Government Policy

– in the House of Lords at 3:53 pm on 27th March 2002.

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Debate resumed.

Photo of Lord Alexander of Weedon Lord Alexander of Weedon Conservative 3:55 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, perhaps I may preface my remarks on the debate by saying that the Delegated Powers Committee has considered the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill. It is a long Bill and I am pleased to hear the decision that has been taken. It also gives me the opportunity to thank noble Lords for the somewhat over-generous words about my contribution to the committee, although no one could be over-generous to the committee as a whole. Furthermore, in the light of what has passed today I want to say how much I have always appreciated the support which we have received from the Government Chief Whip on all occasions.

It is fitting that this debate has been introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Patten. In 1995, he wrote his stylish and thoughtful book, Things to Come. In it, he made an eloquent appeal that clear ideas and a clearer agenda, underpinned by a sense of history and philosophy, are critical to any party which wishes to do good by holding power. I find it heartening that after the barren and desolate winter of the previous Parliament, we Conservatives are beginning again to think intelligently. It is even more heartening that we are nailing our colours to the one-nation banner. We are recognising that there is such a thing as society; that we must be inclusive; that we must promote excellence in public services; and that we must recognise the value of cultural diversity. Obviously, there is far to go to make good policies in this area and to carry credibility, but it is immensely heartening that the route has been opened up for the future in a way that will make many of us feel comfortable.

One theme of the noble Lord's book today captures a resonance probably greater than when it was written. He drew on the Papal encyclical of 1931 of Pope Pius XI who emphasised that the task of the state was to create a framework within which smaller societies could function. He coined the word that has been adopted by and will forever be associated with the European Union, "subsidiarity". As the noble Lord, Lord Patten, put it, the state should do as little as possible as well as possible. While that may be a counsel of perfection in the modern era, it is in my view true that the state should content itself with the creation of a framework for action, with acting as a catalyst and with the allocation of public resources.

All those are legitimate judgments for politicians. But the state, as far as possible, should withdraw from management and it certainly should not micro-manage. Examples of that do not need to be laboured. One has only to mention the Dome and Railtrack to make the point. It is sad that the Government continue to go down that route with the misguided centralisation of policing which is at the heart of the present police Bill. I believe that we should diffuse responsibility outwards, as the Government to their credit—although I am not sure that my party supports them—have done with the regional development agencies which bring, as the Confederation of British Industry has said, the value of business-led boards.

I want to concentrate not on what Cardinal Newman might have called the "grand design", but on his words,

"One step enough for me".

I do not want to look at the great sweep of philosophy but I do want to look at the value we place on two aspects which underpin political philosophy: civil liberties and true democracy. I do so because, listening as a spectator to the debate on fox hunting, I believe that those aspects will loom large over the next year.

I do not seek to debate fox hunting in any detail. I have no axe to grind in favour of the sport. I happen to dislike the idea of chasing animals for sport, but then I would not want to persecute innocent birds with a shotgun or cause a fish to writhe on the end of a hook. But I am ever more concerned about the sheer failure, as I see it, of the Government to realise that the course on which they are set tramples on the liberties of those who disagree with them. It will affect the livelihoods of around 500,000 people.

I believe that criminalisation in this area could be warranted only by overwhelming justification. After all, most of our criminal law has at its root the protection of others from harm: assault, theft, criminal damage; even environmental, health and safety regulation. All that law is designed to protect people. There is of course an additional category of offences where the law aims to protect the state: treason, riot and offences against the Official Secrets Act. But the essence of criminal law is that it tries to balance individual liberty. As the great American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes said some 150 years ago:

"The right to swing my fist stops where the other man's nose begins".

It seems to me that we ought to remember that. We should show tolerance and respect for the views of others in this area.

I believe that before the classes of offence which already exist for causing cruelty to animals are extended, this issue should be very carefully tested for proportionality. Is the concern that fox hunting compromises the welfare of the fox—I quote from the noble Lord, Lord Burns—such a powerful consideration as to warrant cutting a swathe through the economic and social liberties of so many?

I am bound to say that I find it disproportionate. I am bound to say too that when I read about the baying of the hounds in the House of Commons last week, I found echoes of the old mantra of class prejudice. I hope that the issue will be debated as one of liberty and principle and I hope that we will remember the words of John Kennedy, months before his assassination:

"The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened".

I believe that we should tread gingerly in this area.

I have another and perhaps more controversial concern in this area: I am troubled by the claim that the Government will be giving weight to the democratic will. I find this hollow for two reasons. This House is a part of our system of parliamentary accountability. It has recently been reformed. It is not our fault that the Government are delaying further change and are unenthusiastic about further increasing our influence or, for that matter, creating a largely elected Chamber. As the Public Administration Select Committee, one of the best committees in Parliament, has said:

"Reform is not a zero sum game in which advance for one Chamber is inevitably a threat to the other".

In the short time left I also want to canvass my concern about the suggestion that the House of Commons is democratically elected. That suggestion is made glibly. It is untrue and cannot carry weight when 44 per cent of those who vote elect a government with a majority of 180. This is not a party political point; it happened when the Conservatives were in power and it now happens to Labour. In addition, there is what is called "bias" in the system; that is, fewer votes are needed to elect a Labour Member than are needed for a Conservative Member. This bias means that if, at the last election, the two major parties had each won 37 per cent of the vote, Labour would have had a majority of 140. If, at the last election, the Conservatives had won 42 per cent, as Labour did, they would have had a majority of only 15.

I was a member of the Jenkins commission on voting reform. We recommended a degree of proportionality. We believe that it is fair to the electorate. Of course political parties—I fear that my own party is for some reason not yet thinking in this area—all say, "We want the smack of strong government. We want the opportunity to pull the fruit machine occasionally and to hit the jackpot, thus having a 'winner takes all'". I think that we ought to stand back and ask, "What is fair and equitable to the electorate?". When we look at that question, we should hesitate before we say that there is a clear, democratically elected majority.

I ask whether the Minister, as a good Scot, supports the system of election that is in place in Scotland for the Scottish Parliament. If he does support it, why would it not do for the United Kingdom Parliament? More immediately, why would it not do for elected Members of the House of Lords? We have to underpin our democracy if we are going to sustain political philosophy.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative 4:05 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, in following my noble friend Lord Alexander, the happiest compliment that I can pay to a president of the MCC is to include a reference to cricket in my speech, which might otherwise not be forgiven. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Patten on having introduced this perfectly admirable debate, and I join my noble friend in regretting that, apart from the noble Lord who is to reply, speakers from the Government Benches have decided that discretion is the better part of valour.

