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Office Of Manpower Economics: Error

Volume 413: debated on Monday 6 October 1980

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2.53 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what disciplinary action is being taken in respect of members of the staff of the Office of Manpower Economics in the light of Sir Alan Marre's report on the circumstances in which that office provided information erroneous to the extent of £130 million to the Clegg Commission.

My Lords, Sir Alan Marre investigated this serious error very thoroughly and he made it clear that he did not criticise any one individual for what had occurred. The Government accept his report and his conclusion; and have decided, in the light of his inquiry, that there are no good grounds for further investigation or for taking disciplinary action against individuals.

My Lords, does my noble friend, whom I thank for that reply, recall that in his report Sir Alan Marre says that a main cause of the loss of this £130 million was inexcusable confusion within the office on the question of checking? If that finding is accurate, is it not at least possible that the senior officer responsible for the administrative arrangements of the office carries a degree of personal responsibility?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for pointing out the passage in which Sir Alan mentioned the inexcusable confusion, and I certainly agree with my noble friend that it was inexcusable. But at that point Sir Alan went on to say:

"I do not criticise any one individual for this, but my inquiry has revealed the need for clarification and communication to staff of the extent of their responsibilities".
This, of course, has been carried out, as it is a matter of great gravity.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this office has been operating for nine years, and that an administrative set-up in which there can be confusion on this quite elementary point surely reflects remarkably little credit on those responsible for its organisation?

My Lords, I do not think that it is my job in any way to excuse this error which, as my noble friend has pointed out, was a very grievous one. Any error to the tune of £130 million is indeed grievous. But the fact is that it was a single error and, during that period of nine years of operation to which my noble friend referred, I think that it was the only error of any consequence whatever. But Sir Alan has no doubt that the error is inexcusable and, of course, we have brought the report very forcefully to the attention of the office.

My Lords, will the noble Earl bear in mind that there have been other occasions when very considerable errors of mathematical calculation have been made?—notably in the assessment of the public sector borrowing requirement by Treasury officials, which in one year was £4,000 million out and in the next year £3,000 million out.