Examination of Witness (Questions 145-159)|
THURSDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2001
145. Can I on behalf of the Committee welcome
the Cabinet Secretary this afternoon. It is very kind of you to
come along and to attend upon us as you have done on many occasions.
It is exactly a year to the day since you were here before. We
always enjoy our sessions with you. We can ask you anything we
like because you respond to absolutely everything and also because
the Cabinet Office has been described to us memorably by Michael
Heseltine as a "bran tub" and we will dip into it, as
you will find out. You have sent us a chart, as we asked for,
explaining how the Cabinet Office works. It is all very lovely
and it is colour coded because it is all so confusing. You will
know it by heart. I have tried to follow it. I think I have found
a mistake in it. Under Lord Macdonald it has Charter Mark and
Beacon Scheme, does it not, as one of his babies, but then he
is green coded, is he not, whereas if you look at Charter Mark
and Beacon Scheme on your chart they are blue coded, which is
a Prescott. So is it a Prescott or a Macdonald?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Charter Mark and
Beacon Scheme are part of Gus Macdonald's empire and you have
spottedI must not mislead the Committeean error.
146. We must look for others then! We have trouble
reading these charts that you send us.
(Sir Richard Wilson) I hope, sir, that you feel this
is simpler and clearer than the one that you criticised before.
147. I am sure colleagues will want to ask questions
comparing the two but thank you for that. While I am getting at
you, could I ask you if you know anything about where the replies
are to our previous reports? On my count, we have got five reports
that still have not had replies and some go quite far back. We
had a report on Parliamentary Questions back in January and then
we had the Ministerial Code in February, and we had Special Advisers
in March. A two-monthly convention looks a bit silly, does it
(Sir Richard Wilson) We have kept closely in touch,
or tried to, with your Clerks and we are very sorry we have not
got these to you before. We are aiming to get them to you as quickly
as we can next week.
148. All the outstanding ones?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes, if we can possibly do it,
we will. There are three in particular that I am conscious that
we owe you a reply onthe Ministerial Code, Special Advisers
and Ministerial Accountability. I was not sure that you were expecting
a reply on the other ones.
149. We could discuss thatQuango State
and Making Government Work
(Sir Richard Wilson) You did not have recommendations
in that last one.
150. No, but it was full of good stuff though.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Full of interest.
151. Thank you for that. Could I, because the
world expects it and because it is important, just ask you perhaps
for the final word on all this Ms Moore/Alan Evans business. I
do not want to remember the wretched memo, but the bit I still
cannot understand is the suggestion that this special adviser
sought to get civil servants to do things which civil servants
should not be asked properly to do. I want to know did she, or
did she acting for the Minister, make a partisan request to a
(Sir Richard Wilson) You rightly say, sir, that this
is something which most people have had their say on. When the
Permanent Secretary has had disciplinary proceedings and the Secretary
of State has issued a personal reprimand, and the Prime Minister
has given his views on the floor of the House, and the House itself
has had a full debate and a vote, there is not that much room
left for the Cabinet Secretary. You are talking not about the
e-mail but the episode with the documents?
152. Before you leave the e-mail, which I do
not want to talk about, is it the case that a leak inquiry is
underway on who leaked details of the memo?
(Sir Richard Wilson) That is correct.
153. So we may have a situation where the person
who released the e-mail may get punished?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I am not going to get into a
hypothetical situation. If I may say so, this episode is one that
gives me no pleasure of any kind. I am not going to add to the
weight of criticism that has rightly been attached to Jo Moore's
e-mail but I should also say that it gives me no pleasure either
that civil servants proceed by leaking documents or appearing
anonymously on programmes. I think both sets of behaviour go against
the public sector ethos which I would like to see in the Civil
154. So the civil servant receiving such an
e-mail should have done what?
(Sir Richard Wilson) They have a number of options.
They can go to their line manager. They can go to the Permanent
Secretary, which I would hope they would feel able to do. If they
feel very strongly about it, as the Code of Conduct for special
advisers makes clear, they also have the option of making a complaint
either to the Civil Service Commissioner or to me. I would like
to feel that people would do that if they had an objection. You
have seen paragraph 22 of the Code which makes that very clear.