Some years ago in my constituency the late T.S. Eliot got into a taxi cab and the driver said to him over his shoulder, "You're that Mr Eliot, aren't you?". Eliot replied that he was. The driver then said, "I have lots of important people in my cab. Only the other day I had that Bertrand Russell in here, sitting just where you are now. I was talking to him over my shoulder, just as I am to you. I said to him, 'What's it all about, then?'. Do you know, he couldn't tell me". The late Bertrand Russell is of course the former noble kinsman of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who is to speak for the Liberal Democrats. I particularly look forward to what he has to say.

My noble friend Lord Patten referred to the Questions put by Professor McWalter to the Prime Minister. Professor McWalter is a professional philosopher and his Questions are therefore better than those which I asked in the previous Parliament about Blairism. However, I regard myself as a modest harbinger of this inquiry. It is notable that, in answering me, the Prime Minister spoke about "winning", but in answering Professor McWalter, he referred to "doing". Perhaps that marks a significant shift and change of gear in the Government.

There is a notable pedigree of socialist philosophers down the years. We have always been assured that Methodism has prevailed over Marxism in Labour thinking, although I am bound to say, in the light of the news yesterday with regard to gambling, that the Methodist influence appears to be weakening. I do not claim any pellucid or transparent currency among practising politicians or political thinkers, regardless of party, and that collectively we are all, in the words of Warden Spooner's famous text,

"but as clay in the pods of the hatter".

In discoursing on the shift in Labour philosophy, I exclude the Calvinist stances of both the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and the late John Smith's constitutional legacy. In a world where, if you do not know where you are trying to go then any road will get you there, they had thought clearly in opposition about where they were seeking to go and what they were seeking to do. After 1997, it showed. But between 1992 and 1997, the series of shadow secretaries we had in department after department precluded any serious opportunity for joined-up thinking in terms of Labour's preparation for power. But I do acquit the Chancellor of the Exchequer from joining in that old philosophical drinking song, "Let auld Aquinas be forgot". However, as I have said, in other areas, that did not apply.

I also exclude the principle and policy of inclusivity from what I am saying. That was clearly stolen from the One Nation Tories when they were bathing, or perhaps more precisely, when they were taking a bath. Essentially, however, the Labour Party also stole pragmatism. Now "What works"—overlaid, I have to say, with the embroidery of "what Tony wants"—is the banner headline of the Government's public posture. The special advisers are the agents of "what Tony wants".

I declare an interest in that I am conscious of the recent references to the pay of special advisers. When I was in the Treasury, I was the Minister who set up the arrangements for paying special advisers. It is not the subject of today's debate and I do not propose to utter it, but I served in four departments and, as a consequence, I have a fairly wide acquaintance and friendship with civil servants across the whole of Whitehall. I am struck, sadly, by the number of civil servants who were particularly good in the areas of delivery who are bailing out of a Civil Service career because of the extent of oversight to which they are subjected by special advisers who want to make sure that the political slant is as they would wish it to be. They may well provide delivery elsewhere on a sub-contracted basis but it is sad that they are leaving the Civil Service.

On the general structure of Whitehall delivery, I do not know who likened the present structure of Whitehall to Gormenghast but I should dearly like to shake his hand. It struck me as a most remarkable image. If Gormenghast is to be the measure, there is a genuine problem. If I may make my cricketing reference, it was always said of Denis Compton that if he called you for a run it was not so much an instruction as the opening of negotiations. Gormenghast is clearly responsive to instructions. It is more questionable whether it is susceptible to the deep and prolonged negotiations which take place in Whitehall in order to produce sensible policy. I fear that that is beginning to show in terms of what is going on around us.

What works only works if it does work. In the early 1950s in the course of a week, The Times announced on Monday the publication by Faber and Faber at two guineas of the collected works of Mr Wallace Stevens, a distinguished American poet. On Tuesday it announced the death of Mr Wallace Stevens. On Friday it began its leading article in The Times Literary Supplement with the words,

"This has been a good year for Mr Wallace Stevens".

That particular concatenation seems to me to be beginning to surround and embrace the Government for it is self-evidently not working. I can only assume that pragmatism based on that great tradition of British empiricism may not work except with dedicated practice.

A great argument for policy is that it provides prefabricated decisions. But if the prefabricated decisions begin to go wrong and the policy did not have an original philosophical basis, then any government would have difficulty in knowing where to go next or instead. Professor Joad, as he then was not, sat the entrance examination at Balliol and was required to write for three hours on the question, "Can a good man be happy on the rack?" He wrote for a minute and a half the single sentence: "If he were a very good man and it were a very bad rack, yes; if not, no". If that observation is applied to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister is patently, both descriptively and evaluatively, a very good man. What we are discussing in this debate is the quality of the rack. Whatever verdict we reach on it, we can recognise from the questions which Professor McWalter put more substantially—and I more modestly—and the answers we received that whatever kind of rack it is, it is a rack of the Prime Minister's own choosing.

Photo of Lord Harris of High Cross Lord Harris of High Cross Crossbench 4:13 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, in order to test the proposition that confession is good for the soul I shall start with a couple of modest admissions. First, to my Right-wing friends I confess that five years ago in the debate on the Queen's Speech—it was the first of the new government—I offered warm congratulations to new Labour on forming their first administration. Secondly, to my Left-wing friends, I further confess that my chief reason for supporting Mr Blair was his explicit commitment to what he called "a dynamic market economy". I had to be enthusiastic about that because 40 years earlier, in 1957, a handful of the awkward squad, mostly grammar school boys from Oxford, Cambridge and the LSE, helped to set up the Institute of Economic Affairs of which I was the first general director, a position I held for 30 years. Our innocent purpose was to question the post-war all-party consensus then known at Butskellism. Our guiding philosophy was that of classical economic liberalism, of which there is fairly extensive literature, to which we added considerably.

We had much fun pricking the fashionable folly of inflationary finance, voluntary and statutory incomes policies, make-believe indicative planning, bloated state industries and taxation on incomes rising at one time to 98 per cent. Ailing Britain had become a menagerie of lame ducks, sacred cows, nationalised dinosaurs and TUC pit bull terriers.

If the IEA set out to demolish one consensus—that of Keynesian collectivism—our serious hope was to restore an earlier consensus when both the great parties of state broadly acknowledged the market economy as the indispensable foundation for a free, prosperous and progressive society. In the 1980s the old mould was famously broken by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, whose voice may now be stilled but whose historic legacy will long stand as a beacon around the world. She had the courage to transform the Tory Party and embark on a sustained programme of radical economic reform which owed some debt to the tenets of classical liberalism. As a result she rendered the Labour Party unelectable.

