the legal entity responsible for exercising the functions in the Bill. Therefore, we do not believe that there should be a legal requirement on the National Statistician to produce a business plan.
and to lay this report before the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures. The boards powers under the clause also allow it to publish at any time additional reports relating to any of its functions. How frequently such reports are published, and what specific issues will be covered, will ultimately, and in our view quite rightly, be for the board, with the National Statistician as the executive figure, to determine.
We would also expect that in addition to the information included in the boards annual report, it will produce periodic, more strategic, business planning documents. Our assumption is that a competent board, with the National Statistician in the chief executives role and a non-executive chairman, will do everything that the noble Lord requires. That is the way things happen with an efficient, well run board and a super chief executive. There is a worry in the noble Lords mind, but it is difficult to see why he is concerned.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I hope that I may intervene. Both roles were spelt out in 2000 in the framework and were assigned to the National Statistician and to the commission. However, they do not appear in this Billthey have gone. The Ministers argument is that it will all happen as though they were in the Bill. I find that very difficult to accept.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: That is not my argument. Here we are setting up a board which has objectives. Of course it is in everyones interests that an effective National Statistician and executive chair are in place. We will expect the board to do everything the noble Lord says. However, the fact that the requirement does not appear in the Bill is not relevant because, obviously, the board will want to be highly effective.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I find that reply deeply unsatisfactory and I will want to study what the Minister has said. He does not appear in any way to have addressed the argument put to the Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Moser, who said that this requirement is made by every other statistical office. I feel that the Government are leaving too much to the discretion of the board and the National Statistician. Surely, planning must be a central function and I cannot understand why it should not be specified in the Bill.
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 164, 166 and 167. They are probing amendments and concern the extent to which the assessment function will be fully separated within the Statistics Board.
The structure of the Statistics Board in the Bill rests on being able to separate the function of assessment from the other functions. As assessment of statistics applies to those statistics produced by the ONS, or its successor, as well as those produced elsewhere in government, the function of assessment and separation of that function is critical.
The Bill provides that the head of assessment is not to be a member of the executive office which is headed by the National Statistician. That is quite right, but no mention is made of the staff who will carry out the assessment processes. My Amendment No. 163 removes paragraph (a) of Clause 29(10), which refers to the head of assessment only. Amendment No. 164 replaces this with a new paragraph which will ensure that not only the head of assessment but also his staff will not be in the executive office.
Clause 31(3) does try to deal with the issue of keeping staff separate, though it implies that the staff could in fact be members of the executive office. But the board, under Clause 31(3), secures this separation only so far as practicable. We do not think that this is anything like strong enough. It must be evident that the staff must not work on the production of statistics. The function of assessment is akin to an audit function and one of the primary characteristics of auditwhether external or internalis independence. Auditors have to avoid various threats, such as familiarity, self-review, intimidation and self-interest, all of which could arise if the assessment function used members of the executive office to carry out its work.
Amendment No. 166 deletes the words so far as practicable from Clause 31(3). Amendment No. 167 reinforces that by extending the requirement for the head of assessment not to take part in the production of statistics to the staff of the head of assessment.
Perhaps I may return briefly to the role of the National Statistician as the chief executive of the board. That implies that the head of assessment is inferior to the National Statistician because he has to be an employee of the board even if not actually a member of the board. I understand the desire to create a board with two streams of activity which are independent of each other, but I do not believe that the Bill achieves that with clarity.
I tried in Amendment No. 150, which we debated on our first Committee day, to argue that the National Statistician should be the chief executive not of the board but of the executive office. That was because I could not see how the National Statistician could be the chief executive of the board because one important stream of activitythat of assessmenthad to be kept entirely separate. I continue to be concerned on this score.
I said earlier that these were probing amendments and I hope that the Minister can explain how, under the Bill, the head of assessment and his staff are properly separate from and independent of the National Statistician and the executive office. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Oldham: The Committee will be pleased to hear that I agree with every sentiment expressed by the noble Baroness about the objective of keeping assessment separate from the production of statistics. That is our intent, too, and I emphasise that we do not think the amendments are necessary to achieve our shared goala goal shared by all those concerned with the effective operation of the board. Clauses 29 and 31 make clear that the head of assessment is not to be part of the National Statisticians executive office, as the noble Baroness recognised, nor is the head of assessment to take part in statistical production.
As the staff working on assessment will report to the head of assessment, it follows that these staff are not part of the executive office, nor will they work on statistical production. We do not need to state this again in the Bill because it is clear that we have identified the need to separate the head of assessment from the production of statistics. However, I ask the Committee to consider whether there is a real difficulty with the fact that they are on the same board.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|