Examination of Witness (Questions 160-179)|
THURSDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2001
160. We are having a very grown up conversation
(Sir Richard Wilson) Of course.
161. But I am interested to discover from you
that in fact, unless I have misunderstood you, nothing to do with
memoranda now, in this particular case of the Alun Evans business
the civil servant did feel that they were being asked to do something.
(Sir Richard Wilson) They declined to do it.
162. Because they felt it was improper to do
(Sir Richard Wilson) They thought it was the wrong
thing to do and they put it up to their line and their senior
163. It was in breach of paragraph six of the
Special Advisers' Code. What has happened in relation to that?
(Sir Richard Wilson) It has not gone wrong in the
sense that they declined to do it.
164. It is making the approach which is improper.
(Sir Richard Wilson) What I am saying to you is I
think there is a grey area there which we need to clarify.
165. You think she was in the grey area?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I think she was in the grey area,
yes. I think she was approaching them about doing something and
they were saying to her "no, I do not think we should be
doing that". I am saying to you there are all sorts of situations
where people say "I would like to do this" and we reply
"I think that is actually on the wrong side of the line".
166. It means that codes do not help us a lot,
do they, if it turns out in particular cases they somehow do not
(Sir Richard Wilson) I think the problem is that over
time grey areas develop. What I do not believe is that this is
a new problem. I can remember situations going back to the 1970sI
am not going to particularisein which I was involved, where
I found myself at a much more junior level than I am now in a
situation where special advisers were, as it were, giving me instructions
and I found myself in quite difficult positions as a result of
that. I think this question of how far special advisers in practice
can tell or ask civil servants to do things is an issue which
has existed for quite a long time as a grey area but has now become
a matter of public concern and controversy. You can come to all
sorts of answers. I could justify to you all sorts of different
positions but I think what we need to do is to come to a clear
understanding of what the rules are so that they can be enforced.
It is much more difficult to enforce them, much more difficult
to handle controversy, if there is a lack of clarity about where
the lines are.
167. This is where the codes are supposed to
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes, all right. I am saying to
you let us develop it.
168. I am sure. The civil servant who was asked
to do something that he felt was improper, did he, under the terms
of paragraph 11 of the Civil Service Code, report the matter in
accordance with procedures laid down in the appropriate guidance
or rules of conduct?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I cannot tell you. You are now
cross-examining me on the detailed affairs of a department which
I cannot give you chapter and verse on. What I do know is the
civil servant concerned reported it up the line to his or her
line manager, which I think was a very proper thing to do.
169. There have been no other cases where either
this special adviser or other special advisers have made improper
requests that have been reported?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I cannot answer that. I do not
keep a register of them.
170. Could you possibly find out?
(Sir Richard Wilson) You mean in relation to this
kind of incident? I do not want to get into an exercise I cannot
171. It is a matter of public interest to know
given, as you say, a lot of the silly controversy about special
advisers. If it turned out that in fact there were never any instances
where improper approaches had been made or reported, that would
be interesting, would it not?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I think that the way these things
work at the moment is less formal than you are implying. If someone
says something which people think is not quite right, they make
it clear they think it is not quite right and they probably usually
win the day. You are not likely to have formal requests.
172. But the code says what you should do in
(Sir Richard Wilson) Right.
173. It does not just say "it is a grey
area, it is all very difficult, we cannot do much about it",
it says quite precisely what should happen.
(Sir Richard Wilson) What I said is what I believe,
which is that these things are operated in practice in a less
formal way than you are implying.
174. Can I turn this around because is it not
really the case that a Minister or a special adviser has a policy
objective and civil servants disagree with that policy objective,
so what they do is they go the Permanent Secretary, the Permanent
Secretary goes to you, you go to Tony, he then goes to the Cabinet
Secretary of State and that Minister either has that particular
policy area withdrawn or a decision is made that reverses that
policy and it is a way of stopping the Government delivering.
That is what is really happening, is it not, on a number of occasions?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I do not think so. I really do
not believe that to be true. If you have chapter and verse and
if you want to register a formal complaint with me privately,
I shall look into it.
175. I know I exaggerated it slightly but it
is actually happening across the Civil Service, is it not?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I do not believe so at all. I
am not sure I understand the question. If you are saying that
the Civil Service is using the processes of the Code to obstruct
the Government that would be a very serious charge and I would
say I really do not believe that is true. I think the strong ethos
of the Service is commitment to serving the Government of the
day. I also think in the second case that we were discussing just
now, if the special adviser with this document felt that it was
in the public interest to get out this document showing how Bob
Kiley and his staff were behaving and wanted that done, the right
course was to raise it with the Minister or the Private Secretary
or the Permanent Secretary and there could have been a discussion
as to how this could and should be done and it would be done with
the Minister. I think that is the perfectly proper way of behaving.
What I am saying is it becomes an issue if the approach is done
down the line to the civil servant who is not clear what the force
is of the request.
176. How many times has a civil servant come
to you because a Minister has put forward a policy
(Sir Richard Wilson) A policy?
177. I am trying not to quote specific examples
to protect where I have got my sources from, but I am quite happy
to tell you afterwards. The situation where a Minister will put
forward a policy area and the civil servant to say, "We are
not happy about this," and the Permanent Secretary comes
to you. Has that ever happened?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I do not quite understand the
question because it is entirely within his rights, and indeed
it is the job of the Minister, to discuss and put forward policies
to the department and it is the job of the department to give
its best independent advice on the merits of that policy. Are
you suggesting that we are talking about a policy that is in some
178. No, I am saying the Civil Service has a
different agenda to that of the politician.
(Sir Richard Wilson) I do not accept that the Civil
Service should have an agenda of its own. I have long said in
all sorts of contexts over the years that it is the job of the
department to provide the best advice it can to the Minister.
It should have the argument if it disagrees with the Minister,
but at the end of the day what the Minister says or it is decided
collectively goes, and it is the job of the Civil Service to implement
it. I do not think that departments should or do have their own
agenda. If you have a concern of that sort I am happy to explore
it with you.
179. You are content that there have never been
circumstances where an individual Minister's policy has been reversed
by going through yourself to the Prime Minister or the Secretary
of State at the particular department?
(Sir Richard Wilson) There are situations where there
may be a disagreement between Ministers and the civil servant
says,"I think we have got a real problem here building up
in this disagreement". There are, of course, all sorts of
situations where Permanent Secretaries may debate with me the
kind of contradiction that can daily occur in government between
the objectives of one department and the objectives of another
department or the objectives of a department and the objectives
that have been collectively agreed at the centre. The whole job
of the Cabinet Office is to help sort out those disagreements
within government and ensure that collective responsibility is
observed. If you ask me does that happen, it most certainly does
happen and I think it ought to happen.
Chairman: I think we need to get specialist
advisers out of our system but we have not quite got there yet.
Mr Trend, did you want to come in on that point?
Mr Trend: Can I return to the chart, is that
Chairman: If it is special adviser related.
Mr Trend: No.