When Mr Blair, with, in my view, equal courage, proclaimed the death of Clause 4 on public ownership he prepared the ground for the third way. This amounted to an unwritten compact that old Labour and its union backers would desist from frightening the voters by abandoning the class war, giving up nationalisation and burying their anti-business vendetta. In return, new Labour would exploit the resulting prosperity for broad social rather than outright socialist purposes. That was the essence of the third way. There was never any coherent economic or political philosophy behind it. It was simply a deal to bury old-fashioned socialism and proclaim a new era of something called "social justice", although Hayek had long warned that social justice has neither clear meaning nor any finite limits.

Even if Mr Blair, in boy scout mode, was unworldly enough to think that such an unwritten contract would stick, the Treasury was not so nai ve. It grasped the danger that unrestrained social spending would simply reignite the old spectre of inflation. Hence the Chancellor of the Exchequer's bold decision on the morrow of the 1997 election privily to re-privatise the Bank of England by handing it back control over monetary policy. This decision to abdicate power over interest rates to the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee is, I believe, the single indisputable economic achievement of new Labour. Having inherited a stable economic framework from the Tories, new Labour has presided over an inflation of never more than 2.5 per cent—a rate, let it be noted, that would still reduce the value of the pound over a full lifetime to only 12 pence. Nevertheless, the central significance of this wheeze was that it shifted money safely beyond the reach of erratic party politicians. Alas, the fatal contrast is that in almost every other aspect of public policy—health, education, transport, pensions and so on—new Labour has extended and intensified the palsied grip of those very same party politicians.

One of the more distinguished Nobel Laureates in economics, an American called Professor James Buchanan of George Mason University, summed up recently the democratic delusion when he wrote that,

"philosophers, practitioners and the public have lost all sense of the limits of politics".

He observed that in recent years,

"the state has been pushed beyond its capabilities".

This is certainly no narrow party political point. Today's Tories, and even the Liberal Democrats, whom the late Lord Beloff described as the "Peculiar Liberals", are hardly less prone to the absurd folie de grandeur of unlimited government. But hyperactive new Labour, like the restless interventionists in Brussels, are positively obsessed with extending their power over the citizenry. They boast of their good intentions and talk only of the public interest. But I believe it was Oscar Wilde who mocked this over-blown concept of government as,

"Bludgeoning the people in the name of the people".

It is true, I believe, that Mr Blair is a bit of a dreamer. But we should at least acknowledge the rare qualities he brought to high office five years ago—his courage, integrity and undoubted intelligence. I might impartially apply much the same tribute to Mr Ian Duncan Smith. Why, then, this sad decline in the Prime Minister's standing? I am convinced that the answer owes something to the diagnosis of Professor Buchanan of political over-reach or over-extended government. In non-professorial lingo, the Government have bitten off more than they can credibly digest. Yet, I reflect, if this able Prime Minister cannot make big government work, which of his colleagues do we believe might do it better?

The dismal results are daily in evidence throughout what is grandly called "the public sector". Applying the fine words of the Anglican Confession to the Government, they, "have not done those things which they ought to have done; and they have done those things which they ought not to have done". One hundred and fifty years ago, a neglected French philosopher called Frederick Bastiat asked,

"At what height above the rest of mankind do our rulers imagine themselves to be?"

If new Labour cannot curb its appetite for power beyond its capabilities, might the Tories work on a more modest, discriminating, achievable agenda for government?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 4:23 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Harris. He is also my noble friend because he can truly be depicted as one of the pioneers of the change in thinking and political attitudes which took place about two-thirds of the way through the last century and which have now, in one form or another and with many qualifications, become the worldwide orthodoxy of global capitalism. I am also extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Patten for giving us the opportunity to have this thoroughly enjoyable debate with its excellent speeches.

I confess that I am uneasy about using the word "philosophy" in the same sentence as "Her Majesty's Government" or, to make a strictly non-party point, using it in the same sentence that contains reference to any major political party or government in today's circumstances. I say that because the realities of the role of government in open societies, or in any society, are changing so fast in the information age. The way in which societies behave is moving so fast that many of the theories of the philosophers and political advisers have been totally invalidated. The pace of events has left politicians and their advisers, especially their economic advisers and the whole economics discipline, far behind in understanding what is happening in our societies or indeed explaining how the world works.

Nevertheless and despite that unease, let us look at the "philosophy" of the present Government, which is the object of the debate, something one might re-label the strategy or even the major tactic of Mr Blair and the Labour Party. That has been very clear from the moment they achieved their enormous victory in 1997—simple, courageous and correct from Labour's point of view if the aim was to end the era of Labour being unelectable. It was to move to what was conceived to be the centre ground, the middle ground, of politics, and then to carefully re-label it and re-brand it as something different from what it had been under the Conservatives. That required continual commitment to a few privatisations, which we have had. It required a number of pro-business speeches and support for enterprise, which we have had. And it had to be combined at the same time with a lot of state activism and centralism so that there emerged what we have today, a sort of half-way house. It is almost a political ginger beer shandy, half ginger beer and half beer, which is nice to drink but not very satisfying in the long run.

That attempt to occupy what was conceived to be the centre ground was a flawed approach. We are going to see its results in due course. To cut the difference between the old state socialist inclinations and the economic liberalism espoused by Conservative governments was to confuse the centre ground with something quite different, which seems a far more desirable area for well-intentioned public figures and politicians to aim for. I refer to the new common ground ahead on which society will really feel more comfortable and address its ills.

There is a lesson here to be drawn from the late Keith Joseph. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will remember. Keith Joseph said again and again in the 1970s that, "We are not just going to go for the middle ground, halving the difference with our opponents yet again; we are going to define and then occupy new common ground which will appeal to and be relevant to society in a way which the past agendas of the political parties have not".

That remains the task today. We have to redefine the new common ground which lies ahead because that is where all sensible politicians should aim. I believe that we can already see its outlines. It provides the flavour of the current political debate. There emerges from the new common ground—whether delivered by government or not is a secondary question—a satisfactory pattern of public service provision, transport provision, high levels of education, excellent health provision and a range of other services which people wish to have in this age.

But is not that what all parties are saying? Yes, they are. But the difference between trying to find the centre ground from the common ground in which to deliver these provisions is that they will be delivered in entirely different ways. The centre ground answer to better public health, education and public services is more public investment. More state investment has become the regular cry of every political speech. But that is not the new common ground where these services will be delivered by entirely different means, many of them not central at all. Many will not be financed through taxpayer funds.

My noble friend Lord Alexander rightly spoke about the one nation tradition. I had the privilege of being chairman of the One Nation Group in the other place for 10 years. During all that time we were not just going back to the old middle ground between Labour and Conservative; we were talking about a new common ground of one nation in which there would be a vast increase in personal ownership and the dignity that goes with it. It would be inclusive, but it would deliver up our social goals and aims in society in different ways from the old, tired methods of just more state investment or just giving the money. That was the new one nation and remains the goal of one nation today—at least I hope it does.