155. But none of this was done.
(Sir Richard Wilson) None of this was done; that is
156. Is that not extraordinary, that someone
seeing such an e-mail would not feel the need to go and talk to
someone in authority about it?
(Sir Richard Wilson) They would have been very well
within their rights to do so.
157. That is interesting. It would also be extraordinary
if the person who then was to have told the world about this,
not having gone through the proper channels, was to be punished
while the person themselves stayed in post.
(Sir Richard Wilson) You should not assume that Jo
Moore has not been punished. She has been through a disciplinary
process and that is the proper form. I think it would be wrong
for me to anticipate the Department's disciplinary process in
relation to somebody else.
158. Let me go back to the original question,
in some ways the more fundamental one, that very serious allegations
have been made about this specialist adviser on the basis that
she, it is said, either with or without the authority of the Minister
(but it would have had to be with the authority of the Minister
under the Code) did that person make improper requests of a civil
servant, either on this occasion or, as we are told by the FDA,
by someone who has form in this matter?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Can I pick up your earlier point.
You asked, and I did not answer, if an approach of a partisan
nature had been made. My understandingand I have talked
to the Permanent Secretary about thisis that there was
no dirty tricks campaign. The subject of her approach to the press
office, and that what was at issue, as the Secretary of State
made clear on the floor of the House, was briefing journalists
with a document which had been amended by someone on Bob Kiley's
staff, so that the journalists could know what kind of behaviour
was going on under Bob Kiley. That is quite proper, and it is
entirely proper behaviour of the staff to decline to do what was
requested on the grounds that the document was not a government
document and therefore it was not an appropriate thing to do.
I think they were entirely right and I support them in not doing
what they were asked to do. I think the way I would look at it
is thisif I could broaden the discussion in a constructive
sense, I would like to do thatI think in a country where
we have no written constitution and where the rules are expressed
quite often in terms of principle, there are quite often situations
where people want to do things and one says to them "actually
this is not something that I think it is proper to do". I
do not think that is in itself something that surprises me. What
is important is that the right response is given. That is why
I am glad that the people declined to do what they were asked
to do. To be fair, I would also, however, say to you that I think
there is a grey area that we need to clarify and have not yet
clarified to my satisfaction about exactly what advice special
advisers can and cannot give in the way of communicating the views
of the Minister. May I explain that for you?
159. Yes, please.
(Sir Richard Wilson) At one end of the spectrum I
think it is acceptable for a civil servant to go to a special
adviser and say to them "what do you think the Minister would
think about X?" and the special adviser interprets the Minister's
mind. That seems to me a wholly healthy, useful function. At the
other end of the spectrum a special adviser goes to a civil servant
and says "I am instructing you", they might not use
that language, "to do X". I do not think that is proper
because the role of special advisers is to advise the Minister,
it is not to line manage civil servants or to give them instructions
and the code is clear that they are outside the hierarchy. I do
think there is a sort of area in between which is quite hard to
interpret and I want to be fair about that. I think it is quite
hard to know where a special adviser has talked to the Minister
and says to the Civil Service "this is the view of the Minister"
and where they are saying, as it were, "and the Minister
wants you to act". I think that is the sort of general issue
which in my mind is raised in the episode you are putting to me.
I shall come on, if you give me the chance later, to say that
I think we should now, all of us, be working on a Civil Service
Bill. I would like that kind of issue, the one I have just described
to you, to be teased out in discussion, but I would like that
discussion to take place outside the political arena, not as a
political football. In your report on special advisers, the one
that you were reproaching me for earlier for not having replied
to, there is a sentence which I very warmly support where you
say that advisers are too important to be the subject of party
political controversy. Why I find myself in difficulty in talking
to you about the Jo Moore case is that I think it has become an
issue of such controversy that it is actually very hard to discuss
the issues in the way that I would like to. What I would like
to take out of your question is the need to discuss in a non-controversial
context the issues that do genuinely arise out of it because there
is concern and we ought to address that concern.