Why has this not been understood by Labour or, indeed, from what I read of the purposes of the Liberal Democrats, by them? There too we hear the cry that the answer is more investment and more state spending.

Three reasons account for what has gone wrong. First—and here I have to make what may sound like a controversial proposition but it is supported increasingly by reality—it is markets and free-market capitalism that generate social capital, not the state. The idea that the state is the source of all civil liberties and civic cohesion and inclusion belongs to the old centre ground. The new common ground to which we aspire is one where social capital is generated by successfully operated and regulated free markets intertwined with successful business and trade and wide ownership. All these are mutually reinforcing.

I believe—I am not sure that the present Government share this belief—that a modern market economy is a net moralising force which shapes the attitude and manners of our society. The whole idea that the market economy is a kind of infected area—a separate compartment all about greed, to be tolerated by modern governments, including the present Labour Government, but not really part of the moral and social structure of society—is misplaced. The relationship between market capitalism, the state and society is now two-way, very complex and rapidly changing. It needs redefining if we are to move on to new common ground.

Secondly, the role of government has been vastly changed by information technology and the network society. Governments have less power to manage and provide centrally but, with less power, they have more responsibility to create conditions in which markets can work and deliver reliably and in which trust and social unity are strengthened. From some of his remarks it would appear that the Home Secretary is beginning to understand this, but I am not sure that the Prime Minister and other Ministers have quite absorbed it.

Finally, the third missing element in the present Government's thinking is that they fail to understand that nation states underpin the international global order and give an identifiable shape to the moral and social structure. Duty, loyalty and obligation must be directed towards something that has roots and has grown up from the past.

I hope that my party understands these new conditions and the new roles of government, leadership and authority. I see glimmerings of evidence that it does. In the future task of government we will need a much greater subtlety of communication—it will be a much more difficult business to govern in the future—and a much greater humility in serving the public. Mr Blair and his colleagues have certainly grasped the former—they are the masters of communication—but are they more humble? Do they understand the humility part of it? I think not. For too many of them the state is still the boss. They are standing on yesterday's middle ground, which is rapidly crumbling beneath them.

Photo of Lord Norton of Louth Lord Norton of Louth Conservative 4:33 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Patten on introducing the debate. There are two dimensions to my noble friend's Motion, one of which has been dealt with by my noble friend and by other speakers. The Government appear to introduce policies that derive from no clear political philosophy. That is depressing intellectually and extremely worrying politically. It is worrying for the country in that there is no clear coherence to the raft of policies being pursued by the Government.

It is also worrying for the Labour Party. If the economy appears stable and there are no great difficulties facing the nation, the absence of a coherent philosophy is not a great problem for the governing party. However, if conditions worsen and the Government are in trouble in achieving their domestic goals, there is a problem, a matter touched upon by my noble friend Lord Brooke. The Government lack a clear philosophic reference point. If the Government start to falter then they are in serious trouble—and at the moment it looks very much as though the Government are faltering.

There is a case to be made that the Labour Party has never had a clear, or at least a single, philosophy. It has never been a wholly socialist party. The 1918 constitution was arguably a socialist one but tempered by a social democratic element, not to mention the pragmatic element represented in large part by the trade union movement. The internal tensions were exacerbated in the 1950s by Anthony Crosland's work and today we see similar tensions writ large.

However, there is one big difference. What we now have is a premiership that appears, on the whole, to be a philosophy-free zone. The extent to which the Prime Minister lacks a clear philosophy is shown not only by his failure to articulate such a philosophy—his speech at the LSE demonstrated that beyond peradventure—but also by the extent to which he masks it by attacking the previous Conservative Government. Governments are entitled to call attention to the failings of their predecessors. The Conservatives did it with Labour and the winter of discontent in 1978. However, the Prime Minister's constant reference to the previous Government, or indeed to the policy of the present Opposition, is relevant and distinctive for two reasons.

The first is to be found in its persistence. Ask the Prime Minister about any aspect of government policy and he answers by reference to the Conservative Party. There is no attempt to answer in a positive manner. That in itself is instructive. The other reason it is distinctive is because of what it tells us about the Prime Minister's approach to the process of Government. It is this that I wish to focus on today.

My noble friend's Motion refers to the "delivery of public policy". Does the party in government have a clear, coherent approach to government? My concern, as will be apparent from what I have just said, is that it does not. There is, I believe, a lack of understanding of what government is about and what makes it work. Ministers emphasise the need for "joined-up" government yet what we are witnessing is, ironically, the fragmentation of government.

The process of government in this country has generally been effective because of the inter-dependence of the several bodies responsible for formulating and implementing public policy. That inter-dependence has enabled governments to cohere and deliver programmes of public policy because each part of the political system has recognised its distinct role within the system. It has been an inter- dependence of defined parts, each proceeding on the basis of mutual respect for the others.

That mutual respect has declined dramatically in recent years. Attempts by the Prime Minister and by senior Ministers to achieve hegemony in policy making have led to conflict and eroded the demarcation of responsibilities that has been a feature of British government. The more the Prime Minister and senior Ministers have sought to centralise power in their own hands, then, perhaps paradoxically, the more fragmented British government has become.

The move from governing together to governing alone can be located in two recent periods of government. The first is the period of government of my noble friend Lady Thatcher. During her premiership the Prime Minister became somewhat detached or semi-detached from her own Government. However, she nonetheless recognised, even if she did not always appreciate, the role and responsibilities of most bodies in the political process.

The second period is that since the election of a Labour Government in 1997. The premiership of Tony Blair has seen the emergence full-blown of a presidential form of government. A feature of this has not only been a detachment from his own Government and party, as well as from Parliament, but also, concomitantly, from the use of Cabinet for resolving issues. A second contributory element has been the failure of some Ministers, lacking previous experience of government, to recognise the boundaries between the component parts of government and the conventions governing the relationship between them. The result has been a government that attempts to focus power in the hands of senior figures, but the more the attempt is made, the more government fragments and loses coherence.

Let me draw out some of the features of this development. The Prime Minister demonstrates the symptoms of presidentialism. He stands apart from the rest of government. He cultivates the image of an outsider, of someone who engages in what has been termed "designer populism"—that is, he intervenes as the people's champion in an issue of public policy in order to enhance his own position. As Matthew Parris noted in The Times on 9th February, he intervenes in issues which really are no business of the Prime Minister. He seeks to convey that he embodies the national interest and, in doing so, he stands apart from his own Government, from Parliament and from his own party. He creates within No. 10 his own mini-government in order to facilitate this detachment.

Cabinet and Ministers generally are left out of policy making. A number of Ministers appear to emulate the Prime Minister in seeking to engage in detached deliberation, consulting with special advisers but otherwise keeping out those normally involved in the process. The result is a government where decisions are taken by particular Ministers and where mutual respect has, in many cases, broken down. There is an apparent arrogance of government, an arrogance apparently borne of a lack of understanding of government. I readily accept that arrogance became a feature of the previous Conservative government, but it was an arrogance that came with longevity in office; and it came with a government losing their direction in terms of having a coherent political philosophy. We have now a government that have no clear political philosophy and arrogance of power appears a feature of their existence.

There is, therefore, a problem. The Government proceed on the basis of no clear political philosophy, and no clear conception of the role of government. I may have got it wrong. I am quite happy to invite the Minister to explain what precisely is the Government's conception of government. And, if Ministers do have a clear conception of government, perhaps the noble Lord who is to respond to the debate can explain where the Civil Service and Parliament come within it. I remind the Minister that the general secretary of the First Division Association, in an interview in The Times, has suggested that the Prime Minister had caused huge resentment in Whitehall by failing to prepare properly or consult about decisions. Successive Speakers in another place have had to remind Ministers of the need to make policy statements first to Parliament, not to press conferences. Is this a consequence of a clear conception of what government is about?

If, as I suspect, it is not, what are the Government doing to address the situation? There has always been a problem in that Ministers are not trained to be Ministers. Ministers take office and have to re-invent the wheel. Their most useful ideas on how to run ministries are usually those that they have when they leave office. However, many Ministers in the past had at least some experience as junior Ministers. They had spent some time in Parliament before being offered office. We now have a situation where Ministers have not really spent much time in apprenticeship, be it in government or, in many cases, in Parliament. The Prime Minister is in Parliament, but not of Parliament.

There has always been a case for training Ministers in how to be Ministers. I know that junior Ministers now have some training, but senior Ministers appear to have no clear grounding in government. I believe it is vital that they have that grounding. That grounding needs to come from a clear, coherent and informed grasp of what makes government work. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what is being done to address what, I contend, is a serious problem.

It was said that when Christopher Columbus set sail he did not know where he was going; when he got there, he did not know where he was; and when he got back he did not know where he had been. The Prime Minister appears to be in a similar position. The difference is that, while he has a firm hand on the wheel, he does not understand the crew and, wherever he is going, it is not to a New World!

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat 4:43 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I must begin my apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, because I am afraid that I cannot enlighten him. However, I should like to thank the noble Lord for giving me my first paper speech at the Oxford Union. He has much to answer for. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patten, for introducing a very interesting debate. I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, for a speech that I found philosophically fascinating and one that had a great deal more profundity than its easy delivery suggested.

I say to Ministers in this House that today's debate is not meant to be a debate about their performance. I observe that Ministers in this place do have principles—with some of them I agree, but with others I do not. When I am dealing with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, I reach a point very rapidly where the height of his office prevents me from knowing. As the poem has it:

"The Philatelist Royal was really too loyal to say what he honestly thought of philately".

I hope, therefore, that no one on the Government Benches will take anything that I say personally.

The moment that Tony Blair was elected leader of the Labour Party it occurred to me that nothing would ever be quite the same again, and that it was important to find out how it would be. So, for over a year, I read in full every text of every Blair speech press released by the Government. I set about them as if they were an academic text. But they did not say anything. Over and over again, they produced clichés that the Prime Minister appeared to believe had meaning. Over and over again, when one more sentence would have made clear what Blair intended to do, that sentence was not there.

The Conservative criticism of Blair—that he is all spin and no substance—is really rather too generous to him. He is not one of those people, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, would refer, who cannot walk up the aisle of a cathedral without looking to see whether the wicket will take spin. I do not think that he knows it is spin. When he talks about reforming a public service, he believes that he knows what he means. It is a great deal more than I do when I hear him talk about reforming the service to which I belong. I have no idea what he means. When he talks about "modernising" something, I believe he thinks that he is making a precise and objective statement. But I have no idea what he means. Nothing that he produces in terms of practical proposals has led me to change my mind.

I believe that the Labour Party got through its first term of office because of its debt to two different people, one of whom is much less honoured in the party than he deserves to be. I have in mind the late John Smith, who left behind him a legacy, including such measures as the minimum wage, the social chapter and Scottish devolution, which provided a great deal of the fuel for the Labour Party's first term. I turn to the other debt that he owes. The Prime Minister was a pessimist about the 1997 election; he believed that he might need the support of these Benches in a way in which, as it turned out, he did not. There was, therefore, a great deal in the programme, negotiated between my noble friend Lord Maclennan and Mr Robin Cook, that was very welcome on these Benches. It was also very welcome to many of the late John Smith's supporters on the Labour Benches. Indeed, I remember them listening very anxiously to some of the opening remarks on that programme. However, I do not think that that was as well understood by the Prime Minister.

I shall not soon forget the first "Newsnight" interview of the 1997 election campaign. Mr Blair said:

"There will be no increase in income tax in the next Parliament anywhere in the British Isles".

"What!" responded Jeremy Paxman, "not even in Scotland?" Mr Blair blinked, wondered and then, three days later, announced—by what authority I do not know—that if Labour were to win the elections for the Scottish Parliament it would not use the tax-varying power. I understand that announcement to have been ultra vires. He then followed it up during the election campaign by the statement that, if a Scottish Parliament were established, "Sovereignty remains with me". I can think of only one statement as stupid about sovereignty. It was made by Mr Bill Cash during proceedings on his referendum Bill in the 1992-97 Parliament. In a Bill defending the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, he purported to lay down that one of its clauses could never be repealed. You cannot do that. I find those two stupidities on a level.

I do not think that Mr Blair altogether understood what he had signed up to. I have often wondered whether part of the trouble was that he was brought up—as I know that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and I were—on the belief that it was part of the wisdom of Mr Churchill that in 1951 he accepted the bulk of the Attlee revolution. That may well be so, but the cases are not analogous. In 1951, the Labour Party polled 48.8 per cent of the vote. It polled more votes than the Conservative Party and achieved the highest percentage of the vote that it has ever polled in its existence. The Conservatives in 1997 did not make any analogous achievement. I believe that their figure was 31.5 per cent, but I shall not answer for the decimal point. So I do not think that he could rely on that argument.

Next, I looked at the proposals to reform Clause IV. Mr Blair was not the first Labour leader to attempt to reform Clause IV. When Hugh Gaitskell attempted it, it was clear from the beginning exactly what sort of creed he intended to put in its place. He intended to take control, as he put it, of the commanding heights of the economy. In that context, my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead used a phrase that I think will interest his biographer. He described the renationalisation of steel as the Monte Cassino of the Labour movement.

Mr Blair got approval for the abandonment of Clause IV before he had offered any alternative text. In place of the reference to the means of production, distribution and exchange, the following words were ultimately approved:

"Labour will work in pursuit of these aims with trade unions, co-operative societies and other affiliated organisations, and also with voluntary organisations, consumer groups and other representative bodies".

Could anyone disagree with that? Plenty of people in the Labour Party—I think of Mr John Monks, of the noble Lord, Lord Healey, or of Yvette Cooper in an essay in a book edited by the noble Lord, Lord Radice—could have made a clear statement in 1997 of what the Labour Party stood for which could unite the party, excite its members and send them out to work for it. Instead, we got this, which is an empty head.

Now that Mr Blair is left alone, without the support that he had from the two previous traditions on which he had drawn, I regret to say that the emptiness is painfully apparent. He thinks he believes things. I wish he were right.

Photo of Lord Saatchi Lord Saatchi Conservative 4:53 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I am told that under our new rules I should declare an interest, which I now do, as a governor of the London School of Economics and as a director of the Centre for Policy Studies.

Like other noble Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Patten for initiating the debate, first because of its timeliness. As my noble friend Lord Brooke said, this is the first time in a long while that we have witnessed the Prime Minister on the rack. Secondly, as all his writings show, my noble friend Lord Patten regards politics as a rational and intellectual pursuit. It is therefore typical of him to give us the pleasure of hearing this debate today. It is a mark of his respect for the intelligence of the public and a great credit to your Lordships' House in hearing it this afternoon.

This has been an unbalanced debate, because no speakers have come forward from the Labour Benches to represent, defend or proselytise the Government's philosophy. In summing up for our Benches, I feel that I should start with a tribute. It is true, as Adlai Stevenson said, that,

"All power corrupts and lack of power corrupts absolutely".

The motivation of Labour leaders—which the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, sought—was to avoid the agonising lack of power that follows election defeat. So they made a mathematical calculation to eliminate the negatives associated with their party's former philosophy, neutralise the positives associated with their opponent and thus end a run of four election defeats.

The rest is history. Mr Blair offered a beguiling synthesis of capitalism and socialism and with it, having got inside the door of No. 10, intended to slam that door in Conservative faces for ever. How would he do that? By showing that Conservatives were as brain dead as old-style socialists. That was the service provided by the concept of the third way.

The third way was beyond Left and Right. We all knew that old-style socialism was dead, because it led to economic chaos. We were told that old-style capitalism was also dead, because it led to cruel global markets whose brute force is beyond the control of governments or countries. At a stroke, "the forces of conservatism" were to be consigned to the same intellectual dustbin of history as communism and Marxism.

One of the greatest attributes of my noble friend Lady Thatcher was the ability to spot an intellectual with an idea and at once see its political potential. As my noble friend Lord Howell said, that is exactly what she did. He is before us, in the form of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross. Labour did the same with Professor Giddens' idea of the third way. Maybe the third way was just stealing Conservative clothes again, but Labour intended to polish them until they shone and relaunch the middle of the road and the art of the possible as something contemporary, exciting and idealistic, combining compassion with ambition, competition with fairness, globalisation with community and individual freedom with social justice. It was every schoolboy's dream—and apparently every voter's dream, too.

Some time ago, I saw and heard President Clinton and our Prime Minister advise Centre-Left parties on how to win elections. They said that the polarities of Left and Right of the 20th century would prove an aberration. They favoured activist government, but highly disciplined. They spoke of prudent finance, fiscal responsibility, lower deficits, competition and choice. They said that the market economy was fundamental and rejected the Right-Wing, neo-Liberal philosophy that all would be well if governments shrank and got out of the way. They said that that view assumed that markets were always more intelligent than governments, but claimed that it pre-dated globalisation, which was shaking up all our institutions and had produced an entirely new form of capitalism beyond the reach of national governments.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, referred to the motive. I do not consider the motive for the effort that Labour made to have been dishonourable. There had been a previous search for a synthesis of capitalist and socialist theory. Harold Macmillan's 1935 book The Middle Way was just that—an attempt to evolve a new type of economic order, alternative to capitalism or socialism.

I do not believe that the Government's philosophy is to be condemned for wanting to follow in Harold Macmillan's footsteps. They are not necessarily to be condemned for seeking modernisation and change. They are not even to be condemned for the ruthlessness with which they conduct election campaigns. However, their philosophy should be condemned for the reason that my noble friend Lord Norton was driving at—for turning the spring of hope of May 1997, which even the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, was touched by, into today's winter of despair.

The result of what my noble friend Lord Norton has described as the "lack of a reference point"—which was clearly chronicled in the debate that he initiated in your Lordships' House a few weeks ago—has been the decline in respect for Parliament and a greater cynicism about politics. I would say that it has also led directly to the country's current sceptical and pessimistic outlook. In making that comment, I rely on a MORI poll which reveals the depth of public disquiet, especially about the future of the public services, on which this new philosophy was focused. Some 37 per cent of people in Britain now think that most people or nearly everyone will have to pay for private schools. Some 56 per cent think that they will have to pay for private healthcare, 59 per cent for private welfare insurance, and 66 per cent for private pensions. In a Consumers' Association survey, 40 per cent of the public said that, in the face of NHS delays, they were willing to pay for private treatment even if they had no health insurance and had to pay for treatment out of their own pocket.

Meanwhile, what has the Government's guiding philosophy done for those whom these public services are especially designed to help? Britain now has more households without a wage earner than any other country in the developed world. One in four children are living in poverty in this country. That is the highest rate of child poverty in Europe. Moreover, the poorest receive the worst public services. Incredibly, they also pay the most in tax. Consider the injustice in that. The poorest 10 per cent of people—the 3.6 million people earning less than half the national average wage—pay between 50 per cent and 63 per cent of their income in tax. Is it not outrageous that, under this philosophy, the least well off pay the highest rate? It is a mad world, with the poor paying a higher rate than the rich but receiving the least in return.

How sad it all is. As many speakers have said, the philosophy has failed because Labour leaders weaved a tangled web and did not conform with the wisdom of the ancients. I need not remind noble Lords that the injunction of the Oracle at Delphi was, "Know thyself", or that those who failed to heed its warning met a sorry end. Oedipus, being ignorant of who he really was, went on to murder his father and marry his mother. The father of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, advised that a clear sense of identity, founded in self-knowledge, is,

"the only possible protection against the disappointments and disillusionments to which the self-deceiver is liable".

Mr Blair, our Prime Minister, knows that very well. That is why, as my noble friend Lord Patten said, he was so uncomfortable to be asked a simple question about his true philosophy. That is no doubt also the reason why there was not one Government Back-Bench speaker in this debate. In a brilliant phrase, President Kennedy—if I may join my noble friend Lord Alexander in quoting him—described himself as "an idealist without illusions". I think that, at the end of this debate, we can say that the current Prime Minister is an illusionist without ideals.

Photo of Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office 5:03 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patten, for this opportunity to revisit our underlying philosophy. I readily endorse the view of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that life in the 21st century is much more complex than the world in which we grew up. Our challenges are greater because of globalisation, consumerism, 24-hour media and the Internet, to name but a few. Our world is also richer, stranger and in some ways more unstable. Therefore, our response to it at times must be both complex and pragmatic. Nevertheless, pragmatic solutions should strive to reflect our core values.

I have listened with great interest to all speakers. As ever, I was struck by the breadth of experience and depth of knowledge in this House of which I am privileged to be a member. Nevertheless, this may be the first time that a Minister has been patronised so relentlessly over the course of an afternoon. I shall try to cover all the points raised, but, given time constraints, I may not be able to deal with all of them. I shall therefore try to write in reply to any material questions that remain unanswered.

The noble Lord, Lord Patten, wanted to call attention to the political philosophy underlying the Government's development and delivery of public policy. Our philosophy is simply stated: a belief in greater equality, particularly in equality of opportunity, in progress and in strengthened community as a potential force for good as we strive to create a fair, just and modern Britain. Our philosophy must be fair, so that all have a chance to fulfil their full potential and live productive, happy lives. It must be just, so that people are not held back by poverty, discrimination or lack of opportunity. It must also be modern, ensuring the provision of infrastructure that is worthy of the 21st century and the world's fourth largest economy.

I welcome the change in tone and approach by the party of the noble Lords opposite. Like the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, I am pleased that they have discovered that there is such a thing as society. We for our part cherish the positive contribution to good citizenship made by communities, supportive families and networks of interdependency—which are the visible and altruistic demonstration of our mutual interest.

So how have the Government pursued turning our vision and values into reality? How do our actions explain and define our philosophy? The noble Earl, Lord Russell, quoted part of the Labour Party's principles. However, in winning last year's general election, the Labour Party declared to the electorate:

"The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes by the strength of our common endeavours we achieve more than we achieve alone so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not just the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together free in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect".

Those are the core communal values of this Government. However, political ideas and values are of little use without the power and the will to turn them into a reality; otherwise, all we are left with are the politics of the pressure group or the lobbyist. As the Prime Minister has pointed out repeatedly, Labour had to broaden and deepen the appeal of its values to become electable. Once power was secured in 1997, economic stability and prosperity were essential in order to provide a solid platform on which to base our progressive programmes. Our economy is stable. Despite the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, we have the best economic record in Europe and the lowest unemployment rate among Europe's major economies. A strong and stable economy forms the bedrock of our achievements, and those achievements are many.

The noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, once infamously said that, "Labour isn't working". However, this Labour economy has produced 1.3 million more jobs. The New Deal has helped cut youth unemployment by 70 per cent, reducing the wasted potential of lives spent on the dole.

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in the light of last week's report from the Audit Commission, would the Minister care to withdraw that claim?

Photo of Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

My Lords, is the noble Earl referring to the claim that we have produced 1.3 million more jobs?

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the Audit Commission's figure is that 35,000 jobs have been created through the New Deal.

Photo of Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

My Lords, as I said, the New Deal has helped to cut youth unemployment. When I was the Minister with responsibility for industry in Scotland, I was involved in New Deal schemes and saw at first hand its powerful effect in helping young people back to work.

As well as low unemployment rates, we have very low interest rates, and mortgage rates are the lowest in a generation. We have also introduced the minimum wage and the working families tax credit to help make work pay and to tackle the problems of poverty to which the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, referred. We believe that the best route out of poverty is a job.

The Government's next imperative in this Parliament is to create more accessible, high-quality and properly funded public services. Our public services symbolise our belief that the individual does best in a strong community. Comprehensive public services available to all have a place in our lives today just as they did more than half a century ago when the National Health Service was created and when the 1944 Education Act was passed. Collective provision continues to be the best way of ensuring that the majority get the opportunity and security that was once denied to them and available only to a privileged few.

The ethos of those working in public services, working unselfishly for the common good is embodied in millions of people who enter public service animated by a sense of that common and public good which they then pursue in a disinterested way. Their ethos is based on a concept of service, on a shared sense of common purpose and a belief that we can together make a difference for that greater good.

That is not to say that I do not appreciate the social responsibility of many in the private sector. The pursuit of the common good is not confined to the public sector: simply, it finds its most explicit expression there.

But as we pay from the public purse, from the rates and taxes of hard-working families, we must also seek to provide the best public services for our people. That is why our public services cannot languish and why we must invest, reform and modernise to give the public value for money.

Because we have one of the best performing economies today, the country can now afford record sustained investment in our public services, and it has to be sustained. For decades public services have suffered from erratic and inefficient stop-go investment resulting from boom and bust policies. That sustained investment helps our dedicated public servants deliver higher quality services across the country. For example, 140,000 additional public servants have been employed since 1997 and recruitment continues with more nurses, more doctors, more teachers in training and more police.

However, it is clear that our public services must change from overly centralised bureaucracies and become locally accountable, more transparent and built around the needs of the users, the customers, the consumers, our citizens.

The vulnerability of the public service ethos is that it can too easily slip into self-protectiveness, that the producer interest knows best and that the users need not be consulted. Just as importantly, public services cannot have the right to a blank cheque. We need responsive, high quality accessible public services that visibly provide value for money.

That is why the policy driving our changes to the public service is built around the needs of the user. This vision is increasingly a reality. Some 30,000 more nurses have been recruited ahead of schedule. We have also offered greater choice in the National Health Service through innovative schemes such as NHS Direct, which has 98 per cent customer satisfaction. That is a great step forward in ensuring that people in all parts of society are able to take full advantage of health advice on call.

The Government's search for the common ground mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is guided by four principles that will help ensure that our public services are brought up to the standard we already see in the best. Our first principle is that we should have national systems of standards and real accountability. We need national standards because we cannot tolerate local failure which blights lives and shuts off opportunities. We are against two-tier services and it is wrong to suggest the opposite.

Thus in education we have national standards in numeracy and literacy and a powerful system of inspection which has seen standards rise substantially in recent years. We have also worked to improve the performance of police forces around the country. We have set up the Police Standards Unit. In health, we are putting an end to postcode lotteries in the interests of greater fairness via the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. We also try to tackle the inequalities that we see around us through various frameworks to attack heart disease, cancer and other killers in our society. We want services which are accountable to users. That is why we have introduced inspection regimes.

Our second principle is to devolve and delegate more power locally to deliver those high standards. Budgets have been delegated to frontline staff. For instance, head teachers in schools now control almost 90 per cent of their own budgets. They know what their schools need so they are in charge of providing it. And in health, once primary care trusts are set up in April, they will move to take control of up to 75 per cent of NHS spending. So, Douglas Jay was wrong to say that the man in Whitehall knows best. We believe that we should not pretend that we in government know best and that we should try to delegate to people working in the front line to ensure that they can respond more flexibly and work to keep pace with constant change—our third principle.

In a fast-changing world services need to be more responsive to customer demands and technological advance. That is why we have a target for all government services to be available online by 2005. We want to advance e-government in order to give people more access to information and to release resources that are presently taken up in more old-fashioned jobs. That flexibility will also make best use of the human potential of our increasingly well-qualified workforce.

We believe, too, that advancement must be open to all on merit, ensuring that we move from rigid professional hierarchies towards a partnership of extended families of specialist and support staff. Flexibility means flexibility of rewards, too, so that we reward success whether in schools, in the health service or in the police.

Our fourth principle is that people must have more choice. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, will be comforted to know that we also believe that there should be more contestability in the market. In that way we shall bring more choice to citizens. In every other part of our lives we take choice for granted. We do not see why it should be withheld in the public services where lives can hang on the quality of the services available. Therefore, we cannot tolerate chronic underperformance or failure; alternatives have to be made available and choice has to be expanded. We have to work to realise the potential that we shall need in our public services in the economy of the 21st century which we are entering, which will be a very competitive economy.

We believe that this is a far-reaching strategy for radical reform which will be achieved through common-sense solutions. A noble Lord opposite predicted that I would point towards the pragmatism of this Government in tackling some of these problems. I make no excuse for that. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, pointed out, I come originally from a tradition which decreed that it was for philosophers to explain the world but for us to try to change it. I believe that the experience of this Government is to be as pragmatic as possible and to approach matters in partnership, including the partnerships with the private sector that we have developed through the PPP and PFI processes. For all the excoriation from the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clinton, I thought from what I had read of the debate going on—

Photo of Lord Smith of Clifton Lord Smith of Clifton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am flattered by the noble Lord's reference, but it is Clifton, not Clinton.

Photo of Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

My Lords, I apologise for my Glaswegian accent. I tried to say, "Clifton".

I thought from what I had read of the debate going on within the Liberal Democrats that there was indeed a strong school of Liberal thinking which believed that they had gone perhaps too far in a reactionary approach to any change in the public sector. Indeed, some of the comments from the Liberal Democrat Benches showed ill-concealed hostility to the private sector, which I remind the noble Lord employs 80 per cent of our workforce in what is, I repeat, currently the most successful major economy in Europe.

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I happen to be a member of the working group on that. No one in that group has an ideological hostility to the public or private sector. We are ready to consider any scheme that will marry them up but we recognise that the purposes of the scheme are different and that to get the marriage to work is a matter of considerable difficulty. We have been thinking about some of those questions for 10 years—they are quite difficult questions.

Photo of Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for that subtle elucidation of his policy. That approach had not been apparent in the rather crude assaults that those on his Benches have made on my earlier PPP proposals.

The concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Patten, on the third way were summed up by other noble Lords. It is not too demanding to explain what we were searching for in that regard. We were looking for a synthesis that would take us away from a Labour Party past—which the noble Lord, Lord Norton, tried, none too successfully, to encapsulate—that was dominated by class politics, statism, nationalisation and high tax policies. Some of those policies were understandable in the context of hard times and in relation to a labour movement that was fighting for many causes, which eventually were won through the political organisation of the Labour Party. In breaking from our past, we were also contrasting our new way with the view that I characterise as involving selfish individualism, elitism, a belief in insularity and the proclamation that there was no such thing as society.

We make no apology for trying to find a way that would be more popular with the British electorate than the previous Conservative government had become. That was the first phase that the Prime Minister talked about—that of reform. The second phase involves laying down the basis for economic stability. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Patten, say that policies were now emerging, in contrast to what he called our policy-free zone. Such a change in accusations about a Government who are too frequently accused of "initiativitis"! I am afraid that what has been said to date by Mr Duncan Smith and Dr Fox does not make up for the vacuum in policy that still exists. We are not holding our breath and waiting, as some Conservative spokesmen seemed to imply, for their policies to appear a couple of years down the line.

The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, mentioned lifting the flag of the one nation Tories. In that regard, I looked to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who quoted T. S. Eliot. That flag would be lifted over the wasteland of what had been the Conservative policies of the past. I am glad that the Conservative Party itself is not locked into its traditions and is moving towards the centre—no doubt to find some common ground or middle way.

I share the admiration expressed by noble Lords opposite for the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, whose work at the IEA stimulated the thinking of many on the Left, in the Conservative Party and elsewhere. I assure him that the Prime Minister he saw come to power in 1997 is still the Prime Minister to whom I report today.

I am running out of time, for which I apologise. I conclude by saying that ours is, we believe, a far-reaching strategy for radical reform. I repeat that I believe that that should be achieved through common-sense solutions. I make no apology for that pragmatism. That practical approach backs what works best in the real world. It is also a partnership approach. We want to move forward with public servants as partners in change. We will have partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors. They all have a part to play.

If I have not reached the philosophical heights to which some noble Lords aspired, I hope that I have at least laid out the basis of what the Government believe, and on which we are trying to build our achievement. Our vision and goal is of Britain as a modern, fair and safe society where all people can fulfil their potential and lead happy and productive lives. Our means are investment and reform to ensure that public services flourish and continue to do so.

Photo of Lord Patten Lord Patten Conservative 5:25 pm, 27th March 2002

My Lords, I shall be brief. Noble Lords are awaiting an important debate, to be introduced by my noble friend Lord Elton.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. It has been an interesting and, as my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford said, enjoyable debate. There have been some splendid speeches from these Benches, two tip-top speeches from the Liberal Democrat Benches, both of which I enjoyed greatly, and a marvellous speech from the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, who is in many ways an icon to people on both sides of the House. I wish that I could be so complimentary about the speeches from the Labour Back Benches. However, there have been no speeches from the Labour Back Benches in support of the doughty noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, who has had to bear the burden all by himself. It has been a rather trying week for the Labour Whips—a defeat last night, a muddle over business today and now an inability to get anyone to support the Labour Party's policies this afternoon. They have my sympathy—and it is only Wednesday!

I conclude by pointing out—I repeat to a certain extent what I said when I introduced this debate—that this week, which has been a black week for Labour, we call the top of Blairism. If Mr Blair was traded publicly in the public markets—if we could obtain stocks and shares in Mr Blair—I should be out there instructing my man of business to start selling short quickly. There would be much money to be made from driving the stock down further and further. On that cheerful and optimistic note, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.